Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Rich and Fulfilling Legacy: The Editors of the Southwestern Journal of Theology

Since January 2007, I have had the extraordinary privilege of serving as the Managing Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology. The privilege comes not only from the trust placed in this particular editor by the current administration and by the current accomplished and recognized faculty, but also because of the memories of a stellar faculty that contributed editors to our academic journal during prior years. There have been two series of the journal. The original series started in 1917 under the editorship of C.B. Williams and the new series began in 1958 under the editorship of James Leo Garrett, Jr.

To review the list of previous editors is to be reminded of the high standards toward which Southwestern Seminary's faculty have always aspired. (It was personally interesting to discover two things from this list. First, although I only turned 48 two days ago, I was shocked to realize not only that I recognized all of the names on this list, but that I actually have personally known most of these giants. Second, I was surprised to learn that, with this semester's issue, only two of the 16 editors--Al Fasol and William M. Tillman--edited more volumes than the current editor.)

There are three major reasons that remembering these previous editors strikes this theologian as bequeathing us a particularly fulfilling legacy. First, I have read many important theological, historical, pastoral and preaching monographs written by these men. These monographs include but are not limited to: W.T. Conner's foundational systematic theology texts, which helped propel the exponential growth of Southern Baptists in the twentieth century; H.E. Dana's ecclesiology, which was the last major book on the doctrine of the church written by a Southern Baptist for over five decades; James Leo Garrett's systematic theology, Baptist theology and ecumenical theology texts, which have set the standards in all these areas and which have yet to be surpassed; William R. Estep's work on the Anabaptists, which is still in print and still invaluable as an introductory text. The list could go on, for the theological contributions of these editors, as well as the writings of many quality Southwestern faculty who were not editors, are so numerous and so profound as almost to defy the imagination.

The second reason that this group of editors presents a fulfilling legacy is that, as a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages student in the 1980s, I sat in many of these men's classrooms. I can still remember how their biblical, theological and missiological knowledge--a knowledge gained both through extensive practice and sustained reflection--shaped my own formation. Even more than that, I remember how each of these professors modeled for all of their students a profound spiritual maturity. These faculty members were never well paid and were sometimes maliciously and ignorantly maligned by uninformed controversialists, but they were more interested in godliness than either wealth or fame, and as the years pass their selfless Christlike stature will properly grow. It should therefore be no surprise that these professors also evinced a deep and increasingly rare social maturity. We students learned, as we watched them, what it meant to be Christian gentlemen (and gentlewomen) and servants of the churches. Many of us who are active in the Southern Baptist Convention in the current generation (including the present writer) may not have lived up to their high standards, but one day perhaps, with God's grace, we shall.

The third reason that this legacy is fulfilling is that, ten years ago, I had the incredible privilege to join their number. I can still remember the day in 2000 when I was elected to the faculty under the leadership of President Ken Hemphill, Dean Tommy Lea, and acting Dean William Tolar. On that day in the summer of 2000, I knew that it was a distinct privilege to be classified no longer only as a Southwestern student (itself a high honor), but also as a colleague to these giants of the faith. Over the years since then, some of these men have approached me to tell me how much they have appreciated my contributions. One even did me the favor of publicly taking me to task when I gave a paper that he thought was not yet complete--he was correct, and I supplemented that paper before it was published! As I grow older, and as I survey the many highly gifted faculty members now serving through my alma mater, I pray that we will discern how rich is the legacy of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I also pray that we will strive to stand upon their shoulders and advance our seminary's rich legacy even more.

Below is a list of our journal editors, along with the volume and issue numbers over which their tenure began. If you are a graduate of Southwestern or are knowledgeable of Southern Baptist theological achievements, perhaps remembering their accomplishments as well as their personal demeanor will bless you as much as it has blessed me. Theirs is a fulfilling legacy worth remembering, celebrating and emulating.

Old Series
C.B. Williams (1.1)
W.T. Conner (3.4)
H.E. Dana (8.2)

New Series
James Leo Garrett, Jr. (1.1)
J. Gordon Clinard (2.1)
William R. Estep, Jr. (6.1)
William L. Hendricks (10.1)
Leon McBeth (14.1)
F.B. Huey, Jr. (17.2)
Bert B. Dominy (20.2)
James A. Brooks (23.2)
Dan Gentry Kent (27.1)
Al Fasol (29.2)
Dan Gentry Kent (30.2)
William M. Tillman (33.1)
Al Fasol (40.3)
Douglas Blount (46.1)
Malcolm B. Yarnell III (48.2)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creativity & Discipline

Discipline is necessary to accomplish almost anything worthwhile in this life. Christ Jesus, we are told, 'learned obedience', most likely a reference to his humanity, as an ascription to the divine nature would call into question his constancy and omniscience. So, the human Jesus learned obedience. He grew in his knowledge of the divine will, bringing the human will into conformity. Here is an argument for a free will, a will exercising true freedom in obedience to God. How did he do it? 1) As the revelation of God, he knew the divine will. For us, this requires constant exposure to divine revelation, finding our life in the living word that gives life, exulting in the presence of God in our ears, on our lips, in our hearts, hearing, confessing, believing. 2) He obeyed the divine will, submitting himself to the will of the Father, even when it brought him duress in extremis in the garden. For us, this requires divine grace, since the human heart, having sold itself into wickedness, is locked in its depravity. By faith (itself a grace) we accept this grace into our lives and are thereby saved, being saved by grace, holding onto our salvation until its completion by grace. Christ 'learned obedience' and the restoration of a truly free will among the redeemed is manifested in a similar learning of obedience to God. This obedience is through the Word in the Spirit unto the Father; this obedience is by the Word in the Spirit from the Father. (The mystery of free grace and human response is again before us.) This obedience is otherwise known as discipline, discipleship, taking up the cross and following Him. So far, discipline.

And yet, as beings made in the image of the God who creates, we humans, male & female, also share in creativity. Do we as creatures fashion ex nihilo, out of nothing, as God did in the beginning? No, but we do fashion that which God has made. Surely, God finds joy in his image mimicking his creative acts. Like God's Word, we also use words to name creation--God found delight in Adam naming animals. Like God's Spirit, our spirits become one in the flesh of man & wife and we marvel at the mystery of the gift of a new breath coursing through the body of a newborn child. Beyond these acts of creation, is not work itself, for which God made us, by nature a creative activity? Whether it be the subduing of the earth in rows of corn, or the reporting of responsible capitalism in the columns of an accounting ledger, or the brushing of the swirls of an approaching storm splashed upon a taut canvas, these are acts of creation. Creativity from a human perspective involves taking two or more related yet often seemingly irreconcilably conflicting created things and bringing them together into some new created thing, 'new' in the sense of not previously recognized in our experience. And in that moment of creative action, the artist, the pilot, the scientist has a sense of exhilaration that is fundamentally pleasurable. As when God declared such and such to be good at the end of its creation, we too mimic him. The 'aha' of the creative work of man is a statement of discovery that echoes the 'it was good' declaration of God, an echo diminished qualitatively by the depravity of man, but an echo of goodness nonetheless.

So, what has creativity to do with discipline? Discipline brings the creative acts of male & female closer to the 'it was good' of God. When a human musician disciplines her fingers to pluck the strings of a classical guitar, chords of the divine symphony orchestrating creation throughout all time whispers mystery into our ears. When the architect disciplines his eyes and hands with his mind to connect this line with that circle at that particular angle in a reflection of the perfection of a divine thought, we glimpse behind the maker of the building another Maker whose glory is at the same time overwhelmingly awesome yet only vaguely perceived now. And when Christ disciplined his body and his mind to glorify his father, we see him take with divine authority the most gruesome deformation of wood & metal devised by human depravity for the sake of human torture, the cross of death, and through his human discipline, which he learned, transform that grotesque instrument by his own blood into the most glorious means by which his humanity, our humanity, reaches out and fully embraces and is embraced by the perfection of the God of love who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The discipline of the man who was God recreated humanity again into the image of God. And what cannot a humanity recreated by the cross of Christ itself create to bring us closer to the knowledge of his perfect formation of creation? Greater works than the miracles he performed in his first ministry upon the earth he promised his people would do. The key to the grace of creativity is the grace of discipline, a discipline with its eyes set on the revelation of God in Christ, and its hands wrapped around the pain of brokenness of whatever cross he lays upon his own, and its feet moving whither the Spirit would take them, and its mouth opening to speak nothing but his Word, for his glory, by his power. This is the discipline of Christian creativity. What ugliness, Lord, would you have transformed through the instrumentality of this body, which is learning the beauty of discipline to your will? Speak, Lord, your servant is ready to be disciplined for the sake of your creation.

(I offer this piece only at the encouragement of my bride, who read this entry from my private diary.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

A New Treatment of the New Testament Church


For nearly a century, the Baptist doctrine of the church did not receive sustained consideration. Providentially, over the last decade or so, there have been a number of monographs and collections of essays dedicated to rediscovering and restating the Baptist understanding of the biblical witness about the community established and ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. Into this growing conversation enters again a group of theologians affiliated with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who have contributed essays to Upon This Rock: The Baptist Understanding of the Church. What makes this particular work unique is the sustained treatment given by ten authors to the doctrine of the church as delineated in the official Southern Baptist confession, the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000. Each author takes one aspect of the New Testament church and demonstrates its scriptural basis, its historical development and its contemporary application. It is this common confession that holds the book together as a unitary presentation.

Among the authors are David Allen, who defends the necessity of the autonomy of the local church; Bart Barber, who demonstrates why a denomination of churches is both biblical and useful; Emir F. Caner, who grounds the local church in the covenant of faith; Jason Duesing, who draws upon John A. Broadus to explain why Baptists must present their distinctive beliefs; James Leo Garrett, Jr., who explains why Baptist churches necessarily follow democratic processes under the Lordship of Christ; Byron McWilliams, who paints a compelling picture of the church and its officers from a pastor's perspective; Paige Patterson, who argues that churches should observe the two ordinances not as mere symbols but for the sake of sanctification; Thomas and Joy White, who consider the relation of gender and office; Thomas White, who distinguishes the universal and local church; and, Malcolm Yarnell, who explains the seminal ecclesiological passage of Matthew 16 through a sustained theological exposition. Upon This Rock: The Baptist Understanding of the Church, a new treatment of the New Testament church established long ago by our Lord and Savior, is now available.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Danger Facing Systematic Theology


As you contemplate the task of moving from Scripture into systematic theology, please consider the following warning from Irenaeus about how the heretics known as the Valentinians distort Scripture to support their ideas. Note that Irenaeus is not against systematic theology; rather, he is against imposing an unbiblical system upon Scripture; he prefers to allow the “order” or “proper connection” of Scripture to assert itself. As we know, this is a perilous but necessary task, and this is why we should be constantly reading Scripture and hearing it, letting its order and proper connections form our theology. (Taken from Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 1, chapter 7, in ANF, volume 1):

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should re-arrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.