Category: Pastoral Ministry

The Good News, Evangelism, and the Authority of God’s Word

The Good News, Evangelism, and the Authority of God’s Word

The greatest news that anyone could ever hear is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News is the story of God’s intervention into history culminating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Through His resurrection, all who believe in Christ, repent of their sin, and turn to follow Him as their Lord are granted eternal life. This is GOOD NEWS, but what if it’s not true?

Good News or Fake News

The Twenty-first Century world is filled with fake “news.” Social media has opened a “Pandora’s box” where anyone with a smart phone or a computer can instantly spread “news” around the world. In our modern world, the “news” is often skewed to present a particular agenda more favorably. Sometimes it is just out right false – a lie intended to deceive! “News” is only as reliable as its source and many modern sources are outright untrustworthy.

The key to getting things right is finding a trustworthy source. This is where one must turn to God’s Word. The Bible is the inspired word of God. Its message is absolutely trustworthy in all that it claims. Because it is true, Scripture will stand the test of time in the face of the onslaught of fake “news.” Scripture provides us a standard by which all other “news” can be tested.

Liberal Scholarship and God’s Word

In the past couple centuries, liberal theology has brought into question the truthfulness and authority of God’s Word. This liberal theology is dangerous in every way. When the reliability of God’s word is undermined, the Christian’s foundation is shaken.

James Draper summarized four areas that led to the compromise of biblical authority in his book Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptist. These areas included: the historical-critical approach to Scripture; existential philosophy; naturalistic, uniformitarian science; and the study of comparative religions. He summarized that in each of these areas liberal critics have shifted their focus from revelation to reason. They no longer accept the revelation of God’s word as authoritative, but place man’s reasoning in a position over God’s Word.[1]

If Scripture is not reliable, its history becomes mythology, its commands become suggestions, hope is destroyed, and the future is uncertain. Draper wrote, “Without an authoritative divine revelation, worship degenerates into mere form and ritual, ministry concerns itself only with the temporal and the physical, and authority becomes the result of the mind of man rather than the mind of God.”[2]

The Message is Cloudy when Scripture is Undermined

Evangelism is one of the greatest casualties of liberal theology. Evangelism is a huge challenge for many believers at their very best. This is evidenced by the low percentage of Christians who actually share their faith on a regular basis. When doubts about the truthfulness of God’s Word arise, it becomes even easier to excuse the lack of zeal for sharing the good news of Jesus. If the Bible is not true then the evangelistic message is obscured, unnecessary, and may be an impediment to eternal life for millions.

When the truth of God’s revealed Word is brought into question, the message of the evangelist is impacted. If the Bible isn’t true in all areas, then it certainly can be questioned in the difficult areas. First, the message becomes obscured.  For instance, Jesus said, “No one comes to the father, but through me” (John 14:6). If his statement is not absolutely true, then one may suggest other ways to get to the Father – to gain eternal life. Once the door is cracked open, man may rationalize a multitude of paths regardless of the clear message in God’s Word.

If the Bible is not absolutely true, then its evangelistic message becomes unnecessary. The teachings of Jesus may be considered helpful and the epistles and Acts might be useful for understanding history. The message of the Good News of salvation is only necessary if God’s Word is true.

Liberal theology has led some to deny the revelation in God’s Word that all those who die without Jesus are lost. The question is asked, “What about those innocent people who have never heard of Jesus?” There is an assumption that certainly they would not be condemned. The reality is that God’s Word tells us there are no innocent people. “All have sinned” (Rom 3:23). If Romans 3-6 are not true and God provides some special dispensation for those who have not heard, our message becomes an impediment to their eternal life. The rational mind could argue that they are better off if we never tell them what Jesus did for them.

The Motivation is Weak when Scripture is Undermined

A liberal view of Scripture undermines the evangelist’s motivation. If there are other paths, hell is not real, everyone is okay in the end, or everyone’s fate is already sealed, then the motive to share the Gospel is eroded. The evangelist is left without any urgency to fulfill the Great Commission

Peter made clear to those gathered in Jerusalem that “there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The nature of this single pathway leading to eternal life is a strong motivation to share the Gospel of Jesus. When that claim is diminished, the motive to share is diminished as well.

The Biblical picture of eternal punishment is a horrible thing to imagine. When the Christian accepts the truth that there is a place of eternal death for all who are lost, compassion increases and the job of evangelism becomes urgent. Like the neighbor frantically trying to wake those sleeping in a burning house, the evangelist is highly motivated to declare his message.  If he is not convinced that the residents are in any danger, the herald will be less vocal and less urgent.

Likewise, the Universalist has no real motive to declare the Gospel. It is rare that one hears anything at the casket of an elderly grandmother except, “She is in heaven now.” However, Scripture is clear that all do not gain eternal life. If fact, Jesus made it clear that the road to the destruction is wide while the road to the Kingdom of heaven is narrow. If the Christian truly believes that not all are saved, then he is motivated to tell those who are on the wrong path.

Evangelism Flourishes when Scripture is Trusted

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Robert Coleman wrote, “The objective authority for the Gospel is the Bible. The Bible,which is infallible, immutable, and eternal, is the tangible court of appeal.”[3] The Good News must be based on some authority and that authority is the inerrant word of God. When the claims of Scripture are taken at face value, evangelism will flourish.

The message becomes clear when it is not mixed with human rationalizations. Jesus was more than a good teacher. He came to seek and to save the lost. He is the truth and the only way to eternal life.

When the Bible is trusted in its entirety, the motivation to share the Good News is powerful. Jesus is the only hope of a lost and dying world. Eternity with a loving God or eternal punishment awaits every person depending on their response to the Good News. Not everyone is going to heaven, even that precious grandmother who dies without Christ will spend eternity in a sinner’s hell if someone doesn’t share the Good News with her so she can repent and turn to Christ.

The Bible is trustworthy! When the believer accepts the clear teaching of Scripture without trying to rationalize away the parts he does not like, the urgency of evangelism becomes clear. When Christians humbly submit to the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, they are compelled to share the Good News as it commands.

Choosing to Trust the Bible

A turning point came in the life of a young evangelist in 1949 as he struggled with his confidence in God’s Word. Billy Graham later wrote about his struggles in an article in the inaugural issue of Christianity Today, entitled “Biblical Authority in Evangelism.” He began with the statement “I had many doubts about the Bible. Now I see Scripture as a flame that melts away unbelief.”[4]

He recalled in the article that having dealt for a time with doubts about the Bible’s integrity, he humbled himself before God in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, California. He knelt before the Bible and said, “I surrender my will to the living God revealed in Scripture. . . Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as thy word: I take it all. I take it without reservations. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgement until I receive more light.”[5] In the coming years, he became known as the most influential evangelist of the twentieth century by preaching the simple Gospel message dependent on the inerrant Word of God.

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[1] James T. Draper, Jr., Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptist (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984).

[2] Ibid., 44.

[3] Robert E. Coleman, The Heart of the Gospel: The Theology Behind the Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 40.

[4] Billy Graham, “Biblical Authority in Evangelism,” Christianity Today, October 15, 1956, Electronic edition accessed December 6, 2017. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1956/ october-15/billy-graham-biblical-authority-in-evangelism.html

[5] Ibid.

This article was originally submitted to Dr. Matthew Queen on December 6, 2017 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was a required assignment in the PhD seminary “Theological Issues in Evangelism.”

My Thoughts On Halloween

My Thoughts On Halloween

So today is Reformation Day. It is also the popular secular holiday called Halloween. What are Christians to do on this day? My mind is filled with thoughts – dissertation length thoughts, deep thoughts, and shallow thoughts – but I don’t have the time or energy to write them all down here. I won’t answer all your questions here, but I hope to provide some balance. If you don’t have time to read it all, READ the FINAL TWO PARAGRAPHS!

What I Won’t Do

I won’t turn off my lights and hide upstairs because this is “Satan’s day” and I am afraid of him. He doesn’t have a day unless we give it to him! The Psalmist cries out in Pslams 118:24 “This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” I believe the Lord who created each day and blessed me with the breath to enjoy it.

Further, Jesus tells us that forces of hell take a defensive posture when His church marches forward and the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18). Next, I will choose not to walk in fear of Satan’s schemes. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” In summary, the only way that Satan wins a day is if we allow it. I will not “give” Satan this day. I will choose to seek my Lord’s direction in how to press forward His kingdom agenda.

Heed the Warnings

Satan does want to drag you into His world – of course not just today, but every day. It would be absolute idiocy for a believer to attend a séance tonight. We ought to avoid the sacrificing of cats, drinking of blood, and all other means of directly worshiping the enemy. Ouija boards are out and so are pentagrams. I say this only partly jesting. I have seen Christians who unknowingly walked into Satan’s traps and became entangled in His web. The devil is real and real people really do worship him year round, but especially on this night. Stay out of that garbage.

I don’t believe that precludes a believer from every aspect Halloween. Susan and I plan to hand out candy and a special tract sharing the Gospel of Jesus to every neighbor kid who comes by our house. I hope to meet a few parents and open a few doors to share His kingdom. Maybe I end up shaking hands and fellowshipping with tax-gathers and sinners. Some Christians will take a different approach tonight. I’m not too worried about it, I just want to do my best to follow my Lord’s example and spread his message of Good News. Besides, what other day of the year will I have over 100 kiddos come to my door where I can put the message of Jesus in their hands along with a couple pieces of chocolate?

Don’t let this Day be a Stumbling Block

Some Christians have been given clear convictions that they are to stay clear of this day. OBEY the direction from your Lord Jesus. He knows you best. You may have one of those personalities that would take things too far if you got started. You may have people in your sphere of influence that need to see you completely abstaining from any hint a connection with this holiday. If so, abstain. If you have had any connection with the occult or witchcraft in the past, you may be one who needs to stay home and watch the World Series tonight! I would not encourage a recovering alcoholic to go evangelize in a bar. Likewise you probably need to stay completely away from the “bad” part of this night.

What We Can’t Do

First and foremost, we (the church) cannot let our differing opinions define us and distract from His kingdom work. On social media this week I have seen earnest evangelical Christians regularly post opposing viewpoints. This is okay! Thankfully I have seen very few inappropriate arguments. It’s okay to disagree, but we must be cautious. Jesus made it clear that the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for each other – not by our doctrine.

People are Our Priority!

We must maintain balance in our relentless pursuit of the “truth” and our willingness to offer “grace.” This is tough! Some of us are prophets and teachers by nature (or giftedness) and it is our gift to hammer home “thus saith the Lord.” Others of us are more gifted with the tender hearts of mercy and service. It is our nature to love and come along side of our hurting brothers. Only Jesus was the perfect picture of both “grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I lean more toward the “thus saith the Lord” crowd, but I and the kingdom need the mercy folks. Sometimes I think that they are wishy-washy, but that comes out of their God given desire to show compassion. Sometimes, they think I am too rigid and hard-hearted. I hope they see that comes from my God given nature to preach and speak truth. The bottom line is that because none of us can display all of the characteristics of Christ by ourselves, we need each other. Jesus was the only one who perfectly expressed grace and truth, mercy and justice, leadership and encouragement. If the lost world is to see Christ on earth it will only be when we serve together, putting all of His characteristics on display to form a unified “body of Christ.”

Let’s get Busy with Show and Tell

Let’s show the world what love looks like. And let’s tell them how much God loves them! I won’t be celebrating Halloween, but I will celebrate Jesus on this day. I hope to “redeem the day” by engaging the lost (and saved) who come to my door with a smile, a handshake, and a word from God.

Happy Reformation Day! No tricks, just treats!

Glorify God in Unity

Glorify God in Unity

When we work together in unity, we are all better for it and the Lord is glorified. In the past couple days, I’ve had the privilege to witness beautiful examples of God’s kingdom work. God’s love shines especially bright in contrast to the darkness of racial division that presently covers our nation.

Unity in Service – Back 2 School Rally 2017

  • >650 Backpacks distributed Saturday
  • Hundreds more going out the door this week
  • 1000 slices of pizza
  • 560 hot dogs
  • 180 free haircuts
  • Eye Exams, Hearing test, balloon animals
  • Hundreds of free Bibles distributed
  • Dozens of Gospel conversations and families lifted in prayer

This list could go on and on! Saturday evening the Baptists, Methodists, Holiness, and other churches in Watauga came together to serve the children of Watauga and the surrounding community. Over 250 volunteers from many different churches and organizations gathered to serve for a common purpose. People of all races gathered as we served the Lord and serve each other.

Honestly, I didn’t even think about the various races represented until this morning. Sure, there were many from El Buen Samaritano who were specifically helping communicate with the hundreds of Spanish speaking families who gathered. But, nobody’s skin color or country of origin made any difference! That’s the way it is when we put our focus on the Lord and serve His Kingdom together.

The common theme from Saturday evening were SMILES. I saw joy on the faces of the parking lot volunteers, the registration team, evangelism team, and puppet show team. The firemen, policemen, and police explorers all served diligently without complaint. Of course, there were the hundreds of smiles on the faces of the kids with new backpacks, popcorn, and pizza!

As I reflected on the Rally this morning in my personal prayer time, I was struck by the stark contrast between what I saw at the event and what I had seen on the news. Those focused on divided agendas in Virginia brought shame on themselves and on their causes. Those serving the Lord and the community in Watauga will likely never make the national news, but they brought honor to the Lord and to the groups they represent.

How Great Thou Art – Worship in Two Languages

As encouraged as I was after reflecting on Saturday evening, things got even better at noon on Sunday. My friend and fellow pastor had contacted me early in the week about using our baptistery to begin their worship time on Sunday. Often, we have our congregation finish up and move out so the congregation of El Buen Samaritano can use the auditorium for baptism. I felt the Lord prompt me to ask Br. Elias to allow us to finish our service with him baptizing so that we could celebrate together this week. I had no idea the events that would darken our national news this weekend.

Immediately after concluding our invitation, El Buen’s congregation began to enter the sanctuary. To my joy, the congregants of FBC Watauga began to clap and welcome our brothers and sisters as they joined us finding their seats. As Br. Elias baptized two new believers, the entire congregation celebrated with shouts of “amen” and “praise the Lord” with cheers and clapping.

To my surprise, Br. Mario who I had meet as he was sharing the Gospel at the Rally the evening before, stood with his guitar to lead us in worship. He chose “How Great Thou Art” so everyone could sing in their own language. What followed was a stirring time of heavenly worship with English and Spanish blended together as we sang in unison to the One True God! One of our congregants tweeted this sentiment after the service.

Assisted by a translator, I closed out with a short “Thank You” to El Buen for their wonderful service in the Back 2 School Rally. I gave a short reference to how beautiful it is when we come together under the banner of Christ to serve Him and our community. What a stark contrast to what we had seen and heard on the news! As we closed the service together in prayer, the Spirit of God was evident in the exuberant joy that filled the “amens” along with the smiles, hugs, and handshakes that followed.

Praise the Lord that in Him we find common ground!

  • Unite in Service
  • Unite in Love
  • Unite in God’s Word
  • Unite in His Redemption
  • Unite in Worship

Let the name of Jesus be praised and lifted up in our words and in our actions!

Baptist Deacons

Baptist Deacons

Jimmy Youree and Dennis Serratt both faithfully serve the Lord in their role as deacons.
Two deacons cleaning up after they served a meal to our family following my mother-in-law’s memorial service.

 For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

– 1 Timothy 3:13 CSB

I have had the privilege to serve as the pastor of three Baptist churches – two churches as a full-time pastor for an extended period of time (13 ½ years and 12 + years). In both churches, I have been blessed by those men who serve our Lord in the New Testament role of deacon.

My First Deacon

The first church I “pastored” was a very small rural church in Locker, TX. It had a congregation of about 10 and was set on the edge of a cow pasture that once was a thriving town. They believed their mission was to keep the doors open so that young “preacher boys” would have place to “cut their teeth” in the ministry. It was the one ordained deacon that provided steady leadership for that church. I will forever be grateful for their love and support. It was while serving this church that our first daughter was born. They showed love and compassion that went way beyond their size.

Deacon Jokes

Growing up in the church, it seems that deacons were often the brunt of jokes from various corners. I have even been guilty of a few “deacon jokes” myself (not that they haven’t thrown out a few “pastor jokes” along the way). I have also known ministers who considered the deacon body to be their adversaries in the church. One pastor told me years ago that he started the church and he didn’t want deacons because they “would get in the way.”  I had been warned that the deacons would want to “run the church.”  I have never found this to be the case. In fact, my experience has been much the opposite.

Faithful Servants

In both FBC May and FBC Watauga, I have been overwhelmingly blessed by the deacon body. These guys have been my prayer warriors and support. It is usually among the deacons that I find my best friends in the church. It is usually the deacons who are my first line of help in the ministry. In May FBC, I was challenged to share the Gospel with boldness by the example of a Baptist deacon (thank you Troy). I was taught how to lead people by another (thank you Don).

In Watauga, it has been the deacon body that leads out in visiting prospects and sharing the gospel. They serve and encourage families that have been assigned them for ministry. They lead by example when they chauffer the elderly and visit the hospitals. In both churches, the deacons have been Godly men who loved the Lord, loved the church and worked hard to serve the church and their pastor.

Simply Human

Neither deacons nor ministers are perfect. We all sin and will all make mistakes. But I am confident that these “ordained men” of the church will continue to seek and serve our Lord alongside me. Every day for most of the past 28 years, my family has been blessed in some way by the ministry and service of Baptist deacons. Though we might not always agree, I am continually reminded that we are “on the same side.” We serve the same Lord and seek to see Him rule over the church. We are all servants in a spiritual body where there is only one head – Jesus the Lord.

Serving Together in Christ

Through every struggle, the deacons of the church have been like a “band of brothers” for me as we serve the Lord together. Though we are just men and we won’t always agree, with Jesus as our solid foundation, we will press on to accomplish His kingdom purposes. I recently wrote a tribute to one of these men on this blog site. Those reflections provide a wonderful reminder of the lasting bonds that are created as we serve the Lord together.

Most of this blog was originally posted as a note on Facebook in 2011. I have revised and updated it for this format.

Framework for Revival from the First Great Awakening

Framework for Revival from the First Great Awakening

Students of the First Great Awakening often recognize the names of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield as the key leaders. However, it was a less famous pastor who arrived on the shores of America in 1720 that began to shake up the churches in the new world. The Lord used this courageous pastor to help lay the foundation for the coming awakening.

Theodore Frelinghuysen Launched Revival

Both Edwards and Whitefield pointed back to a Dutch Reformed pastor Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen. Whitefield referred to Frelinghuysen in his fifth journal in 1739 as the genesis of the Awakening. “He is a worthy old Soldier of JESUS CHRIST, and was the Beginner of the great Work which I trust the Lord is carrying on in these Parts.”[1] In his personal accounts of the Awakening, Jonathan Edwards mentioned the work of Frelinghuysen in relation to the broader movement of God, “There was no small degree of it in some part of the Jerseys. . . under the ministry of a very pious young gentlemen, a Dutch minister, whose name as I remember was Freeling housa.”[2]

Six Key Components of Frelinghuysen’s Ministry

  1. Bold, Gospel-focused Preaching – Frelinghuysen shunned the formal reserved preaching style of his contemporaries for extemporaneous, free flowing messages. He preached bold, gospel-focused sermons that frequently called for clear repentance. To the dismay of many of his parishioners, his messages focused on salvation because he believed many of them were lost.
  2. Authenticity in Worship – Frelinghuysen insisted on authenticity in worship. For example, he abandoned the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in every worship service, in deference to spontaneous, heart-felt prayers.
  3. Regenerate Church Membership – Frelinghuysen insisted that his church members display evidence of repentance rooted in a changed heart. In his sermon, The Way of God with His People in the Sanctuary, he proclaimed “You who are ungodly and unconverted must realize that the ways of God are indignation and wrath to every soul that does evil. Your sins remain unpardoned and are treasured up to add to your condemnation.”
  4. Biblical Church Discipline – Frelinghuysen fearlessly used church discipline and exclusion from the Lord’s Supper to encourage faithfulness to the doctrinal principles that he fiercely preached. Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York suggested that Frelinghuysen was not afraid to invoke the third and fourth steps of church disciple for those who continued to create division in the body. In a series of correspondence sent from Frelinghuysen’s supporting elders and those who created division, one can track desire for reconciliation.
  5. Small Group Devotional Meetings – Small group private devotional meetings became a key part of Frelinghuysen’s ministry in the Raritan Valley. These groups consisted of only those who Frelinghuysen believed to be truly born-again. The meetings were not open to the public as were the regular worship services. They were private prayer meetings held in homes and designed for mutual spiritual examination and edification. Through these meetings, Frelinghuysen focused on spiritual growth and training of his flock.
  6. Equipping Lay Leaders to Evangelize and Teach – Using the small group meetings, Frelinghuysen trained trustworthy leaders to share their faith and preach the Gospel. He went against the conventional thought of his time by raising up lay helpers who could shoulder the load of disciple-making. His helpers led new small groups and filled the pulpit at times, effectively multiplying the work of their pastor.

Courageous Pastors are Needed Today

Frelinghuysen’s courageous pastoral leadership is needed in the modern church.  As a pastor, he loved his people enough to challenge their weak faith and insufficient doctrine. The six components of his ministry that lead to revival are all rooted in biblical truth. These are timeless and they could be implemented in any church. He was not universally loved and many leaders challenged his methods from inside and outside his congregations. But, he was mightily used of God. The Lord may very well use a pastor with the courage and conviction of Frelinghuysen, who is willing to challenge the status quo of his local congregation, to lay the groundwork for great revival in the 21st century.

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[1] George Whitefield, The Journals of George Whitefield (Shropshire, England: Quinta, 2009), 431.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Works of God (New York: Dunning & Spalding, 1832), 45.

{This blog was adapted from a PhD seminar paper submitted by the same author, Dennis Hester, in the Spring 2017. The full paper can be found here.}

Why I’m Preaching from the Christian Standard Bible

Why I’m Preaching from the Christian Standard Bible

In the recent weeks, I have begun to preach and teach from the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB). Though I still study from various English translations and the Hebrew and Greek texts, I am very excited to make this switch as I lead FBC Watauga. For the majority of my preaching ministry, I have preached from the New King James (at May FBC) and the New American Standard (at FBC Watauga). Both of these are very good translations and I still use them for study.

Why Change Now?

For the past few years, I have desired to find a version that was easier to read and understand in modern English. Beginning in September, all of our Growth Groups (previously Sunday School classes) will begin to use The Gospel Project.

Unity

The Gospel Project will bring unity throughout our church family providing better opportunities for families and friends to discuss what they are learning. The Gospel Project is published using two very good bible translations: the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). So this was a natural time for me to make the switch to one of these modern English versions bringing UNITY in the version of the bible that we use throughout our church family.

Decision Time

I spent a couple weeks studying the CSB and the ESV to learn as much as I could about the quality of these translations. I contacted Hebrew and Greek experts at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for their input. For several reasons, I have chosen to begin using the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) as my primary preaching and teaching bible.

Availability

The CSB is readily available in many formats. The CSB has its own FREE app in both iPhone/iPad and Android versions. Additionally, all of the major bible apps also have the CSB available. For those who prefer print copies, Lifeway Christian Stores provide a wide variety of formats from very inexpensive to the highest quality bindings. The CSB Study Bible is highly recommended and especially helpful. Many of the print versions are on sale for a significant discount (40% off) at Lifeway stores and online as this new version is in the introductory stage.

Helpful Links

In the coming days, I plan to write further on the specific reasons I have chosen to use the CSB. Until then I have provided a few helpful resources for you to do a little investigation on your own.

CSB Translation Philosophy

Translation Committee Video