By / May 25

Pastors, seminary students, Bible teachers, ministry leaders and writers were among those who gathered in Nashville for a crash course in Christian ethics, and participants testified they came away better prepared to address the difficult issues of the day.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sponsored its ERLC Academy for the third consecutive year May 22-23 and followed it with a three-day doctoral seminar.

ERLC President Russell Moore lectured on ethics and answered questions during the two days of the academy before nearly 250 participants at the Southern Baptist Convention building and, in some sessions, an audience watching on Facebook. He first provided an ethical paradigm and then addressed such issues as the sanctity of human life, gender identity, religious liberty, marriage, artificial reproductive technology, capital punishment and poverty.

Author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin said she “left better equipped with a framework for thinking through the ethical implications of dilemmas common to pastoral ministry.”

“The lectures helped me identify where my implicit assumptions or personal experience were shaping my responses to ethical dilemmas,” Wilkins said in email comments for Baptist Press. “The academy created space for me to think in directions my normal schedule doesn't always allow me to.”

Raleigh Sadler — executive director of the Let My People Go Network, an anti-human trafficking, non-profit organization in New York City – said Moore’s “treatment of Christian ethics was refreshing, to say the least.”

“Rather than merely regurgitating a list of hot-button issues and a subsequent list of the ‘right’ answers, Moore did the opposite,” Sadler told BP via email. “[H]e began by addressing ethics at the level of basic beliefs. Equipping the student with a biblical framework through which to understand ethics, he began to address issues that we face on a daily basis. Through each seminar, Moore would show how each of these basic categories was important when thinking through the ethical dilemmas that we face on a daily basis.”

Lauren Konkol — a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is on staff at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. – said the academy prepared her "to think rightly about difficult ethical issues facing the public square by challenging me to use Scripture as the lens, rather than cultural stereotypes.”

Moore told BP he was "delighted to once again host the ERLC Academy.”

“This is a week I treasure every year, and my prayer for all those who attended or watched sessions is that they would come away with a renewed understanding and passion for the truths of Scripture and the expansion of Christ's kingdom," Moore said in email remarks.

The academy and doctoral seminar continued the cooperation between the ERLC and the convention’s seminaries. Doctoral students from Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, Midwestern Seminary and New Orleans Seminary participated in both the academy and seminar.

Randy Stinson, provost and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary, told BP the partnership between Southern and the ERLC “is fruitful for our students in multiple ways.”

“Not only are they able to be taught by great leaders like Russell Moore, but they are exposed to the great work of the ERLC and it strengthens the students' relationship and commitment to the SBC," Stinson said in email comments.

This year’s registration, 249, nearly doubled the 125 registrants at the first ERLC Academy in 2015. The initial academy also was held in Nashville, while the 2016 event took place in Washington, D.C.

Speakers in the doctoral seminar were Moore and ERLC staff members Phillip Bethancourt, Daniel Patterson and Travis Wussow, as well as National Review senior writer David French.

Wilkin — a member of The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and a part of the ERLC’s Leadership Council – explained to BP why she chose to take part in the academy.

“My path into ministry was not via seminary, so I jump at the chance to receive seminary-level instruction when possible,” she said. “The academy presented the perfect condensed learning opportunity on an area of Christian thought in which I need development. Dr. Moore is adept at teaching complex concepts in accessible ways, so the scope and the instructor made the academy an opportunity I didn't want to miss.”

Sadler said he “had no idea what to expect of the ERLC Academy. This is because, frankly, there is nothing like the ERLC Academy available for those in local SBC church ministry or those aspiring to the office of pastor.”

 “[E]verything was practical and easily applicable while also being thoroughly saturated with the Gospel,” Sadler told BP, adding he expects the training to benefit his anti-trafficking efforts.

“As I work with churches helping them to address the vulnerability that is rampant in their respective communities, I am always coming face to face with ethical issues,” Sadler said. “This class helped me to have a better understanding of how to not only think through these issues but how to help others do the same.”

Konkol told BP by email the academy “far exceeded my expectations — the teaching was clear; the production was excellent; and the hospitality was outstanding.”

This article was originally published by Baptist Press

By / May 28

NASHVILLE (BP)—The first Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Academy surpassed even the lofty anticipation of at least one seminary student.

After participating in the ethics training May 18-19 in Nashville, Ronni Kurtz acknowledged he “had high expectations going into the seminar, and all of them were not only met but completely exceeded.”

“I came into the seminar looking forward to hearing Dr. [Russell] Moore’s position on each particular issue,” Kurtz told Baptist Press in email comments. “I walked away having a clear framework of how and why one should pursue Christian ethics.”

Kurtz, a Master of Divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of 125 participants in the inaugural ERLC Academy. Most were students from Southern Baptist seminaries: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in addition to Midwestern Seminary.

For two days, Moore, the ERLC’s president, lectured on ethics and responded to questions – many on issues students reportedly were confronting. He spoke to the participants gathered in the auditorium of the Southern Baptist Convention building and to an online, live-streaming audience.

The lectures covered such general topics as the kingdom of God and Christian ethics and establishing a framework for Christian ethics. Moore also addressed such issues as religious liberty, marriage, gender identity, the sanctity of human life, contraception, artificial reproductive technology, capital punishment, environmental stewardship and poverty.

He enjoyed “thinking through these important questions” with the seminary students, Moore said.

“Ethics isn’t about abstract theory,” he told BP in a written statement. “Ethics is central to the Christian life, because it is the outworking of the Gospel in our lives and in that of the church.

“In preaching, we have to define what repentance is, and what should be repented of, and in discipleship, we apply the Bible to how we live in families, in communities, in nations,” Moore said.

In addition to the two-day training, the ERLC followed it with a seminar for doctoral students May 20-22. Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president, and Barrett Duke, its vice president for public policy and research, assisted Moore in leading the seminar.

The next ERLC Academy will address Christianity in the public square and will be held next May in Washington, D.C. The ERLC plans to hold the training each year in May, Bethancourt told BP.

The ERLC will continue to invite the SBC seminaries to take part in future academies and hopes to include several Baptist colleges and possibly some other evangelical schools, Bethancourt said.

For Kurtz, the primary benefit this year was likely being able to hear from someone with “a wonderfully gospel-saturated, Jesus-exulting, church-edifying understanding of the issues.”

“With each ethical issue dealt with, Dr. Moore brought a unique balance of political savvy, rich theology and Christian wisdom that was refreshing to say the least,” Kurtz said.

He especially was impressed with the question-and-answer session after Moore’s lecture on each issue, Kurtz told BP. Moore presented a solution to each question that was “faithful to the Bible, theology, Christianity,” he said.

“I couldn’t recommend the seminar any stronger than I do,” Kurtz said.

Seminary officials expressed delight with their schools’ partnerships with the ERLC and its academy.

“I can think of no better, healthier or more natural partnership for educating the next generation of Southern Baptist ministers and leaders than the one Southern Seminary enjoys with the [ERLC],” said Matthew Hall, Southern’s vice president of academic services, in email comments. “Pastors in our time are facing ethical dilemmas unimaginable a generation prior. The ERLC Ethics Academy is the right idea at the right time, providing our students with a tremendous opportunity to be taught by proven leaders in the field like [Moore].”

Southeastern Provost expressed his seminary’s gratitude to the ERLC for the academy. “The ERLC Academy, under [Moore’s] leadership, has brokered the type of partnership with other entities that Southern Baptists can be proud of,” he said in an email. “The ERLC Academy is helping equip a generation of Baptist young people who are willing to work out the implications of the Gospel in the public square, even as the public square is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.”

In an email to BP, Midwestern Provost Jason Duesing described the academy as “a wonderful opportunity for our students not only to fulfill their Christian ethics course requirement but also to do so in a frontline environment by one of the nation’s leading thinkers and voices of discerning wisdom in [Moore]. We could not be more grateful for our cooperative partnership with the ERLC.”

Originally published here.

By / Dec 3

Academicians have a commitment to the truth. After all, the point of being a member of the “academy” is having opinions and research validated through the work of similarly qualified and committed researchers and thinkers. The presumption is that the corporate conclusions of competitive and in some ways independent thinkers have a sort of objective authority an individual or a self-contained conclave of thinkers is unlikely to obtain.

Christians have a commitment to orthodoxy. After all, the point of being a Christian (evangelical, at least) is holding the faith “once delivered to the saints.” To hold a faith not endorsed by scripture as evidenced in its interpretation at the hands of believers similarly committed to scripture's authority is to fall short of orthodoxy and prey to either heterodoxy or cult-vulnerability, or both.

So when a Christian academic runs into a conflict between his commitment to academic truth and his commitment to scriptural orthodoxy, which master does he serve?

Objectivity in academics

Non-Christian academics sometimes view Christians as incapable of maintaining the objectivity required for academic work. After all, if a professor in a conservative Christian school discovers reason to doubt the authenticity of a New Testament text, for example, is he really going to give up his income by reporting his findings, all for the sake of intellectual integrity? A negative answer to that question implies, in the mind of the one making the argument, that “Christian Academic” is an oxymoron.

But there are three things wrong about that line of reasoning—wrong indeed generally about there being a unique problem for scholars with creedal or confessional commitments.

First, the argument as posed above could be, and at least as far as anecdotal evidence supports, is, dependent on an errant presumption about the motive of a Christian academic who finds some reason to question the creed to which he is committed. The cynic presumes his reluctance to publish would come from the desire for job security (as an example). But job security may not be the cause of his reluctance at all. He could, for instance, hold back on his research because he actually values the faith he holds, and he is reluctant both to accept what undermines his own faith and potentially to undermine the faith of others.

Secular academicians may think the latter motive (creedal conservation) is as egregiously violent to the spirit of true scholarship as the former (job security). But they would be wrong, for no less than reasons in both of the last two points in this response.

Second, the secular critic making the argument above has committed what is probably the most common of errors when one human evaluates another: condemning in the other what is condoned in the self. Not only does every person carry a host of personal commitments, prejudices, fears, and weighted social obligations into his research and analysis, but entire academic disciplines—indeed every academic discipline—is deeply circumscribed by the limits of its current paradigm. Anomalies within disciplines—again, every discipline—stand as persistent reminders that paradigms stand not as boundaries enclosing truth, but as boundaries excluding outliers, whether personal or ideological. When one of those factual outliers, for example, shows up in research, even the most rigorous researcher may “bury” findings for years or decades rather than risk being put out of the controlling paradigm of the discipline. Even when researchers do report outliers, it is with the presumption that something must be wrong with the research, not with the paradigm. So there is, in reality, an orthodoxy built into every discipline. And it is at least as likely as not that the orthodoxy within “objective” disciplines is every bit as rigorously defended or mandated as the orthodoxy within overtly creedal communities.

Third, there is actually a benefit to holding a creed or confession when working within a given academic discipline, especially where the faith has a somewhat direct relationship with the discipline itself (e.g., Christianity and New Testament Studies.) When a researcher stumbles across information apparently detrimental to his paradigm—when he finds an anomaly or an outlier—the reason he presumes something is probably wrong with his research is because in those situations there usually is something wrong with his research. The paradigm itself will probably end up holding. A little extra work, sometimes a lot of extra work, may finally yield the error and restore confidence in the initial paradigm. The point thus far should be fairly clear. If creedal or confessional orthodoxy is equivalent to the average discipline’s paradigm, then it is not a bad idea, even academically speaking, for heretical or heterodox ideas developed from legitimate academic work to be put on back burners or regarded with disapprobation.

Orthodoxy and claiming truth

But that analogy is only as accurate as orthodoxy is equivalent to an academic paradigm. But orthodoxy is not equivalent to an academic paradigm. It is better. Orthodoxy can actually make claims about truth, not just about the exclusion of error (as a paradigm). And orthodoxy’s great strength and desirability is its permanence, not its contingency on a temporary set of controls for instruments and mental models. After all, orthodoxy (again, for evangelicals at least) is about faith in a revelation from God, not about derivations from human minds, no matter how great. Now, of course, people can embrace the wrong orthodoxy. So claims of orthodoxy may be false. People can also embrace the wrong paradigm.

But it is as silly for an evangelical scholar to abandon orthodoxy (say, faith in God, confidence in scripture, or even the nature of salvation) because of the recent “discovery” of a manuscript or the development of a novel idea as it would be for a CERN researcher to believe neutrinos travel faster than light on the testimony of a handful of experiments (with faulty equipment, by the way). If it is possible that something is true and always has been (and it certainly is possible) and if it is reasonable and valuable to stabilize a discipline using a paradigm as a gyroscope (and it certainly is reasonable and valuable), then it only makes sense for New and Old Testament Scholars, for Philosophers of Religion and Theologians, for Missiologists and Professors of Evangelism, and for Professors of Poimenics and of Homiletics, to submit their academic work to the truth-stabilizing influence of, in the case of conservative evangelicalism, confessional orthodoxy, and maintain complete integrity within the academy.

In such ways both faith and truth endure.