I would be remiss to talk about the academic piece of Sovereign Grace’s PC.

The emphasis for the PC became evident during orientation. We did not attend it alone, but with our wives (where applicable). This was no mere formality, but an expression of SGM’s commitment to care for pastors by caring for their marriages. After all a college for pastors must emphasize his primary pastoral responsibility.

Here’s an annotated and sampled list of our classes:

Systematic Theology 1-7: Yeah, you read that right. SEVEN. Beginning with the doctrine of Scripture. THE appropriate place to begin any systematic theological endeavor. (Of course, I am biased considering my dissertation is entitled “The Self-Authentication of Scripture as the Proper Ground for Systematic Theology”!). We were taken up into the glory of God’s condescension in a book. Theology Proper. Christology. Pneumatology (with Grudem!). Ecclesiology. Eschatology.

Biblical Theology: How does the entire biblical narrative fit together? Yep, that’s something theologians have been discussing for centuries and we tackle in a week!

Hermeneutics: Mark Mullery did an excellent job of helping us connect dots and read genres.

Pastoral Theology: Ken Mellinger, Andy Farmer, Rob Flood, Warren Boettcher, John Loftness. These are men who are pastors. They love theology and they love people and they love God. We could ask them questions about bugbear issues as theology works itself out in the context of a local church.

Preaching 1 & 2: How do you preach an OT narrative without making it merely moral? Can you preach about Rahab’s scarlet cord? How about the five smooth stones David picked up? How do you simplify and drive a point home (a question I am still trying to answer!)?

Apologetics: We give a worldview when we speak of Christianity. Take your time to enumerate and to demolish other fine-sounding arguments. Be gentle, but direct and gracious when trusting the Spirit of God to bring light to blind eyes.

Galatians: (with Tom Schreiner). Need I say more than a parenthetical statement?

Spiritual Disciplines: Mike Bullmore modeled such a life as much as he talked about it.

Sanctification: Jerry Bridges stood up the whole time! And as he was standing he convicted me of my lack of the grasp of grace and offered me grace to assuage my guilt.

Okay. There are many more classes, but I won’t enumerate them here. Can I just say that the bent towards being a pastor was palpable? Every class had numerous take-aways for how it applied to pastoring people. How does the Spirit empower you in preaching and shepherding and integrated into counseling? How should eschatology affect our fervency in pleading with men and comforting the suffering? Having lunch with professors each week was pretty sweet–especially if pizza was ordered. I remember being able to take Bridges to the airport with my family and my girls giving him hugs as he boarded his plane. I remember eating at Chipotle with Craig Cabaniss and talking about church planting. I remember taking John Woodbridge to Chuck Colson’s memorial service in D.C. with Andrew and Jeff and eating at Burger King afterward. What a memory as we spoke about the development of doctrine in France and the need to defend the Christian worldview in an accessible way. . .over a double Whopper with cheese.

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A Group that Cares

Jim, Rolando, and Keith. These three men comprised my Care Group while I was at Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College. We met once a week for about 90 minutes and sought other opportunities throughout our time to spend time together as families–pizza, the pool, or a Dominican dish.

I have to admit, I was curious as to why I was put into a group of men who had daughters older than our own and who were older couples than us (by at least 10 years spread).  [SIDE NOTE: ALL of us had daughters–was that the determining factor, Gary? That’s right, 11 daughters. SIDE SIDE NOTE: I have heard that the amount of girls you have is inversely proportional to testosterone levels. . .just ask CJ Mahaney and Bob Kauflin]. It became effervescently evident about 1 month into our time at the PC when Ashley and me were struggling with one of our daughters not sleeping through the night. First came sympathy (I’ve been there). Then came assurance (This will pass). Then came some practical help (Try this. . .).

These three men did not put on airs–as though they had something to prove to this younger fellow. I remember each of them opening up about various struggles and victories they saw in the ensuing weeks. “Let no one look down on you because you are young” was an easy admonition to follow in their company as they confessed to their need for a Savior each time we got together. This freed me to admit the same.

My parenting spread roots in the soil of God’s unmerited favor as I saw their lives reflect this much. They reassured me that parenting is work. It is work. It is work. It is work. It is work. As you confess your inability to your God and your wife and your children, you experience the opportunity and freedom of resting on Christ. Not striving in your strength and attempt at propping up your own worthiness.

Jim taught me that being a man often involves silence. Leading doesn’t imply talking.

Rolando showed me the joy of the Lord can be my strength. I am indebted to him beyond what words can express.

Keith modeled persistence in gentleness. He showed me that God is always at work–in the spectacular and the mundane.

Thank you, gentlemen. Brothers.

Biblical Institute, Seminary, and College

In my last post regarding Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College, I alluded to the fact that I was in seminary before attending Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College. Before that, I attended The, then, Bethlehem Institute [TBI], now Bethlehem College and Seminary [BCS], at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. So, I guess you could say I like school. Well, at least I like scholarship set to life.

very brief synopsis of why I thought it beneficial to go to one more year of school after having completed two degrees in seminary:

I was living in Argentina, working with Campus Crusade for Christ for two years. While I was there my love for the local church increased and my lack of theological training manifested itself. I could smell heresies, but I couldn’t name the fruit. A friend told me  about TBI and I bit hard. I wanted to get trained in a church by a group of pastors I respected with a vision for mission that I was on board with. The two years we spent in Minneapolis influenced us in more profound ways than I could recount in an ~800 word post. Suffice it to say that we are stamped with Christian Hedonism.

Desiring to finish up my Master of Divinity degree at a seminary that understood where I was theologically as well as having a love for the local church naturally led me to Southern Seminary. I got to take classes that changed my life and solidified my convictions and challenged my assumptions. I don’t overstate when I tell people that Steve Wellum’s hermeneutics class changed my life. Peter Gentry’s Isaiah and Psalms Hebrew exegesis classes revolutionized my appreciation for and love for text criticism and its vitality to devotional life. Tom Nettles’ breaking forth into song during his Church History 1 and 2 and Baptist History and Jonathan Edwards’ classes made me want to love Jesus just as much after decades of rigorous study. Tom Schreiner’s gentleness in dealing with the text and pastoring students in class made me want to be a scholar pastor. Bruce Ware’s excitement as he discussed the eternal relationships of the Persons of the Godhead made me want to be just as ecstatic when I spoke of God.

So if all these men had such an impact on my life, why feel the need to go to another college? Well, I was adamant that I would not go to the Pastors’ College. Not because I had nothing else to learn, but because I didn’t want to move my family one more time. I told Jeff Purswell that attending the PC would be a deal breaker.

Halfway through the conversation at the Plant! Conference in 2011, however, the Spirit of God changed my heart. I remember seeing Jeff tear up as he considered what such a move would require. These weren’t contrived tears, but sprang from his experience with his wife, Julie, in moving to Chicago to attend Trinity. He said to me, as I sunk my teeth into an eggroll, “The PC is not merely about scholarship, it’s about building into your marriage and your application of doctrine.” I was done.

You see seminary isn’t intended to replace the local church. It provides an essential element of scholarship that pastors won’t get by studying on their own. But in the midst of papers and exams, the foundations of my marriage began to reveal fissures. My mind and heart are embossed with Southern Seminary and TBI. Their fingerprints are all over my theology and philosophy and methodology. I am grateful and would not change a thing. PC offered me the opportunity to unpack and refold and hang up those theological raiments that had been so tightly packed.

During school I had to work full time while going to school. That provided stresses that I would not be able to understand until after I was out of that storm. Since I did not have to work while at the PC, I had opportunity to focus on my marriage and my application of God’s Word. I had an opportunity to tease out the implications of the free, unmerited favor of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. My heart became knitted to brothers from the Dominican Republic, Germany, England, Bolivia, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Pennsylvania to Florida, Texas to Chicago, Minnesota to Tennessee. I just spoke on the phone with a brother in Philadelphia who encouraged me as I prepared to preach this past Sunday and pointed me to Christ’s sufficiency and acceptance.

My theology took wings and began to stretch as a result of Sovereign Grace’s emphasis on applying doctrine. May God, by his Spirit, continue to give flight to his Truth.