Sunday, September 19, 2010

Classes Starting

Well, after many months of anticipating and preparing, tomorrow (Monday) is the first day of classes. I will be teaching 2 sections of Speech, Creativity in Preaching, and assisting in Introduction to Preaching (I will shadow the prof this semester and teach it next semester). I have about a half dozen students for Creativity and 8 or so in Speech. The Intro class has about 35 in it and I will be doing some of the lectures and some of the prep work for the class each week.
Tonight was the opening convocation. The address was given by our neighbor, Dr. Young, who teaches World Religions. He talked about the importance of multi-culturalism and how to accomplish that here at Princeton. It was well done. The service was full of singing in different languages and sharing in biblical stories about inclusiveness. It was a good evening. After the service, Joanie practiced with the seminary choir for the opening communion chapel tomorrow. My guess is she will be singing in several of the choirs. I have met several of my students. One, in particular, is an incoming first year student who is in my Speech class. He is a graduate of Samford and knows Dr. Massey. He is looking forward to preaching classes and has already read my book on narrative preaching. (Yes, it is a different kind of student at Princeton - not only do they read the texts but they read in advance). Tomorrow should be a good day. I will attend a prayer service at 8am, teach at 9:30, and participate in chapel at 11:30. In the afternoon, I have preparation to do for Intro (I need to exegete a passage for class next week) and I need to get some lectures finished for the Creativity class. All in all, a good day (with Monday Night Football as dessert).
After four years of doctoral work and some 30 years of wanting and preparing, I get to spend the next three months fulfilling both a dream and a calling. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What is the State of the Church? Part Three

There is a hunger in the church for good preaching... and a palpable dearth of it. Laypeople yearn to be engaged with the sermon but too often go home with little to chew upon.
My wife and I are searching for a church home. There is no local Church of God congregation within 45 minutes of Princeton. So, we have visited a few churches in the weeks we have been here. We went to a community church in the area that was highly recommended. I hear that some of the Princeton professors attend there. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they would - at least from a preaching point of view. The sermon was the conclusion of a series on marriage. The text chosen was Ephesians 6:22ff, a very meaty passage when it comes to marriage. The sermon was about the color of marriage. Apparently, the preacher had assigned colors to specific issues related to marriage. The sermon was, according to his introduction, based upon a book he had been reading (no, not the Bible). It was all sadly disappointing. I sat there yearning for the preacher to say something about a very powerful and controversial text. I wanted to hear something from the Word. I left wanting - not wanting more, mind you. I left wanting anything. The sermon was topical, about 2 inches deep, and full of lots of pop psychology. Dr. Phil would have been much better.
I firmly believe that people in the pew are hungry for a meaningful word from the Lord that they are not getting at the shrine of Oprah, Dr. Laura, or Rush Limbaugh. People need more than cute sayings and catchy themes or titles. They are hungry for the Word to be preached.
Not having a pastoral position for the first time in 35 years, I am now a guest preacher in other congregations. I recently preached in Illinois and Ohio at Church of God congregations. In each case the reaction was the same. People in the pew came up to me to engage me about the sermon preached. They wanted to ask questions about issues of theology, biblical interpretation, and exegesis. These are the things that listeners come to church to engage and with which they long to struggle. The Church Growth Movement has implied that we need to give people a "gospel lite" sermon. In order to be seeker sensitive we need to shy away from theology, doctrine, and biblical stories and become more contemporary and chic. Everything that I have learned over the past four years of PhD study has reinforced the belief that people are still looking for a relationship with God that is inspired by a word from God. Biblical preaching is not only, amazingly, still relevant, it is necessary and important. Notice I said "Biblical preaching" not just preaching. Much of the preaching today, like that of self help guru Joel Osteen, is filled with gospel lite and biblical happiness pablum.
I listened to Osteen the other night. He used Genesis 1 and God's statement at the end of each day of creation that, "It is good" to suggest that we should all get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say to ourselves, "You look good." If that is the meaning of Genesis 1, then I have misunderstood its depths lo these many years. People laughed at his cuteness and smiled at his self help mantra, but they did not leave with anything that resembled biblical preaching or eternal truths. In essence, they left entertained but hopeless; feeling good about themselves but knowing nothing about the God who is good.
I cry out to pastors in pulpits across the nation and the world. Preach the Word. Give your folks something of the dynamic of its truths. Deal with the issues, people, commands, and controversies of its pages. People are hungry for the Word. Preach it. The Church needs to hear, in these times as in all times, a word from the Lord.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What is the State of the Church? Part Two

One of the most significant changes in ministry at the local level has to do with staffing. When I started in ministry in 1975, I was asked to be an Associate Pastor. My main responsibilities were in Youth Ministry but I was also being groomed for a Senior Pastorate. Therefore, I attended Trustee meetings, CE meetings, developed a Young Adult SS class, participated in funerals, did general hospital visitation, and much more. When some problems developed in the music program, I became the defacto Minister of Music (a scary thought!). This was the nature of "multiple staff" ministry in the church. I was the first full-time associate the church had hired in, well, forever. This was a church of nearly 300 on Sunday. The only other person on staff was a retired minister who  did hospital and nursing home visitation. He was paid a small stipend for his work.
As I progressed in ministry, the prevailing thought was that a church could only be effectively pastored by a single minister up until about 125 in attendance. After that, the church needed another pastor to help with the multiple cell church. This seemed to be born out by effective single cell pastors who had difficulty growing or maintaining a church by themselves when it got to the 200 barrier. What was needed was specialization of ministry. You didn't need an Associate involved in everything, you needed a Youth Pastor to do youth only or a Minister of Music to do worship only. The days of hiring a Youth and Music Associate Pastor were long gone. Associates needed one area of specialization and Senior Pastors needed to be "vision castors" that saw the big picture and then developed a staff to lead everyone toward the vision. This was the popular "business model" for church staffing, ministry and leadership.
Well, a funny thing has happened on the way to this model. The next generation of leaders coming along has not embraced it as an effective model of leadership. Maybe it is their dissatisfaction with the emphasis on the church as an institution and the lack of seeing the local church as a mission sender. Whatever the case may be, the old model is dying and a newer/older model is arising. Back at the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther emphasized the radical idea of the "priesthood of all believers" and taught that everyone -clergy and laity - had a call to mission and the need to minister in Christ's name. This doctrine has resurfaced in many ways. In the church growth movement it was categorized under the idea of motivating lay people for ministry (usually whatever program or emphasis the pastoral staff developed). Today, however, it is taking a far more comprehensive view.
Many seminarians are pursuing their M.Div. without any idea of what they are going to do in ministry. They know they don't want to be on a pastoral staff. They are moving to inner cities of foreign countries without the aid or assistance of professional sending organizations to do indigenous mission work in a community. One friend of mine at Fuller moved to inner city Chicago and planned to start, not a church, but a ministry to people in his apartment complex; another hopes to move to Spain and begin ministering to Muslims in their neighborhood. Neither is approaching sending organizations for support. They intend to do tent-making ministries to fund themselves - and be beholding only to Christ and his call rather than an organization and their bureaucracy.
At the same time churches are changing their approach. My son has just helped a congregation where he was an Associate to become part of a multi-site vision of a neighboring church. Led by leaders from the state organization, they are now the first multi-site congregation in this vision. As a result, Jonathan has lost his job and is looking for only part-time employment in the community. Why? Because he is going to take on a ministry role at the church (unpaid) that will be greater and more involved than his paid role in the previous church. When questioned about his plans by his mother, Jonathan replied, "That's the difference in generations. We are not looking for paid staff positions but places to minister and to serve." The new multi-site church is heavily dependent upon major responsibilities being handled by volunteer staff. Having attended their service last week, they are committed involving laity in mission. Not programming, but mission and ministry in the community. They will do this without trying to add staff but by motivating leaders to get excited about missions and ministry. It appears to be working.
In tough economic times, the church has to learn how to do more with less. More volunteers and less paid personnel is one effective way of approaching the problem. However, this new/old idea is being driven not by economics but by a real sense of being called to ministry. If this reemphasizing of Luther's doctrine is successful, it will change the role of the church from one of being an observer of the movement of the Holy Spirit to one of being the active participant in what the Spirit is doing. This will have a profound affect on budgets and education; mission and ministry; theology and preaching. The state of the church is changing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What is the State of the Church? Part One

Let me begin by saying I am not qualified to answer this question. I imagine few, if anyone, really are prepared to answer this definitively. Maybe George Barna can give you research information and Leonard Sweet can be a Futurist, predicting the trends that are coming our way. I respect and value both of them and their information.
My position is one of vagabond. Prior to coming to Princeton, I had pastored a small congregation of the Church of God in Pasadena for three years. They were a wonderful group of folks that we miss dearly. Upon departing Pasadena, we traveled across country driving through Iowa where we attended a Presbyterian congregation one Sunday. We then participated in numerous services at Anderson Campmeeting before traveling to New Jersey. After coming to Princeton, my wife and I have been searching for a church. The nearest Church of God is nearly 45 minutes away. If we are to find a church home near where we live, we will need to attend a church other than where we have been ministering for our adult lives. It's a little daunting. We will continue to travel around to Churches of God in the Boyertown District (we have already been to two district churches and the District Campmeeting) but we will also be spending time attending churches in the Princeton area. So far, we have attended a non-denominational congregation and we will be visiting some Nazarene and Presbyterian churches in the area. In addition, we are traveling over the next several weeks through the midwest. We attended my son Joel's restart congregation in Sterling, Illinois last week and will attend our other son's (Jonathan) new congregation in Northeast Indianapolis this Sunday. Next week we will be in church in Tampa and over Labor Day weekend we will attend my other son's church (Doug) outside Akron, Ohio. I'm not suggesting that this makes me qualified to speak about the state of the church, but it makes me more educated about the various ways in which the church is living out its mission in different places and in different traditions.
I should also note that I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. For only the second time in 35 years I have no regular preaching assignment in a local church as either a pastor or interim. I did preach last Sunday for my son in Illinois and will preach again on Labor Day weekend for my other son in Ohio. My preaching at this point will be limited to guest appearances and, more importantly, listening to others preach. My wife also not leading worship in some capacity for the first time in 35 years. She has always been a great helpmate and effective minister of worship in her own right. Prior to my graduating from Fuller, she completed 24 hours of Master's work in the field of Worship. Having studied with Clay Schmit, Ed Willmington, and Todd Johnson at Fuller, her understanding of the history, theology, and practice of worship has been greatly enhanced. Since we enjoy talking about our impressions of new situations, some of what I will say here reflects insights gained from her considerable expertize. However, I won't saddle her with the thoughts expressed here. She is more than capable of expressing her opinions on her own.

Well that's a long introduction to some preliminary thoughts. Here's one: The Church seems relatively unconcerned with theology. As I travel around, the emphasis is on practicality. "What works?" is the new theology. Churches are asking how to grow, survive, reach out, increase their offerings (both financial and outreach), and be more effective in their communities. All these are important questions. As a practical theologian I am concerned about these questions, too. Part of my concern is that we are answering these questions despite out theology. For instance, Bill Hybels began the Willow Creek Church based on a Youth for Christ model. This led to the "seeker sensitive" model of worship and philosophy of outreach. Recently, Hybels commissioned a report on its effectiveness. In November of 2007, Bob Burney of Baptist Press wrote the following Blog:

For most of a generation evangelicals have been romanced by the "seeker-sensitive" movement spawned by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. The guru of this movement is Bill Hybels. He and others have been telling us for decades to throw out everything we have previously thought and been taught about church growth and replace it with a new paradigm, a new way to do ministry.
Perhaps inadvertently, with this "new wave" of ministry came a de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for Bible study combined with an emphasis on felt-needs based "programs" and slick marketing.
The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting "felt needs" and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn't matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn't "cutting edge" and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.
Thousands of pastors hung on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts. Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church leaders learning the latest way to "do church." The promise was clear: Thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn't be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge the "experts" you were immediately labeled as a "traditionalist," a throwback to the 50s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to change with the times.
All that changed recently.
Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings are in a new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings "ground breaking," "earth shaking" and "mind blowing." And no wonder: It seems that the "experts" were wrong. The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

"Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for."

If you simply want a crowd, the "seeker-sensitive" model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it's a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

"We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own." Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their Bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth. 

Perhaps the most shocking thing of all in this revelation coming out of Willow Creek is in a summary statement by Greg Hawkins:
"Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet."
Isn't that what we were told when this whole seeker-sensitive thing started? The church growth gurus again want to throw away their old assumptions and "take out a clean sheet of paper" and, presumably, come up with a new paradigm for ministry.

To put it in my own terms, Hybels and Hawkins discovered that practical theology doesn't work if you only concentrate on the practics and fail to consider theology. What works to get crowds does not always work to build Christians. And, as Jesus clearly saw in his public ministry, his task was not to build a crowd but to build a church - and that requires making disciples not churchgoers. Sometimes the two (big crowds of seekers and building disciples) are incompatible. The danger for the church is that it will sacrifice the theology that gives it a mission in the world for the growth mission it seeks to fulfill. The Church cannot be the Church if it gains people to hear the message of Christ to become disciples of Christ if it never preaches the message of Christ and resolutely grows disciples who will follow the teachings of Christ. I do wonder if the Church will heed the discoveries of one of its most charismatic and influential voices and remember that practical theology is not about what works but about what works in relationship to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If the Church fails to learn this lesson it does so at its own peril. Theology matters. It may not be the cure all and the end all for the Church but it is the lifeblood of the mission of the Church. What we think, teach, require, understand, preach, worship, and live about God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is the heartbeat of our mission. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The next stage of my career has begun. I am sitting in my new office at Templeton Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary and I am beginning (slowly) to adapt to new surroundings. Most of the students and professors are not on campus during the summer. It gives me time to try and learn the new process and procedure manual for how things are done at Princeton. I am working on the syllabus for my first class in September on Creativity in Preaching. I will soon be working on the syllabus for all three units of speech communication that I will be teaching - but there is a template already in place for those classes. I will be assigning my own work for each class, the assignments for the students to perform in class, and whatever other scheduling that will be unique to my sections. I am looking forward to doing all of this as the next few weeks go forward.

Joanie and I have begun unpacking our lives (the hundreds of boxes that our stuff was packed into) and are getting used to our new surroundings. Our apartment is full of character and is located just behind the seminary. The buildings are all in a historic preservation area located a block away from Princeton University. Our bedroom is coming together and there is much to do in the living room and kitchen, but we are coming along. Joanie took a day to help me get my office together. There are still boxes to unpack at both locations. We will get some opportunity to travel over the coming weeks. We hope to attend the Convention for the National Association of the Church of God as well as visiting with our kids some more. We may even travel to Florida to see Joanie's Dad. However, by the middle of August we will be back here and I will have my nose to the grindstone.

I cannot believe how God has led and directed our lives over the course of these last few years. I started this blog when I went on Sabbatical 5 years ago. Now, here I am teaching at Princeton. God has been very active in our lives. I freely acknowledge his goodness towards us. The video I am including here was put together by my son, Doug, after he and Jonathan surprised us by coming out to California for my hooding and graduation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed seeing them standing at our apartment door. God bless

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More About Anderson Campmeeting

My friend and colleague, Jerry Webb, has been reading Patrick Nachtigall's new book and has commented that:
"A read of Patrick Nachtigall's Mosaic will convince that you are right about # 1. I, too, think it should remain in Anderson. But, multisite can be used for more than across the street. We should experiment with regional sites where there are large COG populations"

I find that an intriguing possibility. We are already using streaming video across the internet and it was reported that there were 800 hits on that venue. A "hit" represents individual access once. So, it could be that there were several thousand viewings of services but only 800 individual computers that logged on to the site. As to Jerry/Patrick's suggestion that regional centers could be established, I think this is a great idea. I know we attempted to have our local congregation gather in the sanctuary at one point to view a service. On the West Coast, that means folks coming together around 4pm for the service. Maybe some delayed broadcast or if the streaming can be on demand would help facilitate a better starting time for those out West.

Regional centers would help multiple congregations to gather together, affecting connectivity in a positive way. Large regional centers might also connect larger areas than just say, all the Church of God congregations in Portland, Ore. or Oklahoma City. I know the District Unity Service idea is not used very much, but it could be revived for something like this. A Saturday picnic/pitch-in or a Sunday evening service time could be adopted for sharing together with Campmeeting. Another idea would be to broadcast the GA so that ministers could "attend" without traveling to Anderson. I don't think that would decrease GA attendance but it might increase Movemental awareness.

Anybody else want to join in? What are your ideas?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anderson Campmeeting

Part of our travels across the country was to spend a week at the North American Convention of the Church of God, commonly referred to as Anderson Campmeeting. It is a week of conferences, worship services, business meetings, and fellowship. One of the hallmarks of the Church of God has always been its connectivity. Key to this has been the fellowship that takes place at Campmeeting. Ministers reconnect after years of pastoring in separate states or regions of the country; the work of the Church is reviewed and explained so that individual congregations and pastors can keep connected to the larger movement; preaching and worship are renewed as the church comes together to share in the common experience of celebrating the Lord's presence. I am convinced that Campmeeting is at the root of this connectivity. Without it, the Church of God will fragment into a local or area fellowship with little or no central concern or mission.

This is not to say that Campmeeting is perfect. Far from it. However, the decisions made this year concerning venue will go a long way toward helping the Church of God remain connected. Several years ago the main worship center, a domed building that had been used since the 1960's, was torn down due to asbestos problems. Since then, there have been numerous problems in finding an appropriate venue that could enhance the fellowship and worship. The choice of two connected venues this year gave the Church opportunity to be in a central location (the worship venues were across the street - one a 2,500 seat auditorium and the other a 1,000 seat church sanctuary) and, following the service, to fellowship together in a Mall area common to both venues. It worked very well. Even though the worship was different (how could it not be with two different worship leaders and instrumentalists) the sermon was common to both venues, having been streamed live from one venue to the other.

In addition, the national leadership of the Church of God will be conducting research into the future of NAC. I would like to weigh in on this issue. Here are my suggestions:
  1. It should remain a yearly event. Our connectivity is too important to go for 2 or 4 years between gatherings. Every region in the country, except the West Coast, has canceled their regional meeting. We need to gather together in order to stay connected. With our decentralized polity, we need to be together in order to stay together.
  2. It should remain in Anderson. As much as moving it across the country might create interest, it would decrease the family atmosphere that is the central feature of Campmeeting. Moving it to a Convention Center creates a certain sterility that fights against the essence of what the gathering hopes to be. Indiana is enough of a centralized venue to continue as a viable location. It also allows for a less expensive meeting for those who gather there. Registration is very low and many have alternate ways to house themselves during the week (Camping slots are available as are dorms). This does not sound good to those who plan the event and would like to have it pay for itself. The solution appears to be a heavy emphasis on a high registration. This appears to be a good solution but creates more problems. Lack of attendance, decrease in offerings, and formality rather than family are only a few.
  3. The name should be changed from NAC and return to Anderson Campmeeting. The arguments for NAC have been to give it a brand name. I don't think NAC is a strong or viable brand name. The use of Anderson allows for the designation that is used in many phone books and materials to refer to the Church of God (Anderson) - the formal way in which the Movement is publicly termed. Campmeeting, though somewhat archaic, is a better term than Convention when emphasizing connectivity. In a culture that is searching through Facebook and Twitter to find greater connectivity, something that speaks of gathering and connection should find a welcome home.
  4. The use of multiple venues should continue and expand. I have suggested the use of a large screen, scoreboard type screen outside Reardon Auditorium to utilize the Mall area as another place to sit an watch the service. Young families and many others will find this a welcome way to participate in the service while handling the challenges of young children. I have heard that there is the possibility of adding Byrum Hall as another venue. It is some distance from Reardon and Park Place (across the campus) but affords an intimate venue for a small group.
For what it is worth, these are my suggestions. I hope they are helpful. Whatever is done, I hope that the act and influence of Campmeeting will continue. I continue to look forward to it every year.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Traveling Across the Country

For the past few days Joanie and I have been traveling across the country. We left Pasadena on Wednesday and, as of today (Saturday), we are in North Platte Nebraska. We debated how to do this trip and finally decided to put our son Joel's address into the GPS and follow the trail, stopping when we wanted to and seeing whatever came to mind. So far, it has been a lovely trip.
We stopped at Hoover Dam and were amazed by the enormity of the structure and the engineering marvel that it is. We bypassed Las Vegas amazed by the enormity of the casinos and the marketing marvel that it is. We stopped at Mesquite, NV to spend the night and went to eat a cheap meal at the casino. I put $5 into the $10 million slot (hey, I'm on a role, why not?) and won $30 on the first spin. It paid for the room. I quit after one role. Take that, casino!
We drove from Mesquite to Grand Junction, Co. and spent the night. The scenery through Utah and into Colorado must be some of the most beautiful in all the world. The same is true from Grand Junction to the Denver area. Such colors, majesty, and the Colorado River. It was breathtaking.
Tomorrow, we will go to church. There is no Church of God in North Platte, so we looked through the hotel directory and looked up the websites of several churches. We think we will go to the First Presbyterian Church and visit them tomorrow. It should be interesting. We will let you know how it goes.
We will arrive at Joel and Shafali's on Monday and spend a few days with them and our two grandsons. If there is any better way to spend a few days, I can't think of it.
Before signing off, Joanie and I would like to thank those who were part of our community at Fuller. They were incredibly supportive, celebrative of our victories, and gave us a wonderful sendoff. They will be missed. We have made life long friends among them and are confident that our paths will continue to cross in the future.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Accepting a Job Offer to Teach

When I started down this road toward the PhD some 4+ years ago, one of the first questions I received from my mentor (before I was accepted into the program) was if I had a job waiting for me at the end of the program. When I told him I did not, his next question was an inquiry into why I was doing this. It was a good question - one that has been asked of me often. There are a few answers:
  1. This has been the desire of my heart since I was around 30 years of age. Family responsibilities, ministry opportunities, money, and fear were the predominant reasons for not doing this work earlier in my life.
  2. Pastoral ministry is a grind. After three decades it had taken a toll. I was more than willing to continue on but I knew it would be a tough road for both me and my wife. I needed a new focus and a new set of goals.
  3. I found when I entered seminary that I loved education. This was not true during my college years. I was there to experience as much as I could on the social end and to obtain the degree. Getting good grades or amassing knowledge and understanding were not my top priorities. I was fairly smart with a good memory and the ability to read and write fairly well, so I got through. When I went to seminary, everything changed. I was motivated to learn. That passion has never left me.
  4. Most of all, I felt called of God to do this. As sure as I was about my calling to the pastorate, I felt I was called to do this. That was all I really needed.
Like everyone else, you seek confirmation of your decisions. You look to see the hand of God working in ways that make you feel certain that you are walking in the path God has chosen. There have been many along the way. At Fuller, everything I have done and all the opportunities I have had have confirmed that this is the road for me; this is what God has called me to at this point in my life.

The big hurdle to get over at the end of your PhD journey is not the dissertation (that is monumental enough) but whether or not you can get a job at the end of the process. Will anyone hire someone my age just coming out of the PhD program? It is a real question. Positions in homiletics at the seminary level are limited. Those who have been at their schools for a while have tenure and will stay there for their careers. Not many come open every year.

Back in the Fall I started applying for jobs. I got a few notices back saying, "no thank you" - some were thoughtful enough to send a letter. One school sent a form email. Another school acknowledged my application but never contacted me again. It's all part of the process. You can't get discouraged. I didn't and felt encouraged to continue. In the past two weeks I have been in contention for two jobs. By contention, I mean that I made the first cut. I interviewed for one and was prepared to send more materials for the other. This past Friday I received notice that I was being offered a job. I was thrilled. I have accepted the job. Here, at the end of the process, someone has taken a chance on me to teach homiletics and speech communication at their institution. I am humbled by their confidence in me. It has validated the sense of being led by God through this whole process.

So, beginning in July, I will be preparing for the Fall to teach Homiletics and Speech Communication at Princeton Seminary. It is a position as a Post Doctoral Teaching Fellow. My contract is for two years. For an old New Jersey boy, it is a chance to go home and have the incredible opportunity to teach at an Ivy League institution. Joanie and I are grateful for your prayers and support. It is always comforting to see the signs along the way.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview for Post Doctoral Degree

Tomorrow morning (Thursday April 1) I will be interviewed for a Post Doctoral Fellowship from Princeton Seminary. I feel very honored to be considered for such an important fellowship. It would be for 2 years and involve teaching homiletics, speech, and/or worship classes at the introductory level - and maybe a class or two at the elective level. For those who read this, please pray for me. Whatever happens, Joanie and I are confident that, having brought us this far, God is going to provide and lead into the future.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Prediction

Well, I might as well join in the prognostication game. Everyone does it. Even monkeys and pigs have done it. Some guys get paid a lot of money to do this. I wish I was one of them. Anyway, here is my analysis:
  1. The game will be more of an offensive shootout than a low scoring, defensive game. In this way it should favor Indianapolis. In part because the Saints defense is not rated very high verses the pass (they are in the 20's in total teams in the NFL). The Saints defense lives and dies with their ability to create turnovers. Manning is playing too well to fall into that trap.
  2. The Colts defensive injuries have concentrated on DL Dwight Freeney's ankle problem. It is a grave concern. However, I am more worries about DB Jerrod Powers being injured. The defensive backfield of the Colts is already depleted (Powers is not the normal starter). If you are down to your third stringer and have to go to nickle and dime packages against Brees with inexperienced players, he will chop you up.
  3. The Saints defense wants to hit Manning and put him on the ground. That requires blitzing. Manning will kill you when you blitz. Plus, the Colts offensive line does not give up that many sacks. If Manning stays upright it will be a long day for the defense.
  4. The Colts have been here before (second time in four years). In the Super Bowl, experience makes a difference. The Colts have more experience in this kind of atmosphere than do the Saints.
  5. The Saints beat the Vikings by 3pts. in overtime. They had the great advantage of playing at home in the Superdome. Their fans were great, rabid in their noise and support. The Super Bowl will be different. They will lose that advantage.
If you add all this up, the Colts should win. The Saints have the advantage of having a great story but the Colts have the advantages on offense, defense, and in the kicking game. Reggie Bush will make his presence known in the return game. However, that will not be enough to overcome the play of Peyton Manning. Colts will win 38-21.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Woodrow Wilson and Progressivism

I watched a weekend edition of Glenn Beck about the issue of progressivism and found the discussion most interesting. That led me to read some articles on-line that deal with Wilson and his concept of progressivism. One of the issues caught my attention particularly. It had to do with the view of progressives and the Constitution. One blogger, G. Stolyarov II wrote the following:

Wilson's progressivism challenged the very construction of the Constitution itself. Wilson considered the Constitution to be based on the old Newtonian scientific paradigm-whereby the Framers are alleged to have seen the government as "mechanical" and subjecting it to pre-planned checks and balances. But Wilson wished to base government on the principles of Darwin rather than those of Newton; he saw government as a "living thing" and believed that "no living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks and live." He wanted to replace the system of checks and balances with a system of cooperation among the branches of government.

Progressives believe that they must fundamentally change government and the way it operates. Part of the rationale behind this is that humankind is growing, changing, becoming closer to perfection. It is this idea that intrigued me. Largely because it has a theological basis. One of the primary differences between a theology based upon progressive principles and a theology based upon the Bible as the Word of God is that the Bible teaches that mankind is a sinner and that everyone sins. Even within the Holiness movement, which teaches that sanctification "perfects" believers, there is a real debate about whether we are perfected in this life or in the next. Progressive theology believes that the development of human beings is largely a task given to us. We must act holy (i.e. acts of service, compassion, kindness) and that human beings have the capacity to become greater, more closely aligned with perfect action, even though they are hopelessly entwined in their sins. In other words, progressive theology believes we are getting better as humans and more conservative theology says that humanity is the same today as it was in Biblical times.
One of the ways this has been played out is in the theology of the second coming. There used to be a popular idea called, "post-millennialism." In this theology, the world was going to get better and better, more and more Christian, until the gospel would reach and impact every person and, at that moment, Jesus would return to rule over a Christian world. You can still see some vestiges of this in pre-millennial thought when it talks about reaching the whole world (usually as an appeal for funds to support their TV ministry) before Jesus can return. Another way it comes up is in the actions of human beings. For instance, the recreating of Israel as a nation is a key issue, the Battle of Armageddon has to take place in a certain way with certain nations in conflict, etc. All these actions are initiated by human beings and they make God's will come about. By the way, no one believes in post-millennialism any more. The world is not getting better. Sin has not changed. The church still has a huge mission.
Another way the discussion intrigued me was the way Progressives dismiss the Constitution because it is an old document. Progressives look to the future not the past for understanding. This is the same argument that is brought against the Bible. It is 2,000 years old. What does it have to say to a modern world? As a Practical Theologian, I believe that the church gets itself in trouble when it either leaves the Bible out of its practice or leaves the current actions of the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Both are important for how we understand the will of God. Fortunately, God has determined that he will not ask us to do the will of God while violating the word of God. Both are in harmony. For those who leave the Bible behind, there is a high price to pay for that kind of "progressivism." It sounds as if we are progressing but in reality we are leaving behind truth as it has been revealed. Fundamentally, that is something I cannot accept either politically or theologically. I still believe it is hard to improve on the Constitution and the documents of the Founding Fathers (though they can be added to rather than thrown out) and that it is hard to improve on the Word of God (though our witness and testimony can add to its power and understanding).