Debt, Ethics and a Seminary Education

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I am pleased to offer this provocative “guest column” by Bethel San Diego seminarian Matt Jeffreys. It is an abridgment of a research paper Matt recently wrote for a seminary ethics course.

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A recent New York Times article described a successful financial advisor who was losing his home due to excessive debt.   He said that processing what had happened raised profound ethical questions.  Americans have slowly come to accept debt, even extreme debt, as a normal way of life.  And Christians appear to be the same.  Believers seem to borrow just as much, and just as fast for everything from cars and houses, to furniture and vacations.  Churches are now filled with, and led by, people who are often drowning in debt and struggling to think about much else.  Even closer to home, debt has reached crisis proportions for those of us who venture to study at America’s expensive seminaries on our own dime. Maybe this is just wrong.

 

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An Open Letter to Women in Seminary

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This is a “guest post” by Dr. Kyle Roberts, one of my theology colleagues in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s too encouraging not to share. Take it away, Kyle . . .

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Dear Friends

I know that seminary can be a mixed bag for women studying and training for vocational ministry. You likely encounter a confusing blend of support, apathy, and even downright hostility—perhaps all in a single day. I can’t imagine what it would be like to dedicate oneself to God and to devote oneself to the ministry, while sorting through such a mixed reception from fellow students, professors and church leaders.

I will never forget a female student who, after a class discussion on the theology of gender and ministry, shared—with tears in her eyes—her struggle with this confusing reception. She was about to complete her Masters of Divinity, with the goal of following her passion toward God’s leading in a church. But a troubling reality was settling in: the vast majority of the jobs posted by churches in her conservative denomination were explicitly designated “for men only.” No mixed message there.

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Chinese Missions Conference Workshops

MOVIE THEOLOGY WORKSHOP

Movies today powerfully reflect and shape beliefs, attitudes and values on a global scale. By cultivating the art of watching and listening perceptively, Christians can better understand what people today are thinking and feeling. Contemporary movies also provide important evangelistic “points of contact”–non-threatening opportunities for stimulating conversations on matters of faith.

Movie Theology Workshop Handout

IS THE SAVIOR GREEN? EVANGELISM AND CREATION CARE WORKSHOP

Environmental destruction is perhaps the greatest contemporary threat to human civilization. Historically Christians have been among the worst polluters. This presentation highlights the internal resources that Christianity can draw on to become a global force for the preservation and healing of nature, rather than an ideological foundation for its continued abuse. Christian commitment to creation care need not siphon energy away from evangelism. It can actually increase the credibility of the Gospel and also provide opportunities for building partnerships and personal relationships with environmentally concerned unbelievers.

Evangelism and Creation Care Workshop Handout

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John Stott Is Dead but Not Forgotten

John Stott (1921-2011) has died. Like countless other Christians I mourn his passing. An internationally-respected British Anglican, he was a gifted Christian statesman, and a man of humble integrity, warm grace and prodigious gifts. Perhaps best of all, he finished well. We will miss him, and pray that others of comparable (or at least approximate) quality will emerge to take his place. One cause of the disillusionment of our times is the declining number of people who truly deserve respect. We are becoming, in the words of a twentieth-century history of Scotland, a society with No Gods and Precious Few Heroes. But John Stott has been a happy exception.
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Inside Scoop on New Dictionary of Christian Spirituality


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      Members of the Bethel San Diego Spring 2011 Class on Spirituality & Prayer

 

Zondervan Q&A with Glen Scorgie, general editor, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality

 

Congratulations on the publication of the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. In terms of the writing and editing, what kind of work hours do you think the project represents?

The Dictionary project took four years of focused effort. The workload ebbed and flowed across these years, but I’d estimate it involved 10-20 hours a week on average. The other editors and I managed to keep organized with an Excel spreadsheet; each entry involved 17-19 discreet steps.

 

Writing for this book was certainly not a sensible strategy for getting rich. Sometimes I cajoled reluctant contributors to join the company of the cheerfully exploited. Usually that phrase won them over. But I must say the whole project, from start to finish, was an absolute delight. For one thing, the DCS team got to interact with some of the finest people on the planet. I’ve often said that without the excuse of this project, how else would I get up the nerve to bother Eugene Peterson in his cabin up in Montana, or Dallas Willard or J. I. Packer?

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New Dictionary of Christian Spirituality Just Released


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Zondervan publishers has just released the hardbound Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. After four years of effort, we are delighted to see this unique volume finally in print. It is a biblically engaged, reliable and accessible resource for contemporary Christians. Writers from across the globe have contributed thirty-four “integrative perspective” essays and nearly seven hundred alphabetized entries. Together these offer a discerning orientation to the wealth of ecumenical resources available today while still highlighting the distinct heritage and core grace-centered values of classic evangelical spirituality.

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Does Christianity Grow or Just Move On?

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I have just returned from Manila this week, where I had the privilege of teaching on Christian spirituality to a wonderful cohort of eager Filipino-Chinese and Mainland Chinese students. The latter are the “tip of the iceberg” of a remarkable, grass-roots movement of vibrant Christianity emerging out of a country that has been officially (and sometimes repressively) atheistic and Communist since 1949. Most of these bright, passionate young adults are university-trained students, and many of them possess Mac computers and international cell phones. Yet they have come to accept the prospect of suffering, and have embraced radical consecration, to a degree only sometimes seen nowadays among their North American Christian counterparts. What’s going on? Is Christianity really dying out in the West while growing up in Asia and Africa? If so, it raises another, somewhat troubling question: Does the Christian faith actually expand, or does it just migrate elsewhere?

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Love Wins

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The son of a prominent American judge, Rob Bell is a young (born in 1970, now 40 years old), media-savvy and very “cool” dressing graduate of Wheaton College and Fuller Seminary. He is a rock musician, and now an evangelical pastor who founded and leads a large, new church (Mars Hill Bible Church) in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan—the American Midwest home of numerous evangelical publishing houses.

 

Rob Bell is a captivating speaker who has attracted consistently large crowds to a number of well-organized national and international speaking tours. His innovative short video clips on spiritual themes circulate widely, and since 2005 he has written an impressive list of books that until just recently were almost all published by Zondervan, one of the larger evangelical presses right in Grand Rapids. He has a gift for arresting titles, which include Velvet Elvis and Sex God. But his most recent book, Love Wins (2011), published for a more mainstream market by HarperCollins, Zondervan’s big market parent company, is by far his most important and already his most controversial.

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Judgment Day May 21?

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I was down at San Diego’s Earth Day a few weeks ago, helping to staff a booth run by Christians for Earth Care, and took a break to browse the area. The atheists were there in full force, exposing what they believe to be the idiocy of religion and people of faith. I stopped to chat with them for a bit; it became immediately apparent that they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but on some points they were relatively coherent . . . and they were enjoying lots of traffic.Then I spied the Day of Judgment guy.

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Financial Debt and Religious Freedom

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A profound social transformation has been taking place right in front of us, and we have barely noticed. Very quietly a revolution in attitude has occurred. It is simply this: debt has been normalized. As a professor I see it every day where students preparing for the (generally underpaid) Christian ministry blithely assume enormous debt to finance their seminary education. They are in effect committing themselves to long-term financial hardship. In some cases their only hope will be to declare chapter 7 bankruptcies. But this is simply a reflection at the personal level of a much larger national disposition. America is staggering toward its own bankruptcy, and we cannot seem to get a handle on the problem. This week I discovered another reasons why our growing debt should be a particular concern for Christians. It came out of a news report from China.

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