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Theological Insights from Southwestern


Spiritual Neurosurgery: Islamic Traditions, Discipling Converts, & Missionary Theological Education

“Jesus existed as God the Father, sir. Then He ceased being the Father and became God the Son. Finally, He ceased being God the Son and now in the world today He is God the Holy Spirit.” Innocently, a new disciple of my former student was trying to express his carefully reasoned understanding of three in one, the tri-unity of the Christian Godhead to whom he committed his life and possibly someday his death.

Emerging from a Muslim background, diligent study and consistent practice were not new to him. Even before believing Christ, he studied and memorized the Qur’an and faithfully practiced the pillars of Islamic belief. Qur’anic study brought him to other literature like the Torah, Zabur, Injeel and increased curiosity about the Prophet Isa. He and two diligent friends met foreigners with very pure lives that became fast friends and gave them the very books they were so curious about in their language. This Isa was similar but different from the one in the Qur’an. He seemed less distant, more personal, and real. Soon he and his friends trusted Jesus alone as savior.

Taught to study the Bible, they grew in Christ. Bit by bit the framework of an ingrained Islamic pre-understanding was transforming into a biblical one. The Trinity now became clear and simple to understand. The young missionary recognized their joyful new understanding of it they had just expressed to be an ancient heresy known as modalism. Biblical Tri-unity of God is three persons in one God, simultaneously and eternally, with no divisions of nature or being. How to suggest this to three new eager disciples without dampening their desire to learn was the question.

The missionary told them he was intrigued by their ideas and wanted to study this thoroughly along with them. He realized if he didn’t do this, other outsiders would lead them further astray. They began an intensive three-month Bible study. The missionary usually posed questions that guided the group study, his three young disciples, like Bereans long ago, searched the Scriptures, and together they came to a very different outcome of belief months later, one very akin to Chalcedonian Christology of 451 A.D. In cross-cultural, change agent roles sometimes knowing what questions to ask is even more important in the communication processes than knowing the answers to provide. After many cultural faux pas, usually missionaries learn this.

My former student, now a missionary, recalled that at that moment when his three former Muslim new believers joyfully explained their original formula for the Trinity, his reasons for attaining a seminary education all came into focus for him. Most of a three-year curriculum in seminary he found very useful. He had needed bits and pieces of it at different times, but nearly all of it coalesced into one sequence addressing this set of needs.

Boldness of witness developed as he shared his faith as part of his evangelism classes and became acutely aware of people’s lostness without the gospel. God had long been preparing these three Muslim men and intersected their lives with the young missionary’s who was prepared to be bold enough to lead them to Christ. Now, as they came to this theological crossroad in their growth, the missionary needed historical and systematic theology to recognize the problem of modalism. A course in Islamic studies shed light on why his disciples formulated modalistic solutions from residual ideas in the Qur’an they memorized as boys. His seminary studies in Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, and Greek assisted him in studying the concepts for the Godhead more in depth and his cross-cultural communication, anthropology and other missiological studies guided him in knowing how to bundle these things together. Because of the time he spent earnestly studying these things, he could assist them in doing their own self-theologizing without damaging their desires and drive to grow in Christ and to lead Christ’s church in the underground witness among other new Muslim background believers in that place where there were growing levels of persecution and threats.

If someone wants to get on a plane, land in a country, live there, learn some of the language and witness to a few neighbors, then perhaps they don’t need seminary training, at least for very long. What will they do if they pray diligently to see a culture radically changed for Christ, for deep transformation to transpire? That is when a spiritual neurosurgeon is needed who can be an instrument in the Holy Spirit’s hands to “renew the mind” Romans 12:1-2. Missionaries should be prepared, to prepare others, as they in turn prepare yet others for eternity with Christ! Substantive biblical, theological, and missiological study found in seminary prepares us for spiritual “neurosurgery.”


Preaching Tools: Exodus

This month, Oscar-winning director and producer Ridley Scott will bring his biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale in the role of Moses, to the big screen. Certainly, the movie has sparked much discussion for many reasons, which brings the biblical account of Exodus to the attention for both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Many pastors will see this as a great opportunity to leverage such widespread interest by preaching a sermon series on part or all of the book of Exodus. To aid in sermon preparation, here’s a helpful excerpt on the book of Exodus from David Allen’s Preaching Tools: An Annotated Survey of Commentaries and Preaching Resources for Every Book of the Bible.

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Exegetical Commentaries

Durham, John. Exodus. WBC. Thomas Nelson, 1987.

Exegetical and helpful on theology. Tremper Longman cautions that you must watch Durham’s “casual attitude toward the history of Exodus.”

Hamilton, Victor P. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

Excellent on exegesis and textual meaning. Not much focus on theology.

Murphy, James. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Exodus. Andover: Warren F. Draper/Boston: W. H. Halliday & Co., 1868. Klock & Klock reprint, 1976.

A 19th-century Irish Presbyterian, Murphy’s work is still valuable despite its age. Sometimes overly detailed on geographical issues.

Expository Commentaries

Brueggemann, Walter. Exodus. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. 1982.

Brueggemann is not a conservative, but he often has brilliant insight into the text.

Cole, R. Alan. Exodus. TOTC. IVP Academic, 2008.

Virtually all volumes in the TOTC are worth having. Brief, concise, but helpful treatment of Exodus for the expositor.

Enns, Peter. Exodus. NIVAC. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Covers the territory well exegetically, theologically, homiletically, and practically. Longman gives it 5 stars.

Stuart, Douglas K. Exodus. NAC. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

An excellent expository volume that deals faithfully with the text from the pen of an evangelical Old Testament scholar.

Click here to get FREE ebook version of Preaching Tools by signing up to receive emails from Theological Matters.

Devotional Commentaries

Meyer, F. B. Devotional Commentary on Exodus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978.

Leading British Baptist of the 19th century and contemporary of Spurgeon. Excellent application on the life of Moses.

Wagner, George. Practical Truths from Israel’s Wanderings. London: James Nisbet & Co., 1862.

Warren Wiersbe said this volume offers “rich veins of gold that others have ignored or neglected.”

Special Studies

Chappell, Clovis G. Ten Rules for Living. New York: Abingdon, 1938.

On the 10 Commandments. Chappell was an imminent Methodist preacher known for his many books of sermons on Bible characters.

Mohler, R. Albert. Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God from the Ten Commandments. Chicago: Moody, 2009.

Excellent analysis with practical application. Connects the 10 Commandments with Christ and the New Testament well. Helpful for the preacher.

Morgan, G. Campbell. The Ten Commandments. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999 reprint.

I think I own every work Morgan wrote. An outstanding expositor, Morgan was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London until his death in 1944. This brief treatment is vintage Morgan.

Soltau, Henry W. The Tabernacle, The Priesthood, and the Offerings. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972.

A classic study with focus on practical application. Spurgeon called it “richly suggestive.”

________. The Holy Vessels and Furniture of the Tabernacle. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1970.

Companion volume to The Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Offerings.


Metaxas and the Miraculous: A Review of Eric Metaxas’ Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life

Eric Metaxas has taken his talents to an exploration of miracles in his brand new book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life. When I first heard about his newest project I was both excited but also a bit nervous. Most of us know Metaxas’ considerable storytelling ability from his New York Times bestselling Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and also his Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Campaign to End Slavery. Indeed if it wasn’t for these recent books, many would not know of the heroic and herculean efforts of these Christian men. They each serve as distinct counterexamples to the exceedingly nearsighted Hitchens-esque claim that nothing good comes from religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular. So given that I teach in the area of apologetics and philosophy, I was excited to see someone as witty and insightful as Metaxas treating this very important area. However, my worry was that the literature on miracles is (what I like to call) crazy technical. It is commonplace for an article or chapter on the evidential value of miracles to assume proficiency with such things as the axioms of probability calculus. Most of us who fail to have such proficiency tend to skip that chapter and we are faced with the prospect of engaging a culture deeply committed to anti-supernaturalism without the tools of apologetic reflection on the miraculous.

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Preaching Tools: Luke

With Christmas quickly approaching, many pastors will preach Christmas sermon series during December and/or special Christmas services. The Gospel of Luke provides the most comprehensive details regarding the birth of Jesus and surrounding events, including the famous Songs of Christmas.

Here’s a helpful excerpt on the book of Luke from David Allen’s Preaching Tools: An Annotated Survey of Commentaries and Preaching Resources for Every Book of the Bible. Here, Allen highlights some of the best commentaries and sources for preaching this extraordinary book. Read More »


Patterson answers questions in 140 characters or less

In chapel, Oct. 16, while promoting that afternoon’s session of “Twitter Den,” a variation of his occasional Lion’s Den Q&A sessions, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson noted that, on Twitter, he is required to respond to every question in 140 characters or less.

“It is easily the most difficult thing I have ever done in my whole life,” Patterson joked.

This session of Twitter Den, held in conjunction with Southwestern’s Fall Preview Conference, allowed Patterson to answer dozens of questions via Twitter and to a live audience in the seminary’s student center. Using the hashtag #AskDrP, the audience and anyone from around the world could submit a question.

Questions ranged from serious to humorous, covering aspects of theology, ministry and Patterson’s personal history. Patterson maintained a sense of humor throughout, but he provided serious answers when questions required them.

The following is a transcript of the Twitter session:

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The Blinding Friday Night Lights

We’ve just moved from Middle America to Texas. To say there is a bit of culture shock is an understatement. Things are a bit different down here. Don’t get me wrong. I love Texas. I married a Texan. I’m a Spurs fan. I remember the Alamo. We eat breakfast tacos. I even have a cowboy hat, which I dutifully wear at each commencement at graduation at SWBTS where I teach. (I don’t, however, have cowboy boots—I’ve drawn a line in the sand on that one). It’s just going to take a bit of getting used to, that’s all.

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Should I get a PhD in Apologetics?

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian has (or should have) Apologetics in it.”

I often get asked the title question, especially ever since Southwestern Seminary rolled out its new MA in Christian Apologetics. Christian Apologetics, by its very nature, is a multidisciplinary field of study. To be sure, there are the characteristic areas that typically comprise a study of apologetics. For example, a mainstay of the discipline is issues in Philosophy of Religion. In Phil. Religion we talk about arguments for God’s existence, the coherence of theism (including doctrines that might appear to be in tension with each other as well other problems, such as the problem of evil). This of course fits well within the scope and purpose of Apologetics. Thus, philosophy is a really important area for doing apologetics. However, doing a degree in philosophy does not adequately prepare one to be able to defend against the great variety of challenges and objections that come from other disciplines.

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Theological Tailgating

You’ve seen them. They are the bumper bullies of the highway. Any day of the week, on any highway, and most any time of the day they are out there driving too fast, weaving in and out of lanes, and aggressively driving too close to the bumper of the car in front of them. Frankly, if you are close enough to read the fine print of the Southwestern Seminary sticker on the back of my car, you are driving too close!

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What’s In a Name?: Evangelicals and Marriage

Editor’s Note: This post is the second installment of a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here. The first post can be found here.

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, the “star-cross’d lovers” are destined for a life apart from each other because of a long-standing feud between their families. In act 2, scene 2, Juliet proclaims these famous words to Romeo:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Is Juliet really right? Just by changing his name, can Romeo escape the wrath of the Capulet family for loving Juliet? Would they not still know exactly who he is?

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Words Have Meaning: Defining Marriage in the Marriage Debate

Editor’s Note: This post is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series reflecting on Lenow’s recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here.

Words have meaning. In order to have a conversation with another human, there must be some sort of shared language by which ideas can be communicated. This language can include everything from words to sounds to non-verbal expressions. The key, however, is that it has to be a shared language. If it is not, then communication will be misunderstood or not received at all.

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Worthy of Double Honor

With all due respect to Chuck Swindoll and Charles Stanley, whose works I highly recommend to you, there are three guys named Charles whose writings every Minister should know: Charles Spurgeon, Charles Jefferson, and Charles Bridges.  Along with Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Rule and Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, Charles Jefferson’s The Minister as Shepherd, and Charles Bridges The Christian Ministry constitute some of if not the most significant works in Pastoral Ministry outside of Scripture ever written.  Of course, each of these men had other significant works that I highly recommend, but these stand out because of their content and impact.  The standard they set for the role of the Pastor remains a relevant call to our churches today.

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Why Religion Won’t Go Away

We are witnessing a shift away from the secularization (the diminishing influence of religion) of the 19th and 20th century. The 21st century is shaping up to be postsecular. As Jacobsen and Jacobsen say in their book, The American University in a Postsecular Age: “religion will likely exercise a significant role in human affairs for a long time to come. If secularization means that the world is getting a little less religious every day, then we live in a postsecular world.” (p.10) Read More »


Turning Boys into Men

Sports talk radio is not my normal stop when looking for solid theological content and cultural commentary. However, I found a little of both this week on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike.” The story du jour was the video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. Nothing new was said about the facts, but the commentary from Hall of Fame wide-receiver Cris Carter was impeccable.

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If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball

My 10-year-old son Will and I share a common love—baseball.

While he’s not naturally gifted at playing the game, Will loves to be part of the team, and as with most kids his age his skills have progressed each year through repetition and practice.

This past spring, Will graduated from coach-pitch to kid-pitch, which brought with it both excitement and anxiety. However, after only a few games I could see that anxiety largely overshadowed the excitement.

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Machismo vs. Manhood

Football is the ultimate expression of machismo in American culture. Bigger, stronger, and faster is the goal. Gladiators armed with nothing but their bodies fly around the field attempting to dominate their opponents in both strength and strategy. Boys around the country dream of growing into the men who play the game.

Unfortunately, the football world has been rocked in recent days by a number of scandals related to being a man off the field. The domestic violence case involving Ray Rice has dominated the headlines while San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and Carolina Panther Greg Hardy face similar accusations of domestic violence and await adjudication of their cases.

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The Royalty of Immediate Action

Abraham was considered a prince.

However, he was not royalty. No blue blood, just the hot blood of a nomad coursing through his veins.  He was literally a professional wanderer, wandering at the call of God. When his wife Sarah died, he went to the land of the Hittites who graciously allowed him to bury his wife in their land, saying, “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us” (Gen. 23:5). Would to God people may say that about us. All accolades aside, what if those around us sensed that we were divinely set apart? What made this man so princely? Easy, really: he was a good follower.

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Preaching Tools: Revelation

With the movie remake of Left Behind coming to theaters next month, there will certainly be a lot of talk about the book of Revelation and the end times in the media and churches throughout the world. Many pastors will consider preaching the book of Revelation as a way to capitalize on such interest. But with so many books and commentaries available on the subject, what are the best resources to consult? Read More »


Connecting the Truth of Scripture to Cultural Issues

Almost every cultural issue that a pastor will face today involves gender roles. Whether abortion, pornography, sex trafficking, or the advance of the homosexual platform, every issue revolves around gender and God’s plan for marriage, and on these the Bible is not silent.

No doubt most believers feel like Scripture addresses these issues, but how to connect the truth of Scripture to cultural issues in a way that is both clear and winsome is another thing all together.

This is why I am grateful that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host its national conference on The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage, October 27-29, in Nashville, TN. The conference will cover the waterfront of issues surrounding the church as she engages the culture for the Kingdom of God.

There may not be a more pressing arena for the church to engage. If you desire to winsomely articulate biblical answers to the issues of today, I strongly encourage you to be a part of this conference.

Toward that end we at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are offering a course for credit surrounding the conference. If you’re interested you need to enroll in both the conference and the course separately, as well as secure travel and lodging in Nashville. Register Today!

I hope to see you in Nashville. The times have never been more urgent.

Download Course Syllabus


Pastors and Rookie Mistakes

Recently, State Senator Tim Solobay of Pennsylvania introduced a bill (Senate Bill 391) for consideration that would make expungement possible for individuals who have committed crimes other than misdemeanors.  The proposal would “allow some individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanors of the 2nd and 3rd degree to apply to have the records expunged if they have not been arrested or convicted for 7 to 10 years (depending on the offense) prior to requesting the expungement.”  Some have referred to this as the “young and dumb” exception.  The bill was recently referred (October 2013) to the House Judiciary Committee.

Leaving expungement (and the particular issues of Senate Bill 391) aside, I’m intrigued by the prospect of a “young and dumb” exception in ministry.  To be sure, expectations of pastors and staff are unique to each context and individual.  Indeed, the subjectivity of the Pastoral expectations is often the elephant in every church meeting room.  But ministers new in ministry often face an unusual catch-22.  One cannot obtain experience until they have experience.

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The Colonization of the Call: An encouragement for those residing in their call

In a few moments students will fill MacGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.

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Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and our Longing for Wholeness

The classic book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde does something to me. It scares me. It is a chilling, vivid picture of what happens when we allow our base appetites to overtake our rational and spirited faculties (as Plato would say). The story also awakens something: it awakens within me a desire for wholeness, a wholeness where all of my thinkings, willings, and emotions are fully integrated. Read More »


Everything Rides on the Reality of the Resurrection

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

A general belief in the resurrection at the end of days is present in the Old Testament. For example, at the end of Daniel’s visions, there is a scene that seems very familiar to readers of the book of Revelation. In this scene, “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). After this, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). This vision affirms a belief in a general resurrection of all those who have died. The vision also affirms that there is to be some sort of judgment following the resurrection. Some will awake to glory, others to terror. Read More »


Preaching Tools: Jonah

A call from God. A disobedient prophet. A great fish. A miraculous repentance. The biblical story of Jonah is familiar to pre-schoolers and adults alike. A powerful picture of God’s great love for the world, its simple yet powerful storyline captures attention and brings clear application to believers today. Read More »


7 Practical Ways Churches Can Help “Troubled Souls” Like Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a man who impacted many. I heard him referred to on a secular radio program this morning as “a creative and comedic genius with a troubled soul.” The news yesterday that he was dead at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide was surprising. His widespread influence was obvious as news networks rushed to remember him and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter exploded with posts referring to him from many people with surprisingly diverse backgrounds. Read More »


Ann Coulter is almost right. Missionaries are “idiotic” fools … for Christ’s sake.

Christian narcissism annoys Ann Coulter. In a recent column, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,’” Ms. Coulter opines about the missionary work of a Samaritan’s Purse affiliated doctor and a SIM USA affiliated nurse in Africa by asking:

Why did Dr. Brantly [and his nurse] have to go to Africa? … Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore? Read More »


Preaching in Conflict

There is an old adage that says if you want to avoid criticism, you should do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. This way of thinking certainly comes into play in the pastorate. At some point a pastor will either say or do something that will cause someone to take offense in the congregation. In other words, if you pastor, preach, and lead a church, you will sooner or later be preaching in the middle of conflict. Read More »


Raising Up Teenage Spiritual Champions

Our liberal friends are not too keen on the idea of student achievement in schools. Last week I heard of another high school that no longer will conduct awards assemblies at the end of the year. Progressives want to pull achieving young people back into the mushy middle.

But are we doing something similar at church? In most churches, don’t we only offer foundational discipleship that leads to a mostly bland faith for the entire group?

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Help My Unbelief

Most of us can readily identify with the man who came to Jesus one day with a tragic, seemingly impossible situation. The man’s son was afflicted with demonic possession. The father’s description of the symptoms is heart-breaking: “A spirit …has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid,” (Mark 9:17-18). Previously, the father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were powerless to help. Now the dad stands before Jesus with the frantic plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22). Read More »


Functional Obedience

In her recent book, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce, Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained researcher, confutes the widely held belief that the divorce rate among Christians is generally the same as that of non-Christians. Indeed, her eight-year investigative study, which analyzed multiple sources dating back for decades, dispelled a number of widely held myths about marriage. Among the notable findings from her work are: the divorce rate is not at 50% and never has been; the divorce rate has been steadily declining since its height in 1981: and the divorce rate is significantly lower among Christians who regularly attend church, pray, and read their Bibles. Read More »


On Choosing Books: Reading from the Other Side

It’s that time of year again when I have to submit book requests to our campus bookstore for the upcoming semester (technically, it is past time, but the bookstore is always gracious to those of us who miss the initial deadline). For many of my classes, I have developed a standard list of books that I revisit every couple of years to see if there are any better ones. However, each of the last few semesters, I have taught at least one class that is new to my teaching repertoire. This fall it will be Selected Issues in Life and Death—basically a class dealing with various cultural issues of life and death, such as abortion, euthanasia, and human genetic engineering. Read More »


A REACHing Church

The Power of a Simple Invite

A study produced by LifeWay Research last year found that 80% of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a “personal responsibility to share their faith.” On the surface it seems that our churches are doing a good job of communicating the need for evangelism. If you continue looking at the research however, it goes on to show that while people agree there is a need to share the Gospel, rarely do they actually do it! (Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never Do by John D. Wilke)

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