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FROM THE SEMINARIES: Steve Gaines joins Oxford tour; convocation, Elliff, Meador at SEBTS; engage Islam strategically, SBTS profs say

Today’s From the Seminaries: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

SBC president teaches evangelism on Oxford Study Tour

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Steve Gaines, newly elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined in the July 5-21 Oxford Study Tour in the 20th year of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary-sponsored trek to the United Kingdom.

Students visit sites of crucial importance to evangelical and Baptist history, earn credits for classes taught by seminary professors and share the Gospel with people from around the world.

Gaines led a class on personal evangelism for the 37 students from Southwestern Seminary as well as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Besides teaching, Gaines interacted with students and faculty on a personal basis and accompanied them in a number of visits to historical sites.

SWBTS ethics professor Evan Lenow noted “a number of occasions where you could see [Gaines] talking one-on-one with a student. He really was wanting to find out about them, their ministry and what their plans were.”

Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, also preached in the Leicester church once led by William Carey, founder of the modern missions movement in the late 1700s. Gaines, after speaking on humility in Christian service, asked the faculty and the church’s pastor to come to the front, then exemplified his sermon by washing their feet in emulation of Jesus.

“It was a very humbling and moving experience,” said Malcolm Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology at Southwestern and director of the Oxford Study Tour. “It touched the [local] congregation, and it touched the faculty and all of the students as well, to see this humble service by this great leader…. His point was that we need to model the same humility that Christ had.”

In personal evangelism, students and faculty made numerous presentations of the Gospel that led to two professions of faith.

Lenow and two Southwestern students, Brenton Powell and Wilbert Cloud, were waiting to board the flight to England at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport when a woman interrupted their conversation, asking, “How do you get started with this whole God thing?” Sitting in the airport, Lenow, Powell and Cloud shared the Gospel with her, and she accepted Christ into her heart.

In another instance, Southwestern student Brian Hendricks was trying to find a place to eat lunch when he saw a man distributing literature on a religious cult. Hendricks struck up a friendly conversation and shared the Gospel with him for the next 20 minutes.

“There were many encounters like that,” David Allen, dean of Southwestern’s School of Preaching, said of the students. “They have such a heart for sharing the Lord.”

Yarnell noted, “If you want to learn to share the Gospel in a cross-cultural context, in a truly missionary context, this is a way to do it.” Cities like Oxford, London and Edinburgh “are not just populated by English and Scottish people,” he said. “In an afternoon, you can share the Gospel with people from all of the continents of the world if you will just start talking to people.”

In addition to visiting the Great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where Charles Spurgeon pastored for many years, the seminarians visited the church in which Spurgeon was converted as well as Spurgeon’s gravesite at Norwood Cemetery. At each location, Allen offered lectures on Baptist history and preaching.

The Oxford Study Tour, Yarnell said, allows students “to walk where the great saints of history walked. … Stand in the pulpit of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ in the choir of John Newton’s church. See where Thomas Cranmer walked his last steps before he was burnt at the stake by Bloody Mary. [The trip] gives you a vision that a book or a lecture cannot give — it becomes a living experience in historical theology.”

SEBTS semester opens with convocation, Tom Elliff, Clyde Meador

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin and faculty welcomed students to the fall 2016 semester during a convocation service on Aug. 18.

Also this fall, Southeastern welcomed two visiting professors — Tom Elliff, former president of the International Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention, and Clyde Meador, retired executive adviser to the IMB president and former missionary.

Akin, in a message based on Psalm 27, told the story of Darlene Diebler Rose, a missionary to New Guinea who spent four-plus years in Japanese prison camps during World War II.

At the young age of 10, Rose made a promise to the Lord to go anywhere with Him, no matter the cost. “She could never have imagined what that meant — that ‘anywhere’ would cost her unbelievable suffering,” Akin said. During her time as a prisoner of war, Rose endured separation from her husband and then widowhood, near-starvation, forced labor, inhumane conditions and disease to name a few.

In Psalm 27, Akin noted, David shows how the Lord saves and delivers (vs. 1-3), protects and lifts up (vs. 4-6), hears and guides (vs.7-12) and sustains and strengthens (vs.13-14). This psalm was a favorite of Rose’s, one that became increasingly dear to her….

“Through it all, Rose was sustained by God, who never left her nor forsook her, just as He had promised,” Akin said. “He remained her light and her salvation. In time, He would cause her adversaries to stumble and fall.”

What makes Rose’s story and the story of King David encouraging is that the most important thing for them was to be with the Lord, to rejoice in Him in times of blessing and in times of pain, Akin said. “To sacrifice, shout, sing and rejoice in the Lord is easy when everything is good. It is something else when your heart is broken and God is silent and seems distant.”

However hard this may be, Rose did just that when she learned of her husband’s death. Akin said prayer, memorized Scripture and songs became a “three-cord spiritual rope” that helped Rose make it through those tough times.

Akin shared a quote from Rose’s autobiography: “The Lord fed me with the Living Bread that had been stored against the day when fresh supply was cut off by the loss of my Bible. He brought daily comfort and encouragement — yes and joy — to my heart through the knowledge of the Word.”

In closing, Akin challenged students to be courageous to follow God wherever He may ask them to go.

“You never know what the Lord who is our light and Savior is going to do when we say, ‘Lord, I’ll go anywhere with you, no matter what it costs.'” Akin said. “He will be with you as Psalm 27 promises. Are you willing to go?”

During the convocation, Provost Bruce Ashford awarded the Faculty Excellence and Teaching Award to Chip McDaniel, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew.

In addition, several professors officially signed Southeastern’s Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message: Matthew Mullins, assistant professor of English and history of ideas and associate dean for academic advising; Benjamin Quinn, assistant professor of theology and history of ideas and associate dean of institutional effectiveness; Joshua Waggener, assistant professor of music and Christian worship; and Keith Whitfield, assistant professor of theology and vice president for academic administration.

In Elliff and Meador, Southeastern’s faculty now includes two key leaders with multiple years of service in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Elliff served as a pastor for 42 years in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma before he and his late wife Jeannie became IMB missionaries in Zimbabwe. He also served the IMB as senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations from 2005-2009 and then as president from 2011-2014. Elliff also served two terms as SBC president and was president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference.

Elliff will assist with master’s- and doctoral-level courses as the visiting professor of prayer and pastoral ministry in addition to teaching on pastoral leadership.

“Tom Elliff is one of the godliest men I know,” said Chuck Lawless, SEBTS dean of graduate studies and professor of evangelism and missions. “I turn to him every time I need prayer, and I want our students learning from such a man.”

Meador will be the visiting professor of missions leadership, assisting with master’s-level course lectures, graduate classes and doctoral missions classes. Meador served with the IMB for 41 years, most recently as executive adviser to the president. He and his wife Elaine began their IMB career in 1974 as missionaries to Indonesia. Meador filled multiple roles with the IMB, including executive vice president and interim president.

Meador is “known for his strong pastoral leadership during his time on the mission field and his wise administrative leadership during his time as executive vice president of the IMB,” SEBTS Provost Bruce Ashford said. “This is the type of man we want standing in front of our students, shaping their hearts and minds.”

To view photos from the seminary’s convocation, click here.

To hear Akin’s convocation message, click here.

Islam requires strategic engagement, SBTS professors say

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — With reports about Islam in the news each day, and the need for global Gospel proclamation as critical as ever, Christians need to learn how to engage Islam theologically and strategically, professors Ayman S. Ibrahim and John Klaassen of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said in Aug. 8-9 Alumni Academy presentations.

Ibrahim, senior fellow for the seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, is the Bill and Connie Jenkins assistant professor of Islamic studies at the Louisville, Ky., campus.

Klaassen is associate professor of global studies at Boyce College, the seminary’s undergraduate school, and author of the 2015 book “Engaging with Muslims.”

Ibrahim, who grew up in Egypt, described Islam as a faith with multiple sacred texts. Although the Quran is the center of Muslim didactic literature, the Hadith (a collection of Muhammad’s sayings) and the Sira (a biography of Muhammad) also are important. Christians can gain a great deal of respect from Muslims with whom they interact by showing awareness of the Quran and the Sira because it demonstrates they care about understanding their religious system, he said.

While believers evangelizing Muslims can illustrate points from the Quran, they should not spend significant time there, Ibrahim said. They should use the Quran to prove to Muslims that their sacred text assumes the reliability of the Bible, but then move from the Quran to the Bible as soon as possible, he said. The Sermon on the Mount is particularly helpful, he said, since it challenges some of the pillars of Islam, requiring heart transformation more than good deeds.

“If you asked me what Muslims need the most,” Ibrahim said, “I would tell you: hope. And there is no hope apart from the Gospel.”

Secularists use three broad approaches in understanding Islam, Ibrahim explained. A polemical approach only recognizes Islam’s negative characteristics and is more interested in broad-brush arguments and treating Muslims as terrorists, he said. An overly sympathetic approach recognizes only Islam’s positive characteristics, claiming Islam itself is harmless. And in a critical approach, scholars analyze Islam objectively. Most of these scholars are atheists, and this is how Islam is studied in a secular university, Ibrahim said.

When engaging Muslims, Christians should be aware that no one form of the religion is practiced by all, he said. Instead of thinking of a single “Islam,” Christians should think of the religion’s worldwide representation as various “Islams.” Each person a believer encounters will be different and should be treated as an individual.

Christians, meanwhile, should employ a critical-theological understanding of Islam, which thoughtfully engages Islam but does not apologize for its grounding in a theological worldview, Ibrahim said.

“We need to think critically, we need to go deeper in understanding Islam, but we cannot avoid our theology,” he said. “If you move to study Islam without strong theology, your missiology will be corrupt. Your theology determines your missiology — your understanding of mission.”

Klaassen said Islam, which is built on five pillars of constant religious observance, comprises an absolute worldview system.

The pillars — the creed (shahada), prayer (salat), giving alms (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj) — require careful attention and include strict parameters. Prayer must occur five times a day, starting at sunrise, and must involve extensive ceremonial washing. Muslims pray in Arabic, Klaassen said, even though most Muslims do not know the language and simply recite sections of the Quran without understanding.

The culture of Islam is significantly different than that of the United States, Klaassen said. It is driven by an honor-shame dynamic more than the guilt-innocence dynamic of the West. Those sharing the Gospel with Muslims should be aware of these cultural markers, making it clear that when Jesus died on the cross, He took the shame of sinners upon Himself but did not lose His honor, Klaassen said.

Because of the significant effect of shame on Muslim cultures, converting from Islam is extremely damaging socially, Klaassen said. The religion entails a worldview that requires absolute commitment.

“You cannot convert out of Islam,” he said. “To convert out of Islam is to shame your family — it is to reject everything you have ever known and everything you have ever heard.”

Believers engaging with Muslims need to break the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, between preaching the Gospel and living among Muslims, Klaassen said. For believers called to full-time overseas missions, they will need to learn a professional skill which allows them to fit into Muslim communities.

“Especially for our brothers and sisters who go overseas and work, it’s important that we do things that affect the community,” Klaassen said. “When we just come in and put Gospel on top, then often it’s not seen in a favorable light.”

Southern’s Alumni Academy provides free instruction for alumni and prospective students of the seminary. To find out more about the program, visit sbts.edu/alumni.

    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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