There are few words more formal than inauguration and few occasions that can compare to the beginning of something so recognizably important as this – the ceremonial installation of the Reverend Doctor J. Ligon Duncan as Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. It is my high privilege and great pleasure to participate in this occasion and to deliver this sermon marking my dear friend’s inauguration. But I do so with an urgency that eclipses the ceremonial.
Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, and all members of the Reformed Theological Seminary family, distinguished guests and delegates, honored former chancellors Dr. Whitlock, Dr. Canada, and Dr. Milton, Dr. Duncan, Mrs. Duncan, and members of the Duncan family, I greet you all in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ and with a sense that both promise and urgency mark this occasion.
Our text is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 1-8:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (English Standard Version)
He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. This is very helpful. We are told why Jesus told this parable to his disciples and we are told its intended effect – that Christ’s faithful followers should pray always, and never lose heart.
There is always the temptation to lose heart, and we should be thankful that Jesus names it as such. He truly was tempted in every way as are we, yet without sin. He who never lost heart knows that his disciples are prone to lose theirs. It is good that we know that losing heart is not a new problem, but in our own day we can easily find new reasons to lose heart.
Consider the current predicament of Christianity. We are witnessing the inglorious end of a civilization birthed by the Christian faith. We are tracing the accelerating secularization of our own society. In the Middle East, Christianity is disappearing on the ground. Historic Christian communities in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere are being decimated and destroyed—scattered by violence and threats of genocide.
In Europe, the historic base of Christian culture and Christian missions, the European Union is so embarrassed about its Christian heritage that it refused even to acknowledge this truth when it framed its charter. Christianity is disappearing or declining under the dhimmitude of Islam and the domination of secularism. Church buildings in Britain, Canada, and elsewhere are now routinely transformed into nightclubs, pubs, or even mosques. The European elites are so distant from living Christianity that they have virtually no memory of it and American elites are rushing to Europeanize our national intellectual life.
Cultural Christianity is disappearing as fast as a morning mist, providing the church the opportunity and challenge to make clear once again the radical difference between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the wisdom of the world. But with the disappearance of nominal Christianity comes a vast moral revolution with a new and ominous moral regime. The most basic moral convictions of Western civilization are being rejected in favor of erotic impulses. Erotic liberty now threatens even religious liberty in the great controversies of the era. The threats to religious liberty are real and present.
We also face the realities of the millennial generation – the largest generation in American history. As Christian Smith and his associates have documented, the belief system held by the vast majority within this generation can be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – not remotely close to Christianity. And where did they learn this belief system? From their parents and from their churches.
The total secularization of America’s academic and intellectual culture is virtually a completed project, and “Sex Week” at Yale University advertises the rejection of even Christian morality in favor of the new revolutionaries.
What Peter Berger calls “cognitive contamination” now reigns in thousands of churches and theological liberalism has created a system of empty and emptying churches and seminaries. Those who hold to the beliefs of historic Christianity will lose social capital simply by opening their mouths, and the price of identification with our churches will only rise.
Liberal accommodationism failed from the start and fundamentalist withdrawal also failed. Few strategies now present themselves to evangelical Christians who face a fate which Carl F. H. Henry warned us about a generation ago – the fate of becoming a wilderness cult with no more social significance than the ancient Essenes.
It would be easy to lose heart. Easy, but wrong . . . even unfaithful.
Jesus would have his disciples learn from a persistent Jewish widow who simply will not give up. She makes her demand for justice heard morning, noon, and night. She gives a judge who fears neither God nor man something new to fear: a Jewish widow with a cause.
If this judge, a man who fears neither God nor man, eventually gives this persistent woman what she demands, what of our gracious and loving God? As Jesus told his disciples, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”
This is good news, indeed. Jesus told his disciples that they ought always to pray and never to lose heart, and he told them this parable to this effect. It is a gift.
But it is also a warning. Look to the question Jesus then asked his disciples, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What a haunting question. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Of course he will. We know that the gates of hell will not prevail and that Christ will protect and vindicate his church. When the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on earth – but perhaps not here. Perhaps in Africa, where stalwart Anglican bishops defy demands to abandon the Gospel. Surely within the vast legions of people groups yet unreached with the Gospel. Here and there, more and less, sometimes in advance and sometimes apparently in retreat.
That question asked by Jesus frames the importance of what is happening here tonight. We are gathered here, at least in part, to do something toward answering that question with faith and faithfulness. We are gathered to do everything within our power and influence to make certain that there will be faith on earth – a particular quality of faith that is bold, courageous, confessional, convictional, tenacious, evangelistic, missiological, and persistent, just like this widow.
How then does Jesus’ question in this text point to theological education as the most important endeavor on earth?
In its servant role to the church, theological education is the necessary means whereby pastors, preachers, teachers of the church, evangelists, missionaries, church planters, and church leaders are formed in the faith of the church – that faith that is orthodox, apostolic, biblical, and very much alive.
This points to the central importance of the Christian ministry and the Christian minister, and this centrality is by Christ’s design—pointing to the priority of preaching and teaching in the church and in the making of disciples.
In former days, those days marked by the dominance of cultural Christianity, the ministry could be confused as a profession. No such confusion is possible now. The authentic Christian ministry constitutes a counterrevolutionary insurgency on behalf of the Gospel, an insurrection against principalities and powers, a redemptive rescue mission in the midst of late modernity.
What could be more important than the education and preparation of these insurgents and counterrevolutionaries? What could be more important than theological education?
At the theological seminary the twig is bent, the trajectory is set, the minister is molded, the preacher is formed, and the missionary is equipped.
The theological seminary is Ground Zero of the church’s future, and not just on its campus but everywhere its graduates will take their message, ministry, and influence.
Here at a theological seminary we find hermeneutics, exegesis, biblical theology, systematics, historical theology, homiletics, and missiology.
We find books and brains, a library and a faculty, mentors who mold the future, and dedicated Christian scholars who serve the church.
This is deadly serious business, and they know it. What shows up in the classroom shows up in the pulpit, and fast.
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Have you paused to consider what is happening tonight in light of that question? If so, what would it mean?
It would mean that the inauguration of the Reverend Doctor J. Ligon Duncan is a down payment and a public declaration that you mean to answer this question definitively within this generation. It will mean that the governing board of this great school states again its commitment to confessional and convictional theological education. It will mean a constituency of Christians and churches that understand the priority of theological education and support this great cause with prayer and finances. It will mean a faculty skilled in the arts and sciences of theological scholarship, professing the inerrancy of Scripture without compromise and teaching the faith once for all delivered to the saints without corruption. It will mean students drawn to study with such a faculty, determined to mine the treasures of theological education as they are being launched into lives of committed Gospel ministry. Lastly, a theological education that will truly serve the church will require an exceptional leader, a man who will give unreservedly of himself to the task of leading and guiding and protecting theological education. A man who is himself a scholar, a teacher, and a true minister. A man of unquestioned conviction and unbridled energies.
I have known Ligon Duncan for almost a quarter century. We have talked together, strategized together, prayed together, written together, preached together, labored together, and dreamed together of what theological education would require in this generation. Now, in the providence of God, we serve together as colleagues in this great calling, the leadership of a theological seminary.
He is a faithful theologian, a brilliant historian, a churchman, a gifted leader, and a trusted friend. He is a teacher of right doctrine and godly living. He is an exemplary husband, father, son, brother, and friend. I would trust him with any cause, great or small; and this cause is great. He will be unembarrassed to be the chief executive officer and chancellor of a school that is unquestionably Reformed, thoroughly theological, and authentically a seminary.
So we gather tonight in rare formality to witness something even more rare. A torch is passed, a stewardship is being transferred. Ligon Duncan now takes on in a public ceremony the stewardship of the faith, the pattern of sound words, the treasure of sacred truths given by Christ to the church. We are all witnesses to these things, and gladly so.
Why do we feel the weight and glory and significance of this night so clearly? Because we hear a question ringing down through the corridors of time: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
In answering that question, what could be more important than theological education? What greater cause could form our joy and sense of moment tonight? In no small way we gather tonight to answer Christ’s question with a faithful assertion of both word and will.
By God’s grace, when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth.
This is the sermon preached by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the occasion of the inauguration of Ligon Duncan as Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. The sermon was preached on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi at 7:00 in the evening.
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