First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty

First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty

First Freedom, Second Edition
Jason G. Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm B. Yarnell, III, eds.
B&H Academic, 2016
275 pages

Available at Amazon from B&H Academic. You can read a sample chapter here.


Challenges to religious liberty are increasingly common today as historical Christianity comes into conflict with a new, secular orthodoxy.

In this thoroughly revised second edition of First Freedom, leading evangelical scholars present the biblical and historical foundations for religious freedom in America, and address pressing topics such as:

* Religious freedom and the exclusivity of the gospel
* The Christian doctrine of religious liberty
* Religious liberty and the public square
* Religious freedom and the sexual revolution
* Baptist contributions to religious freedom, and much more.

The contributors equip churches, pastors, and Christian citizens to uphold this “first freedom” given by God and defended by Christians throughout our nation’s history.

Contributors include:

  • Barrett Duke
  • Jason G. Duesing
  • Evan Lenow
  • R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
  • Russell Moore
  • Paige Patterson
  • Andrew T. Walker
  • Thomas White
  • Travis Wussow
  • Malcolm B. Yarnell, III

What People Are Saying About First Freedom

It is difficult to exaggerate the historical importance of the Baptist witness to religious liberty. This immensely valuable collection of essays carries that witness forward, addressing new challenges to the rights of conscience presented by early 21st century liberal secularism. The spiritual ancestors of the contributors to the volume would be as proud of them as I am grateful to them for placing their impressive intellectual gifts at the service of our first freedom.

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Religious liberty in America faces an uncertain and imperiled future.  The great battles for religious liberty in the past continue today in the courtrooms and public square as we contend for the right to live and speak our faith freely.  This book is an excellent resource for believers to be informed about religious liberty so they can take their place in helping to defend it both now and for future generations..

Erik Stanley, Senior Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom

Historically, Americans have embraced freedom of religion, not merely freedom of worship. The former fosters freedom to practice one’s religion in the church and the culture. The latter restricts the practice of religion to the confines of the church. As religious liberties erode in America, First Freedom is a refreshing resource presenting pertinent information for all to consider regarding this seminal topic.

Steve Gaines, Senior Pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Baptists have always been at the forefront in the fight for religious liberty noting the high stakes involved in the battle. The very able, stable of scholars in this volume continue the fight with biblical fidelity, historical awareness and cultural sensitivity. What they ask for themselves they would ask for all. I hold out hope that their just cry still might be heard.

Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina.

It is rare that a book and a moment perfectly meet, but that is what I believe has happened with the publication of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty. Historically, Baptists have championed religious liberty for all citizens, believing that religious liberty is not majoritarian right or a gift of government, but an inalienable right for all citizens. Presently in America, religious freedom is increasingly threatened as governmental authorities steadily attempt to compel people of all faiths to compromise their beliefs or face legal consequences. It is past time for the American Christian church in general, and Baptists in particular, to reclaim our theological and historical commitment to religious liberty, in order to face the unique challenges of our day. This excellent collection of essays should be in the hands of every pastor, informed layman, and public servant in our nation.

David E. Prince, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Pastor of Preaching and Vision,The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching

Nearly every week, the news informs us of new threats to religious liberty at home and abroad. In America, many fear this first freedom is becoming an endangered species as our culture’s idols of sex, money, and power converge increasingly against the free exercise of religion. For this reason, I’m grateful for this new edition of First Freedom. This revised edition includes several timely new essays that strategically update an already helpful book. The result is a “tract for the times” for Baptists and others who champion a free church in a free state and advocate for the religious liberty of Christians and other groups who suffer under foreign regimes that persecute religious outliers. I will be returning to some of the chapters frequently as I think through what it means to defend religious freedom until that day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Nathan A. Finn, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition,Union University.

Religious liberty has been a foundational component since the formative years of our country. However, many Christians are ill-informed about the assault upon their freedom as American citizens. This updated edition of First Freedom is a timely work that exposes the areas in which our religious freedoms are being threatened. In it, a number of well-respected Southern Baptist leaders help us better comprehend the biblical foundation and history of religious liberty, identify the current challenges we face, and provide ways to move forward in today’s culture. After reading this book, you will feel confident to stand firm in the face of adversity and defend the religious freedoms our country was founded upon.

Robby Gallaty, Pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Author, Growing Up and Rediscovering Discipleship.

For updates and more information follow First Freedom on Twitter at @FirstFreedom16 or take a look at the First Freedom Facebook page.

Some Resources on the Biblical View of Marriage

This past week, I spoke on the biblical view of marriage. In one chapel message, I could not cover everything so I limited my presentation to a summary of the biblical position and the desired tone for Cedarville University. I define the biblical ideal of marriage as one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for life representing the union between Christ and the Church, and I would characterize our desired tone as compassionate conviction. As promised in that message, I recommend resources for further study at the end of this post but before that, I few additional comments on our tone.

First, we can disagree without being disagreeable. We must love others as ourselves. Disagreeing with a position does not equal not caring about a person although the person on the other end of the conversation may think so. We must do all we can to demonstrate the love of Christ without compromising biblical truth. After all, we too have a sinful nature. Left to our own inclinations, we all run away from God and embrace our sin. The grace of the Gospel saves those who repent and believe from rebellion against their Creator. After we are saved, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives as we struggle to overcome the temptations of the flesh as described in Romans 7-8.  When talking with someone, we must remember how tempting our own sinful inclinations are and try not to come across as better than anyone else. We are not. The human condition is the same. Sin is the great equalizer of all humanity. We are all in rebellion against a holy God until the Holy Spirit regenerates us through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Second, we must keep in mind that this is an intensely personal debate. For many, this either involves them personally, a family member, or a close friend. Some allow sexual desire to define them, but we understand that being created in the image of God defines humanity as God’s ultimate creation. In discussions, we must exercise caution to avoid the perception of personal attacks, and we should point out that Scripture, not experience, provides the foundation for our beliefs. Consequently, we must understand what the Bible says about marriage in general and about homosexuality in particular. As Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” The resources I list below are intended for those who believe the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible Word. If we don’t share that presupposition, then you may not find these resources helpful.

Finally, let’s take our own sin as seriously as we do the sin of others, and let’s pray for healing for those intentionally or unintentionally harmed by Christians trying to stand for truth. I suspect that harsh words spoken in the heat of debate have harmed many. We must recognize that God created every person in His image and that Jesus died to reconcile to God anyone that would repent and believe in His name. As the apostle Paul encourages us, we should bear one another’s burdens while struggling against temptation, including same-sex attraction. For those who experience same-sex attraction, there is sufficiency in our union with Christ and hope in the power of the Gospel to equip us to remain committed to God’s design for sexual desire and relationships. For those at Cedarville University who may struggle with any number of sexual temptations, we are here to help you, and we want to walk with you as you overcome temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be ambassadors for Christ pleading with everyone to be reconciled to God. Ultimately, we represent the King. Let’s do so winsomely, humbly, compassionately, and faithfully.

If you are looking for resources, I would recommend the following:

Rosaria Butterfield: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ.

Sam Allberry: Is God anti-gay?

Kevin DeYoung: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

Andrew Walker and Eric Teetsel: Marriage Is: How Marriage Transforms Society and Cultivates Human Flourishing

Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet: Same-Sex Marriage (Thoughtful Response): A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage

If you are looking for a response to Matthew Vines, or to David Gushee, I would recommend Dr. Evan Lenow’s blog, (, titled Ethics as Worship, Dr. Denny Burk’s blog, ( or The Gospel Coalition’s website, ( which reviewed Gushee’s book as well. I also recommend the writings of Dr. R. Albert Mohler ( and Dr. Russell Moore ( on these matters. If you want resources for the local church, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission ( has some helpful information.


2015 Fall Bible Conference

Fall Bible Conference photoOur 2015 Fall Bible Conference at Cedarville University has concluded with approximately 116 professions of faith (photo right), 93 responding to a call to ministry, and many other decisions for re-dedication or repentance.

Clayton King spoke on the subject of “Stronger” primarily with messages from 2 Corinthians. If he had one driving point through the week it would be that “God makes a promise. We want to skip the process for the payoff, but the process is the point.” He demonstrated through many different messages that when we recognize and even embrace our weakness, biblically we become stronger. The world tells us that hurt people will hurt people which is sometimes true. However, a biblical response shows us that hurt people can actually help others. If you do not have a copy of his new book Stronger, I encourage you to by a copy for yourself and for someone else who may be struggling through a difficult season of life.

Our Student Life and Christian Ministries division and School of Biblical and Theological Studies will follow up individually on each decision. We realize that the decisions may vary and that it takes messy, time consuming, and dedicated work to follow up on each one. We thank God for this opportunity and want to be a good steward of walking with our students through every decision, and I am blessed to serve alongside those who can and will follow up thoroughly. While we don’t want to elevate numbers, at the same time, we want you to rejoice with us because heaven rejoices anytime one lost soul comes to faith in Jesus Christ. We must not grow cynical, so I rejoice anytime our students, faculty, or staff take a step toward complete surrender to God’s will for their lives. What makes this even more remarkable is that Cedarville requires a profession of faith to attend school. Words cannot express our gratitude to God for what He has done in the first week of this semester.

Another detail that clearly demonstrates the amazing love for God our students possess is that after a two-hour worship service, the guys in Lawlor Hall (a dorm on campus) held an event. Because of the amazing way God moved, they decided to pray over those who made decisions and then formed a circle around the emptied parking lot prepared for games to sing praises to God. Cedarville University is an amazing place to serve King Jesus.

Lawlor Worship

Watch as the students from Lawlor Hall have an impromptu worship and prayer time.

I have the privilege of serving at a place where it feels like genuine revival could break out at any moment. I feel that strongly enough that I have laid in bed at night thinking through what I would say or do that day when no one wanted to leave chapel because God had revealed Himself to us in a such a way that we all cry out to Him broken over our sinfulness, concern over lost friends and relatives, heartbroken at the sinfulness of our society, and in awe of His majesty. I pray that day comes soon.

Would you join me in praying that God would start, continue, or fan the flames of what I am calling “The Cornfield Revival?” We have not because we ask not. I am asking. Join me, please. Lord, would You make Yourself known to us in such a way that everyone of us would be changed forever? Would You convict of us sin, reveal to us Your will, make our hearts more tender, give us a passion for the Gospel, let us catch a glimpse of Your glory, send revival, and give us faith to follow you alone with reckless abandon? Lord, would You start this in my heart first as I know my own sinful nature and my failing?

I join with David in Psalm 19:12-14 in praying:

Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.


Summer Update 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015 new students will show up on campus. I cannot wait. It should be one of our largest classes ever, and I am expecting God to do great things this year on the Cedarville University campus. Will you join me in praying for our new and returning students as they travel to campus for the beginning of this semester. Please pray that God would send revival and that He would start it in our hearts as we sincerely seek Him.

Email to Cedarville University Regarding the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage

Below is the email that I sent to the Faculty and Staff at Cedarville University on Saturday, June 27, 2015. I am posting it here so that students, parents, alumni, and friends can join in praying for Cedarville University in the coming days and specifically praying that God would visit our campus in a unique way this fall. I want to see God move like He did during the Great Awakenings and for all of us to come to clearer realization of who we are, who God is and to be more like Jesus.


Dear Cedarville Family,

Today, I am in Seattle, WA for an alumni meeting. Tomorrow, just blocks from my hotel room rainbow banners mark the route where a gay pride parade will celebrate, as none have in the past, the recent ruling of the Supreme Court.

I could not help but reflect upon the rainbow, a symbol of God’s mercy, which has been turned to mean something very different. I am burdened for our nation and for so many people hopelessly looking for fulfillment down the dead end road of a sexual revolution. They will soon discover the emptiness of their journey, and amidst their eventual despair, we must be ready to present a biblical worldview and the hope of the Gospel with more clarity, compassion, and boldness than ever before.

Walking beneath the banners, I found myself thinking back to Daniel and what he must have experienced as he remained faithful in a much more secular culture. He never lost hope as he faithfully prayed for about 70 years for God to restore His people, and even as I write this to you, I am praying that God would send a revival and an awakening to Universities and Churches this fall that would change our world forever.

In my lower moments, I have sought refuge by reflecting upon the God who taught the mightiest person on the earth at that time, King Nebuchadnezzar, who was really in control. Daniel 4:34-35 records Nebuchadnezzar’s words after this lesson,

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

I wonder if God has not allowed a winnowing of the chaff in our American society to distinguish true faith in the Gospel from cultural Christianity in our time? If so, perhaps in God’s infinite wisdom and overflowing mercy this turn of events may result in ultimate good.

I want to assure you that at Cedarville University, we will continue to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for life. We are taking every step we can to prepare for future obstacles. I want to encourage you to pray with me for God to visit us unlike ever before and show us His glory and heal our land. I am asking that we all continue to stand together for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

Toward that end, I and several others have signed on to a statement entitled, “Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage.” You can find it at this link:  For your convenience, I have included the statement below.

In conclusion, we know that our God still reigns, the Gospel through the Holy Spirit still saves sinner, and Jesus still lives to come again one day in power. Our work is not finished, and we have an opportunity to make an eternal impact. I consider it an honor to serve King Jesus along side each of you, and I am confident that God has assembled each one of us at Cedarville University for just such a time as this. Let us be found faithful to our calling in this generation.


Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

A Tribute to Dad*

50 years of preaching

God has blessed Todd (my brother) and me with a godly mother and father who both demonstrated the unconditional love of Christ to us. Today it is my honor to share a few words about our dad. Perhaps you will share some of our experiences and this will lead you to remember fondly or appreciate anew your own relationship with your Father. Todd and I have fond memories that we have far too often taken for granted.

As little tykes, Dad was a superhero. His “SpideySense” allowed him to always be there to catch us long before we ever knew we were about to fall. No one stood as tall, was as strong, or seemed so perfect as a little boy’s Dad. We learned early on from his example that God could be trusted and that a father’s presence brings a feeling of safety.

As we grew older, Dad taught us how to wrestle. Usually in the middle of the living room much to my mother’s chagrin. We learned that sometimes you have to say I give…but that doesn’t mean we ever like it.

Dad taught us how to throw, catch, and punt a football. He taught Todd how to hit a baseball, and he taught me how to look good swinging at one. He spared no expense when it came to supporting our sports efforts, but some things you just can’t teach.

That’s okay, Dad, one out of two or batting 500 is pretty good in baseball. And you did teach me how to throw a baseball and how to catch one.

Well, except for that day where I forgot to raise my glove the right way, and caught that ball with my eye. Dad and Mom helped me get ice and Dad even let me blame it on him for throwing the ball too fast.

Dad taught us how to fish. That’s also where he taught us really important life lessons…like how to eat Vienna Sausage, how to drown worms properly, and how to hold a fish without getting finned. Most of all we spent quality time together—just fishing.

We learned that our Dad was always more worried about us than material possessions—like that Christmas when I ran my brand new mini-bike up a tree. I learned on my own that motorcycles can’t climb trees very well, but I needed my Dad to show me where the break was and how not to keep my foot on it when turning the gas on the handle.

Or like the time that Todd tried to fly in a teal green Camaro that didn’t have wings. He went airborne, flipped and totaled the car. I distinctly remember he and Mom praising God that by His grace my brother is still here today.

One of my most fond memories came on the hour-long rides to Greenville, SC to take karate classes. We often listened to Kenny Rogers who taught me “when to hold them and when to fold them,” and others like the Oak Ridge Boys while we played Doodlebug. In between the great music and the diligent search for Volkswagen Beetles, we would talk. In those talks, I learned that my Dad always believed in me, even when I didn’t. He taught me how to fight, taught me when not to, and most importantly he taught me what was worth fighting for. He also taught me to dream and that with God all things are possible.

He tried to keep us from making mistakes but in the end, Todd and I both, like all of you, are human. Cursed with Adam’s fall, we all make mistakes. I think we made more because we hung out with the Deacons kids, but that’s a story for another time.

I remember clearly that Dad had rules and he enforced them. I am thankful that he applied the board of education to the seat of learning—more thankful now than then. Scripture tells us that he who spares the rod spoils the child and one who does not discipline does not love. Todd and I can tell you that we were loved…a lot. More importantly, no matter how big our mistake and no matter how much we deserved punishment, grace always followed. Dad and Mom would comfort, tell us he loved us, pick up any broken pieces, put us back together again, and direct us toward King Jesus.

One of these days, I hope to write a book called, When Daddy Cried. He didn’t cry often, but sometimes when the emotions of love for his children or Savior overcame him, he would cry. My Dad was always at his best in the pulpit. When he talked about his sin and his Savior, tears would often stream from his eyes. No one ever questioned whether my Dad believed what he preached. Those penetrating tears of faith made a larger impression in my soul than anyone would ever know.

I still to this day cherish what I call “weekly wisdom from Dad,” which used to come in the form of a Sunday sermon. Now it comes to my inbox in a weekly email. As a child, I did not cherish this wisdom as much as I do now. The longer I am a Dad with my own children, the more I cherish my Dad’s voice in my head. I often make decisions now when my Dad is not nearby…at least not physically. But in my head arises that calm steadying voice of godly wisdom. His advice is ever with me. What value can one place on truth? Proverbs tells us that truth is more precious than gold. Todd and I have an incredibly rich heritage.

That heritage is why I am thrilled to have another chance to listen to the wisdom of my godly father and to share this moment with all of you as he does what God created him to do. And what he has been doing now for 50 years. Preach the Word.

We love you Dad.


*Author’s note: I had the opportunity to say a few words about my Dad on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 as he preached at Mud Creek Baptist Church in North Carolina. He was preaching to celebrate 50 years since he preached his first sermon on April 21, 1965 at the age of 13. I am thankful for a faithful Father.

An Unexpected Gem in the Narrative of Jephthah

What can we learn from Jephthah? After all, he was born to a prostitute, rejected by his half brothers, denied an inheritance, served as a Judge over Israel, and either sacrificed or dedicated his daughter to the Lord. Few of us can identify with these characteristics so surely his story has little to say to us, right?

I discovered an unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah when recently preparing to preach this passage. I am constantly amazed by how applicable and relevant the Word of God is when we take the time to study passages that may at first glance seem irrelevant to us.

The unexpected gem is a lesson on how to handle confrontation. We all deal with confrontation whether it be personal or professional. In Judges 11:12-33, Jephthah has a confrontation with the king of the Ammonites over land. The way he handled that confrontation provides a great example. Let’s look at what he did.

1.  He acted. Jepthah had every reason to stay in Tob and do nothing. After all, his half brothers rejected him because his mother was a prostitute and they ran him out of town. He fled homeless and entered Tob as a refugee. He didn’t have to assist the Israelites in their war with the Ammonites, but when given an opportunity to lead, act he did.

Leadership is active not passive. You cannot sit by and watch if you want to influence those around you. Sometimes in conflict, we choose the way of passivity. We allow bitterness to fester and avoid the situation rather than dealing with it. Sometimes we allow conflict to build like steam in a pressure cooker until we too blow our top. To lead, influence others, or properly deal with conflict, you must act. But how you act matters. Jephthah, the unexpected leader from the wrong side of the tracks, demonstrates how to properly respond to conflict.

2.  He sought a peaceful solution first. The men of Gilead went to Jephthah because he had collected “worthless fellows” around him (v. 3). They wanted him to lead them into battle. He excelled at war not words, but his first act, was to send messengers to the king of the Ammonites.

Jephthah had moved past the youthful brashness of showing physical strength first. He had seen conflict up close, and he recognized that in any war people get hurt. In a war this size, lives would be lost and in any conflict, collateral damage may occur. When we seek vengeance rather than a solution, we take the place of God and find ourselves in the wrong. We must first seek a peaceful solution.

3.  He asked a question. Jephthah did not assume that he understood the situation completely and accurately. He asked a question. “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (v. 12) The king then explained his complaint that Israel had taken land that he felt belonged to him and he wanted it returned (v. 13).

Asking a question often diffuses a situation by demonstrating a willingness to listen. Even in cases when it does not solve a problem, it increases the probability of clear communication. In the Gospel accounts, we see that Jesus asked many questions. Remember when he asked, “Who do men say that I am?” Questions allow other people to express their position.

4.  He replied with good logic. In fact, his argument makes a good sample paper or speech. Jephthah has a thesis, supporting facts, and a conclusion—the building blocks that form the structure of good communication.

Jephthah presents his thesis in verse 15, “Israel did not take away the land of Moab or Ammonites…” Jephthah supported his thesis with arguments from history, theology, and precedent.

First, Jephthah argues historically in verses 16-20 by emphasizing that Israel acted peacefully until attacked by Sihon the king of the Amorites and that Israel never fought with the Ammonites. He moves from historical argumentation to theological argumentation in verses 21-24. He argued that only a deity gave victories. The Ammonites believed that their god Chemosh gave them land whereas Israel believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave them this land. Notice that Jephthah intentionally includes Moab in verse 15, notes Chemosh the god of Moab rather than Molech the god of the Ammonites, and references Balak of Moab later. This seems to be an intentional choice rather than a careless confusion of deities. Finally, he appeals to precedent in (25-26) when he references Balak the king of Moab who never made a claim to the land and nor was a claim made in the 300 years since the supposed incident. Why now would the king of the Ammonites suddenly have this problem with Israel?

Jephthah rightly concluded that Israel had not sinned. Rather, it was the king of the Ammonites who was wrong by making war against Israel. Jephthah demonstrates that the king had an agenda that did not include peace. He appeals to God to judge between them, which happens in the resulting battle.

It appears Jephthah graduated from Tob Liberal Arts University. Okay, so this is a shameless plug for Cedarville University, since we educate students across every degree to think well, write well, and communicate well. That is the idea behind a liberal arts education. Jephthah, a man of war, demonstrates that he is a man of words too. He analyzed the king’s accusation, formulated an excellent response, and communicated it well.

We should respond this well to confrontation. So often when we are faced with confrontation, we assume that we know the facts without understanding the other side of the story. Sometimes we escalate the situation by replaying it over and over in our minds. With each rerun, the situation escalates, we assign motives, and our inner boiler heats up a little hotter blowing the situation out of proportion. Even when we ask the right questions, we must be willing to listen to the response. Jephthah asked the right question, listened to the accusation, formulated a reasoned response, and sought a peaceful solution.

5.  He did what he had to do. Sometimes our best efforts don’t work. Sometimes we learn that other side has an agenda or has already made up their mind. We cannot be afraid to take a stand, but that should be our last course of action.

As I looked for application in a seldom-preached Old Testament narrative about a lesser-known judge who usually draws more criticism for a rash vow than praise for wisdom, I found a hidden gem. So the next time you find yourself in a confrontation, “Just Jephthah.”

And by, “Just Jephthah,” I mean lead well by asking a question, understanding the accusation, responding with logic, seeking a peaceful solution, and taking a stand when necessary. By going directly to the person rather than taking up arms on Facebook, Twitter, the gossip corner, or the rumor mill, you too will come to appreciate this unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah.

Strategic Planning Committee Members

The email below went out to our campus community this morning. For those following along as we begin our strategic planning process, I have selected the members of the committee. I am meeting with the chairman tomorrow afternoon. He and I will discuss when they plan to meet and the implementation of the process.

Dear Cedarville Family,

I would like to announce to you the members of the Strategic Planning Committee. They are:

  • Tom Mach: (Chair) Chair of History and Government, Professor of History, & Director of the Honors Program.
  • Rod Johnson: (Vice-Chair) Associate Vice President for Operations
  • Lynn Brock: Dean of Library Services
  • Mandy Nolt: Accreditation & Assessment Specialist
  • Chris Cross: Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance
  • Amanda Gillespie: Advancement Officer, Scholarships
  • Tim Tuinstra: Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering
  • Brandon Waltz: Director of Production Services Group
  • Jim Amstutz: Director of Event Services
  • Jason Lee: Dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies, Professor of Theological Studies
  • Anne Rich: Associate Professor of Accounting

I am thankful to each of these members for agreeing to serve on this important committee. Through the graciousness of God, I believe we have assembled a well-balanced committee. We have faculty members serving in professional and liberal arts areas, we have staff members representing the entire institution, and we have variation in age and gender. This committee represents those who received the most votes of faculty and staff members, those recommended by the Vice Presidents, and a committee selected after sincere prayer. I would ask that you continue to pray for each and every member of the committee. Thank you and God bless.

By Faith,

Thomas White

The Steps Involved in Strategic Planning

Part of the problem in tackling strategic planning is agreeing on the steps involved for a particular institution and having common agreement on the definition of items like mission statement, vision statement, value statement, etc. Toward that end, I think it would be helpful to post the outlines of the steps various resources use in strategic planning. I have listed them in order from the one I found most helpful to least helpful with any comments in parenthesis. The title of the book is at the top of each list in case you want to purchase it to read more.

A lot of overlap exists, but each book states items a little differently. The steering committee will need to have input into the final process chosen for Cedarville University, but these lists will be helpful in identifying the right process when that time comes. If you are embarking upon your own strategic planning journey, then I hope this is helpful to you as well.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations (Simple, easily understandable, and complete. This one is my favorite so far. This book also has worksheets and several helpful appendices.)

  1. Phase 1: Get Ready
    • Identify the Reasons for Planning
    • Set Up Your Planning Process for Success
    • Develop a Plan for Gathering Information from Internal and External Stakeholders
    • Design your Strategic Planning Process to Meet Your Organizational Needs
    • Write a Planning Work Plan
  2. Phase 2: Articulate Mission, Vision, and Values
    • Write (or Reaffirm or Rewrite) Your Mission Statement
    • Write Your Vision Statement
    • Articulate the Fundamental Values that Guide Your Work
  3. Phase 3: Assess Your Situation
    • Prepare a History and Descriptive Profile of Operations
    • Articulate Previous and Current Strategies
    • Gather Information from Internal Stakeholders
    • Gather Information from External Stakeholders
    • Gather Information from Documents and Other Sources
    • Summarize Information into a Situation Assessment
  4. Phase 4: Agree on Priorities
    • Analyze Data, Review Progress to Date, and Update Workplan
    • Use Business Planning; Tools for Assessing Your Program Portfolio
    • Agree on Each Program’s Future Growth Strategy and Develop Your Program Portfolio
    • Confirm Your Future Core Strategies
    • Agree on Administrative, Financial, and Governance Priorities
  5. Phase 5: Write the Strategic Plan
    • Create Goals and Objectives
    • Understand the Financial Implications of Your Decisions
    • Write the Strategic Planning Document
    • Adopt the Strategic Plan and Next Steps
  6. Phase 6: Implement the Strategic Plan
    • Plan to Manage Change
    • Develop a Detailed Annual Operational Plan
  7. Phase 7: Evaluate and Monitor the Strategic Plan
    • Evaluate the Strategic Plan and the Strategic Planning Process
    • Monitor the Strategic Plan and Update as Needed

Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A Guide for Leaders (Designed for my context and uses the language of the Academy. Those items alone make it a must have for leaders in higher education to understand the terms and definitions.)

  1. Phase 1: Mission, Vision, and Values
  2. Phase 2: Collaborators and Beneficiaries
  3. Phase 3: Environmental Scan
  4. Phase 4: Goals
  5. Phase 5: Strategies and Action Plans
  6. Phase 6: Plan Creation
  7. Phase 7: Outcomes and Achievements

10 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning (good simple plan, relatively short book at 250 pages, good definitions and discussion in chapter 5 of mission, vision and values, overall a very helpful resource.)

  1. Laying the Foundation
  2. Scanning the Business Environment
  3. Collecting Relevant Data
  4. Analyzing the Collected Data
  5. Stating Mission, Vision and Values
  6. Prioritizing Needs and Identifying Risks
  7. Designing and Validating Tactics
  8. Prioritizing Tactics and Resources
  9. Documenting and Communicating the Plan
  10. Maintaining the Plan

Strategic Planning for Public and Non-Profit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievements (very simple outline, easily understandable and provides a good framework.)

  1. Initiate and agree on a strategic planning process
  2. Identify organizational mandates
  3. Clarify organizational mission and values
  4. Assess the external and internal environments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  5. Identify the strategic issues facing the organization
  6. Formulate strategies to manage the issues
  7. Review and adopt the strategic plan or plans
  8. Establish an effective organizational vision
  9. Develop an effective implementation process
  10. Reassess strategies and the strategic planning process

Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies (The most simple when looking at the 4 steps. Easy to communicate quickly and when fleshed out relatively thorough, but for an academic context, I fear this comes across as over simplified. That is the only reason for its lower ranking. In a church or non-profit, this one might work well. To the common sense person, this communicates well in my opinion.)

  1. Where are we now?
    • Mission
    • Values statement and/or guiding principles
    • SWOT
      • Strengths
      • Weaknesses
      • Opportunities
      • Threats
  2. Where are we going?
    • Sustainable competitive advantage
    • Vision Statement
  3. How will we get there?
    • Long-term Strategic Objectives
    • Strategy
    • Short-Term goals/priorities/initiatives
    • Action items
    • Execution
  4. How will we measure our progress?
    • Scorecard/Key
    • Monthly/Quarterly Business Reviews
    • Financial Assessment

Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning People, Performance, and Payoffs (p. 85) (good plan but perhaps over simplified and the book did not provide as much information on each phase of planning or did not lay it out as clearly as the above resourced did. This information is on one page whereas in some books the steps are the table of contents)

  1. Prepare to Plan
  2. Develop Ideal Vision
  3. Conduct Needs Assessment
  4. Analyze Scope and SWOTs
  5. Review Strategic Objectives (Mega, Macro, and Micro)
  6. Develop Strategies and Tactics
  7. Implement, Evaluate, Continuously Improve (Revise as required)

Team-Based Strategic Planning: A Complete Guide to Structuring, Facilitating, and Implementing the Process (I simply did not resonate with this resource as well as others. For other personality types, this one may be more helpful, but the delegation and accountability portions didn’t fit my purposes. I want to be actively involved in the process, and I desire a team feel more than an authoritative feel so delegation and accountability don’t communicate my desires as effectively as other choices of the above resources.)

  1. Situation analysis (external assessment, internal assessment)
  2. Priority issues
  3. Mission
  4. Objectives
  5. Strategies
  6. Program Development
  7. Delegation
  8. Accountability
  9. Review

60 Minute Strategic Plan (This book focused too much on business for my purposes. To be completely forthcoming, the title of this book bothers me a little. Any plan created in 60 minutes simply can’t have the thought and planning necessary to be called strategic. That’s playing checkers and not chess. All that to say the necessary parts are present, but I am not resonating well with this resource.)

  1. Issue
  2. Assumptions
  3. Values
  4. Vision
  5. Customer Benefit
  6. Other Beneficiaries
  7. Obstacles
  8. Vital Signs
  9. Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities
  10. Strategies
  11. Actions
  12. Title


Strategic Planning: Pitfalls of a Two Committee Structure

In my last post, I gave the reasons for choosing to go with two committees for strategic planning. One committee will be composed of the VPs and the president, which I will refer to as the executive leadership team. The second steering committee will be made up of selected faculty and staff members from across the institution to gather broad based input. In this post, I will discuss some of the pitfalls we have to avoid in this structure.

Pitfall 1— Can You Hear Me Now? This pitfall manifests itself when the steering committee brings ideas to the executive leadership team and the team thinks, “Where in the world did this come from?” While listening to the presentation of the laborious strategic plan, they think, “We can’t possibly do this.” But in an effort not to hurt feelings, they respond with, “Thank you for your hard work, we will take this into consideration.” In essence, clear communication has not occurred and two different expectations exist…a disconnect between the leadership and the steering committee.

This disconnect can easily occur. The committee looks at opportunities or threats. They have a great brainstorming session, and they come up with a plan to take advantage of opportunities or avoid threats. But if those opportunities or threats have never crossed the leadership’s mind or perhaps a more urgent set of opportunities and threats dominate the executive leadership team’s mind, then a disconnect can easily occur. At times, personal agendas arise that do not benefit the institution. Additionally, the lack of having realistic data about enrollment or dollars leads to an unrealistic result.

Pitfall 2 – Show Me the Money! This can be a symptom of pitfall 1, but it doesn’t have to be. Many good ideas never get off the ground because a lack of funding resulted in too short of a runway. The steering committee needs to understand enrollment numbers and the budget, and the executive leadership team has to be transparent and forthcoming with enough information for realistic planning. Planning a new program that requires a new building may be great, but it’s a horrible idea if you don’t have the donor base to raise the money for the building. While it may be easy to say, “Let’s raise 20 million and launch this program,” actually finding people willing to give that money can be very difficult. Additionally, there are times when sudden challenges arise that require cuts in the budget. Proper communication concerning these types of situations will prevent people from thinking they wasted their time if a plan never receives funding.

Solution: The two committees must communicate regularly. We will have a regularly scheduled meeting with both committees to talk about agenda items or items from the floor. I also plan to meet regularly with the chairman of the steering committee so that he or she can communicate items to me, and I can provide feedback or perhaps point out some threats or opportunities that I am watching closely. Being intentional with communication will minimize the risk of pitfalls one and two.

Pitfall 3 – Burnout: Who really wants to do this much work every year? Committees pull teachers away from doing what they were called to do–teach. Committees prevent staff from accomplishing their primary task. Sometimes, you need a plan to acquire enough people to agree to serve on a committee with this large of a task. The chairman especially has the possibility of burnout. I talked with at least one former chairman who expressed no desire to ever do it again.

Solution: The solution of implementing a two-year cycle rather than a one-year cycle came from a discussion with a former chairman of a strategic planning committee. Performing everything associated with a yearly evaluation, SWOT analysis, writing, planning, communicating can be cumbersome. A two-year cycle makes the workload more manageable but can still changed and adapt with the organization. Assuming the chairperson we select agrees, Cedarville will operate on a two-year cycle. Another solution is to see the steering committee as a proving ground for future leaders. The strategic planning process provides a path for advancement within the organization, motivation for serving, and a training ground for leadership and communication skills. In this way, it becomes a win-win situation and minimizes the difficulty in recruiting team members to serve.

Pitfall 4 – Lack of Evaluation: A plan that is never evaluated becomes a relic on a shelf to demonstrate that you have a plan. The plan becomes the desired end without implementation or communication. Sometimes this happens intentionally. When an institution really doesn’t want to plan, but has to do so for accreditation or other outside pressures, the plan becomes the goal and not strategic thinking. At other times, a plan reaches too far into the future and merges with a long-range plan. The best strategic plans have to be nimble like a good football game plan. You may have the first 20 plays scripted, but you have to maintain flexibility to adapt quickly beyond that. And when you go in at half-time down by 20, you know something has to change. A strategic plan should be evaluated every two years (for our cycle) or sooner. Honest evaluation of the structure, people, and plan will help an organization succeed into the future.

Solution: Evaluate constantly and plan an evaluation phase into the two-year cycle but don’t wait until then to evaluate the plan. The point of strategic planning is strategy, not a document. Understanding where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there comes from strategic planning. Identifying threats or opportunities comes from planning and then surviving threats or taking advantage of opportunities results from good strategic thinking. If you want to thrive, you must think strategically in life, in business, and in ministry.

We will also clearly communicate that evaluation must be ongoing, and assign someone with the task of evaluating. If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible so a culture of evaluation must be created and diligently maintained. Constant evaluation also releases the team from the desire to have the perfect plan before implementation. Understanding that the structure or the plan can be changed in the future provides freedom to act.

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