An Imaginary Report by Joe-2005

No one can approach the Bible without bias. Our understanding of Scripture is shaped by our culture and traditions, personality, history, relationships and commitments.  To say this is to simply to acknowledge a fact. Humans are inherently subjective. Our subjectivity is not the result of sin. It is rooted in who we are, creatures who live in particular places and times. None of us can see as God sees.

Growth requires that we acknowledge this subjectivity.  A person who is emotionally and spiritually mature knows many of his own prejudices and understands where they came from.  He will allow his prejudices to be examined and challenged as he engages in respectful dialogue with those who see things differently from him.

For Christians who maintain a high view of Scripture, it is tempting to think that we are reading the Bible straight, that we are getting back to the original and plain meaning of the text. But everyone is reading through a lens. As Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1Co 13:12, KJV). From time to time, it’s helpful to stop looking at Scripture and consider the lens through which we read it.

Most of the time, we look through our glasses, not at them. But occasionally we need to take them off and examine them to see if they need to be cleaned or adjusted. And sometimes we need to get a new prescription. A single pair of eyeglasses doesn’t work for a lifetime. When you get a new pair of glasses, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the old glasses are inferior or flawed. You are simply admitting that time has passed, that you are older and more mature, and that he old pair just isn’t working anymore.

For some time now, I’ve been reading and thinking about hermeneutics. (For the normal people out there, “hermeneutics” is a fancy-pants term for processes of Scriptural interpretation.  It rhymes with “schmermeneutics.”) I’ve been examining the hermeneutic that I had been given by my church, a hermeneutic which seemed to work for me in the past but now is no longer working.  I’ve been trying to identify and critique my own biases by examining how various groups of Christians approach the Bible. The big question on my mind is, “How should I be approaching Scripture at this stage in my spiritual journey?” I’m not ready to answer that question yet.  But I do think that I can identify many of my own biases. That is, I can accurately describe the ways that my church taught me to approach Scripture, ways that I accepted, endorsed and promoted.

To see whether I really do understand how I was taught to approach Scripture, I conducted a thought experiment. I imagined myself as I was back in 2005. Someone has invited me to attend a UBF conference and give a special lecture on how to study the Bible. I imagined what I would have said back then and wrote it down. The report that I produced is not a satire. I deliberately tried to avoid caricature and sarcasm, because I didn’t want it to be perceived as mocking or demeaning. It my best attempt to describe what I once believed and taught, presenting it in the most charitable and positive light that I can, in the hope of generating respectful discussion and constructive criticism.

Please read this report and tell me what you think. For those of you who were discipled in UBF, is this an accurate description of what you were taught? For those of you who knew me in 2005, is this the kind of report that I would have given back then?

And please join my experiment in the following manner. Imagine that you – the person that you are today – are attending a conference and hearing me – Joe Schafer, as I was in 2005 – giving this lecture to a live audience. Imagine “Joe 2005” presenting it with positivity and enthusiasm. When the conference is over, you write a personal letter or email to Joe-2005 explaining what you thought of his lecture. Please be honest and tell him what you really think. What did he say that was good and true? Is anything wrong? Is anything missing? Do any of his points need counterbalance? Does Joe-2005 seem to have a mature outlook? If not, what issues does he need to think about? Where should he go to improve his perspective?

If you participate in this experiment, please address your comments to Joe-2005, and remember that he was (and still is) an actual person. Although Joe-2005 may hold views similar to those of members and leaders of his church, you are not writing to UBF in general, nor to any current or former leaders. You are personally communicating with Joe-2005. Remember that he has feelings and commitments. If you speak to him without sensitivity, he might not be able to process what you are saying. But if you feel the need to be brutally honest and say something that appears harsh, that’s okay. Use your best judgment.

At some point in the future, Joe-2012 may write a letter to Joe-2005 about his presentation. If so, I will share it with you. But I want to hear from you first. Please react to this presentation and begin your responses with “Dear Joe-2005.”

And if you address a comment to Joe-2005, you just might get a response from him.


(hypothetical presentation by Joe Schafer in July 2005)

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

Part 1: We should approach the Bible as the word of God

Thank you for inviting me to come and speak on the all-important topic of we approach Scripture. How do we approach the Bible? How should we approach the Bible? These questions are so important. The condition of our souls and the trajectory of our lives is largely determined by how we approach the Bible.

The most important thing I will tell you tonight is this. We need to approach the Bible as the word of God. Sarah Barry, the General Director of UBF, has said that the turning point of her life was when she, as a young university student, decided to read and study the Bible as the word of God. She began to treat the words of Scripture not as the utterings of human beings, but as the God of the universe speaking directly to her. When she decided to approach the Bible as the word of God, her relationship with God suddenly came alive and the course of her life was altered forever.

The Bible needs to be read, and it needs to be studied. We shouldn’t approach the Bible as if it were a textbook. A textbook can be read informationally, but the Bible should be read formationally. The Bible does contains lots of information to understand and digest. But God didn’t give us the Bible to fill our heads with knowledge. He gave us the Bible to repair our character, to re-mold and remake us in the image of Jesus Christ.

The Bible should also be read frequently. I’m sure you are familiar with Psalm chapter 1. Psalm 1 declares that the person who is truly blessed is the person who meditates on God’s law day and night. Those words “day and night” are really daunting. Is that a hyperbole? Is it an exaggeration? Some statements in the Bible are hyperbole. But in this case, I think it’s accurate. Very few people have a lifestyle that allows them to spend long periods of time each day and night to read and study Scripture. But we all have the freedom to direct our thoughts toward God’s word anytime we choose. Throughout the day, as we go about our business, our minds go in all sorts of directions. We think, worry, calculate and daydream. But by practice and self discipline and with God’s help, we can successfully direct our attention back where it should be, focused on the words that God has given. But we can say with confidence that the person who does this will be blessed, and is life will fruitful in all sorts of ways; everything he does will prosper (Ps 1:3).

As a career academic, I live in a world of theories and ideas. It’s a great challenge for me to bring Bible study out of the realm of abstraction into real life. Yet the Bible is about all about real life. It contains real commands from God that need to be taken seriously and implemented in real life. For this reason, I suggest that any session of Bible study, wither individually or in a group, ought to end with a solid point, something concrete that we are actually going to do based on what we learned. It’s okay to muse about this and that, but at the end of the day, we need to let God’s word operate on the real issues of life.

And that is the essence of what it means to walk as Jesus’ disciple. We weren’t called to live as nominal Christians. We were called to be disciples of Jesus. Since Jesus died and rose and ascended to heaven, we no longer have him here to communicate with us. We now have the Bible as the primary means through which we communicate and interact with God. The word of God created the world, and the word of God breathes new life into us. 1 Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Part 2: We should read the Bible in light of our mission

It is when we study the Bible within the context of our own purpose and mission that the application becomes relevant and the word of God really comes alive.

The Bible begins with the book of Genesis. Genesis explains that God made everything for a purpose. He made human beings with a mission and purpose, which is to be rulers and stewards over the earth (Ge 1:28). After sin entered the world, the ground became cursed, and our lives were filled with meaningless toil (Ge 3:17-19). We lost the noble mission of ruling and our lives were reduced to struggle for survival. But soon God began to work to restore that mission. In Genesis chapter 12, God called Abraham to begin a new history by living a new kind of life, a life of faith in obedience to God’s word. God promised Abraham that he would bless him and make him a blessing (Ge 12:1-3). That blessing is a reversal of Adam’s curse. But it didn’t happen right away. It was a process that evolved over many generations.

Through Abraham and his descendants, God raised a new nation, the nation of Israel. He delivered them from slavery in Egypt (a vivid depiction of the life of curse) and brought them into the promised land. God’s hope and purpose for the Israelites is described in Exodus 19:5-6: he intended them to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But God didn’t force them, and it didn’t go according to his plan. Once they came into the promised land of Canaan, that glorious purpose began to fade. Once they got a taste of milk and honey, they indulged themselves and forgot their mission. They fell into an easygoing lifestyle. They lost their thankfulness for God’s grace of deliverance and began to lust after foreign gods. Their walk of faith degenerated into superficial observance of traditions and rites of worship. God rebuked them through many prophets but they stubbornly refused to listen. Eventually God’s people were invaded by foreign armies; their temple was destroyed and the people were carried off into exile. When they their mission, they lost everything.

But God wasn’t finished with them. After 70 years of Babylonian captivity, God returned a remnant and rebuilt the nation through them. And a few centuries later, something remarkable happened. The New Testament opens with a man on a mission. His name is John the Baptist,  and he preached a new message of repentance and forgiveness. And he prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. Jesus was no ordinary prophet. He was God’s one and only Son. Jesus embarked on a three-year ministry. He took care of the needy crowds, healed the sick and cast out demons. Yet his focus was on teaching the word of God and raising a handful of disciples to become leaders and shepherds of the future church. At the end of his ministry, Jesus suffered and died on cross to pay price for our sins. He paid for all our sins – past, present and future. And his resurrection demonstrates that he achieved complete victory over sin and death.

The risen Jesus gave this command to his followers: “Go and make disciples of all nations…”(Mt 28:19). This so-called Great Commission is the mission statement for the Church of Jesus Christ. This is the grand purpose on which the church rises or falls. We were called by Jesus and saved by him not merely for ourselves, but to declare his saving truth to others. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Note the similarity between this verse and Exodus 19:5-6. The two are really saying the same thing. God saves us and makes us his people in order to serve him by declaring his glories to the world.

And this leads me to my next point about the mission of Jesus’ disciples. Throughout the world, Christians are engaged in many acts of mercy. They are feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They are building orphanages, hospitals, and schools to improve people’s lives in this world. All these activities are good. But at the end of the day, there is no eternal benefit to people unless these activities happen within the context of preaching and teaching. Very early in the ministry of Jesus, he went into Capernaum to proclaim the word of God. He also healed the sick and cast out demons. As a result, many more needy people came to him to be healed. His disciples wanted him to stay there and establish an institutionalized system for social work. But Jesus refused to stay. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’” (Mk 1:38). Jesus did take care of people’s human needs. But he gave first priority to teaching God’s word and raising disciples. He did teach the crowds, but his primary method was not mass evangelism. It was personal interaction with his disciples on an individual basis. It was a one-to-one ministry. When Jesus spent time with one disciple, he was not merely helping that disciple; he was helping all the other people that the disciple would help for the remainder of his life. And he was helping all the people that those people would help. This is a Biblical principle that goes back to God’s interaction with Abraham. One person is not just a person. One person is a nation. When you teaching one person, you may actually be influencing a whole nation for many generations to come.

Jesus was not merely a teacher; he was also a trainer. He gave his disciples on-the-job training to live a godly life and to take care of God’s flock. And he commanded them to do to same. In the Great Commission he said, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). It is very important that we do not lose this point. A Bible teacher is not merely an instructor; he is also a leader and a trainer. He is a shepherd. This emphasis on teaching and shepherding is one of the unifying themes of the whole Bible. The book of Genesis reaches a climax in the final chapters where Joseph became Bible teacher for his brothers, training them and leading them to repent and return to God. All of the great servants of the Bible — Moses,  Samuel, David, the prophets, and so on – were all Bible teachers. They declared God’s word to their generation and taught the Bible on the college campuses of their day. The same thing happens in the New Testament. John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and so on – they are all shepherds and Bible teachers.  Of course, the best example in this regard is Jesus, who is our Chief Shepherd and Bible teacher. The best methods and practices to follow are those of Jesus. Jesus shared a common life with his disciples in order to teach them the Bible by his own words and example. Through sharing a common life, the disciples overcame selfishness and learned love and compassion. Though they failed again and again, Jesus loved them just the same, restoring them from failure until they became the world’s best Bible teachers and shepherds and disciplemakers. Raising disciples who can teach and make other disciples is the way that the kingdom of God spreads.

Of course, Christians are not all the same. We have different talents and callings. We are not all called to preach Sunday worship messages or to lead fellowship meetings. But every Christian can be a Bible student and a Bible teacher. Every person can be a shepherd and a disciplemaker in his own life context. This is what the Great Commission demands. No matter what you say about Jesus, you can’t ignore the fact that all three of the synoptic gospels ends with a Great Commission. And the Gospel of John ends with a threefold command to feed Jesus’ sheep because we love him (John 21:15). Many people say they love Jesus, but they don’t necessarily feed his sheep. If they don’t feed sheep, do they love Jesus? Only God knows their hearts. But based on what the Bible says in John chapter 21, I believe that our love for Jesus is directly measurable by what we are doing to feed his sheep today.

Part 3: Concluding remarks

There are many more things that I could say about how to study the Bible. But I will finish up now with a few recommendations.

First, use the Bible as your primary source of spiritual food. Reading Christian books and commentaries is good. Listening Christian music is good. But we should spend the bulk of our time focusing on the words of the Bible itself. When you study a passage, do it prayerfully, noting all the details. Pray and ask God until the Holy Spirit reveals its meaning to you. It’s important to pray and receive the words of God first, before jumping to other books or commentaries. Think deeply about the passage and memorize most important verses. Then your Bible study will have depth and power.

Second, apply Scripture to yourself in concrete ways. Ask what God is saying to you. Are there promises to claim? Commands to obey? Sins to repent of? If you read the Bible it in context of your present life and mission, then every passage becomes deeply relevant, even the parts that appear difficult and obscure. For example, the Old Testament is filled with stories of warfare and conquest. How can we apply these to our life of faith today? Every Christian is engaged in warfare. Our enemies are not flesh and blood. It’s not a human battle, but a spiritual battle against Satan, the true enemy of gospel. We are under attack by a sinful culture. The postmodernist system of thought tells people that there is no absolute truth. We have to fight against these influences and declare God’s absolute truth today with conviction and confidence. The warfare passages in the Old Testament teach us how to keep our identity as God’s people in a hostile world, how to fight the forces of evil and win the victory through obedience and faith.

Third, combine Bible study with personal holiness and devotion. Be holy, as God is holy (Lev 19:2).  This is especially important for our mission as shepherds and Bible teachers, because God won’t bless our ministries if we indulge in sin. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1Pe 2:12). Many of the most troubling sins are done in secret, when no one is looking. Many Christians engaged in ministry are secretly indulging in pornography. That kind of secret, double life makes us ineffective and miserable. God cannot bless us until we allow his word to cleanse us and make us holy.

Fourth, pay attention to what the Bible says about relationships. The Bible has a great deal to say about marriage, family, church and community. If we are having problems in our relationships, we need to seek out biblical answers. The Bible does have answers. Most of the time, the solution to relationship problems lies in our own personal transformation and repentance.  The word of God empowers us to overcome our individualistic, “I want to be my own man” mentality and, with spirit of humility and simple obedience, maintain the spiritual order in our relationships which is key to a harmonious Christian life.

Fifth, deal with questions, doubts and fears in a godly way. Sometimes our faith grows weak and we are not sure what to believe. If you have doubts about fundamental issues of faith and church practice, don’t speak about them too openly. Use godly wisdom. Speak confidentially to a spiritual elder or mentor who can encourage and counsel you. When Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, she must have been filled with uncertainty and fear. What did she do? She hurried to visit her older cousin Elizabeth, who encouraged her faith and helped her to see what God was doing. If you bring your questions and fears to trusted elders and mentors who will pray for you and encourage you.

Sixth, put the Bible into practice by teaching and shepherding others. We have to boldly go and do what Jesus commands and feed his sheep in today’s world.  The idea of sharing your faith and inviting others to Bible study can be a very scary thing. What if you don’t feel ready? I know the feeling. At some level, none of us ever feels ready. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t actually matter how we feel about it. In the Great Commission, Jesus doesn’t talk about feelings; he tells us, “Go!” If we take this as the word of God and simply do it, we find that God helps us overcome our fears.

Imagine going to the beach on a hot summer day. The water is cold, and you are afraid of diving in. You hesitate. But then you gather up your courage and dive in. The cold water is a shock to your system. But after a few seconds, your body adjusts to the new temperature. You swim around, and you find it’s great fun. Your body and soul are refreshed.

So go ahead. Dive in! The Bible is an ocean. The life of mission as a Bible student and as a Bible teacher and shepherd is the most refreshing and satisfying life that you can imagine. Praise be to God!


  1. Joe-2005: “Thank you for sharing your report. As you might know, I have been sharing my testimony on the internet and have been persecuted for it. The former members of UBF are so bitter and angry. I am testing their spirit to see if they will listen to the truth. I am trying to make some people (like the crazy guy in Germany) understand that we must do what Jesus did and find 12 sheep to study one-to-one with. You have been a great blessing to me and I hope to see you at the next staff conference. May God make America a kingdom of priests and a holy nation!” In Christ, Brian-2005

    Joe-2005: “I’m glad you shared your thoughts in writing. It is often difficult to find documentation about what UBF actually teaches. You raise several valid thoughts which both intrigue me and trouble me. I have been thinking a lot about the same kinds of things lately, especially in light of the grace of God. I will reply later with my thoughts in more detail. I hope we can have a dialogue that mutually edifies!” Grace and peace, Brian-2012

    • Joe-2005

      Brian-2005, thanks for your kind words. Yes, the former members of UBF do sound so bitter and angry. It proves that they must be wrong before God. They are fueled by an immature, self-righteous anger which clouds their vision and judgment. Their material is permeated with a vicious, angry spirit, maybe an evil spirit. No one with pure motives would ever talk like that. They exaggerate the problems in ubf and aren’t objective at all. On the few occasions that I visited their websites, I found that I couldn’t read what they wrote. My chest felt tight and there were butterflies in my stomach. My eyes didn’t want to look at their ramblings. I skimmed over the material until it became crystal clear they weren’t right before God, and then I stopped. Brian, I heard that you have been reading their stuff in detail and trying to talk to them. If you feel the need to do that, ok. But personally, I think it’s a waste of time, because they are just too emotional and can’t speak rationally. I’m glad that ubf leaders are taking the high road by not talking with them. People who speak like that don’t deserve a response. Besides, I’ve heard that when you try to explain our point of view, they just fire back with more and more words, trying to pick apart everything you say, and it never ends. I’m just going to pray for them and leave them alone.

    • Joe-2005

      Brian-2012, thanks for reading my lecture. I don’t know why you would be troubled by anything in it. It’s just good, old-fashioned Bible study. And besides, everyone at the conference seemed to like it. Grace and peace to you, too.

    • Joe-2005: Sh.Joe, I know what you mean. I don’t want to read the R-group stuff, but I feel called by God to help silence them. I took down one website already! I often get a headache trying to understand their logic. They don’t want to talk about obedience at all. My hands often shake with anger as I reply to them on the Voy forum. They are so full of mockery and bitterness! These days I’ve been working with Sarah Barry and Francesca Park to clean up the Wikipedia article that they messed up. The main anti-UBF person is trying to turn the Wikipedians against me. God bless you and make you a blessing! In Christ, s.Brian-2005

  2. Thanks, Joe-2005, If you do not recognize me, I am Ben-2005. Your lecture was excellent!

    For sure, we must always just study the Bible, and ONLY if necessary refer to commentaries. Those who refer to commentaries do not find themselves or their own voice. Their testimonies are just empty head knowledge and human thinking. Also, they become proud for nothing. Knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8:1), as we all know. Those who study Bible commentaries become like a grotesque creature with the head of an elephant, the body of a cat, and the legs of a flea.

    As you so eloquently said, our Bible study must always focus on living a life of mission. My favorite point in almost every Bible study and fellowship meeting is “Man = Mission.” I must have already used that phrase 100s of times since I became a Christian in 1980.

    Regarding Brian-2005’s comment, the ex-UBF people who ran away are just simply ungrateful and unthankful people. They are so proud and immature. They are unfaithful and uncommitted people. They are really selfish Americans. They don’t want to sacrifice for mission, but only want to enjoy their own American dream. After they grabbed everything they wanted from UBF, they left to live a selfish family-centered life, thus abandoning their calling and mission.

    On top of that, they dare to criticize UBF, after we loved and served and sacrificed for them soooooo much. We introduced to them a wonderful spouse they could never ever find anywhere else in the world. (I hope they really feel bad and guilty about this!) But soon after they enjoyed their honeymoon, they want to abandon their mission for campus students. May God deal with them, be it ever so severely, if they do not shut up and stop slandering God’s holy people and spreading endless gossip and lies about UBF. Even though they were once our close co-workers they became liars like the devil (Jn 8:44). They have no idea how to keep spiritual order and just obey. They are representatives of rebels. May God have mercy on them. And yes, let’s not waste our precious time to read the garbage that they write against us.

    I’m sorry if I sound quite upset and extreme. Those who ran away from UBF do make me so incensed, because they are soooooo unthankful. I just want to choke them, but as a Christian I know that I should not think or do such things. But I believe that God will forgive me because I am soooooo much more holy and spiritual than those who ran away.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, please correct me if I’m wrong. As I read your comment, I detect a hint of sarcasm. Is this really how you would have spoken in 2005, or is it a parody?

      You must be busy as you prepare to leave for the Philippines. But if you have a spare moment, I’d like to hear from you as you are today. When I wrote my imaginary report, I tried to make it an accurate example of how I would have spoken. It’s not a straw man. Although it may seem that I’m looking back in time to confront the errors of my past, I’m actually looking forward, trying to define a paradigm for approaching Scripture that will serve me better in the months and years ahead.

    • Hi Joe,

      I thought it was my close-to-exact and accurate sentiment in 2005 and before, and thus like a parody. At least that was what I was attempting to do.

      Perhaps, it is really hard to truly pull off a Screwtape Letters, for the Ben-2012 might be intruding itself upon the Ben-2005. In the past I did really despise anyone who “ran away” and criticized UBF, because “How dare you!” I would caricature them in ways far worse and harsh than most UBF people. I think I was quite the UBF Pharisee of pharisees.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, perhaps you’re right. Perhaps you really did talk like that back in 2005. Your language was always extreme, over the top and blunt. But I recall that in 2007, your attitude toward those who had left ubf had softened to the point where you were talking to them online and beginning to apologize to them. Approximately when did you start to soften toward them? Was there a specific event that prompted it?

    • Joe, when you said “your language was…” I’m not sure if it was really *his* language. It was the language of the group and its leaders. We all adopted that language. And those who were closer to the leaders adopeted more of it. Joe-2005 or Ben-2005 or Chris-1995 were not the real persons, they were people who had adopted a different identity and were speaking with that identity, and were using a different language imposed on them by the group.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I’ve known Ben for the last 30 years. He was always a unique individual. He strongly supported the values and positions of his group. But he didn’t speak like anyone else in the group. He was always hilarious, sarcastic, blunt, and outrageous.

      But I do get what you are saying. Back then, I didn’t know myself very well. I had several different identities — one for church, another for work and professional life, another for dealing with my wife and kids, another for my extended family, …

    • I think if you just take out the “soooooo” phrases/sentences, Ben’s words sound pretty accurate. I was always afraid of “Ban Toh”, so Brian-2005 would not have even have talked to Ben-2005 or at least only very briefly. At that time, any interaction with senior UBF leaders like Ban would have conjured up thoughts of numbers. I would have made sure I had my one-to-one and Sunday fellowship attendance numbers memorized and on the tip of my tongue.

      My “paradigm shift” began when a former UBF member critiqued my message sometime in 2005 or 2006, about “rest”. This was painful at the time, but the most helpful. -Brian-2012 if you’re wondering :)

    • Yeah Brian. The “soooooo…” was what I exactly felt in my heart which I just simply translated or spelled out in words. Soooooo sorry for being Scary Ben-2005!

  3. Dear Joe-2005: When I listened to your talk about “How to read and study the Bible” at the conference, everything sounded very Biblical and compelling at first. But when I came back from the conference and had 7 years to think about all of this, I felt that you overlooked or misunderstood some important things. Let me explain.

    Actually, you did not only talk about how to study the Bible, but told us about the meaning of our life. In summary, you claim that our goal in life is to be engaged in some activity which you name as “ruling”, “serving”, “teaching”, “training” and “feeding”. But first, do you really think God needs or expects us to *do* something for us and that he loves us only if we *do* these exact things? Second, all these terms are very vague and sometimes contradictory. How can we be sure we do not rule where we should serve or do not serve where we should rule? How can we teach and train others without judging them (something that we shouldn’t do according to Jesus)? What does “train” and “feed” exactly mean? If training and feeding others is really our ultimate goal in life, you should talk much more and explicitly about how to do that properly.

    But isn’t the real, ultimate goal to love God and our neighbors? Don’t you think that there is much more to that than just engaging in training and feeding activities? I noticed that you belittle social activities as being “not beneficial” in terms of eternal revenue, claiming we should rather engage in discipling and Bible study activities. But did you ever read Mt 25:43? Nowhere I read that Jesus worried that people would not study the Bible or teach others the Bible. I do not even see that Jesus worried about the Bible being written down carefully. He was more concerned about the heart of people, whether it is a heart that is sincere, repentant, upright and filled with love. Not whether it follows a given spiritual program.

    You claim “A Bible teacher is not merely an instructor, he is also a leader and a trainer.” But you did not quote any Bible verse that talks about being leaders and trainers. Can you find one?

    From the fact that Jesus dealt with people personally, and “trained” some of them, you conclude that we should also interfere into the lives of people personally, and train them. Your top leader is famous for having invented many kinds of such trainings, kinds that even Jesus could not imagine. Do you really think Jesus wanted to teach people to train other people?

    You say “The best methods and practices to follow are those of Jesus.” But remember you said Jesus was not just man, he was also God. Therefore not all things that Jesus did in his life can and should be done by ordinary men who are not God. I see many people who claim to have the authority of Jesus, but I see not a single one who would be able to do just the smallest of the miracles Jesus was able to do. Jesus himself explained that there is a huge difference in the relationship between himself and his followers, and the relationship among his followers. For example, he taught “do not be called Rabbi; for One is your teacher, and you are all brothers.” Why did Jesus say such a thing if he expected us all to be teachers, and not only teachers, but even trainers and leaders, as you are claiming?

    You claim that “every Christian can be a Bible teacher; every person can be a shepherd and a disciple maker”. Why then asks St. Paul in 1Cor 12:29 “Are all teachers?” Isn’t that a rhetorical questions to which the answer must be “no” and not “yes”?

    Thanks for giving me so much time to ponder about your talk and not putting pressure on me to “accept one word” immediately on the conference.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, thank you for this helpful and gentle response. Joe-2012 essentially agrees with you. Joe-2005 would have found it difficult to respond to this, because he was not accustomed to having his messages critiqued by anyone outside of his church. I think Joe-2005 would have labeled you as a critical and bitter person, dismissing a great deal of what you said. He would have felt tension in his stomach, the physiological response of “fight or flight.” He might have ignored you. Or he might have given a short, curt response such as, “Thank you for your feedback. I will pray for you.” But he would not have engaged in any dialogue that put any of his commitments or convictions at risk. Joe-2005 spoke with an air of confidence and certainty. He was unwilling to acknowledge that he had biases. He would have viewed your message as a personal attack and felt hurt by it.

  4. Dear Joe2005,
    thank you very much for your encouraging and spirited report at the conference. Much of what you said resounded with me. And i was especially moved by the fact that you really seem to love the word of God and that you truly seem to spend a great deal of your time to read and meditate on it in a devotional manner. This is an area, where i certainly need to grow a lot.

    I had to ponder for a very long time whether and how i should write to you. Whereas i agree with much of what you said, there was a fundamental issue that gave me a very hard time.

    In part 2, you mentioned that we should read the bible in light of our mission. To me, it gave the impression, that mission as expressed in the Great Commission, is the all-important thread of the bible and that we should read and understand everything in Scripture as a quasi-instruction of how to serve in mission. I agree with you that mission is an important theme that goes through the entire bible.
    But when i read Jesus’ conversation with the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24, i was struck by Jesus’ approach to OT scripture. If i understood correctly, Jesus was in essence saying that all of Scripture is about Him. And if this is so, the real thread through the bible is Jesus Christ and the good news of the atoning work of Christ.

    I am at the very beginning of understanding the implications of seeing Jesus and the gospel on every page of the bible. But thus far, it was the gospel in the word of God that has become my daily bread and which has started to nourish my soul in a way that i had not known before.

    It would be a great pleasure for me to hear in another report from you of how i can see more of Christ in the bible.

    God bless you,

    Henoch2005 is response to the introduction on hermeneutics: “Herman who?”

    • Joe Schafer

      Bravo! You pointed out a key issue that Joe2005 needs to think about. And you did it so gently and artfully that he might actually have listened.

      In your first paragraph, you wrote, “i was especially moved by the fact that you really seem to love the word of God and that you truly seem to spend a great deal of your time to read and meditate on it in a devotional manner.” It’s very interesting that you used the word “seem.” Yes, it seemed that Joe2005 loved the word of God. In this instance, however, things were not as they seemed. More about that later…

    • What Henoch wrote is one of my other larger concerns about your talk. You say “when we study the Bible within the context of our own purpose and mission that the application becomes relevant.” Of course, it is good to apply Bible passages to our own context, but many Bible passages have been actually written for a very different context. Depending on how we apply things to our own context, our application may or may not be in line with Biblical teaching, but much of it is our own interpretation, and we may also miss the real message of the particular passage. As Henoch said, we may also overemphasize ourselves and our own role, and forget about Jesus who is actually accomplishing everything. I also remember a person who used to randomly pick a verse and then apply it to his current situation whenever he had a question or a problem. I don’t think the Bible is intended to be used that way.

  5. Hi Joe-2005 and Joe-2012,

    Both Ben-2005 and Ben-2012 would love being described as “He was always hilarious, sarcastic, blunt, and outrageous.”

    Christy often laughs and tells me that I may be one of a few Christians who treat descriptives–whether positive, negative or neutral, whether complimentary or unflattering–as uplifting compliments. So both Bens would have loved and love your astute description. Thanks Joe.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I’m remembering your Monday evening fellowship reports. They made some of us laugh so hard that we almost peed in our pants.

  6. Hi Joe, Mon meeting was memorable partly in that we often ate Big Macs. As a result, I have dreaded Big Macs ever since!

    Probably it is my fading memory, but I do not seem to recall that you were at the Mon evening fellowship meeting. Was that before Harvard? What year was that?

    • Joe Schafer

      While I was an undergrad at MIT (1981-85) I spent my summers in Chicago and participated in the Monday all-day staff message training sessions. At the Monday night meetings, staff delivered the messages and fellowship leaders shared their weekly reports.

  7. David Bychkov

    Dear Joe-2005!

    Thank you for your report, which I happened to check on ubf website. You’ve really remined me about great importance of loving the word of God and it’s power. That’s true that we need to study the Bible diligently. That’s also true that I don’t have just to be Bible student, but to teach Bible others. That is word should feel my life with dynamic power. The life of Bible mission is like the ocean with fresh water, and it’s just exciting. So your words were encouraging to me. Thanks.
    However let me share with you some of my struggles. You know during last two years I can not love the Bible, read it and meditate on it daily as much as I surely have to and as much as you’re suggesting. Hard to tell, but deep in my heart I feel like I already know what the Bible should teach me, or what I should learn from it, so, honestly I’m not really motivated to read the Bible and meditate on it. I already know that I need to feed sheep and I know how to do it it God’s pleasing way. I know that I should participate in campus world mission.
    The bad thing that I feel like my Bible studies are also loosing it’s power. So I can not really teach my Bible students how to love the word. Yes I know what to tell them, how they should undestand and apply the word of God, but it is not really interesting for me myself, b/c I hardly learn from those BS. So I hardly motivated to teach the Bible to others as well.
    How can I be motivated for loving the word again? How could I live the life when I can always learn from the word of God and be thirsty to it? Can you give me some advice? And please pray for me.

    In Christ,

    • Joe Schafer

      David, thank you for your honest assessment of your situation in 2008. Joe-2005 was experiencing something very similar, but he wasn’t ready to admit it yet. He was in denial. I’m not sure what Joe-2005 would have said to you, but he wouldn’t have had any helpful advice. Perhaps he would have said, “David, you just have to pray more. Keep going, and don’t give up. If you remain faithful and stay on course, God will eventually bless you.” But in his heart, he doesn’t believe that.

  8. David Bychkov

    Dear Joe-2005!
    Thanks for sharing your report. These days I’m eager to learn anything what our coworkers could teach us, b/c I really feel need of help. So I read your report with great desire to learn or to be encouraged by it, to find some help.
    Encouraging thing is that the Bible reading shoud be formating thing. And it can format my character. You know I have so much to formate in my sinful and unmature feelings and behavior! I also really need wisdom how to deal with my coworkers and my sheep, so I really need to formated by the word of God.
    On other hand these days I’ve found that I also shall to be informated. Let me explain. You know last time I really feel like something wrong with my undestanding of the Bible. I do want to obey the word of God, but I feel like I don’t really know it’s main points. We used to studing Bible passages really detail, and that’s really helpful. We used to study every passage with strong mission-application perspective and that’s also something what can make the passage to be alive. And we studing whole books like this. However quite a few times after finishing the book studing I catch my self on the feeling like I have not really undestand the whole book point. So I am not sure if I really know what author wanted to tell me through the whole book? The same is with the entire Bible. And that is something really bothering me. Can you please tell me is it just my problem? Or that is wrong feeling?
    Thanks a lot, and sorry for bothering,

    • Joe Schafer

      Once again, Joe-2005 is experiencing something very similar. Actually, he’s worse off than you. He isn’t learning much of anything from the Bible. But he isn’t ready to admit it yet. He isn’t looking for answers on how to get better. He is willing to keep going on his present course and not think about it. From a distance Joe-2005 looks and sounds pretty good. No one is challenging Joe-2005 on the fact that he doesn’t practice what he preaches. Lots of people thank him and reward him for giving reports like these. But his wife, Sharon-2005, senses that something is wrong with him. She is deeply conflicted and doesn’t know what to do.

  9. Dear Sh Dr Joe-2005, I am writing you for the first time. I was greatly blessed to read your report. I have not met you personally, but I really thank God for exemplary shepherds like you in UBF and I hope to be an international shepherd and messenger like you.

    By the living words of God I met Jesus as my personal Savior and from a Hindu I became a Christian and a shepherd and Bible teacher for Indian campus students. Ever since the msns. in India UBF came under persecution, I have a special responsibility now to deliver Sunday messages every week. God has blessed my decision to be a messenger by granting me a beautiful wife whom I married last year and a full time Assistant Professor position in a respectable Institute. I am still very young to understand Bible passages and to write my own message, but M. ML helps me by writing messages for me. As I understood, we do not need any commentaries but what our seniors pass on to us from their many years of studying and teaching the Bible is enough to supply spiritual food to our sheep. So, every Saturday I stay late night in the Center and struggle to accept one word from the manuscript by reading, memorizing and praying over it. I believe that it is not important who writes the message but what is important is to accept it and pass on to our sheep especially through one to one bible studies. Last year I was a morning devotion messenger at the MSU international conference. I had no time to come and receive message training in Chicago, but I received a written message and with some rehearsal delivered it to the best of my ability. Many later said that they received much grace from my message.

    In India the percentage of Christian population is very very low compared to the Hindus. And those Christians also do not have any sense of mission to teach the Bible to others. Even my one to one shepherd who was from a Christian background left the ministry a few years ago. He seems to be serving some other ministry as a pastor but I think he made a great mistake by leaving campus mission. For such reasons, I have decided to teach the Bible to many Hindus and raise them as Jesus’ disciples so that India can be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Especially we pray with the prayer topic given by Dr Lee: “Hindus may eat beef and believe in Jesus” and this is possible only through teaching the Bible to as many Hindus as possible. Please pray for me to be an Abraham of faith for one billion Hindus and a good bible teacher and shepherd for India. AbNial-2005

  10. Joe Schafer

    Thanks AbNial. Joe-2005 would not have found anything unusual or objectionable in what you wrote. I remember when JL and SL first gave that prayer topic for Hindus to “eat cows and worship God.” We all laughed and thought it was good. That line was repeated over and over for so many years, and no one even imagined that it could be demeaning or offensive. During the preparations for the last international conference in the U.S. at Purdue, I was asked to review a draft script for a world mission video about Asia, and that line was in it. I strongly objected, and that line was removed. I hope it is never uttered again.

    • Hi Joe! Do you think anything uttered by SL would go so easily? But things like “Eat cow and worhip God” can be uttered only outside of India. It would be culturally so offensive and devastating to share such a prayer topic in India. For one of my report in one of the Intl conference, when Ben came out with the title “Where is the beef?” at first I was shocked, but keeping in mind the fun-element for vast majority of non-Indian audience I also began to enjoy it.

      After writing my previous comment, I realized that AbNial-2005 was a bit of everything. No doubt he was a genuine convert and passionate about studying and teaching the Bible. But he also learned flattery to make people happy. He loved to use ubfisms that would make ubf people happy even if he did not understand them fully. He learned to keep quiet for the sake of obedience and loyalty to seniors even when he did not like being treated like a robot. He would take pride in sacrificing his Saturdays for memorizing someone else’s message in stead of giving time to his newly married wife. He was feeling frustration within but he would hesitate sharing it with anyone, not even his wife. What is more, his wife Sarah-2005, was taught by a famous senior missionary to stand by the Korean leader whenever there was a conflict between her husband (a native leader) and the Korean leader. And Sarah-2005 meant it!

      At this point of my life, like Brian I will point out faults in your report such as treating the Bible like an idol; does the Holy Spirit have any role in a Christian’s formation?; Where does the Bible tell every believer to teach/preach to others?; What about other roles/gifts in building up the Church?; Joe-2005’s high view of Bible study and yet so predictable nature of the GBSs that still go on will make me do something better; Is the Bible really given to find how to carry out mission?; Is obedience to be emphasized only in teaching and disicpling? How about personal holiness and Godly value system?; Even if Joe-2005 presents a histric view of man=mission, I am quite sure that he has not personally studied beyond the gospels, genesis, exodus and very few others. What about those books/passages that talk about the age to come?; and so many other questions!

    • hi AbNial,

      I’m a vegetarian and I would definitely not like it if someone told me to eat beef, yuck. Actually, when I read your comment I was scared. I hope that no one is stuck in the same boat you were.

      You said that you learned to say ubfisms just because others were saying it and it was funny. I see this often, the same type of jokes coming from Bible students. I also see the same implied emphasis on mission. Flattery is given to those who sacrifice their wife and kids because they had to get on a stage and read a message. This is not just a UBF thing. A lot of Christian families are breaking down. Hang out with Pastor Kids and Missionary Kids and ask them what their parents are like or look at the way they act. It’s scary how we can so easily become pharisees and create our own sub cultures which can be harmful and offensive to others, even though we claim to do it in Jesus’ name. This is why we must carry out our salvation in fear and trembling. We can have good intentions but that’s not enough; we need wisdom from the Holy Spirit. And have others hold us accountable.

  11. Joe-2005,

    Here is my detailed response to your report. The more I read your report the more disturbed I have become. You make several good-sounding points, but your words reveal that your understanding of the gospel is upside-down.

    If I am wrong, please correct me. I don’t claim to know everything about Christian life and the Bible, but these days my journey of faith has become filled with overflowing peace and joy because of the grace of God! Below I share my thoughts about what disturbed me in hopes that we may continue this dialogue. I would very much like to hear your honest thoughts about this.

    “The condition of our souls and the trajectory of our lives is largely determined by how we approach the Bible.”
    >>> I don’t understand why you are connecting my soul and my life to how I approach the Bible. Are you saying that we need to fully understand the great doctrines of the faith in order to be saved? Whose approach is good enough?

    “The Bible needs to be read, and it needs to be studied….The Bible should also be read frequently.”
    >>> Your words here sound like you have made the Bible into an idol.

    “We now have the Bible as the primary means through which we communicate and interact with God.”
    >>> I have come to realize that the Holy Spirit is our guide into all truth. The Spirit is a person, a real, living Third Person of God. Jesus said the Spirit would be our teacher and our guide. What role does the Spirit play in our communicating with God?

    “Part 2: We should read the Bible in light of our mission”
    >>> Jesus said that all the Scriptures are about Him. I have always been so confused by several passages when I tried to see them in light of “our mission”. But when I try to see Jesus in the Old Testament, for example, I find amazing truth and hope!

    “It is when we study the Bible within the context of our own purpose and mission that the application becomes relevant and the word of God really comes alive.
    The Bible begins with the book of Genesis.”
    >>> I have learned that all “approaches” to the Bible fall into one of two categories: exegesis and eisegesis. We can extract teachings from the text of the Bible, or we can insert our own ideas from our context into the Bible. It seems you are teaching here that our context can change what we learn from the Bible. I agree that our purpose, mission, etc. does influence our approach. I am seeking now, however, to understand the context the Bible was written in and for, and listening to God’s voice and Spirit’s guidance to understand what various passages are teaching. Most importantly, I learned that we need to examine our “lens” through which we see the Bible. As J.I. Packer wrote once, “grace is the key that unlocks the Bible.” We can learn so much more when grace is our lens!

    “Through Abraham and his descendants, God raised a new nation, the nation of Israel.”
    >>> I’ve read the book “Once An Arafat Man”, and interacted with many Muslims over the years. I think we Christians should remember that God blessed Hagar also. God’s vision is about unity through the bonds of peace. When I see Abraham’s life in light of grace, I see God’s hope for Ishmeal and Isaac to be at peace. We see a clear picture of this unity when Ishmael and Isaac both bury their father.

    “Eventually God’s people were invaded by foreign armies; their temple was destroyed and the people were carried off into exile. When they their mission, they lost everything.”
    >>> I can’t subscribe to making mission into such a valuable treasure. It is Jesus we need to hold onto. Your words here sound like you have made mission into an idol. I think the book “Counterfeit Gods” would help explain my point about the Bible and mission becoming idols. Only Jesus is worthy of such praise.

    “Note the similarity between this verse and Exodus 19:5-6. The two are really saying the same thing. God saves us and makes us his people in order to serve him by declaring his glories to the world.”
    >>> The entire book of Hebrews contradicts this idea of tying Exodus 19 and 1 Peter 2:9 together. Another principle of Bible study I recently adopted is to let the Bible teach about the Bible. If we understand Hebrews we can start to understand the relationship here.

    “All these activities are good. But at the end of the day, there is no eternal benefit to people unless these activities happen within the context of preaching and teaching.”
    >>> One of principles of Bible study these days is “keep reading”. You quoted James 1:22 as your key verse for this report. If you keep reading, you find James 1:27, which teaches that God accepts “all these activities” as pure and faultless religion. Nothing is said about preaching or teaching.

    “A Bible teacher is not merely an instructor; he is also a leader and a trainer. He is a shepherd. This emphasis on teaching and shepherding is one of the unifying themes of the whole Bible.”
    >>> You sound like you are describing “parenting”. Such a concept is from Eastern philosophy, not from the Bible. I reject the idea that a shepherd is to be a parent.

    “The life of mission as a Bible student and as a Bible teacher and shepherd is the most refreshing and satisfying life that you can imagine. Praise be to God!”
    >>> I lived such a life for about over 20 years. During that time I often felt that if “mission” is anymore refreshing or satisfying, I’ll be dead… We are human beings. When we become Christian, we do take up our cross, but we are not called to crucify our conscience or give up our humanity. In the end, I have found that it is the grace of God, Jesus Himself, who is our peace, our joy, our new wine.

    Swimming in the ocean of grace,

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, thanks for this detailed response.

      Joe-2005 can’t respond to you. He feels as though he is being knocked down. He doesn’t get visibly angry. But his blood pressure is going through the roof. He thinks you are being hostile toward him and he doesn’t know why. This attack from you came out of nowhere. Why are you criticizing him so much? He has a physical sensation that the ground under his feet has been suddenly taken away. This is too much for him to process. The fact that you went through his message and critiqued him on so many points is overwhelming. You didn’t just shoot him with a pistol. You riddled his body with bullets from a machine gun. That’s how it feels to him.

      Joe-2005 is pretty good at making arguments. For any one of your points, he could easily defend what he wrote with multiple paragraphs. But to do that for all your points would take hours or days. And he senses that, if he were to provide you with a detailed defense, that it wouldn’t convince you, and you would just fire back and give a lengthy critique of his response. And this could go on for a very long time.

      Instead of responding to the points that you made, Joe-2005 shows this to his wife and tries to get some comfort and support from her. He comes up with a theory about you. He explains that your hostility comes from an unsolved spiritual problem that has been growing in your heart.

      Joe-2005 decides that he needs to take the high road. You took the low road by shooting at him with all your criticism. He, therefore, will take the high road and not shoot back. When Jesus was standing on trial before Herod, he remained silent. Joe-2005 decides to do what Jesus would do, which is to not to respond to you at all. He decides to deal with this thing “spiritually,” not “humanly.” He tries to forget about it and he buries the conflict. But his relationship with you has been shattered. He will harbor a silent resentment toward you for a very long time.

    • Joe, that is exactly how I imagined Joe-2005 reacting as I wrote my reply. Joe-2005 is very predictable, as are almost all UBF people. I know how UBF leaders, including Joe-2005 will typically respond. And a lot of them have responded that way. It is a risk I am willing to take.

      I don’t think this would be the end of the story for my relationship with Joe-2005. Later, perhaps years later, Joe-2005 will come to a realization that we are not enemies and that my words, though bitter to him, were said out of love and hope. I don’t doubt that Joe-2005 is under the grace of God and that we will see each other in Heaven.

      I engaged Joe-2005 based on the Bible’s teaching that flattery and politeness are not always “good”. As in Proverbs 27:5-7, I believe that wounds from a friend can be trusted. What is bitter at the moment can become sweet later on.

      If some former member (who I considered an enemy at the time) had not critiqued my message publicly online, I would not have thought about the arrogance, pride and severe doctrinal errors I had in my journey of faith.

      I believe Joe-2005 is a thoughtful person. One day Joe-2005 will read these words and give more thought and ask questions. And I believe unity in Christ is possible when we speak honestly and share each other’s troubled hearts. Feelings do matter and I expect one day Joe-2005 may share his feelings with me because even though he thinks I’m “just bitter” or “problematic”, deep down he knows I can be trusted to speak my thoughts and share my feelings honestly. And he also knows that I am someone with whom he could share his feelings with freely.

    • One more consideration: The “relationship” that has been shattered between me and Joe-2005? That was merely an acquaintance, a perception of reality. I am finding that UBF people rarely, if ever, have meaningful relationships (friendships) beyond “co-working”. Even my wife existed to me merely to co-work for UBF mission. So I don’t have to be afraid of destroying a friendship with Joe-2005; such a friendship didn’t exist and won’t be able to exist until we share our thoughts and feelings honestly.

    • Joe Schafer

      Good observations, Brian. When I said that the relationship between them was shattered, I did not mean to suggest that there was a personal friendship between them. Joe-2005 has amicable, businesslike relationships with lots of people in the ministry and in his career. But Joe-2005 doesn’t have friends. There is no one that he calls to discuss problems in his life, because he doesn’t really think that he has problems. That’s probably the weirdest thing about Joe-2005. He is emotionally isolated and alone. But he doesn’t think it’s a problem. He thinks it’s okay, even normal, to have zero friends. He loves his wife and wants support from her, but he doesn’t even treat his wife as a friend.

      At a recent ubf meeting, there was a breakout session where someone was talking about the importance of having Christian friends. Some people in the audience responded positively. But others were wondering why this was even being discussed; they thought it was irrelevant.

    • Yes, Joe, that is also something I understand well about Joe-2005: He is living in a shell of perceived reality that he has dictacted to himself after being trained in the doctrines of isolation and insularity. Friends are necessary because they bring us back to reality (or as Eminem says: oh- there goes gravity…:)

      Brian-2005 was also living in such a shell. And I now use the reality-check approach to try to reach people like Joe-2005. Mostly, my words are for the future, trusting that the Spirit can penetrate the thick covering that surrounds Joe-2005 (and knowing that the Spirit did in fact penetrate the covering aroudn Brian-2005!).

      By the way, is it just me or does anyone else see how easily we UBF-trained people can slip in and out of an imaginary discussion? I don’t think most people can do that. Perhaps it is a good thing that we are flexible, but I find it heart-wrenching to realize how easy it is for me even now to dictate my own reality and seal myself off in a casing of perception.

      I believe Joe-2005 needs a healthy dose of emotion, even if that emotion starts out as anger.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, it’s not accurate to say that Joe-2005 has no friends because he was trained by ubf to have none. He was emotionally immature and isolated long before that. But the training he received, the lifestyle and values he adopted, and the models of leadership he was provided did very little to address the problems of emotional immaturity that kept him from honesty and friendship.

    • Joe Schafer

      But it is accurate to say that the attitudes and lifestyle he learned in ubf made it very difficult to have meaningful relationships with people outside the ubf community, because he was always supposed to be evangelizing and shepherding people into the fold. And within the community, it was hard for Joe-2005 to have genuine friendship because if he revealed sensitive details about himself, it would get reported to other people and soon ubfers around the world would be gossiping about him. So, Brian, I guess you are close to being right.

    • Thanks, Joe. Yes, I can agree with some of those nuances. The whole UBF experience has so many layers to it, that it is very difficult to make any kind of statement about “UBF”. Inevitably, any blanket statement about “UBF” is both wrong and right.

      I feel like I need about 10 sentences to describe any aspect of what UBF is, or what UBF believes, or what UBF teaches or what UBF does, or what I used to be in UBF. The twists and turns are extremely tough to navigate!

  12. Brian, you mentioned that it was the outside criticism of your messages that opened your eyes to your doctrinal errors. i have great respect then for your spiritual maturity and that you were able to react in such a graceful way to criticisms even if they were harsh. I personally don’t have this kind of maturity and seriously need to grow a lot in this regard. I am easily hurt and wounded by words.

    An elder friend of mine used the phrase (sorry for citing yet another ‘phrase’): “Impact trumps intent.” I might have the best intentions and motives towards others. But it will be useless if i – by what i say and do – only end up hurting others. If people emotionally shut down in response to my ‘love’ it is a good indication that i should re-think the way of how i translate my best intentions.

    You are right in saying that wounds from a friend can be trusted. But wounds from a person, who might be a friend but who is perceived as a person with questionable intentions, will not only last longer but in addition lead very often to the very opposite reactions than desired.

    Could this be one of the reasons why in one of my favorite verses of the bible (John 1:14), the word ‘grace’ is mentioned before ‘truth’?

    • Henoch (and any who might have missed this), here is the link to the public critique of my Sunday message, which I delivered in Toledo UBF in July 2006 (hey its a six year anniversary!).

      Here is my blog in response to this from last year:

    • Thank you, Brian.

      But i don’t think you answered the point i was raising. I think that the way of how we communicate our love and friendship to others, matters. Having good intentions is not enough (which is obviously also applicable to UBF people who seek help others to come to Christ).

    • Correct, Henoch. I was not responding to your point. I was only giving more context to your opening statement: “you mentioned that it was the outside criticism of your messages that opened your eyes to your doctrinal errors.”

  13. Thanks, Henoch. I love cliches. “Impact trumps intent” is not likely one that will become overused, hackneyed, trite, and banal. For sure we are justified by faith not by our “good intentions.” The older movie “Joy Luck Club” was all about good intentions that went awry.

    Related to impact I am reminded of this paraphrased quote: “No one remembers what you tell them, but they always remember how you made them feel.” Communicating the gospel clearly may be the most heart felt way to move one’s heart.

    • Ben and Brian, thanks for your comments.

      I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson today. He mentioned that his students don’t remember what he taught. But they remember for years what their teacher was truly excited about. ‘looks like emotions are directly connected to our long-term memory (btw, i was always bad in neuro-biology).

      Brian, i still wonder: is the reason why you didn’t respond to my point because you don’t agree with me? And if not, why?

    • Hi Henoch. I haven’t responded because I’m very busy this week. And also there are SO many points in these new dialogues that I am trying to process everything… I don’t like making off-the-cuff comments.

      But I will reply to this, is this your main point? “Impact trumps intent.” I agree.

      Also I try to reply only reply to questions. So if you have questions, I’ll give my answers as best I can. You didn’t ask any questions above… well just one which seems rhetorical.

    • Thanks, Brian. My question would be this then: if we are aware of the fact that the way of how we communicate actually matters, shouldn’t we try to make less use of sledge hammers? :)

      I know people in my generation who are very open to discussion about church, gospel and mission. But i know that if i confront them with the “100 points, which stink in UBF” and tell them afterwards that the wounds of a friend can be trusted, i will do exactly the opposite (no matter how true the 100 points might be).

    • Henoch,

      You asked: “if we are aware of the fact that the way of how we communicate actually matters, shouldn’t we try to make less use of sledge hammers?”

      That depends. If there is a wall to knock down, then I say use a sledge hammer. If there is no wall, don’t use a sledge hammer.

      “But i know that if i confront them with the “100 points, which stink in UBF” and tell them afterwards that the wounds of a friend can be trusted, i will do exactly the opposite (no matter how true the 100 points might be).”

      Good point. I think former members like myself should not use “100 points” all the time. Sometimes though, UBF people need a floodlight to dispell the immense cloud of darkness. Other times, UBF people need a focused, laser light of piercing truth. Ben takes the “laser light” approach. I provide the “flood light”.

      You might be asking why would I use the “flood light” approach? Here are reasons: UBF people have not fundamentally repented of an upside-down gospel mindset for over 50 years. I’m not talking about 100 points, just 1 point: the gospel. The time for being gentle is way over. 2012 is the year of reckoning.

      Here is an example: A couple months ago I visited Chicago (and had an awesome time with Ben and company!!). I also had a chance to meet in person with a couple UBF leaders. One UBF leader asked me: “You have mentioned a lot of things on your blog. What do you really want from UBF?” I answered with this: “I really only want one thing. If I could ask for one thing and if I received this one thing, I would stop my blog and email criticism: I want UBF leaders to publicly say ‘I’m sorry. We were wrong.'”

      At that point the entire room burst out in loud laughter (by the way this shocked me and I almost started crying… but I “manned up” :). When the laughing finally stopped, the UBF leader said, “Well how about something realistic? How about something that might actually happen?”

      That, my friends, is why I will remain a loud, vocal UBF critic for many more years.

    • Henoch, does your word “sledge hammer” refer to anything that has been written in this thread? If yes, what? Or is it a general remark. I would answer with Brian that the reason why the criticism is so loud is because the response from the official UBF is so silent. It’s like you’re talking to somebody who seems to be deaf, you just try to speak louder. Also, I believe the majority of UBF critics is very silent. They don’t even write in the Internet. Like for instance, my wife.

      I think that the question of how we communicate with each other and how we express criticism deserves a separate blog post. It was a regular debate in the old forum already. Some advocated to be blunt, some advocated “sugaring the pill”. I can understand both opinions, and both can be right, depending on the situation. But one thing is clear, even Jesus used “sledge hammers” at times. Just read Mt 23:13ff. I’m not saying this should be our standard way of communicating, I’m just saying it is not unchristian per se.

    • By the way Chris, congratulations on making the 4,000th comment here on ubfriends!

    • Brian, i am really sorry to hear what had happened to you in Chicago. This is terrible. I am speechless.

    • And that when I wanted to back off from commenting here ;-) However, this discussion was so encouraging that I simply could not hold back. But I’ll try to write less in the next months and leave the stage for current UBF members again. They are the people who really need to push this discussion.

    • Henoch, the meeting in Chicago was not “terrible” in my mind. It was 99% edifying and 100% helpful. John Armstrong was there too, and I have to say the trip was Spirit-led and mostly joyful. Even the incident was helpful to me. I am not so naive as to think UBF senior leaders would actually say “I was wrong”. It did confirm my thoughts.

      The UBF leader who asked this, asked me also, “What would you want the UBF senior leaders to say they are wrong about?” I said it wasn’t realistic to expect them to say they are wrong about a lot of things. So I said, “Anything. Something. Just admit you were wrong even about 1 thing.” There was more laughter (more subdued this time as we all realized the gravity of the situation). The conversation proceeded in a good way after that.

      Ben was there, so maybe he can confirm or deny what I’m saying :)

  14. There is a lot to process here :) But I am quite thankful that Brian-2005 and Chris-2005 are not beating each other over the head :)

  15. By the way, for what it is worth, after that trip to Chicago a few months ago, I was immediately invited back to Chicago by the General Director to meet with some senior UBF leaders. I could not return right away due to work. But I am hesitant to return because no purpose was given other than “we must talk to you”. I asked for a purpose of the visit twice, but still I have no answer. Could there be a valid reason to go back?

  16. Hi Brian, I don’t quite remember, but wasn’t I the one who asked you about the one thing? I hope I did not distress you by that question. If I did ask the question, my thought process was that we need to perhaps tackle “one thing at a time.”

    Personally, I want to tackle 3 things:
    1) the “authoritarian” issues (which are not trinitarian, weakens relationships and friendships, and has hurt countless people and for which we absolutely need an accounting),
    2) the way we make “mission” our gospel, rather than the gospel itself, and
    3) the imperative driven way we study the Bible, rather than being Christo-telic and Christo-centric.

    For now these are the 3 primary things that I pray to personally begin to address and engage. Each of these 3 topics are HUGE and may take more than a generation to even skim the surface.

    Regarding coming back to Chicago, as we often say, we should not have an agenda, but allow for the leading of the Holy Spirit. I would say the “one” reason to come back is for the sake of friendship, relationship and trust building, intimacy, and to somehow find unity in Christ. OK, maybe that’s more than 1 reason.

    Yes, a public apology would go a long, long, long way. But a general blanket apology (that hopes to silence all future critiques) does not do much either, I don’t think. Specifics need to be involved, which takes some perseverance and prayer, and more interaction, intercession and incarnational approaches.

    Though seemingly laboriously slow, some changes are actually practically happening. More dialogue is happening. More questions are allowed. More interaction is happening. More collaboration is sought with younger leaders. I am primarily speaking about Chicago, since I decided a few months ago to engage and interact again, after a “4 year hiatus,” where I “absolutely” needed to find again my head, my rest, my Jesus, my gospel, and my freedom in Christ.

    My 2 new “one word(s)” is Acts 20:17 (“the whole counsel of God” – ESV), and Phil 2:12-13 (“work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you”).

    • Hi Ben, I think you asked the second question. In any case, you didn’t distress me :) And the questions themselves were not distressing. I just had gone to that meeting hoping to hear some shred of hope that someone thought senior leaders would ever admit to doing anything wrong. If a leader cannot admit even one thing they did wrong, claiming 100% of their actions have been pleasing to God (whether good or bad), then I’m not sure how peace could ever exist.

    • Hi Dr. B.,

      I agree with all you claims. I wanted to add one more. Earlier Joe was saying something about needing a statement for mission. I think the idea of “mission” really needs to be cleared up. It is not a bad word. We just hype it up too much. And people understand it in different ways. Why do people go out as missionaries? It is to help others develop a personal relationship with Jesus, not make them in a sense “ubf” machines who write testimonies, go to meetings every day of the week and SWS. Missionaries should go overseas to edify not conquer. I feel as if so many missionaries have differing views on mission it’s hard to co work. Some consider SWS an absolute and won’t even study the Bible with a student unless he goes to SWS. Others think skipping DB is liable for a jog around the park as punishment. And if you skip a conference, that’s the same as running away. There are many things implied and looked over. So my question is what to do in those conflicting views of “mission”?

    • @Ben, I like your new “one words”! I’m with MJ– I agree with you on all claims (Imagine that, a UBF leader and an ex-UBF person agreeing :)

      You wrote: “Yes, a public apology would go a long, long, long way. But a general blanket apology (that hopes to silence all future critiques) does not do much either, I don’t think.”
      >>> Good point. I wish there was a quick-fix, but I am learning that God’s way is the longsuffering way.

      You wrote: “Though seemingly laboriously slow, some changes are actually practically happening. More dialogue is happening. More questions are allowed. More interaction is happening. More collaboration is sought with younger leaders. I am primarily speaking about Chicago…”
      >>> Amen. My concern the past 2 years has been the satellite UBF branches outside Chicago…unfortunately the good changes happening in Chicago have not even begun in some places. And even worse the “old Chicago” way of dealing with satellite chapters is still in place.

      @MJ: “So my question is what to do in those conflicting views of “mission”?” Good question. I don’t have a lot of answers. But I know the way NOT to deal with conflicting views: don’t hide your head in the sand like I did for many years. Denial doesn’t help matters. I also know that dialogue is a required start to the healing process.

  17. Dear Joe-2005,
    I am happy to have such a brother in Christ on the other side of the globe! And I am even more happy that I’ve found a possibility to personally correspond to you.
    I’d like to discuss your report of July 2005, the imaginary one if you remember. To tell you the truth I have read quite a few of your reports and messages. Reading your reports and messages sometimes I had a feeling that “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears” (Acts 17:20). I thought, “Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities concluded that he is” ok? I considered some of your words hostile to UBF so it seemed strange for me that the authorities invited you to speak at the staff conferences. E.g. once you spoke something about our need to understand the youth of this generation. It sounded strange for me as if you didn’t quite believe in the power of God’s word and message training that are able to penetrate and move any sinner’s heart. You seemed for me as a not so UBF-line shepherd. But I was a very faithful UBF man. I was ready to go anywhere as a missionary and die for the sake of the world mission and UBF. I thought, “Even if all fall away on account of UBF, I never will”. So honestly, I didn’t quite like you at first.

    But at the same time there was some smell of thoughtful mind and academic thinking in your reports. For that I respected you. Once I was sitting beside you at a Moscow conference. A senior shepherd from Chicago was passing and asked you, “Why are you sitting here? Have you already prepared the message?”. I understood that I shouldn’t respect you too much for though you were a professor you were, may be, a proud man spiritually and still needed much training from senior shepherds.

    But let me come back to your 2005 report. I liked it. I believe that you really brought together UBF teaching on the approach to the Bible. You wrote what I really believed and did in UBF. But there are some points in your report that I’d like to discuss with you.

    You write. “It contains real commands from God that need to be taken seriously and implemented in real life. For this reason, I suggest that any session of Bible study, wither individually or in a group, ought to end with a solid point, something concrete that we are actually going to do based on what we learned.” I think the Bible contains first of all Jesus, description of him, who he is, what his love is and his power and fullness are, who we believe in. And so I would suggest that any session of Bible study ought to end with something we learnt about Jesus. We should not always be going to do something, Jesus said that “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”. God doesn’t require any other kind of work from us, the only work we can do to please God is a passive one: to believe in Jesus. And we can grow as we learn of Jesus more through Bible study.

    At the second part of your report you write, “Part 2: We should read the Bible in light of our mission”. This doesn’t sound academically for me. Does our mission come from the Bible? Or are we supposed to have a mission even before we study the Bible (and that mission helps us to understand the Bible in a right way)? I think that this title can be criticized. I was taught that we must not have a pre-idea but extract ideas from the Bible itself, step by step, studying the Bible inductively. You prove by many passages that the whole picture of the Bible inductive study is mission. I can not agree. I would call mission a fruit, or a product, or even a byproduct of God’s love to us in Jesus Christ. You rightly say that “God did” and “God made” and “God saved”. It is God who did and is doing and will finish. And all the Bible heroes were heroes of faith only, so that God was able to work in them and through them. (Rom.4, Heb.11) So again if you want to say about mission then you’d better say that our mission is faith.

    You write, “He did teach the crowds, but his primary method was not mass evangelism. It was personal interaction with his disciples on an individual basis. It was a one-to-one ministry”. You know this thing has been bothering me for many years. Can we say that though Jesus did teach the crowds, it was a one-to-one ministry? Every time I read Acts I clearly see that Paul taught in synagogues and market places, etc. Was it a one-to-one ministry? I visited a Baptist church in our city and found out that they have no one-to-one ministry and still they are more fruitful than our chapter, and there are even much more students in their church than we have! Of course we may have hope that one person is a nation, but the reality I see is different. At the same time I can testify that one-to-one Bible study can be very effective. I was a teacher at school and at a university and I taught some students personally. And in a year they made such a progress that became winners in some academic competitions. Again my opinion is that one-to-one Bible study can be effective and helpful only at the beginning of Bible study, to bring people to God. After a student is born again, group Bible studies are more effective and helpful for spiritual growth. And there should be mutual teaching and studying in groups with a different group leader each time. So to say that 1:1 Bible study is the God given method is simply not right. And unfortunately I personally found that in UBF people are not encouraged to influence their relatives and friends, etc, except if they are students. It hinders church growth and salvation of the “household”. I saw many times when people who were not students, married people, etc. were not allowed to come to UBF; or they were demanded to attend every meeting and so they left UBF themselves. I don’t think that a method of Bible study can solve the problem.

    You write, “The book of Genesis reaches a climax in the final chapters where Joseph became Bible teacher for his brothers, training them and leading them to repent and return to God.” Joseph was younger than the brothers he trained. So I learn from this passage that I should and must train our missionaries and elders of the church. I don’t know why, but they don’t obey. )) I mean that UBF is in many ways a Confucian church and this passage doesn’t quite fit what you want to say. So I would recommend to delete some sentences and I believe that senior shepherds will recommend you the same.

    You write, “They declared God’s word to their generation and taught the Bible on the college campuses of their day”. Sorry, but I can’t understand this sentence. Do you mean that Israel and the whole world is a campus in some sense?

    You write, “Jesus shared a common life with his disciples in order to teach them the Bible by his own words and example”. I learn from this that I should share a common life with Jesus. Do I need to share a common life with someone else? I heard that your family shared a common life with another shepherd family. That looks very nice and exemplary. I don’t know but for me there is something attractive in common Christian life. I heard that there is something similar in the Philippine UBF chapter. But in our chapter missionaries teach that in a common life there must be a hierarchy, a leader who teaches. I personally don’t like the idea of a common life with a director or a senior shepherd in it or above it. I’d better live with Jesus and brothers and sisters.

    You write, “Raising disciples who can teach and make other disciples is the way that the kingdom of God spreads”. I hope you meant “a way”. I don’t also quite understand the meaning of “the kingdom of God”. Does it consist of disciples making other disciples? I think that in the kingdom of God there is God. And this God is the king in the kingdom. We enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. This is the way to God’s kingdom. Those who have entered God’s kingdom surely like it and are happy in it. So they can sincerely testify about the kingdom of God and their life with Jesus. And others can hear and believe and be attracted by the message of God’s kingdom. And this way God’s kingdom spreads. Did I get you right?

    I liked what you say about mission, but your sentence “I believe that our love for Jesus is directly measurable by what we are doing to feed his sheep today” can’t be absolutely right. And you don’t give an explanation of who the sheep are. Jesus spoke about his sheep. Who are they? Are they believers and church comers? Are they students in the nearest campus? If they are students in the campus, then I’d also like to feed them, I have something to share with them, to tell them and to teach them; but it seems that they don’t want to eat. I have worked very hard and preached and fished and taught many students and some of them became Christians. So can I be sure that I have fulfilled my mission or at least part of it? If not, then what am I to do? Can I say that I love Jesus with a good enough measure of love? You know I trained some of my Bible students and followed the directions of our chapter director and sometimes pressed the students very hard. One of them disobeyed and ran away. I told him that he must not go to his parents in Siberia for more than one week in summer, that he must love God more than his parents and native town. He was a very good disciple. But eventually he said that Christianity is a very strict, inhuman and cruel religion and that even shamanism is more attractive to him now after my pressure. What would you say? Can I now boast of my zeal and love for Jesus? Or is there something wrong in such measuring of love?

    You write, “It’s important to pray and receive the words of God first, before jumping to other books or commentaries”. I did so for 16 years. I almost didn’t read any commentaries. This year I started to read commentaries especially of Calvin and Henry, every time I prepare a message or Bible study. I have been doing this for about 8 months. And there is a strange thing that I found out: there haven’t been a single Bible lesson of Calvin that would resemble the lesson on the same passage I was taught in UBF. I am patient and I have been reading Calvin only for 8 months. So may be soon I will find some resemblance or even similarity. But by now I have to admit that either Calvin or UBF is strange and not mainline Christian in doctrine.

    You write, “We have to fight against these influences and declare God’s absolute truth today with conviction and confidence”. I couldn’t put it better. But I would add that there is nothing new under the sun. I mean that our spiritual enemies are not always new and postmodern. I think the main devilish enemy of UBF is Confucianism. I see that the Bible contradicts the ideas of Confucianism, but Korean missionaries are eager to extract Confucian lessons from almost every Bible passage. So let’s “fight against these influences and declare God’s absolute truth today with conviction and confidence”.

    “The word of God empowers us to overcome our individualistic, “I want to be my own man” mentality and, with spirit of humility and simple obedience, maintain the spiritual order in our relationships which is key to a harmonious Christian life.” I think that “Confucian” would fit this sentence better than “Christian”. Again in the sentence “Fifth, deal with questions, doubts and fears in a godly way.” I would better put “”Confucian” instead of “godly” because you say about a Confucian attitude toward doubts. Christian truth is not afraid of doubts, questions, fears etc. The truth will stand. It is a lie that is afraid of doubts and questions. I would suggest that one day you would write a report or an article, something like “Walking in the Light of Absolute Honesty”. I am sure you will.

    And I like your passage about cold water very much! I live in Russia and here the water is either cold or very cold. But once I made a decision and started to dive in and swim no matter what the temperature of the water is. It is really refreshing though at first there is a shock to my body. I haven’t compared cold water with Bible study or fishing. Usually I compare cold water with “living water” of the powerful and gentle stream of the Holy Spirit and the blessed river of life in the heavenly kingdom. Now it is summer and I try to go swimming in a beautiful and very pure river full of fish every weekend though it takes time to get there. It is like a fresh pure message from God every week for me. And it is exactly “You swim around, and you find it’s great fun. Your body and soul are refreshed.” Even when nobody swims because of cold I can’t deny swimming and only after a prayer that the Lord may help me leave such a river, go out of the water for a time I can do that! So I am happy that you have such a feeling through your Bible study and your life of obedience and mission. God bless you. And I would be happy to correspond to you more.

    • Joe Schafer

      Vitaly, thanks for this comment. You raised a lot of interesting points, and I’m not sure how to respond yet. I’m so sorry that I have a bad memory and don’t recall meeting you in Moscow. Your perceptions of me at that time are very interesting. Some people have been saying, “The problem with Joe Schafer is that he is too proud and has never been trained.”

  18. Funny thing Joe. That’s what was said about me too! “The problem with Dr. Ben is that Dr. Lee only loved him but never trained him.”

  19. Gerardo R

    This is pretty funny stuff guys.