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President’s Message

Dr. Joshua W T Cho

Marching Forward Again in the Direction of Preaching

Ten years have passed quickly since 2009 when I took the helm as president of the seminary. Looking back on those years, I realize that God has often taught me in His ingenious and meticulous way. Indeed, His wisdom is beyond my comprehension and has often left me in awe. Whenever I find that what lies ahead is fraught with challenges and difficulties, and I do not know how to proceed, God always leads me step by step and guides the seminary in different ways. He sometimes inspires me to move forward through changes in the environment, or through heartfelt words from students and teachers, or through encouragement from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Riding on the Wind of the Holy Spirit and Looking Ahead

As I recall my early days as president I strongly felt that it was vital to lead the seminary on the basis of a solid spiritual foundation. Some management and administrative principles and insights were helpful, but I felt that they should only play supplementary roles. Hence, I have often said: Since a seminary is an academic institution, there are rules and regulations to follow. But when dealing with personnel and administrative matters, reasoning and compassion should be equally applied. Once the rules and regulations have been set, I expect everyone to fall in line. They would then conscientiously do their duties and act in an appropriate manner. Written guidelines should never be cumbersome and complex. I hope to have a streamlined administrative structure so that teachers can focus their energy on training and nurturing students, their own research and writing, as well as helping the church. I am also concerned about the role of the seminary as a faithful steward for Christ. It should makes good use of the donations we receive because the donors love the seminary. To ensure that our precious resources are used properly, I did not carry out any large scale construction projects or operate the seminary like a business when I first assumed the role as president.

At the seminary, we have often said: the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary (HKBTS) is a spiritual community as well as a disciple community for Christ. We value the relationship between God and His people, and the relationships in our community. Everyone in this disciple community needs to embrace differences and respect the diversity of our members. At the same time, we have to preserve what is so unique about this community and its conviction ─ that is to allow the story of Christ to be the life story of each of us in the community. It is a story focusing on “love.” Love is the sine qua non, or the necessary condition, that underpins this disciple community, which is like a family in the sense that both are bound by love. But the love among members of this community should not be conveyed through the control of an authoritarian parent. Rather, it is an expression of familial love akin to instinctual affection that binds parents and their children together; likewise, the same kind of affection is also found among siblings. Viewed from a different angle, a disciple community is also a spiritual community as we all belong to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and each member belongs to all the others.

Riding on the wind of the Holy Spirit, HKBTS has been navigating forward between the concepts of “Community” (Gemeinschaft) and “Association” (Gesellschaft).

Keep on Exploring the Road Ahead

For quite a while, I was somewhat puzzled over the question: how unique is HKBTS? Looking around me I find that there are seminaries striving to build distinct identities. For instance, one uses mobile apps to provide devotional materials for Christians and as a result their spiritual lives have been given a considerable boost. I have pondered further: Should HKBTS replicate the work of other Christian organizations? Or, should there be division of labor whereby each would focus on what it is especially good at?

The kind of theology HKBTS has been building is a practical theology, emphasizing the need for thinking theologically. As a form of wisdom it can be put to use in a pastoral setting and in one’s social life. Yet, people find the effort to internalize one’s thoughts demanded by this mode of intellectual training rather difficult and not easily seen. Besides, in order to train and nurture students of practical theology often involves a lengthy process, for they need to go through a long period of “immersion” before they can become useful servants of God.

Indeed, from a marketing point of view, this way of training students may not be ideal for people cannot easily appreciate what is so unique about HKBTS. Without a doubt, preparing students with the wisdom of life cannot be done in a single stroke. They need to undergo arduous training and to work conscientiously with commitment before they can see the benefits of their labor. The practical theology of HKBTS is centred around a rigorous, yet simple and meticulous, learning ethos, and it is not about seeking quick returns. Hence, against the backdrop of tensions arising from competing values and priorities, i.e. “visible labor” and “immediate results” versus “internalized effort” and “meticulous endeavors,” we continue to pursue the will of God intently.

Calls and Inspiration

Recently, I had a heart-to-heart with a seminary board member. I asked him whether the seminary should deploy marketing strategies to further promote our image. I have never been a fan of advertising gimmicks, but the world around us tends to follow this practice. I also shared with him the theological path currently taken by HKBTS, which is to practice theology in a real-life pastoral setting. This would cover a wide variety of aspects: from preaching and missions to pastoral care. He recognized the vital role played by preaching in theological education. I was heartened by what he said because he vindicated what we have done quietly for years, showing that our endeavors have not been in vain. I am very grateful to him for reminding me of the need for HKBTS to continue to move forward in this direction.

As I recall, during all these years God has continuously reminded me of the importance of preaching. For instance, last year when I realized more profoundly that teaching preaching was what God wanted us to do, a homiletics teacher happened to be unable to schedule the time to teach. I had to summon up my courage and hastily partner with Rev. Brian Lam to take his place. After finishing the course, I felt deeply that there was further need for training students in homiletics. I realized I wanted to share my insights on homiletics with co-workers in Mainland China. Besides, the idea of teaching homiletics at the seminary’s Pastoral Continuing Education Centre had occurred to me, but I temporarily dropped the plan because I feared that I was not yet ready for the task. After I was reminded by this board member, however, I am considering that idea again.

Later on, I also remembered meeting several good classmates at Princeton when I was doing my graduate studies in systematic theology there. They were all Ph.D. students specializing in homiletics. We often had a good time studying and playing soccer together. The day before we had our doctoral candidacy examination, we met up for a game of soccer just the same. Even now we still keep in touch. In thinking of them, I realized that even during those days they had already helped me understand the importance of homiletics. What is so amazing is that God had arranged everything even back in those early days! I think God has used all those experiences and situations that I went through to call and inspire me.

Marching Forward Again in the Direction of Preaching

Between 2010 and 2011, I penned a series of four essays in the seminary’s Newsletter on the topic of preaching, hoping to make HKBTS a preaching seminary. My goal is to nurture students to become heralds who preach the Gospel of the Cross, pastors who take care of the needs of congregants and prophets who proclaim the Truth with courage. During the intervening years, I have witnessed the progress of both our students and teachers in their preaching practice. Indeed, their preaching skills, spirituality and testimonies have all steadily matured.

In the days ahead, I fervently hope that the seminary continues to embrace preaching education, and that students tend their flocks in the churches they serve through preaching. They are like chefs providing their congregations with spiritual nutrients by cooking nourishing foods for their members so that they can get healthy and strong bodies. As I share with you here my innermost thoughts, may these words be the witness to our joint efforts that will continue to go into preaching.

Closing Thoughts

God has led HKBTS in such wonderful and amazing ways! Under His leadership the seminary during my early days as president overcame one obstacle after another, and succeeded in building up its spiritual and academic atmosphere. Now in His grace, He is steering us again into the second round of learning in preaching, and 2019 will inaugurate another fresh year of learning homiletics! May God help us make further progress in preaching and make us heralds, pastors and prophets for Him!


Preaching the Gospel of the Cross

The good news of Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross is for all practical purposes treated as foolishness by some of today’s churches and ministers. When certain Christians bring up the subject of the cross, it is just like a beautiful adornment while the cost of bearing Christ’s cross in daily life is not mentioned. … As we take up the cross, God uses the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to help us leave behind our old selves and to transform our lives into the likeness of Christ. This should also be the way that a minister is chosen by God. They must take up the cross of Jesus Christ, accepting the uniqueness of the cross and preparing to be ridiculed to be a fool for Christ. …Therefore, we ministers must take hold of the essence of the calling of ministry neither following the tide of the world nor its false idols. Instead, we have to ask God to cleanse us with fire and call us to return to the most fundamental ministry: preaching the gospel of the cross.

Joshua Cho, “A Preaching Seminary, The Preaching Spirituality,”
HKBTS Newsletter, August 2010, 2-3;
See also Forging of Theologia, 75-77

The Preacher as Herald

The preacher is not teaching a lesson, nor diagnosing the current situation, nor presenting his view on homiletics. This is not what a preacher should do. His mission is to act faithfully as a clear channel of the very word of the living God, which rises above the preacher’s voice proclaiming the message of the gospel: to proclaim God’s decision concerning life and death and to declare the gospel message of God’s judgment and acquittal. The preacher in faith listens to God’s voice and submits to God’s will and then passes it on without making any changes. Preachers must also respond to God’s call, not only respond to it but also submit to it. …Preachers do not possess the word of God. Instead, what they possess is the “command” and promise to proclaim God’s word. This means that when the scripture is preached faithfully, God will speak through the scripture and the sermon, and He will be present.

Joshua Cho, “The Preaching of a Herald,” HKBTS Newsletter, November 2010, 3;
See also Forging of Theologia, 81-82

The Preacher as Pastor

The preacher needs to be in touch with listeners so that he understands his congregation’s real life situations and needs and can direct members to seek God’s help so that they can be transformed to become responsible listeners, living out ethical Christian lives. In other words, the pastor’s preaching shows an awareness of, and a response to, the existential condition of the listeners as he feeds God’s people with God’s word, filling their hunger and meeting their spiritual needs. According to the way each listener perceives or understands the sermon, the preacher adjusts the message, making sure that the listeners can absorb the nutrients that help them grow in their spiritual lives. … In pastoral preaching, the needs, pains, hungers and the loneliness of listeners are neither regarded as irrelevant nor as something that would distract from the gospel message. Rather, it is the very place where God’s grace can be discovered. In this place preaching of God’s word is imbued with power to bring healing to those who hear.

Joshua Cho, “The Preacher as Pastor,” HKBTS Newsletter, February 2011, 2;
See also Forging of Theologia, 86-89

The Preacher as Prophet

However, I need also to emphasize that a preacher must not only be a pastor but also a prophet. Prophetic preaching is both significant and necessary. In prophetic preaching, we proclaim that God’s sovereignty must always be clearly acknowledged as always remaining as over and above the authority of the world’s rulers and leaders. A prophet must speak the truth in love, proclaiming the truth with courage and daring to uphold clearly the truth through deeds. Faithful preaching must always include a prophetic element. … As a prophet preacher, one must always struggle to have a pure heart, practice self-discipline and pray for self-understanding in order to confront himself or herself as well as others. Such a preacher strives not to be self-deceiving but longs to be honest before God, honest with men and honest with oneself. Consequently, a prophet preacher can help the church be honest before God, able to face God and Christ in order to face the truth.

Joshua Cho, “Prophetic Preaching,” HKBTS Newsletter, August 2011, 1-2, 4;
See also Forging of Theologia, 93-94, 98

Feb 2019