Seminary Admissions

The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership

This week’s post highlights a book written and published by our very own Mark McCloskey, professor of Transformational Leadership.

“Mark McCloskey and Jim Louwsma have self-published a new book, The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership.  The book unpacks the 4R Model of Leadership, and is based on class lectures and presentations given in Seminary classes for the last 15 years, as well the introductory business leadership class in the MBA program for seven years.  The 4R Model is highly flexible and is being used as the leadership framework in settings as varied as American businesses, global non-profit organizations, even cockpit training for a major airline.  The book explores contemporary leadership challenges through case studies based on the first six chapters of the book of Nehemiah, mixing these ancient lessons with contemporary examples of effective transformational leadership.   The book is designed for those in formal leadership positions, as well as for those just starting out.  Whether you work in a church or business, whether you live in Midtown Manhattan or Mozambique, you will find the book encouraging and practically helpful.”

You can purchase a copy at


The Heart of a Bethel Seminary Education

Change is happening at Bethel Seminary.

Most days I find the opportunities exciting, though other days they feel more like challenges. But change is happening.

Lately it has left me wondering what this means to you – pastors, leaders, scholars, and others who are considering studying for a seminary degree or recommending a seminary to others. You may be wondering, with all the changes at Bethel, will it still be a great place to grow? My answer is: I truly believe it will.

Let me tell you why.

Bethel Seminary educates for holistic transformation.

“Training” focuses on information and technique. “Education” focuses on full-person development—spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, and vocational growth. Education goes beyond providing information in one-way speech to processing wisdom in two-way dialogue. This kind of education must include spiritual formation, including an honest look at each person’s capacities and vulnerabilities. Honest dialogue and spiritual formation create challenge, even anxiety at times, but they also produce transformation.

Bethel Seminary embraces evangelical theology in an irenic spirit.

Non-negotiable core convictions guide a Bethel education: the Triune God, the full truthfulness and authority of the Bible, the separation of humans from God by sin, redemption through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the power of the Spirit, the centrality of the church, the command to service and mission, and the hope of eternal life. But outside core doctrines, on secondary issues, Bethel cultivates an irenic spirit. (‘Irenic’ comes from the Greek for ‘shalom.’) It provides space to grow, in a context that is uncompromisingly biblical.

Bethel Seminary pursues excellence through constant improvement.

A Bethel education today is not yet what it will be tomorrow. Driving our improvement is deep interest in increasing impact and relevance in the contemporary world. We’re listening to stakeholders to connect offerings more closely with their deep needs. We’re using assessment to improve offerings to students. We’re constantly drawing on who we are to become who the church needs us to be.

Bethel Seminary serves the church in all its expressions.

A Bethel education serves the church. We focus on preparing individuals who work full-time in churches, ministry agencies, and non-profits of all sizes, colors, and forms. In addition, because the “church” isn’t just a building or institution, but people, we resource Christ-followers who do other work. Bethel’s Work With Purpose project (generously funded by the Kern Family Foundation) lifts up the Kingdom-building call of God for every single Christian. Every person’s daily work, whether paid or unpaid, contributes to the Kingdom of God if it’s done in Jesus’ name.

Bethel Seminary develops leaders who are humble, persistent, and healthy.

The Vision for Bethel Seminary focuses on developing the whole leader. We’re about preparing leaders first and foremost. The goal of this development isn’t just enjoyment of the process, but extends to deployment in mission. Our goal is preparing “Three Centered” leaders—deeply and biblically wise, emotionally and spiritual mature, and skilled in godly influence. Effective leaders aren’t dictatorial or egocentric. They’re persons of character. They can both follow and lead. They put others ahead of self. They build strong relationships. They’re spiritually, emotionally, and relationally mature. And they’re devoted to mission. They’re tireless in helping organizations achieve goals. They overcome all odds to help others taste success. Bethel challenges such leaders to give their lives to the gospel of passionate trust in the Triune God through Christ and of compassionate ministry to the world in Jesus’ name.

Through transformative experiences, we help students and clients move toward becoming the most dynamic and mature versions of who God created them to be. They’re Servant Leaders. And the world needs every Servant Leader possible.

The future will be different … and better.

What does the future hold for Bethel? Bethel has embarked on a Strategic Process to guide transformational change. As a community that loves God, and loves the world God loves, our deeply rooted commitments are guiding the changes required for maximum impact and relevance. The Strategic Process is inclusive. Stakeholders of all kinds are putting their fingerprints on Bethel’s future. So we’re deeply grounded in unchanging values, and we’re working to creating a more vibrant version of Bethel.

Bethel serves the people of God, and through them the world God loves. We live out the whole biblical gospel. We provide transformational experiences for students and clients. And we develop leaders who grow toward the vision God has for them through a seminary education rooted in biblical wisdom, leadership insight, and Spirit-empowered transformation.

This is an exciting journey. I invite you to come along.


The Cost of Discipleship

“The Cost of Discipleship” is the wrongly translated title of Bonhoeffer’s “Nachfolge.” It should simply be “Discipleship,” although the translator was quite right in pointing to the cost involved in discipleship as Bonhoeffer saw it. What is, so I want to ponder in this piece, the cost of discipleship for us evangelicals today? As we will see it is one thing to have the mind of Christ but quite another to know what that mind is. This may seem a contradiction, but by the end of this article I hope it will be a self-evident paradox.

We are all familiar with the “what-would-Jesus-do” phenomenon (WWJD) and perhaps equally aware of the criticism against the concept and its merchandise. While at one point a hype among young evangelicals to express the desire to act in a way Jesus would, in any given situation one is to ask oneself: What would Jesus do? and consequently act in accordance with the apparently self-evident answer that ensues. So what would Jesus do? No one really knows. Jesus neither lives in the 21st century nor in our culture. He’s not around to be consulted on politics in the US, world economics, ecological problems, or gay marriage.

Theologian John Caputo, in his ‘What Would Jesus Deconstruct’ traces the origin of the WWJD acronym back to a book by Charles Sheldon written in 1896, “In His Steps” with the subtitle “What Would Jesus Do?” He points out how between the evangelical WWJD and the original there already exists such a strong thematic discrepancy that it looks like a perversion. The Jesus of the evangelical WWJD concerns himself primarily with a vertical ethics between God and the individualized believer, while Sheldon’s Jesus was particularly concerned with the social Gospel. The retrieval of the would-be doings of the WWJD Jesus is thoroughly embedded in an implicit evangelical hermeneutics that attempts to contextualize Jesus’ supposed-to-be actions but in the process arguably alters some significant characteristics of the Jesus that once was.

In short, the WWJD hype is beset by all sorts of problems that instead of resulting in an authentic Jesus ends up with a well-intended but fabricated one that serves the self-identity of the community that has conjured him up. Implicit hermeneutics leads to a hijacked Christ. Jesus no longer gets to do what he would do; he gets to be a doer fashioned in the image of the community that worships him. The evangelical Jesus by and large cares a lot about sexual ethics but little about the results of Western imperialism, destruction of ecosystems in the name of economic progress, or perpetuated injustice in the form of slave trafficking and racial oppression. Inner city development is not high on his agenda either. The evangelical Jesus says and does little more than what evangelicals would have him say and do. (I say this about evangelicals because my audience is evangelical and because I myself am, but I could easily turn this against entrenched liberals as well.)

What would Jesus Think
I am not really interested in deconstructing WWJD. Insofar it is a sincere attempt of young evangelicals to express a contemporary form of discipleship I can have sympathy for it. But the distortion of the actual Jesus even in such well-intended efforts as WWJD gives us pause to think. I want to point out an even more insidious form of Jesus following. I dub it WWJT. The “D” of doing is replaced by the “T” of thinking. In order to critically engage the world in the name of Christ by shaping a Christian worldview and taking a stand against forces in our societies that lead away from what previously was a Christianized culture, some evangelical leaders try to define what Christ would think. The idea is that the Bible lends itself well to the formulation of all manner of absolutist positions that allegedly represent the thinking of Christ, for Christ is the Christ of the Scriptures and the Scriptures are of Christ.

If, however, presenting Christ as the quintessential anti-socialist or gay-hater is what it means to follow after Christ, we have entered dangerous waters. This is not following Christ, but using the Christ-figure to follow us. We drag him along wherever we need him to show up to lend credibility to our rhetoric and to sanction our own valiant efforts at trampling our enemies under our feet. Jesus then becomes like a statue carried around in religious folk processions. Let’s be careful not to drop him and let’s make sure the Philistines won’t capture him in order to present him as a trophy to their gods. This is not discipleship.

Following After
What would Jesus think? I have no idea, but I can guarantee you that it is not what I think, not what you think, and certainly not what die hard conservatives or liberals think it is. Just when you think you have figured him out, he is eating with sinners and prostitutes. And when you ask him about it, you get some cryptic answer that leaves you confused. If it is hard to know what Jesus would do, it is impossible to say what he would think. Every attempt is a betrayal, a perversion, a suffocation of the Truth.

And that brings me to Bonhoeffer’s title again. “Nachfolge” is one of those delightful German words that helps us to recapture the true meaning of discipleship. Discipleship of Jesus is a ‘following after.’ Jesus doesn’t take positions that we can figure out and then take a stand on. Our immovability is the very essence of denial of discipleship. Jesus is on the move, now here, now there. He is traveling, sharing his life, giving himself away. He is never in one place for a long time. Disciples follow Jesus: now here, now there. The essence of discipleship is being on the move in service of others in the name of our Lord. It will never be taking a hardline position in political debates, or it must be one against injustice.

Disciples shift from location to location, and situation to situation. They have given up everything they possess or at least don’t treasure anything they own more than they love their Lord. But wait! If disciples of Jesus give up all they possess, aren’t they also required to give up their entrenched positions, their absolute stances, and their hard-line opinions? Shouldn’t they admit that the whole WWJT thing is an idolatrous fallacy and no more than a reversal of allegiance whereby one’s own opinion is projected on Jesus who in turn is forced to participate in a macabre marionette game? This is not to say that Christians are not to have opinions, but that they should stop lying to themselves when they pretend to think after Christ while in reality they are merely defending their own way of life and their own contextualized Christ rubber-stamping it with Jesus’ blood.

Discipleship is about self-giving; giving of self. The one thing we evangelicals need to learn to give up, or give away, is our opinion about what Jesus thought. It imprisons Jesus, it renders the discipleship we are called to meaningless because it is fashioned after our own imagination, our own interpretation, and—what is worse—our own moral capacity. The cost of discipleship demands nothing less. We give up all we have and follow after Jesus in service of the other. Having the mind of Christ is to not know what Christ thinks; it is to ask: How may I serve you?