Nurturing Confidence – River – 28 Aug 2022
The past few weeks, we’ve talked about this theme of nurturing confidence. This confidence is rooted and anchored in Christ… an objective reality. So, it’s not just a subjective self-confidence. It is a confidence that we have because of what Christ has done and continues to do.
We want to nurture our confidence by holding fast to what is true and real.
This morning, we’re going to take a break from the book of Hebrews and talk about an opportunity at River for nurturing our confidence.
So, let me give you “the what” and then I’ll give you “the why.”
Here’s “the what.” And keep in mind, as Terry says, “I’m a tellsman not a salesman.” I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I’m just telling you about some things we’re doing as a church.
Recently, I started working part-time at River and my role will be developing theological training for the Training Center and for the church.
For those of you who don’t know, the Training Center is a two-year discipleship program for post-college individuals exploring the call to vocational ministry of some kind.
One of the components of the Training Center is theological education/ theological training.
That’s the piece that I want to talk about this morning. We’re calling the theological training piece River Christian Training. This component will be required for Training Center participants, but we also want to open this up to the whole church.
Let me give you an overview of what this program entails.
River Christian Training is a sequenced program of eight core classes offered on a two-year cycle. Each semester, we’ll provide two four-week classes taught by River staff (Terry, Trace, myself).
Classes will be 90 minutes (childcare might be a possibility…no promises on that), and class times will vary—sometimes a four-week course will be offered on a Sunday afternoon, sometimes a Monday evening. Registration is free… and you can do that on the website rivercc.org/rct and look at the course schedule.
This is a non-accredited program, so you’re not going to receive seminary credit for a degree. However, the eight core classes are modeled after the core curriculum of an MDiv program (which is the flagship seminary degree). Look at it like seminary without the languages and without the cost!
To graduate, you have to complete all eight core classes and the associated homework: read a book and write a paper. Now, you have the option of “auditing” the class and not doing the homework, but you’ll only receive credit if you complete the coursework.
We are going to teach a class in October on The Mission of God, but the two-year cycle will officially launch in January.
That’s a lot of info…but you have that brochure you can keep.
That’s “the what”, let’s shift to “the why” – why are we doing this?
I don’t think I have to explain in great detail why in today’s culture we need more theological education, not less.
We live in an age of suspicion. In an age of suspicion, truth matters. Foundational beliefs and assumptions are being questioned. And often, uncertainty is seen as a virtue.
I was recently reading about an English professor who used to teach gender studies before she converted to Christianity. When she taught gender studies, she said she used to feel good about herself if by the end of her course, her students were disoriented and confused. Confusion was her endgame. Not knowledge…confusion.
Then, when her beliefs began to change, she went to a colleague for advice, and she said, “I feel like I’ve been giving my students poison to drink.”
She had been careless. Her goal was to champion confusion… but was any of it true?
I appreciate her candor… because she talks about when she was getting her PhD, she says she remembers writing her dissertation and at times thinking, “I’m just making stuff up.”
This “worked” for a while, but as she matured and changed she grew increasingly dissatisfied with uncertainty. She was hungry for truth.
In 1 Timothy, Paul says that the church of the living God is a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Think of an old Gothic cathedral. This is in Cologne, Germany. The flying buttresses are the support beams. They hold the walls up, but they allow for open space and light.
The walls on these old cathedrals are incredibly thin and have enormous, intricate stained-glass windows.
The flying buttresses provide the support necessary for beauty and light.
Think of that. God has entrusted the church to be stewards of the truth. We are to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.
And unfortunately, sometimes truth is pitted against things like love/beauty. But truth/love are not exclusive. Truth is the foundation of love. Paul says love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6).
Like these old cathedrals, truth is the foundation and support of love, which leads to beauty/flourishing.
That’s one reason why truth matters. We need to learn how to navigate the world and align our lives with the truth of God’s word. Without that truth, we don’t have beauty and we don’t have flourishing.
Our goal with River Christian Training is to provide accessible theological training to serve the church – to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12). This is for the health of our local church.
Theological education is an important part of Christian discipleship. In Matthew 28:19-20, the passage known as the Great Commission, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [and what?] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Discipleship includes teaching… but it has a direction. Teaching with the purpose of application.
Truth applied = maturity.
Theological education, according to the Bible, is not primarily about information, it is about formation… Though information is required, it is about forming a heart that knows and loves God.
J.I. Packer said, “theology is for doxology and devotion.” Doxology is a word that means glory/or beauty. What he means is that theology is about the worship and love of God. Theology is the study of God. But it’s not the study of abstract theory. It’s the study of relationship.
We’re not interested in helping a bunch of people running around who know a lot of content devoid of character.
Throughout Church history, there have been many theologians who produced a lot of content, but their lives were a wreck.
Let me give you an example.
Karl Barth is considered by many Christian theologians – of all people—to be the greatest theologian of the 20th Century.
I’m certainly not going to call him the greatest. I would say influential… and influential in negative and problematic ways.
He produced a lot of content but was devoid of character. He’s best known for his mammoth 14 volume dogmatics (which is an old word for systematic theology). He died before he completed it.
Now, it was known to some while he was alive, but now it’s publicly known that he had a lifelong, unrepentant adulterous relationship with his secretary/research assistant who was the one typing his 14-volume dogmatics. He used his theology to justify it. Not only did he have an affair, but he moved his mistress into his home, inflicting psychological and emotional abuse on his wife and children.
This is the guy people call the greatest theologian of the 20th Century. Give me a break.
Barth’s mother knew about the relationship… she’s one of the few people who had sense in this situation. She wrote to her son, “What is the most brilliant theology good for, if it is to be shipwrecked in one’s own house?”
That’s a powerful rebuke.
Who’s the greatest theologian of the 20th Century? In this case, you might say Barth’s mother.
She understood that true theology is not just about generating ideas, it’s about transformation of the whole person to know and love God.
One of the benefits of doing theological education in the context of the local church is that it helps us integrate our lives—what we might call living a single-story life. A two-story life is where religious stuff happens upstairs and then everything else happens below. But Christ is Lord of all of life—he wants a single-story life.
There is great value in learning theological education in the very community that you are doing life with.
I don’t say this to give ourselves a pat on the back—but what a gift to be taught by local pastors. Of course, I’ve been helped tremendously by Christian scholars, authors, and other pastors… but there’s a great temptation to be enamored with the celebrity pastor.
Where’s the Christian conference with pastors I’ve never heard of? — I’ll sign up for that one.
How many people, when they talk about their favorite pastor, don’t talk about their local church? For much of church history—that wouldn’t have even made sense!
You want to know one of my favorite theologians? Ben Crow. Seriously. He pastors a church plant from River. He has this great systematic mind, and he loves God’s word—and he loves people and lives with integrity.
He models the true goal of all theological education: Knowing and loving God and making God’s love known to others.
With the rest of the time this morning, I want to provide a Biblical view of theological education and why this matters for each and every person here.
Because I know some of you are thinking “I’m not going to go to these classes.” And I’m thinking, “good, that’s one less paper I have to grade.” 😊
But really, this is not about the classes. This is about theological education. So, for the rest of the time, when I say, “theological education,” don’t think “classes.”
Not everyone is called to take a few theological classes… but everyone is called to theological education.
When we hear “theological education,” we think formalized schooling, degrees, Bible college, etc. Or… more problematically, we think that “theological education” is only for pastors/elders and other leaders in the church.
It’s better to think about theological education as knowing and loving God. Being a “blue-collar truth worker.”
Emphasizing being a blue-collar truth worker is not anti-intellectualism. I’m not saying formalized theological education is bad. I’m paying thousands of dollars for a PhD—I’d better believe there’s some value in it.
The point is, degree or no degree, I want to be someone characterized by love and humility.
My mom grew up in rural Texas on free and reduced lunches and had nobody advocating for her to pursue any higher education after she graduated high school. College didn’t even enter her mind. She had no vision for it.
Yet, she is a true theologian. She doesn’t have any theological degrees, but she knows and loves God. She works at Embrace stuffing boxes full of diapers and other newborn supplies to support and empower women for the sake of the gospel. She’s a blue-collar truth worker.
My dad has dyslexia and struggles with reading…He barely made it in the Air Force—but as he says, “Thank God for Ronald Reagan.” Reagan grew the size of our military, and a good recruiter helped my dad get in. From there, he would go on to pursue formalized schooling and get a theological degree.
But my dad will tell you this—you go into his office, and he has his seminary degree on his wall and his ordination certificate. You know the one that means the most to him? It’s not the seminary degree—it’s the ordination certificate.
That’s the most important one. Of course, the piece of paper doesn’t matter – it’s what it symbolizes. It symbolizes somebody who has been saved by grace and is called to be a minister of the gospel. He’s a true theologian.
Give me one blue-collar truth worker over a million Karl Barths.
We have to think differently about theological education.
Theological education is a continuum that happens in the life of every believer. It can include formalized training of some kind, but it’s not limited to that.
Let me give you an image to think about this. Theological education is like an irrigation hose in a garden.
The purpose of that hose is to water the plants wherever they might be.
The primary purpose of theological education is not to produce biblical scholars through some sort of pipeline. The primary purpose of theological education is to help people grow where they’re planted. Some will become biblical scholars…some will work at Embrace.
It’s about nurturing confidence wherever you may be, so that you flourish and others around you flourish.
To switch metaphors, we are one body; no one is more important than another. Each of us are called to grow up into Christ.
This is what Paul was passionate about.
In Ephesians 4, Paul says he doesn’t want us to be like children tossed about by the waves of culture and every cool “new” doctrine… Rather, he wants us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).
In Colossians 1:29, Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
What’s the this? Vs 28 tells us: maturity in Christ.
Paul was passionate about proclaiming Christ and seeing believers grow into maturity.
This is something the local church is called to do. Theological education is for everyone.
Where do we see this in the Bible?
A primary starting place for a biblical theology of theological education is Deuteronomy, chapter 6.
The context for Deut 6 is that Moses is reminding the people of Israel of God’s law and all that it entails before they enter the promised land. They are to obey and keep the commandments of God.
There’s a portion of this section of Scripture that was central for Jewish devotional life. This section is known as the Shema (which is the Hebrew word for the first word of vs 4, which means listen—or listen and respond, or listen and obey).
Here’s vs 4-5: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
This is a holistic vision. You are to love God with your whole person; your whole being. This affects all dimensions of human personhood: physical, mental, social, spiritual. Jesus will later add to this and say “and love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s the commandment… now, here’s where things get interesting.
Verses 6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
This is a vision for a single-story life. In your work and in your play, talk about the things of God. You are to nurture theological education.
Talk about the things of God in your home, when you’re going to the Home Depot, on road trips, on vacation, in hospital rooms. In tragedy and triumph, in work and play—love the Lord with your whole being.
As the chapter goes on, Moses says – you remember God’s commandments, so that (vs 20-21) “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…’”
In other words, tell them the story! When you kids ask why we do this or that… tell them about how God redeemed you!
Biblically, theological education begins with the family. The family is the primary institution where this is to take place.
Christian parents, this is for you – don’t underestimate your calling to train up children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations—and as Christian parents, the primary place you are called to make disciples is with your children.
The challenging part of this is abandoning outcomes. We are not in control of outcomes. Our job is to be active and engaged. Our job is to be faithful.
So, in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, the family is the primary place theological education happens.
This continues throughout the OT. Many of the proverbs are written as a father to a son.
“Hear my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching… my son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Prv 1:8, 10)
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you…” (Prv 2:1)
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” (Prv 3:1)
This highlights the importance of the family in the life of Israel.
There is the immediate “nuclear” family — if you will — and then there is the tribal family of Israel.
Knowledge of God is mediated through the different tribes and their functions –with the tabernacle and the priesthood and so forth.
In Jewish history, synagogues emerge as the primary place Scripture is read, memorized, and taught.
This pattern continues throughout the New Testament with the churches that emerge out of the synagogues when Jews converted to Christianity. These gatherings become the primary place the Word of God is taught and proclaimed.
Paul speaks of the church as the household or the family of God. He’ll address Timothy and Titus as “my true child in the faith.” This is modeled after Jesus, who addressed his disciples as “little children.”
All throughout the NT, we see the influence of family members in educating children in the faith. Timothy was influenced greatly by his mother and grandmother.
So, from the OT to the NT the family and the wider family of God is the primary place where theological education is to take place.
Theology is for everyone. To return to that image of the gothic cathedral. God has entrusted the church – the household of God – with being the pillar and buttress of the truth.
We – as a church – steward the truth that supports goodness, light, beauty, and flourishing.
Truth applied leads to love, humility, and service.
When truth is seen as content severed from character the result is pride, arrogance, and destruction.
We don’t want to be a church known for walking encyclopedias.
Jesus said, “they will know you’re my disciples” … by your knowledge of systematic theology.
No—they will know you’re my disciples “if you have love for one another.”
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible. It’s a long meditation on the shaping and formative power of God’s word. It’s not a psalm boasting about how many books he’s read or how much content he knows about God.
It is a psalm that flows out of a heart that is filled with wonder and love of God.
Love and humility are the true measure of maturity.
Just like last week, our application is going to be continued worship through singing.
We sing, not to fill our head with information. We want our hearts and affections to be shaped through music.
This is an opportunity to nurture our confidence through song. I’ll give you time to pray and then we’ll sing together.