Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Pastor and His Study

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

One night after Sunday evening services, a group of my twenty something’s came over to my house to see something on my computer. We came into my home office, and as I was getting my computer warmed up, one of them looked around my office and said, "You’ve got more books than the library does!"

This is not true; the town library does have more books than I do; though I might be able to claim to have more good books than the library does. But since they were there and interested I decided to use it as a teaching moment for those serving and being groomed to serve. I told them about how, as a teacher, I didn’t have the privilege of giving people my personal opinion or my best guess – I deal in truth, so when I teach, I have to have my facts straight, and that means only one thing – study.

One year ago today, I was in the home stretch of my seminary education & I was excited. By this time, I had already accepted a position at my current church & figured after a strong finish in seminary, I would be home free – no more long hours of study until the wee hours of the night. No more last minute trips to the library to get those last few sources I needed. No more long papers. It was going to be great.

Boy was I wrong. As a pastor, I find my self writing, and now memorizing what are effectively two six to eight page research papers a week. On top of that, I spend several hours a week going through old class notes and my various systematics to get ready for my Wed. night theology classes, and going over class notes and various books/articles to prepare myself for my personal evangelism class on Sunday nights. If anything, I’ve had to study harder to be a pastor than I did to be a student. Tack onto that my personal reading schedule, and at times I feel like I am in a constant state of study.

Given the stresses of day to day life, apathy and even hostility toward study, and other various factors, I know many of my brothers in ministry have neglected this area of life. But we do so to our detriment. God has called us to teach our people the truth, but to do that; we must first be well versed in it. So, if you will, allow me to offer a few suggestions to help you plan your study to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

First – Read several different genres of books.
When I go into a pastor’s study, I can usually tell what his hobbyhorse is, because all of his books are devoted to one particular area. If he is interested in marriage enrichment, he will have several shelves of enrichment books. If he wants to be a better leader, he will have every Maxwell and Collins book published. If he is interested in theology, all he will have are systematics. I am not saying that these subjects are necessarily bad. But if studied to the exclusion of all else, they can become bad. Have a balanced reading diet. I try to keep a cycle going where I read a theology book, a practical ministry book, a biography, and a work of fiction.

Second – Buy books that argue against positions you hold.
In my library, I have several books that are Christian classics – books I would gladly suggest to others. Books written by men like Dever, Rainer, Piper, and Ware, these are books you just cannot go wrong with. But I also have books that I would never suggest to others. Books like Spong’s "Why Christianity Must Change or Die," and Pinnock’s "Most Moved Mover." Why would I buy such things? Well, to quote Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, "ministers must know the truth to teach it, and the error to defend against it." I would like to add that books like this help us think more clearly about doctrines we cling to, and can help us reconsider or own errors. I was once quite hostile towards reformed theology until I bought Steele’s "The Five Points of Calvinism." After reading this book I understood reformed thought better, and eventually came to a point of acceptance.

Third - Read Biographies
My own life and ministry has been greatly encouraged by those who have gone before me. By reading biographies, we learn of every aspect of our subject. Not just the successes that everyone hears about, but also their fears, failures and trials. The lives of men like Luther, Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and others have taught me what a life of ministry will look like through the years. They have also taught me where some of the pitfalls of that life are, and hopefully will help me avoid them in the future.

Fourth - Focus more on individual commentaries as opposed to commentary sets.
Have at least one full commentary set in your library. MacArthur’s New Testament series is a good one, Barclay’s set is a good one, and I even enjoy McGee’s set quite a bit. But you will find that if you only buy sets, they will start to get repetitive. So, keep your ears to the ground for good individual commentaries, and buy them.

Fifth – Stay Up to Date with Your Studies
This sad scenario has been repeated all too often. I meet with a pastor, and we stop to look at his library. Then I start to realize that most of his books were published at about the same time he was in seminary. His library tells me something sad, "I stopped studying after seminary." New books keep our minds expanding, which keeps us out of ministerial ruts. Ever wonder why some pastors are so stuck in the past? It’s probably because their books are only from the past. Keep in touch with publishers, they will usually be glad to send you a flyer highlighting their new releases. When one seems interesting to you, order it.

Sixth – Join an Academic Society
Dues to these societies are usually pretty cheap, and come with great benefits. There are the networks of other scholars, most usually talk about books just published in their field (remember #5), and they review books, helping you weed out the good and the bad. They also publish quarterly periodicals that address various issues. Right now I am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the American Society of Church Growth – both good organizations. I am also considering joining the Society of Biblical Literature, but have not yet made up my mind on it.

Seventh – Consider Continuing Your Education
Given the growth of online degrees, you no longer have to uproot and move across the country for a good education. Consider working on a D Min, or something like that. Anything that will motivate you to study harder.

Finally - Keep a List of Your Books
As I get new books, I log them into an excel program based on title, author, call number, ISBN, and price. This has several benifits to it. First, as your library grows, the search and find functions will help you quickly locate the items you need. Also if, God forbid, there should be a fire, your records will help your insurance company replace your library.

How do I get my books?
First, I talked my wife into a $100 a month budget for books, and then I stretch that budget to the limit. Mostly I shop online for used books; they are cheaper, and as long as you’re careful about what you buy, in pretty good shape. I go to places like,,,, and . Overstock is a secular site that deals with a lot of stuff, but when they have the Christian book you’re looking for, their prices can’t be beat. Also, keep up with your older pastor friends. I’ve had several retire from the ministry and donate substantial portions of their library to help further my ministry.

Need some direction on what books to buy?
Check out . This is a list of books compiled by Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The list he provides will help you build what I would consider the basic pastoral library. It will be a good place to start.

Also, I should mention that there is currently a contest to win a theological library at He says that in order to be put in for the drawing, all you have to do is:

"Blog about it and link back to this (his) post. After you have made your post use the comment section below (on his blog) to let me (him) know where I can find your blog post and link.

- Mention it in a forum. Many people that don’t blog participate in forums. Try to find an appropriate topic for something like this, and mention it along with the URL (of his blog) so that others can find their way here. Then come back here and in the comment section (again, on his blog) below paste the link to that thread."

This blog is my entrance in this contest. I would encourage you to enter yourself, but the fact is that if you enter, there’s a better chance that I won’t win. So do what you will. :)

Your library says a lot about who you are as a minister, what is it saying about you?

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When a Baby Dies

Several weeks ago, I shared with you the story of my younger brother James, who suffered from Down Syndrome all of his life, and suddenly passed away last July. After a week of struggle, my parents were approached by their doctors who gave them some terrible news. James’ internal organs had all shut down, there was nothing else to be done, so a decision had to be made to keep him on the machines until he died after a few days, or go ahead and turn the machines off and let him go quickly. Understandably, my parents wanted the night to think it over. At about 11 o’clock at night, I got a call from my mother who was very distressed. She asked me, based on my studies of the Bible, what was going to happen to James after he died?

This is a difficult question – what is the eternal fate of those who die while incapable of professing Christ due to age or mental ability? The very early Catholic Church, faced with a high infant mortality rate, answered this question with infant baptism. They argued that infant baptism conveyed God’s grace upon this child, thus guaranteeing them a place in heaven. Today, in Baptist circles, we have a belief called the age of accountability. We argue that there is a time of innocence in people’s lives, and if they die during that time they are sinless and are permitted into heaven.

Both of these doctrines sound good and well reasoned, the only problem is that both of these doctrines runs against everything that the Bible tells us. Regarding the Catholic view, please refer to my posts on baptism. Regarding the "age of accountability," please see below.

First, the bible never mentions an age of accountability, nor does it say that people are innocent at any time in their lives.

Second, when is the age of accountability? How old do people have to be before we start witnessing to them? One Sunday School teacher once told me that if you can send a child into a room full of people naked, then they are innocent. But once they start feeling shame, then they have reached the age of accountability. I have only a one question about that – where is that in the bible? If this is true, then the age of accountability must be quite old, because I remember when I was living in the dorms of a state college, I ran into more than a few naked people running through the halls without a stitch of shame. Though I somehow doubt that they were innocent.

At this point in my post, I’m sure that you have guessed that I reject the "doctrine" of an age of accountability. Does that mean that I think those who die in infancy are condemned to hell?

Not at all.

In fact I do believe that those who die in a state where they are unable to accept Christ due to age or mental ability are indeed saved. I just want to have biblical reasons for believing this.

So, lets begin our discussion with reasons why infants are NOT saved.

Infants are not saved because they are innocent or lack sin. The bible is very clear that everyone sins. For example, the bible says:

Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Psalm 58:3 3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.

1 John 1:8 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

We should not say that infants are innocent, the truth is that they are sinners just like the rest of us. I realize that this is a difficult thing for us to grasp. Just last night I slipped into my 5-month-old baby Jack’s room while he slept and just watched him, and marveled at how perfect he was. However Jack is not perfect. He is in fact a slave to sin. A sin nature resides in his heart at this very moment, and he has likely committed some sin in his body that I am unaware of.
Right now, at this point in his life, Jack can say:

Psalm 51:5 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

So, how are children who die in infancy saved?

They are saved the same way that everyone else is saved – through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The bible says:

John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Acts 4:12 12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

Those who die in infancy are not saved because of their own personal righteousness or innocence. They are saved because their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ.

So how does this happen?

First, we do see in the scriptures that it is possible for God to communicate the gospel to infants in a way they can respond to, even though we as adults may not fully understand it. This may be seen in the case of John the Baptist. Luke 1:15 says:

Luke 1:15 15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.

This combined with the fact that John the Baptist acknowledged Christ while in the womb (Luke 1:41), gives clear evidence that it is possible for the gospel to be communicated to, and accepted by infants and those we would not think of being capable of understanding.

To say that some infants who die will be saved is the safest position to take. This can be proven 100% from the scriptures. If I were in a debate with another person well versed in rhetoric and the scriptures, this would be the position I would argue for.

However, I do believe that the scriptures do allude to the fact that all infants who die will be saved. This can be found in places like Deuteronomy 1:39 which states:

Deuteronomy 1:39 39 'Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.

Here, God has pledged to wipe out Israel for not going into the Promised Land. However, he has made an exception for those who were not old enough to engage in the decision making process of the people. Because this event is situation specific, it cannot apply to all children at all times – however it does give us the hint that God’s judgement is tempered towards those who are ignorant of their sinful estate.

Now the big question – why doesn’t God just say that all who die in infancy are saved? I believe that he does not say this for our benefit.

Not long ago, the news reported that a young mother decided to drown all four of her children – one at a time. Her reason for this? Her new boyfriend did not want kids, "so she had to get rid of them somehow."

Given the rate of mental instability among some people, one could only imagine what would happen if the guarantee of salvation for infants was expressly given in the scriptures. One could imagine a parent having a child, loving it for 2 or 3 years, and then killing it before the "age of accountability" so that it would be guaranteed salvation. Yes that is a sick thought, yes it is twisted – but unfortunately, it is not far from reality. For example, I can remember many years ago when a member of my state convention’s board of ethics argued that abortion was an acceptable and harmless practice, because all of those aborted were guaranteed salvation because they had not yet reached an age of accountability.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thoughts on a Young Earth

How old is the earth? Is it 6011 years old as some postulate, or is it tens of millions of years old as others suggest? What we find in this discussion is two separate conversations. The first is between theists and evolutionists – one side holding to biblical evidence and the other holding to scientific theories. The second side of this conversation however, is being held between theists – both of whom are arguing their position from the bible. Today, I would like to address the conversation between theists, briefly describe the positions, and explain why I hold to a young earth position.

There are several reasons why theists would hold to an old earth position, though the most popular argument advanced today has to do with the meaning of the word day (Heb. Yom) in the creation account. In volume two of his systematic theology, Norman Geisler offers us arguments from several parties who argue for an old earth position.

The Revelatory-Day View
Some conservative scholars have suggested that the "days" of Genesis may be twenty-four-hour days of revelation, not days of Creation (see Wiseman, CRSD, all). That is, they propose that it took God a literal solar week (of 144 hours) to reveal to Adam (or Moses) what He had done in the long ages before humans were created. Even in the Exodus passage (20:11) that speaks of the heavens and earth being "made" (asah) in six days, the word can mean "revealed." Just as a prophet can get revelation from God looking forward to a future series of events (d. Dan. 2, 7, 9; Rev. 6-19), even so God can reveal a past series of events to one of His servants. Indeed, Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days (Ex. 24:18), and God could have taken six of these days to reveal the past creation events to him. Or, after God created Adam, He could have taken six literal days to reveal to him what He had done before Adam was created. Some scholars believe this material could have been memorized and passed on as the first "account of the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 2:4), just as the other "histories" (or "genealogies") were apparently recorded and passed on (d. Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; etc.) .

The Alternate-Day-Age View
Other evangelical scholars have suggested that the "days" of Genesis are twenty-four-hour periods of time in which God created the things mentioned, but that they are separated by long periods of time in between. This would account for the indications in Genesis 1 that these are twenty-four-hour days (like numbered days and "evening and morning"), while at the same time leaving room for the geological ages demanded by modern science.

Gap Theories
C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) made popular the view that there could be a great gap of time between the first two verses of the Bible into which all of the geological ages fit. In this way, the "days" could be twenty-four hours each, and yet the world could still be many millions of years old or more.
Others believe that there may be a "gap" or, better, a lapse of time before the six twenty-four-hour days of Genesis begin. In this case, the first verse of the Bible would not necessarily indicate the original ex nihilo creation of God, but more recent acts of God forming a world He had previously created (see Waltke, CAG, all) .

The Ideal-Time View
There is also a position variously known as the prochronism, apparent-age, or ideal-time view. According to this perspective, the earth and all living things were created with the appearance of age, that is, they were created mature. For example, Adam may have looked twenty-one years old a minute after he was created, but he was really only a minute old. Likewise, it is argued that Adam may have had a naval like all his descendants do, even though he was never connected by an umbilical cord to a mother. Also, it is theorized that the first trees may have been created with rings in them rather than receiving them from annual growth. If this is so, then the world can be actually young and only apparently very old.

The Literary-Framework View
Still others, like Herman Ridderbos (b. 1900), have suggested that the use of "days" and "evening and morning" are merely ancient literary devices to frame certain periods of time in order to encapsulate them in literary form much like we use a "chapter" to do the same. It is reasoned that since evening and morning were natural ways to point to a period of time with a beginning and an end, this was an appropriate way for God to reveal to Adam (or Moses) what He had done in certain periods of time before humans arrived on the scene.

While all of these theories on the meaning of day are interesting and worth studying, I do not feel that they accurately represent the passage’s authorial intent.

First and foremost, the natural meaning of the word day is to mean a literal 24-hour period. Yes, the word yom can refer to longer, unspecified periods of time, but that is not its natural, primary meaning. The allusion to "morning and evening" occurring in each of these days indicates to me that the specific use of yom in this passage should be understood as a literal 24 hour day.

Why is it that people are now trying to stretch the meaning of yom to include thousands, if not millions of years? They do so to accommodate current scientific theories. You can only come to the conclusion that yom refers to a period of time and not a literal day if you come to the text with the presumption of an old earth. Accordingly, there was no biblical commentator who applied an old earth hermeneutic to this passage before the introduction of evolutionary theory.

Second, the assumption that there is a gap of time before the days of creation or between the days of creation is an argument form silence. No where does the bible mention or even allude to these gaps. Admittedly, there is no way to disprove that there are no gaps in the biblical record of creation. But equally, there is no way to prove that there are gaps either – which makes this position difficult to hold.

Since we’re on the subject of gaps, one thing I have always wondered about was how long was the period of time between creation and the fall? Could Adam and Eve have lived thousands of years in sinless perfection before the fall, only then initiating history as recorded in the bible?

The short answer is no. It is true that the bible does not tell us how much time elapsed between creation and fall, but the bible does tell us how much time elapsed between Adam’s creation and the birth of his third son, which occurred after the fall.

Genesis 5:3 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

So, while we don’t know how much time elapsed between creation and the fall, it is safe to say that it was less than 129 years. Given that before Seth’s birth, Adam’s other children Cain and Abel were born and grew to adulthood, I would wager that the time between creation and fall was probably less than 100 years.

So how old is the earth? To be perfectly honest, no one really knows for sure. Bishop James Usher calculated the years of the bible’s early man through genealogies, combined that with known history, and concluded that Adam’s creation took place in 4004 BC. Given that there are demonstrable gaps in genealogies, and that they were primarily used to show relationship as opposed to kinship, the exactness of his findings are questionable, but his method does provide some help. From the biblical record, I believe that a reasonable age for the earth is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 10,000 years. Which is why I hold to a young earth position.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Cause for Pause

Last June, after graduating from seminary and a long search, I began my duties as pastor at my current church. In many ways I was excited to come here – the town was nearly a carbon copy of the one I grew up in, the population was growing, the church was well established, the people in the church were loving and kind. In many ways it was an ideal situation to go into straight out of seminary.

There were a few small things that bothered me, but they could be easily changed, so I was not overly concerned. One of the things that bothered me about the church was the fact that the church had no existing outreach program, no plan to contact visitors or prospects, no evangelism budget, nothing.

So, the first few months here I built bridges. I got out and met our members in their homes, and worked to build trust and relationships. Then I started slowly. We had an outreach event once a month. They were well attended and the church got excited over it. Now, I am in the process of writing a curriculum to train people for outreach. Our three-week training program will start on March 18, and hopefully we will have teams doing visits the week after Easter. I am at the moment, very proud of my church.

But disappointment still abounds. Not so much over my church but the state of the churches in general. Last week my Director of Missions stopped in and took me out to lunch. Our conversations wandered a bit until I started asking him about what he thought of my program. He seemed to like it, but then told me something that absolutely shocked me. The week before he had lunch with another area DOM & he asked him how many of his churches (34 in all) had active outreach programs. His answer – zero – not one single church was trying to reach its community. My reaction was a combination of both shock and sorrow. But then he said "Guess how many churches in our association (21 churches) has an outreach program." The answer again, to my surprise, was zero – not one single church. He went on to tell me that in our association, there were only 3 pastors who get out to meet prospects & to witness – myself and two others.

So, what that means in a nutshell is that there are 55 churches in Mid Missouri that has no plan to reach a growing area. This might just be a guess, but do you think that this is why so many of our churches are declining?

So what can be done? Well it all begins with you – right there – the one reading this blog. Does your church have an outreach program? If it does, go be a part of it. If it doesn’t, start one – bug your pastor until he lets you. Get out and start doing it on your own – if you lead them they will follow.

If you need a program for training people in evangelism, contact me. I will send you all of my materials, the training curriculum, tips on building prospect lists, everything – free of charge.

The fact of the matter is that we need to get boots on the ground - Romans 10:13-14 says, "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

Who have you told today?

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