Quotes from Semester 2 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

Photo credit: SMBC

Year one is done. What an incredible year it has been to study at SMBC.

There are some things that words can’t adequately sum up. For example, the end-of-year dinner where the faculty (including the principal) served the pre-dinner nibbles to guests. Or the cumulative effect of praying for the nations on Mondays, listening to missionaries from around the world on Tuesdays, and hearing God’s Word preached on Wednesdays. Or the 1-to-1 and group conversations where you’re blown away by the sacrifices people have made to come to college, and astounded by their willingness to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the gospel. No soundbite can adequately capture those moments.

But for what it’s worth, here are some quotes of what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than the latest cricket and rugby scores. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of these “proverbs” are helpful to you.


On Missions

“Our temptation is to cluster. 1 in 11 Australians live in Western Sydney, with immigrants from 170 different countries – it’s a mission field of breathtaking proportions. Yet the church in Sydney clusters from the Hills, the North Shore, to the Shire… the world is not to be won by quiet, ease-loving men and women.” – Stuart Coulton

“I’ve actually learned more about cross-cultural issues and worldviews while in parish ministry in Western Sydney than in Chile.” – Gary, CMS in Chile

“We’re not in competition with other colleges. We’re delighted you’re here, we really believe in what we do here. But we should be grateful that God is working through other theological colleges in Australia.” – S.C.

“Saying ‘Preach the word, if necessary use words’ is like saying ‘Give me your phone number, if necessary use numbers’. The gospel is a message: it needs to be said.” – Tim Silberman, Missions Perspectives

“Missions is God’s power at work in our weakness.” – Richard Hibbert

“It’s OK not to have a plan after college. Just serve God where you are; pour your heart and soul into what you’re doing here.” – Gary and Julie, CMS in Chile

“Even though I was not there to gathered my kids in my arms, God was there to shepherd them. ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.'” – K., missionary in Cambodia hospitalised with a stroke

“It’s easy to be narrow and think ‘this in my ministry’. But our God is a global God. [Even when] I’m in Tanzania, I pray for China.” – Amy, missionary in Tanzania

“I always offend Muslims on the street – with the Gospel.” – D., street evangelist to Turkish Muslims in London


On Old and New Testament

“Let’s get into the Bible. That’s what we’re here for, right?” – Janson Condren

“The road of a prophet is a road of suffering. To accept God’s call is to accept the road of suffering.” – J.C. on Jeremiah

“A king can get the people out of Babylon, but he can’t get Babylon out of the people. It has to take a Servant to accomplish this.” – J.C. on Isaiah

“Good on-the-fly prayer grows out of intense, private prayer.” – J.C. on Nehemiah 2:4

“The greatest danger for the exiles is not annihilation but assimilation.” – J.C. on Daniel

“Every Psalm should be read in light of Psalm 1 and 2.” Kit Barker on the Psalter

“Some essays I call apocalyptic. Every sentence is a mystery.” – Alan Mugridge

“Group work. It’s pretty hip.” – A.M.


Church History 1550 to Present Day

“The role of church history is to help us live better for Jesus Christ.” – S.C.

“Henry VIII appointed Protestant Cranmer as tutor to his son, Edward. What you do with your kids reveals what you really believe.” – Rachel Ciano on the English Reformation

“One of our constant struggles is how to move what’s in the head to the heart. That’s why Puritans viewed theology as living well for the glory of God — they connected the two. That’s why reading the Puritans is helpful.” – R.C.

“We’re suckers for celebrity preachers, aren’t we?” – Ian Maddock on the response to George Whitefield’s preaching

“The key to local mission is cross-cultural mission, and the key to cross-cultural mission is the heart of the pastor.” – R.C. on Charles Simeon’s impact on world mission as a local pastor

“[First Fleet chaplain] Philip Johnson would leave at 4am by boat for a 9am service at Parramatta. You’ll never feel bad about an early start ever again!” – R.C. on early church services in Australia


Pastoral Theology

“Nothing brings delight in prayer other than prayer. Nothing robs you of joy in prayer other than prayerlessness.” – S.C., Pastoral Theology

“Prayer is an accurate reflection of how much I believe that the work of mission is the work of God. Look back on the last month of your prayers. Do you labour in prayer, long and hard?” – S.C.

“Reading will make you a better preacher and a better pastor. TV tells you what to think. Books invite you to make a judgement on the characters.” – S.C. on reading

“You’re only a hair’s breadth away from being a heretic!” – S.C.

“In vocational ministry, you will be paid to be holy. So your great temptation is that your holiness becomes a professional activity. There becomes a terrible disconnect between our beliefs and our actions.” – S.C.

“The opposite of laziness is not workaholism. So often we want to fix one mistake by creating another.” – S.C.

“Our greatest risk at college is that we will know everything and learn nothing. Do you know your brokenness before a Holy God?” – S.C.


 

Reflections on Reformation 500

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther, an obscure monk from the small town of Wittenberg, presented 95 theses that unleashed a Reformation in Christianity, culture, politics, printing and more. Luther’s rediscovery that we are justified — made right with God — by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, came from a conviction that Scripture alone should be our highest authority.

500 years on, at a breakfast table in Sydney, Australia, I attempted to read a Psalm in Latin to our children. Then I read today’s passage from Psalm 119:1-8. The idea was to show how special it was to hear God’s Word in a language we understood (though I suspect our girls were a bit distracted!)

Classes today were tinged with a Reformation hue: our principal greeted us in German, some students dressed up as monks, and questions about Luther and his views on anything and everything punctuated the day. There was a bit of SMBC’s own door-posting mischief. For lunch the college kitchen cooked up some bratwurst (someone said it was the “wurst” meal they’d had). We even had an anniversary cake.

 

Looking back over the years, I can personally trace the ripples of Herr Luther’s mallet blow throughout so much in my life. I’m grateful to God for:

  • The teacher that showed Christ-like love to a scrawny kid who babbled through his first year of primary school
  • The violin teacher who invited me to my first Christian wedding
  • The volunteer at an evangelistic rally who shared the message of God’s grace in Christ to a lost 17 year-old high schooler
  • Two sisters who gave me my first Bible (a “radical faith” CEV emblazoned with a dude on rollerblades)
  • Pastors who taught me the Word of God and trusted it completely: John Humphrey, Peter Somervell, Calvyn Jonker, Joe Fleener, Richard and Sam Cutforth, Tim Bradford, Dave Pym, Stuart Coulton, Geoff Harper and many others
  • Authors who explained how the Word of Christ applies to every area of my life: Rosaria Butterfield, Tim Chester, Lee Strobel, Vaughan Roberts, Jerry Bridges, Faith Cook, Don Carson, Mark Dever, Tim & Kathy Keller and countless others
  • Hymnwriters who followed in Luther’s footsteps and penned profound songs of praise I love to sing: Anne Steele, Isaac Watts, John Newton, Charitie Bancroft, Stuart Townend, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Bob Kauflin and plenty of others
  • In Cheryl, a wife who is more of a creature of the Word than I am, and who opens it faithfully with our children
  • In Luke, Jono, Enoch, Dave, Steve and Christian, a band of book-reading brothers sown into good soil and cast out into the Lord’s service around the world
  • Our HBC young adults homegroup, who have a rare zeal for the Word: savouring it, diligently studying it and sharing it with others.

Each of these people were shaped by the Word unleashed 500 years ago. And each of us have the call to hold out this life-giving Word for as long as we live.

The Word is precious. We are always being reformed by it. We behold the beauty of Jesus through it. And we will never tire of looking into it.


The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

– Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”

May all pay attention to Elisha

A few months ago, I submitted a 2500-word response to 1 and 2 Kings as part of studying the Old Testament at college. The lecturer invited us to be as creative as possible – poems, board games, flow charts, music albums were all fair game. My response ended up being a selection of acrostic poems following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (à la Psalm 119), responding to the events of 1 and 2 Kings. My favourite part was reflecting on the comparisons between Elisha and Jesus (as others have also done), and how it highlights the book of Kings’ importance in pointing us to Jesus, the perfect Messiah. This response is below, and I hope it whets your appetite to read more of Kings, and the Old Testament, looking for Christ.


 

Mem מ‎

A maskil. Of the Shunammite woman, 2 Kings 2-6.

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Meagre farmboy turned miracle worker

Mouthpiece of Yahweh, whose armies surround him[1]

May all who taunt him be mauled![2]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Miracle worker amidst death in the land

Made meals for the hungry,[3] restores dead to life[4]

Made way for slaves to be free![5]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Minister to Gentiles,[6] he made lepers clean

Master even over Creation’s sway[7]

May all make straight paths for him!

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Mother and father he leaves behind[8]

Model disciple who mimics his Master

Might he lay down his life for his friends?[9]


 

[1] 2 Kings 6:17

[2] 2 Kings 2:23-25

[3] 2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 2:38-41

[4] 2 Kings 4:32-37, 2 Kings 13:20-21

[5] 2 Kings 4:1

[6] 2 Kings 5:1-16

[7] 2 Kings 6:6

[8] 1 Kings 19:19-21

[9] John 15:13

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

We’ve just finished our first semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College, where I’m studying towards a Masters of Divinity.

It’s been exhausting on some fronts – adjusting to life in Australia with a young family, scrambling to build new friendships and relationships, grieving as NZ friends move on with their lives. I don’t think we’ve ever been as sick with colds and flus as this past 6 months.

It’s been enriching on many fronts – drinking from multiple fire hoses gushing with theology, observing examples of godliness, and catching the passion to bring Christ to all the nations – literally. What a special place this is to be prepared for a lifetime of gospel ministry in NZ.

I’ve noted down for posterity what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than all my ephemeral InstaFaceTweets combined. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of them are helpful to you.


Church History: Early Church to 476

“If learning church history doesn’t contribute to your godliness and discipleship, then it hasn’t done its job.” – Stuart Coulton

“The Crusades. Nazi Germany. How could ‘Christians’ do such evil things? They were Christians who failed to critique the values of the world around them.” – S.C.

“We carpet bomb a city to save democracy [Dresden]. Should we kill a man for denying the Trinity [cf. Calvin and Servetus]? Church history gives us provocation and tools to wrestle with these propositions.” – S.C.

“What and where it happened is not as important as why it happened.” – S.C.

“Early Christianity stood out by its holiness. Is our church today known for its quality of life? What difference has Christ made to me?” – S.C.

“You work out what the error is by the way the truth is articulated.” – S.C.

“The difference between an ascetic and and aesthetic comes down to chocolate. The ascetic says no. The aesthetic says, ‘Only Lindt will do.'” – S.C.

“The church sometimes stops at bishops and creeds, but pays lip service to Scripture.” – S.C.

“The church has a need for many things, but what it really needs is good doctrine. We live in a world where pragmatism is the most popular authority. So assume nothing. Go back to Scripture and ask: is this truth biblical?” – S.C.

“Christians in the West treat Revelation in ways that John would be horrified. Does reading Revelation move you to pray for the persecuted church? If not perhaps we’ve missed John’s purpose for the letter.” – Rachel Ciano, Persecution and Apologists

“Fast growth in the early church meant nominal Christians with shallow roots. Christians lived in a time of peace, so were unprepared; many gave themselves up. May it be a lesson to us not to be caught unprepared.” – R.C. on the Edict of 250 AD requiring Christians worship the Roman Emperor.

“‘For the church to be marginalised is not a bad thing. It has better eyes to see from the edges.'” – R.C. paraphrasing Miroslav Volf

“If you’ve found something new that no one has ever thought of before, be careful. People have been thinking about things longer than you.” – R.C.

“One of the greatest things about church history is that you’ll never hero worship anyone. You see their black spots; everyone has feet of clay.” – S.C.

“Don’t write these guys off [early monastics]. Otherwise we’ll have nothing to learn. These monks asked: what does it look like to seriously follow Jesus? Part of me is provoked… How much am I prepared to follow Jesus?” – S.C.

“FF Bruce suggests that the Reformation is all about Augustine’s doctrine of the church colliding with his doctrine of salvation.” – S.C.

“If you find yourself separated from the majority of the church, then show some humility.” – S.C. summarising Augustine’s argument about the church

 

Church History: Middle Ages to Pre-Reformation

“Augustine’s view is that we are dead in our transgressions. Pelagius’s view is that we are not dead in our trangressions. The Bible teaches that you’re a prince [in Christ] and a worm. You’re totally depraved and you’re touched by grace.” – S.C.

“Herulean Oduvacar is the perfect name to drop into a dinner party conversation. He was the first non-Roman to sit on the throne. You think Donald Trump is shocking!” – S.C.

“In the Middle Ages, nobody believed in the separation of church and state. The issue at this time is which side is in charge.” – S.C.

“Don’t defend the Crusades. They are a complete blot on the Christian church.” – S.C.

“We are tempted to promote the cause of Christ using instruments of the world. But Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that it’s ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.'” – S.C.

“The real outrage with Luther was not that he had beer, but that he got married.” – S.C.

“The priesthood of all believers has politically explosive implications.” – S.C.

“One of the temptations for us is to lack confidence in the power of God’s Word. ‘You need topical. You need something else.’ No – it is the means by which salvation is accomplished.” – S.C.

“Lutheranism today is different to Lutheranism 500 years ago. Calvinism remains influential over the years, perhaps because it left a more systematised doctrine.” – S.C.

“Luther is all about stuffing the ark – ‘get them in’. Calvin wants to transform the ark – ‘sanctify them'”. – R.C., on the difference between Luther and Calvin

“One reason laments have lost their place in today’s worship is that we have a problem with saying ‘God, you did it.’ Withhold nothing from the sovereignty of God.” – R.C.

“Your church building says a lot about your theology.” – R.C. on church architecture

“Most of South America is Roman Catholic because of the Jesuits. While Protestants were infighting, they became a worldwide RCC. Parochialism is the enemy of the gospel. Don’t debate each other at the expense of gospel proclamation.” – R.C. on the Catholic counter-reformation

 

 

Pastoral Theology

“To pray for God to be glorified in your life is a dangerous prayer.” – Stuart Coulton, Pastoral Theology

“Beware the disjunct between the handling of God’s word for others, and practising God’s word for yourself.” – S.C.

“Small talk is addressing the 95% of a person’s life. If you are disinterested in 95% of a person’s life, then continue to hate small talk.” – S.C.

“What God does in you will shape what He does through you.” – S.C.

“[I] didn’t realise how dangerous Stuart’s prayer was until later in the year.” – student in the valley.

 

Biblical Theology

“In my class, the answer is usually Jesus, or context.” – Alan Thompson

“Here’s four approaches to the Bible:
1. Exegesis – what’s in the line?
2. Biblical Theology – what’s the timeline?
3. Systematic Theology – what’s the bottom line?
4. Historical Theology – what’s the church’s line?”

– adapted from A.T. explaining the role of biblical theology

New Testament Greek

“Learning Greek shouldn’t make you proud, but make you humble.” – Janet Riley

“Learning Greek is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You need to hold on to that word and say: ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!'” – Rob Plummer on dailydoseofgreek.com

 

 

 

Old Testament Foundations

“We’re going to look at some of the greatest literature ever written.” – Kit Barker

“In time you’ll learn to use dictionaries, commentaries and journals. But nothing replaces a careful, repeated reflection of the text. Keep asking: what is God doing with this text then and now?” – K.B.

“The Pentateuch is meant to persuade you to obey – it’s not to be held at arm’s length. It’s meant to shape us, transform us into better men and women than we were.” – Geoff Harper

“Genesis records history, but it also critiques our own hearts. It’s less about what the sun is made of, but why it is there.” – G.H.

“There’s a diversity of views out there [on Genesis 1-2], but we are Christian. It’s very unwise to die on this hill. We need to love people who are different.” – G.H.

“To help us understand the literary artistry in the Tower of Babel story, let’s read The Gruffalo and see if you can spot any artistic devices.” – G.H.

“[In the Joseph story] Judah’s repentance is real. He’s willing to be Benjamin’s substitute, to be a slave so Benjamin can go free. We see the necessity for repentance to precede forgiveness. If we repent, we’ll get reconciliation.” – G.H.

“As Christians we need to be careful not to have an Islamic [i.e. dictated] view of Scripture. It’s OK if divine inspiration is more complex than we thought. We have a God who stands behind it.” – G.H.

“Let me make some bold statements: Leviticus is not just a relic of Israel’s history; it’s your history. It’s not redundant, but essential. You can’t understand Jesus unless you understand what’s in Leviticus: atonement, forgiveness, care for the foreigner, blood, sacrifice, holiness. So study Levicitus to understand Christ better.” – G.H.

“Leviticus is a wonderful evangelistic text. Lots of people are terrified about being unclean before a Holy God. Jesus is the one who makes us clean. Leviticus pushes us to talk about this.” – G.H.

“To remove wrath from the cross is foolishness. What then did he die for? Then there’s no sense in which God demonstrates his love.” – K.B.

“[The wrath of God] is not just an Old Testament problem. In fact, the NT is far more violent — in both the crucifixion [of Jesus] and in the unleashing of God’s fury on all who reject him.” – K.B.

“The more we understand and accept God’s wrath against rebellion, the more we appreciate the love of God and what Christ suffered.” – K.B.

“One generation is all it takes to lose the nation – to be worse than the culture you’re in. So we must pass on the life-giving words to the next generation.” – K.B. on Judges

 

Preaching Class, Principal’s Hour, Student Chapels

“The goal of preaching is not just to make smarter sinners. That’s what’s called dump truck preaching. The goal of preaching is to give God’s Word, to point people to their saviour, and live for his glory.” – Malcolm Gill

“It’s easy to do dump truck preaching. It’s much harder to be simple.” – M.G.

“‘My son’s birthday party’ – could be kids with party hats, or as it turns out, an adult son released from prison. Find out who you’re speaking to!” – M.G. on evaluating your audience

“In preaching you bring a meal out from the kitchen. You don’t take them into the kitchen and show them all the ingredients.” – M.G.

“If you’ve come to bible college, there probably is a Messiah complex about you. But our effectiveness in ministry is solely by God’s grace. The gospel gives us both confidence and humility in gospel ministry.” – Mark Adams, on 1 Cor 15

“Genesis 38 pictures a man in the midst of rebellion, confronted with his deception, then immediately acknowledging this wrongdoing, who becomes a new person. God transforms the hardest of hearts.” – Kit Barker

“People have a right to see in us a radical reflection of Jesus.” – S.C., on Matthew 5

“Jesus had nothing to add to the commandments except one thing: he kept them.” – S.C. quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Old Testament is the gospel in bud; the New Testament is the gospel in flower.” – S.C. quoting JC Ryle

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘You’re going to have to serve somebody.’ The question is, who? Who will you give your heart to?” – S.C., Matt 6:19-34

“There is a difference between having strong convictions and lacking respect for others with whom we disagree.” – S.C., on Matt 7:1-6

“One of the dangers of college is that our skillset outstrips our character. So begin with a command like this: don’t judge.” – S.C.

“Some advice for bible college graduates – don’t whine, don’t shine, and don’t recline.” – from an OT lecturer at Moore College

 

Other quotables

“Competence without character in Christian service is not just unattractive, but incredibly dangerous.” – S.C.

“Ministry Matters [hearing from missionaries every week] will help us lift our eyes away from parochialism and our tendency to only look locally.” – S.C.

“Some cultures don’t even have a word for guilt in their language. How do you explain Romans 3 to them?” – Richard Hibbert, on cross-cultural communication

“[Why are we missionaries in an unsafe country?] Safe is relative. You could be in Australia and get hit by a car. Is Christ worthy for West Asians to praise? If so then it is worth being here for the sake of the gospel.” – X+X, missionary family with young children

 

 

The best 1600 words on church history I’ve read

I’ve just read a breathtaking summary of 2000 years of church history by Bruce Shelley. It’s from his Epilogue to “Church History in Plain Language”. The way the author flows through the warp and weft of two millennia of Christianity is a sheer masterclass of writing.

I can’t share the whole epilogue here – for that you really should buy the book. It flies through early persecution and heresy, the Imperial age from Constantine, councils and hermits, Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall of Rome, the reconversion of Europe, Charlemagne and Cluny, the church as empire, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment and Evangelical Awakening, the Age of Ideologies – all in the space of 1600 words.

But here is how it ends (emphasis mine):

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Saviour of evangelical revivalists. Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations.” – Bruce Shelley

Truly inspiring.