Masters Graduation & Why Americans Should Consider British Theology Schools

Earlier this month I traveled to London with my wife and 3 of our kids for my graduation ceremony from London School of Theology (University of Middlesex).

I had already graduated last November with a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology, but the ceremony was postponed until now because of the pandemic. As a result, it was a small ceremony, with most of the graduates not attending in person.

For more on what Integrative Theology is, see this episode of the Theology for the People Podcast: Theological Method: Sources of Theology and Why People Arrive at Different Conclusions about Faith and the Bible.

This is my second degree that I’ve done in the British system; I got my BA in Theology years ago from the University of Gloucestershire in the west of England.

London School of Theology (LST) is the largest non-denominational evangelical divinity school in Europe, and there were students from all over Europe and the world in my masters program, including several from the United States.

Sometimes people ask me why I chose to study in the UK rather than in the US. Part of the reason is because I began my theological studies while I was living in Hungary, and the UK was closer than the US. However, I chose to go back to school in the UK for my masters primarily because of cost, the ability to study fully online, and quality of education.

I currently have three American friends who are pursuing post-graduate degrees in the UK, one at LST, another in Oxford, and the other in Birmingham. I would recommend that more Americans consider studying theology in the United Kingdom for a few key reasons:

No Separation of Church & State = Lower Cost

Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom does not have “separation of church and state.” So whereas there might be more practicing Christians in the United States, on paper the US is a more secular state. The UK has a state church, with ties between the government and that church, e.g. the role of the monarch as the head of the church and the presence of Anglican bishops in the House of Lords. What this all amounts to is that the UK is, at least on paper, an officially Christian nation, whereas the United States is an officially secular nation.

One of the results of the separation of church and state in the United States is that public universities cannot have theological seminaries; at best they can have courses on subjects like “comparative religions.” For this reason, all theological seminaries in the United States are private schools, or part of private universities, which means no government funding, and higher cost for the student.

Since the United Kingdom does not having a separation of church and state, many public universities (e.g. Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham) have theological colleges (AKA departments), which amounts to a lower cost for the student. Many of these schools are highly respected, such as Nottingham, which has a great program in systematic theology, and LST which also has a great reputation around the world.

Furthermore, I was able to register for LST as a Hungarian citizen before the UK left the EU, which meant I qualified for subsidies as a “domestic student.” I’m not sure how or if things have changed for European students now as a result of Brexit.

British Education & British Evangelicalism

Perhaps I am biased, but I prefer the British higher education system. In undergraduate studies, they do not require “prerequisites” like American schools do, which means that the focus of your entire undergrad program is in your chosen field of study. In other words, if you study theology in England, you won’t have to take any math classes. Furthermore, the British system tends to have fewer homework assignments, and most of the assignments are essay writing. Undergrad students often write a dissertation research project to get their BA.

British evangelicalism has held onto the key facets of evangelical (meaning: gospel-focused) beliefs, such as the primacy and inerrancy of Scripture and the need for people to be born again by grace through faith, in a way that has avoided much of the politicalization of American evangelicalism. LST, for example, was founded by evangelical pastor John Stott, and is the alma mater of well-known Bible teacher Alister Begg.

If you are considering a theological education, I’d recommend looking into some options in the UK. I’m glad I did.

9/11 – 20 Years

Today marks 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Those of us who are old enough to remember it can all remember where we were when it happened, but those who are younger have all felt its effects. 

Personally, I remember that it was a Tuesday and I was working for Christy Sports in Golden, Colorado in the snowboard shop, and we had the day off to attend a seminar hosted at the Burton Snowboards Colorado headquarters in Denver, so I was parked behind the shop waiting for a colleague to meet me so we could drive down together. He was over an hour late. This was before most people had cell phones, so I just had to stand and wait for him. When he arrived, he told me what had happened. I remember the confusion of that day; at first, people assumed it was an accident, until it became clear it was an attack. 

We went to Denver and instead of a seminar, we ended up watching the TV reports at the Burton headquarters. Downtown Denver was absolutely empty, as no one knew if there were going to be more attacks. 

I went home, and my dad was there; he worked at the Denver Mint, and since that was a federal building, it was considered a high risk for attack.

At this point in September, I had just returned home from my first trip to Hungary, after which I felt called to move to Hungary, and was making plans to go there in January. I did end up moving to Hungary in January, and one of the ministries I worked in was a refugee camp.

The camp was in an abandoned Soviet military base which had been reopened in 2006 by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) to house refugees from the Bosnian war, and had then been kept open to house refugees from Kosovo. Around the time I came, there were still many refugees from former Yugoslavia, but quickly the camp filled with over 2000 Afghan refugees.  

While working in this camp, I got to know my now wife, Rosemary, and together we saw many people from Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, and other muslim-majority countries become Christians. As these people came to Europe to escape the conflicts back home, many of them had the opportunity to read the New Testament and hear the gospel, and meet Christians, and attend a church for the first time in their lives – and God used His Word to change their hearts and their lives.

My heartfelt condolences go out to the grieving families whose lives were changed when over 2,997 people lost their lives on September 11. I pray that the Lord would be their comfort and that they would find in Jesus the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

May we also honor and thank the first responders and emergency workers who served that day and in the weeks following. May we pray for our medical workers today as well as they serve the hurting and sick in the midst of this current crisis.

Let us also be in prayer for those who served in the military over the past 20 years, and for the families of those who lost family members in service. And let us pray as well for the Afghan people and the Afghan Christians who are now suffering under Taliban rule today.

A Theology of Music: Discussion with Jon Markey and Michael Payne

Jon Markey and Michael Payne are accomplished musicians, songwriters, and producers, and in the latest episode of the Theology for the People podcast, I sat down with them to talk about the theology of music.

Michael is the Worship Pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. Prior to coming to Longmont, he spent 21 years as a worship leader and missionary in Hungary, and prior to that he served in the US Marine Corps.

Jon is a pastor and missionary in Ternopil, Ukraine. He moved to Kiev, Ukraine with his family in the 1990’s, when he was 5 years old, and earned a masters degree from the Ukrainian National Tchaikovsky Academy of Music.

Jon has been a guest on the podcast before, in fact his episode is the most-listened to episode on the podcast to date: If “It’s All Gonna Burn” Then What’s the Point? – How the Resurrection Gives Meaning to Work & Art

We recently had the pleasure of having Jon and his family visit Longmont and lead worship at our church, and while he was here, I got to sit down with him and Mike to discuss what the Bible has to say about music: its purpose, uses, and significance – including the “song of creation,” and how it serves to counteract pagan origin narratives, as well as Jubal: the first human musician, mentioned in Genesis 4, as well as other practical discussions which have modern application.

Check out Jon’s ministry: Room for More music on YouTube and his church: Calvary Chapel Ternopil (Ukraine)

Check out Michael on Spotify: Michael Payne and you can watch him on the White Fields Community Church YouTube page.

The book mentioned in this episode is Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card

A Theology of Music: with Jon Markey & Michael Payne Theology for the People

Michael Payne and Jon Markey are accomplished musicians, songwriters, and producers, and in this episode they talk with Nick about the theology of music. Listen in to this discussion of what the Bible has to say about music: its purpose, uses, and significance – including the "song of creation," Jubal, and practical discussions for today. Check out Jon's ministry: Room for More music on YouTube and his church: Calvary Chapel Ternopil (Ukraine) Check out Michael on Spotify: Michael Payne and you can watch him on the White Fields Community Church YouTube page. The book mentioned in this episode is Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card Visit the Theology for the People blog.

Contextualization and Engagement in God’s Global Mission: a Conversation with Benjamin Morrison

Benjamin Morrison

Recently we have had the pleasure of getting to spend some time with some of our missionary friends from Ukraine, who have visited our church here in Colorado.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to sit down with pastor Benjamin Morrison from Svitlovodsk, Ukraine to talk about his life and ministry. Ben is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, as well as the coordinator for City to City Ukraine and is part of the leadership of City to City Europe.

This turned out to be a great conversation in which we talked about how Ben came to be a missionary in Ukraine, what it’s like doing ministry in a post-communist context, and what “contextualization” means and how it works out in practice. We finished the conversation by sharing some practical advice for those who are seeking God’s leading and direction for how they can get involved in God’s global mission.

You can watch the video below, or listen to the episode on the White Fields Church podcast.

What is the “Perspicuity” of Scripture, and Why Does It Matter?

When I was a missionary in Hungary, we used to visit a refugee camp populated with thousands of people from muslim-majority countries, with whom we didn’t have a common language. Everyone in the camp got by with a mix of English, Russian, and sometimes German words that formed a special form of refugee pidgin. But this was insufficient for deeper conversations, such as those about God, Jesus, and salvation.

So, with the help of the International Bible Society, we were able to get New Testaments in Urdu, Dari, Farsi, and other languages, and we handed these out along with humanitarian aid, telling those we met to read them, and then we would follow up. For many of them, this was their first time ever having access to the New Testament in their own language, and by God’s grace, we did see many of them become followers of Jesus.

But this approach to ministry was based on an underlying assumption: that anyone with average reading comprehension skills can sufficiently understand the meaning of the Bible when it comes to what it says about who Jesus is and how salvation is possible through Him.

This assumption is known as belief in the “perspicuity,” or clarity of Scripture.

Not everyone embraces the idea that Scripture is perspicuous, notably the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches – as well as fringe groups including the Mormons (AKA Latter Day Saints) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It was after a friend of mine converted to Roman Catholicism based on claims he had heard about Scripture not being perspicuous that I was intrigued by this topic and wanted to research it further. I ended up writing my Masters dissertation on the topic – specifically looking at the question of whether the concept of the perspicuity of Scripture was novel to the Reformation, or if it is also found in the writings of the early Church Fathers – which would mean that the insistence on the perspicuity of Scripture in the Reformation period was actually a return to the way the early Christians understood and viewed Scripture.

In this week’s episode of the Theology for People Podcast, Mike asks me questions about the perspicuity of Scripture; what it is and why it matters, and what is at stake when it comes to this issue.

You can listen to the episode in the embedded player below, or by clicking this link: The Perspicuity of Scripture: Is the Bible Clear? Can Everyone Understand It?

The Perspicuity of Scripture: Is the Bible Clear? Can Everyone Understand It? Theology for the People

Can anyone pick up the Bible, read it and understand it? Is Scripture "clear," and if it is: about what and for whom is it clear? I wrote my Masters dissertation on the topic of the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture. This is an important topic, because whether or not we view Scripture as clear affects how we handle and use the Bible and how we relate to church traditions, and how we view the world in the midst of a culture in which many long-held beliefs and assumptions are being challenged. In this episode, Nick and Mike discuss the concept of the perspicuity of Scripture, looking at the history of this concept and what is at stake in this debate.  For more articles and content, make sure to check out the Theology for the People website.

Remembering Tom Stipe

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Tom Stipe was my pastor and mentor. He was the pastor of Crossroads Church of Denver, and in 1999, at 16 years old, I walked through the doors of that church for the first time on a Wednesday night. Little did I know that would be one of the best decisions I ever made, and it would shape the course of my life.

I went to Crossroads at the recommendation of my friends from school – friends who were not Christians! This is a testimony to the fact that Tom and Crossroads had an incredible reputation in the community. He was well-known and respected, even by people who didn’t follow Jesus or go to church. My friends told me that Crossroads had good music and they just teach the Bible.

I started going to Crossroads whenever the doors were open and I grew under Tom’s Bible teaching. I made other friends there and mentors with whom I have had lifelong friendships.

In January 2002, Tom sent me out as a missionary to Hungary. He ordained me, and for years he supported, encouraged and visited me and my wife while I was there. He really liked my wife Rosemary, probably even a little more than he liked me 😄.

Upon returning to Colorado, Tom was a source of encouragement. I will miss hearing his stories of all the great things God did through the Jesus Movement and over the years through Crossroads, but with the hope of the resurrection, I look forward to seeing him again.

A celebration of life was held for Pastor Tom at Harvest Church in Irvine, California, and was led by Greg Laurie, a friend of Tom’s. Harvest did a great job creating a video of the event for those who couldn’t join in person. That video is embedded below, or can be found here.

I was honored to get to say a few words at the memorial as well: my eulogy starts at 51:54.

Tom will be sorely missed. The God of Tom Stipe and the Spirit which he trusted in and relied on is here with us still, to do great things in the next generation.

Maranatha!

My Top 10 Books of 2020

I read 35 books in 2020 (including the Bible!). Here are a few of my favorites (other than the Bible), in no particular order:

  1. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson

I read this book as part of my research for my Masters dissertation, which was on the topic of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and whether belief in this concept was novel to the Reformation period, or if it had precedent in the patristic period as well.

2. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, Nathan Hatch

Great short essays about the history of thinking about the Bible in America, particularly in regard to radical individualism and the rejection of tradition and the church in the interpretive process. Sadly, it is out of print, but used copies are available to order.

3. On Christian Doctrine, Augustine of Hippo

A true classic, written between 397 and 426 AD. The main topic of this book is about how to interpret and teach the Bible.

4. Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, Kim Phuc Phan Thi

The autobiography of the woman from the famous photo of a girl burning in napalm in Vietnam, and how she became a Christian.

5. The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus, Arthur Chichester

An engaging travel log through the area hit by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by one of my favorite YouTubers.

6. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K.A. Smith

Theologian James K.A. Smith gives a biography of Saint Augustine while retracing his steps from North Africa to Italy and back.

7. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse teaches at Wheaton College, an evangelical divinity school in Illinois. This book gives and important framework for understanding the issues related to gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective, including much of the research that has been done on the topic, and advice for parents and those who seek to minister to people and families.

8. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, Kevin DeYoung

An accessible study of what the Bible teaches about the Bible.

9. How to (Not) Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith

This is a thinking person’s book about culture in our postmodern age. Smith uses terms like “epistemic pelagianism” to describe the idea that people can figure out everything on their own without the help of God. He discusses Charles Taylor’s idea of the “imminent frame,” i.e. the present world, and its shortcomings. So many important thoughts in this book, although it’s not the easiest read.

See also: What is Epistemic Pelagianism?

10. Légy Jó Mindhalálig, Móricz Zsigmond

A few years ago I decided to read the required reading for Hungarian secondary students. This is a classic novel about a student in Debrecen, Hungary, a city where I lived for over 3 years.

Does Proverbs Condone Bribery? – Interview with Benjamin Morrison

On this site there is a page where readers can submit questions or suggest topics . Recently I received the following question from a reader in Ukraine:

Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:

A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.
Proverbs 17:8 ESV

A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
Proverbs 21:14 ESV

Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.

That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.

Ben has lived in Ukraine for 19 years and is the Lead Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, and the Director of City to City Ukraine.

We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!

A Biblical Discussion of Current Politics and Where Our True Citizenship Lies

My friend Nate Morris is the pastor of a great church: Mountain Life Calvary Chapel, which has campuses in Edwards and Carbondale, Colorado, serving the communities of the Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Recently Nate started a podcast: the New Day Podcast, which aims, in his words, “to talk about the topics which you shouldn’t talk about around the dinner table,” such as religion, race, politics, and so on.

I was honored to be a guest on his podcast; you can check out our discussion here: Special Guest: Pastor Nick Cady – A Biblical discussion of current politics and where our true citizenship lies.

In the episode, we talk about how my decade as a missionary in Hungary has affected my views on politics, as well as my concerns and hopes for the church in our current political and social situation.

Check it out the episode and leave a comment on this post with your thoughts and reactions, and make sure to subscribe to the New Day Podcast with Pastor Nate Morris!

Will There Be Ethnic Diversity in Heaven?

The standard joke among foreigners when I lived in Hungary was that Hungarian would be the language of Heaven, because it takes an eternity to learn.

But will there actually be diversity in Heaven? Will racial differences exist for eternity? Or will Heaven be homogenous?

One Race?

As recent events have highlighted disparities and tensions between ethnic groups in the United States and beyond, one response from Christians has been to point out that the Bible teaches that all people come from one set of common ancestors. Therefore, they say, there is truly only one race: the human race.

In a recent episode of Calvary Live, Pastor Ed Taylor of Calvary Church in Aurora, Colorado spoke with John Moreland of Denver Christian Bible Church, who is an African American man. When Ed asked John his thoughts on the idea that there is really only one race, John said he was not sure if he fully agreed with that.

Why not? Because, while John would not disagree with the fact that all human beings descend from one common set of ancestors, he feels that saying that there is only one race detracts from the importance of racial diversity.

Is Racial Diversity Something to Erase or Celebrate?

This past Sunday we studied 1 Kings 11 at White Fieldswatch or listen to that message here. This chapter talks about how King Solomon married many foreign women, contrary to God’s command that the people of Israel not do that.

However, upon further examination of the Bible, what you realize is that this prohibition against marrying foreign women was about faith, not about race. Several of the female heroes of the Bible were women who were not ethnically Jewish, but they became followers and worshipers of Yahweh, the true and living God: Ruth was from Moab, Rahab was a Canaanite. In Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1, five women are listed by name, and three of them are of non-Jewish origin.

In fact, if you look at the origin of the Jewish people, they were a nation chosen by God from among the nations. They were a manufactured nation, not created on the basis of a shared ethnicity, but on the basis of a shared faith in God. This is why there are Jews from places like Ethiopia and East Asia who are not ethnically descended from the Middle East, and yet they are full-fledged Jews. Essentially, anyone who wanted to be a follower of Yahweh was welcome, no matter where they were from.

Mike and I discussed this topic in this week’s Sermon Extra video: “Why Did Solomon Marry Foreign Women”

What made the early Christians unique was that, unlike most religions at that time, which were limited to a local ethnic group, Christianity – like Judaism – was a truly multi-ethnic faith. It claimed to the truth for all people everywhere, and it claimed that Jesus was the Savior not of only one group of people, but for the entire world.

This belief came from the Bible itself:

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” 

Psalm 67:4

Although in English we often use the word “nations” to speak of political or geographical entities, i.e. “countries.” The word “nations” in the Bible, however, is the Greek word ἔθνη (ethni, the plural form of ethnos), from which we get the English word: “ethnicity.”

So, the country of Russia, for example, is made up of 185 nations, i.e. ethnic groups. This is why in Canada, the indigenous people groups are called the “First Nations.”

So, what this passage is saying is, “Let all the [ethnicities] be glad,” because God judges all the ethnic groups of the world with equity and guides them.

In the “Great Commission,” Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to all “nations,” i.e. ethnic groups:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

In his address to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, Paul the Apostle said:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Acts 17:26-27

Here Paul states that God, in His providence, has determined when and where people would live, with the goal that their setting and situations would drive them to seek Him.

Rather than being opposed to the plan of God, it would seem that diversity is part of God’s design and brings Him glory. In a fallen world, not all aspects of any culture will be good and reflect God’s character and heart, and every culture will have certain idolatries which are common to the people in that culture. Conversely, however, every culture will have some aspects which uniquely reflect God’s goodness and character (common grace), which will differ from the way other cultures reflect those things.

Ethnic Diversity in Heaven

In John’s vision of Heaven in Revelation chapter 7, he writes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

John gives three descriptions of the diversity of the people around the throne and before the Lamb: tribes, peoples, and languages. This is an escalating list, which goes from smallest to largest: languages may be used by people of multiple ethnicities, and ethnic groups may contain many tribes.

All three of these designations are present around the throne; thus it seems likely that even with our new “heavenly bodies” (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-49), ethnic diversity seems to be maintained and apparent in Heaven, for eternity.

Whereas divisions and oppression will cease, it seems that diversity will not.

It seems that who you are, because of your ethnic and cultural background, will be maintained for eternity, to bring glory to God. While the negative aspects of a culture will be done away with, the good, God-honoring and glorifying diversity will continue to bring glory to God and enrich others.

As we await that day, may God help us to honor and value ethnic diversity, and glean from one another.