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FROM THE SEMINARIES: MBTS ponders ‘pastor-theologian’; 9Marks at SEBTS underscores discipleship

Today’s From the Seminaries includes reports from:
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

MBTS Center for Public Theology hosts inaugural event

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Public Theology hosted its first major event as evangelical theologian Kevin Vanhoozer delivered the school’s C.W. Scudder Lectures.

Vanhoozer, author and research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, delivered a two-part series titled, “The Pastor-Theologian as Minister of the Gospel: Understanding What is in Christ” and “The Pastor-Theologian as Minister of the Gospel: Acting Out What is in Christ.”

The Center for Public Theology was launched in June during a seminary event at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis. Owen Strachan, Midwestern’s associate professor of Christian theology, was named the center’s director.

The mission of the CPT, as noted by Strachan, is “to equip pastors to give Gospel-shaped answers in the public square. Too often, the church struggles to know how to engage the culture. With the Scudder Lectures, we have a premier lectureship aimed like an arrow at this pressing need.”

Vanhoozer, in his opening lecture, noted an “incredible shrinking evangelical imagination” in which the church has failed over the years “to see our world as the staging area for God and His plan of salvation. We just stopped seeing the reality of God.”

Ever-increasing secularization and a shift in the cultural view of the church and pastors, in general, infiltrated the church, Vanhoozer said. To correct the secularization of the church and negative view of the role of the pastor, Vanhoozer called for a “biblical rather than cultural criteria for success, especially in the ministry.”

Vanhoozer, who has authored or edited more than 20 books, said two key issues were the focus of his two lectures: 1) “How we need to recover biblical metaphors, biblical pictures, for the pastor” and 2) “How pastors need to awake, liberate and then disciple the imaginations of their congregations.”

The two metaphors Vanhoozer employed to describe pastors were those of a shepherd and an artisan. “The pastor is a theologian who leads the church toward greater understanding of Jesus and His way — that is shepherding — and then who helps the church act out that understanding by building a faithful community — that is the artisan part,” he said.

Ultimately, the role of the pastor is to make disciples, Vanhoozer said. He also needs to be discerning because the culture around the congregation is working overtime to capture people’s imaginations and cultivate their spirits to its ways.

“Pastors have to know one big thing, and they know it because the Bible tells them so, not because they are geniuses,” Vanhoozer said. “They have to know what God is doing in Christ, through the Spirit, to create a people for His treasured possession.

“If you want to become a pastor-theologian, you want to be the kind of grown-up who can help others grow up into the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ,” Vanhoozer said. “We all need to grow up into Christ. We need to graduate from skim milk to whole milk, and then from whole milk to solid theological food, if we are to become mature disciples.”

In the second lecture, Vanhoozer pictured the role of the pastor-theologian in terms of a theatrical production, with the pastor being an artisan who communicates what it means to “be in Christ.”

“Why not think of doctrine as a kind of theatrical direction for Christian disciples, direction for walking across the world’s stage, direction for playing our parts to the glory of God,” he said. “Doctrine, you see, helps us understand the script….

“The Bible is the church’s holy script,” he continued. “It has an authority that no other social script has…. And the church is a company, summoned and gathered together to be a theater, to perform this script and not any other.”

Vanhoozer said the pastor’s role in this production is that of actor and assistant manager. “The pastor is a believer, but also an overseer, a shepherd. The primary role of a pastor is to lead the church toward understanding, and into understanding.”

This understanding is not just theoretical; it’s practical, he said, noting that the pastor helps congregants understand what is happening and enables them to participate and work out in their lives the truth of what God is doing in their lives.

“Jesus is the metaphorical theologian … par excellence. Jesus spoke in parables, and the church that lives out what is in Christ will become a living parable and challenge to our society,” Vanhoozer said. “This is the hope: that Christian doctrine will help us to learn our parts so that we can perform them well to the glory of God.”

According to MBTS President Jason Allen, “One of the greatest aspects of the Center for Public Theology as one of Midwestern Seminary’s resources in serving the local church is hosting events like the Scudder Lectures with scholars like Dr. Vanhoozer [who] brings a great deal of experience and insight into the topic of theology, as well as the pastor’s role within it.”

To stay abreast of the happenings at the Center for Public Theology, Strachan noted that its new twice-weekly podcast, “City of God,” provides “a short burst of cultural engagement for busy leaders who want to think well about the city of man.”

To view the 2016 Scudder Lectures in their entirety, visit http://cpt.mbts.edu.


9Marks at SEBTS focuses on discipleship

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — More than 900 pastors, students and church members attended the eighth annual 9Marks conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.

Speakers Danny Akin, Mark Vroegop, Trip Lee, Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile and Robby Gallaty addressed the theme of discipleship during six sessions and several panel discussions over the two-day conference.

SEBTS President Danny Akin opened the conference with a message on biblical discipleship’s bedrock basics drawn from Mark 8. “What you think and what you believe about Jesus will determine what you think and what you believe about everything else,” he said.

True discipleship, Akin said, requires abandonment of self. “The self-centered life must be put to death,” he said. “If there is a foundational essence of biblical discipleship it is saying no to you and yes to Him.”

Mark Vroegop, lead pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, addressed the topic of patience in discipleship. “Moments where patience is at a premium are moments when discipleship is stronger,” he said. “Those are the moments when we’re most interested and most ready for what God has to do in our lives.”

Vroegop encouraged pastors to exercise patience with their congregations as they teach and lead them from the pulpit and one-on-one. “Loving your people more than [hating] where they’re at is an important part of discipleship,” he said.

Mark Dever, president of 9Marks and senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., gave several tips for creating a culture of discipleship in the church, including a focus on the Gospel, congregational accountability and encouragement and regular prayer.

The Gospel should permeate everything the church does, especially with those being discipled. “Make the Gospel clear,” Dever said. “The better they know what the Gospel is the better they will be able to see it in all areas of life.”

Trip Lee, teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, ended the first day of the conference by speaking on Ephesians 4 and the need for unity in discipleship. “Families have a special unity because they share blood, but we share something much deeper than that,” Lee said. “We have much more in common than we have different, and that matters.”

Lee identified several characteristics of disciples who value unity in the body of Christ. “If our discipleship isn’t characterized by humility and gentleness and patience, we’re going to be growing deformed disciples,” he said.

Day two of the conference opened with Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington D.C., addressing the neglect of older women in the church. “I’ve come to believe that the most neglected aspect of a pastor’s job description is the command for pastors to disciple older women in their congregations,” he said. “It’s a massive omission since women have an equal and necessary part in the Great Commission.”

Speaking from Titus 2, Anyabwile urged pastors to make a plan for discipling older women because of the impact they can have in the church. “You’ve got this picture here of a significant contingent of our army being employed fully in the basic mission of the church,” he said. “And the older women are not kind of set aside and left to grow old as if not useful, but the older women are invited in and engaged and instructed.”

To wrap up the conference, Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., underscored discipleship as the biblical plan for changing the world. “I believe a return to discipleship will enact the reformation of the 21st century,” he said.

Identifying struggles in evangelism as primarily a discipleship problem, Gallaty called for building churches through discipleship. “If you seek to make disciples, you will always grow a church,” he said. “If you seek to grow a church, you will rarely make disciples.”

The conference also included several panel discussions where speakers unpacked their topics further and addressed issues common in discipleship relationships.

The EQUIP program at Southeastern, part of the Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching, also hosted a breakfast panel on Oct. 1. Jim Shaddix, professor of preaching and W.A. Criswell chair of preaching, moderated the panel that included Akin, Gallaty and Anyabwile.

9Marks’ mission is to “equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.” The nine marks of a healthy church include preaching, biblical theology, the Gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, discipleship and leadership. For additional information about 9Marks, visit 9marks.org.

    About the Author

  • SBC Seminary & BP Staff

    Cassity Potter writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service; Alex Sibley writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and S. Craig Sanders writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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