HANS FINZEL: Hi. This is Hans Finzel, President of WorldVenture based in Littleton, Colorado. Our web site is worldventure.com. Welcome to our radio program, Missions on the Front Line. WorldVenture supports over a thousand mission projects in mission areas in over 65 counties. We've been sharing the good news of Jesus Christ around the world since 1943. This radio program is part of our new initiative to make you aware of new and exciting ways you can be involved in the cause of missions around the world. I'm so excited today to have here in my studio as a guest Dr. Craig Blomberg. Welcome, Craig.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Thank you very much.
HANS FINZEL: Craig is the distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary here in Colorado, a great seminary that recently built a brand new campus very close to our headquarters here in Littleton. Craig, how long have you been at Denver Seminary?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I have just finished 23 years.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. That's a long time. Where did you get your own training?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: As an undergraduate at Augustana College in Illinois and then for seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the Chicagoland area and then finally overseas in Aberdeen, Scotland, at the university there for my PhD.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. That's a lot of brain power. That's a lot of years of study and we just- I know the seminary's so pleased to have you. This is not really going to be an academic discussion. What we want to talk about today is what God is doing in his church around the world because you've got a lot of involvement in training pastors and church leaders overseas, don't you?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I have had the privilege particularly throughout Europe but also a little bit in Latin America and in Australia and New Zealand over the years to speak and teach short term on a number of locations.
HANS FINZEL: Do you believe short-term missions is valuable?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: It is if it's done well—
HANS FINZEL: How would it look if it's done well?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: It has to be something that the people in the country that you're going to desire and where the American or the person coming from another country can fill a real need. If it becomes just glorified Christian tourism, it can become more of a burden and a strain on the missionaries.
HANS FINZEL: Absolutely. How did you get your interest in being involved overseas in missions 'cause you're a professor at a seminary here in America and I'm sure you could be completely busy without ever stepping on an airplane and going overseas? Where did that come from, that passion?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: My father was throughout his career a high school Spanish teacher and so a number of times growing up we had the opportunity to travel to Spanish-speaking countries. Then when I went to doctoral studies in Great Britain the rest of Europe was much closer than it is from the States as well as we had a chance to travel to Israel. The experience of learning how others see life from other cultures, especially Christians, especially where evangelical Christians in other parts of the world challenge things that Americans just take for granted, is such an enriching experience that I can't get enough of it.
HANS FINZEL: I love that. I can't either. I'm with you. I've been to over a hundred countries. I've been keeping track lately and I just love- I especially enjoy meeting our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries, don't you?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: It-- It's amazing how consistently there is a depth of maturity, of commitment that for a variety of reasons it seems is often lacking in the United States, and it always challenges me to think about what the next level of commitment might look like for me.
HANS FINZEL: I had the same experience. I just was west Africa, Mali and Guinea, and the believers I met there seemed like they were so much more fully committed followers of Christ in terms of their time and their schedule and their priorities in what they do than the average of us Christians here in America. It's quite a rebuke really.
HANS FINZEL: And so much is tied in to culture because I often think the only way to live a less hectic and almost workaholic life would be to move to some other part of the world.
HANS FINZEL: Yeah. That's absolutely true because the culture of America is materialistic, leisure oriented and hectic, over-committed.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Exactly. My wife and I spent ten years living in Vienna and two of our four children were born in Austria as we were working in eastern Europe, and we loved the amount of family time we had together with our children when we lived overseas and as soon as we came back to America it just evaporated. We liked the English coffee and tea breaks and just the general sense of if I've put in a good six or seven hours of work in a day then that's honoring to God, and there are times for breaks so that you actually get to know your colleagues at work and evenings are spent doing other things. I'm probably too American to ever adjust to that altogether, but it's definitely a slower and more civilized pace of life.
HANS FINZEL: I'm pure German, as most people can figure out with the Hans Finzel, and Germans are notorious for taking all of their vacations that are allotted to them but Americans are notorious for not even taking all the vacation that's given to them. We really are a workaholic culture. Hey, does anybody ever ask you what your favorite country is that you visited outside of America?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Not very often, but I've thought about the question, and in the last seven years I have gone five times now to work with the Irish Bible Institute in Dublin, which is the only school of higher education from an evangelical Christian perspective that's fully accredited, giving out both undergraduate and master's level training programs, and maybe that's why I married a wife of Irish-American descent or maybe it's because I did that I'm drawn to that culture, but on the one hand they are a relaxed, fun-loving people that don't have the workaholism we were just talking about. On the other hand, they are at an incredibly strategic period of their history as secularizing forces, and the collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in many ways in that country is leaving all kinds of people ripe for the gospel and they're recognizing the need to seize the moment.
HANS FINZEL: What are you teaching there at that institute? Did you say it was a Bible institute?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: That's right—
HANS FINZEL: What have you been teaching there?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I have committed to an every-other-year course, a modular course, in their master's program on hermeneutics, on principles of interpreting the Bible, but I have also done spot things on just about any topic out of the New Testament somebody needs some help with.
HANS FINZEL: Right. In case you're just joining us, this is Hans Finzel and you're listening to Missions on the Front Line. Our web site is worldventure.com, and I have as my guest today in my studio Dr. Craig Blomberg who is the distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary here in Colorado, and if you want to learn more about Denver Seminary I believe the web site would be denverseminary.edu.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: That's right.
HANS FINZEL: So check out the seminary if you're interested in more education of any kind. Ireland-- Let's talk a little bit more about Ireland before we go on to some other places you've been, average typical American view of Ireland. It's a Catholic country. It's very traditional. People are hard to reach. We're not saying that Catholics aren't believers by any means, but tell me a little bit more about what you see God doing in that country as a strategic place right now.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: That would have been a fair stereotype up to about 15 years ago but, like the rest of western Europe, rapid secularizing forces all around, a lot of immigration especially from Africa, a lot of pluralization and, if people think that the American Catholic church has been hurt by some of the scandals here, those are dwarfed by the problems that the Irish Catholic church has had. So there really is a loss of confidence. Probably less than 50% now in Dublin, the city that has close to half of the country's population, would be regular Catholic churchgoers for the first time ever in history. In other places the numbers are still higher, but it's on a trajectory very similar to what has happened in much of the rest of western Europe, not as far along yet, still very much interested in spiritual things, not necessarily Christian, certainly not necessarily Catholic and yes, still hard to reach but not as hard as it once was and lots of small church plants springing up all over the place in very encouraging ways.
HANS FINZEL: Yes, I know. WorldVenture and a couple of other cities of Ireland have been doing church planting and we've seen lately a much greater response and openness as people are disillusioned with institutional Christianity but are definitely hungry for spiritual things. Let's go on to some other-- Any other places in Europe that you've- that you are teaching at or have recently?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: We have family in England. My daughter has settled in Canterbury with her family so have reason to go across there as often as we can, a few years back had the chance to do some teaching in Germany and, if you count teaching while taking people on tours, we just came back the last two weeks from a trip to Turkey and Greece following the steps of Paul and the churches of the Revelation, looking forward to some other opportunities in the years to come.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. I'd like to hear a little bit more about that so do you lead these kind of teaching tours on a regular basis?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Typically, there'll be a couple of us at the seminary. We have almost every year, assuming that political circumstances make it possible, a trip to Israel and then in alternate years to Turkey and Greece, and there are a number of us in both the Old and New Testament departments and sometimes in other departments that will take turns leading those. So I don't go as often as I might like but certainly get those opportunities.
HANS FINZEL: That's fascinating. How many people were on this trip you just took?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: It's one of the largest we've ever had. We had a group of 40.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. And you spent two weeks following in the footsteps of Paul.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Exactly.
HANS FINZEL: Give me a highlight of that trip. What was one of the most- in terms of the people's response that were on the trip. Can you give me a highlight of--
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I think not just because we go from east to west but simply because of the amount of surviving ruins in Athens that that is always one of the highlights when we get there, the Acropolis with its famous Parthenon, Mars' Hill, the partially reconstructed stulla [ph?] where Paul would have talked with the philosophers and mingled with the people. It's dramatic to think of someone largely traveling on foot without the vantage point of aerial pictures that we have looking at these huge, marvelous wonders of architecture all done to serve what Paul himself calls idols. And we read in Acts 17 at the beginning of his time in Athens that when he saw how the city was filled with idols he was distressed. We go and we marvel at what still stands and the feats of engineering and go to the museums, but I wonder if we share the same passion and concern that led to his distress.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. That's fascinating. I never realized that all those buildings and monuments were built to the idols.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Just about all.
HANS FINZEL: That's crazy. Let's talk about some other places. We talked about Europe. You said you've also been to Australia and New Zealand, you had some involvement there, and that's another place that we at WorldVenture are just expanding our ministry in to those countries. America doesn't hear a lot about those cute, little, quaint, isolated countries. Actually, I was in Australia just a year ago. Gosh. What a beautiful place. They kind of have the best of all worlds. They don't get involved in any world problems. They just are down there by themselves with this beautiful country. How do you see the spiritual temperature in those countries?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: It's quite different than one might imagine, lumping those countries together with the rest of the Western world. Not everyone may know that Australia was first settled largely in the early 1800s by English prisoners who were sent off to that part of the world and, while the Church of England in those days still ruled as it were under the British Empire, the church never made significant inroads in the population. So when we look at western Europe as we were talking about a moment ago, we're looking at countries that had remarkable Christian heritages that have lost a lot of that today. When you're looking at Australia and New Zealand you're looking at countries that even when they were first settled had only very small percentages of really active Christian populations and it has shrunk from there, but again though the numbers are small it seems like things have bottomed out and there is growth occurring again in encouraging ways. There is growth particularly in New Zealand in the evangelical movement across the standard denominational lines if for no other reason than the movement is small enough it realizes it has to work together; it can't afford to perpetuate the rivalries and divisions that we've had in so many other parts of the world.
HANS FINZEL: Are you doing some teaching in those countries?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I have.
HANS FINZEL: Where have you been teaching?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I was in Auckland two summers ago at the Bible College of New Zealand and before that had been twice to both Melbourne and Sydney to such schools as the Bible Institute of Victoria and Moore College in Sydney, Tabor College in Melbourne, and then one trip to Adelaide in south Australia. So those are the three largest cities and so also the three main centers of education in the country. A lot of Americans won't realize that in a land mass about the size of the United States there are only 20 million people and most of them are scattered are the coasts.
HANS FINZEL: Yeah, around the edges. Yeah. That's a fascinating opportunity you've had, Craig, there in Australia and New Zealand. In case you're just joining us, this is Hans Finzel and you're listening to Missions on the Front Line, a ministry of WorldVenture. Check out our web site, worldventure.com, and I'm speaking today with Dr. Craig Blomberg who is the distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, been there for 23 years, and I know these people are very privileged when you travel overseas and you teach. How about South America? Did you mention that's also a place you spent some time?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: A number of years ago I had a chance to visit Peru. More recently, it has been Central America. We have-- One of my Old Testament colleagues taught for a number of years at SETECA, the theological seminary in Guatemala City, and so I've had a couple of opportunities to teach there and will be going again in the summer of 2010. Latin America is another animal altogether where Pentecostalism in particular is growing by leaps and bounds. Each country is different. You can't generalize from one to the next in every case, but Guatemala by some counts has a higher percentage of evangelical Christians even than the United States and yet, as happens in so many parts of the world, it doesn't stop political corruption, it doesn't stop desperate poverty in many places, it creates in some circles a desire for the prosperity gospel to be true, and so there still are plenty of needs.
HANS FINZEL: Yeah. What do you teach there when you go down to Guatemala?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I have done a class on parables, which is what I will be doing again, and I also did a lectureship that led to the only one of my books that has ever been translated into Spanish on wealth and poverty, a theme called Neither Poverty Nor Riches, what the Bible teaches about material possessions.
HANS FINZEL: Wow. Could you unpack that just a little bit? That sounds fascinating. What is the basic message of the book?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Well, the title comes out of Proverbs chapter 30 when the proverb writer says, "Give me neither poverty nor riches lest I be full and deny you or lest I steal and thereby profane the name of my God," and I'm afraid that throughout many parts of the world the message that Christians are hearing and the message that Christians want to believe is that if you just have enough faith God will bless you materially with prosperity and conversely that if you have prosperity that is a sign of being blessed by God. And then every once in a while there is a very radical critique, understandably so, of that kind of approach that almost seems to glorify poverty, but the Bible takes neither of those approaches and in essence does not call for the rich to trade places with the poor-- all that would do would be to have different people with the same problems--but for those who are above average in what God has blessed them with to be very generous in their giving and to become conduits for ministering to others. So that becomes all the more pronounced and the need for that message becomes that much more obvious when you travel in the majority world.
HANS FINZEL: Because there's not big middle classes in so many of those countries. There's the elite wealthy and then the rest are in poverty.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: And the demographics remarkably are quite similar to what seems to have been the case in the Roman Empire of the first century at the time of the New Testament.
HANS FINZEL: That's fascinating. So it really doesn't make sense to take a vow of poverty or a vow of prosperity--
CRAIG BLOMBERG: I don't think so.
HANS FINZEL: What was that verse again? Proverbs--
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Proverbs 30 verses 8 and 9.
HANS FINZEL: Eight and nine. Fantastic. Well, we just have a couple of minutes left, Craig, and just some general impressions that you have about how can the church in America best assist maybe the emerging church around the world? I know that's a big, broad question, but how can we help? We're still very much involved in missions. Denver Seminary is sort of getting in to a new mode of emphasizing missions more. How do you see the role of the church in America overseas?
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Obviously, there are needs in so many areas that just about anybody who might want to go abroad short or long term could find someplace to plug in to, but as an educator my bias is in the area of training people to go deep in to the word and in to the Christian life and there are so many parts of the world where statistically the news is very encouraging. The church is growing by leaps and bounds and has been over the last 20 or 25 years, and undoubtedly from your trips to Africa you could share countless stories of that respect, and yet we still see attempts at near genocide taking place. Fifteen years ago it was in Rwanda. Now it's in Congo and plenty of other countries with huge percentages of professing Christians have been torn by this kind of strife. It was WorldVenture former missionary and now executive Glenn Kendall, who I still remember vividly in a chapel at the seminary back in the nineties after coming back from Rwanda, who said that in debriefing he and some of his fellow missionaries said that they realized they had not been preaching the full gospel because they hadn't taught people that loyalty to Christ ran deeper than loyalty to tribe. And ever since I heard that I've wondered if American Christians were reduced to the circumstances that people in other parts of the world so often have been would we be any less tribal?
HANS FINZEL: Wow. I think about that too. I think about it all the time. Thank so much. I know the same is true in China. The church is just exploding but there's no depth and there's so much false teaching and misunderstanding. So what a great message to end up on: Go deep. If we can help the church around the world to go deeper in to the word of God and to be founded more deeply in the word of God, that would be the greatest service that we could provide, and that's of course a huge passion of WorldVenture. Thanks, Craig, for being with me today.
CRAIG BLOMBERG: Thank you for having me.
HANS FINZEL: Thanks for listening today. You've been listening to Missions on the Front Line. We're here to expand your vision and make you aware of new and exciting ways you can be involved in missions around the world. Please visit worldventure.com for more information and the latest news and updates and don't forget to drop us a line. I'd love to hear from you. You can write us at Front Line at WorldVenture.com. This has been Hans Finzel, President of WorldVenture, and I hope to see you next week at Missions on the Front Line.