The Good Book Blog

The Good Book Blog

The Good Book Blog is the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Representing the diverse areas of specialty within the seminary, but bound by a common commitment to biblical authority, the blog seeks to engage with important topics in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, spiritual formation and Christian education. The Good Book Blog is a resource for anyone seeking solid biblical scholarship that engages contemporary ideas from a decidedly evangelical perspective. 

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Amos: Part 2

By Joe Hellerman

Social Justice or The Proclamation of the Gospel?

In Amos: Part One we encountered the Northern Kingdom experiencing great prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II. Suddenly, the prophet Amos appeared on the scene predicting Israel’s destruction and exile.

I ended the previous post with this challenging question:

“Why has God become so angry with a people that He has so richly blessed?”

The straightforward answer to this question has to do with the social injustice that was perpetrated by elite Israelites against the poor, weak, and vulnerable in their midst. But God’s displeasure with his people goes much deeper than that. According to Amos, God has had enough when...

  1. The “Haves” Take Unfair Advantage of the “Have-Nots”
  1. The “Haves” Fail to Treat the “Have-Nots” Like God Has Treated Them
  1. The “Haves” Do 1 & 2 and Pretend to Worship God
  1. The “Haves” Make God Look Bad

These four points find support throughout the Amos 1. You can locate the relevant passages yourself, so I won’t cite chapter-and-verse. There are two observations I do want to make, however, that have helped me to see how social justice fits into God’s overall program for his people and for the world.

POINT ONE: Social Justice Cannot Be Separated From Our Relationship With God.

Note that three of the four reasons Amos gives for the God’s impending judgment have to do not with social justice as such but, rather, with the Northern Kingdom’s relationship with Yahweh. Amos drills down far beyond the tragic ways that elites are treating the poor to the deeper causes of this reprehensible behavior: (a) the Israelites were lightly regarding God’s public reputation, (b) they had lost their appreciation for His saving grace toward them, and (c) they were engaging in worship pretending that everything was OK.

The most damning charge Amos brings against Israel is not, in fact, that of social injustice. It is “My holy name is profaned” (Amos 2:7). Well-healed Israelites are oppressing the weak and vulnerable, so that God’s name is being dragged through the mud. God is not receiving the glory that is His due. For this Israel will go into exile.

POINT TWO: Social Justice Cannot Be Separated From The Proclamation Of The Gospel.

The distinction between social justice and proclamation evangelism (implied in the very sub-title of this post) is a dangerous and false dichotomy. Reread #2: The “Haves” Fail to Treat the “Have-Nots” Like God Has Treated Them. At the heart of Amos’s prophecy is this reminder (repeated elsewhere) of God’s gracious act of salvation on Israel’s behalf: 

Amos 3:1-2Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”

By taking them back to the exodus, Amos reminds Israel how God treated them when they were slaves in Egypt. To embrace this message—to “own” this historical reality—renders social injustice unthinkable:

  • How can the Israelites possibly oppress the less fortunate, when God has extended to them such grace and mercy at their greatest point of poverty, weakness, and vulnerability? 
  • How can we possibly take advantage of the less fortunate, when, “while we were still weak... ungodly... sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8)? 

It is no coincidence that Amaziah, Jeroboam’s priest at the cult site at Bethel, attempts to silence Amos’s message:

“O seer, go, flee away  to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel” (Amos 7:12-13).

Reminders and restatements of Israel’s “Gospel”—the story of God’s gracious deliverance of His people from Egyptian slavery and the gift of the promised land—utterly permeate the Hebrew Scriptures. And for good reason. God’s grace—boldly proclaimed and rightly understood—makes social injustice unthinkable. Silence that message, however, and suddenly the “Haves” in Israel can be fooled into thinking that their economic prosperity is their own doing. And the door is now open to ignore the needs of—or intentionally oppress—the poor.

It is certainly the case that sometimes our actions speak much louder than our words. And in our relationships with others, there are, indeed, times when “doing the Gospel” more effectively draws attention to the greatness and goodness of God than “speaking the Gospel.” I get that.

However, to divorce (a) the proclamation of God’s grace in Jesus Christ from (b) serving the poor in Jesus’ name is to jettison the very foundation of social justice itself. Silencing the proclamation of the Word of God marked the beginning of the end for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It also marked the beginning of the end for liberal, mainline Protestantism in recent American history. And it will prove to be our demise, as well, if in our well-intended pursuit of social justice, we take the “evangel” out of evangelical.

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“We love": by all means, let us love a broken world and serve the poor in Jesus’ name until it hurts. But let us never forget to boldly proclaim the good news: “he first loved us.”

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

5 Tips to Survive in Ministry

By John McKinley

Michael Wilkins recommended these axioms to me. It has taken me several years to figure out and understand what they mean. They have worked like seeds for me. I’m sure he would elaborate on them differently (and better) than I’m doing here. But this is what I see in them:

1.  Face and Accept Yourself

Be honest about your wounds, weaknesses, vices, and failures, as known and provided for by God who accepts you. Justification means that God himself has made you worthy to enjoy his presence and favor, now that you are in Jesus. Embrace and own who you are and how you have developed under God’s care, with particular abilities, biases, and weaknesses. It may be that God’s acceptance of you (he has justified you in Jesus) is the catalyst for you to accept yourself.

2.  See that God Accepts You as You Are

Justification means that none of your misdeeds and failures has kept God away from taking you on entirely. Justification means that none of your good deeds can make you more acceptable to God than you are in Jesus. Instead, God has completely taken you on, with all your sin, and provided you the needed righteousness accomplished by Jesus. Jesus alone is your standing with God. Jesus alone is your perfection as a creature with God.

Christians contradict the doctrine of justification by grace alone when we say we can please God by our obedience, and displease him by our sin. That’s not justification, but moralistic performance sneaking in through the window. Instead, when we do well with God, we enjoy God. When we fail, we suffer for turning aside from God; we enjoy God less. What seems too good to be true is that we have been justified. The vicissitudes of daily moral intentions and actions do not constrain or enlarge God’s love towards us. God accepts you as you are because of Jesus.

3.  Look to Growth in the Good and Out of the Bad

We all have phases of thinking we’re brilliant and wonderful, and then later fearing that we are really just wretched, incurably selfish, hopelessly lazy, and weak in the face of temptation to sins. The truth is that we’re not that great despite what others might say about us. Because of God’s work, Jesus is being formed in every Christian. I see the temptation to try and develop ourselves according to some set of values of what a Christian is supposed to be. Avoiding that moralism, we can look to Jesus, and desire his values, goals, and methods for living with others as the good we seek.

Jesus’ form of life must displace our own deformed values, goals, and methods of living that we must outgrow and repudiate. Some of these might be particular roles in relationships, such as performance roles cast upon us in a family of origin that we fulfill as the “black sheep,” “the golden child,” “the pampered princess,” or “the intrepid achiever.” We have to hate some things that get in the way of loving the new life Jesus mirrors to us in his life. Our inclinations to compare ourselves with others in competition or envy, and our illusions of self-improvement must die. If the first two items of accepting ourselves and accepting God’s acceptance of us are clear enough in our grasp, then it can be easier for us to let go of the garbage that obstructs us from God. We can receive the new growth for our enjoyment of God. This is more difficult practically than we realize because it calls for God’s work to completely unmake and reconstruct our identity (cf. Eph. 2:10).

4.  Forget Yourself

The Christian life is surrender to God for his purposes, as in Jesus’ choice to align with God in Gethsemane: “not my will but yours be done.” We must leave off merely attempting to further our own dreams and status. For God to take over and work through us, we have to stop trying to drive our own lives as if we were responsible to make something of ourselves. As a person, of myself, I am nothing, and I deserve no credit for anything good (only for my failures and crimes). God can do ministry through a donkey; God can get praise and honor from rocks. The only worth about me is that I am a member of Jesus, and he works through me. Forgetting ourselves means we do not take ourselves seriously, and we despise the illusions of pride, boasting, and self-satisfaction with our influence, efforts, or achievements.

5.  Get with God’s People

Despite being a nothing on my own, God works ministry through me, as with a lightning rod struck by a bolt, or as a hose filled with water. As I live in the midst of others, I experience God’s active power worked through them to me, and God’s life worked through me to them. We can both refuse to take ourselves seriously, and take very seriously the ministry God might do through us.

We can serve God’s purposes by taking care in what we say and do, so as not to damage or obstruct his work by our stupid political opinions, insensitive slander of others, sloppy preparation, or otherwise misleading of those we are connected to in ministry. For example, if we tell a joke in poor taste, that can obscure what God might otherwise have provided for someone through us. A harsh word can influence someone to mistrust us. A sloppy theology can muddy the clarity of perception that someone might have held.

Being with God’s people also takes us out of ourselves into their lives and God’s. We see God’s wise works in saving them, which reminds us to forget ourselves, and to accept ourselves, and to face ourselves as we truly are, in total need of God, constantly.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

What Should We Ask God For?

By Kenneth Berding

I am regularly vexed by how shallow my prayers can become. When I pray for something—and I know that all prayer is not for things—what should I pray for? Only for my family? For someone I know who is ill? For God to help me in the day ahead? For God to resolve whatever problem is currently worrying me? I often sense that there is some content that I’m missing when I’m praying. Do you sense the same thing?

With this concern in mind I recently embarked on a quest to figure out what I was missing scripturally about the content of prayer. I decided to focus on the letters of Paul since he has a lot to say about this topic. I read through all of Paul’s letters, taking notes on everything he asks people to pray for, or that he mentions others are praying for, or that he in fact is praying for in his letters. Once again, I wanted to uncover areas that needed attention in my own prayer life that are emphasized in Paul’s letters.

I discovered that there are three main categories of what to pray for in Paul (applied to praying for other believers—though you can pray the same for yourself). Here is a summary:

  1. Ask God to grow them in their Christian faith.
  2. Ask God to make them bold in sharing their faith.
  3. Ask God to deliver them from evil/the Evil One.

Here are the details:

The most common category that Paul prays for is that believers might grow in their Christian faith. Though this is the largest category, it is interesting that this is one area of prayer that many of us can easily neglect when we pray for others. Here is a list of the types of things you can ask God to do in Christians you know. (Note that you can also ask the same things for yourself!)

  • Ask God that they might be of the same mind with other believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Ask God to fill them with joy and peace in believing and in hope by the power of the Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
  • Ask God for his people to do the right thing when there are relational conflicts. (2 Corinthians 13:7 in its broader context)
  • Ask God to make his people “complete.” (2 Corinthians 13:9)
  • Ask God to give a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. (Ephesians 1:15-17)
  • Ask God to enlighten the eyes of the hearts of believers (Ephesians 1:18-19):
    • to know the hope of his calling
    • to know the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints
    • to know the surpassing greatness of his power toward those who believe
  • Ask God to grant them strength through his Spirit in their inner selves so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Ask God to root them and ground them in love. (Ephesians 3:17)
  • Ask God to help them comprehend along with other believers what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
  • Ask God for their love to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, that they might approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • Ask God to fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, resulting in them (Colossians 1:9-12):
    • walking in a manner worthy of the Lord
    • pleasing him in all respects
    • bearing fruit in every good work
    • increasing in the knowledge of God
    • strengthened with all power according to his glorious might
    • attaining all steadfastness and patience
    • joyously giving thanks to the Father
  • Ask God to encourage their hearts (Colossians 2:1-2, prayer implied):
    • being knit together in love
    • attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding
    • resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself
  • Ask God to make them stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12-13)
  • Ask God to make them increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
  • Ask God to establish their hearts without blame in holiness at the return of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
  • Ask God to sanctify them entirely; and to preserve their spirits, souls, and bodies complete and without blame at the coming of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
  • Ask God to count them worthy of their calling. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified among them. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to comfort and strengthen their hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)
  • Ask God to direct their hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
  • Ask God to grant them peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
  • Ask God that the fellowship of their faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in them for Christ’s sake. (Philemon 1:6)

The second largest category relates to the mission that God’s people are doing. In some cases Paul is asking for prayers for himself in this category; sometimes he is praying for others. Here is a list to help you pray for people (and for yourself!) in this category:

  • Ask God to open a way for them—or yourself—to go and do ministry somewhere. (Romans 1:10-12; 15:32; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-11)
  • Ask God to bless and make successful a particular area of service. (Romans 15:31)
  • Ask God to give utterance in the opening of their mouths, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18-19)
  • Ask God to allow Christ to be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to open up a door for the word, so that they might speak about the mystery of Christ and to make it clear. (Colossians 4:3-4)
  • Ask God to make his word spread rapidly so that God might be glorified. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

A third category consists of prayers for deliverance from some sort of suffering, just as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13): “Deliver us from evil (or the Evil One).”

  • Ask God to rescue someone from persecutors. (Romans 15:30-31)
  • Ask God to aid someone suffering or being persecuted. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Ask God to deliver someone from prison (or to preserve them until their final future deliverance). (Philippians 1:19)
  • Ask God to keep someone from shame, and that Christ might be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to rescue them from perverse and evil people. (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
  • Ask God to strengthen and protect them from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to work with kings and others in positions of authority so that believers may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Finally, here is a list of a few other things that we can pray about that are found in the letters of Paul. The items in this list don’t easily fall into any of the above three categories.

  • Ask God for people to come to salvation. (Romans 10:1; cf. 9:1-5)
  • Ask God to work spiritually in a spouse or child, including moving them toward salvation. (1 Corinthians 7:14-16, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to help you personally interpret a tongue you have spoken in a meeting. (1 Corinthians 14:13)
  • Ask God to take care of the things that worry you. (Philippians 4:6)

My personal take-away from this time of study was that I needed to pray more for the first two categories listed above: 1) for the spiritual growth of my fellow believers—including such particulars as were listed above, and 2) for their boldness in proclaiming the word of God and its effects.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

Amos: Part 1

By Joe Hellerman

We are presently teaching through the Minor Prophets at church. I had the joy of tackling the book of Amos over a couple Sundays in February—not exactly a seeker-sensitive text.

As a historian I have been trained to tease out bits of social realia from ancient texts. Amos is full of such data, attesting to “the good life” that the northern kingdom of Israel was enjoying during the reign of Jeroboam II: 

  • A Booming Economy

pleasant vineyards... wine... farmers... sell grain... wheat for sale (Amos 5:11, Amos 5:17; Amos 8:5)

  • Beautiful Homes

winter house... summer house... houses of ivory... great houses (Amos 3:15)

  • Nice Furniture

beds of ivory... couches (Amos 6:4)

  • Plenty Of Good Food & Drink

lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall... wine in bowls (Amos 6:4-6)

  • The Finest Cosmetics

the finest oils (Amos 6:6)

  • Great Entertainment

songs to the sound of the harp... instruments of music (Amos 6:5)

  • Inspiring Worship & Nice Facilities

burnt offerings and grain offerings... peace offerings... songs... high places.... sanctuaries (Amos 5:21-23; Amos 7:9)

  • Unassailable National Defense

defenses... strongholds (Amos 3:11)

Does the list of blessings look at all familiar? It should. With a few minor updates (e.g., from “the finest oils” and “the harp” to “Botox treatments” and “the electric guitar”), it is a fairly accurate portrait of the situation of God’s people in America—and the USA as a whole—from the 1950s or so until today. Christians who have lived through the past six decades of American history have arguably enjoyed the greatest period of prosperity and national security anywhere at anytime in world history. God has richly blessed us.

And so it was for Israel. It was truly The Best of Times, for Israel’s upper class, at any rate. And no one could have imagined it any other way: “Disaster shall not meet or overtake us!” (Amos 9:10). But then Yahweh’s prophet showed up with The Worst of News. Amos predicted that God would remove every single one of the above blessings from the lives of his people and he would deliver Israel into the hands of the Assyrians. Those of you who are famililar with OT history know that this is exactly what happened forty years or so later, in 722 BC.

I left our congregation with a “cliff-hanger” at the end of our first Sunday in Amos. After surveying (a) Israel’s blessings and (b) Amos’s devastating prophecy, we ended with the following question: “Why has God become so angry with a people that He has so richly blessed?”

We’ll consider the answer to that question in “Amos: Part Two,” later this week. It is a question that all of us who are on the receiving end of God's material blessings would do well to consider.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

The Difference of One Word

By John McKinley


The Christian belief system is consistent and coherent. This shows in the way that adjustments in one concept of the system often require modifications in other aspects. Increased clarity about one topic elucidates other topics. The interdependence of my beliefs was again displayed when I came across a common mistranslation of a single word in Luke’s gospel. Once I had been persuaded that the prevailing translation was misleading, I experienced shifts in the ways I view and relate to God, and how I pray and think about God’s involvement in daily life. These implications of a single word have been strong reverberations that I am grateful to experience.

The single word in this little earthquake is the noun anaideia. The word occurs in the New Testament only in Luke 11:8. Normally, anaideia is translated as “persistence” (NASB, NRSV), “impudence” (ESV), “boldness” (NIV84), “shameless persistence” (NLT), and “importunity” (KJV, RSV). The context is Jesus’ parable on prayer in which a friend goes to his neighbor-friend at night for bread. Translations take the words as describing the asking friend’s dogged determination to nag his neighbor until he receives what he has asked for. Persistence in asking is the point of the parable. That’s what I’ve always heard and thought about it. Now I think that’s misleading.

This parable seems similar to another parable in Luke in which a widow goes to a bad judge for vindication (Luke 18:1–8). The widow’s persistence in Luke 18 is a clear theme that seems to influence the translation of anaideia in Luke 11:8. Typical interpretation of the parable of the friend at night in Luke 11:5–8 is that we should be persistent by continually insisting through prayer that God pay attention to our need. This meaning is usually paired with the next statement in vv. 9–10 that we should ask, seek, and knock, not simply once, but in a continual and persistent way. This meaning pictures God as reluctant to respond to his children, and requiring that they show they really mean what they ask for by nagging God for their needs. Prayer then becomes work to progressively pry open God’s hand to release what we have asked of him.

Early Christian interpreters thought the meaning of anaideia in Luke 11:8 must be the persistence of the asking friend, a kind of disregard for shame in bold and persistent pressing for a response, despite the embarrassment of doing so. Christian writers were unique in taking the term this way. The only extrabiblical uses of anaideia to mean “persistence” occur in Christian writings in relation to this biblical passage. By contrast, no one else used the term in this way, since the uniform meaning for anaideia in 258 occurrences in the TLG database (including the LXX, Josephus, and Greek papyri) is always a negative concept that David Garland renders “shamelessness” (Luke, ZECNT, 467). The term is frequently a synonym for disgrace. Never does anaideia occur as a positive concept in the way of “persistence.”

Important in interpreting Luke 11:8 properly is to identify the “shamelessness” with the grumpy neighbor instead of with the friend who is asking and knocking. Notice that the friend asks only once; impending shame from social pressure does the rest; what will others say when they hear a neighbor has refused to help his friend in severe need? The term should be descriptive of the grumpy neighbor as a man who has no regard for his own disgrace in such a cold-hearted refusal of a friend in need to provide food for a near-starving visitor. Garland rightly points to the social shame that the grumpy neighbor would suffer for flippantly refusing his friend in need as the operative pressure moving him to action. Such coldness would be comparable to a friend refusing to lend his car to a friend who needed to drive his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth (Garland’s contemporizing example).

I think Garland is right to distinguish the parable of the widow in Luke 18 as not about prayer in general, but in connection with eschatological distresses during which Christians must not lose hope. God is not to be likened to the bad judge, and God is not to be likened to the grumpy friend who initially refuses to give bread at night. These two parables are not mutually interpreting. Both parables display a greater-than relation of comparison. If even a grumpy neighbor will respond positively to a request, then how much more will God as a loving father respond. If even a bad judge will respond to a widow’s firm resolve, then how much more will God vindicate his people in connection with the return of Jesus (the preceding context in Luke 17).

When linked with Luke’s presentation of the Lord’s prayer to “Father in heaven” (Luke 11:1–4) and the comparisons for prayer with what even evil parents do for their children (Luke 11:11–13) the emphasis on God’s readiness to respond to his children’s requests in prayer is much stronger. This emphasis on God is commonly eclipsed by the interpretation that prayer requires human persistence. That was the primary change for me, to see God differently as a loving father, eager and willing to give everything that is truly good and needed. Second was a change in how I understand prayer as a simple ask-for-what-you-need appeal to God, by contrast to a tug-of-war that must be engaged with God before he is willing to dispense the things we have repeatedly appealed for. These are different views of God and prayer that motivate me to pray more, though with less repetition, since I am no longer nagging him to give what I need.

These large differences in my experience turned on the meaning of a single word.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

The 6 Top Factors in Growing Churches

By Gary McIntosh

A recent check on discovered that over 25,000 books are listed under the category of Church Growth. This is an amazing number of books given the fact that the North American Church Growth Movement is only forty-one years old. In comparison consider that just over 6,900 books are listed under the category of Church Renewal, even though the Church Renewal Movement is about fifty years old.   

With such a large number of books written on the topic of church growth, it is only natural to ask if there is any consensus on what factors are found in growing churches in North America. One recent study discovered that those who have studied what makes churches grow note 115 different factors. However, only six (5%) of the numerous factors are mentioned by 70% of all authors. To put it another way, two-thirds of everyone who has written about what makes churches grow agree on just six factors. What are those factors? I thought you’d never ask!

The following are the consensus factors that are found in growing churches in North America:

Spiritual Dynamics

In spite of the criticism that church growth ignores the spiritual dynamics of growth, researchers over the last forty years name this as the number one factor found in growing churches (actually it was a tie with the next factor). 

What is included in spiritual factors? The following aspects were mentioned the most: bold faith, biblical commitment, Christ centered, passionate spirituality, regenerated membership, Holy Spirit empowered, personal prayer, corporate intercession, loving relationships, emphasis on spiritual disciplines, and obedient lives.

Effective Evangelism

This aspect of growth tied with spiritual dynamics as the number one factor. Since churches must reach new people for Christ in order to grow, the fact that researchers mention evangelism is not surprising.

What is included in effective evangelism? The following aspects were mentioned the most: lifestyle approach, concern for needs, desire for conversion growth, focus on families, concern for new disciples, outward focus, interest in church multiplication, and evangelism training.

Strategic Planning

The third factor that was highlighted the most was planning and goal setting. Growing churches buy into the concept that what is measured improves. While most churches measure money, growing churches make bold plans and then measure their results. 

What is included in Strategic Planning? The following aspects were mentioned the most: strategy, multiplying ministries and groups, finances, functional facilities, decision-making, analysis, evaluation, appropriate risk, set direction, objectives, established vision, right discernment of the church and community, and monitored results.

Excellent Leadership

The next two factors tied for the fourth most mentioned component of growing churches. It is a well-accepted understanding that everything rises and falls on leadership, and church growth students agree.

What is included in Excellent Leadership? The following aspects were mentioned the most: commitment to growth, effective use of authority, willingness to let others lead, expectation of growth, dealing with obstacles, contextually away, value on continual learning, motivational, trustworthy pastor, pastor stays long enough, and understanding and application of growth principles.

Productive Assimilation

Also tied for fourth place was productive assimilation of newcomers into the life of the church. Growing churches keep more people than they lose out the back door. They also help newcomers identify and use their spiritual gifts in serving those inside and outside the church.

What is included in Productive Assimilation? The following aspects were mentioned the most: newcomers involved quickly, welcoming climate, attempts to close back door, multiplies groups and classes, offers ministry training, stresses spiritual gifts, mentoring relationships, uses small groups, and builds a people flow strategy.

Inspiring Worship

The final factor that was noticed by over 70% of church growth researchers was inspiring worship. This factor included everything that helps make corporate worship dynamic, such as preaching, music, atmosphere, etc.

What is included in Inspiring Worship? The following aspects were mentioned the most: a pastor who loves people, biblical preaching, passionate communication, authentic leadership, being alive spiritually, contextually appropriate, and team ministry.

Other factors most certainly play a part in the growth of a local church, but these six factors garnered a consensus of all researchers over the last forty years. A church that emphasizes these six factors will most assuredly be better off than a church which does not. 

Which of these factors is strongest in your church? Which one or two are the weakest? Which factors do you need to work on this coming year?

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

What is Modesty?

By Nell Sunukjian

I wince when I look at the photo. Don and I are standing in the sun with our firstborn son, flanked by Don’s elderly grandparents. Grandpa has just lifted up our son toward heaven to give thanks. All of us are beaming with joy.

And I am wearing a very short dress.

The dress was in style at the time, but it looks immodest. I wish I had been wearing a different dress for this impromptu, but now important picture.


That’s a tough word.

That’s a tough concept for women.

Modesty is a relative concept that is difficult to define. Take the hijab, for example. When the young woman waited on me at the store, I did an involuntary double take.

“So, N______ allows the hijab,” I said.

“Yes, they’re really good about it,” she answered.

“Why do you wear it?” I asked.

“It’s for modesty.”

“Modesty?” I questioned.

“Yes, to cover the hair and look more modest. Of course, in Muslim countries it works better because a woman wearing one blends in, whereas here it makes her stand out. I get lots of stares!”

“So why do you wear it, if people stare?”

“It’s what God wants,” she answered.

I asked, “Why does he want that?”

“For me to be modest,” she said again.

What is modesty? Is it necessary for a woman need to wear a hijab to be modest? Surely not. Yet, what does God want from women? Does He give us a list to follow so that we know we are modest? Shall we adopt the hijab just to be ‘safe’ and  ‘know’ that we are pleasing Him? And what about cultural factors such as age, geography and climate, and what activity we might be engaged in, e.g. sports, beach?

Modesty is needed in every century and in every culture. It is needed by women of every age, but it is variable. Modesty has to do with the occasion. What is modest and appropriate for exercise and beachwear, is not appropriate for worship and weddings or the workplace. And modesty has to do with the expectations of the culture in which one lives. Swimmers of an earlier era would not have dreamed of wearing the modest bathing suit I wear to swim with my grandchildren.

What does God have to say in His Word about modesty for women? It may surprise you to learn that He says very little about the word modesty. The word modesty appears only once in the NIV, as does modestly.

Each of these words is translated from a different Greek word. In 1 Corinthians 12:23, “the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty” the Apostle Paul uses euschemosyne. In 1 Timothy 2:9, “I want women to dress modestly” he uses kosmios to convey his meaning. These two Greek words are used infrequently in the New Testament, making it difficult to build a theology of modesty.

But what we can do, quite well, is build a theology of purity. Purity is the value God is seeking in women. This is standard for dressing ourselves. Purity beats modesty any day. Purity addresses a whole different issue—whom does my heart want to please as I clothe my body?

Purity is an internal quality—no one can see it. But as soon as we dress ourselves and live our lives, purity begins to show. Purity is a choice of the spirit, the soul. God calls for both women and men to be pure. The NT writers—Paul, Peter, James and John, all use the same Greek word for purity, the word hagnos. They consider purity an essential of the Christian faith.

Paul says that we are to think about whatsoever is true, noble, right, pure (Philippians 4:8). He wants to present the Corinthian church to Christ as a pure virgin with right doctrine, not deceived by the serpent’s cunning (2 Corinthians 11:2). He admonishes young pastors to keep themselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22), and to instruct the older women to teach the younger women to be pure (Titus 2:5). He counsels young pastors to treat the young women in their churches with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2).

Peter says that the purity of a woman’s life can win over an unbelieving husband to faith in Jesus (1 Peter 3:2). He links purity to a woman’s style of dress, saying that her beauty should not come from braided hair, gold jewelry or fine clothing. He stresses that she should depend upon her internal gentle and quiet spirit for her attractiveness (1 Peter 3:1-6).  

James says that the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving (James 3:17). And John uses the word pure to describe our Lord, asking his readers to purify themselves just as the Lord is pure (1 John 3:3).

Wow, powerful stuff about purity.

If we Christian women are truly seeking God’s purity, we will have no issues with modesty.

To be pure is to please God, in every way, with everything that I put on my body. To be pure is to look in the mirror, and ask, “Are you pleased, Lord? Do the clothes that I have put on bring glory to Your Name? Am I dressing for You or to cause men, and women, too, to look at me? Is this neckline too low? Is this skirt too short? Are my jeans too tight? Do these clothes reflect Your purity, Lord?”

Aren’t you thankful that the Lord didn’t decree a dress code in the Bible? We are not called to wear the hijab or the burka, and we don’t have to wear a corset as women did centuries ago, to the detriment of their own health! No, we are free to wear pants to school and comfortable shorts for a hike, to wear a swimsuit to swim at the beach, to wear a skirt to a wedding. And we don’t need a ruler to measure the length of our skirts.

All we have to do is meet God’s standards for being pure.

So easy, and so hard.

May God give us women grace and courage to follow His ways.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

3 Spritual Relationships Christians Need

By Kenneth Berding

In an ideal world, all Christians would maintain three types of spiritual relationships as they walked through life. (Disclaimer: There have only been a couple times in my own life when I have had all three going at once, but this is still an ideal worth aiming for.)

  1. A spiritual mentor: It is wonderful to have a relationship with someone who is older and/or further along in his or her spiritual life who is guiding you into how to live as a disciple of Jesus.
  2. A spiritual buddy: Life is so much better when lived with at least one spiritual friend who walks alongside you, offers spiritual encouragement (or a spiritual kick in the hind side when needed), and receives the same back from you.
  3. A spiritual mentee: The ideal is that you pour your life into someone (or many “someones”) younger and/or spiritually younger than yourself, helping them learn how to live as disciples of Jesus their Lord.

Let me focus on the third category. No matter how far along you are in your spiritual life, there is always someone who is newer yet. You can spend time with this person talking together about spiritual issues, reading the Bible together, praying together, serving together, doing hospitality together, sharing the good news with unbelievers together. (If you do share with unbelievers together, you may end up with more people to spend intentional time with!) You can read books (spiritual, theological, practical) together, talk about issues such as singleness/marriage/parenting together, and share in one another’s suffering. The key is that you spend time together with the goal of growing in the Lord together.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle Paul challenges his spiritual mentee and co-worker Timothy: “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” There are four implied spiritual generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, the people Timothy was to teach, and the people that those people were to teach.

When I was an elementary school boy, I used to lie on my bed and do doubling math in my head for as long as I was able: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192…

Spiritual relationships of the mentoring variety can initially seem slow and without much fruit. But the fruit often turns out to be exponential, a bit like the doubling I used to do in my head as a kid. You may see little immediate fruit when you are spending time with two or three, but if those two or three truly learn to walk with the Lord and spend intentional God-honoring time with others, who knows how many others will be impacted? And if you do this as the pattern of your life, the impact might not only be in the dozens, but could in the long run be hundreds and thousands.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

What Did You Sign up For?

By Dave Talley


The life of Moses is intriguing to me. I think he had no idea what he was signing up for when he met God at the burning bush. In his leadership role he did what God asked him to do, with a few minor problems along the way, yet the nation of Israel was constantly grumbling at him, not pleased with his leadership. It even caused Moses to grumble to God a bit, but overall he continued on in faithfulness.

I also find Joseph’s life intriguing. When he had those wild dreams as a youth and told of them with such fascination to his family, I think he had no idea what he was signing up for. Again, this was a man who seemed to honor God in every detail of his life, yet disaster was brought on him repeatedly. In the end, he summarized his experiences as “you meant if for evil, but God meant if for good.” He continued on in faithfulness.

Both of these men were following God, yet they found themselves in unexpected places. Perhaps you find some connection with their lives, both their desire to follow God and the subsequent unexpected places, where life does not quite go as you anticipated or planned.

Recently in my sermon preparation for Mark 3, I pondered the calling of the twelve. What a moment! Jesus gathers all of his followers together and chooses twelve so that they could be with him and so that he could send them out to preach. Imagine the joy of being chosen for this ministry. There must have been chatter amongst the crowd as Jesus announced his decision. “Why him? He has no education at all.” “He certainly chose a peculiar bunch.” “This is not fair. I have sacrificed far more than any of them to follow Jesus.” And let’s face it, Judas Iscariot was not a good choice except that he fulfilled what Scripture had spoken. In the end, they all desert him. Maybe the murmuring crowd had it right.

I do think each one of the twelve must have felt special in that moment. I would have. I am certain their parents did. They were ready, but did they know what they were signing up for? I remember as a college freshmen looking at my professors or leaders in the church and longing to be one of them. I was eager, but did I know what I was signing up for?

I am certain that those twelve men had little idea how this call to be one of the twelve would transpire. In fact, they had little idea how it was going to turn out for Jesus. In my pondering the Lord led me to the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It had been awhile since I had flipped through these pages of “men of whom this world is not worthy.” The deaths of these first disciples are recorded in this book. Their stories are mostly based on tradition, but they are worth noting nonetheless. Consider the deaths of the twelve:

Simon Peter – crucified upside down (not worthy to be like Jesus)

James – executed by the sword

John – even though he died a natural death, he was sentenced to be boiled in oil, exiled to Patmos, and was forced to drink poison

Andrew – crucified

Philip – crucified and stoned

Bartholomew – flayed by whips and martyred upside down

Matthew – beheaded

Thomas – speared to death (in India)

James – stoned

Thaddeus/Judas – executed by arrows/javelin

Simon – sawn in half

Mark – dragged through cobblestone streets until his body was ripped

Matthias (the replacement for Judas in the book of Acts) – stoned.

Perhaps the murmuring crowd was wrong after all. These men continued on in faithfulness after Jesus died, was buried, rose again, and ascended. There were ambassadors who brought the message of the gospel that changed the world, including you and me. They may not have known what they were signing up for, but they knew who they were signing up for. Their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And they remained faithful.

So, it is a good question to ask yourself: when you became a Christ-follower, did you have any idea what you were signing up for? As we follow Christ, we are often led to unexpected places. These places can be uncomfortable and stretching to our faith. These places can be full of difficulty and pain. And if you were God for a day, it might not be the way you would lead. However, our God is to be trusted. Our experiences are “common to man.” Our God will provide “a way of escape.” His “grace is sufficient” for us. He has not only given us eternal life, he offers us abundant life daily. In the midst of all of our experiences, he gives us a “peace that passes all understanding.”

God has a plan. We do not know it. With the great crowd of witnesses looking on, we simply walk in faithfulness, day by day, until Jesus returns. Maybe we did not know what we were signing up for. But let’s do remember who we were signing up for. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

3 Things We Teach Our Children through Prayer

By Ken Berding

Last week I posted a piece in which I encouraged each of us to actually pray when we pray. Since then my thoughts about prayer have moved in another direction, particularly as it relates to the training of our children. I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of the most significant ways we convey spiritual truth to our children is through our prayers. I believe that when we pray with our children, our children learn about our relationship with the Lord and what we believe about God. Let’s look at three things we teach our children when they listen to us pray.

1.  When we pray, our children learn that we have a sincere relationship with the Lord.

This past Sunday I was talking with a friend about what children learn when they listen to their parents pray. He shared with me that when he was growing up his father’s prayers were formulaic and seemed artificial to him. But in recent years my friend has noticed a change in his elderly father’s relationship with the Lord. What’s significant is that the chief way he has come to recognize the change is by listening to the way his father prays.

I grew up with a mother who had a sensitive relationship with the Lord, and I knew it from the way that she prayed. When I was a child she used to tell me that even if all my friends stopped being my friends, Jesus would always be my friend. I believed her. The reason I believed her is that when she prayed I could tell that she was talking to her closest friend.

 2.  When we pray, our children learn that we actually believe that God can and will answer our prayers.

Honestly, learning how to pray in groups in the United States has been kind of tough for me. When my wife and I lived in the Middle East, we were often around Christians who were expecting God to do big things. We knew it because of the way that they prayed. But one message has come through loudly and clearly to me in most of the prayer meetings I have attended in the United States: we don’t actually believe anything is going to happen when we pray! I want my children to know that when we pray, we are speaking to a God who is strong enough to answer our prayers and who cares deeply enough to act on our behalf.

 (Please note that you don’t generate such faith by trying really hard to believe; rather you increasingly develop sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who helps you know how to pray and who increases your faith as you pray in dependence upon him. But that is another topic for another day.)

 3.  When we pray, our children learn what we believe about God.

I’ve thought more about this since reading Fred Sanders’s recently released book, The Deep Things of God:  How the Trinity Changes Everything. The basic biblical pattern is praying to the Father, on the basis of what the Son has done, empowered by the Spirit. It is, of course, possible that we could communicate to our children a deficient view of the Trinity by praying always to Jesus as a friend, or being overly Spirit-focused in our prayers. (I am not saying that a prayer thanking Jesus for his death on the cross or a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for him to empower you for witness is wrong, just that it isn’t the biblical pattern.)

Your children will learn from you that God is holy by listening to the way you confess your sins; that God is a God of power when you worship him; that God truly cares when you call upon him in your time of need, and so on. 

When I’m alone with the Lord, one of the prayers I pray more than any other is: “Lord, I want it to be real. I don’t want to be a fake. I need your grace to live out what I teach.” And now, by God’s grace, I want my children to see the same thing in me. I don’t pray for them; I pray to the Lord. But I think it’s good to remember that our children are listening.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

How Many Herods are There in the Bible?

By Kenneth Berding

In my last post (What Does The Fox Say? Who is the Fox Anyway?) I wrote about Herod Antipas. As I was writing, I realized that a lot of people get confused about who “Herod” is in the Bible. This isn’t surprising since there are actually six different (!) “Herods” in the New Testament, and they are all somehow related to each other.[1] Here are thumbnail sketches to help you keep track of who’s who:

1.     Herod the Great (ruled 37-4 B.C.) He’s the guy in the Christmas story. Super powerful client king answerable to Rome. Tried to trick the wise men. Killed the babies in Bethlehem (not to mention some of his own sons and wives). Not cuddly at all. Actually, you wouldn’t invite any of these Herods to become your “bosom friend,” but especially not “the Great.”

2.     Herod Archelaus (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 6) He was one of Herod the Great’s three sons mentioned in the Bible. He received one-half of his father’s territory, the area surrounding and near Jerusalem (Judea and Samaria). Joseph was unwilling to move Mary and toddler Jesus to Bethlehem after fleeing to Egypt because Bethlehem was in this Herod’s territory and, like his father “the Great,” Herod Archelaus wasn’t known to be very cuddly either. He got replaced by a Roman procurator less than ten years into his reign; that’s why Pontius Pilate is the man in charge at Jesus’ crucifixion rather than one of the “Herods.”

3.     Herod Antipas (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 39) Jesus called him “the Fox” (Luke 13:32). Received a quarter of his father’s territory (Galilee and Perea). Divorced his first wife and married Herodias, the wife of his brother (who was yet a different “Herod”). Killed John the Baptist. Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to see this Herod as part of Jesus’ trial, since this Herod was visiting Jerusalem at the time Jesus was sentenced to death. Did you know that Pilate and Herod Antipas became friends that day (Luke 23:12)?

4.     Herod Philip the Tetrarch (ruled 4 B.C.-A.D. 34) Got the remaining quarter of his father’s territory (north and east of Galilee—mostly ruled over Syrians and Greeks). Married his niece, Salome, the daughter of Herodias (Herod Antipas’s wife-of-sin).

5.     Herod Agrippa I (ruled A.D. 37-44 [41-44 in Judea]) Grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herodias, Herod Antipas’s wife. Eventually ended up ruling over even more territory than did his grandfather, Herod the Great. In the book of Acts he is known as the one who put Peter in prison (Acts 12:1–5)… although he couldn’t keep him there (12:6–19)!  Also… “He did not give God the glory” when referred to as a god by the people of Tyre and Sidon and was thus struck by an angel and “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:20–23). Yes… I know… TMI… but it’s an easy way to remember which “Herod” he is.

6.     Herod Agrippa II (ruled A.D. 50s until long after the end of the Jewish war; died around A.D. 93) Like his father Herod Agrippa I and great-grandfather Herod the Great, he ruled over a large territory. He’s the one who interviewed Paul along with the Roman procurator Porcius Festus when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea (in Palestine) after Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 25–26). Agrippa exclaimed to Paul (literal translation): “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Or was his statement ironic? Either way, Paul ended up appealing directly to Caesar and so had no more contact after this with the final powerful “Herod.” 

After this last Herod, we don’t hear anything more of the dynasty of Herods (until, of course, they named a luxury department store after them… oops, wrong spelling).

An even briefer summary:

Herod the Great: Christmas story

Herod Archelaus: Joseph to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem because of him

Herod Antipas: Killed John the Baptist

Herod Philip: Ruled area north and east of Galilee

Herod Agrippa I: Eaten by worms

Herod Agrippa II: Trial of Paul in Caesarea

Baby boys are frequently named “Paul.”  I’ve never heard of any couple naming a newborn baby “Herod.”  It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to reverse this trend.

[1] And there are even more “Herods” (the dynastic name) in history; but I’m only mentioning the ones who get mentioned in the Bible.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

Is It Reasonable to Trust the Bible?

By David Horner

The Bible claims to be our supremely authoritative guide to life. But isn’t it irrational, oppressive, or even dangerous to base our lives on an ancient book—any book—rather than to “think for ourselves”? My claim in this short series is that basing our lives on the Bible is exactly what thinking for ourselves leads us to do—if we’re thinking well.

A crucial first step in thinking well about the authority of the Bible is to get clear on what authority is, more generally. Let’s continue to follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24–28 (see Part One for the full quotation) as our starting point. He wraps up a lengthy discussion of how to live well by telling a parable about a wise man, who built his house on solid ground, and a foolish man, who built his house on sand. When floods came, only the wise man’s house was left standing. The point of the parable is that if one’s life has an inadequate basis it will fall apart under the pressure of hard times, but with a good foundation one will be able to stand strong in the midst of difficulties and struggles.

And what is it that makes the difference? Jesus is clear that what determines the quality of our life’s foundation is our response to him and his teaching. The wise person, says Jesus, “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24).

This is a striking claim—and as vivid a picture of how authority works as we may find.

The Nature of Authority

What is authority? What does it mean to be an authority? Obviously there is such a thing as “card” authority, as I described it in Part One, where someone demands compliance solely on the basis of their position or power. Like the neighborhood bully or the guy with the card that says he’s in charge.

But not all authority is like that. In fact, quite often those people we consider authorities don’t have a position of power—or if they do, that’s not why we respect them and are glad to follow them. It’s because they also have something else, such as knowledge, expertise, and character. Those are the kinds of things we look for we look for in a true authority. I suggest, for our purposes, a definition of true or legitimate authority along those lines. Speaking generally, an authority is a trusted source of important truth in a particular area.

Let’s unpack this. Here are a few examples of authority, representing different areas:

  • We view Albert Einstein as an authority in physics.
  • A respected surgeon is considered an authority on surgical procedures in his field.
  • Medical students are required to master the material in certain textbooks, those that are regarded as authoritative in their fields.
  • Hikers and rock climbers use U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps as authoritative guides to the geography of the area they want to climb.

In each, very different case (and we could think of many more), whether it is a person or an artifact like a map or textbook, the authority is regarded as a trusted source of truth in a particular area, and treated as such.

There is an important difference between these two kinds of authorities, however. The authority of maps and textbooks is not as basic as that of persons. We trust artifacts as sources of important truth in a particular area because of their source: they were authored or designed by a person or persons we consider to be authorities. Texts gain their authority from their authors (notice the linguistic connection between ‘author’ and ‘authority’). This distinction will be important when we consider the Bible’s authority. For now, let’s focus primarily on the more basic form of authority, that of persons

What makes someone an authority? What do true, legitimate authorities have in common, that marks them out as such? As I briefly suggested earlier, at least three things: knowledge, skill, and character.



An authority on a subject has unique, specific, and important knowledge about it. We look to Einstein, and not, say, to Jay Leno, for insight into physics. This is because of Einstein’s unique intelligence and lifetime of study in physics. Leno may be a nice guy, but he doesn’t have these credentials. Einstein knows special, important truths about physics, so we listen to him.


But it’s not mere “book knowledge” that marks out an authority. A true authority employs that knowledge skillfully in a wide variety of situations, including unique or unusual cases. Their knowledge and experience gives them special insight in diagnosing situations and being able to address them.

My friend, Pat, is one of those people. He is an automobile mechanic. Pat understands cars and is highly skilled at diagnosing and correcting what may be wrong with them. In fact, he often knows what’s wrong just by hearing the car drive into the shop. Pat is an authority on automobiles, which is why people come to him for help.

Character (“Moral Authority”)

A third important component of authority is character. In fact, we sometimes talk about “moral authority.” A certain level of appropriate character is required for any person to be an authority—we must be able to trust them to tell the truth. A surgeon who tends to work drunk or lies to you is not an authority, no matter how much knowledge and expertise he has. Word gets around, and we avoid those people like the plague, especially when our life is at stake.

But in some areas of life this third element, moral authority, is everything. It’s especially important when we’re looking for guidance in to how to live. What qualifies someone to be a trustworthy source of truth in that area? Here, again, we don’t look for mere “book-learning”; plenty of people are intelligent and well educated, but not wise. Indeed, some are “educated fools” whose lives we would never want to emulate. For deepest insights into how to live, we look for someone who actually lives that way—someone with integrity, moral authority. Character.

Response to Authority

A true authority is marked by knowledge, skill, and character.

Now, how do we respond to such an authority? What should we do when we find someone like that? Well, if they’re an authority in an area where we need to discover the truth, truth that’s important to us, then surely the reasonable thing is to find out what the authority says and put it into practice!

My wife, Debbie, went through some very difficult and mysterious health struggles for several years. We went to several specialists, but no one could figure out what was going on. Then we were referred to a specialist who was particularly qualified in these matters—the “doctor the doctors go to,” we were told. It took us nearly a month to get in to see him, by which time we were pretty desperate. But that first appointment changed our lives, and we both remember it vividly.

Within the first half hour, the doctor diagnosed the problem and set out a program of treatment. Although what he said was new to us, it rang true; it made sense of what Debbie was experiencing. We also had the evidence of the doctor’s knowledge, skill, and experience reflected both in his credentials and in his track record with other patients.

So we trusted him: we listened carefully to what he said, and we put it into practice.

And the difference it made was remarkable. That appointment was the turning point in Debbie’s condition and her return to health.

Now I suggest that, when we listened to what that doctor said and put it into practice, we were doing the most reasonable thing we could do. It’s not that we weren’t thinking for ourselves. We were thinking for ourselves; that’s why we were in his office! We desperately needed to know the truth about Debbie’s health, and we had good reason to believe that this doctor had the knowledge and expertise to help us find it.

We didn’t just consult the first guy we met on the street. We investigated; we looked for someone who had the solid credentials of an authority in the field. We certainly didn’t surrender our minds or stop thinking. What we did is open our minds to crucial information that we needed. We were thinking well for ourselves.

If a true authority is a trusted source of truth in a particular area, then the appropriate, reasonable response to that authority is to trust them—to listen to what they say and follow it.

And this is just what Jesus calls for in response to his words about how to live our life: the wise person, he said, “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24). Jesus is calling us to view him and his words as our authority.

Is that reasonable? It depends on who Jesus is, and whether he has the knowledge, skill, and character to speak authoritatively on how we should build our lives.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.