Kill Your Academized Christianity before It Kills Your Students . . . and Their Ministries

 

When students ask for recommended books before entering seminary I usually have Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling at the top of my list. Tripp points out many of the common heart problems related to pastoral ministry. But this book isn’t just for students. I think every seminary professor should read it too. Tripp writes out of both professorial and pastoral experience.

Strive to be a professor who is concerned about heart application as much as theological information.

Tripp exhorts readers to make the classroom more pastoral. Here’s a word to all professors:

I am convinced that the crisis of pastoral culture often begins in the seminary class. It begins with a distant, impersonal, information-based handling of the Word of God. It begins with pastors who, in their seminary years, became quite comfortable with holding God’s Word distant from their own hearts. It begins with classrooms that are academic without being pastoral. It begins with brains becoming more important than hearts. It begins with test scores being more important than character.1

Tripp goes on to critique theological education:

If you would go back, let’s say, a hundred years, every professor in the classroom would be a churchman. He would have come to theological education by means of the pastorate. In these men there burned a love for the local church. They came to the classroom carrying the humility and wisdom gained only by their years in the trenches. They taught with the hearts and lives of real people in view… They came to the classroom knowing that the biggest battles of pastoral ministry were fought on the turf of their own hearts. They were pastors who were called not to quit pastoring but to bring pastoral love and zeal into the ecosystem of theological education.

But over the years theological education began to change.… Academized Christianity, which is not constantly connected to the heart and puts its hope in knowledge and skill, can actually make students dangerous. It arms them with powerful knowledge and skills that can make the students think they are more mature and godly than they actually are.2

Bring a pastoral heart to the classroom. Learn to shepherd students. Address particular sins like self-righteousness, lack of gratitude for the gospel, impatience, lust, greed, the wrong perspective on ministry, lack of real communion with Christ, and other heart problems.

This emphasis also means addressing the preaching motives of students, which can be hiding in “subtexts” in sermons. Subtexts are the messages underneath one’s message. When a person’s heart is not in the right place, the subtext may be, “Aren’t I great?” or “Isn’t our church great?” Aim to fill students’ affections with Christ, so that the subtext of every sermon is “Isn’t Christ great?”

If a student’s ability surpasses his or her maturity and love for Christ’s glory, then he or she is a walking disaster zone. Unfortunately, I can rattle off a list of names of students (and professors) who are no longer pursuing ministry, or are no longer in ministry because they failed to tend to their own heart. Strive to be a professor who is concerned about heart application as much as theological information.

Students also need to be taught to make all of their theological studies and the preaching professor’s class an act of spiritual devotion. In an address to theological students, B. B. Warfield emphasized the importance of maintaining a vibrant walk with God while studying:

It is possible to study—even to study theology—in an entirely secular spirit.… Whatever you may have done in the past, for the future make all your theological studies “religious [spiritual] exercises.” … Put your heart into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them. They bring you daily and hourly into the very presence of God; his ways, his dealing with men, the infinite majesty of his Being form their very subject-matter. Put the shoes from off your feet in this holy presence!3

Pray that your classes will have a sense of divine glory to them and that students will want to “take notes on their knees” as they consider the God who has called them to preach.

Why It Would Be Worse If God Wasn’t Angry

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Angelica Kauffman, 1796.

By Walter C. Kaiser Jr., with Tiberius Rata, adapted from Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah.

Probably more than in most other biblical books, Jeremiah presents God as one having deep feelings, emotions, and passions (pathos). Yahweh shows his love and affection for Israel and the peoples of the earth, but he also shows his deep anger and wrath for all the moral degradation and flaunting of his law. This is hard for many contemporaries to understand, for we have forgotten that it is a matter of evil to stand in the presence of wickedness or sin and not be moved to hate that evil with a passion.

The God of pathos

Our problem with God’s anger is to be located in our definition of anger. We tend to identify anger with a desire to “get even” or to retaliate against someone who has hurt us. But God’s anger doesn’t involve that desire; instead, it is the passion of his soul and his total being stirred up against all that is wrong, unjust, unfair, evil, and wicked. If mortals loved righteousness and goodness like God loves it, then we would better understand his revulsion against all that stands opposed to that sense of right, truth, goodness, and justice.

God’s anger is provoked when his mortals sin in word or in deed (7:18; 8:19; 32:29–32). Anger must be God’s response, but it is not one of God’s attributes. His response is his expression of grief and dismay over the ruptured relationship that had, or could have, existed otherwise, had it not been for sin, evil, wrong, and injustice. God’s grief and sorrow are great in the presence of sin and wickedness. Even though God’s sorrow and grief must be distinguished from his anger, the two cannot be separated. But the matter never rests at that point, for his grace and mercy are greater than the aggregate deeds and words of unrighteousness by mortals. 

To the amazement of all, this Lord can also atone for the sins of those who persistently err and sin against him, so that his grace and mercy might eventually triumph for all who call on him in faith. This would be the sticking point of interpretation for those in Jeremiah’s day as well as in our own day: How could God simultaneously hate our sin, yet love the sinner?

But all who make this objection have never thought about the way they regard themselves; they oftentimes hate some of the stuff they do, but that does not keep them from having decent regard for themselves. If we can do that for ourselves, then we ought to withdraw the objection when God does the same: he does indeed love us, yet he also totally dislikes some of our actions.

 

It is clear that as a result of Judah’s “wickedness” (רָעָה, rāʿâ), “disaster” (רָעָה, rāʿâ) would break out on the people. This is merely to say that evil has a distinctive “fruit” that was associated with it (1:14, 16; 6:19; 12:2). In fact, the verb for “to punish” (פָּקַד) is the same verb meaning “to visit” on the people the fruit, or results, of their own deeds, whether they were evil doings or good actions (5:9; 14:10; 21:14). In so doing, God allows the consequences that are already present in the people’s wicked situation to be the method he uses to judge them.

 

This entry is adapted from Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah (Lexham Press, 2019). The title is the addition of the editor.

5 State Nicknames That No Longer Make Sense

Coming from someone who grew up in the “Bluegrass State,” I will be the first to tell you some state nicknames don’t make sense — or are at least misleading. The state got this nickname from early settlerswho named a certain type of grass “Bluegrass” because of the blooms on the top, which were slightly blue. But this grass isn’t as common as the state nickname would lead you to believe. Here is a look at five other state nicknames that no longer make sense.

Wisconsin — The Badger State

Wisconsin — The Badger State

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Wisconsin’s state nickname no longer makes sense — and technically never did — because there are no more badgers in this state than there are anywhere else. The nickname “The Badger State” comes from the 1820s, when thousands of miners flocked to the Midwest. They made homes for themselves by digging caves in the rock under the ground, much like badgers do. For this reason, these miners became known as “badgers” or “badger boys.” There were so many of them (or maybe the nickname was just so funny) that the whole state became known as the Badger State.

Minnesota — The North Star State

Minnesota — The North Star State

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It is not clear why Minnesota was ever called the North Star State, unless it was just due to its position as one of several northern states in the contiguous United States. The name comes from the translation of the state’s French motto “L’Etoile de Nord,” but the state isn’t particularly well-known for its eoile (star) or being in the nord (north). This nickname has been especially misleading since Alaska joined the United States in 1959, making that state the northernmost in the country.

Utah — The Beehive State

Utah — The Beehive State

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Like Wisconsin, this is another nickname that is more misleading than “wrong.” With a nickname like “The Beehive State,” you would expect Utah to be a leader in honey sales or production, but it is actually 24th in the nation when it comes to that industry. So why is it called the Beehive State? According to historians, Utah has used the beehive as its state symbol for hundreds of years, as it stands for “hard work and industry.” In fact, Utah values industry so much that its state motto is simply “Industry.” So the busy bees in the Utah beehives are not real bees, but hard-working people.

Daily trivia question

Alaska — The Last Frontier

Alaska — The Last Frontier

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Space is the final frontier, according to Star Trek, but Alaska has long been known as “The Last Frontier,” due to its unsettled areas and its general wildness. Many people take this nickname to mean that it was the last territory to be settled in America, and this is no longer true. While both Alaska and Hawaii officially became states in 1959, Alaska achieved statehood in January, while Hawaii didn’t become a state until August. In this case, maybe Hawaii is the real last frontier.