More Seminary Reflections

Recently someone “trolled” this website, anonymously commenting on this blog using name calling and various other unfounded assumptions to trash some of the very nature of this ministry and the work I am engaged in at SMU. Since this person was unwilling to identify themselves or leave valid contact information, I deleted that comment and will not respond to it. However, it did bring to mind that I probably should write why a theologically conservative, somewhat reformed, evangelical such as myself would attend a place like Perkins Seminary. After all, (in the minds of many people), isn’t that essentially going to be trained in the “enemy’s camp?” First of all, I should explain that I was led to Christ in part through efforts of people in various denominations and theological persuasions. Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Bible church members, Methodists, Calvinists and Arminians all reached out to me, with some of them eventually tricking me into going to hear an evangelist who’s message combined with his character played a significant role in leading me to Christ. I had been a voracious sinner up until that time and have stumbled and fallen into sin too many times to count since that day almost 15 years ago when Christ took hold of me and changed my life forever. So when I read "Such were some of you” in 1 Corinthians, I have great empathy for sinners and recognition of my own story. By the way, I was a nominal Christian before my conversion in the fall of 2000, and though some might have classified me as a “liberal Christian” at that time, I was actually a confused agnostic who identified with Christianity because that was the tradition I was raised into and “everyone needs to believe in something.” I find that there are many people much as I was before coming to Christ who dwell in the so-called “conservative” and “liberal” camps of people who call themselves Christians. Sadly, I am in agreement with Baptist evangelist and missionary Paul Washer who has said that most of those things we call “churches” in America are actually red brick buildings with groups of lost people who meet inside of them.

That said, true believers in Jesus Christ do not reach the world through railing against other human beings, condemning them without preaching the true hope of salvation. We call sin what it is, but we reach out by demonstrating supernatural love while preaching the Gospel, which cannot be communicated without conversation and interaction. As part of this conversation we have to learn the terminology, culture and perspectives of those with whom we want to communicate if we want to be understood. Jesus used news of current events along with various cultural experiences and Hebrew idioms to communicate with first century Jews. Paul quoted Greek thinkers and prophets when he preached at the Areopagus. Daniel along with his three Israeli compatriots were educated in all of the ways of the Babylonians and Persians, yet they did not water down their faith, being used by God as witnesses to those cultures without being compromised by their education. Dietrich Bonhoeffer even was educated in highly liberal seminaries, yet stood powerfully as a witness to the faithfulness of Christ and was able to proclaim the Gospel more effectively because of his interaction within those liberal seminaries. These persons were not defiled by these things, but by grace they became vessels of God's presence, message and power, using the ideas of cultural and religious systems as a means of subversive invasion of the very powers they opposed.

So, besides having personally discerned the call of God to go to Perkins in combination with prayer and advice from family and friends, I have realized that there are at least 2 enormous benefits in me going there.

1.      When I first came to Christ, I was an undergraduate college student attending a secularized private university (SMU), surrounded mostly by non-Christians and nominal Christians. The very formation of the foundations of my faith developed in an atmosphere of dialogue with people who opposed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was forced to discover what I believed and why rapidly in that atmosphere due to the regular challenges proposed against my faith in Christ. It exposed holes in my understandings of the Christian God, faith, life and practice, but since I knew that I could not deny the reality of Christ since I had encountered Him, I was motivated to dig deeper into Christ, His Word and Christian community until I got the answers I needed. Meanwhile, I was being mentored by strong Christians who loved me. So rather than running away from an atmosphere that challenges my faith, I RUN TO IT, because I have found that has been the atmosphere where I have matured the most. As an undergraduate I took survey courses covering Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, New Age religion and atheistic philosophies without being converted to those beliefs. If anything, examining those beliefs helped my faith to grow stronger, and that is one of the great tests of true faith - whether or not it can stand in the face of a competing narrative. In this regard, I can only benefit from being at Perkins because in this atmosphere of hearing a competing narrative (universalism, syncretism and all kinds of compromise with sin and the world system are alive and well at Perkins, as they are in many other seminaries - even, *gasp* conservative seminaries), I will be forced to know the true narrative of Christ all the better, while learning how to dialogue with people who disagree with it, which strengthens my skills and abilities as an evangelist. And that leads to the second major benefit of my time at Perkins.

2.      While I am at Perkins not only am I standing out as a witness to the reality of Christ there (and there are a number of students and professors who do not accept the miracles, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus as actual historical events), but I am also able to hear stories from those students and professors reflecting how they view “conservative,” Christians. Most of the stories I hear, I am sorry to say, often involve abuse, anti-intellectualism, fear, racism, anger, betrayal and flat out legalistic rejection of those who recognized sin in their lives and were seeking help to stop sinning. True Gospel preaching is not done solely with our lips, but with our lives as well, and I think it is quite possible that much of the “liberal Christian” movement would not exist but for the often unchecked corruption, hypocrisy and lack of solid Biblical discipleship going on in conservative congregations. Pastors in conservative congregations are often treated as demigods, able to nearly get away with murder because they are “men of God.” Through the stories of these “liberal Christians” that I meet in Perkins I find myself convicted to be a better, “conservative Christian.” Or to put it more precisely, I feel convicted to follow and obey Jesus Christ more consistently with greater affection through listening to His voice, listening to His Gospel and receiving His free grace while engaging in faithful, worshipful obedience to His Word. To put it another way, I'm learning to fall in love with Jesus and lean on Him and His affections for me more than anyone or anything else every day because of this experience. Abiding in Him leads to the fruits of the Spirit, and as Paul wrote, there are no laws against them.

There is much more that could and should be said about this, but this is enough for now. Until next time,

Phil Carlson

2 Corinthians 13:14



What appears above are the opinions of the author which are in no way endorsed by or representative of Worth Love Ministries, Inc. These are posted here to provide our prayer and financial partners along with other ministry partners a look at some of the experiences our missionaries are having right now.