Category Archives: Book Review

Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Matthew Pinson

Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of Millennial-generation ministers in the Free Will Baptist Church who are getting burnt out on the market-driven model of church still being celebrated in certain segments of evangelicalism. These are younger ministers who, as recent surveys have shown, prefer the organic over the organizational, depth over shallowness, doctrine over pop psychology and self-help, substance over style, and shepherd over CEO.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, they’re a part of a generation, two-thirds of whom prefer traditional over modern church architecture and prefer the adjective “classic” to “trendy” to describe their approach to church. This is backed up by recent studies by Barna, LifeWay, and Gallup. (I cite this not because I think there’s one “sanctified” church architecture, but because it shows that studies of Millennials explode the myth some in my generation still seem to believe—that all younger people like their church experience to be like their coffee shop experience: “hip and trendy.”)

Frankly, if it weren’t for all the studies, I’d be surprised by how many of these young ministers complain about the Gen-Xers in my generation who don’t get them, who prefer CEO’s over shepherds as the model for modern ministry. The last several conversations I’ve had like this have led me to mention a book I’ve been reading by Harold Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. The book’s publisher, Lexham, has also published a practical ministry strategy manual by Senkbeil in its Lexham Ministry Guides series entitled Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls.

The sorts of things this 70-year-old pastor says about ancient, organic ways of shepherding God’s flock offer a more sustainable model than the CEO approach to church leadership that seems to be failing so many pastors who’ve tried it. These sorts of things resonate with these young people who desire to invest themselves in more organic, sustainable ways of life rather than the throwaway disposability of contemporary secular culture.

I still haven’t finished the book; I’ll let you know what I think of it when I do. I wondered what it would be like to read this conservative Lutheran pastor (with whom I have obvious ecclesiological differences). But his aim is to write in such a way that conservative Christians across denominational lines can benefit from it, and it has endorsements from well-known Baptists and people from a host of other denominational backgrounds. The thing that stands out the most about it is that much of it reminds me of the biblical wisdom I’ve heard from treasured personal mentors of mine in ministry—people like L. V. Pinson (my grandfather), Leroy Forlines, Melvin Worthington, and Lewis Williams (my pastoral predecessor in Colquitt, Georgia).

So I was surprised when this book I’d been reading was receiving so much positive press at the very same time when so many people in my own generation in certain quadrants of the church are still rehearsing the corporate and market-oriented models of pastoring. The Gospel Coalition has lauded this book as one of the best books on pastoring in a long time. It won the “Best Ministry Book of 2019” award from Christianity Today magazine. A number of well-known Christian leaders have promoted the book. There’s all this praise for a book that is simply discussing the time-honored, classic pastoral tradition that was handed down to me by the ministry mentors who shaped me.

I was listening to an interview with Senkbeil by Dan Darling last week, on his ERLC podcast “The Way Home.” I thought the readers of this blog, including many young pastors who are trying to find their way toward a biblical, authentic, sustainable ministry in a world of gimmicks and “get-big-quick” schemes, would find it intriguing. Here it is.

Editor Addendum: Senkbeil’s book is currently for sale at a discounted price at Westminster Seminary’s online bookstore.

Making Sense of Religious Liberty

Jackson Watts

Recently a friend of mine at the Helwys Society Forum, a site I also contribute to, called attention to Robert Louis Wilken’s book, Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom. I had somehow overlooked this title, though I had admired Wilken’s work for years. He is William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. My first encounter with Wilken’s work was reading his book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them over ten years ago. I was riveted by his description of early Christian practices and teaching and how Roman civil authorities perceived this strange new cult.

Then about five years ago while I was studying at Concordia Seminary, Wilken came to lecture on the church fathers. Even in his 80s, he was clear and compelling. I should also add that he was personally warm. What drew me to this more recent book was the subject: religious freedom. We are living at a time when increasingly in the West earlier assumptions about the value and necessity of liberty of conscience aren’t fully recognized, or only for a scarce few. Even now at least four cases that somehow relate to this subject are being argued, or have been recently argued, before the U.S. Supreme Court. This issue is not going away, and will only intensify in the coming years.

Though Wilken’s argument is more limited in scope, I think it complements the overall project of articulating an understanding of freedom of conscience that benefits all people, not just Christians. I want to briefly summarize Wilken’s argument, then make some observations that relate this to our present challenges in the area of religious freedom.

A Common Misconception Exposed

Among historians there has been a tendency to see religious freedom as the product of Enlightenment thought. The argument goes something like this: During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, bloody religious wars were all too common. As the Enlightenment emerged, philosophers and other intellectuals saw the need for civil society to move past this needless and unfortunate bloodshed. In that unique context the need and case for religious liberty emerged. Increasingly people were free to practice their own religion, and form their own confessional communities without oppression or restriction by the state.

Here’s where Wilken (and other scholars) help debunk this misconception. He ably shows that the origins of religious freedom didn’t begin with Enlightenment philosophers, John Locke, or the founding fathers. Instead, he shows that as early as Tertullian (3rd century A.D.), Christian theologians saw in Scripture a basis for religious freedom. As Wilken puts it, “Religious freedom rests on a simple truth: religious faith is an inward disposition of the mind and heart and for that reason cannot be coerced by external force (1). Or to put it in Tertullian’s words:

It is only just and a privilege inherent in human nature that every person should be able to worship according to his own convictions; the religious practice of one person neither harms nor helps another. It is not part of religion to coerce religious practice, for it is by choice not  coercion that we should be led to religion (from Ad Scapula).

Wilken then develops his argument by showing how Lactantius and Gregory the Great joined Tertullian in providing a fairly early Christian perspective about religious liberty. Now I should add that this argument wasn’t fully developed, and certainly its application was not widespread. However, it refutes the argument that Enlightenment thinkers came up with the idea over a thousand years later.

Throughout the next several chapters Wilken walks the reader through Christian history, showing unique developments in which these early Christian ideas were received, appropriated, repackaged, and unfortunately, sometimes ignored. One interesting feature of the book is Wilken’s attention to Reformation era developments in several European countries, and how the case for religious liberty was made and often unevenly applied.

This latter point is really crucial. Jesus warns us about the problem of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hinders people from seeing and receiving the truth. While living out of the faith inconsistently doesn’t logically discount the truthfulness of the faith, Scripture is clear that people see Jesus through seeing His people (John’s Gospel and first epistle really hammer home this point). So perhaps one reason why it is so easy for modern people to believe that religious liberty is not a cherished, ancient notion is because religious people themselves have at times been inconsistent in its application.

A Free Will Baptist Contribution

A book that deals with this subject couldn’t avoid the contribution of Thomas Helwys. Wilken devotes significant attention (for a relatively short book) to Helwys’ articulation of religious freedom. As an aside, my colleagues at the Helwys Society Forum have done this also, and we continue to marvel at the non-Free Will Baptists who are interested in Helwys who contact us about what we’re doing. But even Wilken sees Helwys as a major figure in this story. He quotes the famous line from Helwys that gets to the nub of the matter: “Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever. It appears not to earthly power to punish them in the least measure” (180). For an early English General Baptist to be the one making this case is something for modern Free Will Baptist to be proud of. But we should just as quickly feel surprise, for another inconsistency in the story of religious liberty is the fact that Christian thinkers were not always quick to acknowledge the need for full freedom for other groups to practice their faith. Helwys throws the doors wide open to Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Jew.

Tensions that Linger

I have alluded now a few times to the circuitous path it took for religious liberty to be widely observed. Part of this is due to some tensions that not only existed in earlier times and places, but ones that are still with us today. I’m going to highlight just two of the issues we still need to wrestle with and learn to articulate with clarity.

Coercion or Persuasion?

When we read about some earlier Christians discussing religious toleration (more limited) versus religious freedom (more expansive), one issue they were concerned with is how to persuade people to adopt the Christian faith—and their specific confession—while not coercing it. Again, if one accepts the premise that religious faith is a matter of the heart or individual conscience, then it cannot be coerced by some kind of external force. This external force could be threat of death, or something less severe like threat to civil well-being. Naturally believers who want to be evangelistic see persuasion as a legitimate Christian activity. The apostolic pattern certainly bears this out. But when does persuasion slip into coercion? When does an attractive argument become an inducement? Wilken’s book gives a few examples of this problem being worked out in a few circumstances, but we still have to think about it today.

It is possible to preach and evangelize in such a way that we give the impression that people should adopt Christianity if they intend to be loved or valued by us. Yet there is a distinction we have to make. We are called to love and respect the worth of all people, regardless of whether they come to Christ or not. There is indeed a special love, care, and commitment that believers share in the body of Christ that unbelievers are, by definition, excluded from. But I think we have to try to communicate this wisely so that we can be sure to seek to persuade people, while not coercing them. We may not wield a sword, but it’s possible that we would try to win people to Jesus using extraordinary means that win them to our means, or the external benefits of what we preach, and not to Christ himself.

There are other examples of this problem. In an earlier generation belonging to a church (and “espousing a religion”) helped build one’s social profile, especially if you were going to run for a local political office in certain communities. And though this trend has increasingly disappeared, it still points to the problem of believing without truly believing.

Private Belief or Public Practice?

Perhaps the part of Wilken’s book that I found most compelling is the problem of how we define religion. At times some Christians saw religion as merely, or at least predominantly, private belief. Obviously they did not see their own faith that way, but they were often tempted to limit it to private belief when it came to what would be allowed of others. Naturally you cannot compel someone to truly believe something in their heart. However, when it came to public expressions of that belief, those in power often differed on what would be accepted.

At the same time, many in favor of religious freedom for others recognized that this was inconsistent. Religion pertains not only to individual, private beliefs, but the expression of those beliefs, in practice, with other believers. This means there is always a public dimension of true faith. This was of course unsettling at times for civil leaders who thought that preserving order in their particular realm required conformity in matters of external religious observances. It’s like saying, “What you want to do and believe in the privacy of your own home is fine, but the moment you step outside, gather with other likeminded individuals, or stop supporting the existing religious order, then you’ve crossed the line.” Liberty ended at the threshold of one’s home.

This sounds all too similar to our contemporary situation in America. Christians are increasingly told that if they want to enter the marketplace they have to discard all of their religious and theological convictions, regardless of how sincerely held they are, how inherent they are to historic Christianity, or how supported they are by the First Amendment. If they try to bring their beliefs to bear on, say, how they create art, provide adoption services, or operate a college, they must conform to the established secular orthodoxies of the moment (I say “moment” because it is literally a moving target depending on which regulatory agency is writing memos that day, or if the Twitter mobs notice).

It’s all too easy to see how this current situation doesn’t just violate the plain sense of the First Amendment, but also the very ancient understandings of religion that some of the most powerful minds in history have articulated, such as St. Paul, Tertullian, Gregory the Great, John Wycliffe, Thomas Helwys, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more recent brethren like Robert P. George and Russell Moore. We can do better. Christians need to do their best to appeal to persons of good faith to show them why every citizen has a stake in freedom of religion and conscience. Wilken’s book and argument are just what the doctor ordered in helping to equip us for that enterprise.

 

The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines Published

by Theological Commission

A new book, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, by F. Leroy Forlines and J. Matthew Pinson, was recently published by Welch College Press, according to Matthew Bracey, managing editor of Welch College Press.

“The book has met with much enthusiasm and praise,” Bracey said. “We’re proud of this book and believe it honors the legacy that Mr. Forlines has left to us on the topics of apologetics and worldview thinking.”

Forlines, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Welch College, served on the Commission for Theological Integrity for fifty years, most of those years as chairman. Pinson, chairman of the Commission for Theological Integrity, serves as president of Welch College.

As detailed on the book’s dust jacket, “In The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson brings together select writings of F. Leroy Forlines on apologetics and the knowledge of God. He begins the volume with a lengthy essay on the apologetics of the foremost systematic theologian of the modern Free Will Baptist Church and the contemporary Reformed Arminian movement.”

“I welcome this new book from my distinguished friend and scholar J. Matthew Pinson, which explores my previous writings on apologetics,” Forlines said. “In this book Pinson has brought together some of my writings on apologetics and epistemology from my book The Quest for Truth, introducing them with a lengthy opening chapter of his own on my approach to these matters. I highly commend Pinson’s essay, which excellently sums up my approach to apologetics.”

Forlines added, “The ideas in this book are timely. In the last thirty years, postmodernism has displaced modernism in the intellectual world, which has profoundly affected the discipline of apologetics. This book emphasizes how important it is to understand the changes that postmodernism has brought relating to evangelizing people and reaching them for Christ. The same kind of apologetics used under modernism does not work with the postmodern worldview. . . . My prayer is that God will add His blessing to this book, using it to extend His kingdom and give Him the glory that is due His name alone.”

“Most of my approach to apologetics has derived from conversations with Leroy Forlines,” Pinson said. “The word apologetics appears only a handful of times in his published writings. He tends more to use terms like epistemology, testing worldviews, metanarratives, and paradigms. As I began to encounter students who were interested in apologetics, I would talk to them about Forlines’s approach. Yet they were at a loss because he had never spelled out in detail, in one place, an approach to apologetics. So for some time I have wanted to write something on the apologetics of Leroy Forlines, to reprint and examine his writings on epistemology, worldview thinking, postmodernity, and secularism, distilling his basic approach to apologetics. This book and my essay herein represent a modest fulfillment of that goal.”

“I think friends who follow the work of the Commission and readers of FWBTheology.com will be interested in this new book,” Pinson stated. “Those who have attended theological symposia over the years have heard Mr. Forlines talk about the issues in this book again and again. It’s a privilege to celebrate the thought of our former chairman who was a member of the Commission for fifty years who has had such a profound impact on so many of us.”

Apologetics is the fourth publication from Welch College Press. To purchase a copy of the book, visit https://welch.edu/welchpress.

Teología Evangélica: A Review

Thomas Marberry

One of the books that I enjoyed during 2018 was Pablo Hoff, Teología Evangélica, Tomo 1/Tomo 2 (Miami: Editorial Vida, 2005). Hoff has ministered in Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. He is a graduate of Taylor University, the Winona Lake School of Theology, and the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books and articles which are widely used in the Spanish-speaking world. His goal in writing this book is not “to promote the distinctive doctrines of any denomination, but to present objectively the different points of view found in evangelical and conservative theology.” It contains the kind of basic information that pastors and other Christian leaders need to know.

Of particular interest is his discussion of the Trinity, which chapter 12 discusses. Hoff correctly notes that the term “trinity” does not occur in the Bible, but the idea of a triune God can be deduced from many passages. He explains that the Trinity is a distinctively Christian doctrine; it is not found in any of the major religions of the world. He asserts that this is such an important doctrine that it is “indispensable for the understanding of great biblical truths.”

Hoff summarizes the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity. He outlines the contributions of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian to the development of this doctrine. He also describes several of the early heresies the early church had to struggle with, such as Modalistic Monarchianism.

This is a most useful book for leaders in Spanish-speaking churches. As Free Will Baptists become more involved in ministering to Spanish-speaking people, this is the kind of resource that can be of benefit to us.

 

Our Favorite Books in 2017

by Theological Commission

Members of the Commission for Theological Integrity enjoy a good book as much as anyone. This year has afforded each of us the opportunity to read a number of titles, some published more recently and others published in prior years. This post features a couple of favorite books by each Commission member. Note that while our mention of these books doesn’t represent a blanket endorsement of their entire content, we felt they were significant, interesting, and/or enjoyable. We commend them accordingly unto our readers.

Kevin Hester

Since this year was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I read several books on this topic. I reread two classics: Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers and Roland Bainton’s, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Of particular interest on this topic was Zondervan’s Five Solas Series: Christ Alone (Stephen Wellum), Faith Alone (Thomas Schreiner), God’s Glory Alone (David VanDrunen), God’s Word Alone (Mathew Barrett), and Grace Alone (Carl Trueman), all of which are to be commended for theological clarity and attention to the continued practical relevance of these Protestant principles.

One of the more interesting books I read related to the Protestant Reformation was Matthew Levering’s Was the Reformation a Mistake: Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbiblical (Zondervan, 2017). Unlike most Roman Catholic apologetics, this one was aimed squarely at Evangelical Protestants. Levering, in a rather irenic spirit, strives (unconvincingly) to demonstrate the biblical background of nine Roman Catholic doctrines including: justification, Mary, monasticism, purgatory, the Saints, and the papacy among others. Continue reading Our Favorite Books in 2017