Everyone’s a Theologian

Here is a new, wonderfully readable, introduction to Christian doctrine by an experienced theologian, and gifted teacher, which will benefit a variety of readers: EVERYONE’S A THEOLOGIAN, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 
by R. C. Sproul (Reformation Trust, 2014, 357 pages, 978-1-56769-365-2).*Sproul.theologianBk

In 60 concise chapters (averaging about five pages each), Dr. R. C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier Ministries** surveys all the primary topics of systematic theology in a most engaging manner.

The eight divisions of the book cover these topics in an orderly manner, using traditional terminology: Introduction (which includes revelation, inerrancy, canonicity and authority), Theology Proper, Anthropology and Creation, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. In the first chapter, Sproul shares four assumptions about systematic theology: the first, that God has revealed Himself in nature and in the Word; second, God reveals Himself “according to His own character and nature … in an intelligent way that is meant to be understood”; third, there is a unity and coherence to the Word of God; and fourth, there is a consistency to His revelation since “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Those familiar with the teaching style of R. C. Sproul from his many previous books or video presentations, will readily hear his voice on every page — especially in the various personal anecdotes and ubiquitous Latin terms he employs (and defines) along the way. References to the Westminster standards are included, and Reformed theologians (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards) are amply quoted. Other theologians and historical viewpoints are mentioned along the way — and heresies are clearly named.

One weakness of this volume might be seen in one-too-many uses of formal logic to illustrate a point (he twice refers to reducio ad absurdum arguments; helpful on page 300, unhelpful on page 256).

While comparable in size and scope to Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (IVP, 3rd Ed., 2009), Sproul’s Everyone’s A Theologian feels less like a textbook, and more like an easy-to-read survey. Indeed, several chapters can be read in one sitting, and the whole book straight through in a few day’s time. There are very few footnotes used, and the majority of those are pointers to Sproul’s other books. Given the brevity of these chapters, the book would be more valuable if it included a list of recommended reading by topics or a bibliography at the end. Scripture and subject indices are included.

The strength of this volume is found in its accessibility to modern readers, its consistent Reformed views and its passion for making truth known. For instance, at the end of chapter 19 on the nature of sin (one of the best chapters), Sproul writes,

“We must never conclude that sin is an illusion. Sin is real. Sin is mysterious, but there is a reality to the evil in which we participate. It does not simply intrude upon us from outside. It is something with which we are deeply, intimately, and personally involved in our hearts and souls” (107).

And this sample, from the chapter on providence, shows the pastoral passion of Sproul which is found throughout:

“Knowledge of divine providence brings comfort in our suffering. God is in control not only of the universe and its operations but also of history. …Our lives are in His hands, our vocations are in His hands, as are our prosperity or our poverty — He governs all these things in His wisdom and goodness” (81).

This is a helpful, biblically faithful book which will help its readers become better, biblical theologians.

~ p d b

*NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for doing a review; this did not influence my opinion. My book review is being published in the forthcoming April edition of The Banner of Truth magazine — which I highly commend to you.

**OFFER: Now through April 30th, Ligonier Ministries is offering a free copy of this book if you make a donation of any amount. That’s a fantastic offer; don’t miss it.

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Nature is not our “mother” but our sister….

As the media continues to wig-out over our wintry weather, and as pop culture fills 1439189_60768599terabytes of social media with pictures and captions expressing weather weariness, Christians should remain vigilant not to use the pagan language referring to nature as our “Mother.”

I was reminded of this as I read the latest dispatch from The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. Just today Dr. Gary L. Welton, an assistant dean and professor of psychology at GCC wrote a great little essay: “Mother Nature? Nature is Not Our Mother.” It’s more than a boiler-plate warning; he shares some interesting insights, stirred by the old G. K. Chesteron. Welton writes —

G. K. Chesterton, however, wrote in “Orthodoxy” that, “The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.” He argued that because we share the same father, we are siblings. Nature has no authority over us. “Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

He also quotes James Fennimore Cooper as he elaborates on the whole sibling idea. But he does arrive at an important consideration:

Although the analogy of nature as our sister works better than the analogy of nature as our mother, there is a sense in which the analogy falls short. In the creation mandate, we are instructed to have dominion over nature. My parents never gave me any dominion over my sister. Although there are a few times I tried to establish such dominion, she never allowed it. Our charge to have dominion over nature is not consistent with the sister analogy.

This is timely stuff from the helpful Vision & Values team at GCC. I suggest you subscribe to their emails. At least click on over and read Welton’s essay (just a page or so long), here.

~ pdb

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Learning Reformed Theology

Pastor Dave Bissett:

John Piper, my former pastor, comments on how his reformed theology developed… Great stuff!
(thanks to Tony Reinke for posting it).
pdb

Originally posted on Miscellanies.:

John Piper, at an event Tuesday night at Westminster Theological Seminary , recounting his seminary days at Fuller (1968–71):

I didn’t learn my reformed theology mainly from John Calvin, or even from Jonathan Edwards (whom I esteem as highly as one can possibly esteem a non-divine being). I learned it from Romans 9 and Romans 1–8 and Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians with Dan Fuller pushing my nose down in the nitty-gritty of the conjunctions and the connectors [of the biblical text]. To this day, I find the theology inescapable in the Bible. . . . In my early days, Romans was the key watershed document to turn my word upside-down. And you know who it was who guided me through Romans? John Murray. That is the most beautifully written commentary on the planet.

HT: @JaredOliphint

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7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher

7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher.

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Presidential Inaugurations & Use of the Bible

When U.S. Presidents take the oath of office, most* have placed their left hand upon a Bible during that solemn moment, raised their right hand, and repeated the oath of office — adding the unofficial words “so help me God” at the end, as was first done by George Washington. On most occasions the Bible has been open to a specific verse.

For his second inauguration [in January 2013], reports a UPI website, President Obama selected three Bibles to use for his oath of office: the Robinson family Bible, the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King’s traveling Bible. The family Bible was used at the private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, January 20, 2013, and the other two were used in the public ceremony on the following Monday. UPI reported that “both bibles were be closed, rather than open to a specific verse, when Obama took the oath of office Monday, as was the Robinson Bible on Sunday.”

William Bennett in his book The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America provides some examples of Scripture passages used by various presidents at their inauguration; others can easily be found by searching online.
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Abraham Lincoln, 1861 – opened his Bible at random. In 1865 he used an open Bible, since lost, and noted 3 verses: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, Matthew 7:1; “Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh!” Matthew 18:7; and, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” Revelation 16:7.

Rutherford Hayes, 1877 – “They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Psalm 118:11-13

Theodore Roosevelt, 1905 –
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.” James 1:22–23

Woodrow Wilson, 1917 –
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . .” Psalm 46

Franklin Roosevelt, 1933,`37,`41,`45 –
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . .” 1 Corinthians 13

Gerald Ford, 1974 –
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6

Jimmy Carter, 1977 –
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Ronald Reagan, 1981,`85 –
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

George H.W. Bush, used his Family Bible open to Matthew 5.

Bill Clinton, 1993,`97
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (1993). “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” Isaiah 58:12 (1997)

George W. Bush,
“Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31

*According to that UPI website, “Just two presidents (that we know) have chosen to use books other than a bible for their oaths: John Quincy Adams, who used a book of U.S. law, and Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in aboard Air Force One following the assassination of Kennedy. Johnson used a missal–a book used for Catholic Mass–found on a side table in Kennedy’s Air Force One bedroom.”

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Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Today Dr Al Mohler, one of the brightest men around, put these thoughts up on his website. As an avid reader myself, I can confirm his strategy is a good one — reading books in several categories, tackling large sets bit by bit, etc. May God bless your resolve to grow your mind — and your life — through reading in the coming year! pdb

I cannot really remember when I did not love to read books. I do know that I was very eager to learn to read, and that I quickly found myself immersed in the world of books and literature. It may have been a seduction of sorts, and the Christian disciple must always be on guard to guide the eyes to books worthy of a disciple’s attention—and there are so many.
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As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading. Devotional reading for spiritual profit is an important part of the day, and that begins with the reading of Scripture. In terms of timing, I am somewhat unorthodox. My best time for spending time in the Word is late at night, when all is calm and quiet and I am mentally alert and awake. That is not the case when I first get up in the mornings, when I struggle to find each word on the page (or anything else, for that matter).

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and it also keeps me working across several disciplines.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead—not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, for such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. (Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.) Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle lege!

(by Dr Albert Mohler)

PS — I will post next week on the results of my reading in 2013. Did I reach my goal of 52 books in one year? Which books were favorites? Stay tuned…

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Ten Great Questions for A New Year

(From: DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed)

Ten Questions for the New Year

I have used these reflection questions in the past. As we begin a new year, I find them still remarkably relevant. Even though the questions are particular to a husband, father, and pastor, you may be able to put them to good use as well.

1. Am I spending time slowly reading God’s word and memorizing Scripture?

2. Am I having consistent, focused, extended times of prayer, including interceding for others?

3. Am I disciplined in my use of technology, in particular not getting distracted by emails and blogging in the evening and on my day off?

4. Am I going to bed on time?

5. Am I eating too much?

6. Have I exercised in the last week?

7. Am I patient with my kids or am I angry with them when they disobey or behave in childish ways?

8. When at home, am I “fully present” for my wife and family or are my mind and energy elsewhere?

9. Am I making sermon preparation a priority in my week or am I doing other less important things first?

10. Have I done anything out of the ordinary to cherish and help my wife?

from Kevin DeYoung

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