“Christ’s Portrait of the Christian”

My father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, explains the objective of his recent book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes. He says: Book Cover

My book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian examines and expounds the remarkable introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, commonly referred to as The Beatitudes. They are designated as such because they are pronouncements of blessedness. Jesus thus begins His Sermon on the Mount by describing and defining who the citizens of His kingdom are. The ignorance of His audience moved Him to do so. The people of His day had an entirely wrong perception of who the Messiah would be. They were looking for an earthly king, a Messiah who would deliver them from the bondage of the Romans. Yet Jesus had not come to deliver them from the Romans but to deliver His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He wanted to teach them immediately that His kingdom is entirely different from any earthly kingdom—it is spiritual and its citizens have spiritual rather than political qualifications.

Jesus therefore proceeds by describing blessedness of the citizens of His kingdom in a way that was so contrary to any common understanding of what constituted blessedness or happiness. Jesus here tells us in dramatically different terms what real blessedness looks like. More than that, He says we cannot consider ourselves blessed or happy unless we match His description of the genuine citizens of His kingdom. In these opening verses, Christ is therefore defining for us the distinguishing traits of a true believer.

In these seven opening beatitudes, Jesus fives us a composite portrait of the Christian, beginning with “Blessed are the poor” and ending with “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This comprehensive portrait (Matt. 5:3–9) is followed by a description of how an ungodly world will respond to the citizens of God’s spiritual kingdom. The ungodly will persecute genuine believers who reflect the character of Christ, and it will revile them and speak all manner of evil about them (Matt. 5:10–12).

It should be noted that the traits of the Christian are set forth by Christ in remarkable arrangement. The recognition of that arrangement is essential for a proper understanding of each of these traits. To use a common analogy, we need to consider what the forest looks like before examining the individual trees. A remarkable structure emerges upon examining the interrelatedness of these beatitudes. Regarding this structure, I wish to posit the premise that the fourth beatitude—the central beatitude of this seven beatitude structure—represents the heart of Christian experience. In chapter four of my book, I endeavor to supply the exegetical support for my premise that the focal point of Christian experience is expressed as hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and being filled with that righteousness.

In the introductory chapter of my book, I therefore first consider this core activity of Christian experience. This is followed by considering the internal disposition of the Christian, found in verses three through five, that results in this hungering and thirsting. I then conclude my exposition by examining the external disposition of the Christian, for he who is filled with the righteousness of which verse six speaks will manifest this by the fruits of his life. We will see, as Scripture says, that such will be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.

Matthew 5:3–9 is the preeminent passage in all of Scripture to teach us what a Christian looks like. It is a flawless verbal portrait drawn by the Living Word Himself. It is not accidental that this portrait consists of seven components, for the biblical number seven is the number of perfection. We may therefore conclude that verses three through nine set before us a perfect portrayal of every believer that ever has lived or will live until Christ returns.

Having said that, however, we need to understand that we cannot simply pick and choose the individual components of this spiritual portrait, saying, “Well, that pertains to me, and perhaps that also pertains to me.” Rather, we need to understand that these seven marks are true at all times and at all seasons in the life of every believer—although not necessarily to the same extent. In some believers we see the features of this portrait more clearly than in others—just as there may be both clear and blurry photographs of a given individual. Yet, when you look at a blurry photograph, you will still be able to determine who is being depicted. This spiritual portrait thus consists of seven components that constitute an organic whole.

We also need to realize that the order in which Christ gives us the components of this portrait is not arbitrary. In other words, we cannot take these seven marks, juggle them, and then present them in just any fashion. Rather, Christ articulates these traits in a very deliberate, precise, and cumulative order: one beatitude presumes the previous one and anticipates the next.

Thus, they who are poor in spirit will mourn, they who mourn will be meek, they who exhibit all three will hunger and thirst after righteousness. Upon being filled with the righteousness they yearn for, they will be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.

The seventh beatitude therefore most appropriately concludes in verse nine: “They shall be called the children of God.” Today we would say that this is the “bottom line.” Jesus is saying, “Those of whom this is true, and thus exhibit all of these marks, they, and they alone, shall be called the children of God.” The Greek word rendered as “children” in verse nine is a word that means “They shall reflect the character of God.” It is as though He is saying, “They will prove themselves to be the sons and daughters of the living God.”

I am hopeful that my book will be helpful in arriving at a biblical understanding and assessment of the Christian’s character and experience.

The book is available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Christ's Portrait of the Christian (picture)

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Book

Respect the Time Your Pastor Needs for Prayer and Sermon Preparation

One of the Calvinist Baptist ministers that came out of eighteenth-century evangelicalism was Samuel Pearce (1766–1799), who, in the words of Susan Huntington (1791–1823), was “pre-eminently a holy man.” He was the pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where he served faithfully from 1790 until his death in 1799. With God’s blessing, the Birmingham congregation grew spiritually and numerically (more than 300 souls were converted) under Pearce’s preaching. Sunday school, benevolent society to assist the poor, and sick society to care for the afflicted were established during his ministry. Samuel Pearce

When William Belsher was ordained pastor in the Baptist congregation in Worcester, Worcestershire, it was Pearce who gave the ordination sermon. In this sermon, based on Ephesians 4:11, Pearce urged lovingly the church members to respect and protect their pastor’s time for prayer and study of God’s Word—the pastor’s two primary ministries listed in Acts 6:4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Pearce said in that sermon,

“I want to convince you that, for your own sakes, you should promote a studious habit in your minister; allow him every inch of time he wants; neither call upon him, nor expect him to call upon you for no better purpose than to gossip; especially let his mornings and his Saturdays be sacred—it is little short of cruelty to interrupt him then. As you love him, so, no doubt, you will feel a pleasure in his company; but let him choose his own times for seeing you; and do not accuse him of criminal negligence, if his visits are less frequent than you expect. Perhaps at the very moment of your disappointment, he was studying something against the Lord’s Day for your case—perhaps at the moment you are censuring him for his neglect, he is wrestling with God for you in his closet.”[1]

Commenting on Pearce’s message, church historian Michael Haykin (to whom I am indebted for my own study of Pearce) writes, “Here Pearce surely speaks from personal experience of the tension that pastors in the Protestant tradition have repeatedly faced: the need to devote substantial time to sermon-preparation and prayer while also caring for the souls of those in their churches.”[2]

Pastors of large congregations especially struggle with this tension. What is striking, though, in Pearce’s admonition is the fact that the church members are to respect their pastor’s prayer and sermon preparation time for their own sake. Now, if you are a church member, you might say, “How can this be for my own sake?” Well, imagine having a pastor who does not have sufficient time to intercede regularly for you. Imagine a pastor who does not have enough time to study for his sermons. You obviously want to hear good sermons from your pastor; but good sermons do not write themselves. Your pastor must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out his messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before he stands behind the pulpit. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom Rainer concludes that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[3]

Let’s just say that your pastor needs 15 hours to prepare for one sermon. If he preaches twice, then 30 hours of his time is spent just for preparation. He still has other duties such as meetings to attend, visits to make, members to counsel, emails to reply to, phone calls to make, Sunday School or Catechism lessons to prepare, a family to take care of, and other unexpected responsibilities such as a funeral. If you don’t respect your pastor’s time for sermon preparation, the entire congregation will suffer eventually by having a half-cooked sermon, which can result in spiritual malnourishment among the members.

If you are an elder in your church, you have the responsibility to make sure that your pastor is getting enough time for prayer and study of God’s Word. Remember, your pastor is to devote himself “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Unfortunately, some elders have unrealistic expectations from their pastor. As a result, their pastor burns out and becomes ineffective in the ministry, which in turn affects the life of the church.

Elders should regularly ask their pastor, “Are you getting enough rest? Are you still able to exercise? Are you still able to fulfill your holy duty as a husband and father? How is your prayer life? Are you still able to pray for us on a regular basis, not just on Sunday or during prayer meeting? Are you getting enough time for sermon preparation?” A pastor should honestly answer these questions, so that his elders can properly help him for the sake of their congregation.

 

 

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[1] The Duty of Ministers to be Nursing Fathers to the Church; and the Duty of Churches To Regard Ministers as the Gift of Christ (London, 1796), 51–52. Italics in the original.

[2] The Piety of Samuel and Sarah Pearce (Joshua Press, 2012), 12.

[3] “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,” https://thomrainer.com/2013/06/how-much-time-do-pastors-spend-preparing-a-sermon/.

Evangelical Spirituality Ministry Prayer Preaching Samuel Pearce

Total Depravity: A Hymn

My friend Bob Azkoul and I met today to sing for the first time the hymn that I wrote entitled “Total Depravity.” Bob composed the tune. I thought his tune fits well with the message of the song. We are still in the process of refining the hymn and its tune. So we welcome your suggestions for improvement.

Here are the words of the hymn:

“Total Depravity”

Words by Brian G. Najapfour
Music by Robert G. Azkoul

Meter: 8.8.8.8.8.8

Stanza 1

By nature I was dead in sin,
A body with no life within.
Too dead to see the gospel light,
For Satan had destroyed my sight.
I had two ears but could not hear
The gospel sound that was so clear.

Stanza 2

Depraved was I from birth, indeed,
For, oh, in sin was I conceived!
To Christ, my heart was not inclined,
For Satan had captured my mind.
With no desire to be fed,
By Jesus Christ, the Living Bread.

Stanza 3

Yet by God’s mercy and His love,
Came new life from His throne above.
He gave my blind eyes sight to see
The gospel light that set me free.
Reborn in Christ, who died for me,
My heart sings praise to His glory!

Stanza 4

And now the God who reigns above,
Made me alive by His great love.
He gave me faith to eat the Bread—
Amazing grace! Forever fed!
Alive in Christ, who pardoned me,
Hallelujah, come sing with me!

 

Here’s the musical piece (first draft), manually prepared by Bob Azkoul.

 

EPSON MFP image

Hymns

13 Ways a Husband Can Cultivate His Marriage

Marriage is a like a garden. If you are a gardener and want to have a beautiful garden, you should work hard on your garden. Likewise, if you are a husband and do not invest time and energy in your marriage, you can’t expect to have a wonderful marriage. And as a garden needs constant care, so does marriage.  Like a gardener, you as a husband should “water, fertilize, and weed” your marriage regularly in order to have a healthy marriage. Of course, there are many ways by which you can cultivate your marriage. Here are some:  13 Ways a Husband Can Cultivate His Marriage

1. Pray for your wife regularly. Pray also with her. Despite your busy schedule, set aside time for you and your wife to pray together.

2. Be the spiritual leader in your home. Find ways to point your wife and family to Christ. Ensure that your wife has time for personal devotions. Your goal is to have a gospel-centered home.

3. Provide for your family. Depending on your circumstance, as God enables you, give your best to meet the physical and material needs of your family.

4. Spend quality time with your wife. You may see each other every day but feel like you miss each other because you don’t really spend time together. Show genuine interest in listening to her.

5. Support your wife’s passion. Your wife may have different interests than you do, but learn to appreciate what is important to her.

6. Continue to court your wife. Take her out (without your children, if you have children). Plan a date that will make your wife feel so special.

7. Give your wife time to hang out with her girlfriends. Your wife also needs to spend time with her close friends.

8. Write a love letter to her (not just on Valentine’s Day). Send a short but loving and encouraging text or email to her during the day while you are at work.

9. Tell her “I love you” everyday. Yes, it’s wonderful to show her your love, but your wife wants to hear those “I love you” words, too.

10. Buy her something she enjoys, like flowers, chocolate, or whatever might bring a smile to her face. You don’t have to spend much. She will already appreciate your thoughts of love.

11. Affirm your wife with words. Appreciate her beauty, her gifts, and the many ways she cares for you and your family. Tell her the she is the most wonderful woman on earth. Don’t forget to always thank her when she prepares a meal for your family.

12. Offer your help with the household chores. Help with the dishes. Sweep the floor. If you have small children, assisting with the bedtime routine can help your wife as her patience with the children may be severely tried by this point.

13 Treat your wife as God treats you. God does not deal with us according to the multitude of our sins but according to His rich mercy. Your wife is not perfect; she has flaws and weaknesses, but so do you. Therefore, as God is gracious to you, so be gracious to her. When you are wrong, be humble enough to admit your mistake. When you sin, ask for forgiveness. When your wife sins, forgive her as God has forgiven you. Grow with her in God’s mercy and love.

Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. And every spouse and every marriage is unique. That’s why it’s important that you become a student of your wife; study to know her better and learn to understand her more.

In summary, we husbands are to love our own wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). You may say, “I can’t do that!” Well, I’m glad you admit it. You’re right. We can’t love our own wives as Christ loved His Church, for He loved her with perfect love. However, our inability to love as such should not discourage us to love our own wives with the love with which Jesus loved His Bride. Rather, it should cause us to humbly cry out to God for His help and grace to do what He has commanded us to do. Therefore, marriage is a sanctifying means by which a husband and wife can grow in God’s grace—the grace that enables them to love each other till death parts them.

Note: This post is sponsored by Amazing Grace, the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” now available through Amazon.  Amazing Grace (front cover)

Father Wedding

Christ’s Portrait of the Christian

My father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, has become widely known because of his translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. He has translated numerous books from Dutch into English—including Theodore VanderGroe’s The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life and Death—and has written a book The Pastoral and Practical Theology of  Wilhelmus à Brakel (1997; his first book). I am thrilled to announce the launch of his second book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes (2019), which I had the privilege to edit. The book is now available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Here are some recommendations for his book: Book Cover

“If you want a basic, edifying book that provides a scriptural paradigm of genuine experiential Christianity flowing from the teachings of our Lord, I would recommend this little gem. Read it slowly, meditatively, and prayerfully.”

Dr. Joel R. Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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“The insights of this work about the internal structure and interrelatedness of the Beatitudes will be a unique contribution to other commentaries on the Beatitudes. . . . I am thankful that by way of this book, these instructions will have wider publicity.”

Rev. Arnoud T. Vergunst, pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Waupun, Wisconsin

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“Rev. Elshout has the gift to bring Christ’s message close to our hearts. As always, his exegesis is thorough, and it includes the necessary call to self-examination. . . . I wholeheartedly recommend this book.”

Rev. Cornelis Harinck, pastor of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands since 1962

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“I cannot think of a better remedy for the disorientation and disquiet I feel in my heart than to breathe in the orienting and quieting truths of the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus. Here, experienced pastor and teacher Bartel Elshout provides faithful, discerning, and helpful guidance that brings me back to where I need to be every day.”

Dr. Gerald M. Bilkes, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids

Note: To purchase the book, click here. Book cover

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Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Cultural Liturgies, vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009. Desiring the Kingdom- Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, where he holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. Desiring the Kingdom is the first of his three-volume theology of culture. In this book, Smith shares his “vision of what authentic, integral Christian learning looks like, emphasizing how learning is connected to worship” (11). His goal is to challenge Christian educators to realize that education is a formative process that should enflame our love for God’s kingdom and our longing to see this kingdom come. Likewise, he wants Christian worshippers to realize, too, that worship is a pedagogical exercise that should cultivate our love for God and others.

Smith argues that the chief end of education is not primarily to inform the mind but to form the heart. Thus, contrary to general opinion, for him, education is a formative rather than just an informative undertaking. Without devaluing the importance of saturating our minds, he emphasizes the transformation of our hearts as the result of our learning. In his own words, “the primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people—people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocations as an expression of that desire.” He then views a Christian school, college, or university as “a formative institution that constitutes part of the teaching mission of the church” (34). He looks at a Christian college, for instance, as an extension of the life and practices of the church. And he prefers the adjective “ecclesial” to describe this institution (e.g., he prefers the term “ecclesial college” over “Christian college”). A Christian college, he says, is usually taken as a place of learning, detached from the church; whereas, an ecclesial college is a place of learning, closely connected to the worship of the church. As such, an ecclesial college becomes a place of worship, too. And interestingly, Smith understands worship as an education that should help us become more lovers of God’s kingdom. To let him speak, the liturgy (which Smith understands as synonymous with worship) is “a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God” (33).

The author admits that his vision is not new at all. What may be considered new about it is the way he presents it. He writes contemporarily “from within the Reformed tradition, with a view of reaching an audience that is both catholic and evangelical,” focusing particularly on “the shape and task of Christian higher education” (15). While I don’t agree with everything written in his book, such as his repeated reference to human beings as animals, Smith’s vision is commendable. The truth is, we live in the world where education, yes, even Christian education, is mainly perceived as the mere impartation of ideas to the mind, rather than as the formation of the heart. For those of us who are teachers, Smith’s book will challenge us to rethink the way we educate our students. We should capture his vision and follow his advice to look at our vocation as educators and the education that we give to our students through the lens of our worship of God. The Christian institution where we work should be an extension of the worship of the church. “Thus,” Smith concludes, “any Christian scholarship worth the name must emerge from the matrix of worship. In short, Christian scholarship must be ecclesial scholarship” (230).

Book Review

Seminary Professors as Christian Intellectuals

At first glance the term Christian scholar may sound like an oxymoron. Can these two words really be placed together? Some may say no and argue that academic study belongs to non-Christian minds only. Several years ago, while studying for my bachelor of arts in history at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, one of my history professors—who was an unbeliever—told me that an argument based on Scripture is not academic. In other words, he wanted me to engage in dialogue with him not as a Christian but as a secular thinker. My professor was implying that an intellectual cannot be Christian, for to argue from a Christian worldview is not scholarly or valid.

Others may reply no to my question but provide a different explanation for their opinion. They may say that Christians should not be scholars because scholarship and spirituality are incompatible. Some people associate intelligence with arrogance; thus, the more intelligent or educated you are, the more you will be perceived as proud. I have met people who espouse this kind of mentality. They hastily view those who appear to be very smart as certainly proud, implying that to be intellectual entails being arrogant. Of course, this claim is not necessarily true. Just because a person is intellectual does not mean one is haughty, just as not being intellectual does not mean one is humble. In fact, I know many Christian intellectuals whose lives are marked by humility. Nevertheless, a sad reality remains that some prematurely think of intellectuals as boastful and thus implicitly conclude that Christians should not aspire to be scholars.

In this brief essay, I will maintain that the words Christian and intellectual are compatible with each other. In the first place, all Christians without exception are divinely commanded to use their intellect as they love God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).[1] In this verse the Greek word dianoia, translated as “mind,” refers to the faculty of thinking and understanding. The point is this: loving God requires the exercise of our intellect; it involves mental effort. Yet our ability to think and to know God is a divine gift: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true” (1 John 5:20). Hence, if we are able to know God, who is the embodiment of truth, it is because he has graciously given us understanding or dianoia, translated “mind” in Matthew 22:37.

In light of the passages just quoted, we can then aver that all true Christians are intellectual. That is, they all have the gift of dianoia; they possess the God-given intellect for the purpose of understanding and knowing God’s truth. Yet not every Christian has been divinely called to an academic vocation. In this sense, not all Christians are intellectuals, if by that term we mean people whose work is academic in nature—fields such as teachers, researchers, or writers. For instance, not everyone is a teacher within the body of Christ. This one body has many members, but as Paul says, “the members do not all have the same function” (Rom. 12:4). Therefore, he adds, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6–8).

The Genevan Reformer John Calvin, who believed in four offices of the church (doctors, elders, pastors, and deacons), referred to teachers as doctors. And for him, the “task of the doctors of the church is to instruct believers in true doctrine and to expel errors.”[2] Drawing from his interpretation of Ephesians 4:11, he differentiated between pastors and teachers:

Paul speaks indiscriminately of pastors and teachers as belonging to one and the same class, and that the name teacher does, to some extent, apply to all pastors. But this does not appear to me a sufficient reason why two offices, which I find to differ from each other, should be confounded. Teaching is, no doubt, the duty of all pastors; but to maintain sound doctrine requires a talent for interpreting Scripture, and a man may be a teacher who is not qualified to preach. Pastors, in my opinion, are those who have the charge of a particular flock; though I have no objection to their receiving the name of teachers, if it be understood that there is a distinct class of teachers, who preside both in the education of pastors and in the instruction of the whole church.[3]

What Calvin called doctors we would today call seminary professors or theological instructors. These people can rightly be described as Christian scholars. Of course, other groups of people can be considered as Christian intellectuals (or perhaps more accurately as intellectuals who are Christians), such as Christian scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and lawyers. But for brevity’s sake, in this article I will focus only on seminary teachers as Christian scholars and provide four assertions about their academic vocation.

Portrait of John Calvin

Portrait of John Calvin (1509–1564). Photo by Ruben de Heer.

First, to be a seminary professor is a divine calling. In his wisdom, God has been pleased to call some members of the body of Christ to become teachers (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28). Since this calling comes from God himself, it is sacred and should thus be received with solemnity. Also, considering that this calling comes with great responsibilities, teachers should be willing to endure hard work. Yet seeing that the God who has called them will also sustain them, they should be encouraged to persevere amid difficulty. Moreover, the fact that God has given them the gift of teaching based on his grace should humble them and cause them to thank and praise God for this gift (Rom. 12:6). They should remember that the very intellect they have is a gracious gift from above. If they are able to teach others, it is because of God’s grace bestowed on them. Therefore, they should never think highly of themselves, as though they are more important than their students or other members of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:21–26). What distinguishes Christian intellectuals from other believers is nothing but one product of God’s grace. Consequently, true Christian scholars should be marked by humility rather than haughtiness and by piety rather than pride.

Second, God has called seminary teachers, who themselves are members of the body of Christ, for the purpose of serving this body. Accordingly, they exist for the strengthening of the church (Eph. 4:12). They teach and lead others as servants who “care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). They equip other members of the body, who in turn will also teach others. For this reason, seminaries should be for the service of the church. I therefore strongly believe that seminary professors should be involved in the life of a local church in some way, especially so that they may become more effective in their work. Sadly, in many seminaries today we have theological instructors who train students for the ministry but are themselves ignorant of the nature of that ministry. What they teach their students about the ministry is more theoretical rather than practical, because they do not actively participate in the life of a local church. To avoid this problem, other seminaries now require professorial candidates to have a minimum of five years of ministerial experience before they can be hired. There is wisdom in this decision. Now, I understand that not all seminary professors have the calling to become pastors and that, conversely, not all ministers have the calling to become seminary teachers. Yet I maintain that professors of theology should view their work as an extension of the ministry of the church and for her common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Whatever they teach—whether a course on history, philosophy, or theology—should be for the growth of this church, “both in bringing in new members to it, and strengthening those that are brought in already.”[4]

Third, seminary teachers are Christ’s gifts to his church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12). Here the word gave carries the idea of bestowing as a gift. So the Lord bestows all these offices as gifts on his people. In response, the church should thank God for these blessings and take good care of them. I sometimes wonder whether we truly view our professors as blessings from God. When was the last time we thanked God for them? When was the last time we appreciated them? Remember, they are precious and undeserved gifts given for our well-being.

Finally, seminary teachers serve under Jesus, the head of the church. Ultimately, their boss is not the seminary president but Christ. They obey the board of trustees insofar as these trustees follow the Lord. They are therefore first and foremost servants of Christ, who has called them to be faithful scholars. In all they do, their grand goal as intellectuals is to glorify their master and advance his kingdom. As James W. Sire says, “Christian intellectuals are those whose intellectual lives are lived to the glory of God.”[5] I pray that our seminary professors will indeed be known as Christ-exalting people who seek to help their students become more like Jesus. If our theological teachers (or seminaries in general) do not lead us closer to Christ, something is seriously wrong, for in the final analysis they exist for the good of the church and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 109.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 21:279–80.

[4] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1985), 3:672.

[5] James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 105.

John Calvin Seminary Spirituality