Book Write-Up: Institutional Intelligence

Gordon T. Smith.  Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization.  IVP Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Institutional Intelligence is about how to run an institution.  Such institutions include non-profits and churches, but author Gordon T. Smith focuses largely on Christian academia, since that is where he is especially experienced.  Smith discusses the importance of having a clear mission for the institution, listening to one’s board, taking into consideration the interests of the stakeholders, and having a budget that is not only balanced but also accomplishes something.  He offers advice on the type of people to hire, how to raise money, things to consider when merging with another institution, and how to design the building such that it conveys a welcoming and spiritually-appropriate message.

At times, Smith comments on Christian spirituality, since his focus is on Christian institutions.  He talks about how God is the provider, yet institutions are still called to be good stewards.  He makes an interesting point about chapels and how they should not be comfortable and nostalgic but should, in some manner, acknowledge the brokenness of the world.  Smith states that working under authority and with people has spiritual value, in that it trains people for Christian discipleship.  And, because Smith is clear that institutions are generally not places of unconditional love, he gives readers tips about the proper attitude to have in responding to that: how they can avoid bitterness and respond appropriately to praise.

A lot of the book seemed to be common sense, but there are readers who may benefit from Smith’s articulation of the issues: they may wonder what exactly they should be considering, and Smith tells them.  Smith focuses a great deal on the type of attitude that leaders of institutions should have, but he occasionally provides practical advice about what they should actually do.  The book would have been better had it had more practical advice.  Moreover, the book was rather dry, and stories would have enhanced the book by making it more relatable and entertaining, while illustrating the principles that Smith was discussing.

The book would have also been better had it had a more pastoral tone.  The section on whom to hire makes sense, but it can make a person feel as if he or she needs to be perfect to work for an institution (not that Smith says that).  Of course, workers in general are expected to perform at a quality level, but Smith perhaps should have offered advice to potential workers about how they can prepare themselves for that.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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EerdWord: Steward of God’s Mysteries

Jerry L. Sumney is author of the new book Steward of God’s Mysteries: Paul and Early Church Tradition. A lot of people don’t like the Apostle Paul. Some don’t like him because they think (mistakenly) that he didn’t think women should be engaged in ministry. Others don’t like him because he seems harsh and demanding.…

via Meet This Book: Steward of God’s Mysteries — EerdWord

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Church Write-Up: The Law and Eternal Life

For church last Sunday, I watched some church services at home.  The reason I did not go out was that the air quality was poor, due (I presume) to the recent forest fires in Washington and Oregon.

A.  The first service that I watched was that of John MacArthur, Jr.  He spoke about the purpose of the law of God.  According to MacArthur, the Judaizers against whom Paul wrote in Galatians claimed that justification (i.e., being right with God) was by faith in Abraham’s time, but that it was by obedience to the law after God gave the law at Sinai.  Why else, they asked, would God have given the law?  MacArthur contended that God gave the law for a variety of reasons.  One reason was to separate Israel from the pagan nations, so that them Israelites would not socialize with them intimately.  That was designed to protect them from paganism.  Another reason was to show the Israelites that they fell short of obedience to God’s moral standards and thus needed a Savior.  The sacrifices atoned for their sin, demonstrating that they were sinners.  And the law contained God’s moral character, of which the Israelites fell short.  The law, for Paul, led to destruction and wrath, since the Israelites did not and could not observe it.  Through Christ, however, the life that was promised in the Abrahamic covenant comes to believing Israelites and Gentiles.  MacArthur talked about the errors of legalism and antinomianism.  For MacArthur, people are still obligated to obey the requirements of the law that reflect God’s moral character, and the New Testament commands.  God, after all, is holy, and MacArthur said that he doubted that he would want to worship a God who was not just and holy.  MacArthur also said that, when it comes to grace teachers (i.e., teachers who say that obedience to the moral law is unnecessary, since salvation is by grace through faith), he expects them to suffer a moral failure, and they often do.  Another point that MacArthur made was that it is acceptable for obedience to God’s moral law to flow from a sense of duty, even when there is not a deep spiritual feeling.  Paul, after all, said that he beats his body and makes it his slave (I Corinthians 9:27).

MacArthur observed that God’s covenant with Abraham did not talk much about sin or morality.  MacArthur speculated that, prior to the giving of the law, there was some unclarity about God’s moral will.  That was why there was polygamy then, MacArthur stated.  That reasoning, by itself, is problematic, for the law itself appeared to permit polygamy, as Deuteronomy 21:15 demonstrates (yet Deuteronomy 17:17 prohibits the king to multiply wives).  At the same time, the law does prohibit certain acts that the patriarchs practiced: Abraham married his half-sister (Genesis 20:11-12), which Deuteronomy 27:22 forbids.  MacArthur may have a point, even if the example that he cited was not very good.  MacArthur may also have had in mind Paul’s enigmatic statement in Romans 5:13-14, even though MacArthur did not cite it or quote it in that particular sermon: Paul there says that sin was in the world prior to the law, yet it was not imputed, and nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses.  Before the law, were people let off the hook by God, since God did not yet make God’s will known through the law?  The thing is, God punished people for sin prior to the law: God punished people with a flood on account of their violence, and God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  (UPDATE: Actually, my paraphrase of Romans 5:13-14 is laced with my interpretation. Paul actually says that sin is not imputed where there is no law. There is a scholarly argument that Paul’s point there is that there was a moral law prior to the Mosaic law.)

There are other questions that I have about what MacArthur said about the law.  If God gave Israel rules to separate her from pagans in a sea of paganism, why did God not do the same for the Christians, who were also in a sea of paganism?  Was it because God wanted to give Israel a chance to develop in a righteous direction, setting the foundation for Christianity to come?  Once the foundation had been set, Christians could come on the scene and did not need the Torah’s rituals to keep them separate from paganism.  At the same time, there was some desire on Paul’s part to keep believers separate from non-believers, on some level, for Paul in II Corinthians 6:14 criticizes being unequally yoked; still, Paul in I Corinthians 7:12-14 exhorts believing wives to remain married to non-believing husbands.  I also question whether the Hebrew Bible itself regarded the Torah as a path to destruction, assuming that no one could keep it.  There were righteous people in the Hebrew Bible, such as Josiah, who was said not to turn to the right or the left (II Kings 22:2).  Yet, there were gracious provisions even in the Old Testament: God accepted Israel’s repentance and preserved Israel on account of God’s covenant with Abraham.  Could Paul have meant that the law, apart from these gracious provisions, would lead to destruction?  Or is that a stretch?

B.  The second sermon was preaching on Matthew 7:13-23.  In that biblical passage, Jesus exhorts people to travel the narrow way that leads to life, which few travel, rather than the broader, more popular way, which leads to destruction.  Jesus also warns his disciples of false prophets, and Jesus states that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” to Jesus will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do God’s will.  Doing miracles will not grant a person entrance into the Kingdom.  The topic of the sermon was avoiding “judgment shock,” which means expecting to inherit eternal life at the last judgment and instead finding that one is going to hell.  How does one avoid this?  The pastor said that being in church and simply believing facts about God is not enough, for  the demons believe in God yet are not saved (James 2:19).  Doing good works is not enough, either.  According to the pastor, one inherits eternal life by trusting Christ for salvation, as one’s Savior and Lord.  But were not the people in Matthew 7:21-22 believing in Christ, since they called him “Lord, Lord”?  The pastor said that they were saying that because they were at the last judgment and they would say anything to get out of going to hell.  Yet, the pastor also seemed to suggest that they thought that they were believers before then, during their lifetime.  But they did not have a deep relationship with Christ, which was why Christ said that he never knew them; Jesus also calls them workers of iniquity in v 23.  The pastor also said that he could spend time with a person and figure out what that person’s passions are, implying, perhaps, that true Christians have a passion for Christ.  This is not my favorite kind of message, but I like when the pastor shares aspects of his own testimony.  He said that, in his youth, he wanted to be a band leader, and he is glad that God delivered him from that, since where would he be had he gotten that wish?  He also expressed gratitude for the preachers of his youth who talked about hell and the need to be born again, and that he has more joy as a follower of Christ than he ever had following the world.

Matthew 7:21-22 has long disturbed me.  But I was thinking on Sunday afternoon: it is in the spirit of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, who said that worship of God was not enough to please God, if people turned around and oppressed and harmed their neighbor.  Why worship God, if one does not want to stand for what God stands for?  Jesus appears to be making the same sort of point.  Was Jesus saying that salvation was by good works, then?  Not exactly: in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus shed his blood to ransom people and remit their sins (Matthew 20:28; 26:28), so it portrays the death of Jesus as essential for salvation; people, presumably, cannot simply clean themselves up by doing good works, for Jesus needed to die for them to be forgiven, even in the Gospel of Matthew.

I’ll stop here.


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What is Brotherly Love? (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10)

Reblogging for future reference.

Reading Acts

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 Paul encourages the church at Thessalonica to pursue “brotherly love.” What is brotherly love? The noun used here (φιλαδελφία) was only used for literal family relationships before the Christian community began to use it as a metaphor for members of their community (EDNT, 4:434). The only exception appears to be 2 Macc 15:14, the word appears to refer to a fraternal relationship of all Israel. In 4 Maccabees 13:23, 26, 14:1 the word refers to the mutual love between seven brothers who all suffer instead of reject their Jewish traditions.

The Greeks considered the relationship between brothers to be of primary importance, Plutarch used the term “brotherly love” to describe the proper relationship between brothers.

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 2 …where there is an unanimous accordance amongst brothers, the family thrives and flourishes, and friends and acquaintance, like a well furnished choir, in all…

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Forgiveness…Once Again, by Paul D. Adams

I’m repeatedly reminded (and deeply saddened by) how little some people understand about forgiveness. Despite the need to grasp, receive, and extend this vital virtue into our lives, the human capacity to withhold it and the seemingly vigorous need to maintain a grudge is beyond tenacious. At almost every turn and certainly every day I……

via Forgiveness …. Once Again — ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

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Murphy-O’Connor-Colossians: authentic and early


In Paul: a Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor defended the authenticity of Colossians and set its time during the Ephesian imprisonment in the summer of 53.

Paul wrote Colossians and sent it at the same time as the note to Philemon. Compare Philemon 23 to Colossians 4:10 ff.  I don’t know of any scholar who questions that Paul wrote Philemon.

However Colossians is odd compared to other authentic letters of Paul. It has a style and a doctrine that come closer to Ephesians than other letters–and there are numerous reasons to think Ephesians does not fit with Paul’s missionary letters.

Most of those who have defended the authenticity of Colossians have put it late in Paul’s ministry to allow time for his style and theology to have evolved.

Murphy-O’Connor, however, adopted an alternative defense.

First, since Paul did not personally found the Colossian church (it was 120 miles from Ephesus…

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Murphy-O’Connor-jail time in Ephesus


For readers of Acts there are three imprisonments of Paul, a brief one at Philippi before the earthquake, a two year imprisonment awaiting trial in Caesarea, and another two- year imprisonment in Rome after he appealed his case to Caesar.

But before either Caesarea or Rome, Paul “boasts” in 2 Corinthians 11:23 of “imprisonments”.  So he must have spent jail time when Acts does not mention it.  The letters to Philippi and Colosse and the personal note to Philemon mention that Paul was in prison when he wrote.  Many have tried to fit them into one of the Acts imprisonments, especially the Roman one.

But Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in Paul: a Critical Life was among those who argue that Paul’s two-year-and-some-months ministry at Ephesus included an imprisonment and that from that imprisonment he wrote Colossians and Philemon and part of Philippians.

Specifically, he believed that Paul spent the summer of 53…

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