Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Denny Burk's blog includes commentary on theology, politics, and culture.
Celebrating the Retirement of Chaplain Bill Bryan - Bill Bryan - YouTube
I only have happy feelings when I think about my days as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). It was such a formative time, and I remain grateful to professors who poured their lives and teaching into me during those years.
A big part of life on campus in those days was chapel. I don’t know if it’s still this way today, but we had chapel meetings four times a week (Tue-Fri). The personality who filled that space was our chaplain, Bill Bryan—known affectionately to everyone as “Chaplain Bill.” He had a big heart, a big voice, and booming trumpet, all of which he lifted up in praise to the most High God.
I will never forget when I first arrived on campus sitting near the front during chapel service. I could hardly believe the volume of Chaplain Bill’s singing voice. He always led the singing with a trumpet in his hand, and he would always raise it at some point in the singing. He could really make that trumpet blast. It was glorious.
Chaplain Bill loved students. I remember visiting DTS’s chapel several years after I had graduated. I was a new professor teaching at Criswell College, which is practically across the street from DTS. So it was really easy to steal away and visit DTS’s chapel on occasion. On that morning after chapel, I bumped into Chaplain Bill. And he recognized me immediately and said, “Great to see you! How is Denny doing?” I knew exactly what he meant. He wasn’t referring to me in the third person. He was doing what a lot of people did back when I was still a student—mixing me up with my best friend Barry, who was also a student with me at DTS and who I was in a singing duo with in those days. I can’t tell you how many people have mixed us up over the years because we sang so often together. And here was Chaplain Bill—years after graduation—he still remembered me and Barry and our names well enough to mix us up one more time. It was hilarious and endearing all at once.
Chaplain Bill loved students and did a great deal of counseling with them over the years. He was an institution on campus, and he served for thirty years as chaplain until he retired in 2015.
I just learned this morning that Chaplain Bill passed away after a long period of health difficulties. I was told by a friend some days ago that Chaplain Bill suffered greatly as he neared the end of his journey. Now his journey is done. We grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Chaplain Bill is absent from the body but present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). But there is coming a day, not long from now, when we will hear another great trumpet blast—one that will open Chaplain Bill’s eyes again. He will be among those who rise first. Those of us who remain will then be changed and join them in the air, and “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
I look forward to hearing that trumpet. I know Chaplain Bill does too.
In late 2017, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. appointed a committee of six persons to prepare a report on the legacy of slavery and racism in the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today, that report was released.
We all know the sad history of slavery and racism in the SBC, and we know that SBTS has been part of that story going back to 1859. Still, it is heart-breaking to read the particulars, and this report has those. I am grateful for my colleagues who worked for the last year to produce this report—Curtis Woods, John Wilsey, Kevin Jones, Jarvis Williams, Matt Hall, and Greg Wills. Well done.
There is much that could be said about this history, but I will comment on one name that stood out–Garland Offutt (pictured above). In 1944, Dr. Offutt was the first black graduate of Southern Seminary. Even though SBTS had taken the step to integrate, they still would not allow Dr. Offutt to participate in commencement. Why? Because he was black.
And this is but one story. There are many more. Read the rest of the report for yourself, and lament.
“Rend your hearts and not your garments…” -Joel 2:13
Below is a summary of the findings of the full report:
The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves.
The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding.
Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery.
The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery.
After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality.
In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South.
Joseph E. Brown, the seminary’s most important donor and chairman of its Board of Trustees 1880-1894, earned much of his fortune by the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers.
The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks.
Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology.
Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority.
The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951.
The seminary faculty supported civil rights for blacks but had mixed appraisals of the Civil Rights Movement.
Read the rest of the report below or download here.
In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge has a startling conversation with the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob is damned in death for his misdeeds in life, and he appears to warn Scrooge that he is headed for the same fate. Scrooge resists the suggestion that Jacob’s life was damnable. Scrooge understands that if Jacob’s life is damnable, then so is his own. So this exchange ensues:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Well done, Mr. Dickens. Well done. Lord, help us to understand what is the comprehensive ocean of our business.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
I’ve been dismayed this week by the amount of criticism aimed at John Chau’s mission to the Sentinelese, not because his mission is above criticism but because critics seem to be operating on assumptions rather than on facts. My question has been how so many people feel that they have the requisite information to weigh-in definitively on the strategy that John Chau was pursuing. It may be that what we have read in news reports is all that there is to know about his strategy. Or it may be that there is more to the story that we haven’t heard yet.
It turns out that there is a lot that we haven’t heard yet. In an interview with Christianity Today, the director of John Chau’s mission agency gave quite a bit of information that would suggest that many of Chau’s critics have jumped the gun. Mary Ho is the international executive leader of the All Nations missionary group that sent John Chau to the Sentinelese. Among other things, she clarifies a number of questions that have been raised about Chau’s mission in recent days:
Was John Chau an adventure seeker flying by the seat of his pants? Mary Ho says that John Chau had been longing to reach the Sentinelese people since he was 18 years old. After graduating college in 2014, he aimed his whole life at preparing for this mission. This was not a spur of the moment decision but came after much planning and preparation, including being sent out by the All Nations missionary group.
Was John Chau adequately trained and prepared? Ho says that Chau had been preparing for many years to reach the Sentinelese people and had been doing so long before he joined the All Nations group. Chau had received training from SIL in cultural anthropology and linguistics (SIL is the gold standard for missionary linguistics, by the way). Ho believes Chau was prepared, and the CT interviewer conceded the point.
Was there a larger strategy besides showing up on the beach and yelling phrases in English? Yes. The point of Chau’s initial contact was the hope of establishing a long term relationship with the people so that he could learn their language and bring the gospel to the people. Someone needed to make initial contact, and Chau prayed to be the one to do it in hopes of a longer term relationship with the people. Chau was prepared to be there among the Sentinelese for many years.
What about the risk of bringing infectious diseases to a vulnerable tribe of people? John Chau had prepared for this as well. Chau received thirteen immunizations in advance of his trip. He also observed a period of quarantine before making the trip to the Sentinelese. He was doing everything he could to minimize risk of disease, even though the exact medical situation of the Sentinelese is not yet known. Chau also received some medical training in preparation for making contact with the Sentinelese.
Why did Chau go alone? Chau was sent out by a mission organization called All Nations and wasn’t on the field at his own instigation. All Nations typically does not send out missionaries alone, and Chau had colleagues who were willing to go with him to make contact with the Sentinelese. Chau knew the danger he was going into and didn’t want to subject his colleagues to the peril. For that reason, in the end, he chose to go alone.
The conversation with Mary Ho is a must-listen for anyone wishing to evaluate the mission work of John Chau. I wish to reiterate again that mission strategy should be open for debate and reconsideration. Jesus himself taught us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in the midst of our mission (Matt. 10:16). We should learn from mistakes and be wise. I do not wish to foreclose such conversations.
Nevertheless, this interview would suggest that many of the critiques of John Chau have been premature and misplaced. I agree with Ed Stetzer, who wrote about the CT interview earlier today in The Washington Post:
These new reports at a minimum challenge the simplistic image of an adventure-seeking zealot willing to recklessly risk the lives of a remote group of islanders.
Certainly, all of this needs more investigation and analysis. There are still medical and legal questions, but this new information does focus the debate more on the question of the central goal of evangelizing and less on the preparation for doing so.
Missionary John Chau was killed only ten days ago, and yet there has been no shortage of Christians publicly criticizing the strategy he employed in order to reach the Sentinelese people with the gospel. I just read another such article today, this time in Religion News Service.
I have said before and will say again that mission strategy should be open for debate and reconsideration. Jesus himself taught us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in the midst of our mission (Matt. 10:16). I do not question the wisdom or the necessity of such conversations—although it does seem a little strange to hear Christians so quick to criticize a man who lost his life trying to spread the gospel. In any case, we can all agree that such conversations are necessary and right at some point.
My question is how so many people feel that they have the requisite information to weigh-in definitively on the strategy that John Chau was pursuing. It may be that what we have read in news reports is all that there is to know about his strategy. Or it may be that there is more to the story and that we haven’t heard it yet.
We do know that Chau was sent by the “All Nations” missionary organization. They released a letter six days ago claiming him as their own:
Leaders, members and friends of All Nations (www.allnations.us), an international Christian missions training and sending organization, are mourning the reported death of one of its missionaries, 26-year-old John Allen Chau of Vancouver, Wash., U.S.A.
The letter goes on to talk about the mission of “All Nations”:
Based in Kansas City, Mo., U.S.A., All Nations (www.allnations.us) is an international Christian missions training and sending organization committed to preparing Christians to share the gospel and establish churches in parts of the world where the name of Jesus Christ is little or not known.
Given the stated mission of “All Nations,” is it possible that John Chau was a part of a larger strategy? Did “All Nations” just send him as a loner or were they working on a bigger plan? If they were working on a bigger plan, wouldn’t security concerns prevent “All Nations” from ever disclosing that plan in press reports?
I am not claiming to know the answer to any of those questions. I’m simply saying that I don’t know that anyone definitively condemning John Chau/All Nations’ strategy have shown that they know the answer to those questions either. If they don’t know the answer to those questions, then how can they weigh-in so decisively against the wisdom of what he was doing?
Again, maybe there are grounds for criticism. If there are, it seems one would need to confirm those grounds on the basis of more reporting than what we’ve seen so far. In other words, we would need more information from “All Nations,” right?
All I’m saying is that we need to be careful about making snap judgments when we don’t know the answer to some important questions surrounding John Chau’s mission. I think a man who gave his life trying to reach an unreached people group deserves at least that much from us.
I just read the news of missionary John Chau’s death last night. He was killed last week by the very people he was trying to reach with the gospel. He knew the risks, and he went anyway. There are several items from Chau’s letters and journal that have pierced me to the soul, perhaps this one most of all:
“God, I don’t want to die. WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO?”
There is a common thread that runs through the voice of the martyrs going all the way back to Jesus. Here is a small sample. See if you can detect the common element.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” –Jesus, Luke 23:34
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” –Stephen, Acts 7:60
“Father, forgive him and any of the people on this island who try to kill me…” –John Chau, journal entry from last week
Chau prayed for his persecutors just as countless other Christians have done going all the way back to Jesus.
Sadly, there are many people who are expressing hostility in social media because Chau dared to try and reach these people for Christ. While mission strategy is open for debate and reconsideration, the impetus for reaching the world for Christ is not. Much of the hostility I’ve read is not about strategy but about the mission itself. For that reason, much of the hostility is unfounded and seems to be coming from a place of animus. For example:
So this dude, who is not white but steeped in white American Christianity, decides he’s gonna be the guy who brings them the gospel. Because of course this tribe can’t possibly believe in God because any God they have wouldn’t be the God of the American Conservative.
It is a myopic, parochial take to denigrate Christian missions as “colonialism” or “white man’s” religion. The mission of the church predates “whiteness” and anything American by over 1,500 years. The mandate to reach every nation goes all the way back to Jesus himself:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20
Our mission is ancient. From the very beginning, the mission has been risky and often in defiance of civil authorities. When the authorities told the apostles to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, Peter says: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and the apostles kept on preaching.
People in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra tried to kill Paul after he preached the gospel in those cities. Paul’s response? He went back and preached in each one of those cities again! And he said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
When Paul became fearful for his life while preaching in Corinth, Jesus himself had to address Paul directly to get him to stay and face the opposition: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent… for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
Taking the gospel to distant, dangerous places is not “white colonialism.” It is the ancient faith. It is obedience to the world’s true and reigning king, Jesus of Nazareth. And it is the essence of love, both for God and for neighbor.
And as long as the King tarries, this work will continue. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). And the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will one day cover this earth like the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9).
I don’t know much at all about John Chau. I’m am just learning about him, as is the rest of the world. But what I’ve read so far has the smell of heaven about it.