The Happy Threads of Divine Providence

Today’s blog is personal. I hope you will indulge me while I explain a certain happy providence that has brought a smile to my face here recently.

Sixty-one years ago this month (October, 1951) my dad, then age 22, preached a week of special meetings in a small town in northern Wisconsin. The church was newly being pastored by my dad’s best friend since high school, George Cable. Dad and George were ordained by Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm there in that church just a month previously (September), the weekend before my dad and mom were married. If you know me well you’ve likely heard me remark that my dad’s ministry was one that was unusually effective and blessed, and it was so from the very beginning. Several people came to Christ that week. One man in particular was named Dwight Duncan, a successful farmer in the area who, invited to come to those meetings, came to Christ and then raised his family for Christ, became a pillar in the church there, serving as a deacon I think until his death in the late 1990s, and remained a good friend of the Zaspel family. I recall staying at his farm as a boy in the mid 1960s. He was a bit older than my parents, and he became close with my dad’s parents also, etc. The Duncans were dear family friends. My last memory of Dwight Duncan was shortly before he died — I was home visiting my parents when Dwight phoned dad just to thank him for coming to Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, to preach the gospel so long ago.

Okay, you get the picture. There has long been a real soft spot in Zaspel hearts for Dwight Duncan and family, even though as the years have progressed the contact has been increasingly slim.

Fast forward to Lansdale, PA, 2012.  The students at Calvary Baptist Seminary are required to seek out a professor for personal mentoring — anything and everything from theology to marriage to spiritual life, etc.  When carried out conscientiously, at least, it’s a wonderful program. At my first meeting with a student here recently, over lunch, just to get better acquainted, I asked him where he was from. When he told me Wisconsin, I asked where. He replied, “Oh, a small town you’ve never heard of. Camp Douglas.” “Yeah,” I said, I think I know something about Camp Douglas.” As I began to mention my connections he of course was surprised, to say the least. Then I asked him if he happened to know the Duncan family. You can imagine my delight as he told me that Dwight Duncan was his great-grandfather. So of course now his grandmother (Dwight’s daughter) and my mother are enjoying the connection also, etc. Looking back on our lunch I feel a bit guilty — there wasn’t much “mentoring” going on, but there was a lot of tracing out our family connections!

So, sixty-one years ago this month a man came to Christ through my dad’s preaching ministry. Now that man’s great-grandson is one of my students. I hope you understand the smile that I’ve been wearing here lately!

I suspect that one of the joys of heaven will be the tracing of the many happy threads of divine providence.

The Challenge of Teaching the Bible in an Academic (or church!) Setting

Teaching in a theological climate is a very lonely and sometimes daunting enterprise. Even with the most absorbed and friendly class, you are all alone there in front. What you say will inevitably be passed on—sometimes garbled and distorted. When you read the exams and one student after another gets it all wrong, there is really only one conclusion available: you, with all your preparation and good intentions, have deceived a whole class, and they will go on to deceive the waiting world. It is hard to be fearless and open to learning and willing to teach something new and important. It is easy to be safe and lazy.

Clair Davis, Chaplain and Professor of Church History, Redeemer Seminary, Dallas TX

The Only Professionally-Designed Ministry Simulation You’ll Ever Find!

A few years back through our Summit Christian Leadership Center, we developed a leadership training experience that is the first of its kind in the seminary world:  The Sweetbriar Baptist Church Ministry Simulation.

Our faculty and students have all been delighted and surprised at how powerful and effective this experiential learning environment is for helping participants strengthen their leadership skills.  Several dozen students have completed the simulation over the past few years, and each of them rave about how beneficial it was for them.

We still have five slots open for the next installment of Sweetbriar Baptist — to be held January 16-20, 2012. We’re so excited about this new resource that we’d like to make a special offer to our alumni and supporters.

If the church you lead (or attend) will agree to take up a special offering for our Students’ Scholarship Fund, you can send two participants to Sweetbriar at no charge.  This is a great learning experience for vocational or non-vocational church leaders!  The personalized feedback you get from our faculty will encourage you with your leadership strengths and give you real direction for how to improve in areas where you need to grow.

Time is running out, and space is limited.  Call Gail Banz today at 215-368-7538, ext. 139 or email for more information.

Why Pastors, and Not Professors, Are the Answer to Biblically Illiterate Congregations

Those of us who teach Bible and theology in Christian colleges and seminaries learn quickly to live with chastened hopes of making a significant impact on the church in America today. I am well aware that any influence I might ever have on believers outside my local church is indirect. That is, in shaping future pastors, church planters, missionaries, teachers, and counselors, I do have the joy of influencing believers all over the world through the graduates of our seminary. But my teaching and writing, especially the academic side, while necessary, is not what will transform churches.

Yale University theologian, Miroslav Volf notes that in his context of mainline liberal churches, theologians are completely irrelevant to the average churchgoer. He observes that while scholars address other scholars and students, the church is listening to other voices:

Theologians are on the sidelines. Like the streetcorner preachers of yesterday, they find themselves talking to a crowd too hurried to honor them with more than a fleeting glance.

“Theology, Meaning and Power,” in The Nature of Confession, ed. Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm (IVP, 1996), 45.

Now, the situation may not be as dire in conservative, Bible-believing churches, but the principle still applies to some extent. It’s not the college and seminary professors that will change the church. Pastors who faithfully preach and teach the Word to their congregations in the power of the Holy Spirit are the ones who will be the most instrumental in significant change. They are the ones who must keep their fingers on the pulse of the people in the pew and counter the various influences of error today. While professors can fulfill their role in training ministers, no one should live with the illusion that they are more important to the average Christian than they really are.

The Reason Why Some People Talk about Seminary, but Never Attend

Every seminary experiences prospective students who inquire, visit, and plan to enroll, but never end up attending. Sometimes they go to another seminary. Sometimes their path turns a different direction. Sometimes, however, the conditions just aren’t “favorable” for attending seminary “at this time.” While I’m sure many have perfectly good reasons, I wonder about some. C. S. Lewis reminds us that the pursuit of knowledge is not for the sunshine soldier and the weekend warrior:

“The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” (from “Learning in Wartime,” in The Weight of Glory, 50).

Ecclesiastes 11:4 concurs:

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.


Advancing the Church: February 22-25, 2011

Leading and serving a local church is no simple task.The challenges are exhausting. The joys are exhilarating. Both are difficult to exaggerate.

Introducing a bi-annual conference series focused on providing resources to pastors for growing healthy local churches.

We believe God’s servant-leaders need time away to recharge, to refresh, to reconnect . . . and to be reminded they are not alone in the battle.

We’ve designed our new “ATC” conference series to be strategically helpful for people like you. You love your ministry, even on the days it’s making you crazy. You just want to get better at what you do. You want your church to be spiritually healthy. Ultimately, you want a good grade at the final exam before the Chief Shepherd.

We think you’ll find ATC 2011 to be full of helpful resources to that end. Together, we’ll get our faces back into the Book, our knees back on the floor, and our hearts warmed to the One who died for the world we are sent to in His name.

Tim Jordan & Sam Harbin
ATC Conference Hosts

Discipleship and Seminary Education

While seminary education should certainly include a focus on the primary academic disciplines involved in biblical-theological studies, with a concerted emphasis on academic excellence, this emphasis must never preclude or preempt a strong focus on discipleship towards humility and holiness.  As expressed in our mission statement, Calvary Baptist Seminary exists “to glorify God through preparing individuals as godly servant leaders of local churches worldwide.” That is, academic excellence and personal godliness through intentional discipleship are not competing goals – but rather, they are complementary and mutually essential.

In this spirit, I was impressed by a recent quote from Don Carson in the lead essay of his Collected Writings on Scripture [Crossway, 2010, pp. 52-53]: “Because the Bible is God’s word, it is vitally important to cultivate humility as we read, to foster a meditative prayerfulness as we reflect and study, to seek the help of the Holy Spirit as we try to understand and obey, to confess sin and pursue purity of heart and motive and relationships as we grow in understanding.  Failure in these areas may produce scholars, but not mature Christians [emphasis mine].”

We at CBS are passionately dedicated to helping students develop the skills necessary to accurately exegete and effectively communicate God’s Word while investing ourselves in their spiritual development as we grow together in Christlikeness.  The harmonizing of these two essential components of seminary training is well summarized in the oft-cited motto of the prominent post-reformation era German Pietist Johann Albrecht Bengel, when he asserted:

“Apply thyself wholly to the text.  Apply the text wholly to thyself.”

It is our desire to instill this attitude in our students so that, both in word and character, they might accurately and passionately communicate the message of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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