Tag Archive for 'Theology'

Humble and Careful Theology

In the Bible God uses ordinary human language rather than a technically precise jargon. He does not include all the technical, pedantic details that would interest a scholar. By doing so, he speaks clearly to ordinary people, not merely to scholars with advanced technical knowledge. What God says is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient to save us and to provide a sure guide for our life.

Hence, the ordinary, humble readers of the Bible do all right. Paradoxically, scholars and would-be scholars can easily get into trouble by overestimating the degree of technical or pedantic precision in the Bible. They will then fall into mistakes that an ordinary reader of the Bible would not make. Therefore, if we are engaged in more scholarly theological reflection, we must become self-conscious about our language. Of course, most scholars do not explicitly do theology on the basis of some fully developed philosophy of language. Mistakes made without an explicit philosophy are nevertheless mistakes. And such mistakes do occur. In fact, mistakes, obscurities, inadequacies, and infelicities related to language occur with considerable frequency in our day, even in reputable, scholarly writings of theology.

Vern Poythress, Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology

Those of us who are going deeper into theology, which is a good thing. However I’ve read stories of elderly people who have suffered greatly and who love God, love reading their Bible, and have been sanctified over the course of their lives more than many who make a living as a theologian. We shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves for knowing more terms and doctrine than some others. There will be people in heaven receiving their praise from God who never knew the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.

Poythress is also saying that we shouldn’t make our theological terms too narrow (or too broad), along with concepts in Scripture. But that really needs the context of the book to be better understood.

We should also be aware that just because somebody is a famous scholar (if there is such a thing), that doesn’t automatically mean they’re right, whether it comes to theology, doctrine, exegesis, or original languages. (I’ve been reading more and more about the latter.) It seems that the less we know of a subject, the more we will trust others, especially if it seems to make sense at first (Proverbs 18:17).

For those of us who are more well versed, or becoming so, with theology:

“It is impossible, while Christ is in the eye of our faith as proposed in the gospel, but that we shall labor to be like Him and greatly love Him. Neither is there any way for us to attain to either of these, which are the great concerns of our souls (to be like to Christ and to love Him) but by a constant view of Him and His glory by faith; which powerfully and effectually works them in us. All the doctrinal knowledge which we have of Him is useless, all the view we have of His glory is but fancy, imagination, or superstition, which are not accompanied with this transforming power. And that which is wrought by it is the increase and vigor of all grace; for therein alone our conformity to Him consists. Growth in grace, holiness, and obedience is a growing like Christ; and nothing else is so.”

–John Owen, The Glory of Christ

And this comes by God’s Word.

Also:

“If we satisfy ourselves in mere notions and speculations about the glory of Christ as doctrinally revealed unto us, we shall find no transforming power or efficacy communicated unto us thereby. But when, under the conduct of that spiritual light, our affections do cleave unto him with full purpose of heart, our minds are filled with the thoughts of him and delight in him, and faith is kept up unto its constant exercise in trust and affiance on him, — virtue will proceed from him to purify our hearts, increase our holiness, strengthen our graces, and to fill us sometimes ‘with joy unspeakable and full of glory.'”

Regarding the text that I made italic–I’ve been using an hourly chime on my phone–and changing it when I don’t hear it anymore–for memorizing Scripture. But I have slowed down with that or I won’t be able to keep up with it as far as reviewing. So I also use it to remind me to pray during downtime, meditate on Scripture and God, or simply be aware of His presence if I’m busy with something (1 Chronicles 16:11). As John Owen has written, what better way is there to spend our thinking time than thinking of Him?

Search for the LORD and his strength.
Always seek his presence.
1 Chronicles 16:11 GW

The Importance of Theology

Both of these videos are very short.

My friend Louis posted Michael Bird on the Importance of Studying Theology on the Baker Book House Church Connection blog. I really like the video. I was annoyed that he inappropriately used the word schizophrenic at the end, but that’s of little consequence and bordering on being too PC. If you aren’t familiar with Michael Bird, he’s a very funny, and more importantly very intelligent theologian.

I found one I like even better by Timothy Keller:

What he talks about is one of the reasons I started this blog and my quest to understand right theology, which the About page kind of explains. I think that being a heretic, as Keller says, is much worse than being “schizophrenic”. He says, “Everything we do is theological; everything is based in implicit or explicit theology.” And later, “Theology and doctrine are absolutely crucial.”

I’ve seen evangelicals turn up their noses at ‘theology’. Theology isn’t ivory tower scholars making up new terms we can’t understand. It just means knowledge of God. So as many have said, we’re all theologians to one degree or another, whether it’s as a mere Christian or a theologian (or maybe scholar) who writes books on whether or not transubstantiation is legitimate. When we know and experience theology, we know and experience God, become more like him, love him more and enjoy him more. Who wouldn’t want that?

Two problems I see are:

  1. Biblical illiteracy
  2. Lack of teaching, or lack of reading on the part of the Christian

Both are easily remedied. And along with the teachers that God has gifted to help us learn more about Scripture, we also have the best teacher–the Holy Spirit, living within us.

I haven’t been reading as much lately as I’d like to. I’m always the worse for it.

Image of the Day: C.S. Lewis on Theology

theology-cs-lewis

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings…

One of the reasons (not the only one) that some people reject the biblical teaching of unconditional election is that it seems and feels to them out of sync with other teachings in the Bible – like the compassion of God for people or the moral accountability of people before God. It seems to many that God can’t choose unconditionally to save some and not others and then also feel compassion for those he does not choose and hold them accountable for their sin.

The problem here is that our instinct or intuition for what is right or possible for God does not fit Scripture. And the danger is that we shape Scripture to fit our feelings.

–John Piper

I think feelings can creep into all areas of our theology. John Stott was in favor of , but never backed it up Scripturally as far as I know. It was a belief based on emotions [feelings].

Whether or not we believe in conditional election, or eternality of hell, let’s be careful out there and take in all of what Scripture says. Life isn’t fair and God often doesn’t seem to be fair. I think if we weren’t perfected in heaven, we may be pretty embarrassed at some of the things we believed solely based on what we believed to be right based on… feelings.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

(While I’m making light of the song Feelings, I chose a video of a good singer, even if it looks a little silly nowadays. It starts at 30 seconds. I can’t get the code to work so that it starts there.)

that the souls of the lost are eventually allowed to perish instead of burning throughout eternity

A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology

This came to my attention via Challies.comA Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology by Kelly M. Kapic. In a previous post titled Three Books For New Christians, I was looking for books that would help people start learning about the Bible and theology in a way that’s easy to understand and not look like a daunting task. I bought one of the books I found, D.A. Carson’s The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, and have started to read it myself–a chapter here and there–but it may be just a bit much for someone in the target group I’m thinking of.

This new book, at 128 pages, might be one to consider. Click the book image and read the Editorial Reviews to get a feel for it. There are no Customer Reviews yet. If you happen to read it, let me know what you think.

Secondhand Theology

This may be the first time I’ve posted a book description (from Secondhand Jesus) as the main part of a blog post. I think it’s great. I embarked on my Three Year Plan partly because so much of the knowledge I had of theology was ‘secondhand’. Sometimes we hear the same sayings from the same group of people so many times, we assume it’s Biblical and true–although the book is referring more to ‘”God-experts” to do the work for us rather than wading into the deep end of His presence ourselves’ as a reviewer says–as opposed to our peers. I think the reason it’s important to read through the Bible regularly is so that we can eventually get a sense of what’s in the Bible and what’s not. And then eventually know where to find it if it is, and then eventually know where to go to refute it if it isn’t.

I think in this day and age of Biblical illiteracy, we need to not only read the Bible and books about it from good sources to gain knowledge, but be very careful of where we get our information and be Berean-like in looking into all of the things people write (like on the web) and say. And as book’s author is writing about, don’t even just trust the trusted sources, but go to the Source yourself to learn things firsthand. We need gifted teachers and preachers to exposit Scripture and point out things we wouldn’t learn ourselves, even with the Holy Spirit. But if we find ourselves quoting our favorite pastor or theologian more than the Bible, there’s a problem.

God has offered us firsthand knowledge of His love, His grace, and His power. Yet so often, we too easily settle for someone else’s descriptions, the Cliff notes from another’s spiritual journey. We are content for “God-experts” to do the heavy lifting and then give us the bottom line. And like any secondhand information, after enough times through the grapevine, the truth about God deteriorates and crumbs of rumor are all that remain.

But when life derails, and things don’t go as we had planned, our thin view of God is challenged. In those critical moments, we can choose to walk away from God, or to let our questions lead us home. When we choose to wrestle with God, to engage Him for ourselves, we–like Jacob and Job and David–will see rumors die and revelation come alive.

It’s time to hear the magnificent, Divine Invitation. It’s time to take God up on His offer and embrace the mystery and majesty of knowing Him for ourselves.

–Description for Secondhand Jesus, free Kindle version through June 3 and also a Paperback edition

I haven’t read the book and have no idea if I would endorse it or not. At least the reviews look good.

HT: Gospel eBooks

Quote of the Day: Limited Atonement (Warning: Calvinist Content)

I’ve been wondering why the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement is important. I had just the answers I was looking for in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism which I reviewed. Here is part of just one:

It slanders God’s justice. Did Christ satisfy God’s justice for everyone? Did Christ take the punishment due to everybody? If he did, how can God punish anyone? Is it justice to punish one person for the sins of another and later to punish the initial offender again? As Augustus Toplady said,

God cannot payment twice demand;
Once at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.

God can’t and won’t demand payment twice. Double punishment is injustice.

–Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism

Some others are:

  • It slanders God’s power (by being dependent on people and their free will)
  • It disables the deity of Christ (because he didn’t succeed–I can see non-Calvinists really getting steamed now)
  • It undermines the unity of the Trinity (in that Christ died for more than God decreed)

There are just as many more but I’m tired of typing. I’m glad I looked into it further. I’m certain I’m not a ‘Four Point Calvinist’.

Theological Arguments

I sometimes wonder if the reason so many theologians, amateur and professional, like to engage in online theological controversy has as much to do with them wanting a piece of the action as desiring to help the church. Like those people who stood around weeping and wailing after the death of Michael Jackson and yet who had no personal relationship with him at all, so I suspect many make themselves feel important by engaging in theological controversies which, by the criteria above, are none of their business. Once, for example, someone has written a good refutation of Rob Bell’s use of Scripture or historical sources, there is really no need for the rest of us to do anything but refer others to such. At least, that is the case until someone has exposed the refutations themselves as weak or inadequate.

Carl Trueman, Minority Report: Know Your Limits: The Key Secret of Theological Controversy, Themelios

He also has some good things to say about our sphere of influence and how that can determine whether or not we should weigh in on certain things.

As time goes on, I realize more and more how much I don’t know, and try not to get in on things I really have no authority to write about. Sometimes I will make an assertion but then ask for opinions of others who may know more than me. In any case, I try not to be that kind of blog. If someone in authority isn’t going to sway many people, then I’m certainly not going to.

A question: within a smaller sphere of influence, how much should we leave it up to God to deal with them and when should we try to step in, if we’re absolutely certain they’re going astray on something that’s very obviously orthodox?

I would suppose this depends on how major or minor the issue is. If it’s not a matter of first importance, or maybe even if it is, we need to first of all trust that they are God’s and God will deal with them, especially if we aren’t going to be able to get through to them. But then we also know that God uses people and we can’t just sit on the sidelines all the time. That’s a tough one, and I’d love to hear comments on that.

Romans 14:8 HCSB
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

I was going to use the following as a proof-text, hopefully in a good way, and learned that it’s referring to the law, as in, “seek[ing] for justification by the works of the law” (Gill) or other traditional Jewish ordinances. I hope I haven’t also used the previous verse for the wrong situation. I know it’s about food and special days, but could apply to secondary issues too, I think.

Philippians 3:15 HCSB
Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also.

By the way, I kind of feel the same way about bin Laden and what Trueman said about Michael Jackson. There are obviously many many evil people in the world and we don’t need to wring our hands about how we feel about each one’s death. Nor to we need to feel one single feeling about it and make it an either or situation. Maybe that’s for another post (that I don’t need to write about).

Gerhard von Rad Not Well Liked?

I bought his Old Testament Theology because its single volume (but not abridged) edition was on sale for $10 and it was recommended by a few people. I haven’t read it yet except the section on Ecclesiastes, but I’ve read nothing but negative things from other commentators when he is mentioned (Eaton, Waltke and others). His work has been praised by many but his theology always seems to come into question. Maybe it’s because I’ve  been concentrating on wisdom literature and he’s a little wonky on that? What’s the deal?

Quote of the Day: Being Mastered by the Word

D.A. Carson on theological education:

…as you study, you may suddenly without even realizing it shift from desiring to be to be mastered by the Word to desiring to be masters of the Word.

This is from an interview that can be found on Justin Taylor’s blog. The quote is at about the 15:30 mark.

Quote of the Day: Theology and Works

Without right theology, our right actions are simply self-serving. There’s nothing in them for God.

TC Robinson

Couldn’t the elders and angels in Revelation do something useful?

In Revelation we read over and over again about how those in heaven fall down and worship God. When I was reading Revelation I was sarcastically thinking, “Couldn’t they do something useful? (See the recent post on doing and serving.)

Doing and serving is important. TC talks about actions in a legitimate way. Knowing TC, he’s not talking about this as the main thing without putting the utmost importance on knowing God through Bible reading and prayer.

To know that God gave us the Bible and to say that doctrine and theology aren’t important is the height of arrogance.

I have a collection of quotes on the importance of doctrine, theology, Bible reading, prayer and the benefits of spending time with God. Some of them may be repeats.

The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity.

–Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

THIS BOOK contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand object, our good is its design and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened in the judgement, and will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labour, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

–Anonymous

It was only yesterday, after laying down the Bible, that I wondered what kind of mind I would have had if I had not the Book of God, the Book containing the astounding idea of ‘from everlasting to everlasting,’ the development of all that is worth knowing … One would think, that as I have critically and, I think, devoutly read and examined every verse, every word in the Bible, some a score of times over, I should not require to open the pages of that unspeakable blessed Book. Alas, for the human memory! I read the Bible today with the same feeling I ever did, like the hungry when seeking food, the thirsty when seeking drink, the bewildered when seeking counsel and the mourner when seeking comfort. Don’t you believe all this? For alas, I read it sometimes as a formal thing, though my heart condemns me afterwards … I am yet astonished at my own ignorance of the Bible!

–Robert Moffat

HT: Challies.com

There is something about the Bible that can instill confidence in God in a way that nothing else can. God speaks to our hearts through his Spirit, and we come into closer relation to him.

–G.K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians

We can accomplish more by time and strength put into prayer (and bible study) than we can by putting the same amount of time and strength into anything else.

–R.A. Torrey

Make up your mind that you will put some time every day into the study of the Word of God. That is an easy resolution to make, and not a very difficult one to keep; if the one who makes it is in earnest. It is one of the most fruitful resolutions that any Christian ever made. The forming of that resolution and the holding faithfully to it, has been the turning point in many a life. Many a life that has been barren and unsatisfactory has become rich and useful through the introduction into it of regular, persevering, daily study of the Bible. This study may not be very interesting at first, the results may not be very encouraging; but, if one will keep pegging away, it will soon begin to count as nothing else has ever counted in the development of character, and in the enrichment of the whole life. Nothing short of absolute physical inability should be allowed to interfere with this daily study.

–R. A. Torrey, introduction to the New Topical Textbook.

When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable. And the Lord will not allow me to feel as though I were fully supplied and satisfied, but keeps me still reaching forward.

–David Brainerd

If you approach the Scriptures with all humility and with regulated caution, you will perceive that you have been breathed upon by the Holy Will. It will bring about a transformation which is impossible to describe. You will perceive the delights of the Blessed Bridegroom; you will see the riches of Solomon. The hidden treasures of eternal wisdom will be yours. Yet I would caution you. The entrance to this abode of wisdom is narrow. The doorway is low, and there is danger in not stooping when you enter.

–Erasmus, The Handbook of the Militant Christian

Quote of the Day: Theology and Worship

I love this quote because it describes much of my worship and why I like reading through commentaries.

The heart of worship is declaring to God (whether in the second person or sometimes in the third person but with God in mind, as in some psalms) how majestic he is and how great his works are, which in short means articulating the truth about him. Theology can thus be worshipful, though biblical worship is generally not simply rational but affective as well, devoting one’s whole being in attention to God.

–Craig Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation pg. 196

Recent Posts On Theology

Theology at Resurgence

Five Reasons You Need to Study Theology and
‘Another’ Five Reasons You Need to Study Theology at Cal.vini.st

No Christian can avoid theology
at Castle of Nutshells

Quote of the Day: Theology

Repost:

Theology is faith seeking understanding, but understanding is more than theoretical. If we really grasp who and where we are as disciples, we should know how to live out our faith. All too often, however, the church professes its faith but is unsure how to practice it. Even some of my seminary students come to theology classes somewhat reluctantly, assuming that doctrine is neither practical nor relevant to their future ministry.

To define doctrine as direction for fitting participation in the drama of redemption – in what God is doing in Christ through the Spirit to form the church and renew creation – is to ensure that the understanding that faith seeks will not stop short of practice. My goal as a theologian is to move beyond the acquisition of knowledge to its application in real life: in a word, I want to get wisdom.

–Kevin Vanhoozer, Theologian