Introduction to the Course

Course: New Testament, its Structure, Content, and Theology

Lecture: Introduction to the Course


Good evening! Welcome. Glad you are here. I want to take a little bit of time to introduce what we’re going to do, and then we’ll jump right into the topic at hand. Let’s start with prayer.

Father, we do understand that we cannot be like you unless we understand what you are like. We understand that you have made yourself known and your will known. We thank you. I thank you for these people who are here, who want to learn your will and to learn more about you. Father, we pray that as we go through the New Testament, this will not be knowledge that accumulates, but knowledge through the power of your Spirit that transforms. We pray that our lives and our hearts and our minds will all be different as a result of looking at your word. In Jesus’s name, amen.

What is the Purpose of the Biblical Training Institute?

The Biblical Training Institute exists for one basic purpose: to deal with issues of biblical literacy. A while back, I read about a pastor who spoke at a convention and said, “At the end of football stadiums, sometimes you’ll see the word ‘John,’ followed by ‘3:16. ‘What is that?” Most of the audience had no idea what it stood for. The most prevalent guess was it was John Madden’s weight, but they didn’t know why the colon was there. The second most common guess was that it was the location of the bathroom: tier 3, row 16. Almost no one recognized it as a biblical verse. In that same setting the pastor said, “There’s a story in the Bible about a person who was swallowed by a large fish. What was that person’s name?” With 90% assuredness, the people answered, “Pinocchio.” biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. It is one thing to be a new believer and have everything be new—that’s fine;, but it’s something else to have been in the church for many years and still not know the most basic things. This is where the Biblical Training Institute came from: a desire to help raise people up to a strong level of biblical literacy.

Kent Hughes has written an interesting book related to this. Kent is the pastor of College Church in Wheaton, which is across the street from Wheaton College. His book, Set Apart, is a series of his sermons, wherein he presented statistics about the state of the church. The statistics show that there is no verifiable difference in America between the church and secular society. Actually, the highest divorce rate in America is among Christians in the South. The lowest divorce rate is in New England, where very few people are Christians. The church is at a significant crossroads in terms of answering the questions: “What does the Bible say?” “How does that affect my life?” “How is that going to change me?” That is what the Biblical Training Institute exists for: to help train people, and to train them for the purpose of transformation.

Who is the Biblical Training Institute for?

The Biblical Training Institute is for any Christian who wants a firm foundation. You know where you are in this whole journey. It is really for anyone. A lot people have a lot of knowledge in one area, but are weak in another. One of the things that the Biblical Training Institute seeks to do is fill those gaps in your knowledge of Scripture. This is especially for anyone moving into leadership in the church. Titus says that elders must be able to teach truth and refute error. If a person does not meet that qualification, then that person shouldn’t be an elder. The question is, where do you go to get trained to be able to teach truth and refute error? These were some of the things in the back of my mind as we put this class together.

Just so you know, this is the master’s level class I taught when I was in seminary, with a whole lot more theology than I was allowed to put into a class. In other words, you can expect that this is going to be like a master’s level, seminary class in New Testament survey, with a lot of theology. At the same time, I’m not going to assume that you have background knowledge on this topic. I know some of you are new Christians, and you wouldn’t want me to assume that you know a bunch of stuff. I’m going to start close to ground zero; hopefully that helps you to judge where the lectures are headed. I should also say the Biblical Training Institute is part of a larger effort called Biblical Training.org, which is a web project that I’m involved in. Biblical Training.org is free online school, which includes content for new believers all the way up to seminary courses. I post everything related to this course on Biblical Training.org. The talks I am giving are all being recorded. They are going to be posted there in the case that you need to access one. If you need handouts, those will also be posted on the site.

Three Stages

Head

Let me address what were going to talk about from a slightly different angle. I call it the three different stages of head, heart, and hands. I’m going to use these words quite a bit, so I want to make sure you understand what I mean. First, much of what I will cover is focused on the mind—I call this “head stuff.” It’s information about the Bible, centering on the big picture. I intend to give you the overall structure of the New Testament, so that when we learn the details, you’ll know where into the overall structure those little pieces fit. Often, we know a verse here or paragraph there, but I want to make sure that you have a full appreciation for the New Testament as a whole. Because of that, we will first focus on the big picture, so that you’ll know where the smaller pieces that we discuss fit in.

Heart

Second, I’m also going to focus on what I call “heart stuff,” by which I mean theology. It is not enough to simply learn information. I want you to begin to process that information, and the best way to process it is to think theologically about the effect of this information—what this information is for. The Biblical Training Institute has a two-page statement of faith—this is my theological guide. I can’t cover everything in the New Testament; this guide helps me focus on what is most important. I may want to discuss one story in Mark, but not another. I use the statement of faith as a guide, because at the end of this course, the goal is that you will understand every single element on that statement faith. You will know the context of the statements, the biblical passages supporting them, and even some of the controversy surrounding them. The statement of faith is my primary grid for deciding what parts of the New Testament we’re going to cover. I will use theology create connections between and help you process content. For example, Paul talks about that we are justified by faith, but James says we are justified by works. We will discuss how these arguments cohere theologically. In other words, theology is one of the means of processing information.

Hands

Third, I will talk about “hand stuff,” meaning what we do with this information. A word that expresses this well is the word “transformation.” The purpose of all of this training is transformation. The Biblical Training Institute exists to provide all of us with training. We will learn information, process it theologically, and do something with it—our lives will be changed; we will be transformed. You may or may not be familiar with the phrases, but this course will address “spiritual formation” and “the spiritual disciplines.” These are some of the ways in which we can take what the Bible says and do something with it on a practical level.

We will also try something different this year: on Sunday, we will have a Sunday school class, which will be a time for you all to come together and reflect on what we have learned the preceding Wednesday. These meetings are not mandatory, but they provide a way to reflect and discuss things, since to do so is difficult in a class this size. Since my ultimate goal is transformation, I don’t want this course to be simply an accumulation of information. A Sunday school class is the best way I know how to provide you the opportunity to work through the issues I raise in class. If you cannot attend, perhaps you can get together with friends at another time and do the same thing. There are study guide questions and application questions in your notes. In the Sunday morning class, we will work through those questions just to give you all a chance to say, “Mounce is off his rocker; he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” or, “I never thought about that I wonder how that’s going to affect how I spend my money.” It is in those kinds of discussions, where you wrestle with issues, try to apply them, and discuss back and forth, that transformation is going to happen. That is the basic layout of Sundays. We will further discuss that class later.

Significance of the Logo

There are a few final introductory items. Our logo is extremely important to us, since it depicts something meaningful. Isaiah 61:3 sets forth the goal of becoming oaks of righteousness. You have to have roots to become a tree. The roots of our logo represent study, learning, grappling with theology, and building the foundation of our Christian walk through understanding. But we also want to produce leaves. We want to grow. That is the ultimate purpose of a tree, right? The purpose of a tree is not to develop roots, it’s to grow and develop foliage and fruit and whatever the tree is designed to do. You can’t have roots without a tree. You can’t have a tree without roots. It’s as simple as that. These are the reasons that our logo is important to us. I want us to go deep. I want us to learn. I want us to wrestle with theology. I want us to come to an understanding that the only reason we are doing that is so that we can grow as Christians and be changed by the power of God’s Word through the work of God’s Spirit.

General Class Information

Each class is an hour and a half. We will have a break about halfway through each class. Are there any comments or questions at this point?

The concept of transformation is central, because if, like myself, you were trained in school to accumulate knowledge, it’s difficult to get out of that trap. That is not what I want for any of us. Many of the ladies here who live together have a built-in way of processing the content of this course. They talk to each other and mull ideas over. For those of us who don’t live with others, it’s a little different. For everyone, mulling ideas over takes time. It takes time to assess, “Do we agree? Do we disagree? Do we understand? And, then, so what? Does it really affect my life?” This course will help us to wrestle with these questions this year.