Sunday, January 12, 2014

Winter Semester TBS 2014

Tomorrow the winter semester starts at Toronto Baptist Seminary. There are a wide variety of subjects that will be taught Monday through Friday. These courses are available for credit or audit depending on the goals and objectives of the student. 

Personally I'm looking forward to teaching the Old Testament book of Daniel and Christian Foundations. 

Daniel is a fascinating book that contains exciting narratives in the first half and cryptic prophesies in the second half. And even though it is an ancient book that has many things to say to us today. 

Christian Foundations is an overview of the Christian Faith that focuses on the key doctrines that define Christianity. 

If you are interested in learning more check out our website at Taking courses that challenge you to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually is a great way to start a new year. All the best to everyone in 2014.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on the Arid Classroom

In response to my last post "Anonymous" wrote: "I find if the teaching is more than good then classroom lessons are great, but usually theology teachers are dry." Signed, Ian

Alas, what does one say to that! Truth is that I have been thinking about this comment since it was posted on my blog. My first thought was that "Ian" might be one of my students and what he is really saying is that he finds my teaching dry. Fair enough - because as hard as I try I know that I cannot appeal to everyone or teach in such a way as to inspire all of my students to see what I see and to love the subject matter. I am well aware of my deficiencies as a teacher and I am continuing trying to improve the quality of my lectures and public speaking. 

On the other hand, maybe "Ian" is not one of my students and his comment reflects his own experience with dry theology teachers in general. If that is the case then I feel badly because for me there is nothing more interesting and profound than the study of God. In fact, as interesting as other fields of endeavor are they pale in comparison because they just do not possess the superlative grandeur required to captivate the mind and soul in ever-increasing measure.

If however, "Ian" is suggesting that most classroom lessons in theology are dry and that the antidote would be online study, I beg to differ. Online study - which is a form of self-study - is fine and while self-study must become part of a life-long habit of learning but there are few who can push themselves long and hard enough to really learn what they need to know. Most of us need a base from which to operate, and we need to be exposed to concepts and ideas that we might shy away from if left to ourselves. The only way to get around this in most instances is with some kind of "enforced learning" accompanied by research papers and examinations that force the student to grapple with difficult and sometimes abstract ideas.

Sometimes the problem is not the subject matter as much as it is the student. What is dry and boring to one may be the very opposite to someone else. Our predisposition to learn is determined by many factors and experiences in our lives. So whether we are talking theology or physics or anything else, we often get out of our studies what we put into them. Nothing is dry to the inquiring mind. What we need is a curiosity that moves us to ask questions and then to seek answers. After all, isn't that what learning is all about?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Online Education

Over the next while Toronto Baptist Seminary will be working to make two of our degree programs available online. This is something that people have been encouraging us to do for a long time because it enables students to complete an undergraduate and graduate degree from anywhere in the world and it does not require them to leave their jobs or ministries in order to come to Toronto and study here at the seminary. We believe this is a good thing and it will enable us to multiply the effectiveness of TBS in ways there were impossible even a few years ago. The demand for theological education remains steady for a number of reasons, including the unfortunate fact that consistent theological instruction that clearly articulates a Christian worldview, is difficult to find. For all the sermons, blogs, books, and conferences out there, there is something about organized, systematic instruction that requires you to personally interact with the material being taught by way of assignments, research papers, and exams, that is invaluable when it comes to really understanding and knowing what is going on.

That being said, I hope we never see the day when economics forces all course material to be delivered from an electronic classroom versus a real classroom, in a real building, in a real city! While modern technology makes it possible for us to deliver training in new and exciting ways, there is still something to be said for the classroom experience and for the personal interaction of students and teacher, as well as, students with one another. I think that this is true when it comes to education in general, but I believe it is certainly true when it comes to theological education. You cannot learn to interact with people in isolation from people. Nor can you study the gospel which is all about God's gathering together a community of people redeemed by his Son if the communal aspect of the Christian life is only a theoretical construct. The demands of the present circumstances and the opportunites presented to us compel us to move forward into the online world, but we do so understanding that a combination of both online and classroom instruction is better than either one on their own if we are to strive for the excellence that the study of God deserves.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Back to Blogging

How did that happen? It is already February and I have not posted anything to my blog for over a month! Well, just in case you thought I have stopped updating my blog, think again. I have been too busy with too many things the last few months, and while I am still busy, I do intend to continue posting here as I am able. I have lots of things that I want to talk about, ideas that I want to put out there, and that is what I will do here on Redeeming The Time.

So welcome to a new month. After flirting with spring-like temperatures earlier in the week we have returned to more seasonal weather in the greater Toronto area. Life goes on and things continue to happen in the world that make me wonder about what lies ahead, where we are going, and when it is all going to end. No one knows for sure, including those who confidently proclaim otherwise, and I am certainly not going to be foolish enough to join the ranks of would-be prophets. But it is fascinating to go along for the ride and to learn as we go more and more about ourselves and the world around us. I have been reading the book of Ecclesiastes recently and I have been struck again by its raw wisdom. I can only hope to have a fraction of that kind of wisdom myself as I take life moment by moment, one day at a time.

That's all for now... I will write again soon.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Cult of Personality - Part 10

In this final installment of The Cult of Personality I suggest some ways out of the current malaise. In the final analysis we have to decide whether we will take the biblical message seriously or edit it to fit our own pre-conceived notions of reality. Is Christianity supernatural or is it just another expression of human religiosity that makes no transcendent claims for the person of Jesus and the scriptures? This is the ultimate dividing line today and determines how seriously we view the problem I have been writing about and the proposed solution. At the very least I hope I have provided some food for thought. Now it is time to turn my attention to some other writing projects in the New Year.

The conclusion of The Cult of Personality...

The antidote to the cult of personality is a firm grasp of the biblical message. We are fools if we put our hope in men, even the very best of men. Our hope must be in the Lord alone. Everyone says this but afterwards many turn around and line up behind their heroes. Only the Lord can build the church precious stone upon precious stone because only he has the power of the new birth and only he is able to bring sinners to himself. It does not matter how well organized we are, or how many books we have published. or blogs we write, what matters is that we do our best and then wait on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. At the end of the day it is not our cleverness that will win the battle. Nor is it the power of our personalities. The pervasive effects of sin are only reversed when God acts in saving power. We do not need more conferences and pep-rallies, we need more seasons of prayer, the bravery to step outside of our comfort zones, stick-to-itiveness in the face of opposition, and patience that waits on the Lord knowing that he is never in a hurry. It is not about brand names but about the name of Jesus. No one has a corner on the truth, and no church leader speaks exclusively for God, and no one speaks for God at all unless they reflect what is found in the scriptures. We do not need more clones or followers but workers. We need to know where God has clearly spoken in scripture and where he has not, and we need to make much of Jesus as the only one who can do us any ultimate good.

In short, we need balance. There is a fine balance between honoring our leaders but not treating them  as if they are infallible. We need to train, plan, and execute our plans without forgetting that it is God who works in us according to his good pleasure. We need to broaden our horizons and see that God works in many different ways through many different people. He is not beholden to one particular group or way of doing things. He works through all sorts of different human vessels to accomplish his purposes. Many times he delights to use those who are weak and foolish in the eyes of the world to confound the strong, the wise and the attractive.

We are called to be faithful first and foremost, not successful. But again, it is too often the “successful” by the measure of the world who are paraded around and we are inundated with their ideas while the real heroes of the faith continue to do the work that God has called them to do without fanfare or applause. For all the big talk of evangelical power and influence the truth is that in Canada we are a small and shrinking segment of the population. The more we imitate the world, the more we undercut our message. The world is “star” obsessed – movie stars, athletes, musicians, political, business and media stars. Their every move is tracked, they are followed on Twitter and Facebook, they are quoted in magazines and on the evening news. But their fame is fleeting and rarely do they possess the wisdom to lead anyone. It is all about appearances, making the right impression, gathering a crowd, living in the moment.

As Christians we are called to resemble Jesus who was not fooled by outward appearances but was deeply concerned about matters of the heart. He did the right thing and was not merely concerned about making the right impression. When he gathered a crowd he told them the truth whether they liked it or not, and though he walked with God on earth in the days of his ministry, he lived in light of eternity. He is our role model and star! The irony is that the more we are like him and different from our “star” obsessed culture, the more we have something substantial to say and the more people will actually sit up and take notice. The hard truth is that the best of us has little to offer in ourselves. There is no sense pretending otherwise. It is far better to acknowledge our bankruptcy and make much of Christ. The cult of personality must go! Or in the words of John the Baptist – “Jesus must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30).

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Cult of Personality - Part 9

In this short post I look at the problem of reducing Christianity to what goes on in church on Saturday night, or Sunday morning, or whenever else the congregation gathers to worship. This is an important part of the Christian life but by no means the only part or even the most important part. Worship in the New Testament involves giving ourselves to God and using the totality of our personalities to build his kingdom and do his will. Christianity is not a spectator sport! Or to change to metaphor, we are called to make a difference or to beautify every area of life to the glory of God.

The Cult of Personality continued...

Another personal example of the cult of personality is entertainment based Christianity where the congregation exists to enable the professional performers to do their thing. This can happen when it comes to music or preaching or the display of any other public gift. Too often the church becomes a mere stage, a music hall, or a preaching centre  Music and preaching are important parts of church life and the worship of God but there is more to Christianity than just sitting and watching talented musicians perform and skilled preachers speak. There is work to be done, people to disciple, and spiritual, financial and physical needs to be met both inside and outside of the church. Church is about more than watching and cheering on the performers from the pew or stackable chairs. It is about coming together to be equipped to go out and truly worship God by obeying his commands and living out the implications of the gospel before others. Church is not a place that exists merely for the display of our talents or to have our egos stroked. It is a place where we learn and grow so that we can do our part to contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cult of Personality - Part 8

In this installment of The Cult of Personality I talk about how it can manifest itself when it comes to planting churches. New churches are needed, and even if all the churches in a city like Toronto were filled to overflowing, there would still be a need for more. But where churches are being planted it should be for "gospel" reasons and not because we cannot get along with anyone else, or we want to do church in isolation from everyone else, or we want to create a situation where we are the unquestioned centre of attention and authority. The church is not about us and our goals and ambitions. It exists to make known that gospel of Jesus Christ and to be a place where Christians of all ages and levels of understanding can find spiritual instruction, support, and companionship as they seek to live out their faith in the world. The pictures showing church buildings that have been renovated or still under construction remind us that congregations as well as their buildings are always in need for work. The challenge is to repair what is already there, or to build something new, for the right reasons!

The Cult of Personality continued...

No serious Christian doubts the need to plant new churches especially where there is a need to take the gospel to people who have never heard it before. But sometimes church planting is pursued for less noble reasons. For instance, going into an existing congregation is not easy. There are different people to deal with, a history of interactions that may or may not be happy, and church traditions that have developed that may need changing if the church is going to grow in the future. Rather than face up to these challenges the impression is sometimes given that it is easier to plant a church because then it is set up the way we want it with a minimal amount of feedback from others.

Furthermore, church plants often target groups of people that are similar in their backgrounds, interests and tastes, and while this may give a superficial appearance of unity, the unity portrayed in the New Testament is a radical unity that crosses lines that are not normally crossed. Church plants should be based on truth and need. This means that it is necessary to plant churches where the gospel is not preached or where it is not preached as clearly as it should be. But church plants should not be tributes to personal ambition, or style, or the charisma of one leader over another. These are not a sufficient foundation on which to build a church and they are not likely to sustain a gospel-centered ministry over the long haul.

To be continued...