Discernment


Can we foresee potential results from our decisions?

In the futuristic thriller World War Z, Brad Pitt plays a U.N. envoy who battles a world-wide zombie apocalypse. He discovers that Israel has successfully walled off their nation to stop the onslaught of the undead.

Discussion with the politician responsible for the successful defense uncovers an approach to problem solving named “the tenth man.” [See movie clip hereNumerous incidents in history have led the Israelis to conclude if all the information points in an obvious direction it is the responsibility of “the tenth man” to stand in opposition to the majority, no matter how improbable is the claim.

Our decisions are hardly ever that graphic, nor the outcomes so dire! Yet, the movie clip causes us to ask the question, “How do I make a decision in the face of adversity or against overwhelming opposition?” Scripture is clear that cultivating discernment is crucial.

Discernment in Proverbs is the means to foresee potential results from our decisions. Sometimes we are called on to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, or to maintain the status quo over against a venture into the unknown.

Discernment begins with the moral order of God. Mathematicians depend on immutable logic. Scientists study based on a stable, ordered world. Musicians create because they can count on melody, harmony, and rhythm. God made His world to work in a certain way which helps us know how to live in it. Solomon showed that discernment came from research. Hard work was necessary to uncover the “secrets” of God’s creation (1 Kings 4.29-34; Proverbs 29:2).

Solomon’s decision making was established on God’s perspectives. For example, the king discerned a mother’s true love based on the suggestion that a child be sawn in two (1 Kings 3.16-28). In Solomon’s case, he knew that a mother would never allow her child’s death and would rather give the baby to another than to have the little one die. Testing the worth of things based on their outcome is exactly what Romans 12:2 means when it says we are to “discern the will of God.”

Other New Testament examples show the power of biblical discernment. Ephesians 5:8-10 says we are to apply a test to examine, discover or approve “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Philippians 1:9, 10 confirms that our love should include discernment benefiting others. Hebrews 5:14 calls on the believer to “distinguish between good and evil” because she has been “trained by constant practice.” 1 John 4:1 commands us to “test” all viewpoints, illuminating false ideas by biblical truth.

 

How do we test for discernment? Proverbial wisdom offers a five point plan. A discerning person

  1. Seeks knowledge (14.6, 15.14, 18.15)

  2. Accepts rebuke (19.25)

  3. Makes wisdom a part of her (14.33)

  4. Develops interior character (16.21)

  5. Stays silent unless one can speak with wisdom (10.13, 27:28)

Kurt Vonnegut made a unique proposal. Indianapolis native, author of such novels as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut suggested that presidents should have a “Secretary of the Future” in their cabinet.[1] The unique, prescient idea would cause people to ask, “What if?” Do we think futuristically about our decisions before we make them? Do we consider what unintended consequences might arise as a result of our decision? Do we recognize that in a finite, fallen world even our best decisions may be fraught with difficulties? We may not face a zombie apocalypse or be part of a presidential cabinet. But we can all consider our decisions based on biblical discernment. [See “Afterword” below]

This essay also appears at Emerging Scholars Network (here). Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com, wikipedia.com, hdwallpaperg.com, reddit.com, gen-wallpaper.blogspot.com

 

 

Questions for Reflection

Why is God’s way of living better than a purely human view of morality?

Who can help me develop a discerning mindset?

What decision do I face now that could be helped by biblical discernment?

When do I make time to reflect on decision making which is forward thinking?

How do we put discernment into practice in our homes, churches, communities?

Prayer Dear Lord. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Give us attentive spirits to follow Your Spirit. Give us unseen helps that help us make sense of what we see. Give us the assurance that when we cannot be sure of our decisions, we can be sure of You. Amen (A prayer based on 2 Chronicles 20:12)

[1] http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW140_full.html

Seminaries


Paul’s letters to churches were “distance learning.”

Biblical Basis for Seminary

Traditionally, a seminary has been a place of study to train clergy, religious personnel, chaplains, or lay leaders. The word “seminary” comes from a Latin root meaning to plant a nursery, sow a seed bed, launch a breeding ground, or begin a process. The word was used early to identify both pastoral training for priests and girls’ schools. Religious training meant that people who wanted to give their lives to the spiritual service of others would prepare at a place with experienced professors who would teach subjects—preparing through practice—the responsibilities of priests, pastors, or church leaders.

Seminaries began because church leaders saw the need to train the next generation of clerics (2 Tim 1:12-14; 2:2) churches also were concerned that the seminaries so begun were becoming errant in doctrine, launching new institutions (2 Tim 1:15; 2:16-19). The concern for transferring sound doctrine (Titus 1:9-2:1; 3:9-11), has been the primary Christian impetus in both seminary commencement and expansion. Seminaries can be found wherever the Christian church can be found, providing nurseries for the Christian mind.

 

Historical Context

Brick and mortar edifices have been created to serve student learning for centuries. Anchored by majestic buildings, students were required to live in a certain place to be educated. Such seminaries hired professors to live in the same locale to teach and mentor future church leadership. Ancient schools, Tyrannus in Ephesus for example (Acts 19:8-10), were established places of learning where students would go to sit under the tutelage of a favorite teacher. Early church leaders like Paul utilized such facilities but were constantly on the move, taking themselves to the people to teach where they were invited or found a receptive audience (i.e., Acts 19:21-22). Both historic patterns existed—students following teachers and teachers going to students.

At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st  centuries sending professors to pupils has become a primary delivery system. To some, the internet has made physical moves to a place unnecessary for the training of religious leaders. Purely online degrees exist to serve those who could not connect with teachers face-to-face. Hybrid or blended approaches include pre-work prior to incarnational, on-site meetings, continuing online forums, and final papers sent electronically. Residential programs continue but often combine web-enabled options. Yet the church forms its practice based on its doctrine. Jesus’ incarnation—coming to earth in physical form—necessitates incarnational theology, a physical, local presence. Personal interaction cannot be replaced for the Christian educator. [See my essay on “text-people not textbooks” here.]

 

 

 

Missional Direction

Seminaries tend to focus on denominational roots, theological persuasions, programmatic foci, or personality appeals. Local church history may also direct students toward certain institutions. But most Christians come back to the same concept of missional direction: entrusting the next generation with The Word of God (2 Tim 1:14; 2:2; Titus 1:4). The Christian church should be an inclusive body, standing on the foundation of Scripture (Acts 2:5-11, 42-49; 15; Gal 3:29; James 2; Rev 5:9). 21st century educational focus is returning to the roots of theological thinking which began in Asia and Africa with scholars such as Augustine. His treatise “On Doctrine” provides guidance for educational direction, methods, qualifications, etc. A clear precedent of utilizing cultural tools [see my essay here] and situational options to communicate the gospel and grow maturing believers is evident in every generation.

 

Once focused solely on strict study of languages, theology, and liturgical practices seminaries have expanded their offerings. Fast cultural changes have forced seminary education to grow new curricula. Programs such as social justice, human trafficking, cultural interpretation, or filmmaking are examples of a new focus in education. In the past seminaries have taught based on established models. The move is now distinctively toward application/interaction of theological insights with current cultural needs.

 

Instead of relying on a standardized curriculum where application is left to the student upon graduation, practicum learning is an essential component of the teaching-learning process [see my essay here]. Projects, collaboration, and institutional professor/student interchange are now part and parcel of Christian higher education. Diversification of programs allocate a broad spectrum of seminary choices. Flexibility allows the Christian church to be nimble [see my essay] in approach and creative in its use of resources. Where ease of travel exists and electronic communication can be useful, seminaries can flourish, allowing students immediate access to information.

Cost may preclude future students from programmatic, system-based, organized, or accredited seminary experience. Though non-certified, some seminaries have existed offering less substantive training, local churches or denominations may unfold approaches to pastoral training which are smaller, more directed to a situation or locale. Technological interconnectivity may or may not play a major role in such circumstances. If resources such as books and tutors exist within a geographical sphere of influence, distance education could become unnecessary.

 

Local development of church leaders has been the focus since Acts, the epistles, and the early church. Paul (Titus 1), John (3 John), and Peter (1 Peter 5:1-4), for instance, assumed the role of traveling overseer, communicating preparation responsibility through letters to local assemblies. Persecution could also drain leaders from neighborhood churches. In such cases, education of church shepherds will necessitate close, interpersonal discipleship. Past foreseeing future problems and possibilities, seminaries will continue to water leadership seeds in the Christian church patterned after prophetical schools (i.e., 1 Sam. 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 12, 15) and traveling professors (2 Chron 17:7-9). [See my essay on The Church here.

 

 

“Seminaries”  © is one of 22 articles included in  History of Christianity in the United States (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) by Dr. Mark Eckel. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute (one minute video here). Picture credit: Snappygoat.com

 

 

 

 

References and Resources

Anthony, J. Michael and Warren S. Benson. Exploring the History and Philosophy of Christian     Education: Principles for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2003.

Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001.

Banks, Robert. Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.

Billman, Kathleen D. and Bruce C. Birch, eds. C(H)AOS Theory: Reflections of Chief Academic Officers in Theological Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011.

Hill, Kenneth. Religious Education in the African American Tradition: A Comprehensive Introduction. Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press, 2007.

House, Paul R. Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

Mulphers, Aubrey. Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don’t Teach Pastors in Seminary, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009.

Parrett, Gary A. and S. Steve Kang. Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Tidball, Derek. Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.