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Is College worth it?
Alex Chediak links to some challenging discussions about the usefulness and value of college. His summary: “Thus far, their thesis seems to be that college is worth it for some people (those who have intellectual ability and personal discipline) at some colleges (those that haven’t watered-down their academics) in some majors (those that have reliable market value, particularly if you’re needing to debt-finance your education).” And while you’re at it, if you’re going to College soon or you have a child or grandchild going, why not pick up Alex’s excellent book,Thriving at College.

Is Jesus in the Old Testament?
Iain Duguid’s book of the same name is available for a free download this week. You’ll get the link at this post, together with a helpful review of some points in the book.

Show then tell
Just a heads-up about a new book on sermon illustrations that I was glad to endorse and which will soon be available.

Why did my wife and I write a book on The Pastor’s Family
Nice video here too.

Help I’m a new Christian: What are the rules on dating?
Mez McConnell with some down-to-earth advice: Part 1Part 2Part 3.

7 Marks of a False Teacher
Tim Challies: “False teachers have been present in every era of human history, they have always been a plague and have always been in the business of providing counterfeit truth. While their circumstances may change, their methods remain consistent.”

I’m a pastor again!

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post, but I’m now so happy to report that I’m going to be a pastor again. Last night I received and accepted a call to be the pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, which I’ll combine with being a Professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary.

I am a pastor at heart. I love the privilege and responsibility of shepherding the flock of God. Since coming to Grand Rapids I’ve missed the blessed burden of having a flock of my own to care for. Although I have had multiple opportunities to serve various congregations and individuals by preaching and counseling, for which I am most grateful, nothing can make up for the sense of loss, even bereavement, at not having a regular flock to care for.

At the same time, I also love training future shepherds of the sheep, and have a deep sense of calling to serve in this way at PRTS. I know it is God’s will that I continue to do that as my primary calling, though with a slightly reduced workload.

Church and Seminary
I’ve often thought and prayed about the possibility of combining pastoral work in a local Grand Rapids church with my seminary work. It’s quite a common practice for Seminary professors to unite both roles. However, until now, no opening has arisen to make this possible.

When I was approached six months ago to discuss the possibility of being the pastor at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, I almost immediately sensed it was an answer to the prayerful longings of my heart. This is especially so because it’s a congregation I have grown to love through preaching there every month for the past 5-6 years. I have often prayed for the Lord to send a pastor to this congregation, and some times I privately wished it could have been me – though never conceiving how suitable arrangements could emerge to make that happen.

However, the elders came up with a plan that shares the pastoral burden and allows me to combine both teaching in the Seminary and pastoring in the congregation. I’m very grateful to the Free Reformed Church Synod, the Seminary Board, and especially to Seminary President, Dr. Joel Beeke, for their agreement and support of me and the congregation in these plans.

Modeling and Mentoring
We all believe that this should augment my work at the Seminary. Pastoring a local church will greatly enhance the modeling and mentoring aspect of my Practical Theology and Old Testament lectures,

It will be a huge wrench for my family to leave the regular ministry and fellowship at Grand Rapids Heritage Reformed Church, which has been such a large and valued part of our lives, and where we have felt so loved. However, as a pastor, I have to be open to God’s call, wherever and whenever that may be.

I will be installed officially on July 7 and I can’t wait to get started, especially as I’ll be pastoring alongside my friend and PRTS colleague, Dr Jerry Bilkes. I’m so thankful to the Lord for this call and so thankful to the congregation for the honor and privilege of being their pastor. We now look to the Holy Spirit to put His benediction on the ministry and the congregation, by saving souls, by sanctifying and equipping the saints, and by preparing us all for eternity.

The Future of American Higher Education

The Tomorrows Professor blog has posted a compelling section from The Shaping of American Higher Education. It begins with a fascinating historical analysis of how unpredictable education trends have been over the years, and then bravely proceeds to venture a few predictions for the future!

Future Trends

  • The growth of new institutions has slowed considerably and hardly any new nonprofit campuses will be built.
  • State, federal, and private-philanthropic funds will be available to expand campus facilities but not enough to establish entire institutions.
  • Smaller percentages of students will have full-time, on-campus experiences.
  • Faculty professionalization has already made a U-turn, retarded by the massive influx of both part-timers and full-timers without security of employment.
  • All the external pressures on curriculum favor vocationalism.
  • Colleges and universities at all levels will be forced to seek other funds in order to mitigate the effects of state support that has not increased sufficiently to accommodate rising costs and enrollments.
  • Colleges and universities may find themselves judged according to the same standards that are applied to any business: “To what extent does this entity add value?
  • Inflation, depression, and increased competition from other agencies will continue affecting the funds available for higher education’s support, as well as the type and mode of postsecondary training desired by students.

Future Questions

The study then poses some thought-provoking questions about the future:

  • Will twenty-first-century students continue enrolling in postsecondary institutions through depressions and recessions, or will prospective students’ reluctance to take on large debt burdens lead to reduced enrollments?
  • As the number of high-paying jobs available to college graduates diminishes, will greater numbers of students develop and act on tendencies to create jobs for themselves?
  • Will research and scholarly productivity be replaced with online course design and dedication to teaching when promotions are evaluated?
  • Will the growing number of home-schooled students and the increasing popularity of online courses develop to the point at which virtual universities become an appealing alternative to the residential college experience for a significant percentage of students?

Good News

And the survey concludes with some encouraging news:

In the twenty-first century American higher education is the nation’s premier industry. By any measure, most of the world’s top universities are in the United States, which is the preferred destination for foreign students; American universities educate 30 percent of the total number of students who cross borders for advanced training. Furthermore, since September 11, 2001, more of them have developed overseas programs to serve international students who are unable to obtain student visas.

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Cruciform Press Sale
All books $6. I love these short-form practical books. They say more in a few chapters than some do that are many times their size.

Why it’s often better to say less
Fascinating experiment.

The Epidemic of Leadership
“There is a drought of leadership in the church, but it’s not due to the lack of leadership training at the pastoral level. The problem is that we’ve forgotten our charter.”

The Fishbowl, My Friend
Why living on display isn’t the worst thing ever.

Why some of the most productive people have empty schedules
To be creative, you need to say “No!”

Cheating ourselves of sleep
“Failing to get enough sleep night after night can compromise your health and may even shorten your life. From infancy to old age, the effects of inadequate sleep can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.” (HT: Joel Miller)

An Alternative to the TGC and T4G Statements about SGM

I love and respect the T4G and TGC men who recently put their names to statements about the sexual abuse cover-up and conspiracy allegations surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Each of these gifted and godly men have played a hugely beneficial role in my Christian life. I’ve met some of them and know a couple of them quite well. I fully expect to profit from their ministries in the coming years.

But I have to say with heavy heart, I strongly disagree with some of the content in their public statements. I’ve held off writing anything in public for a number of weeks for a few reasons.

Reasons for delay

The first is that I wanted to see if these men would amend anything they had written in the light of substantial criticism of what they wrote. I understand that both the TGC and T4G statements were modified to correct a couple of the most glaring errors. However, I am dismayed that such corrections were not highlighted together with apologies for the original insensitivity. [CORRECTION: The TGC corrections were minor. The T4G correction was more significant].

The second reason I’ve held back is that I’ve been deeply disturbed at the way some anti-Calvinists and anti-complementarians have jumped on this specific issue to hammer Calvinism and complementarians in general. It really is deplorable to see some outside critics use sexual abuse victims in this despicable way. There also seem to be people, not the alleged victims, who are motivated by a “Get C.J. (or SGM) at all costs” mentality. These selfish personal agendas only put people’s defenses up even more and make it even less likely that friends will deal with friends in a firm but fair way.

The third reason for delay is that I have no particular locus in this matter. Until those statements, I had read virtually nothing about the SGM controversy. I still have not read any of the lawsuits or the extensive online documentation. Solomon says that those who get unnecesarily involved in disputes are like fools who grab a dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17). However, the public statements of a few weeks ago changed my disinterest. The TGC and T4G men are some of the public leaders of our Reformed community, and therefore to some degree represent me in the public square. On this issue, therefore, I want to make clear that they do not represent me, especially in the way that they used the statement of support for C.J. to take swipes at alleged victims and accusers. Regardless of whether the allegations are eventually found true or false, I don’t believe these statements are the right way to respond.

But I’ve finally decided to say a few words because I do feel that this is a potentially redemptive moment. I’m actually not that interested in offering a line-by-line critique of the statements. Others have done that. Instead, I wish to offer an alternative statement, which I hope will be a positive contribution to the debate about how to handle allegations like this going forward, especially when close friends are involved.

Alternative Statement

1. We are friends of C.J. Mahaney. We love him and have been blessed by him over many years. While C.J. has never been accused of sexual abuse, he has been accused of covering it up or discouraging the reporting of it. As his friends who know him best, you’ll understand our struggle to entertain these awful allegations. However, with the help of the Spirit of Truth and Holiness, we will strive to honor both accused and accusers in a fair and balanced way.

2. Obviously, as friends, we are thankful that the judge has decided that C.J. should not face some of the allegations that were being made. However, we would have preferred if these allegations had been dismissed following due process rather than on legal technicalities. Such a process might also have helped us to understand the issues better and sympathise with the accusers more. We have still only directly heard one side of the story which makes it almost impossible to be impartial judges.

3. Although C.J. himself did not commit any acts of sexual abuse, it’s clear from previous convictions of staff at SGM that abuse did occur under his watch and in his church. [CORRECTION: there has been one conviction for child abuse by one SGM church member, and a former member and youth worker at Gaithersburg Covenant Life Church, Nathan Morales, is currently in jail having been charged with multiple sexual offenses. There are also other criminal cases pending].  We are deeply sorry for this [CORRECTION: any abuse that occurred at the hands of anyone associated with SGM churches] as is C.J., and we express the wish to meet with any of the victims who are willing to meet with us to communicate our deepest sympathy and to pray for their healing in every way. Terrible mistakes were made along the way, and we hope to learn from this so that we can lead the church into better practices and responses.

4. As this is obviously not simply a one-off problem, but a systemic issue [CORRECTION: long-term issue in a couple of SGM churches] affecting multiple people, in the spirit of Matthew 5:25-26 and 1 Timothy 3:7, we’ve encouraged C.J. to take a leave of absence from public ministry, without prejudice, and to try to deal with these issues as soon as possible and once and for all, for the good of all concerned. We will do all we can to facilitate discussions and effect a just settlement.

5. Our primary concern is justice for all – for C.J., for SGM, and for all accusers. We condemn all attempts to find C.J. or SGM guilty without due process. We also condemn any words or actions that would intimidate, belittle, or tarnish victims of sexual abuse. We do not want to deter you from coming forward, or discourage you from reporting to the civil authorities. We disagree with the legal strategy of using the First Amendment to elevate pastors above the law of the land.

6. If we have erred in anything we have written, please let us know. We want to learn and we want to lead as Christ would lead His church.

End of statement.

Learning from my mistakes

Finally, can I say three things. First, I know how hard it is to handle these issues, especially when ministry colleagues and friendships are involved. I was involved in a 10-year conflict over similar issues in Scotland, a controversy that finally split apart our Presbyterian denomination. In that situation, I eventually took the side of the female accusers, especially after meeting some of them face-to-face. However, I confess that in my youthful zeal I made numerous mistakes in how I spoke and sought justice for them.

Second, I still love, honor and respect these men. I’m so glad they are leading the new Reformed movement, and rejoice in the good they have done and will yet do. Their godliness, giftedness, and graciousness leave me in the shade. I simply disagree with their stance on this one important issue, and hope that they will yet see the potential for redeeming the situation by humbly withdrawing their statements, seeking input from abuse victims’ groups, and modeling for the church what a Christ-like response to such painful situations should be. I’m sure my own alternative statement could be greatly improved.

Third, I’m aware of widespread concern about these TGC and T4G statements among many in the reformed community. However, there is considerable fear of speaking out due to the perceived power and influence of these men. Conference invites, book publishing, blogging platforms, etc., have all been mentioned. Brothers and sisters, let’s think better of them. We’re not talking about the Democratic or Republican parties here. We’re talking about godly men who I believe are humble enough to accept correction and say, “Yes, we got this wrong. Please continue to help us put this right.” Let’s help them as they have helped us in the past. And let’s do it respectfully and lovingly.

And before anyone asks, a couple of weeks ago I did email some of my concerns to the the two men I know best in this TGC/T4G group, but I got no reply. [UPDATE: While it was confirmed to me today that my email was received and read without reply, the interpretation of the email is being disputed. As I do not want to distract from the main point of this blog post, I’m happy to strike this].

CORRECTIONS: Thank you to those who have offered corrections. I simply ask that the substance of the post is taken to heart and that far more major corrections are made to other statements.