On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 7): On the Danger of Being THAT GUY

This installment is the last one in which I deal with the dangers of seminary (although I plan to follow up with a post speaking to the many positive aspects of seminary). I am certainly not saying that there are no more dangers. In fact, more than a few of you have pounded my inbox with suggestions for additional “dangers” that could be mentioned. Some of the suggestions were serious, but most of them were…not so much.

Actually, I have collated many of your suggestions and expressed your sentiments under the heading, “the danger of being THAT GUY.” Often, THAT GUY is the one who has only recently come to a new theological position and is positively obnoxious about it. You know, the guy who nobody wants to have a conversation with because of the axe he has to grind. A lot of attention has been given to “cage stage” Calvinists (these are freshly minted Calvinists who ought to be locked in a cage for a couple of years until they can stop referring to four-pointers as “quasi-Pelagian” and start learning to utter sentences that do not contain the phrase “the doctrines of grace”). But there are cage-stage anti-Calvinists too (and they can’t claim that God ordained them to be obnoxious).

And don’t forget the Contextual Seminarian (this guy is similar to the second type of dork to which I refer in an earlier post. He’s the guy with the wounded poet look, emerging church glasses, girl jeans, and a soul patch. And he doesn’t even have a prescription for the glasses). Or the “Courting Only” guy (I’d like to offer him a cold compress for his fevered brow). Or Mr. “Home-School Only” (If one more person at the SBC comes up to me and tells me that it is ungodly for me to send my kids to public school, I think I’m going to strangle him with a floral-patterned jumper).

Other times, THAT GUY is the one who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut in class. He is always pregnant with an inane question. Are you THAT GUY? If so, you are probably blissfully unaware. Did you know there is a Fantasy Seminary League? Are you aware that some of your fellow students choose the names of their favorite THAT GUYs at the beginning of the semester, and form their own Fantasy Seminary team? That’s right. Every time you start into another 4.5 minute question, the guy who picked you gets a point. If you ask three or four of those questions, he gets three or four points. If the teacher ignores you, reprimands you, or pokes a little fun at you, they get double points!

“Oh, no,” you opine. “I’m not THAT GUY.” Really? Well, here is a test: Do people groan and roll their eyes when you start showing off your knowledge, attempting to disguise it in the form of a question? Do you like to bring up your pet theories in every class, struggling to adapt them to interrogative form? Are you personally committed to uttering, in the form of a question, every stray thought you’ve conceived during the lecture? Do your questions start with the phrase, “But don’t you think that…?” Does your teacher get an odd look on his face when you raise your hand? Do your fellow students ever tell you that every time you talk in class they feel like a hamster swimming in a bucket of Thorazine? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be THAT GUY. And if you are THAT GUY, stop it. Stop it right now.

Still other times, THAT GUY is one who idolizes a particular man in the ministry. Usually, THAT GUY imports his idol’s interests, theological convictions, pulpit mannerisms, and sometimes even his clothing preferences. Take, for example, students who idolize John Piper (I call them “Pipettes”). When they preach, they try to imitate Piper’s intensity and earnest demeanor, and even his intonations, but instead they look like they are in great pain and might implode on the spot.

But it is not just Piper. Our campuses have students who seek to impersonate any number of other ministry figures. When I first started preaching (waaaaaay back in 1993), I had discovered James Merritt’s sermon library and started preaching his messages to my youth. Verbatim. Soon, I discovered Adrian Rogers and started preaching his sermons. I tried to imitate his voice and intonations, and even the Adrian Rogers “chuckle” at the end of my (his) jokes. Seriously. Of course, there is nothing wrong with looking up to certain men and women who have walked with the Lord longer than we, and who have much to teach us. However, any time we admire a man inordinately we are in trouble. Ultimately, we are called to emulate Christ (and not our heroes) and hold Him and his Word supreme (rather than some man’s theological system or methodological distinctives).

OK, enough of that. I hope that you are not offended by the warning not to be THAT GUY. I’ve tried to be candid, while staying on the nearside of disrespectful. On a more serious note, others suggested that I include the danger of burnout: Seminary brings with it many challenges. There are financial pressures, intellectual challenges, family responsibilities, and church commitments. It is not easy. Likely, you have never had to try to juggle a 30-hr. per week job, 12 hours of class, and 60 required books per semester at the same time that you try to love your family and serve your church.

The real question here is how to juggle the multiple callings God has given you: family, church, and two workplaces (seminary and job). This challenge is not easily met, and it continues throughout life, but two insights are particularly helpful: First, recognize that faithfulness should not necessarily be equated with excellence. Being faithful to your seminary studies is not to be equated with making A’s in your studies. This might be a season in life when the best thing for you to do is to make A’s at home and B’s and C’s at school. Second, recognize that there is a reason that the Lord gave us a day of rest. Enjoy your church’s fellowship and worship time, devote several hours to reading and reflecting upon Scripture, and if possible take a nap.

As for the dangers of seminary, this concludes my reflections. In the final installment, I will speak of tremendous assets of the seminary context, of the way in which it can be a catalyst for spiritual growth, theological maturity, and methodological creativity.online game

Five Preaching Role Models, Part 2

In my last post, I shared my conviction that preachers become better preachers primarily through two means: regular pulpit experience and learning from good preaching role models. I shared my first two role models, Drs. Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines. I continue in many ways to be shaped by their early example. It was a great joy to enroll in seminary and finally have the chance to hear both of these brothers preach in person. I was only able to hear Dr. Rogers once, about a week before he entered into his heavenly reward. I’ve now heard Dr. Vines preach several times, and I hope to hear him several more.

My other three key preaching role models are a little different. One of them primarily influenced me through a handful of sermons rather than regular preaching. The other was, until relatively recently, probably better known for his teaching than his preaching. The final one is my current pastor.

John Piper

I have a confession. Though it may surprise some readers, I am not someone who has listened to thousands of John Piper sermons. But even though I’ve never been a regular listener to his preaching ministry, Dr. Piper has definitely influenced me in a couple of ways.

In 1998, I was a college sophomore who was invited by a friend to attend a Passion Conference in Dallas with his university’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry. While I enjoyed the whole conference, I was blown away when this short fellow wearing a suit-clearly not one of the “cool” speakers-stepped behind the podium and delivered what for me was a life-changing sermon. He spoke about being part of a generation that would give up anything for the gospel, a generation where everyone was a missionary, a generation where we valued Christ more than the American Dream. I was gripped, and over the next several months I managed to get hold of another couple of Dr. Piper’s sermons that addressed similar themes.

As I’ve reflected on those sermons over the years, the word that most often comes to mind is gravity. Yes, Dr. Piper was passionate. Yes, he was expositional. Yes, he was evangelistic. Yes, he was theological. But the total package produced sermons that brought the gravity of the gospel to life, at least for me. While Dr. Piper didn’t really influence my preaching style, his example did cause me to have a heightened appreciation for what the Holy Spirit can accomplish through the preaching of the Word. Though I’ve probably heard a couple dozen of his sermons over the years, it only took the first couple to get the point across.

Russ Moore

When Leah and I moved to Louisville to attend Southern Seminary, we heard a lot of people talking about Russ Moore. I knew who he was from the then-recent book Why I Am a Baptist (which he co-edited with Tom Nettles), but I didn’t know anything about him. The summer before I began classes, we joined Ninth and O Baptist Church. At that time, Dr. Moore was teaching the young adults Sunday School class we joined and was in a rotation of men who preached on Sunday evenings. During my two years in Louisville, I heard him preach at least ten or twelve times at either the church or in chapel, in addition to his very sermonish weekly Bible teaching in Sunday School and his often homiletically inclined theology classes at the seminary. Dr. Moore is now a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, where he preaches weekly.

Russ Moore is a fantastic preacher who modeled at least two habits that have fundamentally shaped my preaching. First, he modeled how to preach the whole Bible as a Christ-centered grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration-the true story of the world. Second, he had a knack for application. When Dr. Moore preaches, he doesn’t just throw in a trite point or two of practical application. He overtly makes application both spiritual and practical, and it is clear he spends time thinking about how many ways and to how many different types of people the sermon’s text can be applied. (As an aside, he also has the spiritual gift of clever sermon titles, but as I am far less creative than Dean Moore, I’ve long given up on attempting to follow his example in this regard.)

Andy Davis

Almost five years ago, Leah and I joined the First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. Our pastor, Andy Davis, is a great preacher who in many ways represents for me a mixture of the very best of all the other key preaching role models who’ve influenced me. Like Dr. Rogers and Dr. Vines, he’s an evangelistic expositor who takes Scripture seriously. Like Dr. Piper, there is a consistent gravity to his preaching that affects almost everyone who regularly sits under his preaching. Like Dr. Moore, he is a “big picture” expositor who understands that Scripture is also a story of promise and fulfillment, with Jesus Christ at the center of the plot.

The major thing that Andy has modeled for me is effective illustration. All of the men I’ve mentioned are good illustrators, but Leah and I are consistently amazed at the ways that Andy illustrates the vital points of his sermons. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a terrible illustrator. I mean, I really stink at it. So I am consistently encouraged and challenged by the creative ways that Andy finds real life examples to illustrate the timeless truths of the gospel. In addition, he is also utterly unflashy-he lets the Word do the work. The longer I preach, the more and more I become aware of how little preaching has to do with my own labors and talents and how much it has to do with God working through His man expounding His Word to His people for His glory.

In closing, there are many other men who have positively influenced my preaching. Current and former South Georgia preachers such as my former pastors John Clough and David Drake and my friends Mike Stone and Don Hattaway have all been excellent role models. In seminary, Danny Akin, Hershael York, Stephen Rummage, and especially my former pastor Bill Cook were influential. Dozens of chapel speakers have helped shape me over the years. In addition to Dr. Akin, several of my current colleagues at SEBTS continue to influence my own preaching with their fine examples. And in this day of podcasts and internet sermons, I’ve benefitted greatly from the preaching of men like Lig Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Phil Newton, and Tim Keller.

Five Preaching Role Models, Part 1

I am thankful for the two preaching classes I took in seminary. I’m also thankful for many of the fine preaching books I’ve read over the years. And I’m thankful for many of the preaching conferences I’ve attended. Each of these tools has contributed to my own DNA as a preacher.

Though I am thankful for classes, books, and conferences, I am not convinced that any of them “make” a man a preacher, let alone a good preacher. Classes are helpful for teaching sermon preparation skills and offering public speaking input. Books are helpful for learning about preaching skills, techniques, priorities, or emphases (among other things). And conferences can be very inspirational and convicting. But I am convinced that most preachers become better preaches by doing two things: preaching regularly and learning from good preaching role models. This post focuses on the latter.

I have had the privilege of hearing many good preachers over the years. Some of them I’ve heard live. Others I’ve heard primarily through various media. Some of them I’ve heard week in and week out. Others I’ve only heard only once or twice. Of all the good preachers I’ve heard, I think five men have positively influenced my own preaching more than any others.

In this post, I will begin with the first two preachers who shaped my approach to preaching. In a second post, I will discuss three of my other preaching role models. Though there are many good things I could say about each man’s preaching, for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on one or two aspects of each man’s pulpit ministry that particularly influenced me.

Adrian Rogers

For most of my high school years, I was a lost legalist who was active in my church’s youth group and trying desperately to earn my salvation through good works, primarily of the religious kind. Beginning with my junior year, I began driving a delivery truck for my father’s auto parts business. I spent several hours a day in a company truck listening to the radio-much of it Christian radio. I began listening to several preachers, but by far my favorite was Adrian Rogers.

Dr. Rogers frequently preached through books of the Bible, and he preached through them with authority. I appreciated his rock-solid convictions, his boldness, and the way he combined deeper-than-average biblical teaching with hotter-than-average evangelistic fervor. As I was struggling with my own understanding of the gospel, the Lord used Dr. Rogers’ sermons through Revelation as a key means in my own conversion. By the time I was finished with my freshman year of college, I was an itinerant preacher and soon-to-be youth minister. I was a bona fide “preacher boy,” and I wanted to preach a lot like Adrian Rogers, even though I didn’t have that voice. Oh, to have that voice.

Jerry Vines

Shortly after I became a Christian, I felt the Lord calling me to the gospel ministry. As mentioned above, I was preaching fairly regularly for a young collegian. I was also continuing to listen to good preachers on the radio and television. Because we lived in Southeast Georgia, most of our television stations were based in Jacksonville, FL. One of them televised services from the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. While I was getting dressed on Sunday morning, I watched Jerry Vines’ sermon from the previous Sunday night at FBC Jacksonville. He quickly became my other favorite preacher.

Dr. Vines also preached though books of the Bible. In fact, it was really through listening to Dr. Vines that I first discovered the difference between an expositional sermon and a topical sermon. I loved the way that you really learned about a book of the Bible as Dr. Vines worked his way through it. And like Dr. Rogers, Dr. Vines was also concerned about being both an evangelist and a teacher. (As an aside, Dr. Vines was also funny-sometimes really funny-but without coming off like a wannabe comedian. His humor almost always helped to clarify the sermon’s point, and I never got the impression he was trying to be funny for the sake of scoring laughs.) It was largely through regularly listening to Dr. Vines’ preaching that I decided I not only wanted to be a preacher, but an expositional preacher. When I became an interim pastor at 20 years old, I immediately started preaching through books and sections of the Bible. I still have many of the outlines I prepared for those (awful!) sermons on Ephesians, the Ten Commandments, 1 John, Philippians, and the Parables.mobiles online game