‘Tis the season during which, among other things, you hear from so many mendicants pleading for some measure of generosity that you might be inclined or able to mete out at year’s end. It forces even an amateur fundraiser like me to lace up his kicks in the hope of succeeding at putting a best foot forward. Your time and attention are available at a premium to be sure, especially at the holidays. So, I shall get right to the point.
Would you please pray whether God might be calling you to become a supporter of The Serious Joy Scholarship at Bethlehem College & Seminary?
The school is now well-poised and intentionally inclined to perpetuate—for as long as God may be pleased to permit—the historic mission of “spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” and to herald to rising generations among all nations for years to come the great Christian Hedonist proclamation that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
At present we have 201 resident students enrolled who depend on privately funded Serious Joy Scholarships of $10,000 each in order to receive a Bible-saturated, academically rigorous “education in serious joy” and then launch unconstrained into life and ministry to spread such Godward passion without the burden of student loan debt. It is a work of God that only the saints can do. No government comes to our aid. Regrettably, few corporations claim interest in such things these days—indeed, quite the contrary. The work of The Serious Joy Scholarship has all along been a work of individual men and women whose love for Jesus overflows in blessing to our students.
Organizational structures, leaders, and circumstances may change. Seasons of intellectual, theological, and pop-cultural fashion may come and go. Protections of religious liberty may in time fall away. But as for Bethlehem College & Seminary, on these two long-standing Christian Hedonistic missional and doctrinal foundations we will not be shaken.
Ask any of our students, “What brought you here?” and they will answer, “I was awestruck and my life changed by the big-God, Christ-exalting, mind-expanding, joy-effusing theology of Bethlehem’s Christian Hedonism: ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’”
Christian Hedonism. It is truth that emanated from the heart of a sovereign God and poured through the quills of the biblical authors; that was nourished by the blood of martyrs, championed by the Reformers, and preached and taught by faithful teachers through the ages; and that ignited the capacious mind of Johnathon Edwards—one of the greatest intellects in early American history—and was then recovered in our time by a humble thirty-something Minneapolis pastor by the name of John Piper who made the global exultation in this doctrine and its true author, God, the purpose of his life.
The cause of Christian Hedonism has been manifested over almost 40 years in a multitude of endeavors: a healthy multi-campus local church, a website reaching tens of millions globally, shelves of published works, a global network for pastoral training, a widely used Sunday school curriculum, a 30-years+ annual conference for pastors and church leaders, mercy ministries, church plants, and outreach among many nations, engaged and unengaged. We praise and thank God for the favor he has shown them all!
But when the long history of this movement is written, may we humbly suggest that Bethlehem College & Seminary might well stand out as an enduring jewel of Christian Hedonism, faithful to the movement’s core propositions, extraordinarily fruitful in producing God-enthralled pastors who shepherd congregations distinguished by their serious joy in Jesus Christ, and astonishingly productive in creating new generations of exceedingly satisfied, God-glorifying ambassadors to home and hearth, church, community, workplace, academy, and the nations.
Chancellor John Piper once remarked that desiringGod.org and Bethlehem College & Seminary are two dimensions of a common Christian Hedonist form, the website representing breadth and the school, depth. Of course, we agree. Day in and day out our professors work among small cohorts of seminarians, resident undergraduates, and evening students, pressing upon them the hard work of mastery of biblical languages, textual criticism, deep theological and philosophical concepts, the reading of tens of thousands of pages in important books, disciplined debate and composition, and—most of all—seeing and savoring the glory of Christ in the inerrant Word of truth revealed in the Bible.
Our seminary came to life over the course of a decades-long commitment to pastoral apprenticeship at Bethlehem Baptist Church. In time, The Bethlehem Institute was organized to provide would-be pastors the opportunity to undertake rigorous theological study while laboring alongside senior pastors at the church. This aspect of a robust pastoral apprenticeship endures to this day as cornerstone of Bethlehem College & Seminary Master’s of Divinity degree program. Yes, some of our seminary graduates will go on to church support roles, para-church ministry, the mission field, marketplace ministry, and some to the theological academy. Our principal aim, though, is to recruit, edify, inspire, and encourage an extended procession of exceptional men who become pulpit preachers able to divide the Word of truth rightly as they proclaim Christ as the surpassing treasure of their lives.
The college, which emerged more recently, aims to meet high school graduates in those critical, trajectory-forming months after they receive their diplomas and in short order cause them to graduate as mature adults ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. Here they are exposed to the so-called Great Books in light of the Greatest Book, the Bible, for the sake of God’s global glory. Here we seek to recover “The Humanities” for Christ, eschewing man-centered sophistry and identity studies for deeply reasoned exploration of the wisdom of the ages for the sake of understanding what it means to flourish as a human being. In the process, we instill habits of mind and heart that will serve the student through what will likely be for them a lifetime of ongoing change and disruption in vocational and social community.
We send these young men and women into a world much different than our own. The centuries-long confluence of American popular culture and Protestant reformed theology is behind us. The classical liberal order has swelled beyond its banks, extending sanction in the name of equality and human rights to all manner of intellectual conceit and individual autonomy. These young people will face a world, at least at home, decidedly more hostile to their Christian values, threatening to their long-term economic well-being, and perpetually at risk of rupturing the domestic and international peace. Small wonder that more than 50 percent of twenty-somethings today confess to having been seriously anxious in the last thirty days.
How much more important is it then that we send them into this breach sheathed in the full armor of God, ready to contend for the faith once given to the saints, yet all the while gladly confident in and expectant of future grace for the joy set before them—and in this way being salt and light to a world more needful than ever of seasoning and illumination from their Christ-exalting lives? I can tell you that for the staff and faculty of Bethlehem College & Seminary, there is nothing more important that any of us have ever undertaken, or ever will.
And so here, we spread a bit of this passion. Would you please pray whether you are called to support The Serious Joy Scholarship for this school year already underway? Might you become one of the handful of people who will fund multiple $10,000 scholarships in full this year, lead us to someone else who has such substantial capacity, underwrite just one Serious Joy Scholarship for the current year, or be among the hundreds who fund them in part? We are grateful and awed to see God-stirred generosity in whatever proportion it may be expressed.
Finally, a specific informational note about the financial year already underway. Over the last few years, we have been blessed by the generosity of an amazing couple that has each year provided ten-fold support of these scholarships. That’s right, seven figures of support each year out of their own abundance of blessing. These dear friends have now generously committed to continuing their support of Bethlehem College & Seminary but in a different way: through regular gifts over the coming years which in time will provide earnings available to create a Professorship of Christian Hedonism—but not in the near-term. This obviously presents a gap of consequence. Not one over which we fret, given our complete confidence in God’s faithful provision, but a gap nevertheless.
Two thoughts come to mind. First, again we are praying that there might be some of our existing friends, like you, who might be called to expand your personal ministry for Jesus among these students by contributing to The Serious Joy Scholarship, this year. Then there may be some who, like this couple, might be interested in exploring a legacy gift to Bethlehem College & Seminary as part of your estate planning, as a tax-free distribution from a retirement fund, as a transfer of presently high-valued securities, or in the transfer of otherwise illiquid assets like real estate, interest in a closely-held company, or some other valuable personal property. Know that while our staff is small—that is, “just me”—we do have sufficient resources and partners at our call whom we can deploy to explore those ideas with you, prayerfully and professionally.
I am often asked, “What is it about this work that is different from the work in which you were so-long engaged during your business career?”
I answer, “That’s easy.” That work was representational and transactional. In business, I had a service to offer; my clients, needs to be served. We tried to match them up at a fair financial exchange. Here I am merely the guy on the airport tarmac with flashlights in hand directing one set of ministers of Jesus Christ—you—toward another set—our students and faculty. In many cases, I get the privilege of greeting both sets of passengers as they get on and off the planes, of thanking them, and of being able to pray for some. Otherwise, I stand in awe of how the work of His works is done while it is day.
Night is coming when no one will work. But for now, let us press on in the work before us and rejoice in all that God has done and is so obviously doing in your life and that of Bethlehem College & Seminary. It is the great privilege of my life to be a minister to those, like you, who have been given the spiritual gift of generosity. May he bless you richly at this Christmas season, into the New Year of 2020, and until we meet again, either soon or on some most distant plain of eternity where we will together still be entirely satisfied, enjoying his pleasures forevermore.
His servant and yours,
Vice President of Advancement &
Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce & Vocation