This is the latest sermon from a series I am preaching at Fairview Baptist Church.
On Sunday we began a new series on the Parables of Luke at Fairview Baptist Church.
I just finished preaching through Ecclesiastes. It was difficult but rewarding. When venturing into a complex and debated book like Ecclesiastes, it is always helpful to be in dialogue with others who have gone before you. Here are three accessible companions I found helpful on my journey.
Living Life Backward by David Gibson
Gibson has provided us with a lively popular exposition on Ecclesiastes. Not only is his exegesis compelling, so is Gibson’s ability to apply the text to our context. This book is a gift to the church and a great resource for teachers and preacher who venture into the wild world of Ecclesiastes.
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes by Sidney Greidanus
This book is a must-have for any preacher or teacher working through Ecclesiastes. Greidanus walks teachers and preachers step-by-step from “passage to proclamation” for every single passage in Ecclesiastes. Greidanus also explores various ways to move from this often difficult Old Testament book to Jesus Christ and its New Testament application.
Recovering Eden by Zach Eswine
Recovering Eden is a pastorally sensitive and poetic guide written on a popular level. Eswine explores the main themes of Ecclesiastes in a reflective and engaging way. One note, this book does not move through the text chapter by chapter, however, there is a helpful index in the back if you plan to use it as a reference for teaching or preaching.
This is not a list of books published in 2017 (though some were), it is a list of books that I read in 2017.
As a pastor, I usually read 3-4 commentaries for each sermon series I preach (6 series in 2017). In order to narrow the list, I will set the commentaries aside.
This is a list of (somewhat) recently published books that had a profound impact on my own spiritual formation and philosophy of ministry. It’s also a list of books that I would recommend to my pastor friends. Click on the title to view it on Amazon.com.
Eswine helped us see that pastoral work keeps requiring our surrender to small, mostly overlooked things over long periods of time. As a pastor, I was never meant to know everything, fix everything, and be everywhere at once. That’s Jesus’ job, not yours.
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith
Smith has long argued, in the tradition of Augustine, that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. Too often we do not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith not only argues that worshiping in a local church is central to the heart of Christian formation and discipleship, he also suggests several practices for shaping the Christian life. This book is a popularized version of the arguments Smith made in his 2009 book Desiring the Kingdom.
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
Have you ever wondered how much the herd mentality affects your thought life? Perhaps, our hostility toward one another is not based on facts, but on a desire to be included in a particular group. Professor Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all.
The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
In this work, Peterson traces his journey of discovering of what it really means to be a pastor. As always, Peterson challenges conventional wisdom regarding church marketing, CEO pastors, and American Christian consumerism by presenting a simple, faith-based description of what being a minister means today. He urges us to pay attention to God, and to one another.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Tim Keller
We live in the age of skepticism, where so much faith is placed in reason, progress, and emotion that one might wonder: why should anyone believe in Christianity? In this follow up The Reason for God (2009), Keller explores what role can faith and religion play in our modern lives.
Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer
In this book, Vanhoozer argues that theology is not merely a set of cognitive beliefs, but is also something we do that involves speech and action alike. In order to illustrate his point, he uses a theatrical model to explain the ways in which doctrine shapes Christian understanding and forms disciples. According to Vanhoozer, disciples need doctrinal direction as they walk onto the social stage in the great theater of the world.
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
Why do so many pastors implode under the spotlight? Why do modern-day churches become so entangled in growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? Because, according to Goggin and Strobel, Christians have succumbed to the temptations of power and forgotten Jesus’ seemingly contradictory path to power – giving it up. This book paints a richly biblical vision of power through weakness.
Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne
The gospel answers life’s most foundational questions about identity, destiny, and purpose. Union with Christ is a central gospel metaphor for understanding what it means to live in Christ and actually become like Him. According to Wilbourne, nothing is more practical for living the Christian life than grasping this reality!
The recent publication of The Nashville Statement has provoked a lot of cultural criticism for the traditional evangelical Christian doctrine of sexuality and marriage. In a world where Christian doctrine is often confused, ignored, or even adjusted, such a statement attempts to define a set of beliefs that are consistent with what has been widely accepted as historic Christian teaching.
It has been interesting to read news articles responding to The Nashville Statment. I have not found many that allow for charitable disagreement or meaningful dialogue. Most of them seem to disparage this distinct Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage and those who hold to it. Sadly, this is no surprise. Many within the larger Protestant community have also lodged their criticisms as well.
First, the statement has been criticised because of the timing of its release. I understand the sentiment of this criticism.
Second, the statement has been criticised because of its tone. Written words are what they are. How you hear them, and whether or not you accept them as loving, depends on how you perceive the motivation of those who write them.
Third, one pastor commented: “When we issue statements rather than build relationships we are more like Pharisees and less like Jesus.” However, I do not think statements of belief and relationships are mutually exclusive. Jesus himself demonstrated a deep love for sinners while calling them to turn from their sin. The religious leaders in the New Testament met a different outcome than those who heeded Jesus’ truthful and loving words to “go and sin no more.”
Granted, Christians have not always been charitable or tactful in articulating our beliefs towards non-Christians in a loving way, especially when it comes to controversial matters. Tone and tact aside, we all have beliefs that guide and guard our communities. Tim Keller has a helpful analogy on the role of creeds in a community. (HT Tony Reinke)
“Imagine that one of the board members of the local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center announces, ‘I’ve had a religious experience and now I believe homosexuality is a sin.’ As the weeks go by, he persists in making that assertion. Imagine that a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage announces, ‘I discovered that my son is gay and I think he has the right to marry his partner.’ No matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are, the day will come when each group will have to say, ‘You must step off the board because you don’t share a common commitment with us.’ The first of these communities has the reputation for being inclusive and the second for being exclusive, but, in practice, both of them operate in almost the very same way. Each is based on common beliefs that act as boundaries, including some and excluding others. Neither community is being ‘narrow’ — they are just being communities. Any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all.” (The Reason for God (2008), 39–40).
With these points made, I’d like to aim my reflections in a different direction.
We live in a pluralistic society. In our culture, the word pluralism has become much more than a religious mix. Pluralism has become an ideology, a type of political correctness. This kind of pluralism also calls for a specific kind of tolerance.
By tolerance, our culture does not mean, “to respect another’s view point, even if we disagree.” I could agree to that definition, I can respect someone I disagree with. Respect is the basis for honest dialogue even in the midst of disagreement.
Our culture seems to define tolerance as the “acceptance of different views.” The shift from “respect” to “acceptance” is notable. It communicates that you and I cannot bear to contradict one another.
Admittedly, The Nashville Statement draws a line in the sand, something Jesus himself often did on matters of Christian ethics. One of the things we must face is the reality that no follower of Christ can possibly embrace the full acceptance of different views, especially if they believe one is true and the other is false. This is true regardless of how you feel about the intent or tone of the statement. When it comes to matters of faith, we can discuss and disagree. It is ok. This is the hallmark of religious freedom.
Enter Sam Allberry. I do not know Sam personally, but he is known to many people because of his voice on the issue at hand.
In a society where much hatred and confusion is aroused by clear delineations on sexuality and marriage, Sam needs to be heard. Allberry is a Christian who experiences same sex attraction but chooses not give himself to such relationships because of his personal faith. He is single. Moreover, he affirms and defends the biblical view of sexuality and marriage. He also signed this controversial Nashville Statment.
When it comes to Christians struggling with same sex attraction and yet remain faithful to Scripture’s teaching, I would imagine that he is not unique. He is not alone. However, God has allowed Allberry a public platform to speak to these issues.
I am grateful for Sam’s courageous conviction, and how he has modeled his humble but confident faith, even in the midst of struggle. I think we as the Church need to learn from Sam. We need to listen. We need to be aware of others around us who may find themselves in a similar position.
All of us would affirm that the gospel is good news for all people, regardless of how our human brokenness manifests itself in our individual lives.
One of the reasons that The Nashville Statment is controversial is because it outlines what many evangelical Christians believe the Bible teaches regarding sexuality and marriage. It is controversial because it calls for repentance and faith.
Repentance is controversial because it presupposes that there is something wrong with us. Faith is controversial because it presupposes that we need to be saved from our sinfulness.
All of us have struggles related to sin. Sam struggles with same-sex attraction and other things, I am sure. I may not struggle with same sex attraction, but I struggle with 10,000 other things. Therefore, Sam and I are essentially the same. Broken sinners at the foot of the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
For this reason, Sam and I are also beloved children of God, covered by God’s grace through repentance and faith in Christ alone. This is the good news of the gospel.
The both of us desire to pursue holiness. Both of us war with our own sinfulness by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, with the weapon of the Word, and in the midst of an army of fellow saints.
By the grace of God, we are what we are, simultaneously sinners and saints. We know dear Christian brothers and sisters, that we are all great sinners. We also know that Christ is a great savior.
If you are wrestling with this issue as one who struggles with same sex attraction, or as one who wants to better understand this issue, I encourage you to read Sam’s book “Is God Anti-Gay?”.
I am currently preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at Fairview Baptist Church. This morning we examined the qualifications of pastors/elders and deacons from 1 Timothy 3:1-13. During this particular sermon, I argued the following:
“Based on Scripture, I do believe it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
This statement flowed from an exegetical study, and a willingness to reexamine my own assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. I am conservative in my theology. To some people, a statement like the one above is often associated with moderate or liberal Baptists.
Therefore, I would like to explain why I believe this can be the case from Scripture, and then consider how church context plays into the discussion.
The Biblical Evidence
There are basically two schools of thought. Good conservative Bible-believing scholars and pastors differ on this complex issue. Therefore, I think we should be careful by approaching it with wisdom and grace.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons. In general, I would argue that deacons provide leadership in the service-oriented and administrative matters pertaining to the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4). This is important for the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, in the sense that deacons serve in areas like finances (1 Tim. 3:8), administration (1 Tim. 3:12), visitation (1 Tim. 3:11), and meeting to the needs of the church family (Acts 6:1-4).
In reference to women serving as deacons, the debate centers around verse 11 and its surrounding context, namely, does Paul mean deacons wives, deacons along with their wives, or women serving as deacons? Consider a few translations:
- “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV).
- “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (ESV).
- “Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything” (CSB).
- “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (NASB).
One of the first things you will notice is that the text, depending on the version, translates this verse as “their wives”, “wives too”, or “women”. First, the pronoun “their” is actually not in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Some Bible translators argue that it is implied, but it’s certainly not explicit. Therefore, we must admit there is some ambiguity here. Even still, it is very possible that the best translation for verse 11 is not “their wives”, but wives or women. It seems that Paul is referring to women in general or married women (wives).
Some have argued that Paul is referring to deacons as a married couple (male and female) serving together in this office. Both husband and wife could inevitably be involved in the deacon ministry to some extent and, therefore, needed to be of good Christian character. However, the absence of the pronoun “their” (as in “their wives”) makes this interpretation less likely.
The second thing to notice is the adverb “too” or “likewise”. This is important for the context. The argument is, Paul begins by addressing deacons in general, switches the attention to women in verse 11, and then to men in verse 12 (one woman man, the leader in the home), and back to deacons in general in verse 13. Paul used the word “too/likewise” in order to transition from talking about elders in verse 7 to talking about deacons in verse 8. Paul then used this same word “too/likewise” in verse 11 to transition into talking about wives or women. The more natural reading of the original language is first pastors/elders (men) likewise, to deacons likewise.
Third, why does Paul not give qualifications for pastor/elders wives? After giving specific responsibilities for male elder’s in the home (1 Timothy 3:1-7), why is there no mention of their wives?
Fourth, some may argue that based on Acts 6:3, deacons should only be men. That is because the text reads “select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Acts 6:1-6 records the choice of “the seven” to diaconal service. While it does not use the technical term and noun “deacon” for their status or work, it surely provides the background to and informs the content of the New Testament office of deacon. (The Greek verb from which we get the English word deacon, to serve, is used in 6:2.) The question is, should we read this passage as descriptive of the early church or prescriptive for all churches? If we read it as prescriptive, then how does one deal with Romans 16:1, where the word often translated deacon is used of Phoebe (a woman)? Phoebe is referred to as a “servant of the church” (a specific church), which would seem to point to a diaconal role. Moreover, the description of her ministry in Romans 16:2 fits well with the type of ministry associated with New Testament deacons.
Fifth, the qualifications for deacons do not require the “ability to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), which is a requirement given to men as pastor/elders. To be clear, I believe that the pattern of the New Testament presents the case pastoral ministry is limited to men (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). That is much easier to argue than the case for deacons as men only. Even the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the conservative standard of doctrine for Southern Baptist Churches makes this clear, arguing that the “…scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The Contextual Considerations
Depending on what tradition you were raised in, you’re probably already inclined to lean toward a specific position regarding women as deacons. However, this should not be decided from our preference or tradition; it’s up to the Word. Personally, I believe that God’s word is authoritative. As the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”
Yet, even while we agree that the Word is the final authority, the Word is not entirely clear or explicit in this instance. While one’s tradition may lean towards a certain understanding, conservative biblical scholars are on both sides of this issue. What is clear? The primary focus of deacon ministry is centered on the service-oriented and administrative tasks primarily related to the physical needs of the church, allowing the pastors/elders (called men) to be fully devoted to the spiritual needs of the church. This is why I argued, “…it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
Why the qualifier “some” settings? In many Southern Baptist churches, the deacons serve as quasi-elders or a board of directors. In these cases, the deacons play a significant leadership role in the church that blurs the lines between pastor/elder and deacon. In these cases, I would argue that women should probably not serve in a deacon capacity. In other cases where the men serve as pastor/elders, and the role of pastor/elder and deacon is clearly differentiated, I think women can and should serve as deacons. Even if your church holds to deacons as men only view, I would challenge you to consider how women are serving the body. I would be willing to bet (no, I don’t gamble), many of the women are already serving in a deacon-like manner.
The central issue here, and how we answer the question, should women serve as deacons, must be shaped and limited by the word of God. All of us would recognize that we approach the word of God with assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. There are Southern Baptist Churches that limit the role of deacon to men, there are other Southern Baptist Churches that have men serving as elder/pastors, and both men and women serving as deacons. This is why it is important to consider the context of the church, and why humility, openness, and community become so important in discussions like these.
- My friend Pastor Jeff Medders has also written about this issue with several quotes from leaders in the modern church and church history.
- If you would like to examine both sides, I would encourage you to read “40 Questions On Deacons and Elders” by Benjamin Merkle.
- Also, consider John Hammett’s “Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches” for good discussion on the textual evidence and Baptist history. Dr. Hammett comes to different conclusions but admits this is a complex issue.
- Regarding this particular passage (1 Timothy 3), see Andreas Köstenberger’s commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus. Also, see his book Women in the Church.
- Lastly, there is a good discussion between several Southeastern Seminary professors on this issue here.
I am thankful to be one of the speakers at the 2017 Together for Adoption National Conference in Atlanta, GA (September 29th-30th). The focus of the conference is “the image of God, the gospel, and the orphan”. During the conference, we will explore what the implications of being made in the image of God have on adoption, fostercare, and orphancare.