Chance to prepare for Gospel ministry draws SBTS student back from Australia

Communications Staff — July 2, 2009

Australia had always intrigued John Tucker. An avid scuba diver from his childhood years on, Tucker knew that he wanted to one day dive near the continent’s Great Barrier Reef, a spectacular playground for divers.

Going to the land down under

After graduating from Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada — his hometown — Tucker realized his dream, enrolling in Griffith University diploma program in education in the Land Down Under.

Tucker’s one-year student visa expired in 1996 — when he earned his diploma — but the local school he interned at offered him a position as a physical education teacher. Tucker accepted and took a part time educational position at SeaWorld, where he gave talks at the polar bear exhibit and dove in the shark diving show.

Tucker’s life seemed set.

Shake-up: off to seminary

Then one day, in 2005, his mentor brought something before him.

“My mentor challenged me that God wanted more of my life than I was giving Him and challenged me to pursue seminary education,” Tucker said.

Tucker said he had been challenged to consider the pastorate earlier previously, but the timing was not right.

“While I was in college, a retired pastor told me I would make a good pastor but I was still really young in the faith so vocational ministry really wasn’t on the radar for me at that point. When the challenge came, the Lord had been at work preparing my heart.”

Tucker soon began looking for seminaries he could attend. He first searched in his beloved Australia, but could not find anything in his region that fit what he was looking for.

Tucker’s next step was to look back home to Canada, but as he searched he came across The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“By God’s grace I stumbled upon Southern’s Abstract of Principles,” he said. “When I read it I rejoiced. I was so excited to see these principles laid out. I determined to find out whether or not what was presented in the Abstract was what was being taught at Southern.

“A lot of schools had great belief statements, but didn’t actually follow them. I would get on the phone to talk to them and realize that what they say and what they believe are two different things. I talked to a number of godly men who were aware of what was going on in baptistic circles and they reinforced what a great school Southern is.”

Learning to engage the community

Tucker began master of divinity work at Southern in January 2006 in the School of Theology and is on target to graduate in December of this year.

As he has studied at Southern, Tucker has been actively involved as a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville. Tucker said he recently did some painting at a house Immanuel is looking to open as a transition house. Outreach ministries such as this at Immanuel have greatly impacted Tucker.

“One of the things I appreciate so much about Immanuel is that they are really involved in outreach in the community,” he said. “That has really transformed my view of church ministry because I have become convinced that we need to share the Gospel and meet people’s practical needs, first for the body and then to the community at large. That is one of the ways we glorify God in this world: imaging Christ by meeting people’s physical needs, as well as their spiritual needs.”

Defending the Gospel against error

During the spring semester at Southern, Tucker attended an event at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville where Brian McLaren, author and emerging church leader, was the keynote speaker. Tucker said he went because he wanted “to hear McLaren‘s teaching firsthand.”

At the event, McLaren said the main problems in the world are the environment, oppression and poverty.

“He said that Jesus came to deal with these core issues, without mentioning anything about man’s sinfulness and need to be reconciled with God,” Tucker recounted.

A question and answer time followed McLaren‘s presentation, so Tucker stepped to the microphone.

“I said that he did a good job of explaining how we can image Christ in the world by meeting people’s physical needs,” Tucker said. “I said, ‘but what happens to the oppressor, abuser and racist when they die?'”

Tucker said McLaren was visibly angered by the question. He asked Tucker if he was happy with himself for asking that and asked the moderator if he could ask Tucker a few questions. McLaren asked Tucker why that question was so important to him when he had just talked about all of these other problems in the world.

“I said, ‘I disagree with your hermeneutic,'” Tucker said. “‘If we help the poor and meet their physical needs, but we don’t tell them about Jesus and they die and go to hell for all of eternity have we really helped them?’

“So he said, ‘don’t you think that I am concerned about those issues?’ I said, ‘well I believe that you are telling a lot of half-truths. I don’t think that it is either/or; instead, it is both/and. We are to help people with their physical needs, but we also primarily have to share the Gospel [to meet their spiritual needs].’

“He said, ‘how do you think it makes me feel for you to stand here and ask those questions?’ And I said, ‘it is not my intention to offend anybody.’ And he said, ‘but how do you think it makes me feel?’ And I said, ‘well, how does it feel for the patient to go to the doctor and for the doctor to tell them that they have cancer?'”

Tucker said people gave McLaren a standing ovation after the question and answer time. Tucker later received an email from Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist, apologizing for the way McLaren treated Tucker. Tucker has since met with Pastor Phelps and discussed issues such as the nature of truth and the perspicuity of Scripture.

“I don’t deserve respect. The issue for me is that McLaren was undermining the Gospel,” Tucker said. “That is the more important issue. It was a privilege to be able to stand up for the truth. I think it was an example of the weak things of the world shaming the strong. I’m nobody. He [McLaren] made himself and his message look bad, but the true Gospel was presented in a positive light and it is a huge privilege to serve the Lord in that way.”

After Tucker graduates in December, he plans to pursue pastoral ministry in his native Canada but said he is “open to whatever ministry the Lord has planned” for him.

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