Chuck Quarles: The Value of Christian Education to Churches

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Charles Quarles is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern, author of numerous scholarly and popular level books on the NT, and a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti SocietasHe is also an experienced pastor, missionary, and theological educator, and so an able guide on the topic of Christian education. The following is part 2 of two parts on the true value of Christian education.]

In a previous post, I discussed the value of Christian education for students and parents. Churches often invest in Christian education, too. Southern Baptists contribute through the Cooperative Program to support Baptist colleges and seminaries. Increasingly churches are asking whether this is a wise investment. How much does Christian education really contribute to the mission of the church? Should churches consider decreasing or even dropping contributions to educational institutions in order to have more for local ministries or international missions?

I would argue that Christian education is a very wise investment for local churches. Christian education is of enormous value for the kingdom of God and the mission of the church. Students who attend public universities are four times more likely to stop attending church than those who attend authentic Christian colleges. Students who attend public universities are seven times more likely to stop praying consistently than students who attend authentic Christian colleges. Churches that do not encourage their youth to attend Christian colleges will likely suffer the heartbreak of seeing a sharp decline in the numbers of educated young adults that participate in church ministries.

Even if such young adults remain in the church, they may ultimately have a negative impact on the church’s health. A March 29, 2005 Washington Post article revealed that 72% of college professors view themselves as “liberal,” 84% support abortion, and 67% view homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. (Consider how much these numbers may have increased in nine years.) One rarely sits at the feet of such instructors for four years or more without being influenced by their ideologies in overt or subtle ways. Unless the church strongly promotes Christian education, the young adults who receive this dangerous tutelage will form the primary pool of future spiritual leaders for our churches. These young adults will carry the intellectual and philosophical influences of their educational background into their Sunday school classrooms, the deacons’ meeting, and committee discussions and potentially infect others with non-Christian views.

Students who attend authentic Christian colleges typically grow in their Christian commitment at five times the rate of students who attend other schools. They have a Christian worldview and a good foundation of biblical knowledge that equips them to serve Christ through their churches as well as through their professions. One can hardly estimate the sweeping impact that a Christian physician, attorney, public school teacher, journalist, or businessman may have on the kingdom of God in a local community when these influential believers view their profession as a divine calling and mission.

One of the great concerns related to the future of several of our Southern states is the notorious “brain drain” on our population. Bright educated young professionals are abandoning struggling states in unprecedented numbers as they seek higher salaries and greater potential for advancement in other states. However, the feared brain drain can also have a devastating effect on local churches. If Christian parents and churches entrust our best and brightest students to secular universities and they are schooled in unbiblical ideologies, the church risks losing its rich intellectual tradition. The church will be poorly equipped to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith to a culture that is increasingly hostile toward our deeply cherished Christian convictions.

It may surprise many to discover that education is such a vital part of our Baptist heritage that one entire article of the Baptist Faith and Message is actually devoted to discussing the importance of this endeavor. Article XII. Education states:

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. . . . [T]he cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence.

Christian schools prepare outstanding Christian leaders for a variety of professions in which they have unique opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who better to share the gospel with a teacher or attorney than a respected colleague who views his vocation as his calling and seeks to use it to glorify Christ at every opportunity? Christian education is thus a helpful strategy for assisting the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s why our confession insists that just as the church supports the causes of local and international missions, education “should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches.”

When our churches affirm this historic Baptist confession, we are also acknowledging the value of Christian education and pledging our commitment to support this cause with generous gifts and fervent prayers. The need has never been greater and the ministry more strategic than now.

The College at Southeastern seeks to provide the sort of high-quality Christian education about which Dr. Quarles writes. For more info on the programs, faculty, and tuition costs for The College, check out the website and/or contact admissions

Guest Post (Charles L. Quarles): Amazing Grace (Part 3): “Through many dangers, toils, and snares”

[Editor’s Note: This is the final post in a three-part series by Dr. Charles Quarles, Vice President of Faith and Learning, Dean of the Caskey School of Divinity, and Research Professor of New Testament and Greek at Louisiana College. Dr. Quarles served as a pastor for ten years and then as a missionary in Romania for three years before coming to Louisiana College. He is a noted New Testament scholar and co-author (with Southeastern’s Scott Kellum and Andreas Köstenberger) of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (B&H). We at BtT believe his experience and skill in academic and pastoral ministry makes him a fine person to write on God’s amazing grace.]

John Newton wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” in 1779. His hymn was more than a theological reflection on the grace that he found described in Scripture; it was a profound expression of thanksgiving for the grace that he had personally experienced.

Newton knew that his salvation was entirely a tribute to God’s astonishing grace. Newton expressed this conviction in the title of his autobiography, An Authentic Narrative of Some Remarkable Particulars in the Life of *******.

The previous sentence is not a typo. Newton refused to use his name in the title of his own autobiography. In fact, he went to considerable pains to preserve his anonymity in telling his life story.

Newton wanted to state loudly and clearly that the amazing account he penned was not designed to promote his reputation, but to prompt others to praise God for His great grace.

A comparison of the hymn “Amazing Grace” with Newton’s autobiography shows conclusively that the hymn is likewise autobiographical.

I have previously highlighted the connection of the first and second verses of the hymn to Newton’s personal testimony. The third verse of the hymn is also a description of Newton’s own experience of God’s grace.

Grace brought Newton “through many dangers, toils, and snares.” I recently reread Newton’s autobiography placing sections under each of these three categories: dangers, toils, and snares. The exercise was illuminating.

Newton recounts a shocking array of dangers through which the Lord preserved him by His grace.

On the 10th of March, 1748, the ship on which Newton served was caught in a brutal storm. The ship was already in poor repair from a long and difficult voyage.

The sails were tattered, the cordage frayed. The hull was greatly weakened from the constant pounding of the waves.

Newton was awakened from a sound sleep when a huge wave filled the cabin with water that rose even above his hammock. The cry “all hands on deck” sent him scrambling up the ladder.

Newton’s ascent was stopped by the captain who ordered him to grab a knife. He slid back down the ladder and a mate went up the ladder in his place.

The instant that the man stepped on deck, a towering wave crashed over the buckling deck and swept him overboard into the dark foaming tumult, never to be seen again. Newton had escaped certain death by a split second (Letter VII).

When Newton returned to port after barely escaping drowning, shipwreck, and starvation, he went bird hunting with a group. His gun accidentally discharged while the muzzle was next to his face.

The gun blast blew away the corner of Newton’s hat, but he survived otherwise unscathed. He mused, “When we think ourselves in the greatest safety, we are no less exposed to danger than when all the elements seem conspiring to destroy us. The divine providence, which is sufficient to deliver us in our utmost extremity, is equally necessary to our preservation in the most peaceful situation” (Letter IX).

On another occasion, Newton had an unexplained violent seizure that left him completely paralyzed for nearly an hour. This occurred two days before he was scheduled to set sail as captain of a slave ship.

Newton’s physicians advised him to resign his command the day before the ship left harbor. The voyage from which he was spared proved to be “extremely calamitous.” The captain who replaced Newton, most of his officers, and many of his crew, died at sea and the battered vessel limped home, barely making it back to port.

These and many other remarkable experiences taught Newton that God had graciously spared his life in the face of death numerous times to grant him an opportunity for salvation and to display him as a trophy of grace.

Newton recounted that God “protected and guided me through a long series of dangers, and crowned every day with repeated mercies. To him I owe it that I am still alive, …it was he who delivered me” (Letter VI). These thoughts prompted Newton to sing, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; twas grace hath brought me safe thus far . . . .”

Newton’s letters also give an account of the bitter toils that he endured.

While Newton was in port on the coast of Africa, he became an indentured servant to an English taskmaster to escape the abusive treatment that he had received at the hands of the officers on his ship.

Newton soon discovered that the treatment that he would receive at the hands of his new taskmaster was far worse that anything he suffered at sea.

His master’s wife was an African woman who detested Newton from the moment that she met him. He became severely ill almost immediately after she acquired him. She was furious that her new slave was unable to labor in her fields and she completely neglected his care.

Newton’s bed was a board; his pillow, a log; and his only sustenance, the scraps from her table. He was forced to fight off starvation by crawling into the fields at night, digging up roots, and eating the tubers. Eating these raw made him violently ill and further sapped him of his strength.

Newton would have starved to death had not other slaves stretched their chains to reach his mouth with their own meager rations.

When he traveled by ship with his master, Newton was shackled on deck from the time that the master left ship until the time that he returned. His only food was a single pint of rice on which he had to survive until the master returned, which sometimes took days.

Newton had no shelter from the blistering sun, the torrential rains, or the bitter gales. He barely survived this prolonged exposure to the elements. These experiences helped Newton identify with the plight of the prodigal son who sold himself to a pagan farmer, lived among the swine, and craved the slop that they devoured.

Newton admitted that his toils did not immediately lead to his conversion. He explained: “My haughty heart was now brought down, not to a wholesome repentance, not to the language of the prodigal; this was far from me, but my spirits were sunk” (Letter V).

However, after his conversion he commented: “In perusing the New Testament, I was struck with several passages, . . . but particularly the prodigal, Luke 15, a case, I thought, that had never been so nearly exemplified, as by myself; and then the goodness of the father in receiving, nay, in running to meet such a son, and this intended only to illustrate the Lord’s goodness to returning sinners,-this gained upon me. . . I saw that the Lord had interposed so far to save me, and I hoped he would do more” (Letter IX).

Newton recognized that God’s gracious providence brought him through these toils to teach him of the profound love of the Father who loves and runs after prodigals. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; twas grace hath brought me safe thus far . . . .”

Newton’s letters also give an account of the snares that Satan had carefully and cleverly laid for him to entrap him and prevent him from following Christ.

Newton warned that the believer lives “in a world that is full of snares, and occasions, suited to draw forth [his] corruptions; and he is surrounded by invisible spiritual enemies, the extent of whose power and subtilty he is yet to learn by painful experience” (Spiritual Letters on Growth and Grace, Letter XI).

While in Africa, the allurements of the black magic practiced by the natives nearly ensnared Newton. He became more and more infatuated by the mystical power of their practices and admitted, “In time perhaps, I might have yielded to the whole: I entered into closer engagements with the inhabitants, and should have lived and died a wretch amongst them, if the Lord had not watched over me for good” (Letter VI).

Satan’s efforts to ensnare Newton only intensified after his conversion. He wrote:

The enemy prepared a train of temptations, and I became his easy prey; and, for about a month, he lulled me asleep in a course of evil, of which, a few months before, I could not have supposed myself any longer capable. How much propriety is there in the apostle’s advice, “Take heed lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” O who can be sufficiently upon their guard? Sin first deceives, and then it hardens. I was now fast bound in chains; I had little desire, and no power at all to recover myself. I could not but at times reflect how it was with me; but if I attempted to struggle with it, it was in vain. I was just like Samson, when he said, “I will go forth and shake myself as at other times;” but the Lord was departed, and he found himself helpless in the hands of his enemies. By the remembrance of this interval, the Lord has often instructed me since, what a poor creature I am in myself, incapable of standing a single hour without continual fresh supplies of strength and grace from the foundation head (Letter X).

Grace set Newton free from this snare. He would later thank the Lord that he:

was pleased to preserve me from what I knew was sinful. . . . The Lord was gracious to my weakness, and would not suffer the enemy to prevail against me (Letter XI).

Newton humbly acknowledged that he was an easy prey for Satan’s snares when relying on his own supposed strength. He was completely dependent on the grace of God to protect him from temptation and deliver him from evil.

Both Scripture and experience taught Newton that: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; twas grace hath brought me safe thus far . . . .”

God’s frequent interventions to deliver him from dangers, toils, and snares assured Newton that God’s plan for him could not be thwarted. God would not fail to bring Newton to his destination and accomplish his purposes through his life.

At the end of a sea voyage during which Newton had frequent brushes with death, he wrote: “I was preserved from every harm; and having seen many fall on my right hand and my left, I was brought home in peace” (Letter XI).

Such experiences taught Newton that he could trust God to preserve him from spiritual threats and bring him to his heavenly home as well. Newton recognized that the same grace that protected him until the day of his conversion, would keep him secure to the day of his final redemption.

Newton “began to understand the security of the covenant of grace, and to expect to be preserved, not by my own power and holiness, but by the mighty power and promise of God, through faith in an unchangeable Saviour” (Letter XIII).

The Word and Newton’s own life story instructed him that “twas grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

Newton’s testimony both through his letters and through his hymn should be an enormous encouragement to us. When we face dangers that seem to threaten our lives, our futures, or our sense of security, we need not fear. “Grace will lead me home.”

When a grim-faced doctor shares a shocking diagnosis and an even more alarming prognosis, we can have the confidence that “Grace will lead me home.”

When our toils seem more than we can endure and we lose heart in our labors for Christ, we can persevere when we remember: “Grace will lead me home.”

When we find ourselves ensnared by temptation and fall prey to Satan’s devices, we can rely on God to deliver us. “Grace will lead me home.”

Grace not only began our salvation by giving sight to the spiritually blind and teaching our hearts to fear; grace will complete our salvation by bringing us “thus far” and finally leading us home. Now that grace really is amazing!

Guest Post (Charles L. Quarles): God’s Amazing Grace (Part 1): “Was Blind, but Now I See”

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series by Dr. Charles Quarles, Vice President of Faith and Learning, Dean of the Caskey School of Divinity, and Research Professor of New Testament and Greek at Louisiana College. Dr. Quarles served as a pastor for ten years and then as a missionary in Romania for three years before coming to Louisiana College. He is a noted New Testament scholar and co-author (with Southeastern’s Scott Kellum and Andreas Köstenberger) of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (B&H). We at BtT believe his experience and skill in academic and pastoral ministry makes him a fine person to write on God’s amazing grace. Check-in tomorrow for part 2.]

Even though it was written in 1779, John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” remains a favorite of Christians everywhere. It has aptly been called the “Anthem of Southern Baptists” because of its powerful and poetic expression of the truths of the gospel that Baptists hold dear. Unfortunately, when we sing the old familiar hymns, we may mouth the words without reflecting on the great truths that they express. Let’s think for a moment about one of the great doctrines that the hymn articulates. The hymn opens with the exclamation:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

The verse offers a vivid description of the helpless state of the lost sinner. He is a “wretch,” an utterly despicable person. The words “I once was lost, but now am found” evoke memories of the parable of the loving father and lost son in Luke 15 and remind us that we were all prodigals who were completely unworthy of the Father’s love. But Newton did not stop there. He reminded us that we wretches, we prodigals, were blind to the truths of the gospel until God’s amazing grace gave us sight. The same great grace that saves wretches, that seeks and finds the lost, opens the blind eyes of the sinner to the glories of Christ. The statement brims with biblical insight.

The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the reign of the Messiah dawned, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isa. 35:5). The Gospels show that Jesus confirmed his identity as the Messiah by fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, by opening blind eyes and unstopping deaf ears.

In Mark 7:31-37, concerned friends brought a deaf man to Jesus. Jesus thrust his fingers in the deaf man’s ears, sighed deeply, and issued the command, “Ephphatha,” an Aramaic expression meaning, “Be opened.” Immediately the man’s ears were opened and he was given the ability to hear. The bystanders were astonished and exclaimed, “He has done everything well! He even makes deaf people hear!” Only a few verses later in Mark 8:22-26, others brought a blind man to Jesus and begged Jesus to touch him and heal him. Jesus placed spit on the man’s eyes, laid hands on him, and cured him of his blindness.

Jesus clearly intended to teach more through these miracles than the mere fact that he is the Messiah. These miracles possess what some New Testament scholars have called “parabolic significance,” that is, they are miracles that also function like parables. Make no mistake. These were true miracles that Jesus actually performed in real history. On the other hand, Jesus intended to teach spiritual truths through these miracles as well. These miracles serve as object lessons that teach those with eyes to see and ears to hear about Jesus’ work in saving sinners.

Jesus hinted at the spiritual lesson taught by the two miracles in a brief rebuke given to his disciples in a dialogue sandwiched between the two miracle accounts. “Don’t you understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened?” he asked. Then borrowing words from Jer. 5:21 and Ezek. 12:2, he charged, “Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear?” The occurrence of this discussion in between the healing of the blind man and the healing of the deaf man is no coincidence. The discussion shows that Jesus saw the blind and deaf as pictures of the spiritual condition of lost humanity. The miracles show that just as Jesus has the power to give sight to those who are physically blind and hearing to those who are physically deaf, he has the power to impart spiritual sight to the spiritually blind and spiritual hearing to the spiritually deaf.

This intention of Jesus is confirmed in John 9. Immediately after Jesus healed the man born blind (John 9:1-34), Jesus once again engaged in a discussion of spiritual blindness: “I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind” (John 9:39). The Pharisees understood Jesus’ meaning and retorted, “We aren’t blind too, are we?”

The Apostle Paul was deeply influenced by Jesus’ teaching regarding the lost person’s spiritual blindness and Jesus’ ability to grant spiritual sight. He described unbelievers as spiritually blind: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). Notice that Paul did not say that unbelievers are merely visually impaired and will have difficulty seeking the light of the gospel as if it will eventually become clear to them if they only squint hard enough. No, unbelievers are “blinded” and they “cannot see.” Only God could heal sinners of their spiritual blindness. Doing so required the unleashing of God’s miraculous power, the very power displayed in the creation of the universe: “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Not only is Christ’s gracious and glorious work of granting sight to the spiritually blind attested by Scripture and premiered in our great hymns, it is celebrated in our current Baptist confession. Article II, Section C of the Baptist Faith and Message explains the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation with these words: “Through illumination He [the Holy Spirit] enables men to understand truth.” The word “enables” implies that men are unable to understand the truth on their own. God must grant the ability to understand truth. He does so by removing the scales from blind eyes, opening deaf ears, enlightening a darkened mind, and softening a hard heart.

Newton was thoroughly convinced of this. In his autobiography, Newton wrote, “I was so strangely blind and stupid” (Letter II).  But he exclaimed, “The Lord at length opened my eyes” (Letter II). He confessed, “Till then I was like the man possessed by the legion [of demons]. No arguments, no persuasion, no views of interest, no remembrance of the past, or regard to the future, could have constrained me within the bounds of common prudence” (Letter IX).

Some theological views essentially rewrite the theology of Newton’s hymn in a manner that glorifies human ability more than divine grace. Lost sinners are not really blind, just slightly near-sighted. God did not give us sight, just cleared a few things up.

This view of grace might be amusing, but it is hardly amazing. I think that Newton got it right. A biblical view of “amazing grace” insists that when we were blind to the light of the gospel, God called light from darkness and gave us sight. Both Scripture and our Baptist confession insist that we did not understand and embrace the gospel because we were more intelligent or insightful than someone else, but because God mercifully performed a miracle that opened our blind eyes to His truth. Now that is truly amazing!