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Witch Doctors, Scripture, and other Theology

The last two days have been somewhat of a grind, yet a good grind.  Yesterday we taught a solid eight hours to our students.  At some point your brain just becomes tired but the Lord was kind to keep us both strong.  Our days start at 6:30-ish and mine usually ends after midnight.  In between the is only a little time to rest, though a pool at where we are staying is a nice place to draw the heat out of the body.

The students seem to accept me.  Many of them are older than me and so I need to really earn their respect.  Almost every one of them have been in the pastoral ministry for quite some time so I must always remind myself that they are not your typical seminary student.  When these people ask questions there is much behind them and wisdom is needed to discern what drives the questions. Sometimes what I learn is a surprise.

As an example, I taught on the inspiration of Scripture and they received it well.  However one man pressed a question on if my statement “all Scripture” was valid.  I kept pointing him back to the Scripture.  Finally he changed his question to a statement.  It was something like, “So you believe that the witch doctor’s writing are inspired of God.”  It was not an accusation, it was merely a statement and most certainly not one I expected.  I asked a lot of questions (American seminary does not prepare you for this sort of statement) and found that the witch doctors call their words and writing scripture too.  They also tend to mix in actual verses during their incantations.  Therefore, since they are called scripture and “All” scripture is inspired, their words are inspired too.  The result led to a very interesting excursis that was quite animated.  Eventually all was resolved and back to the syllabus we went.

Today we only had a half day of teaching so that was nice.  Then we went to Philemon’s family’s house to meet a young lady’s parents.  They wanted to honor me for the support my church has given to her as she pursues a doctorate in the USA.  That was a blessing, though uncomfortable.  They gave me a special garment with various symbolism on it that conveys a message.  Also they gave me a special had made from a plastic twine-like substance.  Very unique but it is also very kind.  I promised them I would wear it before the church and preach from it.  So my church has a great opportunity to chuckle very soon.

Tomorrow I preach at some church a few hours away and then I visit other churches.  It sounds like a lot of bouncing and bumping but also quite fun.


First Day of Classes in Douala

This post will also be on Training Leaders International’s site at some point soon.

Wed August 9, 2012

First day of class.  The school is a long distance from the rest home so we needed to travel for a bit to get there.  Once there we were met by no one and no information.  This is not much of a surprise, but nonetheless it was disappointing. But it is Cameroon so Philemon and I waited.  Slowly some students tricked in, but not the ones expected and no school leadership was still to be found over an hour later.

The students we met were former ones from Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary in Ndu.  It was a true pleasure to see them! Two of them were pastoring and one of those men was in the process to prepare to come to America to work on his Ph.D.  I had a pleasant time catching up with them and simply sharing pastoral experiences.  During this whole time Philemon was working his skills on the phone attempting to find any information as to our situation.

In time someone with the school arrived and helped Philemon on the phone.  In time we received word that the students from Central African Republic (CAR) were somewhere in the city.  The housing that they were to receive never happened so they had spent the night in some insufficient living conditions some distance away.  To our surprise the CAR consulate called to check up on what was happening.  It was then that we found out that some of the men were rather important in the government.  In addition, all of the  CAR men are what are known as “men of dignity” and should be treated with respect.

Eventually the students all arrived and Philemon started the orientation with singing.  It was a joy to see these student lift up voices in thanksgiving and praise.  Because of the mishaps early on we could not teach; rather we explained the courses and gave our expectations for the classes.  After all the questions were answered we were left with an ongoing concern with how the CAR students would be housed.  At the time of this writing it appears that sufficient housing has been secured, we will see if that is correct tomorrow.

What stands out so far?  God has made a place of beauty in making Cameroon.  His handiwork is evident all over the land.  Sin has made its indelible mark on that land and with it you see much suffering and hopelessness.  As an American, solutions come to mind in quick succession but then I remind myself that what is needed first is a revival of the Gospel in the hearts of this land and then changes shall be lasting.

I was again reminded of the great, far reaching potential of the vision of TLI.  All of those who came from CAR are people of influence and the vast majority are pastors.  What they learn here in the course shall affect many people we will probably never meet.  People are starving because they do not know the Word of God and, worse yet, they have no real way to learn it.  Through courses like this, that horrid reality can change.

We finished the day with former students from years past.  We ate mutton and beef (Philemon and I had the lining of the stomach as well) with toothpicks around a table.  The food was good, the pepper powder (I think it was a curry powder) was hot, and the fellowship was precious.

Tomorrow we start teaching in earnest, the days will be about eight hours of solid teaching.  Much work to be done in such a short time.  Prayers for our faithfulness and diligence are needed and requested.  The same for the students.  May we help equip the pastors here to make much of God because God’s Word makes much of Him.

What Newbies Want in A Sermon—And Many Oldies

A bit of an explanation here first.  I read this article by a young church planter who had followed the advice and paradigm regarding the place and content of preaching in the church, specifically one that is a plant.  What stood out to me was how he learned that the new believer was not happy about the reduced sermon format that limited content and limited time.  The preacher is to be a trained speaker who dazzles and draws his listeners into the story of the gospel.  Here is how he put it:

. . . nobody wants to bore saints or seekers when talking about something as exquisite as the gospel.  The intent was to call proclaimers to be humble, excellent workers who would never besmirch the Good News by bad delivery.  The problem, though, lay in the basic, internal posture we were asked to adopt when bringing the Word to sinful, human listeners: deferential apology.  As in, “I’m sorry I have to ruin the moment now, but this IS church, and we DO have to mention sin, hell, and the cross of Jesus from time to time.  This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you…”

The key is a good delivery of the good news and an apologetic demeanor when bringing up the bad news of the human condition.  Most pastors who have a love for those who are outside of the grace of God know this tension.  I remember seeing a person I knew was not a Christian come into our church for the very first time (or any church for that matter) and the sermon I was to preach was on the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Heavy on total depravity and heavy on sovereign grace.  But when you are preaching out of Romans 3 or Romans 9, that is what you have before yourself for the text.

What happens next in this man’s story though is telling.  He goes on to relate  some rather startling discoveries as his ministry took root.

About 4-5 years in, something happened that changed my faith in unadorned preaching and evangelism.  There were finally enough true converts in our congregation (God had sovereignly used our clumsy proclamation to win believers) that I could track the sources of feedback I received.  The recently lost-and-found WERE frustrated with me – but for cutting messages short, trimming content, and watching the clock!  Those who had demanded curt, topical homilies were cradle-to-grave types.  Denominational veterans claimed to be shielding newbies from discomfort, but the newcomers were clamoring for biblical depth and blunt confrontation.

The new Christian wanted to hear the Word.  A lot of it.  They wanted to be drawn into the thicker, denser parts of biblical, exegetical theology.  They wanted to watch and learn how to really look at the passage and see what God had revealed to them.  It was those who were raised in the church who wanted less.  Less content, less theology, less preaching, less everything.

In my experience as a pastor who took over the pulpit of a well-established church is that many older believers become jaded.  They have watched people come and go, and the same with the pastors who taught them.  Each comes with a plan and then eventually goes when it doesn’t work.  Perhaps they sat under many sermons that were long and shallow, which are always worse that those that are short and shallow.

For many (based off of conversations I have had) they realized that there was a real disconnect between the sermon and what the pastor and the church actually did.  Hypocrisy was the word of the day, or decade.  Others saw the pastor preach law, not grace and they felt the burden of the mill-stones being tied around their necks.  And finally, others could not walk away with any sense of why that sermon mattered.  There was never an attempt to connect the richness of the theology of the text to the richness of the Christian’s life.

What I have learned over the years is that true Christians love the Word, even when they don’t realize it.  I have taught seminary level theology classes to members of my church with faithful attendance and eager participation.  One woman told me after I taught Christology, Soteriology, and Hamartiology for over six months to her and about thirty others that she would frequently go home weeping as the impact of the verses and the theology sunk into her heart. I have watch old Christians who carry the battle scars of many in-house fights grin from ear to ear as they are stretched to see more of God.

Where am I going with all of this?  Just that every pastor, if he is to be a real pastor rather than a church grower, must be a man who preaches well, but preaches deeply as well.  He must be willing to draw the people, new and mature alike, into the deep parts of the Word.  He must be willing to stand beside them as they flounder about at times and cheer when they realize that by the Holy Spirit work they are able to even stand and flourish in the deep end.  He must not shy from the hard doctrines and he must open the whole Word of God to the people.  The new Christian wants it and needs it, the old Christian does too (even if some of them don’t know it), and those who don’t want it cannot be to whom a pastor preaches.

Advice for Aspiring and Young Pastors

Carl Trueman had the privilege to interview J. I. Packer and much that he shares is worth much to those thinking about the pastoral ministry.  Very counter-cultural stuff that makes me smile a lot.

What Is The Most Pressing Issue in Missions

Just finished a wonderful time with my dear friend Philemon over food and coffee. We talked much of family and personal issues but quickly began to talk about the world of missions and the needs out there. Philemon is part of the Training Leaders International and is traveling extensively throughout the world in the course of his job.  In every point of the conversation we reflected on the critical situation throughout the world for theologically trained pastors.  What is needed to get into the unreached areas?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.  What is needed to strengthen weak denominations and churches in barely reached areas?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.  What is needed in countries with long-standing churches to further the work of the gospel?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.

He was recently in Douala, Cameroon with a team I of which I was to be part.  They taught in a Pentecostal seminary where on day one the question was raised by the students, why do we need to learn how to study the bible, the Spirit will tell us what it means.  By day two they were hungrily learning what they had never been taught before and by the week’s end they were convinced that they must master the Word of God.  Another team goes out in August, Lord willing  I will be part of it.  One of the leaders of the seminary took the class as well, at the end he stood and testified that Pentecostals are too loud and that they all need to learn to be quiet and hear and see what the Word of God actually says.  Think of the difference just one course of theology has begun to create in a group of people preparing to pastor God’s people.

The gospel in God’s means to save people, but it is the unapologetic proclamation of the Word that grows them in respect to their salvation.  Untrained, poorly trained pastors simply can’t do that.  Here is a 31 day prayer map to consider using.  And if you do, pray that God will bring training to the pastors that they might be able to teach the people.

A Theological Goldmine

Here is some news I just read from the people who make my favorite Bible software, BibleWorks:

“Princeton Theological Seminary has partnered with the Internet Archive to provide an online database called the Theological Commons digital library. It provides free, online access to over 50,000 theology and religion books from the PTS Library. This digital collection also includes about 100 rare seventeenth-century theological books from the private library of the late Professor Thomas Torrance, the father of PTS president Iain Torrance.”

This is a tremendous gift to anyone interested in doing serious theological, biblical study.  Many of these books are simply not available to folks like me due to money constraints. I have only spent a short time on the site but it appears that you can select any of the works and download it as a PDF or onto your Kindle. I tested the PDF right away and downloaded  a theology text from 1818 by John Leland that focuses on both natural and special revelation and the worship of God.

It is sites like this that make me give thanks to my Lord for bringing about the internet.  It is a generous gift from Princeton.  And it is a goldmine for any serious student of God’s Word.  Go visit the site yourself: Theological Commons

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