Tony Payne has a good interview with Phillip Jenson on his experiences in the ministry. The interview is titled, “The Mistakes of Philip Jenson.” Here is one section of it. Tony asks, “Well, knowing what you do now, thinking back over decades in ministry: if you were talking to a young man or woman in ministry just getting started, what would you say to them?” Jenson says,
Youâ€™ve got to take up your cross and follow Jesus. So this is no career move for the faint-hearted. This is no career move for someone who wants an easy life or a nice life. Youâ€™re not going to be accepted, and youâ€™re not going to be liked: you are following the crucified one.
So grasp that reality before you start. Thatâ€™s not an invitation for nasty people to join the ministry. If you enjoy conflict you have a spiritual problem. But if you withdraw from conflict, or think youâ€™re going to win people over by niceness, you have a major problem because youâ€™re not actually dealing with Christianity. People like using the suffering servant of the cross as an image of loving service. It is that. But it is also an image of painful martyrdom and alienation and rejection. Thatâ€™s what Christian ministry is always going to be about.
Secondly then, itâ€™s really important to be at one with your spouse about it. Family life is really important, and without a good wife beside me I could not have survived the years that God has given me in the work that Iâ€™ve been doing. Helenâ€™s strength has been massive in enabling me to do what I do.
The third thing is: expect to make mistakes. Itâ€™s okay to make mistakes. In fact, itâ€™s good to make mistakes. A person who hasnâ€™t made mistakes hasnâ€™t tried hard enough. You canâ€™t be in a people ministry without making mistakes. You canâ€™t be in something as complicated as Christian ministry without making mistakes. But youâ€™ve got to learn how to deal with mistakes. Youâ€™ve got to be able to say, â€œYeah, I got that dead wrong. I need to say sorry, and to fix up the things I can fix up, and to leave the rest to God. I have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.â€ Mind you, some mistakes have consequences that you bear for the rest of your life. You canâ€™t avoid that.
Tom Schreiner is a professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the preaching pastor of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. His much anticipated commentary on Galatians has now been published: Galatians (Zondervan ExegeticalÂ Commentary on the New Testament). Matthew Montonini has a discussion with Schreiner about about his commentary and the book of Galatians in particular: Part 1 & Part 2.
Grace Communion International has several video interviews with various scholars and ministers under the title of “You’re Included.” Most of the interviews are about 30 minutes long, and include scholars such as George Hunsinger, Alan Torrance, Trevor Hart, and others. Many of the interviews focus on the gospel, Scripture and the nature of God, particularly a Trinitarian perspective. The one that caught my attention was the interview with Gordon Fee on the Book of Revelation and Principles for Understanding Scripture. You can watch the video here. For a one-page list, go here.
James Grant: Letâ€™s start with the obvious question: what is a catechism? And isnâ€™t this some Roman Catholic thing?
Kevin DeYoung: A catechism is simply a tool for teaching the fundamentals of the faith. Unlike a creed or confession a catechism uses questions and answers. Many Protestant confessional traditions, like Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Reformed, have used catechisms for centuries. Initially, most catechisms were intended for children. Though we probably aren’t as biblical or theologically astute. So our adults need them too.
James Grant: What would be the benefits of using a catechism in the life of the church?
Kevin DeYoung: I can think of a lot of benefits: 1) It’s an intuitive way to learn about the faith. There’s almost a conversational element to reading through a catechism. 2) When we use old confessions and catechisms were help teach our people that their faith is an old faith, shared by millions over many centuries. We also help them realize that other Christians have asked the same questions. 3) Catechisms are ready made documents for Sunday school, new members classes, or even the occasional sermon. 4) Catechisms guard us against faddishness and chronological snobbery.
James Grant: How do you use it at your church? And what are some other suggestions regarding how to use a catechism.
Kevin DeYoung: We use the Heidelberg Catechism in our worship. Sometimes we read it responsively. Other times I’ll work it into my communion liturgy. I’ll quote it in my sermons from time to time. I’ve seen the Catechism used effectively as Sunday school material. It’s best to have littler kids memorize parts of it and have older kids explore the nuances of the theology. We also have a section on the Catechism in our membership class and leadership training. And of course, my book on Heidelberg started out a weekly devotionals for my congregation.
James Grant: Regarding the Heidelberg Catechism in particular, what makes it so helpful?
Kevin DeYoung: With one or two exceptions, it is very irenic. It’s warm, personal, and focused on the gospel. The theology is solidly evangelical with Reformed leanings, but broad enough to be used outside reformed circles. The Catechism majors on the majors: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Also, the division of 52 Lord’s Days makes Heidelberg ideal for weekly reading or study.
James Grant: Is there a particular aspect of the Heidelberg Catechism or a section that left a stronger impression on you this time?
Kevin DeYoung: I’m not a Heidelberg scholar. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn more about the ins and outs of the document. But this time around I was struck by the relentless focus on the gospel. The Catechism does talk about our obligations as Christians, but the main theme is grace: how God comforts us, how the cross and resurrection benefits us, how Christ mediates for us. The Heidelberg Catechism is like a refreshing bath with cool gospel water.
James Grant: Outside the first question, have other questions made an significant impression on your study? Which ones?
Kevin DeYoung: I’ve memorized several questions and answers over the years. Q. 21 on true faith is solid gold. Q. 27 on providence is my favorite. I’m also blessed every time I read the question on the Lord’s Supper. I enjoyed thinking more about the ascension too from Lord’s Day 18.
James Grant: What resources would you suggest for someone who reads your book and wants to dig deeper in the Heidelberg Catechism?
James Grant: I would like to thank Kevin for taking the time to answer these questions, and if you enjoyed the interview, you will also enjoy the book: The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. It’s only 256 pages, and through Wednesday, April 14, Westminster Bookstore is offering it at 45% off the retail price (thatâ€™s only $8.24). You can take a look here, and you can also see some sample pages. You can also check out Kevinâ€™s blog here.
James Grant: Can you provide some background for the development of Holy Subversion? Where did the idea originate?
Trevin Wax: During the five years I lived as a missionary/student in Romania, I was confronted with many questions: How has my culture cluttered my view of the gospel? How have I succumbed to the prevailing worldviews of my Western Americanized society? Can the gospel be properly proclaimed without a community of faith living according to the story it tells? Looking at the United States from the outside-in, I began spotting places where the mindset of the Christian community mirrored the surrounding culture.
As I saw the Church in Romania transition from oppression to freedom, I began studying the history of early Christianity. I quickly discovered that the gospel today is just as revolutionary as it was then. The Roman Emperor would not have been threatened by a private religious experience for individual believers in Christ, just as the Communist regime in Romania was not concerned with private religious feeling. It was the subversive, communal nature of the gospel â€“ â€œJesus is Savior and Lordâ€ â€“ lived out by believers that threatened Caesarâ€™s own kingship, and in Romania, led to the toppling of a dictator. The early Christians were pledging allegiance to another King, an action that subverted the Caesar worship of the day.
In the United States today, we do not live under an oppressive dictatorship. But the postmodern, consumerist culture of 21st century America has its own creed and praxis â€“ one that needs to be directly challenged by the Church, if we are to reclaim the subversive nature of our confession.
James Grant: Your title uses the term â€œsubversion,â€ and this becomes a prominent theme throughout the book. What do you mean by subversion?
Trevin Wax: Yes, the words “holy” and “subversion” do not typically go together. There are two ways to understand the word â€œsubvertâ€ or â€œsubversion.â€ The first definition refers to â€œoverthrowingâ€ or plotting the downfall of a kingdom.
The second way that â€œsubvertingâ€ something is commonly understood refers to â€œunderminingâ€ or â€œpushing something back down into its proper place.â€ In the book, I use the term â€œsubversiveâ€ in the second sense. Most of the time, the idols in our lives are not bad things. They are good things that have become idolatrous because we have placed them above God himself. The goal is not merely to destroy our idols, but to return the gifts of God to their proper place where they can be enjoyed once again to the glory of God.
So our job as Christians is first to identify and unmask some of the often-unnoticed idolatries that seek to muzzle our message and demand our allegiance. Then, we must think through specific ways in which the Church can counter our culture by subverting its prevailing idolatries and pushing them back to their rightful place, under the feet of Jesus.
James Grant: Another image in the book is the idea of â€œCaesars.â€ What do you mean by â€œCaesars,â€ and why is it helpful for us today?
Trevin Wax: I presented portions this material at an Intervarsity conference in early 2007. The breakout session that elicited the most feedback was the one I did on naming the â€œCaesarsâ€ of our day and finding ways to subvert their influence. I use the image of “Caesar” as a creative way of linking us to the early Christians. We may not be confronted with Emperor-worship today, but the same powers and principalities behind the first-century Caesar are also behind the idols of our day: sex, money, power, leisure, success, etc. These “Caesars” demand ultimate allegiance, and they need to be demoted back to their proper place so that our lives can show that Jesus is King.
James Grant: You examined six â€œCaesarsâ€ we have to guard ourselves against: self, success, money, leisure, sex, and power. Does one stand out more than another?
Trevin Wax: The greatest of these is Self. The reason that “Self” is the first chapter to deal with a specific “Caesar” in the book is because it is the one from which all the others flow. Wealth, leisure, sexual pleasure, and power – all of these things can either be enjoyed and utilized for the glory of God, or they can be results of seeking first the Self. We live for ourselves or we live for God. “Subverting the Self” prepares the way for us to live for God in other areas of life as well.
James Grant: A prominent theme of your book is the importance of Christians engaging culture. Can you give us some thoughts on your view regarding â€œChrist and culture,â€ and how your view informed this book?
Trevin Wax: There is no way to solidly critique the idolatries of our day and not run up against current cultural manifestations. I don’t typically use the phrase “engaging” when speaking of culture, because the idea seems very nebulous to me. I’m never sure what people mean by that unless they are careful to explain their definitions.
There are two poles moving through this book – the Church as a counter-culture that provides an implicit critique of the culture we live in, and the Church as a culture-creating institution that actually displays a culture of its own. At times, the critique of culture comes out. Other times, it’s the church as its own institution, creating a new way of life for the world to see, a way that stems from the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Ultimately, the cross and resurrection are central to my understanding of Christ and culture. If Jesus did indeed come back from the dead on Easter morning, the whole world is fundamentally changed. New creation has begun. The church is now the foretaste of the new heavens and new earth that God will bring about at the end of time.
We are to provide people a glimpse of the reality that Jesus is indeed Savior and Lord. Our churches should be a place where the veil is torn and people see the reality of Christ on his throne – the reality that one day all will see when he is unveiled and every knee bows and tongue confesses.
James Grant: What other avenues of study and writing developed from your work on this book? How about other writing projects?
Trevin Wax: I have two writing projects in the works. One centers on the beauty of truth, specifically the truth of the Christian metanarrative. Another centers on the counterfeit gospels at work in our society (and sometimes in evangelicalism) and how only the true biblical gospel has the power to save.
James Grant: Thanks Trevin for taking the time to answer some questions. If you are interested in his book, you can purchase it here, and see some sample pages.
The guys at Ordinary Means podcast had the opportunity to interview Ken Myers, host of Mars Hill Audio Journal, on the topic of culture and the ordinary means of grace. I listed to the interview, and although the whole interview is helpful, the discussion on music is well worth your time. You can hear it here.
Mike Horton’s book Christless Christianity has been the topic of interest around the internet in recent weeks, specifically about whether the book is helpful or not for the problems in the American church. To gain some more insight on Horton’s perspective, check out the interview with him in byFaith magazine. Here is the concluding question and answer:
When Reformed people hear that the Churchâ€™s narrow mandate is to proclaim the good news the first reaction may be: Sure, but we need to make mature disciples, we want to be theologically deep people. How, within this narrow mandate, do we grow people spiritually?
This is going to come as counter-intuitive to a lot of us, but itâ€™s really found there in our confessions. We say that a true church can be found wherever the Word is rightly preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and there is church discipline. Thatâ€™s the narrow mandate Iâ€™m talking about. If you ask a lot of people todayâ€”even Presbyterian and Reformed peopleâ€”theyâ€™d say â€œto transform the world, to transform business, to transform the arts and sciences, politics.â€ But that makes everything about ut, not about God and His drama of redemption.Â How do you know where a church is alive and present in this world? How is Christâ€™s kingdom made visible through the Church? Itâ€™s where thereâ€™s faithful preaching, faithful administration of the sacraments, and faithful care of the spiritual lives of the members.
My friend Uri Brito, pastor of Providence Church in Pensacola, FL, co-hosts a podcast with Jarrod Richie called Trinity Talk. They recently interviewed Tim Challies about the popular book The Shack. You can listen to the interview here.
The Crossway Blog posted a discussion between Gary Chapman and Voddie Baucham on his recent book What He Must Beâ€¦if He Wants to Marry my Daughter. Gary Chapman says, â€œIâ€™m not sure that American Christians are going to buy what he (Voddie) is saying, but I think we need to hear it.â€ You can listen to the 4-part interview here. You will find the links under the â€œSeptember 19, 2009 Broadcast: To Marry My Daughter.â€ You can also read some sample pages of Voddie’s book here.
Christianity Today posted an interview with Tullian Tchividjian concerning the recent conflict at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the attempt by some members to remove him from the pulpit. The interview is helpful for making some sense of the conflict, and I especially appreciated several things that Tullian said.
First, he points out that the difference between the church and the world is not the absence of conflict. Both Christians and non-Christians are fallen and sinful. We will live with conflict this side of heaven. Tullian says, “The difference is how we respond to conflict and how we recover from conflict.” This is precisely right. I am constantly surprised at Christians who in the midst of a conflict will not talk about the issues. They write letters or speak to other people instead of the person or persons involved in the conflict. In every conflict, we have an opportunity to show forth the gospel even when we disagree, but Christians fail to do this when we do not talk to each other.
Secondly, Tullian’s grandfather, Billy Graham, observed that we must not only weather these storms, but also see what God is teaching us. Then Tullian explains what his grandfather meant:
In other words, don’t become proud and self-righteous. Be teachable. And God will make you useful.
Don’t become bitter, in other words. Allow even your most vocal critics, who may criticize you unjustifiably, to become tools in God’s hands to teach you something. Emerge from this more of a gospel man, more of a God-centered man.
David Strain is the senior pastor of Main Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Mississippi. He recently interviewed Darryl Hart on his blog, Letters from Mississippi. The interview covers various aspects of evangelicalism, but primarily focuses on issues related to a “two kingdom” view of the church and culture. The interview is in four parts:
Daniel B. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is well known for his work on the Greek New Testament, which includes his popular Greek Grammar and a book on Greek Syntax. Dr. Wallace also founded the The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, which seeks to preserve Scripture through digital means. He has recently published several works in the area of Gospel research, early Christianity, and the doctrine of Christ. Dr. Wallace worked with J. Ed Komoszewski and M. James Sawyer to publish Reinventing Jesus, and he co-wrote (with Darrell L. Bock)Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Both books are relevant to this interview. Dr. Wallace was kind enough to answer some questions about the Gospel of Judas for us.
JHG: The New Yorker recently had an interesting article written by Joan Acocella titled, â€œBetrayal: Should We Hate Judas Iscariot?â€ The article examines the history of different perspectives on Judas, especially since the discovery of the Gospel of Judas. What is the Gospel of Judas?
DBW: The Gospel of Judas is a document that was discovered in Egypt in c. 1978, but whose contents were not made public until 2006. The manuscript is written in Copticâ€”an ancient Egyptian language written mostly with Greek letters, dating to the third or fourth century. Many scholars are convinced that the original form of this gospel would have been from the second century and written in Greek. Lots of hype surrounded the unveiling of this new gospel, and, predictably, various groups jumped on the bandwagon. All historians of ancient Christianity should be pleased with the discovery of another â€˜gospel,â€™ and Judas is no exception. But some have made rather unwarranted claims about it. For example, Elaine Pagels, one of the scholars who worked on the translation, claimed in The New York Times in 2006, â€œthe Gospel of Judas has joined the other spectacular discoveries that are exploding the myth of a monolithic Christianity and showing how diverse and fascinating the early Christian movement really was.â€ Iâ€™ll evaluate her comment below.
Why wasnâ€™t it included in the canon?
There are several reasons why this was never considered for the canon. First, the Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic document. Gnostics held that spirit was good and that matter was bad. The God of the Old Testament, because he created the world, was not the ultimate deity (in Gnosticism, there are numerous deities). Indeed, one of the characteristic features of Gnosticism is its rejection of Old Testament theology. Salvation comes through knowledgeâ€”secret knowledge, no lessâ€”rather than faith. Thus, for Gnostics there is a devaluing of history and verifiability. These three featuresâ€”matter as evil, rejection of the Old Testament, and salvation through secret knowledgeâ€”also mean that the Incarnation of Christ as the Messiah, the hope of Israel, the Son of God, cannot be tolerated. In short, the Gospel of Judas never had a chance because it was so diametrically opposed to orthodox Christianity.
Second, it did not pass the test of antiquity. All of the books of the New Testament are first-century documents. In order for a book to be considered on the short list for canonicity, it had to be from the first century. The Muratorian Canon (late second century) is the first orthodox canon list. It discusses the Epistle of Barnabas, an orthodox writing that was written in the second century. And although the Muratorian Canon commends it, it pointedly notes that it was written â€˜in our timeâ€™ and thus could not be considered authoritative.
Third, it did not pass the test of apostolicity. That is, it was not written by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. No scholar thinks that Judas wrote this gospel.
Finally, it did not pass the test of catholicity. That is, it was not accepted by the Church. These four testsâ€”orthodoxy, antiquity, apostolicity, and catholicityâ€”are what governed the ancient churchâ€™s decisions as they examined books that vied for inclusion in the canon. The Church did not always get things rightâ€”some of the NT books were on the fringe for a while because of doubts about authorship, for example. But in due time, those on the fence were sorted out. Someâ€”such as 3 Corinthians and the Apocalypse of Peterâ€”ended up on the cutting block because they were seen to be spurious. Othersâ€”such as 2 Peter and Revelationâ€”were finally accepted. This fourfold test should also govern us today as we think about any of these new discoveries. The irony is that radical scholars want to include more books into the canonâ€”like the Gospel of Thomasâ€”even though they agree that such could not pass the tests of the ancient church.
In terms of the articleâ€™s survey of different perspectives on Judas and this â€œalternativeâ€ view of Christianity, is it fairly accurate? Is it a helpful survey?
Well, some of the article is written in a very provocative way, no doubt intended to engage the reader. But the author doesnâ€™t always correct the impression that such language can create in the mind of the reader. For example, she says,
If Jesus informs you that you will betray him, and tells you to hurry up and do it, are you really responsible for your act? Furthermore, if your act sets in motion the processâ€”Christâ€™s Passionâ€”whereby humankind is saved, shouldnâ€™t somebody thank you? No, the Church says. If you betray your friend, you are a sinner, no matter how foreordained or collaterally beneficial your sin. And, if the friend should happen to be the Son of God, so much the worse for you.
This first sounds like the ends justify the means; and the Churchâ€™s response looks cold in light of it. It also looks like fatalism, in which human beings are not responsible for their actionsâ€”only to be condemned by the Church. In other words, she could have given more nuance to her words.
Elsewhere Acocella says, â€œOf the many gospels circulating, they chose four, called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which, by reason of their realism and emotional directnessâ€”their lilies of the field and prodigal sonsâ€”were most likely to appeal to regular people.â€ As we have discussed above, this is not a very good representation of why these four Gospels, and only these four Gospels, were accepted into the canon.
Acocella also takes some cheap shots at evangelicals, but overall her treatment is pretty balanced. She interacts with some loony views and rightly dismisses them as such. And she comes down on the side of recognizing that Judas was the betrayer of Jesus (though sheâ€™s not sure that he ever really existed!), that he was not a good guy, and that we canâ€™t pin the Holocaust on the New Testamentâ€™s portrait of this Jewish man, since Jesus, too, was a Jew.
Does the Gospel of Judas change our perspective on either Jesus or Judas or the shape of early Christianity?
Probably the most remarkable statement in this gospel is Jesusâ€™ whisper to Judas: â€œYou will exceed all of them [the other apostles presumably, although a dozen lines are missing in the text just before this statement]. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.â€
When I first read the Gospel of Judas, I thought that this was a brilliant statement. It takes Gnosticism to its logical conclusions, but one which other Gnostic documents had not dared to do. Recall that in Gnosticism, the body is evil. Hence, for Judas to betray the human garment that hides the real Jesusâ€”who is only spirit, not matterâ€”is fully consistent with Gnostic teaching. Rather than tell us anything about earliest Christianity, it tells us only the depths to which some Gnostic groups would go with their aberrant theology.
Now, when Elaine Pagels says that this book does change our understanding of early Christianity by adding yet another nail to the coffin of the notion of a monolithic faith, she overstates her case. On the one hand, she is really describing second-century and third-century Christianity, but not first-century Christianity. Note that radical scholars rarely speak of earliest Christianity as so multifaceted. Thatâ€™s because they canâ€™t. The evidence that any of the Gnostic writings were from the first century is virtually nil. On the other hand, she is right that Christianity has always struggled for its own identity. There were several factions in the early church, as the NT makes plain. But what is not usually mentioned by radical scholarship is that the struggles over how to define the faith were played out within a much tighter circle than one that included Gnosticism or other ancient heresies. A line was drawn in the sand. All of the apostles embraced the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as the bedrock of the faith. In this respect, first-century, apostolic Christianity could be considered monolithic.
In the article, Acocella observes that other authors have â€œrehabilitatedâ€ Judas since the discovery of this document. That rehabilitation is very positive, but the author asks, â€œWhy shouldnâ€™t we entertain the idea of an archetypal betrayer?â€ What do you think the Biblical picture of Judas tells us about human behavior and ourselves?
Oh, thatâ€™s a loaded question! For Acocella, I think Judas is simply a prototype of the kind of evil that we human beings are capable of. The Holocaust certainly showed that. But he is more than that. He was a flesh-and-blood human being who made choices. As I said, Acocella is not even sure that Judas really existed. How then could he be an archetype of the most heinous evil possible? Could we say the same thing about the Nazis if they were only a ruse? Could â€˜Auschwitzâ€™ evoke the same revulsion in us if the Holocaust was a fiction?
The picture we see of Judas tells us that we really are capable of the deepest acts of depravity. As soon as we doubt his existence, that bite loses its sting. As one of my seminary profs used to say, â€œOnce you think youâ€™re not capable of a certain sin, thatâ€™s when youâ€™re in real danger.â€
What do you think it means that a publication like Î¤he New Yorker can run an article like this in our day and time?
Christianity is under severe attack right now, with an intellectual fervor that has not been seen for a long time. Iâ€™m not saying that Acocella is on the front lines, taking aim at believers, but rather that any form of Christianity that deviates from orthodoxyâ€”especially if it has ancient rootsâ€”captures the attention of the media. In short, Jesus sells. Sadly, itâ€™s not the historical Jesus who sells most of the time (just witness the slew of books by radical scholars that are making it on the New York Times Bestsellers List). The Jesus who sells is not the one who says, â€œWho do you say that I am?â€ but â€œWho do you want me to be?â€
One final question: how is the ministry at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts? Can you give us an update on your work?
The past fourteen months have been incredible. We sent teams to ten different countries to take high-resolution digital photographs of ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. We took more than 60,000 pictures, traveled for 43 weeks, and discovered about 40 manuscripts. Most of these have been posted on our site, www.csntm.org. The Wall Street Journal interviewed me, when I was in Athens, for a piece that appeared in May [read it here]. We are grateful for the visibility, but more importantly, we are eager to finish the work of digitizing the NT manuscripts. There are 2.6 million pages of text to shootâ€”over 5700 manuscriptsâ€”and we shoot them one page at a time.
If any of your readers would like to get monthly updates on our work, a sympathetic group known as â€œThe Friends of CSNTMâ€ has started a newsletter. These folks send out this e-Newsletter once a month, updating folks on our work. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org