Reflections on Law and Grace

Sometimes one may believe things to be true on an intellectual level, but have a difficult time making practical application of those truths. The context that springs to my mind is the Word of God. I would argue many Christians today say they believe God’s Word in its entirety. They may say God’s Word is inerrant, infallible, divinely inspired, and sufficient for all life and practice. They may SAY that, I’m almost sure. The rub occurs, however, when that Word they just described must be applied to real, sometimes difficult, life situations. It is at this crucial moment one unveils to what extent they actually believe God’s Word.

Dr. David Jones, Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, once told me an equation that has proven to be frighteningly accurate: Stated belief + Actual practice = Actual belief. In other words, you believe no more of the Bible than you obey. Let that sink in for a moment. If that is true (and I believe it is) then, practically speaking, there would be virtually no Christians on the planet who ultimately believe God’s Word in its entirety. On what basis do I draw that conclusion? Christians do not live out the truth of Scripture in real life situations. This brings me to my reflection on law and grace.

It seems, while one desires desperately to affirm one’s belief in the truth of Scripture, the temptation remains to add one’s own opinions and standards to what God’s Word provides. I would venture to say most of the time this is unintentional, but it is practically unavoidable. Christians read the Bible, they make the effort to understand what it teaches through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and yet they still end up applying principles that may or may not be biblical. Situational ethics become more prevalent when one has not settled in one’s heart and mind that Scripture is the basis for all life and practice.

Here is one example. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, in the actual practice of the local church, it may appear an individual may also need to dress a certain way, act a certain way, or speak a certain way in order to “really” be saved. This is the subtle entrance of legalism. It is where believers inadvertently communicate that Christianity is more about new believers being like us than being like Jesus. I don’t know how widespread this concept is. It may just be me, though I don’t think it is. I believe there are churches all over the country filled with well-meaning people trying to be faithful to Scripture who are unwittingly slipping into the mold of modern day Pharisees. The problem is this: the Pharisees killed Jesus.  That’s not really a group with which I want to be identified.

Therefore, I believe we should all exercise a reasonable level of caution. I believe we should all preach the gospel to ourselves each day and be reminded that no one can be saved by becoming more like you or me.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe God wants disciples rather than Pharisees.

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Mike McCormick

Dr. McCormick serves as Lead Pastor for Berlin Baptist Church in Salley, SC. He has been a pastor since 2003, following five years of service with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Clemson University (1994) as well as Master of Divinity (2007) and Doctor of Ministry (2015) degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Darlene McCormick (1996) and they have three daughters, Elizabeth (2001), Katelyn (2003), and Sarah (2008). Dr. McCormick maintains a personal blog at https://countryboypastor.home.blog/.

When It's Not What You Thought

I walked across the platform to receive my diploma in Binkley Chapel in the spring of 2014. By the fall of 2017, I found myself on staff at my second church since graduation.

What happened?

We ask ourselves questions like this over the course of our lives, often when things do not go as planned. Check your social media, or if you dare, call around among your old friends from college or seminary. Scattered in the background of the success stories, the booming church plants, the fantastic food in the far-off country, and the Instagram-worthy devotions and hand-lettered quotes, you will find a plethora of upset expectations. The guy in your church history class, the one jazzed about going to an unreached people, his missionary journey misfired when a doctor diagnosed him with melanoma. The Hebrew savant who never missed a niphal received only a few returned communications from all the résumés he sent out—all of them cutting contact after speaking with him one time. The gifted preacher you knew had to go back to secular work because his church could not afford to compensate him as a husband and father of three.

As we rehearsed ancient verb paradigms, wrestled over contextualization issues, and read cinder block-sized books into the night, we never foresaw these challenges. We did not hear these stories at the conferences or even in chapel. We did not sin ourselves out of service, discharging ourselves through disqualification, no. Things just did not go the way we expected.

After graduation, I joined a family member in Louisville, KY working to revitalize a dying church. I knew I would serve bi-vocationally, and the work would bear much in the way of difficulty. We had more than a few irons in the fire at our church. The church property stood in a populated, urban area, a fertile ground for local evangelism. A church of immigrants partnered with us, and we pursued a merger between our two congregations to establish an intercultural church. We began going through our church rolls, visiting dozens of addresses belonging to inactive members, seeking to reintroduce them to the church, perhaps seeing nominal Christians convert to disciples of Jesus. We initiated a homeless ministry, serving hot breakfast and coffee on Saturday mornings while sharing the gospel.

Yet, we baptized no new believers. We saw no returned wayward members. The intercultural church we hoped to pursue became a thing of conflict and a mind-blowing time-drain. I picked up a third job teaching at a small Christian school. I never expected to become the titular character in a superhero story, but I certainly did not see myself as Vain-Hoping Citizen #2, either. Our attending congregation of twenty elderly people dwindled to twelve within a year.

We hosted a summertime Vacation Bible School. We had decent attendance, and a small church plant helped us execute the VBS. None of our attending families would join us on Sunday mornings, and when we invited the church plant to join us for a service one morning, less than five of our normally attending members joined us for worship. We looked and felt just a little silly in front of these people who helped us so much.

Eventually, God led our church into information and through circumstances which revealed the wisest thing to maintain a continuing gospel witness in our part of the city: becoming adopted by another church. A sister church had people, but they were running out of space in their building. We had plenty of building space, and not much in the way of members to gather and worship in it. The other church adopted ours, receiving our staff into theirs and our membership into their own. By a year into the adoption, God moved my family member into a new pulpit in Indiana, and I took a position teaching and discipling teens in South Carolina.

I never pictured my first pastoral position lasting scarcely three years. They felt like ten. We suffered a miscarriage, and God blessed us with our third child. I walked through my first church discipline situation and underwent back surgery.

What happened?

God chose my family to bear faithful witness to the risen Lord Jesus to homeless people and children from beyond broken families. God sent my family to encourage others in a difficult work in a hard place. The Holy Spirit used two young families to shepherd a small, wounded, and dying congregation into the care of other shepherds who will see them to the grave.

Isaiah 55:11 reads:

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;

It will not return to Me empty,

Without accomplishing what I desire,

And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I am nothing more than a man guided by the Spirit of God. My job was and remains serving as an announcer of the gospel call: come, you thirsty, and drink of the living water! Cease binging on what leaves you empty! (Isaiah 55:1–2 and John 7:38). God appointed my family and I as midnight riders, blowing the trumpet of Christ’s grace. The news fell on the ears God intended. It will accomplish the purpose he put forth. Perhaps we planted seeds only, and another will water them. Perhaps our mouths operated as watering cans, nurturing the seed along until it bears fruit one day. The possibility remains of our words serving as unheeded warnings to which some will bear account before King Jesus on the Final Day.

The years directly following my time in seminary did not go according to my plan, whatever it was. Instead, they conformed to the better plan, the plan of the King. Wherever God put you, remain ready with the gospel you learned, the news you heeded, the call you obeyed. Our disappointments and slips do upend the call of faithfulness where God roots and uproots us. Perhaps you expected different. Remember, if we truly appreciated the depth of our sin, we would expect different from our own eternity. Staying, going, disappointed, or delighted, speak His name and his work that He find you faithful in His sight.

Thank you Dr. & Mrs. Akin!

It has been a joy this month to celebrate Dr. and Mrs. Akin on 15 faithful years of service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary! In one day, graduates of SEBTS and C@SE gave over $1,200 in honor of the Akins. The stories we have heard from students and graduates alike confirm that many in the Southeastern family have been impacted in some way through the ministry and service of Dr. and Mrs. Akin.

I, personally, am immensely grateful for sweet Charlotte Akin. Prior to coming to SEBTS to finish my degree I followed her and Dr. Akin from afar on social media. Mrs. Akin’s posts were/are centered around others. She is always edifying others, not for her own praise, but to draw others to Jesus. About a year after living in Wake Forest and having a few short interactions with her, I wanted to know more about her life. I crafted an email to her asking to have lunch and then thought “yeah right, like she will actually have time (or honestly, the desire) to go to lunch with me!” To my delightful surprise, she agreed! I was able to learn more about Charlotte, the girl who was miraculously brought to faith through Jesus Christ and who grew into a mature, vibrant warrior for Him. That one move on my part sparked a friendship that I will forever cherish. Mrs. Akin is not only my seminary president’s wife; she is my friend and a woman who I aspire to emulate as she emulates Christ.

I have learned much about leadership from Dr. and Mrs. Akin. One unusual quality that they both share as leaders is accessibility. My first time on campus I was amazed that the President’s Office was so highly visible with a “Welcome, come on in” sign on the door. In previous jobs, I would have never even imagined emailing a president’s wife directly asking for a casual lunch. The Akins are leaders who make others feel comfortable, welcome, and valued no matter who you are or where you come from. I am grateful for how they champion those around them. I join with a host of others who say thank you, Dr. and Mrs. Akin, for how you live, love, and lead others to love the Lord with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This month, we are honoring Dr. Akin’s 15 years of ministry and leadership at Southeastern Seminary. If you have a story about his impact on your life please feel free to share it with us at alumni@sebts.edu and we’ll post it to the blog. Additionally, in honor of Dr. Akin, we are asking alumni and current students to contribute $15 in his honor to the For the Mission campaign by clicking here.

Akin April - A Warm Welcome

I had just begun was my first day of seminary - Dr. Akin’s Hermeneutics class at 8:00 am in Binkley 101. To say that I was nervous for my first class with the president of the school would be an understatement. Thankfully, Dr. Akin quickly calmed my fears, warmly greeting us students and making us all feel right at home. He even encouraged us to reach out to him and schedule a time to meet.

Coming from a large, state university, it was not every day that I had the opportunity to interact with the school’s president, let alone have an open invitation to sit down for a face-to-face. Both surprised and excited about Dr. Akin’s invitation, I jumped at the opportunity and emailed him. Sure enough within a few minutes, he personally responded and I was in his office a week later. He made the time for me. We talked about everything from church, preparing for marriage, to unfortunately his fondness for Georgia football :).

In all seriousness, this small act of kindness by Dr. Akin really exemplifies the kind of man and leader he is. I really believe that what separates Southeastern from other places is both the mission of the school and the quality of the people here. This all starts with Dr. Akin and his leadership. Southeastern is truly a Great Commission school that values people. And for this, I am truly grateful.

-Billy Vernon, M.Div, 2018

This month, we are honoring Dr. Akin’s 15 years of ministry and leadership at Southeastern Seminary. If you have a story about his impact on your life please feel free to share it with us at alumni@sebts.edu and we’ll post it to the blog. Additionally, in honor of Dr. Akin, we are asking alumni and current students to contribute $15 in his honor to the For the Mission campaign by clicking here.

Akin April From Twitter

Hopefully you follow us on Twitter and you’ve had a chance to read through the comments on a recent tweet that asked people what their favorite Dr. Akin story, memory, or quote is. But if not, we’ve collected them here for you to enjoy. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

Brian Sherwood (@BrianTSherwood): Preaching Phil. 1:21 at my DMin graduation. I still ask myself, "Do you believe it?"

Jordan R Willard (@JordanWillard): On communicating the Word: "What you say is more important than how you say it. But how you say it has never been more important."

Sterling Griggs (@sterlinggriggs) and Matthew Daniel (@matthewdaniel34) both recounted Dr. Akin’s response to a search committee that regularly fired their pastors, “I wouldn’t recommend a dog to your church.” To which Matthew replied that he remembers him saying “I don’t hate a demon that much that I would send them to your church.”

Aaron P. Swain (@aaronpswain): 2007 graduation ceremony. A sermon illustration describing his jogging attire.

Philip Blinson (@philblin): In his first year as President, my wife and I were Nehemiah church planters in MA. Dr. Akin heard our 3 month old daughter was having lung surgery. He called to let us know he was praying for her. Never have forgotten that act of compassion. Thanks, @DannyAkin !

Philip Corbean (@PCorbean): We were talking about a mutual friend, @fredmevers, Dr. Akin says that he preached at his church in LA. After the service a man told Dr. Akin that he didn’t believe the holocaust really happened. Dr Akin replied to the man, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Then walked away

Zack and Haley Hicks (@ZachandHaley): His books, I love his books! Christology, in particular is wonderful!

Drew Page (@pastordrewpage): “Let leaders lead.” From Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views.

This month, we are honoring Dr. Akin’s 15 years of ministry and leadership at Southeastern Seminary. If you have a story about his impact on your life please feel free to share it with us at alumni@sebts.edu and we’ll post it to the blog. Additionally, in honor of Dr. Akin, we are asking alumni and current students to contribute $15 in his honor to the For the Mission campaign by clicking here.

We Are Going To London

My wife and I arrived in Raleigh 10 years ago. We were fresh out of Auburn University (War Eagle!) and ready to take the next step in of faith by studying at Southeastern Seminary.

Words cannot contain the impact that Southeastern has had on our lives, our marriage, our ministry, and our future. During my MDiv studies I met with Dr. Akin to talk through my desire to continue studying at Southeastern and he encouraged me towards the PhD program. Through the course of the following years I studied the missionary theology of British theologian Lesslie Newbigin. Studying Newbigin was the inception of this call to London, England to plant a new church.

We got here, in large part, because of a challenge that Dr. Akin would consistently put before us. From classroom settings, to chapel messages, to informal conversations, Dr. Akin would challenge me, “The question is not ‘Lord, should I go to the nations?’ The question is ‘Lord, why should I stay?’” That challenged lodged deep in my soul and I have not been able to shake it. As degree studies concluded and seven good years of ministry at Providence Baptist Church unfolded - that question still lingered.

Over the years, God has shifted the answer from, “Stay here and make disciples” to “Follow me to London to plant a church.” So, we go. We are making preparations to move our family to London in June to begin the process of learning culture and planting a church. We go with confidence that Jesus is leading us. We go with gratitude for the significant ways that God has brought us to this point through the ministry of Dr. Akin and Southeastern Seminary.

It’s difficult to estimate where we would be without these formative years in the Southeastern family. The theological training we were provided has shaped us in thousands of ways. The friendships we have created still carry to this day. The trajectory of our lives has been fundamentally changed because of the Southeastern family. We are so grateful to God for the grace that this school is to us.

We joined the Summit Network in August and are almost finished with our training. This last year has been full of travel, trainings, fundraising, and team building. God has provided for the ministry in so many ways and we are still trusting God for the final provisions necessary to see this dream become a reality. You can more about our work in London on our church website: Redeemer Queen’s Park. You can also keep up with our family’s journey on our blog: www.TheWestLondonLife.com.

This month, we are honoring Dr. Akin’s 15 years of ministry and leadership at Southeastern Seminary. If you have a story about his impact on your life please feel free to share it with us at alumni@sebts.edu and we’ll post it to the blog. Additionally, in honor of Dr. Akin, we are asking alumni and current students to contribute $15 in his honor to the For the Mission campaign by clicking here.

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Thomas West

Thomas West was born in Montgomery Alabama. After four years at Auburn University (War Eagle!) Thomas and Elizabeth made their way to Raleigh-Durham to begin studies at Southeastern Seminary. Through studying for the Mdiv and PhD, Thomas has served as the College and Discipleship Pastor at Providence Baptist Church for seven years. Now, the Wests are embarking on a new journey of church planting in London. You can follow the West family on their family blog: www.TheWestLondonLife.com