Arizona campus newsletter


Dallas Bivins, Arizona Campus Director

The beginning of the fall semester marks the start of another academic year. It is an exciting time, whether this is the beginning of your seminary career or the end of your journey. I join you in the anticipation of great things to come!

Faculty Book Reviews

Bethke, Jefferson.  Jesus > Religion: Why he is so much better than trying harder, doing more,

            and being good enough.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013.   

A couple of years ago, a young man made national news with his YouTube video, "Why I hate religion but love Jesus." As of this writing, this video has received 30 million views and continues to be a hot topic of discussion both inside and outside the church. jefferson Bethke discusses his irritation with modern-day Phariseeism and his ultimate passion to know and love Jesus. This book is a follow-up of that video.


Bethke begins by stating that his religion was "moralism dressed in Christian clothes:"

"I realized I was following the wrong Jesus – not that there is a “wrong” Jesus – but I was following a fake version of the real one.  This realization came to me as I was listening to a Christian radio station one day.  During a commercial break, they did a fifteen-second spot about the station that consisted of kids laughing, happy music, and the slogan, “Music you can trust, because it’s safe for the whole family!” I remember thinking, Safe for the whole family?  Is Jesus really safe for the whole family?" (p. 8)

He goes on to question how Christians have created a "safe" Jesus, one to our liking, who may not accurately reflect the Christ in the Bible.  Remember that Paul told us we would be treated ruthlessly, just like Jesus, if we choose to follow his example (2 Timothy 3:12):

"We’ve lost the real Jesus – or at least exchanged him for a newer, safer, sanitized, ineffectual one.  We’ve created a Christian subculture that comes with its own set of customs, rules, rituals, paradigms, and products that are nowhere near the rugged, revolutionary faith of biblical Christianity.  In our subculture Jesus would have never been crucified – he’s too nice". (p. 9)

 Interesting point he makes, don't you think?  Have we become a family of faith that is so secluded, so isolated, that the world believes we don't love the real Jesus: "we’re often judgmental, hypocritical, and legalistic while claiming to follow a Jesus who is forgiving, authentic, and loving". (p. 9) On a personal note, Bethke has made me re-think this whole issue of a "safe Jesus."  I have become more aware of the prayers I pray (or hear others pray) in which safety is of utmost concern.  The "real Jesus" purposely put His followers in harm's way, stating that when persecution came, we are blessed.  Sure seems this way of thinking is in direct conflict with the usual "keep us safe on the way home, Lord" prayer. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been praying a different prayer, one that is more centered on His designs and less on my wants. Now, I'm not saying that if God has touched your heart and He wants you to ask for safety, that you should do something different! But I have looked more at directing my prayers to Him and asking that He provides what I need for the journey, whether "good" or "bad" (my judgments). For me, this simple act has given such a distinctive look at my walk with God that He has provided for my steps today, no matter where they may go or what I might encounter. It reaffirms over and over again that we truly can trust God, no matter what!


For Bethke, the most damaging aspect of Christianity is the influx of extreme fundamentalism that is prevalent in the church.  He describes this epidemic by those who seem to hold personal convictions in higher esteem or priority than “actual life-and-death salvation issues.”  Such Christians are “self-centered, basing personal righteousness solely on personal behavior.  What they do defines who they are.  They are slaves to their self-imposed morality and in turn become joyless and hypocritical”. (p. 41)

 He relates his role in extreme fundamentalism with wearing a seatbelt - or rather faking the wearing of a seatbelt.  Not wanting to wear it, he would pull it across his waist when he saw a patrolman - sacrificing “real safety for the appearance of safety – and it was more work!" 

"That is the essence of fundamentalism – living by the rules to stay out of trouble rather than seeing the rules as tools to bring us into intimacy and joy. We exchange relationship with God for a bunch of church games.  We give an appearance of something that doesn’t actually save, and even takes more work.  Why would we do that?"  (p. 43)

 One of my favorite seminars is "GrowthPath," which is a discipleship journey that flows from our head through our heart and out our hands and to our habits. Our spiritual development must work through our heads and into our hearts - first! Then it can flow into our hands, but not before. Scripture is full of folks who think (head) they know what God wants, but then go directly to their actions (hands), bypassing the heart in the process. Think about Abraham and Sarah:  knowing God's promise of an heir (head) but not trusting Him (heart), they take it upon themselves to help God by acting out what they should do (hands) with Hagar (Genesis 16). 

 Bethke says "the more focused Christians are on external behavior, the greater the possibility they are trying to make up for what they lack in their hearts.  When we have no real transforming power of Jesus in our hearts, we hold up a list of external behaviors so someone can look at us and identify us as Christians.  We humans prefer the tangible to the intangible any day.  We prefer the flesh to the Spirit, the law to the heart". (p. 45) I agree whole-heartedly (no pun intended) that this is a primary flaw in today’s church.  It seems we have neglected the role of a passionate and committed heart in our ministry, and instead focus first on doing things.

Interestingly enough, the author ends his section on fundamentalism with a great point: 

"Fundamentalists don’t always wear suits. Sometimes they wear skinny jeans.  Sometimes they say you have to be able to drink beer to be a real Christian.  Sometimes they only allow dirty grunge rock in their church service and make flannels mandatory to play in the worship band.  Here’s a quick note though: if you care more about flaunting your Christian freedom than promoting Christian unity, you’re probably not free.  You are actually a slave to your so-called freedom". (pp. 52-53)

 So...are there issues or beliefs we hold onto that are not Biblical, but personal or cultural?  When we designate these personal convictions or desires as "must-haves" in the Christian faith, then we are focusing more on our actions and what we do, than on our being and who we are in Christ.    


Bethke provides some excellence advice in creating unity in the church, though it might be different than what some churches look for today.  He suggests that the church must purposely engage in active debate, rather than run from it:

"In the book of John, Jesus prays we would be “one” (17:21).  The only way to become            one is to engage in healthy discussion on topics we disagree on.  But we can’t honestly             think any non-Christian will want to come into the family of God if we are just as – if not             more – divisive than the rest of the world.  Sometimes how we dialogue in today’s culture    is just as important as why we dialogue". (p. 62)

Wow! Have you ever considered that the world is watching how we debate maybe even more than what we debate? I do not believe that the world thinks we debate and argue in a healthy way; in fact, I believe it is just the opposite! The world looks at us and believes we are judgmental, hard-headed and uncaring – not just with non-Christians, but with each other, too.  We do not actively engage in dialogue and debate, and when we do, the result can be damaging.  We often forget priorities of personal growth and encouragement and instead resort to turf-wars over my ideas or my rights in the church. 

Without discussion and debate, we fail to grow effectively, either as individual followers or as the corporate body of Christ. It is through new ideas and challenging ourselves that God’s Spirit is allowed to stretch us, creating opportunities for greater growth and service. We severely limit ourselves if we are unwilling to consider other viewpoints, simply because they are different – or “we’ve never done that before.”


What a testimony the author gives of his former ministry life, as he confesses his “…identity, my worth, and my purpose in life were wrapped up in my behavior and earning others’ approval.  Because of this I sacrificed my life trying to make others think I was a good person.  Who cares if I actually was?  I just wanted others to think I was.  All my energy was devoted to keeping people’s perceptions of me in good standing.  I wonder how many others behave this way.  As long as others think we are good, we really don’t care what our lives actually look like.  Outside reputation is more valuable than personal transformation”. (p. 78) How sad, but how true; we are often more concerned with what we look like to others, than who we are in Jesus Christ. 

Bethke goes on to state that you can spot a religious person in that they insist they are the heroes, always needing to save the day:

“They have to have enough verses memorized. They have to get a new badge on their Sunday school sash. They have to defend God. This problem isn’t new. In fact, Jesus dealt with the very same thing. To the religious leaders in John 5, Jesus says, ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (5:39-40). (p. 85) 

God does not call us to try hard – he calls us to a heart relationship with him.  It is out of this right relationship with God that we are able to serve him effectively; but without it, our work is nothing but good deeds completed with human power. 


The first man Adam was created for one purpose: intimacy with God.  Today, every man is created for exactly the same reason.  When we nurture that relationship with God, we can go through anything that the world throws at us.  This is what it comes down to:

Jesus doesn’t promise us worldly success; he promises himself.

Jesus doesn’t promise us riches; he promises a rich life in him.

Jesus doesn’t promise us easy lives; he promises to be with us. (p. 109)

No matter what comes down the pike, “we can smile because our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3-4).  It’s not here on earth, but has already been achieved and given.  You find a person who truly believes this, and you’ll find a person who can’t be touched.  He or she may be bruised, beat up, and hurt by this life, but nothing can reach his or her life because it isn’t even here” (p. 111).

When tough questions come our way, we are tempted to challenge God for answers.  But when we consider why God created us in the first place, we recognize that He doesn’t want to just give us an answer; he wants to give us Himself!  An answer isn't going to bring that spouse back.  An answer won't ease that pain.  But what will is God's grace in the depths of our souls.  As Christians, God doesn't promise us an easy life, but he does promise to be with us in whatever we go through.  He will never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). (p. 120)


Bethke continues this course on the issues of the heart, quoting John 4:19: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  He proclaims that worship cannot be fully experienced with “external behavior with certain holy spots, but holiness will be a matter of worshiping in spirit and truth.  Faith is no longer wrapped up in a building; it’s wrapped up in every soul who loves Jesus” (p. 168). 

Jesus is seeking worshipers who worship him with two characteristics: spirit and truth.  Bethke goes on to say that we are truly worshiping when we give glory to something, and whatever we give glory to, we sacrifice for.  Sometimes that's sex; sometimes that's our jobs; sometimes that's our reputations.  But we all worship something, and we all put pseudo-gods on the thrones of our hearts” (p. 168).


Towards the end of the book, Bethke challenges the reader with insights about church growth, especially in loving and accepting those who are "different:"

"If everyone in your church talks like you, acts like you, and dresses like you, Jesus may not be the one you're worshiping.  It may be you.  Nothing would be weirder than a bunch of hands severed from the body and gathered in a particular place - unless it's an episode of The Addams Family.  It should look just as weird when we call ourselves a church but are just a bunch of clones.  That's not a church; that's a club". (pp. 189-190)

He makes a great point, one that should encourage us today. The first church was completely "radical in its time," where the poor and rich, Gentile and Jew, man and woman mingled together.  This didn't happen very often in the society of the day - but it did in the church!  Good word!

Reviewed by Dr. Dallas Bivins

Will Mancini. Innovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results. CreateSpace

     Independent Publisher, 2013.  (

 When envisioning the future we must think about both the results we want and the models we use, thus creating four possible paths to the future.

This summary is the skeleton of the focus of the book: how to create a strategy for the future of an individual church. To assist readers to apply the concepts, every chapter includes numerous testimonies of how other churches have already chosen a path and are implementing it successfully. These concrete examples can be very helpful to church leaders for better understanding.

owever, to this reader, the title is misleading because it implied that the book would describe a better definition of discipleship and provide specific steps to maturing believers.  The book actually leaves it to the church leaders to determine their own goals and then addresses creating a strategy to get there.  This is very beneficial as many churches do not have a vision of what God wants to accomplish and thus do not effectively plan for the future.

When pastors are asked the question, “How do you want your church to be different two years from now?” the most common two-word response is “more people.” Of course, that expresses itself in many forms:

• Increased worship

• More growth

• Higher attendance

• Additional services

However, pastors could have responded with answers like:

• More desperate for Jesus

• More intimacy between husbands and wives

• More engaged in social justice and civic responsibilities

• More families having devotionals together

But there’s something important behind the answer of “more people.” And that something reveals this default setting in the life of the everyday pastor. Church leaders are not just saying they want “more people.” What they are really saying is…

“We want more of the same thing the same way.”

The hidden vision switch reveals two default mindsets in most conversations about church vision:

• Default Mindset #1: More attendance is our primary desired result.

• Default Mindset #2: Our ministry model doesn’t need to change.

When a pastor thinks about a better future for the church, the default desire is

more of the same thing (usually attendance) the same way (existing ministry

model). We will call this “same thing – same way” thinking for short.

Vision Decision #1: Is our vision to have more of the same results or some new result?

Identifying the default mindset brings us to the first huge barrier to innovation –lack of clarity about results. To the extent we are unclear about the results we want, innovation will either feel unnecessary or be driven by unanchored creativity.

In order to equip you to answer Decision #1, these terms and definitions are some important points to keep you and your team crystal clear every day about results. Any result you can desire for your church will fit into three broad categories – input results, output results, and impact results.


Input results in the church world focus on the number of people and dollars that “come into” the church.

Input results are important. You don’t have a church without them. It’s also important to

measure input results. You can’t lead well without knowing them.

Common ways we talk about input results include the “ABC’s” (Attendance, Buildings and Cash) or “nickels and noses.” Every week, thousands of churches across the land will print their input results on a worship bulletin or review them in the next elders meeting. Input results inform the functional dashboard of the North American church.


Output results refer to actual life-change outcomes that God intends for followers of Christ individually and together.

Examples of output results include the quality of a believer’s prayer life, the skillfulness in sharing the gospel or the development of patience as one of the fruits of the Spirit.

There are hundreds of biblical phrases and concepts to capture the gospel-centered output results. Terms like “spiritual formation” and “transformed living” to “Christlikeness” and “full devotion to Christ.” The output results of the church are black and white in Scripture. Most importantly, the living output that God requires of each one is satisfied by Jesus, the One. That’s good news!


Impact results capture the broader effect of the church in the surrounding city or community.

Think of it as the positive difference that is made from the sum of believers influencing a region or pursuing a specific kind of social impact together. An example of an impact result would be lowering the number of homeless people or reducing the percent of teenage pregnancy or increasing the high school graduation rate in an area.

 When we cast vision for specific kinds of impact beyond making disciples, or if we find the “salt and light” influence of our congregation noticeably changing the community, we call this an impact result.

There are only three kinds of results: input, output and impact.

Understanding these definitions will help us with Decision #1: Is our vision to have more of the same results or some new result?

Despite the importance of input results, they do not provide a necessarily positive indicator of mission achievement. More attendance and more giving don’t necessarily mean more and stronger disciples. The bottom line is that input results are not the church’s bottom line. Disciples who obey Jesus are the church’s only genuine product. Therefore churches can have fantastic input results and be mission impotent.


The three common barriers to measuring outputs are:

• The clarity barrier: The output results have never moved from intention to definition. Having clarity begins with a shared definition and articulation among leadership starting with the top 3-6 output results that the church is designed to produce.

• The capture barrier: There is no current system to retrieve output information. Measuring spiritual outputs requires basic feedback processes and listening systems in the context of relationship. Tools might include questions, self-assessments, interviews, and surveys.

• The comprehensiveness barrier: The impossibility of measuring spiritual progress

comprehensively can keep us from measuring spiritual progress truly.

Input results (attendance and giving) by themselves do not validate the accomplishment of the church’s mission.

Vision Decision #2: Is it better to use our existing ministry model or to introduce a change? 

Thinking of new ways to design ministry is difficult because we have a truckload of ideas dumped on us, we get stuck in an existing model for doing things, and we are not deeply in tune with the original problem that our models solve.

The first step is for the church leaders to agree on ‘what is,’ ‘what could be,’ and what should be.’  The three approaches to church strategy are:

  • More is more
  • Less is more
  • To be is more


A “more is more” approach is seen in a church in which the basic operating assumption is that the more programs a church can offer in the “church space” the better. The hope is that more programs will attract more people and provide opportunities for spiritual growth.


The “less is more” approach operates with the assumption that the church should provide a few high quality offerings. Whether or not these offerings take place in church space or life space is a variable. In addition, the church attempts to design these offerings so that they have a meaningful relationship to one another. Ideally, the program offerings are designed around a unified set of output (discipleship) results.


The “to be is more” approach operates with the assumption that the church should provide as little as needed in terms of weekly offerings in order to maximize output (discipleship) results in “life space.” With a greater focus on “life space,” each engagement is forced to have great clarity of purpose, and output (discipleship) results necessarily play a greater role in the church’s identity.  This strategy requires a strong presence of leadership and tool development.

These approaches create a useful portal for discussing ministry model design for better results.

Vision Decision #1: Is our vision to have more of the same results or some new result?  Your only possible answers are either “same model” or “new model.” Which is it for you?

Vision Decision #2: Is it better to use our existing ministry model or to introduce a change?

Your only possible answers are either “same model” or “new model.” Which is it for you?

Thus, there are only four paths to your ministry’s future:


New Results


Innovation brings new expectations and revitalized purpose to familiar ministry patterns.


DANGER: unwillingness to modify the basic model can limit new results.




Innovation enables completely new outcomes with new ministry designs.



DANGER: creativity is a fun first step but implementing takes a lot of work.

Same Results


No innovation is necessary to reach more people.




DANGER: leaders may never see past the maximize and get stuck.


Innovation enhances the ministry relevance and extends ministry reach with model modifications.


DANGER: leaders assume there will be output and impact results when input results increase.



Same Model


New Model


• On the first path we MAXIMIZE the same model for the same results.  This path will relate to optimization, increase, strengthening, and sharing.

• On the second path we ADAPT the existing model for the same results. This path will enable you to enhance, accelerate, expand, and extend the results you are currently getting.

• On the third path we INFUSE new results into an existing model. Your church will activate, align, repurpose or remix in order to follow this path.

• On the fourth path we CREATE new results with a new model. Innovation enables completely new outcomes with new ministry designs as you generate, penetrate, incubate, or multiply.

When envisioning the future we must think about both the results we want and the models we use, thus creating four possible paths to the future.  Innovation is NOT always necessary and you should maximize what you are currently doing if it’s working.

Reviewed by Dr. Leslie Dodrill

David J. Williams. Paul's Metaphors: Their Context and Character. Peabody, Massachusetts:

     Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Paul’s Metaphors is a rich and detailed analysis of the diverse metaphors in the Pauline epistles. It is also a helpful introduction to the culture of the world in which the Apostle Paul lived. The author, the late David J. Williams, was one of the translators for the New International Version of the Bible and was the Vice Principal of Ridley College, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Any serious student of the Bible will find this book beneficial and largely readable. The text does not require any understanding of ancient languages, although a broad knowledge of Paul’s letters is helpful. Numerous endnotes extensively document the cultural background from primary sources and interact with the modern scholarly literature. Readers familiar with Greek will gain the most from these endnotes, which provide an excellent starting place for further research.

 The greatest strength of this book is that it shows how deeply rooted the Apostle Paul’s metaphors are in his culture. Since metaphors are always derived from cultural associations and assumptions, a reader should be familiar with the author’s culture in order to understand correctly the deeper nuances of the metaphors. “If metaphors are an index to their user’s world, it is equally true that a knowledge of that world is necessary to understand well and appreciate his or her metaphors.” (p. 2) Since contemporary Western culture is quite different than that of the biblical authors’ world, Bible readers should become familiar with these ancient cultures in order to avoid associations for the metaphors that the biblical authors could never have intended.

By setting each metaphor in its broader cultural context, Williams helps the Bible reader cross the cultural and temporal distance to the ancient text. For example, the extensive discussion of slavery in the Roman world provides insight into many important Pauline teachings about the Christian life. The language of redemption is much more meaningful in a culture in which human beings could be purchased and become the property of a new master (pp. 121-124). “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23) refers to the transfer of ownership of the Christian from a former master (sin and the sinful nature) to a new master (God). This implies that Christians have an obligation to give total obedience to God, their new master. With the stress on personal freedom in the Western world, contemporary readers easily underplay the obedience to God which is implied in this concept of transfer of ownership.


This book is a rich introduction into first century Roman culture and, to a considerably lesser extent, Jewish and Greek culture. The book is organized topically in twelve chapters that explore various aspects of first century culture: (1) life in the city, (2) life in the country, (3) family life, (4) providing for physical needs, (5) slavery and freedom, (6) citizens and courts of law, (7) manufacturing and marketing, (8) the business world, (9) travel, (10) warfare and soldiering, (11) cultic observances, and (12) public shows and sporting events. In each chapter Williams discusses a particular aspect of daily life, then he looks at biblical passages that use metaphors related to this aspect of culture. Many sections include more discussion of first century culture than of Paul’s metaphors. For example, his description of the squalor and danger of daily life in overcrowded Roman cities provides valuable insight into the world in which Paul ministered, even though Williams only explores a few metaphors deriving from this aspect of life (pp. 8-19).

Williams includes an extensive bibliography and two useful appendices on Roman history: Appendix 1 is a chronology of the Roman Empire. Appendix 2 has brief biographical descriptions of various Roman and Greek authors. There are indices to Scripture, ancient authors and modern authors. Unfortunately there is no index to the metaphors, which would greatly increase the value of the volume as a reference book.

The most controversial aspect of Williams’ approach is that he focuses primarily on Roman culture as the background for Paul’s metaphors. Occasionally he discusses Jewish culture, but the Jewish component of Paul’s background is decidedly downplayed. Williams argues that the content and structure of Paul’s theology is largely determined by his Jewish roots, radically reoriented by his encounter with the risen Christ. Paul’s figurative language, however, was drawn primarily from the wider Roman society in which he was born and to which he was sent (p. 3).

Certainly Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25; etc.), who ministered to Gentiles in many parts of the Roman Empire. Thus it is not surprising that many of Paul’s metaphors draw upon the culture of the Roman Empire in which he and his original readers lived. Yet it is hard to imagine that someone who considered himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) would draw little from his Jewish background in his language and metaphors. Williams’ contention is largely unsupported, other than with the sheer volume of Roman cultural examples. It would be helpful to learn how Roman, Greek and Jewish culture interplayed in the daily life of people who lived in the Roman Empire. This would build more confidence that the Roman background is the basis of Paul’s metaphors.

The origin of some of the metaphors is doubtful. It is unlikely that Paul’s concept of the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12 was influenced by terra cotta votive offerings representing various body parts, such as those in the temple of Asclepius at Corinth (p. 89). These were used to seek a cure from affliction in the represented body part. There is nothing in Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ that corresponds to this. In 1 Cor. 12, the body of Christ represents the diversity of gifts and roles of various Christians as well as the unity and value of all members of the Christian community.

The background for the Holy Spirit as a pledge (Eph 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) better fits the commercial world of a deposit or down payment for a purchase rather than an engagement ring as Williams suggests (p. 53). The use of arrabôn as engagement ring is an anachronism that comes from later Greek.

It is unlikely that the concept of pharmakos (scapegoat) is part of the background for Paul’s concept of the significance of Christ’s death (pp. 11-12, following B. H. McLean). The pharmakos was a person who substituted for the community and bore its curse in its place. When this substitute victim was executed or banished from a society, the curse of the plague, drought, famine, or military defeat was expected to be lifted from the community. Paul similarly viewed Christ as a substitute human being, whose suffering and death eradicated the curse of others. Certainly Paul says that Christ became a curse for humanity (Gal 3:13) and was made to be sin on behalf of others (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom 8:3). Yet if Paul had the pharmakos concept in view, why does he never use that handy cultural image to describe Christ’s work? By the New Testament era pharmakos referred to a sorcerer and the earlier concept of a scapegoat had faded from usage.

At times Williams does not explore the depths of the associations and significance of Paul’s metaphors. For example, in his discussion of “light” and “darkness,” he helpfully notes that darkness became a metaphor for evil because criminals used darkness as a cloak for their evil deeds (p. 8). But the light-darkness motif is more than a moral metaphor – it also can refer to truth and revelation. Williams does not explore this dimension of the light metaphor.

Yet these are minor weaknesses in an otherwise excellent work. This book will help any serious reader of Bible to gain greater insight into the culture of the New Testament era and the theological meaning conveyed by Paul’s metaphorical language.

 Reviewed by Dr. Harry A. Hahne

Holbert, John C. and Alyce M. McKenzie. What Not to Say: Avoiding the Common Mistakes

     That Can Sink Your Sermon. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 2011. 

This is not a book written by evangelicals. Theologically the authors would be classified as moderate to liberal. However, for the purpose of being better preachers this is a very good book. They have chapters on what not to say about God, the Bible, the beginning, people, in-the-middle, yourself, in stories, and at the end. Again, this is not a theological treatise nor are the writers evangelical, but the book has a goldmine of great ideas for improving preaching.

As can be imagined, a book about what not to say is full of examples. Many of the samples are humorous and that makes the book flow along well. The point of the book is not to focus on serious mistakes preachers make, but instead to refine those areas where preachers make small blunders that can have a negative effect on the sermon.          

The layout is easy to follow with subheadings in each chapter describing the error(s) followed by examples. As a corollary to what not to say each chapter also has a section on what to say about each subject. This part is not as helpful as the what not to say sections. The examples are brief and relate directly to the error under discussion.

Each chapter has a few questions for reflection at the end but they do not seem to be very helpful. Usually discussion questions at the end of a chapter are better suited for small-group Bible studies. This work is not designed to be used in a discussion group so the questions at the end of the chapters are a waste of space and time.

One of the best things about What Not to Say is that a reader can go back to the book in the future to re-read suggestions under specific headings. Each chapter stays on focus related to the subject under consideration. That makes it a good reference for future consideration.

What Not to Say is not written by evangelical authors but the material provided is very good to improve preaching by giving ideas about eliminating common errors in sermons. At 124 pages the book is small enough to read through quickly. The multiple examples make what the writers want to communicate easily understood. The book is an excellent resource for being better preachers.


Reviewed by Dr. Paul Smith

Harwood, Adam. The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic

     Proposal.  Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011. 

As I was packing for a recent trip to Ecuador, my wife said she needed to speak with me about something important. Though we are in our mid-forties, I learned in the midst of my frantic last-minute packing for the week-long trek to the volcanoes of Ecuador that we were expecting our sixth child. During the first day in the Andes Mountains my wife sent me the ultrasound photo of our baby, estimated to be at the 8-week point in utero. It was a wake-up call that this sudden, life-changing event was truly amazing, exciting, and daunting all at once. I returned from that week of hiking ready for the challenges, as I approached the age of 46, to be the father of a newborn. Shortly after returning home my wife informed me that there may have been a miscarriage. A visit to the doctor appeared to confirm that sad news. The sudden excitement of new life turned to sorrow as we faced saying goodbye to the 2nd child who would precede us in death.

As I pondered the message about this incident that I would deliver to my congregation, my thoughts turned to my former colleague at Truett-McConnell College, Dr. Adam Harwood, who wrote an excellent book titled The Spiritual Condition of Infants. It is a seminal work for discovering the Bible’s stance on the spiritual condition of infants who pass away prior to reaching the age of accountability. This book is a must-read for pastors and Christian counselors, and no personal library is complete without a copy of it. Dr. Harwood begins his book by noting that:

The Bible presents a dilemma concerning infants. On the one hand, Gen 3 and Rom 5 detail humanity’s fall into sin and the horrible legacy for subsequent generations. We all have a relationship with the first Adam and that relationship results in our being sinners. Even before we can understand the difference between right and wrong, we are sinful people. The Bible also informs us that every person will spend the rest of eternity somewhere—either with God in heaven or apart from God in hell. Although we are all hopeless and helpless in our sin, the good news is that God did not abandon his broken creation. Instead, his son, Jesus, who was and is fully God and fully man, lived and died and was raised to provide the forgiveness of sin and to offer peace between God and man (1 Cor 15:1-4; 1 Tim 2:5-6). (p. 4)

 Though he approached the matter a bit differently, Dr. Harwood used the biblical text to draw the same conclusion that Charles Spurgeon and many others have in the course of Christian history with regard to the final disposition of the soul of the unborn and infants.

 Spurgeon preached a timeless sermon entitled “Infant Salvation” on September 29, 1861 to his beloved Metropolitan Tabernacle about the unborn child. Spurgeon declared that:

On what ground, then, do we believe the child to be saved? … In the compass of election, in the Lamb's Book of Life, we believe there shall be found written millions of souls who are only shown on earth, and then stretch their wings for heaven…John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. We read of Jeremiah also, that the same had occurred to him; and of Samuel we find that while yet a babe the Lord called him. We believe, therefore, that even before the intellect can work, God, who worketh not by the will of man, nor by blood, but by the mysterious agency of his Holy Spirit, creates the infant soul a new creature in Christ Jesus, and then it enters into the "rest which remaineth for the people of God." By election, by redemption, by regeneration, the child enters into glory, by the selfsame door by which every believer in Christ Jesus hopes to enter, and in no other way...

Arguing from a perspective more akin to Spurgeon than Dr. Harwood, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Dr. Daniel L. Akin, in their article, “Why We Believe Children Who Die Go To Heaven,” come to the same conclusion that the unborn and infants go to heaven when they die. In excerpts from that article, they argue that:

It is our conviction that there are good reasons biblically and theologically for believing that God saves all who die who do not reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability… Like all who have ever lived, except for Jesus, infants need to be saved. Only Jesus can take away their sin and if they are saved it is because of His sovereign grace and abounding mercy. Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). We can confidently say, “Yes, He will.” When it comes to those incapable of volitional, willful acts of sin, we can rest assured God will, indeed, do right. Precious little ones are the objects of His saving mercy and grace. 

Dr. Harwood, in The Spiritual Condition of Infants, argues that:

In the Scriptures, God does not judge people for their inherited sinful nature. Instead, God judges people who are morally responsible. Infants, like the younger generation of Israelites in the desert, are spared God’s judgment because they are not yet morally responsible people. Infants inherit from Adam a sinful nature. From the moment of conception, every thought, attitude, and action they make flows out of and through that sinful nature. But God does not judge people for their inherited sinful nature. He judges people for acts of sin that they commit as a result of that sinful nature. All morally responsible people know the difference between right and wrong… Because they lack moral knowledge, they are not yet under God’s condemnation for sin, unlike morally responsible people who have a need for salvation from God’s condemnation of and wrath over their acts of sin. (p. 160)

Arguing in an online article on, Harwood notes the following:

What is their spiritual condition? What can we know from Scripture? To address this dilemma, I will present and defend seven biblical statements on the spiritual condition of infants and close with suggestions for pastoral application.

(1) Infants are people. In Psalm 139, David explains how God formed him in his mother’s womb. David was “made” and “woven” together. Even when David was “unformed substance,” God saw him and David’s future days were written in God’s book.

(2) Infants are impacted by sin. Death is a result or wage of sin. And some infants die. But it does not follow that their deaths are a result of either personal or inherited guilt. Instead, death is the result of God’s universal judgment against sin. Even infants can be caught up in the horrible effects of living in a fallen world.

(3) Infants are not sinless. Only Jesus was born without sin. All other people, including infants, inherit a sinful nature from Adam. People may look at babies and speak of their innocence and purity. If by those words, they mean that infants have not yet knowingly committed sinful actions, then yes, they are innocent and pure. But if they mean that infants are without sin exactly like Adam and Eve before the fall or like Jesus, then no…Scripture clearly connects us to Adam. Sin entered the world through one man (Rom 5:12). So, all orthodox Christians agree that infants are not sinless. What they disagree on is guilt. There are two different views of this. That brings us to our next position.

(4) Infants inherit from Adam death, not guilt. The Scriptures teach substitutionary atonement (Christ died in our place) not substitutionary guilt. You are not held responsible for the sins of another person but for your own transgressions. You are not held guilty for the sins of your father, your grandfather, or your great-grandfather. Can their sins have consequences on you? Yes. Are you held guilty for the adultery of your great-great-grandfather or the lies of your great-great-great grandmother? No. Neither are you held guilty for the sins of the first Adam. We are connected to Adam, but we answer to God for our own sin and guilt. We inherit from Adam death, not guilt.

(5) Inherited guilt requires inconsistent claims regarding our inheritance from Adam and its effect upon infants when formulating a doctrine of infant salvation. If you begin by assuming infant guilt, then an infant’s only hope for heaven is found in one of four ways, all of which appear to be doctrinally inconsistent…If you begin with infant guilt, then the infant might have a hope of heaven due to baptismal regeneration (baptism for salvation). This was Augustine’s solution. He thought baptism would cleanse the infant of the stain of “Adamic sin.” But if an infant died before being baptized then, he wrote, the infant would suffer a “milder condemnation” in hell because the infant still retains the guilt of Adam’s sin. But we reject baptismal regeneration--both for infants and for adults. People aren’t made right with God by the act of water baptism--whether by sprinkling or immersion. Guilty people are made right with God by repenting of their sin and placing their faith in Christ. But if you begin with infant guilt, the road to infant salvation may pass through baptismal regeneration.

(6) Infants are free from condemnation but will later become guilty for sins committed after they develop moral knowledge. Free from condemnation? Moral knowledge? What is the basis of such a statement? Is there one example from Scripture of infants being declared free from God’s judgment simply because of their lack of moral knowledge? Yes…If the Bible teaches that sin and death (not guilt) comes from Adam, then when does a person become guilty? Although there is no “age of accountability” in the Bible, there are conditions for accountability:

1. You know the difference between right and wrong.                                                         

2. You knowingly commit your first sinful act.

Dr. Harwood continues to build his already strong argument for the salvation of the souls of the unborn and infants by referring the reader to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. He writes that:

Of the two views (inherited guilt or inherited sinful nature), only one of them (inherited sinful nature) is affirmed explicitly in Article 3 of the BFM 2000, “Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” It is permissible, however, to affirm inherited guilt, because such a view claims more not less than the BFM 2000…Infants, according to the BFM 2000, are not transgressors; infants are free from condemnation. Why? Because they have not yet become capable of moral action. This describes the conditions we noted above for an age of or condition for accountability. This failure to affirm inherited guilt is advocated in Article 3 of the BFM 2000 and runs contrary to most systematic theology textbooks in print. Inherited guilt is a dominant but weaker view. It needs to be refuted because it is unnecessary for a robust doctrine of sin. But whether you affirm inherited guilt or sinful nature, it’s clear that all infants are descendants of the first Adam and have inherited (at least) a sinful nature. 

(7) In the Bible, God judges sinful actions, not our nature. Consider the following statements from Scripture about God judging sin: 2 Cor 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” What is the basis of God’s judgment in this verse? Our nature or our actions?...Consider the argument that Paul builds in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 1, God’s wrath is revealed against the following actions: the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18), fail to honor or thank God (v. 21), claim wisdom (v. 22) but choose idolatry (vv. 23–25), and practice homosexuality (vv. 26-27). What is the basis of God’s judgment in this passage? Our nature or our actions?

Harwood offers a few words of pastoral application:

God has things to say to parents who have lost an infant due to miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, or some other tragedy. These Scriptures are meant to bring hope and encouragement and can be affirmed regardless of one’s position on our inheritance from Adam.

? Your child was fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).

? Parents should never have to bury a child. It's not the way life should be. David modeled in Psalm 13 the appropriate response when we enter those dark times. He brought his questions and his pain to God--continually stating that his hope and trust are in God.

? The death of infants demonstrates in painful clarity that this world is broken. But Christ through His death on the Cross defeated death and will remake and restore His broken world. Because of God’s decisive victory in Christ, there will one day be neither death nor mourning (Rev 21:4).

? God is present. He can provide comfort and peace as you trust Him (Rom 15:13).

? Jesus welcomed little children (Mark 10). He pointed to them as examples for adults of citizens in God's kingdom. Just as Jesus welcomed little children during His earthly ministry, He still welcomes them into heaven. Jesus does the same thing now that He did 2,000 years ago. He takes infants in His arms and blesses them (v. 16).

? Like King David, who mourned the death of his infant son, parents who know the Lord (because only those parents will be in heaven) can say, "One day, I'll go to be with him" (2 Sam 12:23). Parents, you have a solid biblical basis for the hope of one day being personally reunited with your child.

? Jesus alone is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). Jesus alone is our only hope for resurrection and reunion with our loved ones, whether they are adults, children, or infants.

Dr. Harwood concludes his book with these words of admonishment:

Although infants are not under God’s condemnation, they have a nature that is horribly and irrevocably stained by sin. In a short amount of time, these infants will grow into children who will develop moral knowledge. It is the presence of this moral knowledge when coupled with their sinful actions that brings God’s condemnation. Whether you think infants inherit a sinful nature or Adam’s guilt, Christians in both camps ought to agree that if an infant matures to adulthood, there will remain no question about his guilt before God…And they need to be encouraged from the youngest possible age to make a personal decision to repent of and confess their sin to God, follow him by submitting to believer’s baptism, and commit to living daily for Jesus Christ. (pp. 162-163) 

In sum, it is has been argued persuasively by the likes of Charles Spurgeon, Dr. Al Mohler, and Dr. Adam Harwood that the unborn and infants, whether considered the elect or those who simply have not yet attained the age of accountability, who pass away before becoming morally responsible for their actions, thoughts, and words do indeed enter into the eternal presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now, back to the story with which I began this review. Following the morning doctor visit on the 2nd of February, we returned to his office for a previously scheduled ultrasound. We wanted to be absolutely sure that he was correct that our unborn child had, indeed, died. As I sat there waiting for the ultrasound to begin, I prayed to the Lord, saying, “God, you can make that baby be in there.” When the technician began the procedure, she exclaimed, “It sure is jumping around a lot.” We immediately asked, “What is jumping around?” She turned the screen toward us and said, “Your baby.” There it was, alive and well. The technician left the room to get the doctor, who returned with an amazed expression, saying, “I am surprised. But, your baby is healthy.” God is good, and the baby is still in there. And, for those who have lost an unborn child, their baby is also there…there in Heaven enjoying the eternal presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the throne of God Almighty.


Harwood, Adam. “Inherited Sinful Nature: A View Permissible as Both Biblical and Baptist.” December 9, 2012. Accessed February 3, 2015.

Mohler, Albert, and Daniel Akin. “Why We Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” Between the Times. October 2, 2012. Accessed February 3, 2015.

Spurgeon, Charles. “Infant Salvation.” Sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, September 29, 1861. Accessed February 3, 2015.


Reviewed by Dr. Phil Calvert

Kalina, Kathy. Midwife for Souls : Spiritual Care for the Dying. Boston, MA; Pauline Books &

     Media, 2007 (Revised edition) 

You find out a member of the congregation has been diagnosed with end-stage cancer and there is nothing that can be done for them. A teen in your youth group has a grandparent who is put into hospice. Many of the middle adults in your church are caring for aging and dying parents. You have a family member or friend who is nearing the end of life. Do you know how to help these people? Are you familiar with the dying process? Where might you go for assistance? Are there any books that can help you? 

Kathy Kalina, a Catholic hospice nurse, has written a book that may be helpful: Midwife for Souls: Spiritual Care for the Dying. A further subtitle says: “A Pastoral guide for hospice care workers and all who live with the terminally ill”. Kathy has served many years in hospice helping the dying and their families during this last journey of life. In this book, she shares her experiences and stories of individuals going through the dying experience. This book was recommended to me in preparation for walking my own mother through her last days.

When a woman is pregnant and about to give birth, a midwife helps bring the baby into physical life. In a similar way, when someone is about to die, we can be a midwife to help “birth” their soul into eternal life. There are actually many similarities between natural birth and natural death. The body knows how to do both on its own and both are not only physical, but also psychological and spiritual. A mother needs to prepare for and acquire the needed items in which to care for the baby. A dying person needs to make arrangements for death and remove the belongings from their life. There is concern about loving the new child; when dying, how do you say goodbye to those you love? As the time arrives for the birth, the mother may be fearful and have many questions of how it will all go. Similarly for the dying person—they may be fearful and wondering about those final moments. Both birth and death are labor intensive, but it is important to remember the final outcome. (pp. 3, 6-7)

Where does the family fit into all of this? What can they do and how can they help? For starters, we need to remember that God is in control. In Psalms we are told God set all the days of our life even before we were born (139:16). He had a beginning date for us on this earth and He has an ending date also. Of course where the dying person will spend eternity is based on whether or not he or she accepted Christ’s free gift of salvation. The family is usually the main caregiver, even if from afar. If consulted as one to help them during this time, it is an honor and must be treated with great respect. Remember you may not know the entire family history, but you may able to guide towards any needed reconciliation and forgiveness. Knowing what is coming can be shared with the family as they are able to receive it. Help them in the decision making process, even if the decisions made seem not to be helpful for the dying person. This is part of the process the family must go through in accepting and letting go. The biggest thing you can do to help the family during this time is to pray. Pray with them audibly, if they want it, and if not, then silently. Keep the focus on the end product—going home with their Savior and loved ones. If dying person is not a Christian, you may be able to lead him or her to Christ during this time. Another way to help the family is through listening to the life review of the dying. While the family may already know the stories, sometimes untold items are shared in the last days of one’s life. This is an important part of the dying process. (p. 8-26, 58-61)

Chapter four (pp. 27-34) describes the actual process one goes through when dying. It is helpful for families to know these items and be prepared for them. Kathy tells what to expect physically as the body shuts down and one approaches their final breath. The spiritual process may actually begin at an earlier time as the one dying begins to detach from material things and relationships. Often the family can remember this happening as the physical process begins. Usually near the very end, there is what Kathy describes as the “watching the angel show”. This is where the dying person watches the space where the ceiling and wall meet. He or she may move their lips and/or talk to whoever they see at that location. It is as if they see angels, family members and/or Jesus as they are about to be welcomed home. As my mother’s caregiver, I found this chapter immensely helpful in her final days of life. Walking into her room the day she died and seeing her stare at the spot where the ceiling and wall meet helped me know that it was the end.

The question of how long the dying process can take is on the minds of family members and friends. While no one can say for certain (only God knows for sure), there are some signs the final moment may be imminent. Often the course of death follows the course of the illness leading to death—plateaus or sudden decline.  But sometimes it can seem like the person takes the last breath….only to breathe again. Maybe the person is waiting for someone to visit, can’t let go, or the family isn’t ready for him or her to die. Family giving permission is often what the dying person needs for that final release from this life. Even after the family gives permission, though, the person may die when the family is gone to try and save them the pain of seeing the actual death. (pp. 39-40, 45-52)

An important part of helping others during life’s final journey is being prepared yourself. In chapter eight (pp. 62-69) Kathy shares the “exercises” she goes through to prepare herself to minister. Some of the things she mentions relate directly to her Roman Catholic faith, but many of them are things we should be doing on a regular basis. Reading God’s Word, praying, and being fed ourselves helps us to minister to others. Also important, though, are receiving God’s grace as we daily confess our sin and practice forgiving others. Allowing Him to minister through us and relying on the Holy Spirit is what will get us through each day as we walk alongside the dying. Seeing the suffering one can go through can be tough, but remembering why there is suffering (result of the fall—Genesis 3) and what is the final outcome (birthing the soul into heaven), can help us as we minister. (pp. 70-73) But as Kathy points out, “suffering is a mystery that we will never fully understand in this life.” (p. 70)

Chapter ten (pp. 76-118) gives lessons Kathy has learned throughout her years as a hospice nurse and stories of patients that illustrate. She encourages processing what was learned during the time of “birthing” a soul to heaven and what might be done differently next time. Reading the lessons she learned can be helpful in understanding more of the dying process and what people may go through during that time.

Two appendices are included in this book. The first gives possible prayers and includes the Rosary. (pp. 121-127) The second contains passages of Scripture she has gathered—including some from the Apocrypha. (pp. 128-145) They cover topics such as suffering, hope, fear, forgiveness and heaven. I read many of the passages from this appendix to my mother as she was in the final moments of her life and feel it was beneficial for both of us.


Reviewed by Julie Hines




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