Theology of Joy
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John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Dr. Studebaker has worked in full-time professional ministry for 24 years. He is currently a Lecturer in Religion at Hillsdale College and Executive Director of Bridge Ministries, Inc. in Michigan.

Posted 10/17/14 at 12:11 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Finding Your Calling in The Details of Life

By John Studebaker

Where should each of us look to find our "life-calling"? The notion of calling is more profound, and its influence more subtle, than we may realize. Though we may tend to think it is discovered through a blinding light or in an other-worldly experience, the pattern seems to be the opposite. Douglas Schuurman states,

Many assume that ‘hearing’ God’s call is an extraordinary, miraculous event, and so fail to discern God’s calling in their lives. The vast majority of my Christian students are perplexed when I suggest that their work as students, relationships with friends and family, and extracurricular activities are among their callings. They never heard God speaking from a burning bush, or from the heavenly courtroom, resonant with echoes of cherubim. . . God does sometimes call in such extraordinary ways, but for the vast majority of Christians God’s callings are discerned quietly, when the heart of faith joins opportunities and gifts with the needs of others (Douglas J. Schuurman, Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life, 3-4).

If we view our “ministry calling” as somehow “higher” than the other callings in our lives, we may easily begin to devalue family, physical exercise, nutrition, thought life, rich relationships, and even our own emotions. We begin to misrepresent the Christian faith. Various ways of dividing “callings” into higher and lower have appeared throughout church history. Os Guinness explain that the “Catholic Distortion” of calling began in the 300s with Eusibius, a bishop who argued that Christ gave “two ways of life” to his church. The “perfect life” was dedicated to contemplation and reserved for priests, monks, and nuns; the “permitted life” was secular, dedicated to action and often led to such tasks as farming, soldering, governing, etc. This “split” between the sacred and secular continued through the medieval church, with only a few notable exceptions (See Os Guinness, The Call, 31-36). FULL POST

Posted 6/20/14 at 4:48 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Preventing Ministerial Burnout, Part 1

by John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Did you realize that Pastors are real human beings, too? Ok, so this question was a rather poor attempt at dry humor (what do you expect from a theology professor?). However, it brings up a rather serious point. We often expect Pastors to be "superhuman" in some way. If a Pastor internalizes this expectation, they are likely setting themselves up for failure. The typical result, which has now reached epidemic proportions, is what many are referring to as "ministerial burnout." What is this, and how can Pastors recognize it, prevent it, and if need be overcome it? Such is the subject of the following two-part article.


H.B. London and Neil Wiseman's groundbreaking books Pastors At Risk (Victor Books, 1993) and Pastors at Greater Risk (Regal, 2003) expose the burnout epidemic experienced amongst a large portion of today's professional ministers in the USA. It lists the following statistics:

  • 90% of Pastors work more than 46 hours a week
  • 80% believe the pastoral ministry affects their family negatively
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of their job
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 33% confess to an inappropriate sexual relationship with someone in the church
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry

So, it appears that those who have been entrusted with our spiritual vitality are themselves struggling with their own spiritual--and personal--vitality. Though the statistics above expose the symptoms of this massive problem, we need to define burnout more precisely. In doing so we will begin to understand its root causes. Our vision is not only for Pastors to prevent or recover from burnout but to begin living a high quality-of-life--which (in my opinion) is their greatest asset in ministry. FULL POST

Posted 1/26/11 at 6:49 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Find and Fulfill Your God-given Calling (Part 2)

We started this series by looking at some of today's most popular views regarding life-purpose. While other views leave the purpose-seeker frustrated (because their purpose never goes beyond themself, their limited community, or the "oneness"), the biblical perspective on purpose in life provides remarkable and sustainable motivation for daily living.


Posted 1/6/11 at 8:42 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Find and Fulfill Your God-given Calling (Part 1)


Have you noticed that a lot of people in our culture go about each day doing a lot of good things (i.e., doing a great job at work; loving their spouses) but without really knowing why they are doing these things?

This dilemma was illustrated in one episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" a few years ago. Ray and his wife were trying to answer their daughter's question, "Why did God put us here on earth?", After several attempts they couldn't figure out how to answer it. Ray's brother was particularly baffled: "You mean God made us smart enough to know that we have a purpose in life, but not smart enough to figure it out?!" FULL POST

Posted 5/19/10 at 11:59 AM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

The Authority of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)


The first major debate regarding the Holy Spirit is found in the patristic period.  The question here was essentially, "Is the Spirit a divine Being (that is, 'God'), or merely a creature?"

A. Arius vs. Athanasius FULL POST

Posted 3/7/10 at 10:59 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

The "Missing Link" in Modern Ministry: The Authority of the Holy Spirit

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked a poignant question in the 1960s in his short book entitled Authority: "How much do we hear about the Holy Spirit and His authority?"1 His main point in his final chapter is that the authority of Christ and the authority of Scripture, as critical as they are, do not provide a complete development or conception of divine authority in themselves. Without the authority of the Holy Spirit these other authorities cannot be "felt" on a practical level. Lloyd-Jones provides examples in church history--specifically those periods marked by tendencies toward intellectualism or formalism--to illustrate the resulting deficiencies that followed the church's neglect of the Spirit. The final effect is that the church's "authority"--that is, her display of Christ's authority and Scripture's authority in the world--often goes unnoticed in the surrounding culture. Lloyd-Jones sums up his argument with a surprising declaration: "Here, I truly believe, we are dealing with the main source of weakness in modern Evangelicalism."2 FULL POST

Posted 1/10/10 at 9:42 AM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 4)


It is tempting to try to build a communication model for postmodernists simply based on what seems to work best with them. The prevailing church strategy is "If it works, don't question it!" According to Grant Osborne, Pragmatism has become "the primary governing rod which determines church strategy." A sociological survey and "what works in the super-churches" seems to determine most decisions. Osborne concludes that we have become a market-driven church rather than a Bible-driven church.

Instead of following the culture in creating our communication model, we need to use Paul's philosophy of ministry as an ambassador, bringing God's authority into our postmodern context. How can we follow Paul's "begging" to present the rich theology of God's authority and Christ's historical redemption in the context of a present, winsome appeal? The following model involves three interdependent methods of communication that together seek to accomplish this task. These three methods also correspond with the three suspicions held out by many postmodernists (as listed in sec. I). FULL POST

Posted 10/16/09 at 9:47 AM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 3)

II. The role of the ambassador

How can God's kingly Authority, as presented in the historical document of scripture, be "seen" and "felt" in present, postmodern life and culture?  Paul seems to give us an answer to this thorny question in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  Here he demonstrates how God's eternal authority is brought to bear in the present. He also shows us how we, as Christ's "ambassadors", can represent Christ in our own spheres of influence so that people see God's authority working on their behalf. FULL POST

Posted 10/2/09 at 1:23 PM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 2)

B. The Context of Postmodernism

1. What is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism holds that one's philosophy of life is ultimately determined by the community or group which most influences one's life. Other factors, such as personal choice or religion, are secondary. Postmodernism is to a great extent an attack upon what postmodernists call "metanarratives," which are grand stories about the world, "overarching explanations of reality based on central organizing 'truths."1 For postmodernists, these "truths" are actually "myths," fictional stories that embody the central core of a culture's values and beliefs, and are in this sense fundamentally religious.2 FULL POST

Posted 8/20/09 at 10:48 AM | John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 1)

"Theology of Joy" implies that an informed faith can be a very joyful faith!  It also implies that the communication of faith can be an act of extravagant joy for the "ambassador of Christ". In sharing our Christian faith with others, we are able to re-visit what we actually believe, why we believe it, and why we think it is so attractive for those who do not yet believe.

However, communicating one's faith may not seem to be as easy in our present "postmodern" culture. Postmodernism often seems to pose an insurmountable problem for Christians seeking to share their faith joyfully. Why does it often seem difficult to communicate Christ in postmodern times?  This series of three articles will address the challenges we face along with the opportunities we have for communicating the message of Christ effectively in postmodern times.


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