DTS Magazine

Napkin Theology

On the day after my son Joshua turned sixteen, he obtained his driver’s license. That night, I thought it might be a timely moment for a father-son chat. So we went to our favorite coffee shop. I ordered a cup of coffee, and he ordered a chocolate shake. And I pulled out a napkin.

Josh knew what was coming next. I hadn’t pulled out a napkin because I expected to spill my coffee. The napkin is an important part of Bailey family lore, and it has been an ingredient of our times together since before Josh could see over the table.

some of the greatest insights God has graciously given me were in those spontaneous times when the napkin became the substitute for a white board.

We call it “napkin theology.” Since the boys were old enough to go out alone with Dad, we have had some of the best father-son times over an early-morning breakfast or a late-night snack. And some of the greatest insights God has graciously given me were in those spontaneous times when the napkin became the substitute for a white board. During four-plus decades of teaching and parenting, some of my favorite memories have been of those teachable moments at the Iron Skillet or Cheddar’s café.

Recently, I was teaching on the book of Revelation at Bible Study Fellowship’s national leaders’ conference. We read again that oft-quoted verse in chapter 3 in which Jesus actually addresses believers, not unbelievers. He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (3:20). He’s speaking of table fellowship—of eating together, having guests for a meal, lingering over coffee. These are signs of discipleship, of deep fellowship. And these practices are often the best way to “do theology.” It’s no accident that Paul told the church at Rome to practice hospitality (Rom 12:13), and he told Timothy that an overseer should be hospitable (1 Tim 3:2).

Throughout the ages of redemption history, God has used food and table time as deep metaphors

I love napkin theology. Throughout the ages of redemption history, God has used food and table time as deep metaphors—from the manna to our daily bread to “my body given for you.”

But when I want to impart truth, I can’t always do face time. And such a reality is nothing new. Paul wrote theology to people like the Romans he’d never met. And the elder John’s readers engaged in distance learning as they read his letters. John said, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Whenever possible, he preferred in-person contact.

At DTS we face some of the same tensions the apostles experienced. Much is changing about how DTS fulfills its mission to “glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders for the proclamation of his Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide.” In seeking to overcome distance, our professors Skype with students. We’ve added online courses. And we’re building a global learning center to take theology to the most remote parts of the earth.

But we’re also taking theology to the people, opening new mobile sites in places as far north as Fargo, North Dakota, and as far away as the Australasia region (Australia/Asia). And we’re creating immersion courses in settings as diverse as Jerusalem and the Sundance Film Festival. Professors take groups of students to learn, share meals, and enter into the give-and-take of napkin theology.

We’re always exploring ways to best serve the DTS family, near and far, through the written word or in person. And this new magazine, a merging of Kindred Spirit and the alumni Connection, comes as a result of combining resources to better serve our readers.

Indeed, much is changing. But much is staying the same. For ninety years, Dallas Theological Seminary has stayed true to the beliefs of its founders, such as the authority of Scripture, God’s grace through the person of Jesus Christ, new life in the Spirit, and the imminent return of Christ that calls Christians to fulfill the Great Commission. And by God’s grace we’ll continue to do so until he comes. Maranatha!

Mark L. Bailey
Dr. Bailey assumed the Seminary’s presidency after years of service as both a professor in the Bible Exposition department and as the Vice President for Academic Affairs. In addition to his years at Dallas Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Insight for Living, Jews for Jesus, and Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
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