Coffee Creamer and Church

black-coffee

I’ve noticed something ever since I made the shift from drinking my coffee with cream and sugar to drinking it in its own natural black goodness: I can taste the coffee now. Not only can I taste the coffee, but that which once seemed tasteless and bitter, well, isn’t. It has notes of flavors and aromatic hints that make the olfactory nerves dance and the taste buds sing.

But as I watched those around me continue to reach for the creamer at an alarming rate, I came to a realization: for them, coffee was simply the caffeinated carrier of their sugary flavors.

They weren’t interested in the hints and notes. They were interested in the elimination of baggy eyes. If the flavor of the medium needed a little covering up, so be it: a little more sugar, a little more creamer, a little more milk and all would be right with the world (and don’t even get me started on the lady I saw last week at 7am drinking a venti Frappucino from Starbucks with more caramel and cream than, you know, coffee. Don’t kid yourself. That was a morning serving of ice cream).

At first, I found this amusing. After all, I had been delivered from their plight. I was no longer in the pursuit of the sweet flavors. I wanted the pure, undiluted good stuff. Let them ruin their coffee. Let them fail to appreciate its subtleties. I had the genuine article.

Now, as much as I love coffee (and make no mistake about it, I love my coffee), this wouldn’t serve as an appropriate post on a blog primarily geared toward theological discussion. However, as I was sitting in my office (drinking a nice, hot cup of coffee of course), I was struck:

How many in our churches value Christ and the church due to the value of Christ and the church? And how many value Christ and the church simply because of what has been added to “improve” the flavor?

Have they come to Christ because of the unsurpassing goodness of Christ, or are they in need of another “fix” and convinced that church is the best means by which they can receive it? Have we as pastors and church leaders made the church more about meeting felt needs and helping people where they are that we’ve failed to meet their most important need – salvation and satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ?

Isn’t this part of Jesus’ rebuke to those who chased him after the feeding of the five thousand? They willingly follow Christ, but with the proper motivation. We may not have seen it in their actions, but Jesus saw their hearts.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
John 6:26-27 (ESV)

Perhaps what is needed in our day is that which was needed in that day: the rude realization that following Jesus isn’t enough if you’re following him for the wrong reasons. Our churches need to be places where needs are met. Our churches must be places where we meet people where they are, as they are, for who they are. But our churches must exist for something higher altogether. We must meet their most important need – salvation and satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ.

Otherwise, they’re drinking all creamer and no coffee.

Oxford Study Tour in SWBTS News

(Photo provided by Matthew Garrett Yarnell)

(Photo provided by Matthew Garrett Yarnell)

“During this year’s tour, July 7-24, more than 70 people from Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries shared the Gospel across the United Kingdom. More than an opportunity to visit sites significant to Christian and Baptist history, this year’s tour allowed conversations to be had, seeds to be planted, and four professions of faith.”

Read more here.

Beginning PhD Studies: A Humbling Experience

The egg-head PhD student.

This is a thing.

PhD students are known to be neck-deep in the stacks of the library poring over the most minute (and obscure) work that relates to their field, and yet unable to remember the simple things, like their keys. I had always laughed at the notion of such a person. Surely this was merely a caricature made by those not given to the commitment of doctoral studies.

And yet, Monday, I was not laughing.

Because it was me.

I sat in my office, thumbing through several commentaries on the book of James, enjoying the quiet comfort of no pending assignments or deadlines, smugly patting myself on the back for already being so far ahead in my reading, sipping my Texas pecan coffee fresh out of my french press, when a text from my wife made my stomach drop.

“Are you in orientation?”

I immediately looked up at my Outlook calendar. To my horror, there it was: PhD Orientation at 1:00pm.

There I was: in my office at 2:45.

This is not how or who I am. Those who know me understand that I’m that guy when it comes to being on time. I’m the if-you’re-not-5-minutes-early-then-you’re-5-minutes-late guy. I’m the leave-an-hour-early-just-in-case-you-get-a-flat-tire guy. Some people are afraid of spiders or heights or public speaking. I’m afraid of being late.

But I was almost 2 hours late.

And horrified.

This was not the way I wanted to begin my journey towards a PhD. This was not a proud moment. This was traumatic. (And I understand those of you who read that last statement and thought, “Geez. This was traumatic?!” I know, first-world problems. But still. Horrified.)

Because I work on campus, it didn’t take me long to grab my notepad, run down the hall, and slide in the back of the room in silent shame.

Once I sat down and my heart-rate lowered to a non-triple-digit pace, it finally struck me: I’m a PhD student. And though I’ve known for some time that this was the direction that God seemed to have been leading me, and that I’ve been preparing for PhD studies, that was the moment that it actually struck me.

I’m a PhD student.

I don’t write that to brag, but it was a realization that I hadn’t felt before. It’s as though my brain had already made the connection, but that was the moment that the electric current decided to make its maiden voyage.

And that thought was both humbling and exhilarating.

It is an overwhelming thought that I am expected to become academically proficient in my field. I’m studying systematic theology! That’s a broad and infinitely important subject. And I can’t simply stay on the surface and describe what others have said (though I must be capable of doing that). I need to develop a competency that leads me to make unique contributions to the field of systematic theology!

And I can’t even remember when orientation begins!
(Pray for me, seriously.)

But after the orientation was complete and I reflected back on what was said, I sat with several thoughts running through my head:

  1. Few people take up this task: It seems obvious, but the further one goes in his studies, the fewer there are alongside him. It takes a special sort to sign up for more school, more assignments, infinitely more reading, and more papers. Not many make that commitment.
  2. This is a major commitment of years, energies, time, and money. I’m taking 2 4000-6000 page reading seminars in the first semester just to get my bearings. I love to read, but that’s intimidating. For the next several years, I don’t get to pick how I spend my free time. I don’t choose what I read. I don’t even choose what classes I take (my supervisor dictates the entire program). I have signed my life over.
  3. This is a huge honor. There are thousands of other men more intellectually gifted than I am. There are thousands of sharper minds and higher IQs. But God in his wisdom has so ordained it that I have this opportunity. I can’t explain it. I can’t justify it. And I won’t try to. But I must honor that opportunity by giving my best efforts in every aspect.

And I can promise you this: I won’t be late again.

PhD Semester 1 Reading List

Here we go.

This week, I officially begin PhD studies at Southwestern Seminary. (For an idea of exactly what that means, just click here.) This semester I’m taking two reading seminars, a graduate research seminar, and a theological German class. At this point, it’s probably best that I just take a deep breath, because I won’t be coming up for air again any time soon.

Below are the books that are assigned for my classes.

Graduate Theological Research Seminar

Preaching Reading Seminar

Systematic Theology Reading Seminar

Theological German I

Andrew Fuller on the Importance of Systematic Theology

God, in all his works, has proceeded on a system; there is a beautiful connexion and harmony in every thing which he has wrought…Now if God proceeds on system, it may be expected that the Scriptures, being a transcript of his mind, should contain a system; and if we would study them to purpose, it must be so as to discover what the system is.

Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:165

Commentaries on The Letter of James

Having completed the Master of Divinity at Southwestern Seminary, I step into a new chapter this month as I officially enter the PhD program. One of the ways that I stay involved in ministry while in seminary is by preaching wherever the door opens. For the past two years, rather than serving vocationally in any given local church, I’ve been preaching throughout the state of Texas on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis. (If you would be interested in bringing me to preach at your church, click here.)

One of the difficulties raised by itinerant ministry is that I am committed to systematic exposition – preaching verse-by-verse through entire books at a time. I am convinced that such preaching best communicates the intended meaning of the biblical author (and Author) to the congregation. However, when the preacher is merely a guest at a church, rather than the primary pastor, the challenge has been raised that the sermons cannot build upon one another. It would be better, according to those who make this challenge, to preach over a specific passage that can be pulled from its context and yet still communicate a biblical message on its own.

In spite of this objection, I maintain that systematic exposition is not only better for the congregation, but I believe that it is better for me as the preacher, as well. By preaching verse-by-verse, even in various pulpits in various churches, I as the preacher have a better grasp on what the biblical author (and Author) is saying, the context in which he is saying it, and the importance of what he is saying. In so doing, I never need to pull a passage from its context, but rather, I can demonstrate within its context what the text actually means. And that’s the point of expositional preaching, anyway.

I have preached through the book of Galatians, Colossians, and, more recently, the book of Jonah (For samples of my preaching, click here). This fall, I take another step and plan to begin working through the book of James.

As I begin to prepare sermons through the book of James, these are the commentaries that I’m using to keep me on track.

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Am I missing one that you might recommend?