Dr. Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement for the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest today is Gerry Breshears. He teaches Systematic Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Welcome, Gerry.Dr. Gerry BreshearsIt’s good to be here, Darrell.Dr. Darrell BockAnd Gerry is a returning guest so he’s a veteran of foreign wars when it comes to the podcast, and today our topic is Big Church or Little Church. We’re going to discuss church in general, ecclesiology in general, and in particular the tensions that sometimes exist between big churches and little churches, and hopefully have a discussion in which we are able to affirm the value of each. So that lays out the plan.
So it’s time for confessions. Gerry, what kind of church do you attend?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: I’m a member of Grace Community Church in Gresham, Oregon. It’s a Baptist background, a conservative Baptist community church. We run about 65 adults in our auditorium in three services, about toward a thousand in a weekend so we’re kind of a mid-sized church I would say.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. I have two churches. One is the one that I’ve attended ever since I was a student here at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, which runs probably about 250, 300 during the week. It’s a somewhat traditional church. Has a touch of liturgy tied to it. Very historically rude kind of church.
And then my daughter works at Bent Tree Fellowship, which is a huge church. They probably run five, six thousand in a weekend, and a classic megachurch if you want to think of it that way. She writes curriculum for fifth grades and under. So my wife attends there to be with the grandchildren. This explains why we’re in the situation that we’re in, and so I’m elder emeritus at the first church that I mentioned, and so I attend the first service at Trinity, get in my car and drive the 15 minutes or so that it takes to get to Bent Tree so I can make the second service and make lunch with my kids afterwards. So that’s our church situation.
So we’re actually describing a situation in which we are all participating, if I can say it that way. Running the scale in terms of size of church.
Well, let’s start off by talking about megachurches. I want to start there because they’re probably the more controversial, but before we get there I want to ask a basic ecclesiological question, and it goes like this: The church – a building, a people or a presence. Okay? Which of the above or a combination of the above, what are we talking about when we say church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, I assume you’re thinking biblically, not culturally.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That’s correct.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: The first definition of church is a building. It’s not a building at all ’cause there weren’t church buildings in the original. They met in the temple courts initially, and then in homes. There were no church buildings until quite a bit later. So the pictures of the church in Scripture is a group of people committed to Jesus Christ and his mission forming a community of the spirit. That’s what we see in Acts 2, and then it carries out all the way from there, and the size, well, there were three thousand people converted on that first day.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That was a membership class, wasn’t it?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Yes. And then the leadership developed so that’s a piece of it. There’s a team of elders that lead a church, and then there’s a presence in the community, and critical of that whole thing is God present with them through the Holy Spirit and through his Word.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So we’re not thinking about a location so much or even four walls.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: It’s irrelevant, biblically.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. And yet as you mentioned, culturally most people when they think of church they say, “Well, what church do you attend,” and they think of a location, that kind of thing.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: The other cultural definition that I need to really, really speak against is the church as a meeting that we go to. So we say things like, “Hey, going to church this morning,” by which we mean a meeting, and the church does meet, but a church is a 24/7 type thing.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So we’ve got these cultural things that are going on that make people think of the church. You said that it’s a community where the spirit indwells. Let’s think more about the biblical side of this. How should we think about the church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, the church primarily is the followers of Jesus Christ. We see that there in Acts 2, kind of a foundational thing, where it’s a group of people who have repented, believed, been baptized and joined together under the fellowship of the apostles, the leadership there, the community. They do sacraments together and they extend the Gospel into the community so that many people come to Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Now that was a description of the early church ’cause, as you mentioned, they fellowship with the apostles.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Uh-huh.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So when we think of the church today what should we be thinking about, or maybe this is the way to ask the question: When people go to church or look for a church, what should they be looking for?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, there are several things to look for. One is a church that is faithful to Jesus Christ and his teaching. Of course, many churches have abandoned that and become more culturally relevant. Another thing to look for is a church that’s doing mission into the community instead of just ingrown. We do stuff together separated from the community, and a real factor there is this is a place where the church is going to invest in me for my spiritual growth, my personal growth, so that I can build a community, so we can be a part of a community that’s doing the Gospel work of Jesus Christ or the kingdom work of Jesus Christ in my region.
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Gerry E. Breshears Gerry E. Breshears, Ph.D. Professor of Theology Western Seminary Portland, OR EDUCATION Doctor of Philosophy (Systematic Theology) – Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, 1984. Dissertation: “Faith and General Revelation in the Tradition and Theology of G. C. Berkouwer.” Master of Divinity – Denver Seminary, Denver, CO, cum laude; 1975. Bachelor of Science (Mathematics and Education) – University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM; 1968. TEACHING EXPERIENCE Professor of Theology; Chairman, Division of Biblical and Theological Studies, Western Seminary, Portland, OR; 1980 to present Part Time Faculty in Theology, Biola College, La Mirada, CA; 1979 to 1980 Mathematics Teacher, Faith Academy, Manila, Philippines; 1969 to 1972 Mathematics Teacher, Jefferson County Public Schools, CO; 1968 to 1969 OTHER EXPERIENCE Machinist, Meister Engineering, Pasadena, CA; 1978 to 1980 Machinist-Foreman, Lanmar Co., Pasadena, CA; 1975 to 1978 Bookkeeper-Machinist, C & C Manufacturing, Denver, CO; 1972 to 1975 Mission Associate, Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, Philippines, 1969 to 1972 VISITING FACULTY & LECTURESHIPS 2002 to 2009 Visiting Professor, Odessa Theological Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine 2002, 2004, 2006 Visiting Professor, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon 2008 Visiting Professor, Biblical Leadership Training Center, Krasnodar, Russia 2000, 2007 Visiting Professor, International School of Theology, Quezon City, Philippines 1997, 2003, 2005 Visiting Professor, Biblical Theological Seminary, Wroclaw, Poland 1995, 1998, 2005 Visiting Professor, Montana Bible College 1999, 2002, 2004 Visiting Professor, Taiwan Baptist Seminary, Hsilo, Taiwan 1999, 2002 Visiting Professor, Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam, Netherlands 1997 Visiting Professor, Chung Tai Seminary, Taiching, Taiwan 1987 Visiting Professor, Northwest Seminary, Vancouver, Canada 1986, 1988 Visiting Professor, Denver Seminary, Denver, CO 1984 to 2002 Faculty, Ecola Bible College, Cannon Beach, OR 1996 Staley Lectureship Cedarville College, Cedarville, OH 1984, 1990, 1993 Staley Lectureship, Multnomah School of the Bible, Portland, OR 1982, 1984 Lectureship, Western Evangelical Seminary, Portland, OR 1994, 1996 International Center for Biblical Counseling, Sioux City, IA SELECTED PUBLICATIONS Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe, with Mark Driscoll, Crossway, 2010 “Spiritual Abuse” in Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, Edited Bev Hislop, Moody, 2010 Vintage Church, with Mark Driscoll, Crossway, 2009 Death by Love, with Mark Driscoll, Crossway, 2008 Vintage Jesus, with Mark Driscoll, Crossway, 2008 “Ecology,” Evangelical Dictionary of Missions, Baker, 2000 “Learning to Distinguish Between Degrees of Certainty,” in Lessons in Leadership, Kregel, 1999 “Friends Who Tell Me the Truth,” Decision Magazine, August, 1996 “When It=s a Sin to Forgive,” Grace Vine, May-June, 1995 “The Walk to Freedom,” Interest, June 1994. “The Body of Christ: Prophet, Priest or King?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, January, 1994. “Truth Decay in the Church,” Tabletalk Magazine, Spring, 1993 “The Healing Power of Prayer,” Plumbline, Summer, 1990. “How Biblical Is Healing?” Multnomah Communicator, May, 1990. “Miraculous Church Growth: Assessing Power Theology,” WCBS Communicator, Fall and Winter, 1987; Spring, 1988 “The Word as Spiritual Seed,” in Celebrating the Word. Multnomah Press, 1987 “Human Freedom and Integration,” in Christian Freedom: Essays in Honor of Vernon Grounds. University Press, 1986. Review of J. Moltmann, God in Creation in Journal of Psychology and Theology, 14:4 (1986) 340-341. Review of G. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine in Journal of Psychology & Theology, 13:2 (1985) 153. “Anthropological Integration: A Theological Response,” Journal of Psychology & Theology, 11:2 (1983): 127-132. “Authority of Scripture and the Unity of Revelation,” (with R. Larzelere), Journal of Psychology & Theology, 9:4 (1981): 312-317 ORGANIZATIONAL OFFICES Evangelical Theological Society, National President, 1993 Evangelical Theological Society, National Executive Committee, 1991- 2000, 2007 to present Northwest Evangelical Theological Society, Secretary-Treasurer, 1985 to present Board Member, Pregnancy Resource Centers of Portland, 2008-present Board Member, Interact Ministries, 2001-present Steering Committee, Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue, 2005-present Advisory Board, North Portland Bible College, Portland, 1990-2000 Contributing Editor, Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1986-2000 Board Member, Sunnyside Counseling Center, Portland, OR, 1991-1999 Dispensational Study Group, First Convener; Secretary-Treasurer, 1986-1991 PERSONAL INFORMATION Office Address: 5511 S.E. Hawthorne Portland, OR 97215-3399 (503) 517-1870 (503) 517-1859 (FAX) Electronic Mail Home Address: 1345 NE 134th Ave Portland, OR 97230 (503) 234-4274 Ordained 1983, Conservative Baptist Association Marital & Family Status: Married to Sherry, 1968 2 Sons, 1 Daughter PERSONAL INFORMATION Gerry E. Breshears, Ph.D. Professor of Theology Western Seminary Portland, OR Gerry was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Christian parents. He spent his boyhood years on a farm in the Ozarks of Missouri. While there, he and his family attended the church his grandfather pastored for many years as a farmer-pastor. Gerry received Jesus Christ as his personal savior at age 8 and was baptized shortly after that. One of his first acts following that was to lead one of his friends to Jesus Christ. He moved back to Albuquerque to begin seventh grade and remained there through his bachelor’s program in mathematics and education at the University of New Mexico. He married Sherry at the end of his senior year in university. During his high school and college years he had a four year period where he rejected Christianity for intellectual reasons. Through the ministry of a new pastor in his church, he reexamined Christianity and recommitted himself to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. After teaching mathematics for a year in a suburb of Denver, he and his family went to the Philippines to teach at Faith Academy, the largest school for missionary children in the world. During the three years serving as a Mission Associate with Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society (now WorldVenture), he not only taught math to missionary kids, but also became deeply involved in helping start Calvary Baptist Church. He returned to the United States for formal training for ministry. He did his seminary work at Denver Seminary and his doctoral work at Fuller Seminary. He came to Western Seminary in 1980. Being a faculty member at Western takes him well beyond classroom teaching. He spends many hours each week meeting with students individually and in small groups to discuss theology as it impacts life as a Christian, to talk about career directions, family and church life, and a myriad of other topics. Gerry has also given time to several significant administrative roles at Western. He initiated the Master of Arts in Exegetical Theology program and chaired the seminary’s Curriculum Revision Committee. He currently chairs the Division of Biblical and Theological Studies and the Academic Policies Committee. Beyond the campus Gerry is an elder and a member of the preaching team at Grace Community Church of Gresham. He served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1993 and continues to serve on the national and regional executive committees of that organization. He served as a founding member of the steering committee of a national study group on dispensational theology. In addition to teaching and lecturing at a number of colleges and seminaries around the world, he preaches or teaches in many churches and conferences and is a frequent guest on various radio and TV programs. His passion is to bring theology to life. That has led him to a lot of consulting with churches and pastors across the country and around the world. He has focused attention on helping individuals and churches wrestling with the how to think about ministry from a theological basis. He has long term interests in the relation of theology and science, creation vs. evolution. His wife, Sherry, is a computer network communications professional. They have two sons, Donn and David, and a daughter, Cyndee. They enjoy making their home a center of hospitality and ministry to all sorts of people. Gerry’s hobbies include computers, travel, hiking and reading.