Theological Method and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only leaning tower in Pisa? There are actually several leaning towers in Pisa as a result of the soft soil in that area.

Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa originally leaned in the other direction? As the builders saw the tower beginning to lean, they built the subsequent levels with one side higher in an attempt to straighten it out by putting more weight on the one side. It ended up being an overcorrection which resulted in the tower leaning in the opposite direction, in which it currently leans.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa as a Picture of the Importance of Theological Method

In my studies at LST I have been studying the topic of theological method. Everyone who thinks about God or the Bible does so methodologically, although they do so with varying degrees of self-awareness and consistency.

There are 5 universally recognized sources of theology: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience and Community.

The way in which a person orders these, the role they believe each of these play, how much importance or credence they give to each one, and how they believe each relates to the other are the questions that go into play in one’s theological method.

Basically: theological method is about the foundations of how we think about God and the Bible.

What we learn from the Leaning Tower of Pisa is that foundations are pretty important. And what happens if you build on a poor foundation, or don’t take care about the foundation you lay – the mistakes the builders in Pisa made – then you will likely end up with a faulty edifice.

Another thing that can happen if you don’t pay attention to foundations is that, like in Pisa, you will end up trying to save your edifice by trying to compensate or over-correct, in which case you may end up leaning in the opposite direction. As Martin Luther said, many of us are like a drunk man trying to ride a horse, who – upon falling off the one side, resolves not to make that mistake again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling of on the left, and promptly falls off on the right.

A proper theological method will always be driven by Scripture. Reason is a God-given ability which helps us understand His divine revelation, but one which does have its limits in fallen humanity. Tradition is about recognizing the historic interpretations of the Bible by the Body of Christ, such as the Trinity. Again, tradition is not without its errors either, as it has humanity’s fingerprints on it, so this cannot be what drives our theology either. Experience is effective in confirming what we read in Scripture, but what about when we feel something that seems contrary to what the Bible teaches? In these cases, we are to interpret our experiences by the Scriptures, not the other way around. And our community obviously shapes how we read Scripture, but we are to apply the Scriptures to our times and places rather than changing our understandings of Biblical truths based on present cultural mores. Scripture, God’s revelation of Himself, is the proper foundation.

Here is a short video about the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Recap of Recent Travels

I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.

Hungary

The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.

Ukraine

After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.

Kiev

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of preaching at Calvary Chapel Kiev. Here is the video of that service if you’d like to watch it:

After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!

Ternopil and Kharkiv

Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.

In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.

UETS

Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!

California

While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com

Panel discussion on homiletics. #expositorscollective18

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It was a great trip, but I’m glad to be home, here where God has called me to be!

Local Ministry Spotlight: Ukraine Orphan Outreach

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Based out of Berthoud, Colorado, Ukraine Orphan Outreach is a local non-profit you should know about that is having a global impact.

UOO works to help the kids who are falling between the cracks in the system, by establishing transition homes for orphans who are aging out of the system as well as helping to facilitate adoptions of older orphans with adoptive parents in the US. They also organize camps and other activities for orphans in Ukraine, to be able to have fun and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27

When we lived in Hungary, my wife and I were involved in ministry to orphans, and we saw how difficult life is particularly for kids as they get older and especially when they age out of the system and have to move out on their own.

Here are some statistics from UOO’s website:

12,000 children age out of orphanages every year with no where to go.
70% of the boys are incarcerated after only 2 years of being out of an orphanage.

60% of young girls that age out of orphanages are pulled into sex trafficking.​

10% of the children who age out of orphanages commit suicide within 2 years.​

Friends of mine here in Longmont have adopted through UOO, a couple from our church met on a UOO mission trip, and through UOO I have made good contacts and friends in Ukraine, including at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I will be visiting in March when I will be in Kyiv for a pastors and leaders conference.

How You Can Help:

Become a Sponsor

For $35/month, you can sponsor an aged-out orphan to live in one of the transitional homes. Click here for more information.

Attend Their Annual Fundraiser

This year’s fundraising event will be held on March 9, 2018 at Foundations Church in Loveland, CO from 5:30-9:00 PM.

Tickets are $20/person, $35/couple, $50/family – and can be purchased here.

My wife an I attended their fundraiser two years ago, and they put on a great event.

Donate Online

If you’d like to support their work with a donation, you can do that online here.

Here is a video which shows what they do in their transition homes:

Pray for this ministry and help spread the word about the important work they are doing!

Senator Ben Sasse’s Speech at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference

Take a minute to watch this short address given by Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference a few weeks ago in Indianapolis.

Sasse is a graduate of Yale and studied in Oxford. He is a Christian and in this address he sounds more like a pastor than a politician. He has served as an elder in his church and on the board of trustees of Westminster Seminary California.

Here’s an article about him and his faith that was published in World Magazine: Ben Sasse: a Reformed reformer.

Here’s the video of his session: “What Does Washington Have to Do with Jerusalem?”:

Back to School

Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.

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I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.

I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.

I am still in Kyiv; I fly home tomorrow morning. Today I got to visit Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and speak to the students and staff.

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The faculty and students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary

Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.

I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.

The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.

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A class at UETS

I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Done with School, and a Few Other Things

I love finishing projects that I start. The only thing is, I also really like starting projects. So I sometimes find myself with several long term projects – but over the past few weeks I've been able to finish up a few of them.

For the past several months I was very busy finishing my dissertation for my theology degree. I started at this university when my first child was the same age as my current youngest child: 5 months old. Now, in completing my dissertation, I am done – at least for now… I would like to continue.

The title of my dissertation: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Implications of Epistemology and Culture for Christian Thinking, Practice and Mission

Another thing I've been working on for a while that I was able to complete: During the 10 years that I lived in Hungary I spent a lot of time getting different kinds and levels of residence permits and visas. By the time I left I had permanent residence and a work permit, which I gave up when I moved to the US. No big deal, because I have no plan to move back. But about 2 years ago a friend in Hungary told me that I should look into becoming a Hungarian citizen and that I might meet the requirements for citizenship. I looked into it, and I did – so, a year ago I applied for Hungarian citizenship, and I just found out 2 weeks ago I received it. Last week I traveled to Los Angeles for my naturalization ceremony at the office of the Hungarian Consulate.

Receiving my Hungarian citizenship from Kálmán László, consulate general of Hungary.

I'm not really sure how it will benefit me, but it is meaningful nonetheless. My wife and kids are Hungarian citizens, and I does encourage me to spend more time making sure the kids learn Hungarian and have that identity.

Another long term project we've been working on is getting out of the debt we incurred from the adoption we did. It's been an exercise in budgeting, downsizing and penny pinching, inspired by a Dave Ramsey class, and at the end of June we will have that project complete as well.

I've also finished a few books recently:

The men's group at our church has been going through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, following a study guide and video series by Eric Metaxas. A lot of the videos refer to Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, so I picked it up and started reading it. In it, Lewis tells the story of how he became an atheist and then the process by which he turned from atheism to deism and finally to Christianity. “Joy”, spelled with a capital J, is the thing which all people are looking for and get glimpses of throughout their lives in various ways, but which can only be found in and through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Sounds interesting, right? I have to say, Surprised by Joy left me surprised with boredom. I had a really hard time getting through the book, and felt that a lot of the material was indulgent details which had nothing at all to do with the story he was telling. That part though, the story of his journey from a nominal Christian upbringing, to atheism, to deism and finally to Christianity, was truly captivating. The last chapter was particularly good. It's worth reading if you are a CS Lewis fan.

The other book I finished recently was John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent. I heard somewhere that it is good to read fiction because it fuels creativity and imagination in a way that other media does not. I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly theology books and biographies, and so I want to make sure that I read some good fiction from time to time as well and I have it in mind to read classic novels and literature.

The Winter of Our Discontent was interesting, particularly in how it dealt with moral and ethical issues, as well as issues of contentment, and pressures in society which create dissatisfaction. The novel describes how people often cross their own moral and ethical lines to get what they think they want, and when they get it, they are still discontent and often more miserable that they were before. I think it's a great commentary on society and on the fallen human condition.

Ironically, The Winter of Our Discontent and Surprised by Joy have their core theme in common. The only difference is that whereas Steinbeck didn't answer the question of what it is that human beings are ultimately looking for: the true quest beneath all our quests, Lewis did. And although Lewis' writing style is harder to read, Surprised by Joy actually answers the question posed by The Winter of Our Discontent.

 

I'm enjoying this season.

 

The Eschatological Significance of the Christian Sunday

Following up on a previous post on why Christians worship on Sunday and the correlation between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, I recently read something I found interesting.

While many people assume that Christianity just took the Jewish idea of Sabbath and moved it to Sunday, it turns out the reason for the Christian Sunday is deeply eschatological.

Check it out:

Jewish Sabbath

  • End (Saturday)
  • Rest from Creation
  • Happens after creation, within time: retrospective
  • Keeping of obligations
  • Preservation

Christian Sunday

  • Beginning (Sunday)
  • Commencement of the New Creation
  • Speaks to the aim of new creation: eternity = future-oriented
  • Celebrates that the obligations have been met by God through Christ
  • Resurrection

Christianity was not just a rebranding of Jewish practices, but an eschatological fulfillment of them.

The Christian Sunday is more than a day of rest for Christians, it is a day of new creation. In it, we remember not only to rest from our labor, but we are reminded that with the resurrection of Jesus, we stand at the dawn of eternity – and that one day soon, the Son will break over the horizon and usher in the New Day. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have witnessed the death of death and the birth of “the life that is truly life”.

Worship: Offering, Receiving and Shopping

Another thought-provoking comment from my studies on the history of Christian worship:

At some time in the Church’s history, attitudes seem to have moved from an earlier sense of going to worship in order to make an offering to God (worship, adoration) to a sense of attending in order to receive something (a blessing or some kind of credit). It appears that along with this shift came an increasingly passive role for worshippers, until it seemed that simply attending was almost all that was expected. Such a development is seriously demeaning. Everything done together in worship may (and should) be viewed as an act of offering a gift to God, who is the object of reverence and praise.

Seems pretty spot on to me. I shared this quote with one of the elders of White Fields Church and his comment was that he would go so far as to say that in our consumer culture, people have gotten so passive about “worship” that they not only come with the mentality and expectation primarily to receive, but they “shop” for where they can find the best bargain.

The part of the above quote which really sticks out to me is the word “demeaning”. I think the author is right. But how do we go about shifting this consumer culture in the minds of Christian people? That is the challenge.

Frontier Church and Beyond

I do my seminary studies in England, and I always find it interesting to read about American culture, politics, etc. from a British perspective.

This semester I’m taking a class on History of Christian Worship, and one part of this describes the development of different ways of “shaping Christian time” in worship.

Here’s an excerpt from my reading about the “Frontier Church model”:

Frontier or Revivalist Groups

This term is used by White to designate a type of Protestant worship widely recognised in North America which spread to the UK. As already indicated, it is a nineteenth-century form of the Service of the Word in which worship became simply equated with evangelism. Its roots were Puritan, Reformed and Methodist, and it was born out of a prevailing spirit of its Victorian times – didactic, stripped-down commonsensical. To meet the challenge of how to mediate Christian faith to the scattered and independent people moving west across the North American continent, evangelists developed a pragmatic, free-style, anti-tradition form. This kind of worship had one purpose and that was to make converts.

The service had a three-part form:

  • 􏰂the warm-up or preliminaries – easy-to-sing emotional hymns;
  • 􏰂 the Word – the sermon, preparing for;
  • 􏰂 the harvest – altar call, an emotional appeal for conversion.

Frontier-type worship is evident in evangelistic ‘crusades’ and in many independent church services and Pentecostal meetings.

Sound familiar?  This gives interesting perspective to the “common” way of doing church in America today.  I know that this is the MO of many mega-churches. However, the question is begged: where is the discipleship? I know of large churches which have no strategy for discipleship beyond their Sunday morning preaching times, which are focused on proclamation of the Gospel with a focus on evangelism.

On the other side of the spectrum, I was speaking this weekend with friends in Canada who told me that the services in their church are focused wholly on the people of God and are not at all evangelistic (something they regretted to admit).

This seems to be one of the big questions: Who and what is the church service designed for? Discipling believers, or preaching to unbelievers for conversion?  But what if everyone is converted already?  Do you just keep preaching the same invitation to receive salvation to the already saved, because there just might be 1 or 2 unsaved people?  Or is it then always an invitation to “re-committ”?  Where does the instruction of believers come in?  Is that really “church”?  BUT – if you never preach and invite people to respond to the call of the Gospel to commit themselves to following Jesus, then what happens when new people come? Is your service simply not for them?

Clearly every church is trying to find this balance. I find that teaching through the Bible systematically, like we do at White Fields, is one of the most effective ways of both instructing believers and giving calls to action and to repentance. I also believe that having Christian instruction outside of the Sunday morning gatherings is an important way of doing this too. One of the things I’d like to start at White Fields is something along this line, because after all, we are called to not only make converts unto Jesus Christ, but disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching them to observe all that He commanded us (Matthew 28:20).