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Advice for Aspiring Seminarians

It’s Saturday, and I usually don’t post on Saturdays, but I thought these nine questions from Kevin DeYoung were great food for thought for the person considering seminary.

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Video Notes — Gabe Lyons / Tim Keller Webcast

Here were some interesting tidbits I noted during the Gabe Lyons (The Next Christians )/ Tim Keller Livestream webcast that took place on February 17:

  • The early Christians did quite well when they were out of power, and eventually they ended up with power, but not by seeking it. A lot of people say, that’s the way we’ve got to go. However, can we even go back and look at the book of Acts as a model, since they were a pre-Christian society (had never been in power) and we are entering a post-Christian society (in which we were in power)? Does our post-Christian “baggage” necessitate that our approach to applying the book of Acts be more indirect?  China can perhaps use Acts as a playbook, but can our use of Acts be as direct (not questioning the infallibility of the Bible, but rather the method of application in reading that book)?
  • A sobering thought: Tim’s understanding of how to reach a culture is that people have to be extremely like the people around them, and yet extremely unlike them. If they are too unlike them, they’ll be seen as too weird and won’t persuade. Before Christ, believers in God were seen as very strange. When Christ came, a lot of those customs that made before-Christ believers different were made optional, thereby eliminating a lot of what made early Christians distinct. However, three things remained that made early Christians distinct:
    • Integrity: If we have this, it will make us stand out. Integrity is not valued highly in our culture.
    • Chastity: Was strange then just like it is now, so this is a wash.
    • Generosity: This is what is sobering–Christian generosity was so unique in pre-Christian society, because there was no philanthrophy, no charities like we have today, no hospitals or orphanages. Now that Christianity has given Western society a social conscience, that social conscience has been secularized and that distinctive of generosity has been taken away.
  • Gabe brought up an additional distinctive: the idea of our work being part of our calling, a part of a higher purpose.
  • A discussion of churches trying too hard to be relevant. What does it mean to be the church in this post-Christian setting? Is trying to  be “hip” enough? Is it just a charade?
    • The seeker church movement to some degree was a strategy to show the world that we are like them, that we’re just like you. It errors on the side of being like the people around them and being afraid to be different. Secular journalist have commented, “At least Redeemer doesn’t try to hide what it is,” referring to Redeemer’s pastor in a suit and  tie, organ playing, standing up for hymns, etc.
    • The idea of combining faith and work is an important part of the message to post-Christian society. Tim gives the example of a musician’s group where both non-Christians and Christians attended. The
    • Churches in general have been focused on providing spiritual support, focusing on evangelizing and discipling within one’s vocation. But what’s been under-emphasized is, how do I actually do my job?
      • Tim: When I gather people to teach them how to evangelize and disciple, I’m the expert whose been to seminary and knows more about the Bible than they do. However, when I want to get together a group of musicians or businessman and talk about how to bring to bear the gospel on our work, I’m not the expert. You’ve got to bring together groups of people and have more of a democratic discussion, developing Proverbs-type guidelines for decision making in various work settings.
  • Why Gabe wrote the book: A lot of people were wondering what it would look like to be faithful in this generation.
  • Tim comments briefly on him starting to write books “as an old man,” kidding that Gabe is now “trapped,” because when you write one book, people ask questions that lead you to think that you need to write another book.
  • What should Sunday morning look like?
    • Gabe: Church services are when the church should gather to encourage and disciple and send people out. We shouldn’t just make church a place to bring seekers to hear the good news, where we rely on “super-pastor” to do that for us.
  • What makes preaching relevant?
    • Tim: Not so much the text  you use, not just the privileged parts of the Bible. I sit down and try to give my people a balanced diet of the Bible: not just the prophets, not just the epistles. I don’t like spending 3-4 years on a book of the Bible, going verse by verse, because it doesn’t give them a balanced diet…. When you’re studying the Bible and getting ready to preach, you tend to hear the answers to the questions you have in your mind. So if you’re mind is filled with the questions of your people, then as you preach the Bible in a very balanced way, relevance will happen.
  • How do we stand out?
    • First, “outdo” those around you for concern about your neighborhood.
    • Second, don’t be ashamed 1) to credit your ways to being a Christian, and 2) to hold to your beliefs on sex.

John Piper on Reaching Young People

In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper gives me an inkling of what my calling might be, as a public high school teacher:

Of course, we do not use the word cool to describe true greatness. It is a small word. That’s the point. It’s cheap. And it’s what millions of young people live for. Who confronts them with urgency and tears? Who pleads with them not to waste their lives? Who takes them by the collar, so to speak, and loves them enough to show them a life so radical and so real and so costly and Christ-saturated that they feel the emptiness and triviality of their CD collection and their pointless conversations about passing celebrities? Who will waken what lies latent in their souls, untapped–a longing not to waste their lives? (p. 129)

This poignant passage moves me, and may the Holy Spirit continue to stir the fire that Piper’s words here stir. So many of the young people who I interact with every day are simply dying for something that matters, something that is bigger than themselves or their iPods.

I pray that God would be glorified in spreading a passion for this vision to thousands of public school teachers. May He be glorified in a hoard of teachers teaching their subjects well, and while doing so live lives of joyful love and mercy and sacrifice that magnify Christ and make people glad in God. May God give us the grace to set our faces like flint to join Jesus on the Calvary road (paraphrased from Piper, p. 129).

C. S. Lewis on Calling, pt. 2 (from Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy)

From a letter to a young Sheldon Vanauken from C. S. Lewis:

Look: the question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not. We certainly should and must: as MacDonald says ‘All that is not God is death.’ The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring Him in in the dedication of our work to Him, in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job. The A vocation rests on all men whether they know it or not; the B vocation only on those who are specially called to it. Each vocation has its peculiar dangers and peculiar rewards. Naturally, I can’t say which is yours.

–C. S. Lewis, published in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, p. 106

C. S. Lewis on Calling (from Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy)

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man. St. Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation; I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap…. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by. On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology would do. Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

–from a letter from C. S. Lewis, published in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, p. 105-106