Thank God, I Went to Cedarville

As I prepare for my final semester at Beeson Divinity School, it strikes me just how well I was prepared for my seminary education by my undergraduate professors at Cedarville University.

All things considered, my time at CU exposed me to the riches of biblical and theological studies, and it left me hungry for more.

College gave me a love for Christ’s gospel and Christ’s Church – which has only increased since I arrived at Beeson.

Plus, I met my wife there! 🙂

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And yet, college also left a bad taste in my mouth.

See, in the year before I graduated, some crazy things went down at my alma mater.

Between my original blogpost and my “final farewell,” I tried to take a pretty active role in the student protests against what was going on at CU.

I’d like to think we made a bit of a difference – perhaps in slowing things down enough to let professors find jobs elsewhere before they got fired. Heck, we even made it into The New York Times. (Although, I will say: I’m embarrassed of the picture they chose for the article.)

However, in the long run, we failed.

Cedarville is now a much different place than when I arrived. What’s more, I became so entangled in the mess that I arrived to seminary with some burn wounds – from a prophetic fire that burnt a bit too hot.

I’m thankful for my time at Cedarville, however.

God has been healing those wounds. Beeson Divinity School and Anglicanism have both been balms to my spirit. And, with the healing has come the realization that I would not be who I am today were it not for my four years in Cedarville, Ohio.

Many of the lessons I learned there were sealed with blood, sweat, and tears – as it were. However, those kinds of lessons are often the most important and enduring.

By God’s grace, I hope to carry forward into my future ministry a combination of prophetic fire and patient faithfulness in the face of injustice and suffering.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m worried about the other members of the “Cedarville Diaspora.”

“Cedarville ex-pats”? Take your pick of terms.

No, not so much the professors who were pushed out. They’ve miraculously landed on their feet, and I’ve witnessed God’s powerful work of redemption through them in their current careers and ministries.

No, I’m talking about the alumni who got burned by fundamentalism and may have already thrown out the Christian baby with the fundamentalist bathwater. Or perhaps they’re seriously considering doing so.

See, God has blessed me with a wonderful seminary and church community in which to grow and heal after Cedarville. Without those things, I don’t know where I’d be after the awful ending to my Christian college experience.

Others, however, may be feeling very lonely and angry right now.

If that’s you, or if you know someone to whom this applies, would you let me know if there’s any way I can help you?

I’ll gladly listen to you vent. I’d love to pray for you specifically, and perhaps to share what I’ve found helpful along the journey.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

Do you know what the worst thing about death is?

It’s not the dying itself – its the separation.

That is, we don’t suffer the most from our own deaths (a one-time occurrence), but from suffering the deaths of others (repeatedly). Instead of living relationships, we are left with distant memories.

A sad reality, to be sure.

What if, however, we could use death to our own advantage?

I’m convinced this is the truth behind Ecclesiastes 7:2 –

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.

Now, obviously, simply taking death to heart isn’t enough to defeat our most ancient enemy. For that, we need (and have been given) a resurrection.

But, have you taken your own death to heart? I believe there’s something to be gained by considering how you’d like to be remembered by others after you die.

How do you want to be remembered:

  • by God?

  • by your spouse?

  • by your children?

  • by your parents?

  • by your family and friends?

  • by your colleagues?

For me, I’d like to be remembered:

  • …as God’s faithful servant.
  • …as my wife’s best friend.
  • …as my children’s most important teacher.
  • …as my parents’ legacy.
  • …as my family and friends’ loyal brother.
  • …as my colleagues inspiring teammate.

…which sounds great, right? But here’s the rub:

What changes do you and I need to make in our lives, to start making those hypothetical memories more realistic each day?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below, as I consider how taking death to heart should impact one’s entire life.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

 

What are you afraid of?

I’m scared. Are you?

Specifically, as I wrote in my journal this very morning:

I’m scared – I’m scared of wasting my life, I’m scared of not being worth anything outside of the classroom.

Fear drives so many aspects of our lives – from how we dress, to how we raise our children, to how we elect our leaders. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, fear can play a large role in what/whom we worship.

For example, perhaps we worship God out of a fear of going to hell, or a fear of our inherited religion being wrong. We secretly worry that, like Donald Miller’s father accuses him in the movie Blue Like Jazz, we “only believe that stuff ‘cuz [we]’re afraid to hang out with people that don’t.”

Or perhaps we don’t worship God – and instead worship a god of our choice/invention – because we’re afraid of the implications of God’s existence.

Now, there is, I’m persuaded, a holy fear. A salutary reverence and awe in the face of the divine.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here, I’m talking about the paralyzing fear – the cold sweat, the white knuckles, the tension headaches.

I’m talking about the same kind of fear as Seth Godin:

The power of fear

Fear will push you to avert your eyes.

Fear will make you think you have nothing to say.

It will create a buzz that makes it impossible to meditate…

or it will create a fog that makes it so you can do nothing but meditate.

Fear seduces us into losing our temper.

and fear belittles us into accepting unfairness.

Fear doesn’t like strangers, people who don’t look or act like us, and most of all, the unknown.

It causes us to carelessly make typos, or obsessively look for them.

Fear pushes us to fit in, so we won’t be noticed, but it also pushes us to rebel and to not be trustworthy, so we won’t be on the hook to produce.

It is subtle enough to trick us into thinking it isn’t pulling the strings, that it doesn’t exist, that it’s not the cause of, “I don’t feel like it.”

When in doubt, look for the fear.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s knowing how to deal with fear. And, for me, the first step toward dealing with my fears is frankly admitting them. 

  • I’m scared, because I don’t know what’s next after I graduate from Beeson in December.
  • I’m scared, because the thing I’ve felt called to for the longest time – getting a PhD in systematic theology – seems like an impractical pipe dream.
  • I’m scared, because I don’t know if I’ll get into a PhD program. And, if I don’t, I don’t know how I’ll react to not being able to rely upon good grades for self-worth.

Thankfully, none of these fears prevent me from being faithful with the day I’ve been given – today. The greatest failure would be to use fears of the future as an excuse for present faithlessness.

So, what are you afraid of? How are you dealing with those fears?

Have you admitted them to anyone? If not, I challenge you to do so today.

If you’ve got no one, not even a journal, to listen to your admission, I’m all ears, for what it’s worth.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

Theology in Outline: What Do I Believe?

Theology is confusing enough, much more so when you attempt to summarize it all in a single essay! Nevertheless, such was my assignment in seminary in 2015. Here are the results.


“At the centre of Christian faith is the history of Christ. At the centre of the history of Christ is his passion and his death on the cross.” ~ Jürgen Moltmann[1]

Theology in Outline: A[n Attempted] Summary of the Christian Faith

We believe that, during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, God died on a Roman cross.[2] We also believe that, the third day thereafter, Jesus of Nazareth – the same person who had been crucified – rose again from the dead.

How can these things be?

How can the immortal, transcendent, omnipotent One come to a weak, immanent end?

How can a dead human leave his grave, living?

At this point, we face a crucial choice between:

  1. the posited “God” of metaphysical theism and
  2. the revealed God of the Christian faith.[3]

Should we choose the former, our Christ, canon, and confession are irreducibly docetic – the true “God” is aloof, and merely play-acting, at best.

Yet, should we choose the latter, God is irreducibly, ineluctably Triune – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe, we trust that the Triune God is who God has revealed Godself to be. Continue reading “Theology in Outline: What Do I Believe?”

My Uncle, Timothy Steele

(This post is about my late uncle, Timothy Steele. It’s long, and I swear toward the end. Sorry.)


“It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person, and the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3)


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Timothy Steele

The juxtaposition is staggering. The funeral of the man I most associate with laughter and joy. It hurts. No Steele family gathering was complete without hearing his boisterous laugh, receiving one of his legendary bear hugs, and – if you were lucky – getting one heck of a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

His greetings were the most genuine. I always knew when Uncle Tim had arrived. And whenever I arrived, he made me feel like my presence mattered, like he had missed me, like he was proud of me.

My Uncle Tim was one of the first people in the room to hold me when I was born. Although I can’t remember it, he was there on the very first day of my life. Growing up, his house was always a welcome place to hang out with my cousins. He was like a second dad, and his children like a second set of siblings.

Speaking of dad, my Uncle Tim was used by God to help my dad out of his habits and addictions and into an encounter with Jesus Christ. At the funeral, my dad spoke of it in terms of Tim saving him from drowning. I will perhaps never know how much in my life I owe to my Uncle Tim being there for his younger brother, Patrick, putting his reputation on the line to guide and love my dad toward Christ.

Also, it meant a lot to me that my Uncle Tim made it out to my wedding in Pennsylvania in August 2012. Whenever my wife and I watch our wedding video, one of our favorite parts is when Uncle Tim’s voice booms out from the back of the church after we finished our duet of Be Thou My Vision. Amidst the applause, he cries out in a weepy voice: “That was beautiful!!!” He is intertwined with the memories of one of the happiest days of my life.

Many more stories could be and have been told about Timothy Steele. However, there’s one memory in particular that I haven’t been able to get out of my head these past days since hearing of my uncle’s untimely death. It happened in the garage of Grandma Steele’s house during a family gathering when her health was declining, if I remember correctly. Amidst the normal hilarious and loud stories, the conversation took a serious turn, and my Uncle Tim spoke of the pain he felt when he looked back upon times in his life when he had turned his back on Jesus, so to speak.

Now, he didn’t speak of his regrets in terms of not knowing any better when he was younger. He didn’t speak of the pain of violating a general sense of right and wrong, but of the nagging sense that at various times he had let a person down…the person of Christ.

Encouragement in the Midst of Pain

Here’s why I find that story encouraging in the midst of pain: You don’t much regret letting down people for whom you don’t much care. And even though we have all, to the very last one of us, let Jesus down, he never abandons us. His love makes my Uncle Tim’s love pale in comparison, and he is now showing Tim even more grace than Tim showed to all of us each day.

If you ever met my Uncle Tim, you know of his gracious love toward every single person he met. These past few days have been filled with stories about this man who was a force of nature, always ready to extend his gregarious love toward even, if not especially, “discarded and used-up people,” as my cousin Whitney put it. And as my Uncle John put it, “Tim loved you like Jesus does.

I was struck by viewing those loving, gracious memories of my Uncle Tim in light of the relationship revealed to me in that serious conversation in the garage. That is, to realize that my Uncle Tim was such a uniquely loving person, not just because he thought it was a good idea or because he just had so much love on his own, but because of the love he had received from Christ. To realize that the intense love which characterized every personal encounter with my Uncle flowed from the intense love he had first and continually experienced in his personal encounter with the crucified-and-risen Jesus Christ.

Unlike many, my Uncle Tim understood that the Gospel of Christ doesn’t just make a difference in the “afterlife,” but that it makes a difference in the here-and-now! That if knowing Christ makes no difference in how you treat the flesh-and-blood people around you who are made in God’s image, then you probably don’t know Christ. The eternal life spoken of in the Gospel doesn’t begin the day you die, it began the day Christ died and rose from the grave.

I often worry that Christian pronouncements about the good news of Jesus Christ strike others as hollow, fake, and escapist – especially in the context of a funeral. How can trite truisms about Jesus be relevant in the midst of so much pain?

But my Uncle Tim’s life on earth, painful ending and all, was not a trite truism. You know if you knew Timothy Steele. He demonstrated what faith looks like — that it has to do with more than just thinking the right things, more than just following a list of rules — it has to do with a faithful relationship to a PERSON, a relationship which then changes the way you treat PEOPLE.


Conclude and Reflect

I write this reflection mid-air, on my way back to Alabama. I wish that I had gotten to see my family members in a house of merrymaking, but it was a house of mourning instead.As we remembered the life of the man who could make you laugh so hard you cried, there was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears in the Steele family this weekend. There was riotous applause at the funeral at one point, but I know there’s still a whole lot of sadness and pain.

If you’re reading this and you, like me, are privileged to have known Timothy Steele, would you reflect on the connection between the love this man showed to all and the love of Christ which he had first received? When you seek hope in the midst of your reasonable sorrow, and you spend time dwelling on happy memories of the man, would you consider that the source of all that gracious love wasn’t a general sense, it wasn’t an impersonal force…it was my Uncle Tim’s encounter and relationship with a person.

And if you’re reading this and your pain feels too great for all this Jesus talk at the moment, if, like me, you experienced a big dose of anger at the side of Tim’s casket this weekend…that God would allow this life to end so soon…that this world is still broken and infected by Death, would you please join me in clinging to the hope that God hates death even more than we do?

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but seriously, he does. For all the hopeful Christian talk at funerals, we can never forget that Death sucks.

No, that’s not strong enough. Death is fucking horrible. And I hope you agree that I say that out of concern for accuracy, and not merely vulgarity.Death’s final defeat has been declared at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, butdammit, we’re still waiting for the final removal of Death’s presence from this world. It’s not our annoying, normal friend. It’s our alien enemy. And I don’t know about you, but when Death strikes close to my door, when it hits the ones I love, I want to rage against it with all I have.

God rages against Death. He dove headfirst into the depths of this world, into the realm of the discarded and the used-up, the dead and the dying. He himself dove into the very grave, that he might emerge from it victorious. That he might lay Death itself in its cold grave, that he might silence the bastard enemy of the children of God.

I don’t just follow Jesus to get into heaven someday when I die. I follow him because he hates Death more than I do, because in an important sense he is more heartbroken than I am over the death of my Uncle and the sorrow of the family members he left behind. And because, amazingly enough, he invites me and his people — he invites YOU — to join him in the mission of eternal life, to join him in the process of putting Death to death in our daily lives, in the world around us.

And, following the words of my beloved Uncle Tim, that’s beautiful.

(For another reflection on death, hope, and resurrection, read my sermon: “Son of Man, Can Your Bones Live?”)

Who am I to be a theologian?

For my 20th Century History & Doctrine course at Beeson Divinity School, I'm re-reading through Karl Barth's Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. If you're involved in the life and ministry of the Church in any respect, I strongly recommend that you buy and read this book!

Here's a particularly challenging portion from the chapter on "Wonder," beginning on page 71. I wish the language were gender-inclusive, but Karl's words still ring true:

"After all, who am I to be a theologian?

It does not matter whether I am the best child of the best parents, perhaps having known, like Timothy ( II Tim. 3:15), about the Holy Scriptures from the very time I began to think. It does not matter whether I have the cleverest mind or the most upright heart or the very best of intentions. Who am I to have put such trust in myself as to devote myself even remotely to the task of theology? Who am I to co-operate in this subject, at least potentially and perhaps quite actively, as a minor researcher, thinker, or teacher? Who am I to take up the quest for truth in the service and in the sense of the community, and to take pains to complete this quest?

I have put such trust in myself as soon as I touch theology with even my little finger, not to speak of occupying myself with it more or less energetically or perhaps even professionally. And if I have done that, I have without fail become concerned with the new event and the miracle attested to by the Bible.

This miracle involves far more than just the young man at Nain or the captain of Capernaum and their companions of whom the Gospelstell; far more than the Israelites' passage through the Red Sea, the wilderness, and the Jordan; far more than the sun that stood still upon Joshua's command at Gibeon. I have become involved in thereality of Godthat is only signaled by all these things. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who reveals himself in his Son through the Holy Spirit, who desired to be the God of man so that man might live ashisman.

I have become involved in the wonder of this God, together with all its consequences for the world and for each and every man. And whatever, however, and whoever I may be in other respects, I have finally and profoundly become a man made to wonder at himself by this wonder of God.

It is another question whether I know what self-wonderment means for me, whether I am ready and able to subordinate my bit of research, thought, and speech to the logic of this wonder (and not in reverse order!). But there can be no question about one fact: I find myself confronted by the wondrous reality of the livingGod. This confrontation occurs in even the most timid and untalented attempt to take seriously the subject in which I have become involved or to work theologically at all, whether in the field of exegesis, Church history, dogmatics, or ethics."

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Ok, Maybe a Bit More on Cedarville…

You’ll notice that the previous post on Cedarville ends with a link to the Course Schedule:

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“Class Limited to Women” … I know, ludicrous. Especially considering Joy Fagan’s previous track record of making the first class, Scriptural Interpretation of Gender Issues (or SIGI), a truly excellent course by all accounts from former students, male and female.

Equally ludicrous? The textbook choices! Are you ready for what CU students will be reading to form an even-handed perspective of what the Bible has to say on gender? Maybe some Miroslav Volf? “Junia is Not Alone” by Scot McKnight? NOPE.

Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions, by Wayne Grudem

The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture, by Mary A. Kassian

Words fail.

Cedarville, get your act together. Prospective students, stay far away until the institution recovers it’s broad evangelical vision (the one carried forward by Bill Brown and Carl Ruby, for example). Unfortunately, it appears that vision has been thoroughly squashed in the conservative takeover.

Concerning Romans

Well, judging by my blog stats for the past 48 hours — as compared with the past few months — I’d get many more views on this post if it concerned the chaos at Cedarville University!

However, my schedule and blood pressure won’t allow me to devote any more time to my shameful alma mater at the moment. I’ve got a presentation at the 2014 Southeast Regional Meeting of ETS tomorrow (see my previous post, and come to my presentation at 5:00pm in room S009!), and even though Beeson Divinity School’s Spring Break is right around the corner, I’ve still got a fair share of reading to get done. 

Nevertheless, given the current discussion in my New Testament Theology — two classes on Romans — I thought I might re-post two of my previous works: 

  1. Romans. Revisited. (or “The Argument-Story of Romans”): my final write-up for Dr. Chris Miller’s course on Romans and Galatians at Cedarville University. We were due to have an oral exam on the last day of class, in which we talked-through the logic of the epistle. I wrote this summary the night before the exam, and was given the opportunity to present it to the class. I now present it to you! Feel free to give me some push-back! 
  2. Romans 13:1-7 — A Contextually-Appropriate Reading: a paper I wrote for the same course as mentioned above, in which I defend the following thesis: “Far from being a comprehensive condensation of the apostle’s beliefs regarding any and all governments past and present, [Romans 13:1-7] is a specific and historically-conditioned pastoral address to the Roman believers, discouraging them from political unrest, disobedience, and rebellion in order to protect their testimony and the effectiveness of the Roman church in the gospel mission.”

That’s all for now. Grace and Peace. 

~Josh