I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2
We write in the hope that you will support The Serious Joy Scholarship at Bethlehem College & Seminary, the instrument that permits our students to receive a Bible-saturated, academically rigorous “Education in Serious Joy” and then be able to launch into life and ministry without a burden of student loan debt. Each full-time student at Bethlehem College & Seminary receives a $10,000 scholarship, representing two-thirds of the student’s total annual tuition.
My last letter to you was signed in absentia as I lay in ICU recovering from cardiac bypass graft surgery (CABG). Yes, they do in fact pronounce this acronym as “cabbage” in medical circles. I suspect they do so in order to give an otherwise gory and invasive procedure a kinder, gentler, more friend-of-nature tone. Still, it is a miraculous undertaking, highly effective and extraordinarily common—that is, common until one’s own heart is its object. Then, it is even more miraculous, affording—at least to the disciple of Christ—a pristine clarity, an illumination, to the things that are true, the people who are precious, and the endeavors that are worthy of one’s exertions. So, I begin this new letter to you with exceeding thankfulness to God for his mercy, for my life, for your friendship to Bethlehem College & Seminary, and for your friendship to me. Your prayers have availed much for the school and for me during this season.
And what a season it has been.
Much has been published generally about how the shockwaves of popular culture, political contentiousness, police reform efforts, and pandemic pandemonium have shifted the tectonic plates of American evangelicalism. And, as I suspect you are also aware, of how those tremors have been seismically registered even here at the corner of South Eighth Street and 13th Avenue South in Minneapolis where Bethlehem Baptist Church and Bethlehem College & Seminary are located.
Little purpose would be served in recounting all of the events, accusations, adjudications, and explanations of life at Bethlehem journaled by so many tweeters, bloggers, and magazine reporters in 2021. In a nutshell, we have been obligated to persevere in our work here amidst an environment of extraordinary agitation and disputation. To be sure, Christians of goodwill right here have had their honest differences. That is life, and that is church. Others, seemingly less well-intentioned and more removed from our community, have purveyed slanders, created difficulty, and laid obstacles in our path. Christ promised us such an uneasy road. He continues to bear our weaknesses.
We have been abased. We have abounded. We have, by God’s grace, remained content in whatever circumstances we have found ourselves.
We have remained steadfast in faithfulness to God’s word of truth and the advancement of his kingdom in the world. As Chancellor John Piper has so often said, “We want these professors and their students to bleed Bible,” and so they do, profusely. As Christianity Today recently reported, we have taken principled stands against “coddling” and “cancel culture” and stood forthright, lifting high true, hopeful, biblical principles of racial harmony in contrast to the worldly, man-centered conceits of Critical Race Theory and unredeemable social victimization. And we have paid a price for it.
The school’s leadership and faculty have been called to account—and, I might add, repeatedly vindicated—by the church, institutional, and legal authorities to whom we are accountable, but not without a sacrificial expense extracted by a multitude of slanders and impunities to our reputations in the so-called Twitter- and blogospheres.
We don’t write you to call you to arms, either literally or figuratively. There are more than enough recruiting officers and wranglers at work rallying combatants to cultural warfare on all sides. We write in the hope that we might simply get back to work in 2022 pointing people to the God-centeredness of God and the joy-centeredness of man in God, undeterred by the clamor and brickbats of others distracted by worldly conflicts and conceits. We do not pray for separation from the world but, by means of your generosity, a new season of sanctuary in which the task of “Education in Serious Joy” may blossom to fuller flower in our engagement of the world as never before.
Again, each full-time student here receives a $10,000 scholarship annually. Might you be among the small number of generous givers capable of subscribing multiple scholarships in full? We thank God that there are such people in our community of support. We are just as grateful to God for those who contribute $10,000 annually to support one scholarship, as we are of the hundreds who give in denominations as small as a widow’s mite, every single decimal place arranged providentially by God that this work may continue.
The marvelous news is that as the trustees, administration, and faculty members here have trudged through the thorns and thistles of 2021, the greater garden of fruit and flowers represented by our students and their professors in the classroom remained lush, glorious, and bountiful all along the way. The students in both seminary and college are glad to be here. The faculty is glad to be here. The church remains glad in hosting us. The school remains glad in conducting the task of higher education amidst the life and work of a local church, its several campuses, and network of local church plants. The story not so completely or publicly told in 2021 is the one of the growth of God-entranced young men and women under the teaching, apprenticeship, and care of highly trained, Bible-attuned professors and pastors—all of whom we hold in the highest esteem and in whom we continue to repose the greatest confidence. Sovereign God. Sacred Book. Serious Joy.
Pastor John Piper was back in the Bethlehem church pulpit a few weeks ago, preaching us into Global Focus Week, spurring us anew toward the task of missions in the world. It was a sweet refreshment to our souls, a re-grounding in the treasuring of Christ above all things, a reminder of how the essential watchword of this place—“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”—enlivened the faith of so many of us; drew us closer to the Lord; made God’s word precious in our hands, before our eyes, and on our lips; compelled us to come, or go, to serve; and moved us to sacrifice our earthly treasure for the sake of Christ, our supreme treasure. After an extended season of conflict and COVID, we are praying that we might simply be able to get back to the work of his works, undeterred in spreading a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
We need God’s help. We are praying that he will stir generosity in your heart, an overflow of your love for him that will spill over and supply the financial need of Bethlehem College & Seminary’s students and professors. As we write, we are well behind, year-to-date, in the funding of Serious Joy Scholarships for the current school year’s seminarians and undergraduates. We don’t know whether this lag is a matter of timing, economic hardship, COVID exhaustion, controversy, or, God forbid, disaffection. We only know that God has presently arranged our need in relationship to its supply in such a way as to cause us to be on our knees in faithful dependence on him. We claim that future grace!
My wife, Adrien, took on a new assignment here this year sharing in the coordination of the discipleship of the women in our undergraduate program. On the days that I would come home this year pummeled by the protestations of our detractors, she would tell me, “If you keep a view of the lives of these students, you will keep a view of good and godly young people, enchanted by God in his sovereignty, disciplined and growing in their devotional lives, on fire for the Great Commission locally and around the world, ready to take hold of the faith once given to the saints.”
On such a view have I and my colleagues fixed our focus. In so doing, we have not only been sustained, but encouraged. God continues to do a glorious work here, even as he hammers on us on the anvil of his perfect supernal forge.
- A new generation of pulpit preachers is being raised up, made able in the handling of God’s word and clarion in the proclamation that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
- The nations are made glad by a new wave of ministers to the earth’s peoples ready to go, even die, for a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all through Jesus.
- Churches are being made strong via the influx of new, young members made ready to take on the responsibilities of both adulthood and leadership in God’s holy church.
- The theological academy is being seasoned by new members of the guild who know the Holy Scriptures well as they were composed in the original autographs and are committed to the notion that they be read as they were written.
- Every sphere of vocational endeavor is becoming the object of our aim to declare God’s sovereignty over every inch of creation.
In our college, we are, by God’s grace, graduating mature leaders who are ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. In our seminary, we continue to launch pastoral apprentices into eldership and pulpit ministry who are ready to shepherd God’s people with biblical clarity and Christ-exalting affection until Jesus comes or calls them home. Our fruitfulness on these lines is not only unchanged, but prospering.
Recently we gathered the pastors from Bethlehem, her locally planted churches, and the pastors of other local churches who supervise the apprenticeships of our seminary students. What a thing to behold. There were senior Bethlehem pastors who were here well before the school was formed. There were M.Div. graduates of Bethlehem College & Seminary who now handle pastoral responsibility themselves, here and around the Twin Cities. And alongside each was a current seminarian who is being mentored in the pastoral task while they plumb the depths of God’s word and other important texts in the classroom. Again, all that we aimed to do when we first founded Bethlehem College & Seminary continues to flourish and prosper here, even as the enemy prowls the camp seeking whom he may devour.
As we concluded the 2020-21 school year in June, Bethlehem College & Seminary realized for the first time since our founding in 2009 the full funding of $2.5 million of Serious Joy Scholarships. Our earnest prayer is that God will repeat that miracle again, even amidst all the clamor and controversy of the current season, and perhaps even because of it, for without presumption, we believe it would be entirely reasonable for him to continue to show us his favor.
Our Chief Financial Officer, Jason Abell, and I had a conversation recently in which we agreed, “A reasonable person might look at the events of 2021, at our controversies and conflicts, the unflattering commentary in public forums, and conclude that we will lose favor with some, that our financial position might be negatively effected.” But we both agreed, “But a faithful person might look at all these same things and see them differently, as the canvas against which God will reveal his glory.” God sees it all perfectly—what has really happened here—and he will be faithful to his purposes, as he has and always will be.
Well, this has been a long trip around the barn, as they say, but so has the year 2021. For eight years now it has been my privilege to advocate to you on behalf of The Serious Joy Scholarship and to minister to you in your giftedness as one to whom the Lord has given the spiritual gift of generosity. In the process, I hope that I have established some relational capital that I might deploy in a year during which we have been criticized. In our every communication and conversation, I have sought to represent to you as clearly and truthfully as I am able the glories of what God is doing in the lives of the students of Bethlehem College & Seminary. Let me assure you, despite what you may have read, heard, or had whispered to you in recent months, Bethlehem College & Seminary is alive, well, rightly-anchored, well-plumbed to the line of God’s holy writ, tuned to his perfect note, and flourishing and thriving joyfully, because your love of Jesus Christ has continued to overflow in blessing to these students and their teachers.
And so I appeal to you. Would you please prayerfully consider a new, another, or an even larger gift this year to The Serious Joy Scholarship? The battering we have experienced this year we regard as informative in showing us our deficits and room for improvement, as well as indicative of the Enemy’s frustration with our progress. It seems a time for an extraordinary appeal, to let you know that we are especially needful this year of your prayers, your confidence, and your God-inspired generosity. I pray that in the year ahead we might be able to be together again and to drink more liberally from the cup of Christian fellowship as we share through our mutual association and work at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
His servant & yours,
Richard A. Segal Jr.
Vice President of Advancement
Lecturer of History and Political Philosophy