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Asking the Right Question: The Deficiency in Current Theological Education

 

Jonathan Faulkner

 

I have spent, almost, the last ten years of my life participating in theological education in some matter or another. Most of that time has been as a student, however, some of that has been teaching deep dive Sunday School classes on 1st Timothy and Isaiah or laboring as a pastor or working to boil down high theological ideas for little children. I have learned a lot in the classroom, whether it be studying Systematic Theology or the Biblical Languages or Historical Theology, but I have learned infinitely more by taking the time to boil down the full extent my education into answers for the questions people are asking me. For example, if I am pastoring a church in a small farming community, what does scripture have to say to farmer who is afraid of losing his farm or who is struggling with suicide. Or to a teen who has lost one or both parents to the opiate crisis. How do I minister to the everyday people in my everyday context? If I can answer the question of Authorship in Genesis am I aiding the people in my pews? Likely not.

A brother of mine here at the seminary laments the fact that he is being taught to answer American questions when American questions are not the same questions being asked in his native Uganda. It would be easy to point out that the questions we are being taught to answer here are 20-40 years old and not the ones being asked by the people in the pew.

The Librarian here at GCTS had an interesting observation, that when the seminary was founded it was designed to train pastors to compete with the secular ideologies invading the mainline churches. Now that most of us are headed into conferences or fringe denominations (which as a whole are larger than the mainline denominations) perhaps it is time to rethink the questions we are asking, even update them.

The current deficiency of theological education is this…that we are leaving these walls with no knowledge of the actual state of the church or the state of the people in the pews. That we are being trained to answer questions that are irrelevant to the generation we are going to be ministering too and have no bearing on the faith of those in the pews. As biblical literacy rises and the people in the pews continue to conform themselves to the Gospel in this time of reformation we are currently experiencing it is a detriment to our seminaries not to ask the proper questions, not to engage, not to change. Especially given the negative view of the current state of the church by professors who rarely engage outside their academic circles and most of whom have never served as pastors or even lay leaders, or at least have not done so since receiving academic postings.

To do this, we have to be trained to ask the questions that the people we will be ministering too will be asking. We also have to learn the questions that the generations in our pews will be asking. For Millennials, we are told, that question is “What is real” or “What is Authentic?” For the coming generation they are speculating the question will be “What is beauty?” IF we as a church cannot answer these questions both in word and form then we will continue to lose generation after generation and the church will start to do what many here think it is already doing….shrink. (By the way, Tim Keller says it is not).

I remember sitting in a meeting when our Church began looking for a new pastor. They Elders got together with their care groups and a member of the Search Committee to get input from the congregation on what to look for in a new pastor. At one point an older member of the congregation suggested that young people wanted a church with lots of lights and fog machines and a big worship band like the one his son attended. This horrified the Millennials in the room because we came to the church because the worship was genuine and authentic and a part of the everyday life of the Church. The relationships we had all formed were the same, authentic and lifegiving. At this church, as it is quickly becoming the norm in most churches, the Gospel was lived and Christian Faith was a daily, authentic thing. We were accepted and felt warmly loved and encouraged there and also felt challenged to be real concerning our faith and relationships.

Yet, when I sit in the classroom, what I hear from my professors is most often the opposite of the questions I am receiving from my peers and from church members. The view of my generation is negative, the questions being asked is: “how do we deal with these millennials who are leaving the church.” Coincidently, most of my peers have a very negative view of the church and are not prepared to enter into a much more positive system then what we are taught we are going into. Interesting how secular sociologists have noticed the changes and those training the pastors day in and day out have not.

Do not get me wrong, learning about the authorship of Genesis is important, but only so. Learning Hebrew and Greek are important but we cannot make proficiency therein the bench mark of a theological education. In fact, the tools are so good now we should likely teach pastors how to use the tools instead of training them to have a super in-depth knowledge of the biblical language. That way we can focus on the questions facing us today, rather than spending two and a half hours parsing and only 20 minutes on the practical implications of the text.

As it stands, pastors leaving our major seminaries, especially those which emphasize the languages, are better equipped to do academic scholarship than serve as Pastors. We are better trained to write systematic theologies than we are to write and preach sermons that will aid in the work of the spirit towards the total transformation and putting on of Christ then our congregations. We are trained to be scholars, not vessels.

The church needs scholars, it even needs pastor scholars, but if those pastor scholars have not learned to actually do pastoral ministry but can form a polemic against JDEP (theory of authorship of Genesis) but cannot care for the spiritual needs of the farmer or the small town or the inner-city, then they are ineffective and should be removed from office.

The fact is, right now we have some very pressing pastoral matters on our hands. From the dehumanization of people to the need for biblical righteousness, reconciliation and Justice. We also have to discuss technology and its effect on the family, the Opiate Crisis, the farmer suicide rate and much, much more. That does not include, nor is it limited to the questions that are being asked in global Christianity, as in, an African Student needs to learn to answer the questions being asked in his or her home country whether it be Uganda or Ethiopia. The same is true about the student from Portugal, from China, from South Korea and so on and so forth. This requires a much broader theological education than the one we currently have. We should not need a Institute for the Black Christian Experience because, as part of the general experience, we learn the history of Christianity in Africa and how it was affected by the Slave Trade, Colonialism and is still be affected by the modern missions movement. We should be reading authors and theologians from all corners of the world, learning to ask the questions that the global church is asking so we can help each other answer the individual questions we will be facing. Providing shared experience and resources and wisdom, as well as Exegesis so that we can come to a fuller understanding of this faith and not one that is stunted, as western Christianity is.

For that to happen though we have to learn from people who are actively seeking to be up to date on the questions being asked. That means they have to completely engaged in the non-academic world, engaging not only authors and theologians from different backgrounds, but also actively engaging the people in the pews. Because at the end of the day we are less likely to debate the meaning of a Hebrew Word in the Hithpael than we are to engage a family that is afraid they are going to lose their house or a teen who has been the victim of Sexual Assault. If our theological seminaries are going to be partners with the global church, they have to be engaging with the global church. For this to happen, they need to change drastically and quickly because slow change only prolongs the errors being perpetuated. It requires us to give up the idol we have made of the biblical languages and learn them not as the end all of exegesis, but as a part of the sum of the whole. We need to do serious research into the state of the church and change our attitude towards those who are learning in our classrooms.

If we do not, we lose an important and even essential aid and resource to the Church. That is unacceptable, change cannot be slow and it needs to be a change that consults the students, not treats us as if we are kids incapable of making decisions. We can start by asking the questions that our students are asking and go from there, if we do not, our decline will continue and we will cease to exist.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

LIFE UPDATE: The Baby…It’s A….????

HAMILTON MA. I have come to have a love/hate relationship with fall in New England. On the one hand it is cooler on the other hand there are some days that are pretty dreary and which make me want sleep all day. That is counter to getting everything done, the papers, the studying, the reading for my Thesis and of course, updating all of you. I have even missed sharing several key articles from Gods Heart that I hope you’ll go back and read.

Anyway, I was watching Patriot Games the other night and was thinking back to the book, in both the book and the movie Clancy leaves us with the suspense of finding out which gender the Ryan’s next child is going to be. So the title here is a nod to Tom Clancy and the fact that I wanted you to get this far without telling you that our little Baby, the one we will welcome into the world and which we announced in August is a Girl! We are beyond excited and have gone even further into nesting mode. So far, this little girl’s hobbies include kicking her mother, sleeping and sucking her thumb.

A dear brother in Christ told me the other day that in his home country of Sierra Leone in Africa having a girl first is considered to be a blessing. As much as I want a boy, I cannot argue with him, any child is a blessing from the Lord and I was crying when they told us we were having a daughter.

Now to fly to Iowa….more on that later though.

 

In the Love of Christ –

The Faulkner’s

Dominion Theology: An overview of a Great Evil of Church History.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Editor’s Note: This article is not discussing Theonomy, though God’s Heart rejects theonomy as a plausible governmental structure in a Post-Fall World. This article focuses on the roots of Dominion Theology in the Classical Sense and the evils perpetrated in its application. No attempt was made to engage the modern definition of Dominion Theology as this was a broad overview and not dedicated to specific forms of dominion Theology.

I attended a men’s retreat this weekend, one I had attended two years before. I looked forward to this weekend as it is likely the last time I will attend one with this particular group of men. It gave me a chance to soak up that last bit of wisdom from these older saints that I have been gleaning the past three years. Many of these men have been in ministry, both ordained and otherwise, and I have enjoyed learning from and being encouraged by them as I prepare to embark on my own ministry. The topic of this retreat was: “How to pray like a King.” I did not think much of it at the time, the same speaker had spoken a year before, though I had not attended because of my status as a newlywed. I had seen the theme and did not think anything of it until the speak decided to give a summation of last years teaching. He had told the men a year before that they were kings and that they needed to rule and subdue the Earth because of Genesis 1:28. He also said they needed to rule as one submissive to the Lordship of Christ, with their “crowns up” to God instead of “crown down.”

As a historian and one who has studied Historical Theology I have come across this particular teaching numerous times in my study. The first is in the documents regarding the crusades, the second in the early colonial period of Europe in what is called “The Discovery Doctrine” and finally in western Protestantism and the theology behind Manifest Destiny. All these amount to what has been called “Dominionist Theology” which still exists today in the twisted acclamations of the Alt-Right and even Alt-Left, along within Jim Crow Laws and the White Supremacy of the KKK and Anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Nazi’s and the modern Neo-Nazis. The idea has been propagated, since the beginning of European Dominance of Church History that the mandate to have dominion over and subdue the Earth was a justification for terrible atrocities carried out by the Catholic Church & the Protestant Settlers during the colonial period, as well as a justification for the Slave Trade, Theonomy. The Discovery Doctrine is particularly evil, teaching that if you encountered a native tribe and they would not convert to Christianity then they were to be destroyed or sold into slavery.

Not to my surprise, when I privately confronted the speaker over my concerns about what he was teaching he had never heard of Dominion Theology. Nor was he aware of the history of the same teaching within the modern Health and Wealth Movement that consistently compares us to heroes of the bible and gives us their importance. He was also not conscious of how his teaching my be received by a member of another ethnic group, particularly one of the man that has been decimated by White, European, Dominion Theology. He also was not willing to drop the analogy, though I did not insist he do, claiming that he likes it better.

Ironically, scripture only supports this idea of dominion in Genesis 1:28 with a few places in the Psalms looking back to the Pre-Fall order. It is true that God tells Israel to take the promised land that required killing off people groups. Groups that had lived in the land where Abraham had been called and Isaac and Jacob’s families had worshiped Yahweh and been blessed by that family until they left for Egypt yet had still rejected God. Israel had a legal mandate from the one who had deeded them the land and who had made Himself known through creation (Rom 2). The language that is constant, even through Israel’s conquest period is that of service and blessing.

This language actually gets picked up directly after the fall. It also seems that instead of us subduing the Earth we would have to struggle against it and any attempt by man at dominion would be frustrated and eventually end in absolute evil as is exemplified by Israel’s monarchy. Abraham’s offspring are to be a blessing to all the nations through engaging in fair and justice practices such as trade and the treatment of the highest visiting dignitaries to the lowest immigrant traveler.

Jesus himself is said to be a servant, not coming as a powerful ruler, but giving up his position at the right hand of the father to become a servant. (Is. 53, Phil 2:5-11). Even telling his disciples that they will not “Lord it over” their followers (Matt. 20:25 Lk. 22:26) but instead an example of service, humility and love. Therefore, to put off the old self and to put on the new self “which is hidden in Christ” (Col 3:1-17) is to take on the mantel of a servant, to take up the towel as it has been put. In short, in a Post-Fall world we no longer have dominion, but instead are to be as servants working towards seeking Justice through the righteousness of GOD which we now have access to through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we lived in a Pre-Fall world, things would be much different, instead we work as ambassadors for Christ, not as kings serving under him.

The Catholic Historian George Santayana once said that: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As our recent election cycle has shown, when compared to the rise of other authoritarian figures from Mao Zae Dong to Adolf Hitler have shown us, when we do not learn from out history, we will repeat it. Just as the speaker was unaware of the history of the very thing he was teaching, which has been used to justify so many tragedies and resulted in the deaths of millions, he is doomed to repeat it.

Yet, I did not initially learn about Dominion Theology when I first entered Seminary. It was not until year three when a professor challenged me to look into the Discovery Doctrine that I became aware of it. It certainly was not a part of the myriad of Church History classes I had taken or books I have read, most of whom were white or taught by white men or women. I did not even engage with disability theologians until a different professor sent me some reading material. I learned about the Civil Rights Movement as settled history, then took a class on it from a Black professor and discovered it is far from settled history in the perspective of the Black Community, something we should take into consideration. I read Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell with weeping, know that my own propensity to not listen to my brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds had continued that same attitude of indifference. I did not learn about the need for ethnic reconciliation until I started paying attention to what was going on around and started really listening to my friends from all different backgrounds. The history is not something I want to repeat and I hope one day I can teach my kids not just to treat their fellow man with dignity and respect, but to listen deeply to them and not to be afraid of their pain.

Because we are dealing with the results of more than 1000 years of Dominion Theology and we are not handling it well. Most seminarians do not learn about this part of Christian History, the bad parts, the times the church royally messed up and turned its back on God on a matter. Such as the slaughter of Muslim men women and children during the first Crusade, the killing off of entire tribes (numbering in the Millions) of First Nation peoples in the Caribbean, South America, Mexico and the North American Colonies. Or the Southern Justification for Slavery preached from the Pulpits of Churches in the North and South or Jim Crow and the reign of fear supported by the White Churches. These events are part of our history as White Europeans, and even if we have never personally engaged in these things, we are still dealing with the brokenness and shame these events have caused, especially in our current climate of racial tensions.

Another Irony here is that there should not be a “White Church” or a “Black Church” there should only be The Church, which God has intended from the beginning. Undivided and multi-ethnic, made of men and women in its congregations and leadership, where the wall of hostility that once kept us apart has been torn down and in its place a table set where we all dine as one. But if we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat that history, and I fear with statements like John MacArthur’s Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel we are in danger of repeating it again. Segregation is the ultimate form of that evil spirit of Sectarianism that has long dominated the Church here in America.

Yet, if we do not learn about this history as pastors, as future theologians, if we do not acknowledge it, but instead fight against the need to even learn it, then we will repeat it and we will train the next generation to repeat it. As I have said before, we as a church have been historically great at getting rid of false or heretical teachers without eliminating the false or heretical teachings. Dominion Theology, as far as it is concerned, is just one such example of one of those heretical teachers we have not abandoned and which still comes out in our thinking and the way we go about higher theological education.

The truth is, Africa had a rich Christian tradition before White Settlers came to its shores, one that traces its roots back to the book of Acts. Yet, in the spirit of Dominion, settlers came to “Civilize” the Africans and save them from their pagan history. This would be done initially through missions work but later the subservience of the slave trade would be seen as the best way to civilize and Christianize “them.” The same approach was taken to the First Nation in the America’s by the Puritans through the creation of Mission Towns designed to civilize and Christianize the native peoples. “Christianization” and Missions work were always attached to the colonial powers and always intertwined with the conquering government. The Colonial Government would then look at African Christianity, which was much older than the European Form and work to destroy it because it did not fit their ethnocentric model of what it meant to be a Christian. In this we have done great harm to ourselves, to those whom were victimized by colonization and the slave trade and their descendants.

I have before quoted Dr. Philip Schaff who said in his great sermon The Principle of Protestantism: “Christianity, awakened within a certain context of cultures and did not seek to destroy them but to infuse in them its own transforming power to make them the best version of themselves.” If we only learn about Western Christianity as a “Civilizing force” then we do not see what Dr. Schaff saw in the historical development of the Church, God working within ethnic groups for His glory, not abolishing them or making them all alike, but bringing out the best of what He had created them to be.

We have destroyed cultures and even entire ethnic populations in the name of God who wants nothing to do with our destruction of people made in His image. Our seminaries need to teach this History to ensure we do not repeat it, but also to show us the current state of The Church, which has flourished in=spite of Western Colonialism, flourished in its own beautiful ways, shapes and forms with many languages and expressions of Worship across every tribe and tongue, something we need to embrace, not destroy.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

The Diminished Church of the Truncated Gospel.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Editors Note: Due to length a section on examples from the Statement of Social Justice was removed from this article and will be published at a later date. 

There is a new statement going around, a follow up to the controversial “Nashville Statement” that made its rounds on the internet last year, from the same group that wrote the Nashville Statement. This one, the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel may actually be worse then the Nashville Statement in what it does to the church as it seeks to “defend” orthodoxy.

It comes on the heals of John MacArthur, one of the composers, sermon series on Social Justice where he called it Heresy. Then a video where MacArthur, in our view, twisted Matthew 5:13-19 to say that we are not the ones who are a light to the world but Jesus and we are not working to preserve the world, but that it is the Gospel that preserves the gospel. It still baffles me that someone so studied in the Word can come up with these conclusions and with this statement, but it has happened, and no one should stand for what these things do to the fullness of the Gospel.

I also wish I could say this was a new phenomenon, unfortunately, MacArthur has advocated this kind of sectarianism his entire career, holding true to the fundamentalist spirit. This has long caused me and many others to have sharp disagreements with him as I have grown and studied in the conservative evangelical and reformed traditions. I find my dispute with him to be one of conscious and essential doctrine than over peripheral issues, though I certainly disagree with him on many peripheral issues as well.

The debate is nothing new in America though, in fact, when in 1845 when Charles Hodge read John Williamson Nevin’s translation of Philip Schaff’s “The Principle of Protestantism” his response was one of the confusion because Schaff “failed” in Hodge’s mind, to distinguish between the two forms of the church. To Hodge, there were two forms, the visible and the invisible Church. The Visible Church was the church where man dwelt, one in the world with a imperfect interpretation of scripture. Meanwhile, the invisible Church was where Christ dwelt and it was where the church existed in its most perfect and unblemished form.

Schaff, on the other hand, knows nothing of a divided church, hence he refers to the church as “the Church” without making a distinction between the two. He does this because he sees the Church as the continuation of the Incarnation of Christ through the divine union between Christ and man (the doctrine of Thesis in the Eastern Church). Christ dwelt within man, the incarnation by the Spirit, therefore the Church is an active and fully unified visible body of the believers that lives in the tension of the now but not yet and has to engage in the world and at certain points does intersect with the world. “Christianity,” Schaff writes” awakened in a particular historical context, amidst a number of cultures and ethnicities and it did not seek to destroy them, but to infuse them with its own unique transformational power to make them the best versions of themselves.” This is what confused Hodge, the visible church was fallen and divided, so there must have been a perfect version, an ideal version of the church that was untainted by man and that must have been where Christ lived.

The more widely read among must might say: “Well, how purely Platonian of Hodge” and they would be correct. The idea of separating the church into the idea and the real, the invisible and the visible is a purely gnostic idea. To the gnostic, the divine cannot interact with sinful flesh and thus there cannot be an organic unity with Christ. Though Hodge would never go here, it also poses problems for Christology if you believe the divine does not interact with the human than you have to deny the two natures of Christ, fully God and fully Man. One substance, two natures.

In Schaff’s view, that articulation carried over to the Church because of the incarnation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Church could not be separated into two forms, and to do so would be to diminish the work and life of the Church.

This debate is several hundred years old, but here again we find it. If you read the statement, essentially, MacArthur is attempting to recall the visible church to the standard of perfection in the invisible church by calling the church away from engagement with world. He ignores that Jesus said “You are the light of the world” and “You are the salt of the Earth” working through and in union with Christ with access to the righteousness and discernment of God to work towards social righteousness and through that, social justice. That means we have to talk about things like Racism, which MacArthur denies to be a corporate sin and where the church intersects with culture and how we have failed to actually engage the world in a manner that brings about righteousness, and by default, Justice. He does not want the church to engage these issues because to him they are not biblical. The problem is, you can teach an entire course of the bible and ethnicity, taking one semester, and still have barely scratched the surface. Ironically, if there was an invisible church then that would be a church with invisible justice.

My argument is this, because the Gospel, through the incarnate word, comes to dwell inside and transform us, engraining scripture within us and enduing us with the gifts of the spirit and spiritual gifts. Then we are not to be a diminished church but a incredible body that is engaged in a hurting world for the sake of seeing that hurting world come to Christ because they have seen Christ in the way we live and walk and teach. The gospel does not mean mere inward change, but incredible inward change marked by incredible outward change and fighting against the injustices for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ is just one of those outward marks.

MacArthur, on the other hand, truncates the gospel, he makes it something ethereal and unknowable and “other.” It is not something that engages this world or makes us live justly, love mercy or walk in humility with God. It does not have the power to speak into every situation, especially those that seem too worldly. The problem is, if we are to be a light to the nations, we must engage the issues that the world is fighting with and seek to bring in a sound, biblically informed response to a situation. The gospel then should cause us to engage socially because of what God has done for us so that others might know and experience that same saving grace.

Instead, MacArthur and the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel leaves us with a diminished church and a truncated Gospel. Where both have no power and have to sit on the sideline and watch as people kill each other instead of being what Jesus calls us, the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If the Church is the continuation of the incarnation through divine union, then we must engage as Jesus did to fight against injustice and work towards reconciliation of people to God and to one another. In that way, MacArthur is right, Jesus is the light of the World, he just uses us now, the Word of God is the Gospel, but it preserves the world through Christians who are spurred on by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. The Church is Christ in the world and should live as such, which in my opinion means reclaiming social justice as what it used to be….

Our own.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Seminarians: Maintain your Hobbies.

Jonathan David Faulkner

I love the yearly ice-breakers professors do, especially those that force you to get to know something about your classmates. One of my professors has you fill out an entire notecard full of information like what denomination you came from, what you hope to get out of this course, what is your prior interaction with the material (if any) and what you want to do after Seminary. It is almost boring now to say your name and degree program since so many of my professors have come up with unique ways for the class to get to know each other. Another professor takes the introductions to another level so that you not only have to go around the room and say your name and degree and something interesting about you the first day, you have to do it multiple times throughout the semester and you had better be taking notes since part of your midterm and final grades were going to hinge upon you knowing your classmates.

In the spring two of my professors, during the general introductions, asked students to list the hobbies they had. One by one almost every person in the room said: “My name is_____________ and I used to have hobbies before I came to Seminary.” To be honest, it was heartbreaking to hear so many people say they had given up their hobbies upon entrance to seminaries. Now, to be sure, some of them still likely made time for those hobbies when they were not on campus, during reading weeks, during breaks. During the 20 weeks of the year they were on campus and engaged in classwork, a lot of them had barely picked up their hobbies.

I understand, Seminary is difficult, we are here to be trained to be pastors and counselors and church leaders and the rigorous nature of the work does not always allow for breaks during the week and when we do find downtime it is often filled with catching up on sleep. For those of us who work during our time here, that tends to throw another wrench in the works as we then have to balance life, classes, work and still find time for R&R.

The Idiomatic “No rest for the weary and the righteous do not need any” tends to be a mot for seminarians and for some of us, it was how we were brought up. In some churches I have heard horror stories about how those who take rests are condemned as lazy. Those are extreme cases, but we tend to adopt a “Sleep-when-I’m-Dead” mentality as seminarians regardless of our upbringing. The pressure to perform coming from our professors, those back home, brothers and sisters in our halls and from faculty and staff pushes us to unhealthy habits and attitudes in regards to rest and relaxation. Seminaries tend to still operate as if we live in the 1970’s and one income can pay for rent along with all your other seminary expenses. So while the amount of work required to take care of ourselves (to buy food, pay rent and the like) the workload given by professors has remained the same and in some cases seemed to increase. Somewhere in their we have to find time to sleep at night, though some of us forgo that during the closing hours of the semester.

I suppose I have been put in a unique position by my brain, since I recovered from the injury I found that I could only engage so many houses a day before my speech became slurred and I begin to get confused. That’s why if you ever go in to the city with me I do everything I can to get back before 9 because it is literally like a switch. Sometimes I am luck to get 13 good hours depending on the intensity of the work I’ve done throughout the day. In that, I have found that turning to hobbies has allowed me to overcome that a bit. Just like when I was going through the initial steps of recovery and playing my guitar and singing were the only ways to clear my head and ease the pain. My hobbies then have become a means for me to cope with the likely lifelong affects of scrambling my brain.

I do believe that hobbies and interests, for the most part, are God-given and open up a unique means for us to glorify Him. That’s why when The Opened Eyes works up a new song and the guys ask me what I want it to sound like I have emphasized that they bring their own unique musical abilities to the song and I want them to use those gifts for God’s glory, so it is okay to do whatever you feel led to do. The cool thing about that approach is that we have never actually had a difference of opinion over a song and the music has taken on its own unique life, even for songs we have played ten or more times.

It is also why I am strict about getting to Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday Mornings, why I still make time for video games, why I take long bike-rides early in the morning and why I always have a non-seminary book for reading. Some of those are done with others, some are done alone and some are just me and my wife sitting on the couch with books in hand while JJ Heller sings to us from the television. I know I will be rethinking a lot of this come February when our little one joins us here in the great big world, but what is life without some curve balls and excitement.

The fact is, you, the human you are, as made in the image of God, is way more important than your grades, then your professors opinions or others expectations of you. If you devalue yourself to get a high grade, then you have still failed. If you go into pastoral ministry with an A average but have not learned how to care for yourself and others than you are not going to last long as a pastor. If you cannot take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, mentally, then you will not be in ministry very long because you will either burn-out early or die prematurely. The latest estimate from Church Leaders is that only 50% of pastors who start in the ministry last longer than 5 years. That’s a number that should give all of us pause and make us ask what we can do better.

One of the ways for us to push numbers like the one above is taking the personal responsibility for our own mental health and one of the ways we can do that is through investing in our hobbies and making time for them. By doing that which gives rest to our soul, not as a substitute to worship because that is necessary, but as a compliment to worship and time in scripture. God did not make you so you could burn out and die, He made you so you could have an everlasting relationship with Him and glorify Him in that. Not that you lose your salvation by burning out, but if a premature death can be avoided then it should be.

Your hobbies are a unique part of how God has made you. They are meant to help you draw closer to Him and to other whom He has given that interest too. So, do yourself a favor and pursue your hobbies while at Seminary, you may be surprised what God shows you about yourself.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Why A Pastors Suicide Should Make Us Rethink Seminary.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Note: This article will be considered the beginning of the seminary year advice piece.

 

I want to start this off with a disclosure: The following article is in no way meant to politicize the tragic death of Pastor Andrew Stoecklien, I did not know him and have no connection to him other than the fact that I am a pastor and will hopefully soon be leaving to return to full-time pulpit ministry. My intention here is to continue and spread conversations that I have had with many in my own context. As someone who has been directly affected by suicide and who struggled with my own mental health for years, this is an issue that I feel a need to speak on. Hopefully I am letting enough time pass that this post serves the purpose of sparking conversations outside of where they are currently taking place.

Because if the issues and troubles we have been facing here at Gordon-Conwell are indicative of our sister seminaries, as they tell us they are, then we need to have this conversation. Not just here, but in our churches, among our supporters and among us as students. If our attitudes towards mental health and suicide do not change, we are only going to continue this cycle and it is going to get worse. If 1-4 Pastors struggle with mental health, as was reported by Christianity Today in 2014, should that not gives us pause? If pastors report feeling isolated or walled-off or lonely should we not take that into consideration?

There is a quote that I think we all hear and kind of let roll off our backs. It goes like this: “The habits you develop in college/seminary will follow you your ministry.” I am living proof of this. In college I had a sort of cycle I lived in, a burn out cycle where I would do very well for awhile and then self-destruct. I took that cycle into my first pastorate and you know the rest. When I climbed out of the back of that truck that day it was just another day working full-time and pastoring “part-time.” I was not expecting that 90+ hour weeks would catch up to me the way they did. The last time a burn-out cycle ended was a catastrophic and catalytic event. There is a good chance I may have also been depressed during those years from Middle School to that fateful day in February of 2015. I would never recommend a major brain injury as a means of working through your past, but it was what the Lord used and three years after the fact I am glad it happened, Painful as it was and sometimes can still be (like when I cannot remember the table for word 😉).

Here is the thing though, our culture values hard-work because it does not know how to value the one doing the work. We are all taught to work hard, make a living, get good grades, be the best. Whether that be through materialism or some other ism. As much as we would like to thin otherwise, our seminaries can be and in some ways are no different than the world. When one professor assigns twenty hours a week of homework on top of the twenty hours per your other two or three classes the hours pile up. Throw in a part-time job or two…or three jobs if you live in married housing and kids if you have them a work life balance becomes impossible to achieve. You either spend way too much time in the library working on classwork that in some cases is ungraded and does nothing to advance your knowledge of the subject at hand (busy work). Instead of training successful pastors we set pastors up to burn-out in 10 years or less (the national average). In fact, only 10% of pastors who begin as pastors, retire as pastors, which explains why there are so many “retired” pastors in your churches.

 

You can talk about community as a seminary or college until you are blue in the face, but if you constantly cut community programs and make it harder for the community to function as one. Or, if your expecting the students who are burning out because of academic overload to pick up the slack created by cut community programs, then you are asking for a major mental health break down.

I like the way Bonhoeffer handled community at Finkenwalde, yes, the ordinates had to study and work hard but there were also many afternoons he would cancel their time of instructions and they would go for a swim or run along the beach. I know this looks a lot different in a seminary of 600 as opposed to one of just 5, but the principle of caring for the body and soul that was so emphasized at Finkenwalde and care for one another is one that our seminaries can learn from. Even the twice a semester reading week’s are not breaks from class, but rather times of greater isolation for many as they pour over textbooks without having to go to class.

Yes, I do think there is institutional responsibility on the part of our seminaries to train us to have a proper work/life balance while we are here. As in, the seminary is responsible for teaching us to find a good work / life balance through our courses, mentoring and if need-be counseling. Then, the student is responsible for implementing what they are learning and discovery how that works for them.

The students are also responsible for making sure they do not isolate themselves but dwell in the community of the Body of Christ that God has put before them to take part in. Our Great Halls and Cafeterias should never be empty, instead they should be places where we gather for the joy of being with one another as brothers & sisters in Christ. Then we need to make sure we maintain those relationships far beyond our time in seminary so that we never allow ourselves to think we are alone. That friend we can call or who has the ability to call us and vice versa.

Above all, we should be reminded of who we are and whose we are. To be reminded constantly of our names and positions as redeemed and loved by Christ, presented to God as righteous in-spite of our sin. To be reminded that God is not judging us on our seminary performance or our knowledge of Greek or Hebrew or how well we write an exegesis paper. But that we learn to become people who love one another and pastors who love his flock.

I say all of this because one pastors suicide is too many, heck, one suicide is too many. One death, if it can be prevented is too many and if our seminaries can help prevent them then that should be a higher priority than academic performances. An objective stated from day one of year one as you are discipled to be a pastor.

This may require seminaries to make major shifts in the way they approach seminaries. Faculty may have to reduce their workloads and listen to students concerns instead of dismissing them. Administrators may need to come and live alongside the students to get a sense of the way they live instead of sitting in ivory towers away from the people they have been called to serve. Instead of mere seminaries, they have to become highly intentional Christian Communities for pastors that prepare and send out emotionally and spiritually healthy pastors.

This happens through life on life, daily living, not just through reading a book. Though we should read our bibles, they are the literal Words of God after-all.

POSTSCRIPT:

I tend to work Seminary as a work day, 8AM-5PM. I make sure to finish everything, work and otherwise by five so I can be home with my wife at night or go out with one or two of the brothers. I also take weekends off completely at the beginning of the semester. After 5PM is my wife and I’s time and we use it. I also set out a To-Do list every morning and work off a master schedule for every assignment. Anything that does not get done before 5PM gets pushed to the next day. I also intentionally front-load my semesters, which means I begin working on my work for the semester at the end of August. This semester Tuesdays are devoted to work on my Thesis.

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

MacArthur’s Comments on Social Justice: Why He’s Half-Right on Matthew 5:13-16

Jonathan David Faulkner

If you have been following me for awhile you know that I tend to take a hard line stand on the churches involvement in society. The Church is given the Gospel and is meant to live out that Gospel in every sphere. Now, how we do that I generally leave up to the reader, especially as one who refuses preach and agenda or support any particular agenda especially one put forward by the current political nightmare. There is one issue I have and will continue to insist upon: that Christians should always take up the cause of Justice in their immediate context and work towards the horizontal reconciliation we have in Christ. I have argued before that Christians should be engaged in Social Justice issues because the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in tandem with the Gospel compels us to be a people of Justice.

So when a man as learned and knowledgeable about scripture comes out against the idea of Social Justice I tend to wonder if we are reading the same scripture. I do understand that we all approach scripture with our biases and upbringings and hopefully the Spirit will help us put those aside and bring us to what God is actually saying in the text. The problem is, I think MacArthur is partly right in his comments. I have preached on Matthew 5:13-16 as part of a sermon series called “The Hard Words of Jesus” while I was at Stafford, a series I spent a month reading for in total because I wanted to understand the difficult texts of 5:13-20. MacArthur is right when he says that Christ is talking about the Light being Christ and His Gospel and the salt being the Gospel as a preservative. However, Jesus however uses the first-person plural in Greek, meaning “You” or “you all” to refer to those listening to the Disciples. He has also just finished the Beatitudes and will soon talk about his mission to fulfill the law and not abolish it.

Jesus is literally instructing those around him, “you are the salt of the Earth, you are the Light of the world.” Yes, it is true that elsewhere Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the World and is referred to many times as the Light of the World by the Gospel writers especially John. Jesus is the light of the world and his words are the salt of the Earth, but here He is addressing a crowd, speaking to a group of people who have come to hear him speak. He refers to them in the sociatic Those who are there are being told that they are the salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Obviously this conflicts with MacArthur’s understanding as he is quick to use this passage to dismiss a myriad of social situations that Christians have spoken into Moral, Political and Social.

I do understand his hesitancy, and his critique is not wholly without merit. I myself am critical of the modern Social Justice movement because it tends to reject scripture in favor of some enlightened statement of “tolerance” which is actually extremely intolerant. This though, is a result of the Church forfeiting its responsibilities in large part, in the social sphere, to pursue political advancement and power or to maintain some perceived status quo. Christians once led everyone on matters of Justice in America from Homeless ministry to care for the elderly to detox centers and so on and so forth. At the beginning of the 1900’s fundamentalists began pursuing an agenda of social reform through the government and even abdicated their responsibilities to the federal government by supporting The New Deal and expansions of government services. Meanwhile Christian leaders became more insular in their focus and even began rejecting those they had once served. Adopting the rampant individualism of their time and ours they dismissed the suffering as people who simply needed to work harder so God would lift them from their poor state. The result tends to be a Social Justice that is done poorly and without the influence of scripture. In fact, I would even argue that the current Social Justice movement is not even Just since it seems more concerned with turning the oppression back on the oppressor instead of true reconciliatory Justice.

There are, however, many within the Church who understand biblical justice and how it should be lived out. Names like Timothy Keller, Branda Salter McNiel, Bryan Lorritts and many, many more are calling us to true biblical justice that results in biblical reconciliation. Secular Social Justice has no basic or principle for a true notion of Justice, the Church does and many of its leaders are embracing that.

That being said, here is why MacArthur is more wrong then right on this topic: Jesus speaks knowing the completion, knows that He will promise the coming Spirit that will make a way for us to live out the Gospel and knows that one day Paul will call us to be imitators of Christ. He had then the benefit of foreknowledge, He knew that those people could not just hear the Gospel but be the Gospel because the spirit was dwelling in them. They could, by His power, go out and be Salt and Light to the world. The Gospel, working through us, lights the way towards truth and the Gospel, acting as Salt through us is to preserve the society.

One of the ways to preserve a society is to preserve Justice in its highest form. That is, because I can act righteously on God’s righteousness, even if that be imperfect at this time because I am still imperfect, then I can be Just in my decision making and actions towards others. Conversely if I am living a righteous life I will not do that which is unjust or commit any injustice towards my brothers or sisters. In short, a righteous society will naturally do Justice since Justice is a by-produce of righteousness.

I have said this before in sermons but it bears repeating, this was the intention for Israel. They were first and foremost, living by the law of God, to be a righteous society and when they failed at that, simply turned to traditions and practices, God became displeased with them. Not that I am trying to say that MacArthur has brought upon himself the displeasure of God by rejecting Social Justice, but that his theology has always seemed to be a bit too focused on fundamentalist traditions to the exclusion of all else. Preferring Christians be in the World but not really in the world so we can avoid at all times anything that might make us look of the world. MacArthur has written many great works in his lifetime some of high quality, it is unfortunate that he has maligned himself with comments like this and with the “Strange Fire” controversy over Charismatics.

If Jesus is correct and we are the light of the world, as in, the Gospel lived out in this world meant to light and preserve the Earth then we must, if we are to be consistent with the whole council of scripture, seek to do Justice in the church and in the social sphere. That is not a Justice that rejects the Gospel as our secular counterparts understandably do, but a Justice because of the Gospel, the Gospel making us Just as it works through the Holy Spirit to make us righteous. So when we come across an unjust system we can stand up against it and even work to rework it to remove that injustice whether it be through corrective measures, if required, or through just changing the way the system works. Doing so with the reconciling mindset, that total restoration of person and relationship can be established. Remembering that unjust systems are dehumanizing to both the oppressed and the perpetuator. Acknowledging too that sometimes the goal of restoration of relationship is impossible because of the nature of the oppression and the extent of the damage done. (Note: I would apply this to an abusive relationship or rape, not to ethnic reconciliation though I have heard two stories recently about abusers and the abused reconciling).

So, MacArthur is partly right, Jesus is the Light of the World and we become such when The Spirit dwell within us. The Church is not just a mere collection of humans untouched by the divine, but a great family bound together as the continued incarnation of Christ through the indwelling of Christ to be made into a reconciled Holy Temple (Ephesians 2). If the Gospel is to have such a great effect on us then we are, out of gratitude, obligated to participate in the healing work of Reconciliation and Social Justice is a tool we once wielded for that work.

Now, I know some of you think I am trying to synchronize or justify, but the more I read scripture, really read scripture, the more I see God’s heart beats for everyone from the poor to the rich for the reconciliation of us to himself and us to one another in every sphere of life. There may be some spheres where this is impossible right now because of how thoroughly secular they have become, but that should not stop us from striving. God has not given us a spirit of fear, as Paul tells Timothy, but the Holy Spirit which comes in power and grants us the ability to do what God tells Micah to tell Israel, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

A “Troubled History” Should Not Mean Total Rejection

Jonathan Faulkner

I have heard the phrase now so many times in conversation with liberal friends and centrist friends alike. I even came across it as the title of a major article on a historical figure. You may have heard it, if you are of my more left-wing readers you may have even said it. The conversation often goes like this:

 

“What are you reading”

“One of *Insert Historical Figure* sermons/texts/writings”

“Oh, I do not read them, they have a troubled history of racism.”

 

As I detailed in my last post concerning why the Great Awakenings did not bring about an end to slavery. It would be very difficult to find someone from that time period who did not have a troubled history when it came to racial and ethnic relations. Even the famous revivalist Charles G. Finney, an abolitionist, in fact one of the greatest abolitionists, could at times be as bigoted as his pro-slavery opponents. At the same time, and I learned this since releasing last week’s article, he believed that one of the mark’s of a revival of religion was that one turn against the institutional slavery and to the fight for abolition.

 

The problem is, we have 2-300 years of hindsight to look back and see the issues that our predecessors were, to us, blind too. Indeed, they may have been, since as I pointed out last time this was the great sin of their time, a system of thought that was received from the highest form of government concerning the lack of humanity, not just of blacks, but of the poor whites who were considered only slightly above the slave and later the free man. So, they came to a discriminatory system of thought through education and the educated. The fact that our culture ever came to reject slavery at all is nothing short of a work of the Spirit one that we see come to fruition in men like Finney and the Beecher’s.

I do agree with the notion that we should look closely at every aspect of a person. I believe that the Historian does a disservice to themselves when they whitewash history, be it events or people. Edwards, Whitefield, the founding fathers, all have been victims of this whitewashing by historians because history has the misfortune of being written by the winner. I think if you distill a man down to all that is deemed ‘good’ about him, you deny others the chance to have discussions such as the ones we are trying to have here.

That being said, I have long had an affinity for Jonathan Edwards, his life and theology, to the point of once calling myself an Edwardian Calvinist, as in, looking at reformed Calvinistic theology through an Edwardian lens. Now, I have since abandoned that manicure as I have grown and matured to embrace the broadness of the reformed tradition while seeking to learn how that dictates a social theology that embraces the imago dei and holds in tension the effects of depravity. Still, Edwards owned slaves, something I did not learn about when I was introduced to Edwards Theology in high school and then again through reading John Piper’s “God’s Passion for His Glory.” I did not learn this until I read Marsden’s “A Life” and even then I tried to justify it because by all accounts he treated his slaves with dignity and respect and even freed the first one he purchased. Again, I have come to believe that owning another human being in unjustifiable, but I still have been influenced by Edwards, especially in regards to the affections and fruit as a result of the work of the Spirit. I feel the same way about Whitefield, whose sermons I have even done historical reenactments of, but who, as was discussed in the last article, was part of the reason slavery became legal in Georgia.

For my own part, some would say that I myself have a “troubled history” with ethnic relationships because I thought for a long time that I should just be “Colorblind” without realizing (and it was in my case) I was using the term to excuse myself from having to engage my friends in their own context. In my mind since I was taught to treat everyone the same that meant I should expect everyone to be the same regardless of their skin color. What I failed to see then, was the interwoven and majestic beauty of the Body of Christ, which, happens to be made up of many ethnic groups, skin colors, cultures and languages. The sad thing is though that many who read this will think that I have become “liberalized” and have abandoned the Gospel. However, many scholars, Black and white have shown me that the gospel unites us while transforming them, not into a monoculture and thus destroy the unique expressions of worship God created, but, as the 19th century Historian Dr. Philip Schaff says: “Infuse it’s (Christianity) own transforming power into them into the best versions of themselves.”

Actually, if you have ever read Edmund Burke, which I recommend, you know that the truest form of conservativism works to conserve people and their environments which includes their cultures and ethnic backgrounds. It is also within the realm of true conservativism to maintain the world so that mankind can live on it. So the modern day conservativism, a conservatism of power, is actually not conservatism and not in line with Christian Ideology. (see also my thoughts on the current Pro-Life Movement and its lack of Pro-Life language).

Within the Third Great Awakening, during the time of D.L. Moody in the post-civil War America there was a divorce between Christianity and social conservativism. Moody himself believed that the poor were poor because they did not work hard enough. Just a little faith in God and some hard work and they too could share in the riches of their wealthier counterparts. This of course is an idea popular today within the prosperity gospel; “If you do not have enough faith, God will not make you rich.” (see anything by Kenneth Copeland). Until that time, and even for a time after that, the Church did the majority of social work and conservatism in America, even today the Church does a vast majority of the care for the Homeless in cities like Denver. Still, conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals moved away from social conservativism rejecting “the Social Gospel” that took their place. This led to disengagement in the Civil Rights Years as well as Evangelicals told Dr. King to “wait ten years and things will work out.”

While their motivations and systems of thought do not excuse the people of the past, it also needs to be understood that this is what was going on, this is what was inherited and understood. It is easy to look back on our historical figures and project on to them our own sensibilities, but if we went back in time and tried to bring judgement on them based on our modern understanding they would likely rise up and kill us. To understand an era you have to seek to understand how the era thought. As a nineteenth century Church Historian I have to learn to think like a person in the nineteenth century would think so I can share in an understanding of their time period I cannot have from my own time period. It would be dishonest of me to wonder why they had not come to where I was at 300 years later, I have the benefit of 300 more years of history.

But here is the thing, none of this makes these people irredeemable in the eyes of GOD. Let me say it again, none of these things make those of history irredeemable in the eyes of GOD. It also does not mean we should throw out everything someone said and condemn the people we study as totally inept because they did not the perspective we have. In other words, we cannot go too far to the other extreme where we completely reject a person outright in every way.

I think of the recent controversy over the novel To Kill A Mockingbird or the Little House on the Prairie books. To the point that these books are being dropped from curriculums and libraries because they contain blatantly bigoted and racist ideologies. I struggle with tossing these books out because it was through these books, To Kill A Mockingbird specifically as part of my high school English curriculum that I was first introduced to racism as a thinker. Previously my school had done The Underground Railroad night as part of its elementary curriculum but I was too young at the time to truly understand the implications. It was through engaging popular literature like TKAM that I began learning to engage the topic of racism. By the way, the same was true after reading Eli Weiseel’s Night, which detailed his time in the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. If we deny our kids a chance to engage dissenting viewpoints it seems to me we have a better chance of disassembling these dissenting and yes, evil, ideologies and thought systems. Simply banning it only pushes it further to the periphery and makes those who practice it even more angry and harmful because they begin to feel like a caged animal.

In the context of my last article, I can have an affinity for Edwards Theology while still acknowledging that those things which he did that were contradictory to the bible, such as own slaves, were sinful and inconsistent with a biblical worldview. I can also look at someone like Finney and say that while he was bigoted he was right to say that a natural end of revivals, one of them at least, was a strong desire to see slavery abolished and to fight for that end. I can talk about the negatives and sins of a person without throwing the person out completely.

In short, I can say: “Yes they do have a troubled history, and we can talk about that, and let’s talk about the things they did well should have informed their view here.” So that we have a more balanced view, and unwhitewashed and critical conversation about the person or event from history. Perhaps then we can work towards the abolition of racism in all spheres of life first in the Church and then in the world.

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Why Didn’t the Awakenings Bring About an End to Slavery?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

It seems like a harmless enough question, although I should know by now that there is no such thing when discussing reconciliation and American History. When Pastor Bryan Lorritts asked it I felt myself rouse for a fight. After all, I am a historian of that time period and though I have spent the better part of Seminary studying 19th Century Eucharistic Reformed theology (Mercersburg) I have read everything we have in print by Jonathan Edwards and wrote a major paper on the debate between Edwards and Charles Chauncy over the First Great Awakening and traced out how that particular controversy began a series of controversies, divisions and fights that culminated in the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy of the early 20th century. I am currently preparing to write my thesis on the controversy between Mercersburg and Princeton, the sectarians and the Revivalist in the 1840’s. So, when Pastor Bryan asked the question: “Were the Great Awakenings real revivals because they did not bring about an end to slavery?” I was more than ready to answer yes and bring the full authority of my historical knowledge with me, but then I thought about it and though my answer is still yes, it is a yes with a caveat.

Before I go on I have to establish some historical guidelines before talking about this subject. There is a tendency in the modern study of history to commit the fallacy of Present ism; present ism is reading our own cultural attitudes and actions back into history while making no effort to understand how the people of that time period thought or acted. The famous musical Hamilton would be a case of present ism, though because it is a creative art and not a major history paper I have no problem with their presentation. The other thing I want to do is acknowledge my bias, In school I learned a white-washed history of this time period, as I did in college and for years I brought that bias to my study of historical figures. The result was a one-sided view of historical figures, it was not until I read George Marsden’s book on Jonathan Edwards that I knew he owned slaves. So this question and seeking to answer it requires me to do what I claimed to do when I first presented my theory of method for studying Church History, examining every angle of a topic to answer the question.

Because the fact remains, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, by every account he treated them well: “As part of the family”[1] as one historian puts it, but that does not and will never justify owning another human being, that is indefensible. Inconsistently though, had his family and the powers that were in the Massachusetts colony had listened to Edwards when he insisted on treating the Indians with respect and dignity we likely would have avoided the escalation of fighting in the French and Indian War. His contemporary and fellow Awakening Preaching George Whitefield also had a troubled history with slavery. He had preached and written an anti-slavery pamphlet in Virginia but was told that no one would come to hear him preach if he published it. Shortly after that he worked to convince the governor of Georgia to adopt slavery so he could build his orphanage, a task that he was successful at.

Anyone who is familiar with the story of the Hymn Amazing Grace knows that John Henry Newman was a slave trader who later repented and was the wise council behind the young parliamentarian William Wilberforce who fought for and succeeded at passing the abolition of the English slave trade. In the states the revivalist Charles G. Finney fought for abolition twenty years before the Civil War though he speaks in the same bigoted language of many of his 19th century contemporaries (the only place I have not found it is in the Mercersburg Theologians, one of whom was a German who had theological issues with slavery, the same kind we wish others would have formed).

 

The Awakenings were incredible things, especially if you read Edwards accounts of them or the accounts of the revivals led by Finney or the later tent revivals led by D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. In all three Awakenings men and women and children came to faith in droves, and those in first would sit for upwards of 3 hours to learn what they were getting themselves into. But even after slavery was abolished, during the Civil Rights years and the Graham Crusades left the late Billy Graham lamenting that he wished he had done more to advance the cause of Civil Rights.

The church during the Awakenings and Civil War grew divided on this issue, especially as the Abolitionists grew stronger and won the abolition of slavery in the North. As Lincoln moved forward to prevent the spread of Slavery into new territory succession began and the divide between the churches grew. On January 4th, 1861 Henry Ward Beecher stood in his pulpit in Plymouth New York and called Slavery: “The most alarming and most fertile cause of national sin.” Meanwhile, in the south James Henley Thornwell, a preacher in South Carolina asserted that slavery was a: “Good and merciful way of organizing labor which providence has given us.”

A revival may be defined as: A move of the Spirit of God, directed by God, working towards the outward and inward transformation of the individual or group through drawing them to God or through their own personal decision. Because this outward change is lost in the third Awakening (it was an awakening focused on the inward change) many, myself included, do not consider it a legitimate awakening. But since the other two still did not abolish slavery, was it a legitimate awakening?

As I said earlier, I do believe it was, in fact, I agree with Edwards that an Awakening is an Awakening if it produces outward fruit and in the case of the First and Second Awakenings it is hard to deny that there was some form of outward fruit. Even Charles Chauncey, who was hostile to the New Lights admitted in Seasonable Thoughts on the Sate of Religion in New England that fruits were evident in some who had been “so affected.” In Religious Affections Edwards asserts that the only true mark of an inward work of the Spirit was “the fruit of such a work.” As C.S. Lewis would say two hundred years later in his lectures on Christianity, the evidence was not that nice men became nicer, but that “new men become new.” One had to show they were truly transformed and redeemed. One of the issues that John Williamson Nevin would raise in the 19th century with Finney’s “Anxious Bench” is that it forced “disingenuous conversions.” Though Finney would be the flagbearer for revivalists for a century even to the point of a redaction of his social theology.

The trouble was that there was a concerted and conscious effort to oust any social theology that upset the “Status quo” or was “Outside Accepted Christian Doctrine.” That meant that those who redacted Finney’s works removed any mention of the abolition of Slavery. Thankfully Garth Rosel has restored these manuscripts for us and we can learn more about Finney’s social theology than ever before. At the time though, the accepted thought patterns of the day in America were bigoted and maintained an order of Racism. It would take something catastrophic to dismantle that system of thought.

I do however, think that God was working against the evil of slavery, working to dismantle that system and that is why we had two Awakenings and then a Civil War. The spirit was working to change the lives, inward and outward, of the people and that should have naturally brought about a hatred of and contempt for the institution of slavery. The issue is that those systems of thought were so ingrained that even when the Spirit turned Finney against Slavery, his bigotry remained.

David French made an interesting point in a national review article recently when he said that: “of all the worlds history of slavery, the west was the only part of the world to look at this institutional and call it the evil it was.” Even so, as the Spirit of God tried to move us in that direction through two Awakenings and then the terrors of the Civil War, instead of letting Him complete the work and bring reconciliation, which Grant and Lee wanted not just between North and South but between Whites and Blacks, the church, especially in the south, upheld and supported Jim Crow and segregation, some of whom were my own distance relatives. There are still those who call themselves Christians who continue to espouse bigoted thought and support racist systems. Men like Jerry Falwell Jr. fail to realize that the Church, the people in the pews on Sunday are, according to sociologist Peter Beinart is “Less likely to be racist, bigoted or misogynistic their unchurched counterparts.  The Church today is also integrating racially and socio-economically, the latter of which is not happening in communities that are racially integrating. But this is three-hundred years after Edwards wrote “On Revivals” and almost 200 years since the Civil War and is an extremely new development in Church History as we look to be entering an ecumenical age of the Church.

I think the Revivals were legitimate, I think they were genuine awakenings. The people living in their time largely considered them to be and it would be dishonest for us to tell them they were wrong because we have the perspective of three hundred plus years. However, I think they were incomplete and that the spirit was working against slavery but because people of that time were so enculturated to think in the terms of their time. The entire system of thought was corrupted and needed to be completely torn down. I think one of the reasons we ended in Civil War is because the Spirit was doing that work against Slavery and a war was the only thing that might tear down that system…and even that did not. In the church we are moving towards a total rejection of that system of thought, towards what I would consider a more biblical view with a definition of humanity rooted in the Imago Dei and a call to treat all with deference and love.

Part of the reason for this is that the institutional church, as a whole, has lost the position of power it enjoyed during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively in America (and since Constantine in Rome). Secularization has made it possible for people in some parts of the country to be ignorant of the location of church buildings. Church Leaders recently released a poll that found that 95% of unchurch people polled had never met a Christian. On top of that, the narrative pre and post-election of the current president has been extremely unfavorable to Christians as well as painted an extremely inaccurate picture of American Christianity. The lack of Churches added to the diversifying of neighborhoods and small towns means we are worshiping with brothers and sisters from many ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, though, if you ask the spokes people chosen by the Media to represent Christianity, or who serve on the president’s advisory board, they are unaware of the current trends in the Church. If they would talk to their people, they would find a very different Church then the one they think they are representing.

The problem has been that each event that has meant to be catalytic has only shaken the foundations of the system of thought. It has taken the election of our current president for many of us to realize just how divided we have become and had been. I know, I know, research tells us that people are more comfortable in homogenous groups. But we are moving well beyond a time when homogeneity will be the expected norm and likely will become the exception as communities and churches integrate. Therefore, we must be willing to listen and respond with compassion and, if need be, repentance, in the hopes of healing broken relationships between ethnic groups. After reconciling us to God, as I said in last week’s article, God works to reconcile us to one another, and we have been stubborn and even indignant in allowing God to do that.

I think the Spirit has been working at this reconciling work for a long time. First working to get rid of the institution of Slavery, then working to change the hearts and minds of the people during the Civil Rights Era and now through drawing us together in our communities and churches. I also think this has taken so long because man is despairingly depraved and has fought against such a change on nearly every front. Now, secular culture, though aimlessly so, is fighting for reconciliation, though it is an incomplete one without Christ. We should have been and can be, leading in this area and leading by example.

Maybe that’s what the spirit intends?

I hope we’re open to it…

I Am.

 

 

[1] This may have just been an attempt to paint Edwards in a favorable light, though Marsden makes this same point and even acknowledges that Edwards freed the first slave he bought and had many free men in his congregation at Northampton.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Horizontal & Vertical – The Ephesians 2 Paradigm

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Let me start by saying this idea did not originate with me, I have long advocated for it, especially here, but I have longed for good terminology for what I have come to believe scripture is teaching us concerning reconciliation and have struggled to find it until last week when I sat through Brian Lorritts class Preaching Reconciliation here at Gordon-Conwell. While attending that week long class I was also biking back and forth (through the heat-wave) to the CCCC Annual Gathering where we were talking about peacemaking and reconciliation and this same topic came up in the plenary sessions. So, I am bringing what I am learning to you, and knowing the diversity of my audience, I know this may upset some and energize others. So bear with me as we talk through what I believe we in the white church have been missing and even in some cases outright rejecting.

When I teach my class on First Timothy I always tell those gathered that there are times when the divisions in our English bibles work to our disadvantage. 1st Timothy 2, with a break between vs. 7-8 with a new heading, is one such case where the author is talking about one specific issue (prayer) throughout the entire structure and our modern translations make it into two separate sections (in the Greek there is no separation and the passages are grammatically and thematically linked). Ephesians 2 is another area where our modern dividing of the text becomes unhelpful. It is also another place where the Greek links the passages grammatically and thematically, something we lose in our modern English translations.

We all know Ephesians 2:1-9, it is a hallmark of western reformation theology that culminates in every white evangelicals favorite verse (those who know scripture at least) “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (8-9, translation mine). I can quote that passage in my sleep and even tell you the various debates among theologians about the language of the passage, such as, “Faith in Christ” i.e my individual faith or “Faith of Christ” i.e. Christ’s perfect faith in the father to go to the cross in the first place. However, until I started studying the Mercersburg Theology two years ago, I would have been hard pressed to tell you the specifics of Ephesians 2. Had I been conscious of it, my sermon on Colossians 3:1-17 (which is a mirror of Ephesians 2) would have pointed my own theological discrepancy out to me years ago, but as we will discuss in a later article on the Great Awakening and why it did not spur the end of slavery, I was brought up in such a way theologically and to that way I defaulted.

What I have come to learn is this: Ephesians 2:1-9 deals with Vertical Reconciliation, while Ephesians 2:10-22 deals with Horizontal Reconciliation.

Let me unpack that as Brian Lorritts did for us a last week. Through Christ’s victorious, atoning, liberating death on the cross we were reconciled to God. Through Christ we now have a vertical relationship with God, one where we have access to God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The natural result of that then should be Horizontal Reconciliation, or a reconciliation that goes out from ourselves and works to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is, all our relationships with other believers should be reconciled and we should be working to live at peace with one another. This includes those who we generally consider the ethnically “other” the brother or sister who looks or thinks differently from you and I. We are, after all a family of people who are being conformed to the image of God, we are all being transformed in mind and heart into the mind of Christ, a mind that crosses every ethnic and cultural line we can think of.

The problem is, brothers and sisters, in America we have a long history of rebuilding the “dividing wall of hostility” that Christ tore down during his ministry and death on the cross. The Pharisees were gate keepers, working to keep others out, there was also a wall in the temple, the very wall Paul had in mind when he wrote those words above, that said: “Pass upon pain of death.” This wall was between the inner courts and the court of the Gentiles, the same Court of the Gentiles the moneylenders and store keepers had taken over before Jesus ran them out of the temple (and likely after he had gone as well). This does not just apply to ethnic lines, as in between Black and White, but even happens between groups of the same skin tone, wealthy whites have historically built separate churches from poor whites just as whites and blacks have built separate churches because a black man went to the ‘whites only” alter in a church in Philadelphia. That sign, the “whites only” sign, was the Jim Crow era dividing wall of Hostility, today, it is attitudes of the past coming in new forms, prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and yes, racism, that keep that dividing wall standing.

Yet, in Ephesians 2, Paul says that we were saved by grace through faith and now because of that work which God has done we can now be reconciled with one another and can enjoy the beauty of what Tony Evans calls the “oneness” of the body of Christ. That is, we can now look at our brothers and sisters and say to them: “I am one with you, you are my brother, you are my sister, you bring something unique to the table because of your ethnic background, and whatever that is God has redeemed it for His purposes. Therefore we can be one and perhaps I can even learn something from you so that we might better become that Holy Dwelling Place (v. 17) for the Lord. We do not become that Holy Temple based on our individual efforts, it is required that we turn to one another in love and grow towards each other.

The truth we have to consider in light of the entirety of Ephesians 2 is that in being vertically reconciled to God we are to be horizontally reconciled to one another. This reconciliation should start immediately, or we should hope it would. And is guided by the Spirit that dwells within each of us. Scripture is clear, we are to be reconciled to our neighbors even when our neighbor does not look like us, especially when our neighbor does not look like us. If we are reconciled to God, the natural result should be to be reconciled to one another. In short, I am not living out the Gospel in its totality unless I am actively seeking to be reconciled to my neighbor and to live at peace with them.

This was how it was supposed to be for Israel (which is evidenced throughout the Levitical code) and it is an imperative for the Church because we all have one spirit dwelling within us, something our Hebraic ancestors did not have.

Now, this is going to require repentance as a corporate group in many cases. This is hard for us as Whites because we tend to view ourselves as individuals not as a corporate group. If we can do that though, which is how our brothers and sisters from different ethnic backgrounds view themselves (as a group) then we can work towards breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. To some, it does not matter if your family did not own slaves or uphold Jim Crow or racist systems, it matters when you acknowledge and even apologize for what has been done by others in your group because you are recognizing that persons pain and suffering and helping with the healing process.

Now, I know the argument here is: “Well then we would be endlessly repenting and reconciling.” If you have studied History, you know there is a great deal to acknowledge, and yes, repent for and work for the redemption of.

I have ancestors who were southern slave owners, one was even a secessionist congressmen. During Jim Crow they stood on the doors of churches to block the doors so the freedom riders could not enter. Though I am not directly descended from them, it is still part of my family history and if I encounter someone who is descended from slaves owned by the Faulkner’s (which is not a totally illogical since we may have lived down the road from some at one point) then I have to be aware of that history and work to redeem that. In some cases, that may require repentance, in some it may not. It always will require humility on my part to acknowledge the evil of those actions. As for what actions are necessary, that is a place where the Holy Spirit can aid you and strengthen you both.

The Gospel though, demands that we do better, it demands that from my being vertically reconciled to God that I then be reconciled to my neighbor, all my neighbors, including the ethnically diverse. And before we try to justify who our neighbor is, read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 8. It does not matter what we think of another group of people, we have to be able to fellowship in the bond of peace brought by the Spirit if we are to see the vision scripture cast of a multi-ethnic global church. Which is, by the way, the state of the church whether we like it or not.

Again, this is hard for us, it is uncomfortable for us, it requires us to listen, really listen to the hurts and grievances of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but when we do, and reconciliation happens there is a beauty to it that we cannot really describe. This is a long road, it is a hard road, but we are better for walking it.

The hope is, that the secular world will see what God is doing among us and want to know why we are so united and why we are celebrating one another and caring for one another where once we were so divided. They will see in us what the world does not offer, a beautiful and diverse body of believers who love and support one another in all aspects of life and share in the joy of being and learning together as we walk in the spirit.

We are one, let us be reconciled to one another, as we are reconciled to God.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.