Month: October 2011

Sound biblical interpretation must fuel expository preaching

SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1-11

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Seminary professor Jason Lee urged pastors to let the texts of Scripture rather than apologetic issues drive their preaching, especially in regard to Genesis 1-11. Lee, who teaches hermeneutics at the seminary, explained that while pastors must address questions from doubters and skeptics, these issues must not obscure the authorial purpose of the passage.

“There is great apologetic value in defending the historicity of these narratives,” Lee said. “However, there is a subtle danger due to the level of interest in our congregations or even our own apologetic bent as preachers, that we would focus on the apologetic issues and therefore allow the text itself, and the author’s intention, to be eclipsed by our own purposes.

“As expository preachers, we need to make sure our chief focuses are the features of the inspired text and that the meaning expressed and the intention of the author is our interpretive goal and our proclamation foundation. That’s what we preach.”

Lee said answers to questions of historicity and other apologetic concerns often go unexpressed by the biblical authors and may extend beyond their intended meaning.
“The point here is that in the biblical text, there is no debate,” Lee said. “In the biblical text, the creation narratives, the Fall narrative, and the Flood narrative are all in (the genre of) historical narrative, and therefore, they’re presented as fact.”

Still, pastors must not avoid or dismiss opportunities to help their congregations with answering difficult questions and skepticism. Rather, with caution and precision, pastors should equip their people to defend and explain the Christian faith. Lee suggested giving some attention in a sermon to the most important apologetic issues and providing additional resources for church members with answers to further questions. The majority of the sermon, he said, should be centered on the message in the text.

Lee himself addressed some of the apologetic issues associated with the created order and sinful fall of humanity found in Genesis 2-3. With each question, he emphasized what the text says rather than where it remains silent. He addressed questions related to what kinds of trees the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were, where and how big the Garden of Eden was, and how the serpent could speak.

Lee demonstrated his views on the role of apologetics in preaching by spending the majority of his session discussing the theological implications and practical applications of Genesis 2-3. Hermeneutics, or the task of biblical interpretation, must serve as the foundation for biblical preaching, he said.

“Fundamental to good, expository homiletics is good, sound, biblical hermeneutics,” Lee said.

Lee likened the preacher’s task to crime scene investigation dramas on television, saying pastors must gather the textual clues within a passage and bring them back to the lab to see which clues are most helpful in determining meaning. This occurs at the macro and micro levels, viewing a passage from three vantage points.

The canonical vantage point examines how the passage fits within the Bible as a whole. The book and passage vantage points zoom in and view the context and specific textual features of a narrative. Lee applied all three vantage points to Genesis 1-11 and more specifically to chapters 2-3.

“From a canonical vantage point,” Lee said, “the text of Genesis 1-11 sets the foundation for God’s universal reign, his righteous judgment and his unique salvation,” themes which become intertwined throughout Scripture. More specifically in Genesis 2-3, God responds to sin by granting mercy even as he punishes.

With regard to the book vantage point, Lee said, “A biblical author’s intention is best seen on a book level. If I’m going to study a passage within the book, then I want to make sure I can clearly establish the context of this passage within the authorial purpose of the entire book.”

Lee said the narratives in Genesis 1-11, including the account of the Fall, must be viewed not only in the context of Genesis but also in the scope of the entire Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament.

At the passage level, the pastor considers grammar, syntax and vocabulary to discern textual meaning. Lee pointed to the repeated, three-part pattern found throughout the Pentateuch, which provides a grid for interpreting Genesis 2-3. The pattern consists of a narrative section followed by poetry and an epilogue. The poetic seams, he said, “provide a lens for reading the narrative” and “play a pivotal role in understanding the theological outlook of the chapters.” Epilogues indicate the results of the narrated events.

In analyzing the narrative sections, Lee said Genesis 2 presents a picture of God’s sovereign work in providing humans with a perfect place, a perfect plan and a perfect partnership. This provision becomes perverted in chapter 3 when Adam and Eve seek human wisdom over divine wisdom.

“The serpent makes a sinister suggestion in verses 4-5. He questions God’s justice and God’s goodness,” Lee said.

“The serpent now promises this kind of wisdom or knowledge to be a human quality without the need for God. God had been good in declaring what was good and not good to the humans, but to continue in this relationship required the humans to trust in God and not their own abilities.

Lee concluded with present-day applications and said four theological themes connect Adam and Eve with people today: “Their God is our God; their world is our world; their sin is our sin; and their Savior is our Savior.”

“Just as they were tempted to leave the sure provision of God for their own pursuits, so every sinner since them has struggled to determine his or her own path instead of solely trusting in the provision of the Lord.”

“The only lasting measure of hope granted to Adam and Eve is found in God’s pronouncement against the serpent in 3:15. All covering of sin is only temporary until God finally triumphs over evil though the seed promised to Eve.”


Noahs Flood foreshadows judgment and safety by grace

The Nephilim OT scholar gives his perspective

SW dean Babel account rich with theology

Genesis 1 foundational for all of biblical theology, prof says

SW dean: Babel account rich with theology

SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1-11

FORT WORTH—Studying the language, background and theology of the Tower of Babel account makes sermons on it comes to life, David Allen said Sept. 26 at the Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

“If I can get you when you preach on passages like this to pay the price of digging into the background a little bit, looking at the more technical commentaries, reading articles about this and learning about this kind of background, then a thousand different creative insights will generate and germinate in your mind as to how to preach this to keep people on the edge of their seats,” Allen, dean of the school of theology and professor of preaching at Southwestern, said.

Speaking from Genesis 11:1-9, he summarized the setting, meaning and structure of the passage.

The most significant divisions among people are linguistic, he said, not racial or geographic, and they originated at the Tower of Babel. Those who reject Genesis 1-11 have never been able to explain human language satisfactorily, Allen said.

“It is some kind of difficult to explain the origin of human speech and language on an evolutionary model. You’ll find tons of attempts to do it. But you will also find in the literature, when you begin to read about this, that the honest evolutionist will tell you, ‘You know what, we just don’t know how … this occurred,’” he said, adding, “Apart from revelation, which is what you have in Genesis 1-11, you can’t really account for the origin of language.”

Genesis 11 uses an array of literary devices, Allen said. He noted that alliteration, plays on words, irony and sarcasm are all present. For example, it is ironic that God came down in order to see a tower that the builders thought reached Heaven. And the builders sought a great name for themselves only to receive a humiliating name—Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for confusion.

Another Hebrew word play occurs in the phrases “let us make bricks” and “let us go down.” Each phrase translates a single Hebrew word, and the two words have the same consonants in reverse order, he said. The inversion highlights the fact that God’s will was the opposite of sinful humanity’s plan, Allen argued.

Such literary devices are inspired by God, but English speakers will miss them without a preacher willing to study and explain the Hebrew text, he said.

“Preaching is the communication of God’s truth. All the time the content is excellent, but sometimes the communication is not so great. When that’s going on, the problem is not the text. The problem is the preacher,” Allen said.

The Tower of Babel account is rich with theology, he said. Among its most important themes is the need for humans to let God make their names great rather than seek their own glory. He noted the contrast between the failed attempt to make a great name in Genesis 11 and God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 to make a great name for him.
Another contrast between the sinful builders and Abraham is that Abraham sought a city whose architect and builder is God, Allen said, citing Hebrews.

The Tower of Babel is also important background to the Day of Pentecost, he said.

“What happens at Pentecost? A reversal of Babel in one sense. At Babel you’ve got one language confused to many languages by God himself,” he said.

“In Acts 2:1-18, what do you have? You have bunches of different languages … and God reverses all that multiplicity of languages.”

Among other important themes in Genesis 11 are God’s mandate to fill the earth and his sovereignty over all human affairs, he said.

A key to preaching on the Tower of Babel is communicating the literary and theological themes in a manner that engages listeners, Allen said. He added that all sermons on the Old Testament must point to Christ.

The Tower of Babel points to Christ by foreshadowing God’s judgment on all secular kingdoms at the second coming and illustrating the way Jesus breaks down worldly structures to establish his kingdom, Allen emphasized.

“We’re Christian preachers,” he said. Preaching Jesus “is what we ought to be doing when we preach the Old Testament. Spurgeon said, ‘When I preach from the Old Testament, I make a beeline to Jesus.’ So we’ve got to get Christ there.”

With hard work, any preacher can present dynamic sermons on the Tower of Babel and any other passage in Scripture, he said.

“It is my judgment that any man called to preach is ipso facto gifted by God to preach. And number three, on the basis of those two, if he will work at it, he can learn to do great preaching,” he said.


Noahs Flood foreshadows judgment and safety by grace

The Nephilim OT scholar gives his perspective

Sound biblical interpretation must fuel expository preaching

Genesis 1 foundational for all of biblical theology, prof says

The Nephilim: OT scholar gives his perspective

SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1:11

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. -Genesis 6:4

FORT WORTH—Much has been written and discussed about the meaning in Genesis 6:1-4 of the “sons of God” and the “men of renown” known as Nephilim.

Some have suggested the passage is speaking of godly men marrying ungodly women and producing sinful offspring, traditionally thought of as giants. The King James Version translated it “giants,” in fact.

Others have conjectured that the Nephilim are offspring produced by the union of fallen angels and women.

Whatever the sin involved in the passage, it is “grotesque,” said Allen Ross, professor of Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

“You can come up with your own heresy on this. I’ll share mine and tell you what I think about this.”

Ross said he believes these Nepilim are giants “and these are the heroes of the ancient world.” The Old Testament rendering “sons of God” refers to angels and in the pagan world these were the “lesser gods of the Pantheon.”

But angels don’t procreate, Ross said—unless they are able to indwell human bodies.

“Then you would have the ability to do it but it would be grotesque because then you are dealing with something that was not supposed to be. There are boundaries that have been overstepped in that particular realm,” he explained. “But then that’s the nature of hubris.

“I think what we’re dealing with here is demonically possessed despots of the ancient world who began to build harems and as a result would exert authority over the world and create from their marriages [these] monstrosities. And these became the heroes of the ancient world.”

He admitted such a view is fitting for a sci-fi channel.

“But at the same time, we’ve got evidence in the Bible and in the ancient near east of what’s going on here.”

In ancient near eastern mythology, immortality was believed possible through the intermarriage of humans and gods. Such lore was found in the Babylonian quest for immortality in the Gilgamesh epic and in Canaanite religion with the high god El.

“This passage seems to reflect that mentality in just a hint,” Ross said, “because it doesn’t want to go into any of the gory details of mythology. It just says the event is behind all of that and God looks at it and says ‘No! They’re just flesh and in 120 years they are going to be dead. So, so much for the quest for immortality.”

Further, Ross stated, “Jude tells us, verse 6, that there were these angels that did not retain their original habitation but were put into prison for the day of judgment. That’s all he says. Just a hint.

“Peter also goes a little bit further on this. In Second Peter 2 he’ll talk about these were angels who were not staying within their proper boundaries and the judgment comes on them. And Peter refers to this also in 1 Peter chapter 3 when talking about that after his resurrection … Jesus preaches to the spirits who were imprisoned since the days of Noah.”

Peter never refers to saints as spirits, Ross noted, nor would they be in prison if they were Old Testament believers.

“And he’s not going there to preach the gospel so they can get out—he’s going there as a herald to announce their fate is sealed because they never do give up.”

The sin described in Genesis 6:5 is the worst case in all of Scripture and “one of those situations where humanity completely deteriorated and must be stopped.”

“We have not yet come in contact with [this type of evil] although I will say, eschatologically, it is coming. Because at the end of the age the demonic element and the confusion in the world in religion is going to grow greater and greater. The Bible tells us that….”

“That’s a good sermon,” Ross added, “and it’s a relevant sermon because the human race is headed in that direction today, and as I said earlier, there is a limit to when God will blow the whistle and it’s over and he won’t let it get to the point where it’s so grotesque, but it’s going to get awfully bad.

“And unrighteousness is going to increase and yet no one has to be destroyed in the coming judgment if you are thinking in eschatological terms. The grace of God gives them the way of escape.”


Noahs Flood foreshadows judgment and safety by grace

SW dean Babel account rich with theology

Sound biblical interpretation must fuel expository preaching

Genesis 1 foundational for all of biblical theology, prof says

Noah’s Flood foreshadows judgment, safety by grace

SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1-11

FORT WORTH—The story of Noah’s Flood in the book of Genesis gives modern-day readers rich insights into a patient judge who rightly punishes sinners but provides safety for those who seek his grace.

The good news, said Allen Ross, professor of Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., is that the safety extended to Noah is also extended today to everyone who by faith trusts in Christ.

Ross, the author of numerous books, including “Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis,” addressed the Advanced Expository Preaching Seminar at Southwestern Seminary on Sept. 26.

The rampant sin portrayed in Genesis 6 is so grotesque that God cannot let it continue, Ross noted. The world is filled with violence, sexual immorality, and a reference, Ross believes, to demonic interference in human reproduction (For Ross’ views on this, see related story).  

The resulting judgment, save for Noah and his family, is not pleasant, “but you have to preach it because there is no redemption if there is no judgment.” The God of Genesis “is slow to judge” and such judgment “is unpleasant for God too,” Ross said.

Preaching through the Flood narrative requires a careful, balanced treatment of the theology there. “All this to say, we are not dealing with a 30-minute sermon here.” Instead, Ross urged, do the work to “discover what God is telling us through this material.” A precise treatment of the theology will lead easily to application.

“You can say that the whole world is condemned and awaiting the judgment of God but God has made a way of escape through the obedience of one man. That’s the theological statement out of this portion of Genesis. That fits with what’s going on with Noah. But you can see where I am going with that because it fits with what is going on with Christ. We are in the same situation.”

Obviously, Ross noted, Noah doesn’t call explicitly for faith in Christ. “But the God who revealed this material and is the primary spokesman in the passage, he will say it in a way that prepares everybody for what’s coming later. As we’ve already mentioned today, that is the way progressive revelation works.”

Allen said Genesis 1-11 may be broken into segments beginning in 1:1, 2:4, 5:1, 6:8—where Noah comes into focus—and 10:1. For preaching purposes, Ross said he breaks the flood story into two parts—6:1-8 and then 6:8 onward.

There is a cycle of deterioration throughout Genesis, Ross said, that always begins “with a high point spiritually and ends with a low point.” In Genesis 6 “we have the strongest description of sin in all the Bible” and an eschatological glimpse at the evil prophesied by Christ before his return.

The passage describes a degree of sin that God had to stop, but the preacher must ask, “What kind of sin?” Ross noted.

“How bad does it have to be?” God told Abram he would spare Sodom with 10 righteous men, but there’s no such hope in Noah’s story, Ross observed.

“The wickedness is so bad that it’s going to grieve the heart of God and the only way out of this is grace.”

The creation account is a prelude to the rest of Genesis and Genesis itself is a prelude to the law, Ross stated. The deterioration in the book “begins in the Garden and ends with a coffin in Egypt.”

Ross argues strongly for a global Flood, not the local Flood that some old-earth models have proposed.

“I know the arguments on either side but if it’s a local flood you’ve got a lot of questions to answer.”

“[Noah] has 100 years. Why doesn’t he just take the animals and move? There are a lot of problems with that. If it’s a local Flood, why save the animals at all? There are many over in the other countries and other cities. But the biggest problem is if the whole human race is this way and the indictment is about the whole human race, why destroy people in Mesopotamia and nowhere else in the world? That doesn’t make much sense.”

Also, Ross argued, if it’s a local flood, how did the Ark land atop Mount Ararat? Nonetheless, Ross said he doesn’t view the scope of the Flood as an issue to break fellowship over.

By the end of the Flood account, the passage says Noah was extended grace, “which means he is not perfect, he is a sinner…. It means it’s underserved favor,” Ross emphasized.

“[Noah] responds with a faith that obeys, And you say, ‘Why him?’ Well, we don’t know. It’s amazing grace. Why us? It’s one of those issues we really can’t come up with a good answer to…. Some people think they deserve the grace they got, but that’s not right either. That’s self-righteousness.”

So why destroy the world with water? Ross said God is putting it back the way it was in Genesis 1 before the formless creation took form.

“Gradually, the dry land will appear and then there’s growth on the dry land so it’s clearly a new beginning.”

A second reason for water, Ross said, was the ritual of purification in the law.

“It’s a pattern that also comes out of the Exodus” as the Egyptians are destroyed by the Red Sea but the Israelites are saved through the water, “which is why Peter is saying very much that it is corresponding to baptism … There is an element of death in the water and then emerging in a new life afterwards. The pattern is there for Peter for exploit,” Ross observed.

“Also, the Flood shows us to what extent God will go to preserve righteousness in his creation. … There’s only one other comparable event and there it will cost God everything in the death of his son.”

As noted by Southwestern Seminary professor Matthew McKellar in his treatment of the creation account, the Flood  when contrasted against pagan flood stories is “like leaving a dark, smoke-filled room and walking out into the bright sunlight.”

For example, in the Babylonian story of Gilgamesh—a story about a quest for immortality that includes a flood story with an ark—polytheism is prevalent and humans are placed in the ark not because of sin but because of noisiness. Salvation is not a part of the story, and the ark “is a monstrosity” that is nine miles long.

The Flood narrative is “a way of affirming the sovereignty and the holiness of God,” Ross said. “Every ancient culture has an account of the Flood, which is kind of hard to understand—if it was a local Flood—why every civilization has records of it and why they all have memory of it. Its moral impact on them was nil.”

In God’s remembrance of Noah in Genesis 8:1, the Hebrew for remember always means to act on what is remembered, Ross noted.

“He made promises to Noah that he would spare the human race through this Ark and he has not forgotten his promises.” This meaning is also in play with the thief’s plea to Christ: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” said Ross, explaining that the thief was not simply asking Jesus to recall their discussion on the cross.  

He added, “By the way, this also has repercussions for the Lord’s Supper.”

The judgment, the salvation of Noah and his family, and the renewal of the earth in the Genesis Flood foreshadows what is in store, Ross said.

“Here, Noah is a harbinger of all that and therefore a great eschatological moment as well as a description of God as a holy God, a righteous God, a judging God, but a God of grace and a God of glory. And that’s the balance you have to get when you are dealing with this material.”


The Nephilim OT scholar gives his perspective

SW dean Babel account rich with theology

Sound biblical interpretation must fuel expository preaching

Genesis 1 foundational for all of biblical theology, prof says

Genesis 1 foundational for all of biblical theology, prof says

SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1-11

FORT WORTH—Matthew McKellar says one’s reading of Genesis 1 affects his reading of Genesis 2 and everything thereafter. Theology begins there.

“This whole creation account in the biblical theme of things is not something that is nominal or something that we dismiss as, ‘Oh, the creation account is in Genesis 1.’ This is central to our understanding of almighty God. To put it another way, if we don’t get the doctrine of creation right, then we’re probably not going to get anything else right.”

McKellar, associate professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, opened the school’s annual advanced expository preaching seminar on Sept. 26 with the topic of “Creation.”

McKellar was one of four presenters at the meeting, titled “Foundation or Fairy Tale? Preaching Genesis 1-11.” Other presenters covered the Fall, Noah’s Flood and the Tower of Babel.

Scripture places great significance on the Genesis account in the Old and New Testaments, he noted.

Preaching the creation narrative promotes the glory of a God who created for his glory and eternal purposes and not out of any need he had, McKellar said. Preaching Genesis gives opportunity to proclaim “the theo-centric emphasis that continues all through Scripture—and I mean it’s all over the creation account.”

In fact, God is mentioned 35 times in the first 35 verses of Genesis, McKellar noted.

“What does that tell us? It tells us that we are not the main focus. It tells us that there is a sovereign God that creates out of nothing. And your people and my people need to hear that, and they need to know that.”

McKellar said he joins “the great mass of history” in holding to six literal days of creation. Nonetheless, the preacher must understand all of the major views, he said.
The gap theory was arguably the most prominent view among conservative scholars for the greater part of the 20th century.

Adherents of it included C.I. Schofield, who more than anyone else popularized it, and the late W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

It proposes a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2—a period during which Lucifer rebels, the created order is destroyed in judgment, and a new creation comes about.

James Leo Garrett, a retired Southwestern Seminary professor, said of Criswell’s view: ““Criswell adopts a dispensational doctrine of Lucifer’s heavenly rebellion drawn from Isaiah 14:12-20 and Ezekiel 28:11-19, and his ruining of the created order, in order to explain why a reordering or a recreation was necessary.”

McKellar said the gap theory became “almost the unquestioned view in 20th century fundamentalism.” A.W. Pink, another gap theorist, believed in a recreated earth about 6,000 years old,” McKellar noted.

“I wouldn’t spend 45 minutes on Sunday morning explaining the gap theory,” but be familiar with the various views, McKellar urged.

Also, it is important to note, McKellar said, that scholars disagree over whether the Hebrew words for “formless and void” mean the earth was made desolate, as in a type of judgment, or was created not to be desolate. Gap theorists take the former view.

Other approaches include a literary day theory, sometimes called the framework hypothesis, which views the creation days as literary devices, not 24-hour days, to show what God did, and the revelatory day theory, which views the six days as the time God took in revealing his creation acts to Moses.

“One must remember—we look at creation through three massive barriers: the Flood, the Fall and the sixth day. But quickly, let me say none of us can take off our glasses as fallen human beings and study Genesis 1. All of us approach it on this side of the Fall. We’re affected by the Fall.”

McKellar rejects the gap theory and calls theistic evolution “categorically untenable” and “utterly incompatible” with Scripture.

The creation narrative, McKellar said, suggests “a week of ordinary days and there is no compelling evidence against this interpretation. The only way one could argue biblically for an old earth billions of years old is to propose a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or to propose one of the ideas just explained.”

The adage, “He who marries the spirit of the age will be a widow in the next,” applies to the creation account, McKellar said.

“Be careful, be careful, be careful … of hitching your exegesis and treatment of Genesis 1 to the latest theological fad out there. Beware of basing your exegesis on the latest scientific theory.”

But naturalism, not old earth creationism, is the common enemy to biblical truth, he said. And theistic evolution undermines biblical authority from the fall onward.

“What does [theistic evolution] say about the nature of Adam, what does it say about the nature of the Fall? All of these things are interconnected.” The Bible teaches not only the “who and why. It also makes explicit claims with reference to the how,” McKellar argued.

In preaching the creation story, there is a richness of material as God gives form to the formless, fills what is empty, and gives light and divides it from the darkness. As with much of the biblical narrative, metaphors and foreshadows abound.

The original readers would have seen the God of Genesis 1 in stark contrast to the pagan gods of the ancient near east, McKellar said. For example, the ancient Canaanites worshiped the sea with its awesome power, yet the God of Genesis 1 not only creates the ocean but fills it with sea creatures and sets its boundaries.

“He has no rival gods in the sea,” McKellar stated. “If you don’t preach anything else, preach the bigness and magnitude of God.”

The term Elohim—used for God in Genesis 1—is a plural form. Elohim’s proclamation on day six—“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”—is a hint at what is later revealed through progressive revelation as the trinitarian God, McKellar explained.

Also important in the passage, McKellar said, is that “humanity is the crowning point of creation. We are far more than animals.”

Reflecting on the Sabbath, McKellar argued that God didn’t need to rest from his creating because he was tired but rather to celebrate and enjoy what he had made.
Likewise, people should take one day a week to refrain from work and celebrate the works of God—what the Puritans called “the market day of the soul.”  

The culture largely prefers Mother Nature, but belief in the Genesis account is an act of submission to the sovereign God, McKellar stated.

“It’s almost engrained in our idolatrous hearts and minds that we will do whatever we have to do to attempt, in our fallen sinfulness, to rob God of the glory that only he deserves.

“The proprietary rights of almighty God are absolutely exclusive.”

McKellar added, “If I’m going to deny the historicity of the creation account, I’ve got some major problems on down the line.”


Noahs Flood foreshadows judgment and safety by grace

The Nephilim OT scholar gives his perspective

SW dean Babel account rich with theology

Sound biblical interpretation must fuel expository preaching

Should we shop for a church like we shop for a house?

PITTSBURGH—My husband and I are shopping for a new home.

Anyone who has endured a new home search knows it can be a long, tedious and often disappointing process—particularly if we insist on steering the ship.

How so?

Everyone who is looking for a new home has a pocket wish list. To say otherwise wouldn’t be entirely truthful. Each and every time I am considering a prospective new home, I am mentally checking off which expectations, standards, amenities have been met on my list. Does this home make me feel comfortable or does it require me to live outside my comfort zone? Is this home move-in ready or is it a fixer-upper? What kind of return will I receive from this investment and how quickly will I see the payoff?

With wish list in hand, we can very easily cause a mutiny on board if we sense the ship drifting in an unwanted direction. However, in trying to steer the ship of my own home search, I quickly discovered that no home is perfect.

There isn’t a home in the world that meets every expectation I’ve laid out on my wish list. If I buy an older house, I must fit my lifestyle into its existing structure. Yet even if I custom build a new home tailored to my family’s needs, I am still limited by my own budget and resources. So, while there is nothing innately wrong with having certain expectations for a new home, danger arrives when those expectations become demands.

As believers, we are often guilty of shopping for a new church home like we’re buying a house. We begin our search with a pocket wish list that has more to do with fulfilling secular desires than spiritual designs.

My story is no different. When my husband Jonathan and I first moved from Texas to Pennsylvania, we knew finding a new church home would be challenging. And while we were prepared for churches in the northeast to be different from church life in the Bible Belt, we still clung to certain “Southern” expectations for our new church home: We wanted our new church home to be big enough that we could find friends easily. We wanted our new church home to be vibrant enough to have ministries to feed us. We wanted our new church home to be established enough to have a solid children’s ministry for our kids.

These expectations largely went unspoken until the new home search proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We visited half a dozen churches, some up to an hour away, each failing to meet our rigorous criteria. We quickly discovered that when we allowed our demands to steer the ship of our church search, the end result was disappointment and frustration. Finding a doctrinally sound church that encompassed all our demands proved nearly impossible. Just as there is no perfect house, there is no perfect church home.

Yet it was only after our self-directed new home search reached a dead-end that our perfect home was revealed to us. God’s providential hand guided us to a new work in Pittsburgh—a small group of believers, led by a recent Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, Ken Cordray, and his wife Paula. The group, called Living Faith Community Church, was comprised of no more than 20 people. Our new church home wasn’t even a church … yet.

The first time we visited Living Faith, we did not see large numbers. We did not see a variety of well-staffed ministries. Nor did we see established children’s ministries. Yet the big, vibrant, established church we created in our expectations need not exist.

Instead, we discovered that the new home God appointed for us far outweighed our wildest imaginings. While we were busy looking for friends and ministries to fulfill our needs, God guided us to a place of service instead. And in a delicious twist of divine irony, God chose this small, new work to be the very place that provided us with meaningful friendships, a nourishing passion for the Word, and a consistent ministry for transforming families with the good news of Jesus Christ. In God’s unmerited grace, our check list was no more.

God doesn’t need you to help him helm the ship of your lives. In fact, there’s no quicker way to find yourself adrift than to retain an unyielding grip on the steering wheel. In order to experience the “best” that God has planned for you, you must learn to surrender your expectations, personal preferences and comfort levels for life. But letting go of the wheel doesn’t seem so daunting when you know the One steering the ship has already appointed the perfect destination and charted the course for you.

In our case, when we surrendered our demands and fears by joining the core group of Living Faith Community Church, we discovered an authentic community of believers desperate to see the Word of God breathe life into the Steel City despite small numbers and few resources. We discovered a group of people who are decidedly allowing God to redirect their purposes and lives for His glory. We discovered our new home.

Is it perfect? No. But it is perfect for us. If we had steered the ship, I know we couldn’t have found a better place to worship and serve—even if we had custom ordered it ourselves.

Former Managing Editor Melissa Deming is a freelance writer and a regular correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper. This column first appeared at her blog,

ANNUAL MEETING: SBTC leaders, IMB’s Elliff to call Texas churches to embrace unengaged, unreached peoples

IRVING—The closing session of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual meeting, Nov.14-15 at the Irving Convention Center, will include a call for Texas churches to help engage the estimated 3,600 unengaged people groups worldwide.

In August, the SBTC’s Executive Board voted to give $1 million in surplus funds for international missions through the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. During that meeting, the board also called on Southern Baptist churches in Texas to engage 1,000 of the 3,600 unreached groups.

That gift followed International Mission Board President Tom Elliff’s call last summer for Southern Baptist churches to actively participate with the IMB in helping reach the world’s unreached peoples.

Elliff will speak to SBTC messengers on Nov. 15 by video streaming. Messengers will also hear from missionaries and from SBTC President Byron McWilliams of Odessa and Executive Board Chairman John Meador of Euless.

Those attending will find in each chair that night an IMB Embrace commitment card with information about engaging an unengaged people, said Chad Vandiver, SBTC missions associate.

“Once we receive their commitment we will give them the Next Step commitment card and we will be available to talk with them about future training opportunities and how we can equip and empower them to embrace and reach an unreached people group,” Vandiver explained.

The commitment involves praying for a particular group, but it is much more than prayer, he emphasized.

Vandiver said the term “adopt” has been used to describe Elliff’s call to churches, but the IMB has chosen “embrace” as the operative word.

“Embrace is a stronger word than adopt. Embrace in this sense means doing whatever it takes to reach an unreached people group,” Vandiver said.

At the first IMB Embrace training conference in September, Elliff told attendees these unreached peoples “are in some of the absolute hardest places in the world. As far as we know there is no ongoing, deliberate strategy involving boots on the ground that are doing these three things—evangelizing, discipling and planting a reproducing church.”

The IMB missionary staff of 5,000 can't reach all 3,600 all of the unengaged people groups by themselves, Elliff said, according to a Baptist Press report.

“It's not so much us asking you to be our partner in this … but actually it's about us saying that we want to be your partner,” Elliff said. “It's going to take us all to reach the ends of the earth.”

In addition to the annual meeting call to churches, a second Embrace equipping conference for churches is scheduled from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill. For more information, visit