Published on November 12, 2018 by Grant Taylor  

Dr. Grant Taylor, associate dean and associate professor of divinity, presented this lecture as part of Beeson's series "From Text to Sermon." 

Through the church, God commends his gospel to the world and his wisdom to its rulers and principalities (Eph. 3:10). The gospel is the authoritative story about the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the declaration of his reign as Lord, which was accomplished through his death and resurrection (Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 15:1–8). It conveys power for salvation for any person who believes it (Mark 1:14; Rom. 1:16–17). Thus, it is the core conviction for evangelicals and the basis for their name. In the West, evangelicals and other orthodox Christians see the church and culture on the brink of epochal change. As a partner in the formation of the church’s future leadership, evangelical seminaries should play a key role in deciding what it means for evangelicals to “be the Church today.”[1] To do so, evangelical seminaries should follow biblical paradigms for Christian ministry.

Second Corinthians 2:14–3:3 offers a biblical paradigm for the personal, formational, and cruciform nature of Christian ministry. In this text, Paul compares himself to a captured slave who marches in God’s triumphal procession “in Christ,” a Roman custom that often ended in death for such slaves. As Paul is “led unto death,” God publicly and dramatically spreads the knowledge of Christ through him and his co-workers “in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14). As he writes in 1 Corinthians 4:9, “it seems God has put us apostles on display as condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.”[2] Because God put him on display, Paul always spoke, or preached, in Christ as sent by God and before God’s presence (2 Cor. 2:17). Paul’s embodied, public, and cruciform preaching matched his way of life, which produced “letters of recommendation” for the world to see (2 Cor. 3:1-3). Spirit-wrought, cruciform Christians were the genuine evidence of Paul’s Christ-formed words and deeds.

Like Paul’s, our ministry should be embodied, public, and cruciform. As we joyfully and faithfully serve in such ministry, God produces Spirit-wrought letters of Christ who commend our ministries and, therefore, the gospel to the world. I believe we need cruciform families, churches, and seminaries in order to form cruciform preachers of the cruciform gospel. Evangelical seminaries can remain, or become, cruciform in at least three ways.

First, seminaries must remain committed to the evangel in curricula and, most important, their people. This means we ought to take 2 Corinthians 2:17 as a baseline to evaluate faculty and students to discern if these men and women are sent from God and accountable to God. Faculties should teach theology derived from Holy Scripture, as well as the practices and affections through which loving brothers and sisters in Christ have handed down theology throughout church history.

Second, because Christian ministry is personal and embodied, evangelical seminaries should renew their focus on personal, embodied theological education for pastoral ministry. Like other Christians, pastors learn from others (1 Cor. 11:1). Ministry students learn to minister the gospel authentically as they learn doctrine inextricably connected to life from professors, their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in Christ. If the affections and habits of persons matter for Christian life and ministry, we ought to model Christ-like affections and habits for students in face-to-face community. In this visceral romantic age, seminaries would do well to steward the gospel with personal, embodied, face-to-face ministry and, thus, theological education.

Finally, if our seminaries carry out an embodied, apostolic mission, they will necessarily operate in a cruciform manner. For Paul, ministry in Christ was like marching in a Roman triumph to his death (2 Cor. 2:14; 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 4:10-11). Seminaries, too, can learn the triumphal procession of Christian ministry and its dramatic implications for the watching world if faculty and students bear one another’s burdens in embodied community. As Joseph Ratzinger writes, “The capacity for loving corresponds to the capacity for suffering and for suffering together.”[3] The Christian faith requires Christian ministers taught and mentored by other ministers. Such work is challenging but hopeful work rooted in faith, hope, and love.

Watch Dr. Taylor's full lecture below:


[1] See Scott J. Hafemann, Suffering & Ministry in the Spirit: Paul’s Defense of his Ministry in II Corinthians 2:14–3:3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), pp. 55–59.

[2] R. R. Reno, “Benedict Option,” First Things (May 2017),

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, introduction to A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education, and Culture, ed. J. Steven Brown (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013), 3.

With the exception of a few changes, the text for this post is an excerpt from Dr. Taylor's article, "Commending the Gospel: Evangelical Seminaries and Our 'Letters of Recommendation,'" Christian Scholar's Review 47.4 (Summer 2018): 423-432.