Urbana Theological Seminary

December 2, 2016

Islam class description

For this blog entry, Dr. Mike McQueen describes his upcoming class on Islam and Radical Fundamentalism:

“Islam is a religion of peace. All Islam needs is a reformation like the Church went through in the 16th century and its violent aberrations will disappear.” Have you ever heard this line of thought? I hear it frequently from venues ranging from news media outlets to politicians. But is it true?
“Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same God.” Within the last year, this assertion has also made headlines in both Christian and secular press. But is it true?
“Jihad is primarily a spiritual struggle, not physical violence.”
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
These are only a few of the many questions and issues we’ll seek to address in Islam and Radical Fundamentalism (MN740) in the Spring Semester. This class will seek to explain the key doctrines of orthodox and folk Islam, comparing and contrasting Islamic teaching with Christian beliefs. We will outline the historical development of Islam, and look at the theology of militant fundamentalism and its political impact. The rise of ISIS, the war in Syria, the role of Israel in the conflict will be addressed. The theology and practice of terror, the contradictions between Western liberalism and Middle Eastern jihadism will likewise be explored.

Perhaps most importantly we will seek to identify areas of Christian ministry to Muslims both locally and globally.

Assignments will include readings from the Qur’an, current news sources and blogs, interviews with Muslims and everyday people on the street.

October 11, 2016

The Fingerprints of God

Filed under: Events,Spiritual life,Uncategorized — admin @ 11:04 am

In this “Word from Urbana Seminary,” Rob and Jean Gill explain the spiritual life forum that Urbana Seminary will be hosting on October 24:

Christian ministry can be some of the most joy-filled and satisfying work there is. Walking deeply with people. Sharing in the joys and sorrows of their lives. Helping others to know God and to grow spiritually. Reaching out in our communities to demonstrate the love of Christ in tangible ways.

But we also recognize that Christian ministry is filled with challenges and never-ending demands on our time. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of our role as pastor, church leader or campus worker, meeting the endless needs of those in our care and managing the limitless list of “to do’s” in leading our church or organization.

That was certainly the case for my husband, Rob, and me nearly 20 years ago. We had been in full-time Christian ministry for 17 years and were doing cutting-edge work with denominational leaders in Japan. We were so focused on ministry – on “doing” good things for God, that it was easy to lose track of our “being”.

After this ministry came to an abrupt halt, we found ourselves back in the U.S. for a time of personal and spiritual renewal. A long-time mentor helped us create a timeline, a map of God’s activity throughout our lifetime. This timeline gave us a clearer picture of His intimate involvement in our lives, the deeper lessons He was teaching us, and how He was shaping our calling. We also began focusing on our “being” in Christ and creating a Biblical Identity statement – who ARE in Christ regardless of what we DO for Him.

This life-changing process allowed us to discover anew our primary call as Christians to KNOW God, and then from this posture of “being” flows our call to “doing” God’s Kingdom work. For the last decade, we have shared this process with hundreds of Christian leaders, both cross-cultural missionaries in Asia and church and campus leaders in the U.S.

We invite you to join us and other Christian leaders in the Champaign-Urbana area on October 24 as we spend a day focusing on our personal and spiritual formation. Each of us will have the opportunity to look back at God’s activity throughout our lifetime, and discover and celebrate His fingerprints of shaping and blessing in our lives. We’ll also focus on our “being” and who we are apart from our roles and daily tasks.

The activities we do at this year’s Spiritual Life Forum are reproducible tools you can take back to your congregations or campus groups to facilitate spiritual formation with your church leaders, congregants or students.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday, October 24!

To Register: http://www.urbanaseminary.org/events/

July 19, 2016

Systematic Theology by Dr. Todd Daly

Filed under: Course Preview,Theology — Tags: , , , — admin @ 1:21 pm

Why bother studying systematic theology? Who wants to rehearse obscure debates with their confusing terminology, hair-splitting tendencies, and willingness to label heretics as hopelessly damned? Isn’t any formal study of God in a seminary setting basically an academic exercise, devoid of the Spirit’s power, an exercise that encourages arrogance, condescension, and contentious attitudes? After all, don’t we already have everything we need to make our way in the world in the Bible, prayer and worship, and church? As one Christian put it, “I’ve never been to seminary, but I’ve been to Calvary.”

To be sure, these criticisms are not entirely wide of the mark. Seminary can foster attitudes inimical to humility and Christian discipleship. Yet, as Christians, we must recognize that we’re all theologians, whether we acknowledge it or not. Indeed, as Karl Barth once observed, it is impossible to criticize theology from a non-theological vantage point. In other words, to criticize theology is to do theology. In fact, the reasons given above for rejecting systematic theology come from an ‘embedded theology,’ understood as implicit, usually unarticulated beliefs about God, the world, Scripture, the human condition, salvation, and so on. All of these topics are undeniably theological. Part of theology’s work then is to help us articulate our own core beliefs about God, placing them under closer scrutiny. A conscious study of God and God’s ways as revealed in Scripture helps us when we are faced with numerous questions about the Christian faith, whether these questions come from ourselves, or from skeptics.

For instance, theology helps us in considering the following questions, such as how we can make sense of the theological truth that God is a triune being, and the implications of being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), who exists in eternal loving fellowship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though one could argue that the church’s confession of the Trinity is couched in obscure language and metaphysical abstraction, our prayer life will inevitably suffer if our understanding and practices of this core discipline do not include the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. When we think of prayer as our efforts to gain an audience before a solitary, all-powerful, transcendent being, it is little wonder that our prayer life suffers. Theology is equally useful when considering questions about Jesus Christ. What’s wrong, for instance, with celebrating Jesus as the greatest human being who ever lived, who, in his life, teaching and death, gave us the ultimate template for radical, God-centered obedience? And is this confession even Christian? To answer this (in the negative) requires some rudimentary theological knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, which carries significant implications for our very salvation.

However, we should note that these exercises do not merely aim at articulating our beliefs about God with greater precision, though this is an inevitable byproduct of theology, but are driven by the goal of loving God more deeply with our mind, heart, and soul. Ultimately, theology is about worship. The disputes in the history of the church that lead to division were really about whether or not opposing sides could continue to worship together. To label one a heretic—unfairly or deserved—was to cut one off from the fellowship of Christ, from corporate worship.
Yes, one can certainly pursue God without seminary. But the disciplined study of God—theology—in a seminary context can also prepare and equip us for a lifelong journey of growth through learning and worship. Indeed, our study of God should leave us more humble, gentle, and in awe of God’s mysterious wonder (Rom. 11:33). This semester we invite you to study the wonder of God’s works in a seminary setting—not for knowledge’s sake alone, not to develop a set of propositions that describe God in more detail, but to be awed and humbled before God’s greatness.

June 1, 2016

The Doctrine of Election: Dr. Todd Daly

Filed under: Course Preview,Theology — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:15 pm

For well over a millennium, the doctrine of predestination (or election) has for Christians been a source of both comfort and joy. Predestination means that our salvation is secured with God in Christ. Indeed, throughout history Christians have derived comfort from Jesus’ words that no one is able to pluck us out of the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29). But somewhere along the way the doctrine of predestination took a more potent form, leaving some unintended consequences in its wake. Over time the doctrine of election developed into a view that seemingly privileged the absolute sovereignty of God over against the freedom of humankind. The more one emphasized God’s sovereignty in salvation, the less our response to the gospel seemed to matter. The strongest view of God’s sovereignty asserted that God chose in favor of His own elect and against those He rejected (“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”) through a set of ‘divine decrees’ based on nothing but God’s own inscrutable will for the sake of His own glory, all before the foundations of the earth were laid. According to this view, God has already and irrevocably chosen who will and won’t be saved, though His purposes are somehow being realized through the God-given freedom that all humans enjoy.

As mentioned briefly above however, this understanding of God’s predestination lead to some unforeseen consequences, namely, a considerable degree of angst concerning the certainty of one’s own salvation. If the basis for God’s election for salvation is God’s own good will and pleasure that is utterly independent of the will of humankind, how can anyone who claims to love Christ ever be certain that he or she is really saved? If I profess Christ as my savior, what difference does it make if it turns out that I am not among those God chose for salvation before the foundations of the earth was laid? Thus, the more one emphasized the absolute of God’s authority and inscrutable will in doling out salvation, the more powerless humans seemed to be in willing their own salvation. Ironically, these seeds of doubt were planted in the soil of God’s own inscrutable purposes in choosing to save some while rejecting others. As a result, a gnawing uncertainty regarding one’s eternal destiny gave birth to a new spiritual fervor marked by compulsive introspection and an intensive pursuit of spiritual practices aimed at deriving a modicum of peace concerning one’s own election, which, by definition, could never be fully discerned this side of eternity.

Even as these concerns were being articulated, an alternative understanding of election was being formulated as a more faithful account of the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This view held that God elects individuals for salvation based on God’s own foreknowledge concerning people’s receptiveness to the gospel. This version of election, it is said, better accounts for God’s love and his desire that no one should perish. After all, doesn’t God desire everyone to be saved? (1 Tim. 2:4). Proponents of this view assert that the older account of election depicts God as at best an absolute, arbitrary monarch, and at worst a moral monster. How could God create some people for the purpose of rejecting them? And so the debate lines between Calvinism and Arminianism have been fairly clearly drawn since the late sixteenth century.

Four hundred years later, the controversy over this doctrine is still producing highly-contentious, emotionally-charged, acrimonious debates among Christians who read the same Bible yet come to radically different conclusions concerning the nature of both God and election. Such debates are often confused by unhelpful caricatures, and have contributed to a spate of polemical, combative, uncharitable publications rehearsing the same tired arguments and counter arguments. Unfortunately, many Christians who have the temerity to enter the fray are usually exposed to figures from only a small sliver of a much longer and richer theological history that spans from the early Church Fathers to seminal twentieth century theologians like Karl Barth (1886-1968), and are therefore less likely to appreciate the development of a doctrine before and beyond Calvin and Arminius. It is difficult, for instance, to understand the nature of the controversy over predestination without an adequate grasp of Augustine (354-430), who was also forced to wrestle with passages that affirm both God’s predestination and the genuine offer of the gospel as God’s free gift available to all, or Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275), who acutely felt the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Equally lamentable is the sentiment shared by a vast swath of contemporary Evangelicals that the final ‘position’ on the doctrine of election lay with either Calvin or Arminius, as if nothing worthwhile has transpired on the theological landscape since the early 1600s. In this regard, the insights of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth represent a groundbreaking departure from the theology of Calvin and Arminius, who, like all others before him, was compelled to read his Bible afresh to address in re-centering the doctrine of election on Christ.

What’s at stake in the doctrine of election? Nothing less than our understanding of God, humanity, and the nature of salvation. But perhaps the greatest casualties in such debates have been both our lack of humility and our failure to appreciate the mystery of God. Any view of election that claims to tie up all of the ‘loose ends’ of predestination has failed to appreciate God’s mystery, and frankly lacks the humility that might come from a wider grasp of this doctrine across various historical and theological contexts. If you’re interested in learning about how Christians have sought to make sense of this doctrine across the centuries without the pressure of ‘picking a side,’ then perhaps our three day modular course on this topic would be good for you. For ultimately, all doctrine is judged by the worship it inspires.

Join us this coming weekend (June 3-4) as Dr. Daly explores these ideas more fully in a short summer course! To register (and for more info): http://www.urbanaseminary.org/courses/summer

April 28, 2016

Veritas Forum

Here at Urbana Theological Seminary we are working toward more ways to be both an outreach and a resource for the U of I campus. One of the ways we are doing this is by assuming responsibility for the local chapter of Veritas Forum. Veritas Forum is a national organization that dedicated to help students and faculty ask life’s hardest questions, while providing a Christian voice to the academic conversation.  The first Veritas Forum occurred at Harvard University in 1992, and since then, over 200 universities in North America and Europe have hosted over 2,000 forums.
The local chapter, Veritas Forum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was founded six years ago as a Registered Student Organization at U of I. Each year the Veritas Forum organizes one big event that brings in a speaker seeking to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.
Urbana Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that this year’s Veritas Forum will be occurring on Monday, May 2, at 7:00 PM at Twin City Bible Church, at the Corner of Lincoln and Michigan in Urbana). The speaker is Dr. Tim O’Connor, professor of Philosophy at Indiana University. Dr O’Connor is the author of Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency and The Metaphysics of Free Will, as well as a large number of articles and essays, in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion.  The title of this forum is “Faith & Reason: Friends or Foes?”
The evening will start with a half hour lecture on the topic, followed by a half hour discussion between Tim and local pastor Seth Kirlin. Seth will be asking questions to flesh out the ideas presented in Tim’s talk. Finally, the evening will wrap up with a question and answer time, open to the audience.  So come and join us!  We’d love to see you there!

February 17, 2016

Can Aging be Treated with a Pill? New Study May Challenge Our Understanding of Medicine and Aging

Filed under: Ethics,Faith and Culture — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:25 pm

Dr. Todd T. Daly
The desire for indefinite youth is as old as humanity itself. From the Epic of Gilgamesh, to quests for the fountain of youth, to the various elixirs concocted by alchemists, human history bears witness to innumerable—and often bizarre—attempts to extend life by defeating aging. Though current life expectancy figures testify to the power of medicine, hygiene, and better living conditions, we are nearing its upper limits. Curing all forms of cancer, for instance, would increase current life expectancy by a mere three years. Despite these advances, aging itself has not been altered. Scientists have, however, achieved remarkable results in slowing the aging of nematode worms, fruit flies, and mice through genetic engineering and pharmacology. Unfortunately, these successes have occurred on organisms that are far less complex than the human body. They represent the first steps of a long, arduous, and perhaps impossible journey toward slowing human aging that might span decades, or even centuries.

Or so it was thought, until late last year when the FDA approved the first ever human trial of a drug already on the market, in order to study its anti-aging properties. The study, dubbed TAME—“Targeting Aging with Metformin”—will investigate the effects on several thousand people who suffer from cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairment. Scientists have observed that the diabetic drug metformin, which has been on the market for over sixty years, has enabled diabetics to live longer than people who don’t have diabetes—even though diabetes typically reduces life expectancy by an average of eight years. Not only do people on metformin have reduced incidences of cancer, but it has also shown to prevent cognitive decline. The drug has already produced impressive results in mice, lengthening their healthy lifespan by nearly forty percent.

Could a simple pill help us live a century or more in a state of improved health? Many hope that Metformin will enable us to live into our hundreds in a state of relative health. This represents the first time in the history of modern medicine that the FDA has recognized aging itself—rather than its effects—as a drug target. In short, it may mark the beginnings of a shift in the goals of medicine where aging itself is considered a treatable condition. This conceptual shift not only challenges the discipline of medicine and our notions of health, but it also presses us to consider where aging comes from, and whether or not we are wise to consider it a disease.

These challenges are no less real for Christians, who in this Lenten season are invited to reflect on the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) How do we understand aging as it relates to our finite, creaturely existence? Where does aging come from, and what is its relationship to sin? Would it be wrong for people who look to the resurrection to take a metformin supplement in hopes of securing a few more years on earth? These are complex questions that we’ll be taking up over the next several months as we try to formulate a theological understanding of aging.

January 15, 2016

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis has often been described as one of the most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century. For example, in an article called “The Top 50 Books that have Shaped Evangelicals,” Christianity Today listed Lewis’s Mere Christianity as one of the top three books that have influenced American Evangelicalism. A couple of years ago a Huffington Post article titled “Spiritual Classics: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read” lists Mere Christianity as one of the most important books written throughout the history of the church, placing it in a list with The Confessions of St. Augustine and Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. And it is not just his nonfiction that gets attention. According to various online lists of bestselling books of all time, C. S. Lewis’s children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the top ten, having sold more than 85 million copies since its first publication in 1950. .
So the question becomes, WHY is Lewis so popular? There are several answers to this question. He is popular because he is able to take difficult theological concepts and reword them in such a way that readers with no theological background can understand and enjoy them. He is popular because he worked in so many different fields: not only did he write apologetics and children’s literature, but he also wrote science fiction, poetry, literary theory, novels, sermons, and even memoir.
Because Lewis was able to work in such different genres, he was comfortable using both rational thought and the imagination to help others in their spiritual journey. In fact, he often used both to explore the same themes. For example, he tackles the idea of education and what it is supposed to do in both the nonfiction study The Abolition of Man and the dystopian novel That Hideous Strength. In The Four Loves he examines four different ways of relating to other people that are commonly called “love,” and then in the book Till We Have Faces he explores not only what love is, but also how it is both used and abused. In the two books that made his name a household word in WWII Britain, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, he explores both what Christians believe and how Christians should live.
Starting Thursday, January 21, Urbana Theological Seminary will be offering a sixteen week course on C. S. Lewis. In this course we will be reading and discussing several of his works. We will also be taking a one-day road trip to the Wade Center, a museum/study center at Wheaton College that focuses on Lewis and six other authors.
If you would like to know more about this class, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org. To register, go to http://www.urbanaseminary.org/courses/spring, or contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org for registration help. This is going to be an awesome class—you don’t want to miss it!

January 8, 2016


Filed under: Course Preview,Spiritual life — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:04 pm

starting January 19th

There are times when life seems so hard to navigate, especially because it’s not clear what to do. In certain cases I know exactly what it right, and what God would want. This would be like Jesus, this is true, this is pure . . . whether or not I obey, it’s clear. But other times, life seems less black and white. It’s full of gray areas. I don’t know what God wants, and it’s not crystal clear that this option or that choice are right or wrong.

Should I cheat on my taxes? Have an affair? Ignore my aging parents? The right path to walk is probably pretty clear-cut in these instances. Should I marry this person? Should I take the job in Chicago or Boston? Should I confront my annoying neighbors or bake them cookies? Should I call my landlord about her manipulative behavior or write her a letter or send an e-mail? Much less clear. For the person who wants to follow Jesus and cares about doing right, I can’t look these up in a passage in God’s Word (Thou shalt go work in Boston! Thou shalt bake cookies for neighbors who annoy you! It’s just not there.)
Why would God let a devoted couple, always serving him, get badly injured in a car accident that wasn’t their fault? I can’t fathom what God has in mind, or that he even seems fair!
How do I think about my work when it seems so mundane? Is there any point in going in to the shop or office tomorrow? It seems like it’s all going nowhere in a hurry.
Heavens, I’m racked with sensual desire! How much can I express that in this relationship?—we are dating pretty seriously. How much more can I ask my spouse for? Does God even like sex? Or care?

And so much of life is like this, lived in the gray areas between clear good and evil. How do I get through these portions of life? How can I know what decisions to make, what choices will be best?

Did you know that the Bible has a whole section devoted to learning how to navigate the challenges of making life choices in the murky areas? An amazing set of four books in the Old Testament are a guide for living life where there is no clear-cut command elsewhere. These are the Wisdom Books—Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. How do you think the way God does when he sees life’s ambiguities? Proverbs sets us up with a framework for thinking and approaching life in general. This down-to-earth guidebook helps us see what are the best decisions, the wisest choices, we can make, as well as how to come to those conclusions. Job helps us sort through the times in life when really rotten and horrible things happen to us, that we in no way deserved. Ecclesiastes guides us to port when we wonder about meaning and purpose in our life. Song of Songs is a delightful and startling window into what the full scope of married love should be, and how God feels about marriage and its emotions.

On Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9, starting January 19th, Urbana Seminary will offer a course to dig into the Old Testament Wisdom Books. Taught by Dr. Ken Cuffey, this class will look at what true wisdom is and how we find and appropriate it in life today. Through each of the four books of OT Wisdom we will reflect on the different aspects of what constitutes wisdom in our thinking and actions—both how to be wise and make wise decisions, and how to understand life when difficult questions are raised. To register or for more information, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org

December 27, 2015

From Dr. Cuffey

Filed under: Alumni ministry involvement,students,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:23 pm

Dear Friend,

This past year I received a remarkable reminder of the ministry that God has called Urbana Seminary to fulfill. When past students of the Seminary head into missions service around the globe I try to keep up with what our alums of all sorts are doing. Every other year I have the delight of teaching a course on Inductive Bible Study Methods, truly one of the most practical and down-to-earth courses of study–it’s a straightforward means of ensuring that each of us learns to listen to God speaking through His Word. Midyear I received a prayer letter e-mail from a student who had been in that course in 2014. I was so surprised and delighted to find that she had been training nationals where she serves overseas in Bible Study methods learned in that course. And even better this is a country that is totally closed to missionaries and the gospel of Christ, and here there were believers in that country learning the principles taught at Urbana Seminary to enrich their own growth in Christ and then turn around and be able to use their deepening knowledge of God’s story to change lives of those around them.

Like the ripples on a pond spreading outward, the impact of a Seminary education is always increasing in scope, multiplying outwards . . . And in truth, your support of gifts and prayers makes this ministry a reality. We are definitively thankful for each one of you in our support team.

Now is a traditional time of giving, as the year winds down. Would you prayerfully consider including Urbana Seminary in your year end giving? To donate online: http://www.urbanaseminary.org/giving-uts/donate/

Thank you!

Ken Cuffey

December 16, 2015

George Whitefield and the Re-evangelization of America

Filed under: Course Preview — Tags: , , — admin @ 9:10 pm

In this week’s blog, Dr. Joe Thomas explains the class he will be teaching this spring:
“George Whitefield and the Re-evangelization of America” is a course specifically designed to help the church think through its approach to evangelism today by reflecting on Whitefield’s diverse evangelistic ministry during the 18th century. George Whitefield is often considered the preeminent preacher of the American Great Awakening. What is not so well known is the revival methodology he developed for reaching the spiritually lost and bringing them to Christ. More than just a great preacher, Whitefield was strategic in outlining his evangelistic work in America. Whether it was taking advantage of the burgeoning print media, understanding the cultural shift towards commerce, developing close friendships with key people, or reaching out to the poor and marginalized, Whitefield’s core Christian convictions all became a part of his widely successful ministry. Much like today the 18th century was a fast moving time when culture was changing rapidly. Some had rejected the Christian faith outright – elevating reason above the Scriptures – many more had succumbed to a cultural Christianity that needed reviving. Whitefield accepted the challenge to call the American colonists back to their Christian roots. This he did effectively through God’s grace. But it wasn’t all good times. In his suffering, be it from persecution or simply the travails of evangelistic ministry, we discover many timeless lessons about the cost of evangelism. It is the goal of this strategic study to help the church and its leaders reflect on a more effective evangelistic outreach approach for today. Whitefield’s life and work is an excellent example of such a strategy that holds hidden gems for those who will take the time to study it.

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