Category Archives: Biblical Insight

Probing the Evangelical Mind

The religious historian George Mardsen once defined an evangelical Christian as “anyone who likes Billy Graham.”

A few years later, when the famous evangelist was asked what the term meant, he was at a loss for words. “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody too,” Graham said.

Fast forward to 2017, and the definition of the term “evangelical” has become even more clouded. For that reason, I am honored to join with Jay Hein, President of the Sagamore Institute, in hosting a gathering of Christian scholars to discuss what it means to be an evangelical.

Level Mansion

The symposium, “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections Upon the Past, Prospects for the Future,” will convene September 21-22 at the historic Levey mansion, which houses the Sagamore Institute, in downtown Indianapolis.

The Sagamore Institute, which came to life in 2004, was intentionally located in America’s heartland to avoid the noise and rancor coming from Washington, D.C. The Institute’s mission is to tackle difficult issues with civility and focus on solutions not theology. Before becoming president of the Institute, Hein was the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives under former President George W. Bush.

Other partnering sponsors of the symposium, in addition to the Sagamore Institute and Indiana Wesleyan University, are Christianity Today, and Excelsia College in Australia. The Lumen Research Institute, a joint initiative sponsored by IWU and Excelsia, is planning the event.

You can find more information about the conference at lumenresearchinstitute.org.

Evangelicalism, however one defines it, finds itself at the intersection of a host of crossroads. After decades of relative prosperity in North America, the churches, universities and seminaries that evangelicals cultivate, populate and depend upon for leadership are wrestling with legal, social and ultimately theological questions on a wide variety of fronts.

For many, the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to close Books and Culture after 21 years were tangible expressions of those challenges.

This symposium offers a context in which participants can reflect upon that past but also think critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind.

Confirmed keynote speakers for the event include:

  • Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor Emeritus of History, University of Notre Dame.
  • Jo Anne Lyon, former General Superintendent and current Ambassador for The Wesleyan Church.
  • Timothy Larsen, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College.
  • Lauren F. Winner, Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality, Duke University Divinity School.
  • James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy and the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, Calvin College.
  • David Mahan – Executive Director of the Rivendell Institute at Yale
  • Don Smedley – Senior Fellow of the Rivendell Institute at Yale

John Wilson will be honored during the symposium for his long and remarkable service as founder and editor of Books and Culture.

How Much Money is Enough? What Does the Bible Say?

America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Even Americans living at the federal poverty level are wealthier than 85 percent of the people in the world.  So why don’t we feel rich? Why are we unhappy and discontented?

How much is enough?

My good friend Ron Blue has been helping people answer those kinds of questions for more than 40 years by sharing financial principles that are affirmed by the authority of scripture and tested in the marketplace.

Ron has a unique way of teaching Biblical principles in clear, pithy, memorable ways.

In 2012, Ron partnered with us here at Indiana Wesleyan University to establish the Ron Blue Institute for Financial Planning (http://www.ronblueinstitute.com/ ), which focuses on applying biblical principles to all areas of the financial decision making process.

Ron Blue and the staff of the Ron Blue Institute have just released a six-week Bible study titled God Owns It All, which tackles the money question: How much is enough? The study includes a kit for leaders with step-by-step plans for six group sessions, individual Bible study books and videos.

The study is designed to:

  • Help people gain a sense of fulfillment and contentment with their finances.
  • Discover financial principles that are affirmed by Scripture.
  • Equip participants to approach money management and financial planning with freedom, generosity, contentment and confidence.
  • Help group members understand financial management as a part of discipleship.

When we started the Institute our dream was to provide the world with easy access to Ron Blue’s memorable articulation of Biblical principles.  The God Owns it All Bible study is part of the realization of that dream.  I commend it to your attention.

Before you order, you can download a sample session by going to www.lifeway.com/godownsitall.

IWU Recognizes Distinguished New Resource in Faith and Science Dialog

If a great Christian university makes any contribution to the world today it should surely be in bringing a Christ-centered perspective to the arts and sciences.  A great Christian university must stand shoulder to shoulder with the best universities in its intellectual exploration and teaching.

Our unique contribution must be to bring the critical perspective of faith to the assumptions, processes, and findings of scholarly inquiry.  Contrary to the prevailing narrative, learning is enriched when people of genuine, disciplined, irenic Christian faith engage deeply with the truth claims of the sciences.

IWU just recognized a wonderful new scholarly resource in this work.  More on that in a moment.

Thursday I had the privilege of attending the annual IWU Celebration of Scholarship Luncheon where we celebrate the vibrant engagement of our IWU faculty and students with the arts and sciences.  It was a special treat celebrate with Dr. Joanne Barnes as she won this year’s Outstanding Scholarship awarded by her faculty peers.

At the luncheon IWU’s John Wesley Honors College awarded this year’s Aldersgate Prize for outstanding Christian scholarship, and hosted the award recipient for a stimulating keynote speech.

The 2015 Aldersgate Prize was awarded to Professor Peter Harrison for his book, The Territories of Science and Religion (Univ. Chicago Press, 2015).

 Formerly the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, Harrison is currently the director of the University of Queensland’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.

Here is how Dr. David Riggs, Executive Director of the John Wesley Honors College, describes Professor Harrison’s work.

“Selected from over seventy nominations for this year’s prize, The Territories of Science and Religion is a highly learned and penetrating refutation of prevailing notions that the conflict between science and religion is timeless and inevitable. Harrison’s analysis calls into question the very legitimacy of mapping the cultivation of knowledge according to categories known as “science” and “religion.” He demonstrates that this boundary making is a deeply modern invention that is neither self-evident nor coherent.  Beginning with antiquity, Harrison systematically traces the historical transitions of the concepts underlying the modern categories of “science” and “religion” from their status as complementary virtues to the polarized domains of knowledge familiar to us today. In the process of exposing the dubious foundations of the modern mythology of the conflict between “science” and “religion,” Harrison offers up a thought-provoking recovery of the alternative ways that the pre-modern western world conceived of the relationship between the study of nature and theological reflection on it.”

“The Aldersgate Prize selection committee believes The Territories of Science and Religion has the potential to alter the course of some of our most important cultural conversations. Harrison’s book is a highly accessible clarion call to think more reflectively and creatively about the “territories of science and religion.” And the text equips its readers to navigate these territories with fresh maps: maps that illuminate more clearly the essential intersections and boundaries and, accordingly, the most constructive paths forward.”

IWU Well Represented at Oxford University Forum

IWU - Oxford Forum

Brian Clark gives a chapel address for scholars gathered at St. Hughs College, Oxford University, England.

The twists and turns of life occasionally bring us to moments of unforeseen and deeply heart-warming satisfaction.

Indiana Wesleyan University was well represented this week at a gathering of scholars at Oxford University in England.

Dr. Jerry Pattengale and Mr. Brian Clark, both of them alumni and current professors at IWU, spoke to groups of scholars gathered from several countries for a Green Scholars’ meeting.  Dr. Christian Askeland, a research professor of Christian Origins at IWU, also spoke several times.

When we were students together at Marion College in the 1970s, neither Jerry nor I ever foresaw the opportunities God would give us. It’s safe to say that running a program that would take IWU students, colleagues and alumni to Oxford for high-level Biblical research was never on Jerry’s horizon at the time.

But God has a wonderful way of threading one path onto another until we arrive at places of service only God could design.

Jerry Pattengale, the first person to hold the University Professor title at IWU, is the founder of the Green Scholars Initiative. The Initiative provides hands-on access for researchers to the 40,000 items in the Green Collection, which includes some of the world’s most significant biblical texts and artifacts.

The Green family, founders of the national retail chain Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., has been the key force behind the orchestration of the Green Collection. The Green family currently is developing a Museum of the Bible that is scheduled to open in late 2017 in Washington, D.C. Pattengale serves as Executive Director of Education for the museum and was one of its first two scholars who began developing the museum programs five years ago.

Brian Clark, who graduated from IWU in 2009, also holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an adjunct professor for IWU’s John Wesley Honors College and for Wesley Seminary at IWU.

An impromptu gathering of scholars questions Dr. Christian Askeland about a papyrus pictured on his laptop.

An impromptu gathering of scholars questions Dr. Christian Askeland about a papyrus pictured on his laptop.

This is Brian’s third summer facilitating this intensive Oxford program for 35-award recipients and their mentors from the Green Scholars Initiative held in conjunction with Wycliffe Hall. He is an ordained pastor of the Nazarene Church and heads the pastoral care ministry at First Nazarene Church in Marion.

Christian Askeland is a distinguished scholar of Coptic manuscripts with the Initiative. His research broadly engages the task of reconstructing the earliest attainable text of the Greek New Testament. His work received world acclaim last year when he showed the “Jesus Wife Fragment” to be a fraud.

Some moments are especially heartwarming.  Today was one of those moments for me.

Easter Greeting 2015: Because He Lives

“In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5-6

This Easter weekend, as you take time to reflect on why we celebrate, our prayer for you is that the empty tomb reminds you afresh of the risen Savior’s love for you. We have hope, because He is risen! Blessings to you and your family.

– David and Helen Wright

Healing Our City’s Wounded History

The bright young professional was a great new hire for our university.  We searched far and wide and found the perfect fit.  Now, in our casual conversation, he was telling me about his decision.

“As an African-American I was taken aback.  When I told my friends I was thinking of accepting a position in Marion, they said, ‘Why would you go to Marion.  They hang black people there.”

And just like that, we were caught once again in the snare of Marion’s wounded history.

Thankfully, our new employee found good reasons to come to Marion despite that wounded history.  And therein lies the seed of hope for our future.

In his book, Healing Wounded History, Russ Parker suggests principles that point the way toward the healing of our city’s wounded history.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

This verse has become a promise of healing and blessing for many people.  Parker points out that this is the only verse in the Bible when God promises to “heal the land.”

Yet the well-being of God’s people was always inextricably linked to the land in which they lived.  As Parker says, “The land was not a passive bystander to the affairs of human society but a player in the game.”
Student Life -Hanging Around Fountain - 6402

And so I find myself reflecting on the land that gives our city of Marion its distinctive character.  Do I believe this land, our city, is blessed or cursed by our past?  How does our city, the physical land in which we live, reflect the way we feel about ourselves, the way have treated each other over the years, the way we care for what is dear to us?

As yet another Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes around, it is a time to reflect on the way that generations of black and white neighbors have lived together on this land – the land of this little city nestled beside the Mississinewa River.

Parker suggests three truths that give me hope for the future of our city.

“The presence of God makes land a blessing.”  Almost every city has some wounded history.  The memory of that pain can, almost imperceptibly cause us to despise the land where it occurred.  And yet, God is present in every wounded landscape.  The world is not a dark and empty place.  Every city has within it the capacity for healing, forgiveness and harmony.  If you aren’t given to a religious point of view, think of it like this.  No matter how majestic or how humble the framing of the house, it is the spirit that makes the house a home.

“Land is a gift.”  I have been blessed to live in some of the world’s most beautiful places.  I have seen great cities, towering mountains, and beautiful oceans that take one’s breath away.  But I have always come back to Grant County because here I have been given the gift of a home.  Though many might say our city is humble, it is our home, and it is ours.  These are truly immeasurable gifts.

“Land must be managed by the principles of justice and care.”  I often wonder how much the physical appearance of our city is a reflection of our commitment to care for our land, and for each other, with fairness and diligence.  We will inevitably find at the root of our past’s deepest wounds breaches of justice and care.  They were moments when we failed to act on our own best principles, when we harmed one another, and betrayed our land.  But those do not have to be our defining moments.  We have sought, and given, forgiveness to each other.  Our brightest future lies in our willingness to care for our city with justice and diligence.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day when I celebrate the joyful vision of neighbors of all races and cultures living together in harmony, acknowledging our imperfections, seeking each other’s best interests, creating a spirit of respect, honoring the gift of our land and caring for our city with justice and diligence.

Don’t Give Fear the Final Word: Part 3 of 3

This week I am posting a speech I delivered at the May 3 graduation event at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia. IWU recently struck an agreement to acquire WI and work with them to create the first evangelical Christian university in Australia.

The manuscript has been lightly edited for blog publication. Part one appeared on Monday, and part two appeared on Wednesday.

Principle #3 — Don’t Give Fear The Last Word

Photo: Alan Cleaver

Photo: Alan Cleaver

The third employee in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents is fascinating. I must admit, all too often I resemble the third employee more than the first two.

This employee puts his master’s goodness in a secret place “to keep it safe.” There it languishes.

There is nothing wrong in the motivation to keep a precious asset safe. The problem is that this employee neither understands his master nor the nature of the master’s wealth.

He thinks his master is a “hard man” because he expects his wealth to multiply. He thinks his master’s wealth is “inert” in itself, that if it multiplies it will be through someone else’s effort.

The problem is that the servant does not understand the nature of the master’s wealth. The master knows that the only thing his employees have to do is use his wealth. The wealth will multiply itself because that is the nature of the wealth.

This employee does the one thing that he should not do – he hides the wealth.

The goodness of this world, including the monetary wealth of this world, is not meant to be hidden or hoarded. To do so violates the nature of the goodness.

The world’s goodness is to be set free, invested, put to use. This is the way that God has designed the world’s goodness. It is like a natural seed. When it is put to use it multiplies. When it is hoarded it dies.

Several sad consequences emerge from this employee’s misguided action.

One is that he himself lost the benefit of his master’s goodness. When he hid it, it was lost to his own use. It was locked away safe in a secret hold.

Another is that those around him lost the benefit of his master’s goodness. It was locked away safe, lost to the use of those who needed it.

It turns out that the greatest risk we can take with the goodness of this world is to keep it locked away safely, to hide it, to leave it unused.

What motivated this employee to act in this way? The employee himself gives us the answer.

When he is called to give an account for his actions he said, “I was afraid.”

Friends, when we are faced with the opportunity to use what is in our account, we will struggle with two internal voices.

In one ear we will hear the voice that urges us forward: “Take the risk. Put the goodness in your account to use. Now is the time. Speak the word. Do the act of kindness. Use your creativity to suggest a solution, or create a ministry, or launch a business that will bless others. Say the word of kindness even while anger is still in the air. Offer forgiveness when hearts are still hard.”

In the other ear we will hear a fearful voice that urges caution: “Take care. Be careful now. Don’t do anything rash. You don’t know for sure what will happen. Don’t be wasteful. Wait for a better time. Try something more prudent. What will you do if you fail?”

The first is the voice of this life’s grand adventure.

The other is the voice of this life’s great fear.

Cl

Photo: Romary (License)

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said this about another of Jesus’ stories – the story of the Good Samaritan.

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?’ But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

The spirit of fear says, “What will happen to me if I take the risk?” Fear freezes our best intentions.

The spirit of adventure says, “What will happen to the world if I don’t take the risk?” Adventure frees our best assets to make a difference in the world.

Don’t give fear the final word.

Principle #4: Stay for the Party!

The fourth principle I notice here is that these employees remained faithful until their master returned. Because they did, they were invited to the party.

All too often our attempts to put the world’s goodness to work are short-lived. We lose interest before the game is won. We lose patience before the problem is solved. We expect more of a reward until the final party is called.

But these employees kept on putting their master’s goods even when his journey stretched far longer than they might have expected. They put his wealth to use and kept on multiplying the good at their disposal, right up until the day their master returned.

When he did, he gave them their reward and said, “Come on into my house and let’s have a party.”

Stay for the party!

Here, then, are three amazing facts and four wise principles.

The world is full of God’s goodness.

The world’s goodness can be multiplied.

The world’s goodness is entrusted to us.

So . . . .

Use what’s in your account.

Don’t wait to be great.

Don’t give fear the final word.

Stay for the party.

In conclusion, let us remember this great aspiration in the words of Edward Hale.

“I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Pour Your Goodness Out Into The World: Part 2 of 3

This week I am posting a speech I delivered at the May 3 graduation event at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia. IWU recently struck an agreement to acquire WI and work with them to create the first evangelical Christian university in Australia.

The manuscript has been lightly edited for blog publication. Part one appeared on Monday, and part three is scheduled to appear on Friday.

Photo by Wing Chi Poon (License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en)

Photo by Wing-Chi Poon (License)

Here are three amazing facts that the Parable of the Talents suggests about our world.

Amazing Fact #1: The World is Full of Goodness

God has created a world in which goodness abounds.  God is the source of this goodness.  Goodness belongs to God.

It is not hard to imagine a world in which there is evil.  This is unremarkable.

It is far harder to imagine a world full of goodness.  But this is the kind of world that God has made and that God owns.

The master of this world has put a vast store of goodness at our disposal.

Amazing Fact #2: The World’s Goodness Can Be Multiplied

One of the most amazing aspects of this story is the insight it gives into the nature of the master’s wealth – it could be multiplied.

In fact, there was something about the master’s goods that suggested it was in their nature to be multiplied.  When he left his wealth in the hands of his employees, he did not give them explicit instructions about what to do with it.

They discover this unique property inherent in the assets the master has handed them – the nature of the master’s wealth is that it can make more wealth.

There is something miraculous about this world’s goodness.  It is not a zero-sum game.

When it is used, it is not used up.

In fact, when the goodness of this world is used it multiplies itself.

Here is one of the most amazing facts about the world as God has designed it.  We live in a world in which goodness grows more goodness.

Amazing Fact #3: The World’s Goodness is Entrusted to Us

How does God fill the world with goodness?

I confess that I have often functioned on the implicit understanding that God is responsible to multiply goodness in this world.  If good is spread throughout the world, it is up to God to do so directly through supernatural means.

Jesus’ story seems to suggest something different.  God almost never directly intervenes in this life to create goodness.

Instead, Jesus’ story suggests that God entrusts the world’s goodness to us.  If the goodness of this world is to be multiplied, it will be through us.

We are the agents through which goodness appears and is spread throughout this world.

If the world is to be filled with our master’s goodness, it will be done because we put the master’s goodness to good use.

If these are the amazing facts about the nature of our world, what are the principles we may follow to multiply the goodness of God in this world?

Principle #1: Use What’s in Your Account

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Photo by RikkisRefuge (License)

The master made no value distinctions between his employees.  He simply allocated his wealth according to the distinct and unique abilities of each employee.

Instead, they were evaluated on their faithfulness in putting to use what had been entrusted to them.

When he returned, his evaluation of the employee’s actions was not based on how much of his goods had been entrusted to them.

Jesus’ implication for his hearers is this: “And so it will be with you.”

Here is the first wise principle for multiplying the goodness of this world: Use what’s in your account.

The miracle of multiplied goodness does not depend on how much is in your account.  It depends on how much what is in your account is put to us.

Instead of wishing for a different account, or waiting for others with a different account to show up, we are called simply to use what has been deposited into our account.

What goodness is in your account?

Some of us have been entrusted with money that we can use to provide opportunities for others to make more money.

Others of us have little money, but we have imagination, creativity, compassion, and the ability to work hard.

No matter what, use what is in your account and you will see God multiply goodness in the world around you.

Principle #2: Don’t Wait to be Great

I love what Jesus said about the first two employees – immediately they went out and put their master’s assets to work.

They didn’t wait to be great.  They got right to work.

So often in life we tell ourselves that we will do something great when the circumstances are just right, when the risks are not so high, when we can see the return on our investment more clearly, when the need is really greatest, when we feel the motivation, when the brilliant idea will strike us.

All too often, we wait to be great.

Meanwhile the moments of life pass us by.  Life slips away from us, and our store of goodness languishes in our account, unused and unmultiplied.

Don’t wait to be great.  Seize the moment.  Live in the day at hand.  Pour your goodness out into the world’s neediness, even when it is risky.

This three-part series concludes on Friday

Multiplying Good in the World: Part 1 of 3

This week I’d like to share with you a speech I delivered at the May 3 graduation event at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia. IWU recently struck an agreement to acquire WI and work with them to create the first evangelical Christian university in Australia.

I will post the speech in three parts. The manuscript has been lightly edited for blog publication. Parts two and three are scheduled to appear on Wednesday and Friday.

 

 Four Wise Principles for Multiplying Good in the World
Matthew 25:14-30

Parable_of_the_Talents._Mironov14 ‘Again, [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.

The parable of the talents is one of the most popular of Jesus stories. A man of some means prepared to go away on a long journey. He called in three of his employees and entrusted his money to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two, and to a third he gave one talent. Then he left.

The first two employees immediately put their employer’s money to use. Through their skill and faithfulness their employer’s money was multiplied. They each doubled their employer’s money.

The third employee went off, dug a secret hole in the ground, and there deposited his employer’s money for safe keeping.

In due time the man returned. Quite naturally, he was anxious to hear from his employees and to settle accounts with them. 

The first two employees were congratulated and given even greater wealth to manage. The third, the one who hid the money “for safe keeping,” was chastised and fired.

This Is What The Kingdom of Heaven is Like

Jesus tells this story, along with several others, to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Jesus was saying, “This is the nature and the working of the world according to God’s plan.”

This is the way the world works in which God’s will holds sway.

So, what can we learn from this interesting little story about God’s plan for the world, and for our lives?

What is a Talent?

100000-dollar

In order to understand the story we need to know that in Jesus’ day the word “talent” didn’t mean “skill” or “ability” as it does today. 

In Jesus’ day, a talent was a measure of money.  It is said that one talent of money was the equivalent of 20 years’ annual wages of a normal laborer.  So, for example, if in our day a normal laborer might make $30,000 per year, one talent would be equal to about $600,000. 

When the man in Jesus’ story entrusted five talents to his first employee, he gave him the equivalent of $3,000,000 – a tidy sum indeed.

The wealth they were given to manage was handed out “according to their abilities.”  But they were each trusted and valued employees.  The focus on the story is on what happens to the wealth based on the actions of those to whom it was entrusted.

The story isn’t about “money” per se, though money may be one of the things entrusted to us in the kingdom of heaven as it appears on earth.  Instead, I believe the talents of money in this story stand for the “goodness” with which God fills the earth.

God entrusts his goodness to the people of the earth.  His goodness might be described as the life, the vitality, inherent in the earth.  It might be described as the imagination, creativity, and capacity for meaningful work that are inherent in people created in God’s image.  It might be described as the resources he entrusts to us – our wealth, the natural resources made available to us, our networks of relationships with neighbors, our capacity for trust and goodwill, our aptitude for moral reasoning.

I believe this story tells us three amazing facts about God’s world.  Further, I believe Jesus’ story suggests four principles for multiplying the world’s goodness.


This three-part series continues on Wednesday and concludes on Friday.
Painting by Andrey Mironov. (License)