Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s!

Roland Allen is a leading prophetic voice for taking seriously the teaching of the Book of Acts. He is best known for two of his works called Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes That Hinder It and Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Recently, I encountered a hidden treasure by Roland Allen that I had never even seen referenced by anyone else. It is found as Appendix 5 in the biography Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest, and Prophet by Hubert J. B. Allen (his grandson) and is called Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Satan’s: An Infernal Dialogue (as if his other titles weren’t provocative enough).

In this work, Roland Allen creates an imaginary conversation between the demon Beelzebub and Satan about his strategy related to thwarting the progress of the Gospel. Hubert Allen claims that it was written in 1930 and not published then because it would have been considered “too flippant or too aggressive” and not later because it “might well have seemed to be no more than a plagiarism of C. S. Lewis’ similar idea in The Screwtape Letters.”

31-hwJcQ62L._SL500_SX316_BO1,204,203,200_If you appreciate other works by Roland Allen, you will really appreciate this one. It has many of Allen’s most important ideas, but presented in a very clever, edgy, and effective manner. If the eternal consequences of decisions to not follow the Acts model didn’t haunt you before, they certainly will after reading this short dialogue. I shudder a bit even as I read the opening lines. “Beelzebub asks ‘What is the matter, Satan?’ and Satan replies ‘I was thinking about those Christian Missions.’” This is fiction, but it isn’t fictional. Satan does have a strategy related to missions.

As expected from Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s is quite polemical. He writes in an “us/them” style as a critic of the modern missionary movement. His presentation is mostly in terms of either/or based on core principles. Allen is trying to make a statement and illicit a sharp response, not to guide us through a transition to a proper implementation of the Acts model. In the remainder of this blog, I will focus on some of the more transitionary dimensions of Allen’s critique, particularly as they relate to BILD and its church-based theological education partners.

The essence of Satan’s strategy is to multiply divisions among the universal church so that “separate missions go their own way in practice.” They are “all labeled something Christians . . . and they more often drop the ‘Christian’ than the qualifying term” and “each doing the same thing or very much the same thing in the same places” as they “take their divisions abroad.” One of the things that I like most about the BILD network is the manner in which partners with great differences come together, often for the first time, primarily because of a simple agreement that our missionary methods should follow the Acts model. Keeping primary things on which we have unity in focus (without giving up important secondary distinctiveness) strikes a powerful and deep retaliatory blow against Satan’s strategy.

“Keeping primary things on which we have unity in focus (without giving up important secondary distinctiveness) strikes a powerful and deep retaliatory blow against Satan’s strategy.”

Allen proceeds to have the demons explain the work of their colleague Mammon who “taught the zealots [us] to put money in the first place,” designed “the machine” of modern missions, created a “class of professional missionaries” that “left everything to the pro.” Further, as if the money for the professional missionaries wasn’t enough, Allen puts in the words of Satan that “I invented the Mission Station, and let the establishing of mission stations take the place of establishing Churches.” And even if some evangelists were doing the work of evangelism, often they were put in charge of the mission stations, essentially immobilizing them. Allen claims that survey reports show how many of the missionaries are tied up – “four-fifths of them, or even nine-tenths of them, are clustered in some two or three cities, or a few big stations.” Allen is so frustrated by the mission station concept and so energized by the spontaneous expansion that he may not sufficiently understand the role of resource centers. Although he makes reference in other works to the concept of a missionary bishop who is out on the fields where the evangelists are working, he doesn’t describe the importance of having entities that provide support for the evangelists and apostolic leaders, such as we see in Acts (the Upper Room seems to have been a known place of gathering for the apostles, the Antioch Church, and even Paul’s rented quarters in Rome). However, these places are fundamentally different from a mission station because they are always and robustly focused outward on the progress of the Gospel.

Allen’s work has an amazing contemporary feel at points, such as his critique of trends in charity. He quotes Satan as saying, “’The kingdom of God is a kingdom to be established by social advancement and intellectual enlightenment’ and such like. Muddle up a lot of philanthropy in a bottle and label it ‘Christian’ and they will swallow it like . . . like gin. No – they wouldn’t like that word . . . we had better say ‘like the sincere milk of the Word.” Allen’s comparison of and intoxicating addiction to milk of the Word as if it were gin is disturbingly accurate. Keeping converts busy with good things, but not helping them eat solid food and mature is a surefire strategy to hinder the progress of the Gospel.

“It is here that Allen could be misunderstood as being anti-training. However, he is only against a particular type of training, namely the type of training that takes people out of ministry.”

71zmXCVtipLAnother clever tactic put in the words of Beelzebub is “making professionals of the converts.” Essentially, this means “they paid Christian workers to work for the Mission and that put off the lay Christians” who used to be active in ministry until they learned that “the propagation of the Gospel was not his job.” And even worse, “They teach little boys in school and then catch as many of them as they can, and make them mission agents” and getting them shut behind the “Training Gate.” It is here that Allen could be misunderstood as being anti-training. However, he is only against a particular type of training, namely the type of training that takes people out of ministry. For instance, he identifies the trend of prioritizing scientific education and the grandiose idea of training leaders of the country generally, but at the expense of the evangelistic work and training the future leaders of the Church.

The convolution of spiritual authority is seen in Satan’s description of missionaries that “act as if they had spiritual authority over their converts” and subtly teach native Christians that “the position and the salary” in “an organized society” is “a kind of social authority” that actually results in “spiritual power withheld.” In this part of the dialogue, Allen is effectively criticizing the missionary machinery of his own denomination and focuses on the spiritual power that is present in the spontaneous expansion of the Gospel. In other works, he also talks about missionary field bishops who identify and ordain “native evangelists” who should be recognized as church leaders. However, he never addresses the concept of an indigenous apostolic leader of a church planting movement as we know them throughout the BILD network, perhaps because there were almost none at the time when he was writing.

In conclusion, it is probably not a good idea to read this work by Allen apart from his other works. The explanations in Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Satan’s are presented in a very unique perspective. However, for those who have benefited from Allen’s other works and been led to take more seriously the missionary methods taught by the Apostle Paul, this work should light a fire under you . . . and the Gates of Hell will not prevail.

The Role of the Church in My City

As Christians, how do we think about our city, our involvement in it, and our commitment to its welfare? After all, we are building Christ’s church and are aliens in this world. Are we really called to build cities and seek the welfare of those cities? How does God intend us to live in community? Should we invest our time, talents and resources into our communities… or mainly our churches?

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A recent picture while flying over Mumbai, India, reflecting on the Church’s role in seeking the welfare of our cities around the world.

A mentor of mine once said:

“Tie one hand to Scriptures and tie your other to your culture.”

He was essentially telling me how important it is to first calibrate our minds according to the principles and patterns given to us in the biblical text. Then we can move into our culture and seek out the questions they are asking. Our goal is to understand and engage with our culture, but we must do so with biblically trained minds.

We must continually renew our minds around Scripture while simultaneously engaging in our neighborhoods, cities and cultures. We are to go to all nations, baptizing them into the family while teaching them Christ’s principles so that the world may know God’s plan.

A leader enrolled in the Antioch School, baptizing a new member into the church family.

A leader enrolled in the Antioch School, baptizing a new member into the church family.

What Should the Church Actually Do in Our Cities?

Today, our American churches should be benefactor communities and truly be a benefit to our cities and seek their welfare. Instead, many are focused on making their own budgets and tokenly engaging in international mission while engaging even less with the local city. For churches to benefit their cities requires a renewed understanding of the centrality of the church in God’s economy, for this is God’s welfare distribution system.

The Church is meant to be a family, seen as glad and generous people, finding favor in their community.1 We are to build Christ’s Church according to His administration, where our people live skillful lives, engage in good occupations and meet pressing needs.2

“And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.” – Titus 3:14

In his letter to Titus, Paul was concerned with Titus teaching the people to devote themselves to good works. Our churches today need to follow this pattern: establish our people in the teachings of Christ,3 engage in our communities and cultures, devote ourselves to good works, and meet pressing needs.

How will you know the pressing needs of your city? How will you devote your church to good works? How will you be productive in the community? We have been asking these questions for many years in our local church network and here are some of our conclusions:

Being Devoted to Good Works

      • Begins with living peaceful and quiet lives that are attractive and healthy.4
      • Practicing hospitality toward strangers and helping those who can’t meet their own needs.5
      • Developing more dialogue on our work in the city, not dissension, and not antagonizing through political activism.
      • Older men/women should mentor younger men/women in developing lifestyles of good works.6

Meeting Pressing Needs

We have an initiative in my local church called Re:Build, where everyone in our network of churches is expected to participate in the process of helping people rebuild their lives in the community.

      • Life Skill Development
          • Hosting: Some people will live with our families
          • Hospitality/Openness/Family meals: Some people will integrate into our churches
          • Support: A support team is needed to help these individuals be “resourced” (i.e. budgeting, transportation, employment, parenting, cooking, cleaning, etc.)
      • Faith Development
          • Some will need older men/women to teach them the first principles of Christ
      • Education and Lifework Development
          • Develop good work skills
          • Education and career guidance (i.e. resume help)

Being Productive in Community

      • We should choose jobs based on a comprehensive view of our lifework.
      • Job opportunities should be considered based on the strategy of the local church, not primarily on location and pay rate.
      • We should think of our homes as a base for our lifework, for the faint-hearted, and practice generosity out of our homes. People of the community should say, “that’s where those glad and generous people live!”
      • Our business owners should engage with the city, seeking its welfare with its products and people.
      • Submission to employers isn’t passive. It requires engagement in a way that will bring praise from your employer and other colleagues. People should say, “that’s where that glad and generous person works!”
      • Honoring people and kings implies giving respect and honor to them, giving them value in your service.

As the church engages with the community, we must continually remain curious about the pressing needs of our neighborhoods and cities. Our world is continually changing and every neighborhood is different, staying involved and asking questions is the beginning.

The church must understand that globalization and urbanization are changing our world. Today’s cities are key in our global world and the church needs to impact the city. Consider this video below created by New Life AG Church in Chennai, India. Rev. Chadwick Mohan (English Service Lead Pastor) and New Life AG Church are ministry partners in the BILD Network and this video is an expression of their understanding of how they need to be seeking the welfare of their city.

The Church is God’s plan and we are to wholeheartedly engage with our cities. Our church families need to devote their lives to good works, meet pressing needs and engage in good occupations. As our hearts align with our cities, the world will see a people that live with a hope that is attractive and generous.

How do churches train their people to live by these principles and do more then just attend church? It starts by training the leaders. The Antioch School is designed to lay a foundation of biblical principles for leaders. This training takes place in the context of your church, with a core of gaining competencies in the biblical principles while being mentored, following the Paul-Timothy model. School is not about academics or degrees, it is about the lifelong pursuit of wisdom.7 This pursuit of wisdom is needed for all people no matter their station in life, and it all starts with the leaders.

The Antioch School is designed for churches to train their leaders in pursuing wisdom, which is the wholehearted pursuit of seeking the welfare of our cities. Now is the time for the church to train her leaders in the first century, biblical principles.


1 Acts 2:46-47
2 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; Titus 3:14
3 Titus 2:1
4 1 Timothy 2; 1 Peter 1:15
5 1 Timothy 5; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
6 Titus 2, 3; 1 Timothy 5
7 Albeit the Antioch School is accredited, granting Bachelor, Master and Doctorate degrees.

The Role of the Church Nationally

What was the work of the Early Church Leaders?

As recorded in Acts, Jesus told his Apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. He told them that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and they would be His witnesses starting in Jerusalem, expanding out to Judea, Samaria and ultimately the ends of the earth. Luke also says in Acts 1:1 that this book contains what Jesus continued to do and teach. This introduction of Acts (1:1-8 specifically) sets the entire context for our understanding of Acts and even the New Testament.

      • The book of Acts is what Jesus continued to do and teach through His Apostles.
      • Jesus’ leaders were given the Holy Spirit to guide them.
      • As seen throughout Acts, the church was God’s plan for the gospel to expand.
      • This good news will expand from Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Chapters 1-7 show how the Apostles were witnesses in Jerusalem. Then chapters 8-12 show the work in Judea and Samaria. And finally chapters 13-28 demonstrate how the leaders became witnesses to the Gentiles, beginning with the church in Antioch, beginning the effort to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.

All the leaders were chosen by God to do this work and Paul was chosen to bring this message of hope, especially to the Gentiles. But what exactly was the work of the early church leaders? The Spirit actually gave specific instructions about the work of being a witness to all nations. Luke gives us the shape of this work in Acts 13:1-14:28, we see 3 main elements of the work:

      1. They proclaimed the gospel in and around strategic cities.
      2. They instructed the new believers in the Apostles’ teachings.
      3. They formed the believers into churches and appointed elders in every church.

This work is summarized as the Pauline Cycle because it is the same pattern seen in all of Paul’s missionary journeys. These essential instructions are embedded in the teachings and actions of the Apostles.

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Summarizing all of this, we can see how the book of Acts gives us the record of Jesus’ instructions on carrying out the work until He comes back again. The church is the centerpiece of His plan for the gospel to progress to the ends of the earth; this is Christ’s strategy.

The Role of the Church Nationally

We live in the final portion of Acts, where the gospel is to continuing to go to the ends of the earth. Knowing this, are we going to build today’s church on the 21st Century ecumenical paradigm as one church and one religion, or are going to build His Churches according to His administration?1 In other words, we can either build our churches as institutions and organizations in the philosophy of the 21st century corporations and mega-service industries or we can build the church as a family of families with elders, shepherds and apostolic leaders, evangelizing strategic cities, establishing the church in the kerygma-Didache and appointing the elders and deacons in these churches.2

Banquet 27

Church leaders from around the nation and globe, coming together to learn how to implement the early church models in their church networks.

As we look to build the church as a family across the globe, we must also look at our own nation. A book entitled, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Church (by David Kinnaman), shows that in our own nation 3 out of every 5 young Christians disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from the church after age 15. The study showed 6 main reasons for young Christians leaving Western churches.

      1. Churches seem overprotective.
      2. Teens and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
      3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
      4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
      5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
      6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

These are disruptive findings, but they demonstrate that we must return back to the methods and principles of the early church, following the patterns left to us Acts and the rest of the New Testament. The church is meant to be a family, who is seen as glad and generous people, finding favor in their community.3 We are to be building Christ’s church according to His administration, where our people live skillful lives4 engaging in good occupations and meeting pressing needs.5

This is a network of church leaders from around the nation, gathering multiple times per year, helping each other build their churches as a family.

This is a network of church leaders from around the nation, gathering multiple times per year, helping each other build their churches as a family.

The Role of the Antioch School

The Antioch School is designed for these purposes. It is built on the early church principles that just as Paul trained Timothy, so too, are we to train our leaders today. The Antioch School is especially focused on the third aspect of the Pauline Cycle, training and entrusting the deposit to faithful leaders.  

We know that today, theological education has become an academic endeavor for professional ministerial positions whereas in the past theological education was the acquiring of wisdom over a lifetime. So how did Paul train Timothy and how can we follow these patterns today? The Antioch School is built upon returning to this Paul-Timothy model of training.  

      • Training is done in the context of life and work with mentors and elder guiding the processes.
      • Training is done in the life of the local church.
      • Training is accomplished through continued dialogue around the Scriptures, with an emphasis on passing on the deposit.
      • Training is competency-based, so that all leaders move towards a mastery of the principles for themselves.

2016_Theology_in_Culture

Our churches across this nation are in need of trained leaders who are passing on the deposit that Christ gave the Apostles, who then gave it to the Timothy-types. The church needs to take her role seriously in training the leaders to go to our neighborhoods, nation and ultimately to the ends of the earth.


References:
1 See Ephesians 3:8-10
2 From Chadwick Mohan’s presentation at the 2016 BILD Summit.
3 Acts 2:46-47
4 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
5 Titus 3:14

The Role of the Church Globally

“A church that is maturing locally will understand that they are to also engage with the global work of the church. Locally established means globally engaged.”

Christ has a plan to make disciples of all nations and we know that these disciples are to be gathered together into communities of faith, and established as church families. But how do these church families reach all nations? Is a church meant to be part of the global work? Doesn’t our church today have enough work in the local setting, so why do we need to discuss “all nations”? Isn’t this the job of our missions departments? Why does the whole church need to understand Christ’s plan? These are the questions we want to explore in understanding the role of the church globally.

Let’s begin by looking at Scripture, as we need to understand its purpose before being able to move on to other matters. Growing up, my church would use the following passage when sending missionaries to the field as the reason for the church to participate in global work:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” – Matthew 28:16-20

This is often referred to as the Great Commission because Jesus is giving His authority to His leaders, to go to the nations and promises to be with them until the end of this time. As a kid I often struggled to make any connection between the church and the Great Commission, as this text says nothing about the church. At the time I understood that the role of a missionary was to tell the Good News of Jesus to other nations… and that’s it.

Years later, I met a missionary who helped me develop a better understanding of the New Testament. He shared that if all missionaries do is tell people the Good News without surrounding them with a local church family, that would be the equivalent of taking a young infant and expecting it to live on its own without the support of a more mature family. Families are meant to have older and younger generations, working together in life; a new infant cannot live on its own. Thus, if foreign missionaries don’t work with local churches to get new believers plugged in, then the lasting effects of their work is minimal.

“Christ has a plan to make disciples of all nations … gathered  together into communities of faith, and established as church families.”

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Matthew (and in fact all of the Gospel books) was written in context of what occurred in the book of Acts and the Epistles. You see, the book of Acts explains how when Jesus left, the Spirit came and the apostles then formed new disciples into church communities, setting up elders and leaders to shepherd and mature them in the faith. Acts shows how the church started in Jerusalem and spread across the empire and is ultimately going to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 gives the outline to the entire book:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

So the apostles were meant to be witnesses starting in Jerusalem, then Judea, the Samaria and then the ends of the earth. And in fact, Luke shows us how the church progressed in this manner.

  • Acts 6:7 – “The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
  • Acts 9:31 – “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
  • Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.”
  • Acts 16:5 – “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.”
  • Acts 19:20 – “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
  • Acts 28:31 – “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

We can see that the intent of this book (especially as you look at Luke 1:1-4 as well) is to give us confidence in how the church expanded and was established with the Good News, demonstrating that this is the plan for the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth.

We live in the age of the church, an age where we are to move the Gospel to the ends of the earth through the church. A church that is maturing locally will understand that they are to also engage with the global work of the church. Locally established means globally engaged.

Today we are following this pattern of being engaged with the church around the world. Our focus is on leadership development; we work with indigenous church networks, helping them build leadership development systems. Strong churches have strong leaders, who are trained.

“Locally established means globally engaged.”

Is the Church Really a Family?

Yes, the church is a family!  Not just a metaphorically, but the church in its local expressions is really a family.  Joseph Hellerman proved it!  His two books make a definitive case for the fact that the concept of family is core to the apostolic understanding of the church.

When the Church Was A Family, Joseph H. Hellerman, B & H Publishing, 2009 [WCWF]

The Ancient Church As Family, Joseph H. Hellerman, Augsburg Fortress, 2001 [ACAF]

Here are a few excerpts from his books and from my review of his books.

“It is hardly accidental that the New Testament writers chose the concept of family as the central social metaphor to describe the kind of interpersonal relationships that were to characterize those early Christian communities.  There is, in fact, no better way to come to grips with the spiritual and relational poverty of American individualism than to compare our way of doing things with the strong-group, surrogate family relations of early Christianity.  This is the central focus of this book.”  From the introduction of WCWF.

“The centrality of the family matrix for early Christian social organization calls for a careful examination of the nature of family in Mediterranean antiquity and the appropriation of the surrogate family model on the part of the early Christians.  This leads to the subject matter of this book.  I will demonstrate in the following pages that the ancient Mediterranean family provided the dominant social model for many of the early Christian congregations.  Specifically, local churches understood themselves to constitute surrogate patrilineal kinship groups, and local leaders expected their members to behave in a manner consonant with such a model of interpersonal relationships.”  From Chapter 1 of ACAF.

I admit that I read these books because I had already come to similar conclusions as the author on the basis of what I consider to be biblically normative teaching.  I hoped that they would help me deepen my convictions through additional substantive research in Scripture, church history, and sociology.  The essence of the church as “a family of families” (or better, “a household of households”) is already expressed as a foundational concept in the First Principles of the Faith discipleship resources and Leadership Series courses of BILD International and the Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development, ministries with which I am associated.  These books did much more than provide data that back-filled my understanding of the church as family.  They significantly enhanced my understanding by forcing me to sharpen my thinking in many areas, both as a scholar and a practitioner of the church as family.

Interestingly, I read these books on a trip to India (and even wrote the review on the return trip) because I was eager to benefit from the extended isolated focus that you can have during an international flight.  However, my focus on these books extended far beyond reading them on a plane.  I found myself vigorously recommending this book to leaders of church planting movements all over India.  As it seems that God is currently pouring out His Spirit in a special way in India, particularly in North India, these leaders have the opportunity to shape the future of the church.  It is my sincere hope that they take seriously the normative biblical teaching that is explained so clearly and effectively by Hellerman in these books.  Entire church movements may depend on it.  Other church planting movements have derailed because of pragmatic adoption of Western evangelical models and ideas rather than doing fresh theology-in-culture built on serious consideration of the biblical authors’ intentions of normative teaching that transcends culture.

The significance of these books is implied in their titles, particularly in the bold yet subtle claim of the title “When the Church Was A Family.”  Although it is easy to overlook it on the book cover, “the” and “a” are italicized, stating that the church “was family” in its essence, not just “like a family” in some of its characteristics.  Don’t minimize the significance of this implication.  In the final chapter of one book, Hellerman powerfully makes the point.  “Here, finally, is the rub, is it not?  When we define Christian community in such a way as to embrace the biblical teaching about relational solidarity, while at the same time rejecting the robust boundaries we see reflected in early Christian literature, we are left with nothing but an emasculated, localized, postmodern, Western version of ‘community’ that bears little resemblance to the surrogate family model of the ancient Christian church, and which is actually no longer worthy of the name Christian at all” (WCWF, p. 219).  I concur that the stakes are indeed this high, both for the church in the West and the emerging (as distinct from Emergent) church in places like India.

One may have a tendency to think about The Ancient Church As Family (ACAF) as a thorough presentation and analysis of the data and When the Church Was A Family (WCWF) as a popularized version, particularly because ACAF is drawn from Hellerman’s dissertation and WCWF makes consistent illustration in and application to Hellerman’s church.  However, this would do a grave disservice to the contributions of the books.  The illustrations and applications to Hellerman’s church provide substantial additional analysis and insight, particularly as they are connected with the much more substantive critique of Western evangelical culture that is found in WCWF, such as rejection of the false common hierarchical prioritization of God/Family/Church/Others (pp. 73-74) and comparison of the ancient Mediterranean concept of family as group with the Western emphasis on individual autonomy and Western evangelical concept of salvation as personal conversion.  ACAF does more analysis of biblical and historical data, but WCWF does much more analysis of ecclesiology in both abstract and practical forms.  Thus, it is crucial that one read both books, not just one to benefit fully from Hellerman’s contribution.

It should also be noted that these books are especially readable for works based on so much data and research.  This is particularly true of WCWF.  Its illustrations and applications don’t feel tagged on, but are well edited and fit rather seamlessly into the more direct treatment of the data.

You can also read my complete review of the books, including sections on the “Framework of the Books,” “Key Contributions,” and “Concerns and Issues to Explore Further.”

I hope that the starkness of the titles of Hellerman’s books shock you into paying appropriate attention to the data and analysis in them.  Everyone seems to want to have a “New Testament church.”  Hellerman has done a great service to help us actually know what a New Testament church is and how to participate in it as New Testament church members, namely be deeply part of an extended family, God’s household.

Despite the tremendous scholarship and pastoral concern of Hellerman, I don’t think he has begun to grasp the significance of his contribution.  These books should fundamentally transform the way most Western Christians (and those influenced significantly by Western Christians) conceptualize church and participate as church members.  It is up to us to carry forward the implications of his research, along with the research and resources already provided for this purpose by BILD International and its Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development.

 

What Is Biblical Theology?

“What do you mean by ‘biblical theology’” is a great question.  It is being asked often as people hear about BILD resources and its Antioch School being based on “biblical theology.”

Simply stated, we consider biblical theology to be a study of the teaching of God’s Word that deals with it according to the manner in which we have received it.  This means that we treat Bible books as complete documents, not collections of verses or scattered descriptions of events.  We study to find the author’s intention for the biblical document and then proceed to examine its literary design in order to see what teaching is unfolded in the text, (rather than starting with predetermined categories and searching for verses or events that relate to those categories).

This is a simple and straightforward definition of biblical theology that relates naturally to Bible study and application.  However, it is not the only approach to biblical theology.  Lately, I’ve been reading several attempts to address the various definitions and approaches to biblical theology.

The Present and Future of Biblical Theology” by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a significant contribution to this effort.  It was published in Themelios (2012): 445-64.

Here are a few comments that help to summarize Köstenberger’s explanations and contributions, but also provide our perspective based on our definition of biblical theology:

Köstenberger presents a survey of approaches to biblical theology as if they are mutually exclusive options rather than each being legitimate perspectives on the biblical theology process:

  1. Classical Approaches emphasize the hermeneutical methodology of doing biblical theology.  It relies on the handling of the texts themselves as a controlling mechanism.  Whatever biblical theology is, it must be found and/or confirmed in the actual study of biblical books.  This is the same sort of process that is emphasized in BILD Leadership Series II courses.
  2. Central-Themes Approaches emphasize the likelihood that central themes will emerge (or have emerged) during the classical approaches to biblical theology.  It is possible that biblical theology will produce such a diverse array of content that it cannot be brought together into central themes, but the inter-textuality and actual practice of doing biblical theology has shown that indeed central themes are present.  Further, central themes should be understood as something different than common themes occurring often, but not necessarily being central.
  3. Single-Center Approaches emphasize the core that provides unity to the whole.  Perhaps it is best to think of the single-center approach as finding unity in the central themes.
  4. Story or Metanarrative Approaches emphasize the relationship of the central theme of God’s Word with the historical reality of God’s work.  It isn’t just that there is a literary metanarrative, but there is a historical metanarrative to which that literary metanarrative relates closely.  In fact, it could be argued that Scripture is a primary tool in the perpetuation of the historical metanarrative, not just its own literary metanarrative.

So, rather than treat these approaches as mutually exclusive, I would recommend the following based on a combined use of the approaches:   Biblical theology allows texts to speak for themselves (Approach 1) does so in a manner through which central themes emerge (Approach 2) around a truly central core (Approach 3) that is closely related to the historical metanarrative (Approach 4).

Conversely, once we have a sense of the historical metanarrative (Approach 4), it helps us to focus on the truly central core (Approach 3), identify inter-related central themes (Approach 2), and see the literary design of biblical books (Approach 1).  This illustrates the “tension between an inductive and a preconceived [deductive] conceptual approach” (p. 11).  Both are at work as we do biblical theology as part of an actual historical metanarrative.

A few things stood out from my perspective as I read this article:

  1. Apostolic Statements.  Very little emphasis was given to the statements by the apostles themselves as narrators of texts (or as characters in texts) regarding their literary intentions (or metanarrative intentions).  For instance, kerygmatic sermons in Acts or summary statements about Christ in the Gospels should be key indicators of biblical theology.  Further, their own statements about Scripture itself, such as 2 Tim. 3:16 would seem to be determinative of how we use Scripture (in connection with an ecclesiological metanarrative).
  2. Church.  Surprisingly little is said about God’s people and particularly the church in God’s plan.  The references to “God’s people” seem to emphasis only the continuity between Israel and the church, rather than also the discontinuity which is fundamental to the nature of the New Testament as literature written to guide churches and church leaders.  Although it makes reference to the importance of the “original cultural, historical, and ecclesial contexts,” there are no statements that would lead one to think of the New Testament as establishing tools for a church planting movement.  I would think of the New Testament’s historical context as an ecclesial context!
  3. Abstract Doctrine.  There is a strong tendency in the article toward the abstraction of theology.  For instance, Köstenberger calls us to “turn away decisively from ourselves and our time to what was found in the men through whom the church came into being [i.e. the NT writers].  Our main interest should be the thought as it was conceived by them and the truth that was valid for them” (p. 11).  So, what were they doing (these “men through whom the church came into being”)?  They were writing to establish churches, equip leaders, and sustain a church planting movement.  They never seem to be doing theology in a manner that separates truth from church life into something like modern abstract theology.  However, this article wavers on whether the best biblical theology work operates on the fourth level of its significance to the “interpreter’s larger hermeneutical proposal” (which I understand to be their real-life ministry situation).
  4. Scholars.  It seems odd that there is no mention of Kaiser, Childs, Sailhamer, and others who have contributed so much to the consideration of biblical theology.  Perhaps this is an indication of just how many scholars have addressed biblical theology and you can’t refer to everyone.  More likely, Köstenberger leans toward particular approaches to biblical theology that don’t rely on the contributions of Kaiser, Childs, Sailhamer, and others.  It is disappointing that he doesn’t help us see their contributions in light of his analysis of the present and future of biblical theology.

Biblical theology is not merely an academic exercise.  It is a practical endeavor being done by leaders of church planting movements and church networks around the world.  For them, the fulfillment of the Great Commission is at stake and they are using the Bible in a manner similar to those in the Early Church in order to be responsive, not just knowledgeable about the teaching of the Bible.  BILD’s partners truly are the present and future of biblical theology.

Grounded in the Gospel

When a book is loaded with some of my favorite BILD terms (such as kerygma, didache, catachesis), it really gets my attention.  Consider this great quote from Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers in the Old-Fashioned Way by J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett.  “Perhaps 2 Timothy 2:2 best portrays the idea of raising and cultivating catechists [the teachers]” (p. 196).

Packer and Parrett make a superb contribution in this book by building a very strong case for the biblical concept of catechism, which they define as “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight” (p. 29).  My favorite part of the book was Chapter 2 “Catechesis is a (Very!) Biblical Idea.” The authors state that, “One of the most important arguments for ministries of catechesis today derives from the simple fact that believers have been commanded to teach others catechetically” (p. 47).  The chapter concludes, “Catechesis is, indeed, a very biblical idea!  More than that—the ministry of catechesis is actually a biblical imperative” (p. 50).

The term “old-fashioned” in the book’s title and first chapter is clever and could hearken back to the first century, but in the book it refers more to models used in the fourth/fifth centuries and to the Reformation.  Packer and Parrett use the apostle’s letters to make the case for catechism, but don’t really find the content and model for catechism there.  The historical models they present are insightful and helpful, yet it seems that doing more with the catechetical model of the early church, as a biblical model, not just a biblical mandate would have been appropriate since the authors make a case for the New Testament writings being “explicitly catechetical documents” (p. 44).  Similarly, the book’s biblical kerygmatic statements are summaries with little attention to the actual statements of the apostles presented by Luke in Acts.

A rather elegant model is presented in Chapter 4 of the content that Packer and Parrett recommend for catechesis.  It is called “5-4-3-2-1” which refers to Five Founts (Triune God, Scripture, the Story, the Gospel, the Faith), Four Fixtures (Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Decalogue, Sacraments), Three Facets (The Truth, The Life, The Way), Two Fundamentals (Love of God, Love of Neighbor), and One Focus (Proclaim Christ).  As you can tell from the model, there may be some important things missing from a BILD perspective.  For instance, the church itself is assumed, participation in the church is presented largely through worship services (probably because that is where the sacraments are dispensed) rather than as a family of families, there is not a synthesis of the practical instructions of the epistles related to household order, and the apostolic mission of church planting and church establishing does not seem to be emphasized.  I wonder if Packer and Parrett would think that BILD’s First Principles are too simplistic, too focused on Paul’s letters, and not connected tightly enough to the historic church and its institutional expressions.  It would have also been interesting if the authors had done more critique of current Christian Education curriculum and formal theological education programs, perhaps re-envisioning seminaries and Bible colleges are training programs for catechists based on their model, especially in light of their recognition of 2 Timothy 2:2 as referring to catechists.

Packer and Parrett get practical in Chapter 9 and show what their model could look like when implemented in a church.  They present it in terms of three phases: procatechesis (perhaps better called precatechesis), catechesis proper, and ongoing catechesis.  They also address the program in terms of its formal, nonformal, and informal manifestations.  It is in this chapter that the concerns from a BILD perspective mentioned above are confirmed.

The various levels of a catechism are presented in a manner than helps determine levels of dogmatism (my word, not theirs) and nature of compliance (again, my word) that should be associated with the various levels.  There are matters of Christian Consensus (that extend beyond evangelicalism), Evangelical Essentials, Denominational Distinctives, and Congregational Commitments (p. 150).  This also illustrates the author’s aptness for alliteration (see, I just did one there myself).  This taxonomy is extremely helpful in thinking about what it means to be orthodox and biblical.

Toward the end of the book, in the practical section, the authors challenge us to “accurately assess the current situation” (p. 198).  However, they never even mention the idea of assessing the catechumens [students].  It seems that any catechetical system must have a trustworthy assessment component to be truly effective.  The description of the causes for the historical decline of catechesis in Chapter 3 on “The Waxing and Waning of Catechesis” provides a nice set of warnings to be heeded in practical implementation.

Perhaps my biggest concern with the book is evident in the subtitle “Building Believers.”  It is vitally important to build believers, but we are building believers in order to build churches and participate in the progress of the Gospel.  Of course, I don’t think that Packer and Parrett would disagree, but they don’t do enough to address this explicitly in their book.  One of the hazards of evangelicalism has been to make assumptions about the local church, invest heavily in parachurch ministries, and marginalize churches in the process.  For decades, evangelicals have attempted to build up believers and train leaders without focusing directly on the strengthening of churches, and now we all bemoan the general state of irrelevance and biblical illiteracy in our churches.  The New Testament model of catechesis in the early church emphasizes “equipping the saints for ministry . . . so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4) as the core work of the church so that it can participate fully in the progress of the Gospel.  It was a matter of “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41), not just “building believers.”  Packer and Parrett describe the “ends for which we catechize” (pp. 184-5) largely in terms of the development of individuals and “unity” is largely a matter of common beliefs and worship practices.  However, catechesis is not a just program that a church offers to individuals, but the essence of what a church is as a corporate unit on mission in Christ’s kingdom.

Let me end with one of the nearly hidden gems of this book.  Gary Parrett is a prolific hymn writer.  The first appendix provides several hymns that are very well-suited for catechetical use.  The role of music as a catechetical tool has been terribly overlooked, particularly in light of passages that tell us to “admonish one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).  Many BILD partners around the world that work in areas characterized by oral culture give testimony to the power of song in the communication of the Gospel, building up of believers, and even the training of leaders.  And in these cases, there is no doubt that “building believers” is being done in the context of planting and establishing churches to participate in the progress of the Gospel.

Sneak Peek: Church-Based Theological Education

Here is an article written for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Christian Education, called “Church-Based Theological Education” by Stephen Kemp, Academic Dean of the Antioch School.  We thought you might enjoy an early sneak peek. 

Church-Based Theological Education (CBTE) is training for ministry leadership that is rooted in local churches. Those being trained emerge from within a church or become part of a church. Those doing the training are the leaders of a church. Participation in the real life of a local church is the essential core.

It may be best to understand CBTE in light of its contrast with other types of training programs that take place in churches. For instance, “Church-Based Christian Education” tends to focus on discipleship training for everyone in a church whereas CBTE is generally understood to refer to the higher levels of training for church leaders.

Most distance education and extension programs of traditional academic institutions may use the facilities of a church or allow students to remain in their churches rather than relocate to a campus, but these are usually still “school-based” and only “church-housed” because the training is not truly rooted in the churches and church leaders are not truly central to the training. Those being trained must still be admitted by the academic institution to take part in the training, trainers must be approved according to academic criteria, and curriculum is firmly controlled by the academic institution. Those being trained in CBTE programs are selected by the church leaders and trained by the church leaders according to training processes that they develop and control.

Many traditional academic institutions grew out of CBTE programs, such as groups of pastors gathering regionally for informal continuing education. Some students enrolled in traditional academic institutions have educational experiences with CBTE features. For instance, some students are on staff with local churches or have extensive ministry experiences within local churches while enrolled. Others maintain mentoring and accountability relationships with leaders of local churches while they pursue traditional school-based forms of theological education.

“Nonformal” is often used to describe CBTE because it is based in a real church situation and relies extensively on real relationships outside the formal structures of traditional academic institutions. The curriculum is composed largely of mentoring and in-service apprenticeships with intentionally designed goals and assessments regarding character development, ministry skills, and biblical and theological understanding.

Increasingly, CBTE is being used as an alternative to traditional campus-based and school-based distance education forms of education, particularly for those experiencing mid-career changes and early retirements from non-ministry vocations. It often is tied to ordination and other ministry credentialing processes as high levels of leadership development are achieved. It is also being used extensively to support the in-service training of church planters and leaders emerging from church planting movements. Entire networks of churches in India are using CBTE to train all of their existing and emerging leaders.

Biblically and historically, CBTE refers to the manner in which leaders were developed in the first few centuries as described in II Timothy 2:2. Paul was not merely mentoring Timothy one-on-one to take his place, but guiding him in a process of in-service learning as he participated with Paul in ministry that included the training of others to train others in a manner that supported an apostolic movement of exponential church growth.

Bibliography

What’s in a Name? “School”

Why did we include the word “school” in our name?  It’s a common enough word that enjoys the luxury of being instantly understood by most people.  But it also carries enough cultural baggage to make it a risky choice often requiring substantial qualification.  This blog is the second in our occasional series that explains our name.

Words carry paradigms.  Most of us who have been immersed in the Western education system have thereby come to associate the word “school” with factory-type buildings, large classrooms, seat-time, professors, lectures, note taking, book learning, rote memorization, quizzes, exams, grades, etc.  Some of us like this approach to learning.  Others don’t.  But most of us share this cultural definition of schooling whether we picked it up through our experience in public or private schools at any level.

Our choice to include the word “school” in our name, in spite of its present-day baggage, is both principled and practical.  Even though we view the Western schooling paradigm to be foreign to the biblical paradigm of education, we’re not willing to abandon the word “school” because it still correctly carries the idea of serious ordered learning that’s essential in developing strong church leaders.  Nearly everyone associates the word “school” with high levels of discipline, scholarship, and acumen which we view to be core competencies in those who must master the Scriptures, guard the faith, and establish churches.  These competencies are substantial enough to be worthy of the academic credit and degrees that we grant as an accredited educational institution or “school.”

A biblical purist might suspect that our choice to include the word “school” in our name reveals a not-so-subtle compromise with the prevailing culture.  But we view it to be a solid example of how biblical theology ought to be translated into contemporary culture.  We’ve created a school that avoids the schooling paradigm yet maintains the highest standards of academic discipline, integrity, and ministry competence that is legitimately represented by the degrees that we grant as cultural currency.  That’s what’s in our name.


Put the Seminaries Out of Business?

Guess which seminary president made these comments.

“If a young man has the opportunity to study with a pastor and be right in ministry alongside him all the time, that is going to be better than what you are going to get at any theological seminary anywhere on the planet.”

“Another trend is that more and more pastors are beginning to take responsibility for theological education within the context of their church.”

“My argument is that we need to put the seminaries out of business.”

My hope is that if the Lord lets us operate long enough that we can turn out pastors who will not look to the seminary like we’re the medical school to turn out doctors.”

“Generation after generation of the Christian church has had to develop the ways it trains pastors.  The seminary in the American experience grew out of the effort to emulate other forms of professional education.  And in one sense, that’s the downfall of the entire experiment.  You had debates going back to the nineteenth century as to whether the ministry is a profession and should we should have professional schools alongside the others.  What you have with the emergence of the modern seminary is a school that is intended to train pastors for the church alongside the medical school, dental school, . . ., and all the rest.  That works educationally, but it doesn’t work for the church.”

“Seminaries should not be the places that train pastors.  We should be the places that help churches to train pastors.”

“The transfer of cognitive information is what we do really well.  We have classrooms.  We have books.  We give tests.  We expect papers.  That’s what goes on.  But what goes on in pastors training pastors in the local church is far more important and fundamental.”

“The local church needs to train what only the local church can do.  Pastors are the most effective trainers and educators of pastors.”

“You can’t franchise out theological education.  It belongs to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

These things were said by Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an April 2011 Gospel Coalition panel on “Training the Next Generation of Pastors and Other Christian Leaders.”

When I first listened to the panel, especially the comments of Mohler, I kept waiting for them to say that the panel was sponsored by the Antioch School!

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, he and others say much more.  Mohler has a particular perspective about the relationship of the seminary and church that still has a vital place for the seminary, particularly Southern.  In the video above, go to 4:58, 11:20, and 27:13 to hear him explain what he means. However, the bottom line as noted above is that he acknowledges the church’s role as “far more important and fundamental.”

In the Antioch School, we take this idea very seriously.  We think much more can be done in the local church than Mohler imagines, including things that he thinks are better done by the seminary, such as “getting that running start in ministry” and even matters of “cognitive transfer.”  The church is the ideal context for guarding the deposit.  The church still is the institution that God created for the purpose of passing on sound doctrine, cultivating ministry skills, and transforming character in an integrated manner.

We are delighted to hear leaders of traditional seminaries acknowledge the unique role of the church in theological education.  And we are even more delighted to be doing something about it by providing the truly church-based Antioch School.

We are not trying to “put the seminaries out of business.”  In fact, we envision seminaries being reinvented as true resource centers for churches and church networks, but in a form that is not dominated by the schooling paradigm.

What we are really trying to do is to “put churches and church leaders in business,” particularly the business of training leaders that God has mandated for them in 2 Timothy 2:2.