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.

Review: Jesus on Every Page

I recently read this excellent book and wrote a review for the December issue of The Banner of Truth magazine (I strongly recommend you subscribe; they have a nice, inexpensive electronic subscription option). Here it is for my blog readers…
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Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament by David P. Murray (Thomas Nelson, 2013, 256 pp. paperback, $16.99
ISBN: 978-1-40020-534-9)
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Having a deep appreciation for Jonathan Edward’s wonderful book, A History of the Work of Redemption (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003 repr.) and his grasp of the centrality of Christ in the story of the whole Bible, I was delighted to learn of Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI). It is an excellent, albeit brief, presentation of Jesus in the various parts of the whole Old Testament. Dr. Murray is a native of Scotland, where he pastored two churches for twelve years prior to coming to the USA.

Taking from the story of Jesus after the resurrection on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), it is organized into two parts, ‘My Road to Emmaus’ (chs 1-6), and, ‘Spiritual Heartburn’ (chs 7-16) — the latter title an interesting take on the original companions’ burning-heart experience and the author’s own deeper discoveries of Jesus throughout the Old Testament. At the end of the book, there are several very good study questions for each chapter, profitable for personal review or group discussion.

The subtitle of the work is unfortunate if it conjures up in one’s mind an expectation of a simplistic ‘how to’ book, for Murray skilfully handles an impressive breadth of topics. While answering the key question (and title of ch. 2), ‘What’s the Old Testament all about?’ the next four chapters in Part One engage the reader in some biblical theology, and present answers drawn from the teaching of Jesus, Peter, Paul and John. The chapters effectively display Murray’s thesis (It’s all about Jesus), as well as draw the reader further into the book. They also display Murray’s personal and conversational style of writing—a real attraction for modern readers. On the other hand, an abundance of sub-headings (five on a single page in ch. 11!) were an unhelpful distraction to this reader.

Beginning with the phrase ‘Discovering Jesus in . . .’ each of the ten chapters in the second part of the book the author explains the various genres and themes of the Old Testament as they relate to the person of our Lord. Themes handled included: Creation, Characters, Appearances, Law, History, Prophets, Types, Covenants, Proverbs, and Poems. These chapters are well-organized, brief and clear with Murray faithfully providing biblical texts as illustrations and examples along the way.

A real strength of the book is the way it introduces the fruit of impor- tant works on this grand subject by authors old and new—including Jon- athan Edwards (History of Redemption), Patrick fairbairn (Typology of Scripture), Graeme Goldsworthy (According to Plan), Christopher Wright (Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament), and, O. Palmer Robertson (The Christ of the Covenants). Those who may have given up reading Fairbairn’s tome will be thrilled with Murray’s skilful condensation of it in one ten-page chapter!

One minor criticism is that Murray often writes at too fast a pace, or moves on too quickly after making a wonderful insight, often leaving the reader wanting more. His postscript refers to the book as ‘these introductory chapters’, and one can only hope that some day a future expanded edition might be undertaken.

Don’t be fooled though! This slim volume, with its pop subtitle, is of wide-ranging value for pastors, teachers, as well as the general reader. It not only presents the content of the Old Testament in a faithfully Christ-cen- tred way, but it opens windows to several avenues of further biblical study. In our day of growing biblical illiteracy, Jesus on Every Page will ably connect the dots and fill in the blanks as to the vital importance of the Old Testament to lovers of Christ.

Contentment, a helpful analogy

This week I ran across this analogy of contentment as enjoying a comfortable home life. It was written few centuries ago a puritan pastor in a book entitled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.
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The one who is filled with good things [contentment] is just like many a man who enjoys an abundance of comforts at home, in his own house. God grants him a pleasant home, a good wife, and fine walks and gardens, and he has all things at home that he could desire. Now such a man does not care much for going out. Other men are fain to go out and see friends, because they have quarreling and contending at home. Many poor husbands will give this reason, if their wives moan, and complain of their faults and short-comings. They make it their excuse to go out, because they can never be quiet at home. Now we account those men most happy who have everything at home. Those who have confined homes that are unpleasant and evil-smelling, delight to go into the fresh air, but it is not so with many others that have good things at home. Those who have no good cheer at home are fain to go our to friends, but those who tables are well furnished would as soon stay at home. So a carnal man has little contentment in his own spirit. It is Augustine who likens a bad conscience to a scolding wife: a man who has a bad conscience does not carte to look into his own soul, but loves to be out, and to look into other things; he never looks to himself. But one who has a good conscience delights in looking into his own heart; he has a good conscience with him. A carnal heart seeks his contentment elsewhere because there is nothing but a filthy stink, vileness and baseness within himself.”

Jeremiah Burroughs
pages 76-77, (emphasis added)
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
(1648; Banner of Truth reprint, 1964)

Renew your strength

The famous verse at the end of Isaiah 40 says, “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Too often we read that and envision “waiting” on the Lord to be some sort of placid inertness. Far from it! This is an active, expectant waiting — that maintains a vigilant readiness, that flexes ones muscles for action while scanning the horizon. How else is one’s spiritual strength renewed, if not by an expectant engagement with the presence and/or the promises of God?

Today I read some similar thoughts on this Scripture by the puritan preacher Samuel Ward, who makes good use of active language in explaining his view. May these brief quotes bless you today. pdb
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Make use of your faith. This is the chief mystery of our spiritual life. Stir up your soul to talk with Christ. Consider the promises and privileges you enjoy. Think of them, roll them under your tongue, chew on them until you feel their sweetness in your soul.”

“Unstirred coals do not glow or give heat. The beauty of faith is its use. Don’t just have muscles, use them. Let a man diligently and thoroughly improve his faith and the joy it will bring to him will be great.”

Spiritual Self-Watchfulness

“There is need of constant watchfulness on the part of the professors of Christianity, lest under the influence of unbelief they depart from the living God, said Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh (1784-1858), commenting on a passage in Hebrews.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 esv

Passages such as this ought to arrest a presumptuous believer, and make him immediately more prayerful as he clings more closely to Christ.

Brown continues, There is nothing, I am persuaded, in regard to which professors of Christianity fall into more dangerous practical mistakes than this. They suspect everything sooner than the soundness and firmness of their belief. There are many who are supposing themselves believers who have no true faith at all — and so it would be proved, were the hour of trial, which is perhaps nearer than they are aware, to arrive. And almost all who have faith suppose they have it in greater measure than they really have it. There is no prayer that a Christian needs more presently to present than, “Lord, increase my faith” and “deliver me from an evil heart of unbelief.” All apostasy from God, whether partial or total, originates in unbelief. To have his faith increased — to have more extended, and accurate, and impressive views of ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ — ought to be the object of the Christians most earnest desire and unremitting exertion.

The Lesson of Jonah’s Prayer

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly… JONAH 2:1

The comments of Hugh Martin (1822-1886), one of my favorite writers, are always profitable to read. In this case we learn something astute on prayer —

The prayer of Jonah is an illustrious instance of the conflict between sense and faith. And it will give unity to our meditations on it, if we keep this in view, and use this as the key to its interpretation; namely, that it discloses the action and reaction in the prophet’s soul, of sense and faith; sense prompting to despair; faith pleading for hope, and procuring victory . . .

The essential feature of the prayer — as a prayer of faith in circumstances that, save for faith, were altogether desperate — will commend it to every exercised believer, as a prayer to the proper understanding of which he will derive some light from his own experience, and which, when properly understood, will in its turn reflect light on his own experience back again, and tend to purify and strengthen that experience too.

For this prayer of faith, though in unparalleled circumstances, and spiritually noble in a marvellous degree, contains in it nothing but the ordinary principles of all believing prayer; and though we may not equal it in degree, if our prayers are not the same in kind, they are false.

Is not this the very trial of faith; namely, to have circumstances to contend with which appear to extinguish hope, yea, which viewed in themselves, not only appear to, but actually do shut out all hope whatever? Take the case of Abraham, and the character and commendation of his faith . . . ‘Against hope he believed in hope’ (Rom. 4:18) . . .

This is the victory which faith has to achieve.

from his Commentary on Jonah, Banner of Truth Trust, 1958

A disciple’s prayer

How do you pray about your relationship to the Savior, Jesus Christ?

The following prayer from The Valley of Vision (Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, p. 44), is a fine example of the prayerful praises and petitions we ought to be regularly raising to God the Father. (When you are “reading” a prayer like this, and making it your own prayer, I encourage you to speak it aloud. This helps differentiate it from mere ‘reading’ and it helps you make the words truly your own prayer.)

Thou God of all grace,

Thou hast given me a Savior,
produce in me a faith to live by him,
to make him all my desire,
all my hope,
all my glory.

May I enter him as my refuge,
build on him as my foundation,
walk in him as my way,
follow him as my guide,
conform to him as my example,
receive his instructions as my prophet,
rely on his intercession as my high priest,
obey him as my king.

May I never be ashamed of him or his words,
but joyfully bear his reproach,
never displease him by unholy or imprudent conduct,
never count it a glory if I take it patiently
when buffeted for a fault,
never make the multitude my model,
never delay when thy Word invites me to advance.

May thy dear Son preserve me from this present evil world,
so that its smiles never allure,
nor its frowns terrify,
nor its vices defile,
nor its errors delude me.

May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim on earth,
declaring plainly that I seek a country,
my title to it becoming daily more clear,
my meetness for it more perfect,
my foretastes of it more abundant;
and whatsoever I do may it be done
in the Saviour’s name.

Amen.

Even the sparrow…

Sparrows are small, and, generally considered to be insignificant little creatures. Yet this plays right into the purposes of God. The lyrics of Psalm 84 use this perceived insignificance to illustrate the great reach and provisions of God’s care for His creatures:

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” (Ps. 84:3 esv)

Can you hear that emphasis, presented so well in the ESV translation? Even the sparrow finds a home…” In the New Testament, Jesus makes use of the insignificant sparrow to teach us the great extent of God’s care and His compassion for His people. It’s found in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 esv; emphasis added)

Here the small, almost negligible value of a sparrow is highlighted by our Lord (two for a penny — the smallest coin in circulation back then), who argues from the lesser to the greater, in order to assure his disciples that you are of more value than many sparrows! If God has a careful eye upon every ‘landing’ of every sparrow on the earth, how much more must He care for His spiritual children!

My thoughts turned to these things when reading the most recent issue of the Banner of Truth Magazine, which quotes Douglas Taylor on this text — “From his words, we can clearly see that men are of far greater intrinsic value than sparrows. Because this is so, because our origin and destiny are so much higher than those of the other creatures, we are to trust in God, and in his meticulous sovereign providence over every detail of our lives.” Taylor writes as a man dying of cancer, sharing his own struggle with being content in his difficult circumstances:

…discontentment with our own estate comes, in part, from our not believing in or trusting the providence of God, who has promised to order every circumstance of our estate and condition for the best. And he brings in as proof the passage about the sparrows.

May the Lord help me, and all similarly (and far worse) placed, to look at the sparrows and trust entirely in the God of absolute, controlling, and all-loving providence! The Lord fill me with sweet contentment to be dying – slowly – of cancer in his arms. What better estate or condition could I desire?

While the illustration of the little sparrow is easy to understand, the Lord’s intent is that we should believe the Word of God, and trust Him — not fearing our own weakness, or our dark circumstances, or the ferocity of our enemies. Does God care for you? Look at the sparrow… even the sparrow!

How is my meager prayer heard?

Without fail, God hears all the prayers of His people. Even the tepid petitions of four or five souls in a back room of a church in upstate NY, while the world noisily revolves around Olympic games or political races. Marvel at this with me…

It is indeed a wonder that our voice is heard at all! So weak, so broken is it at times, that it seems marvelous that it should be heard, even in silence the most intense. But heard it is, not in the midst of silence, but of myriad sounds. The cries of a groaning world are entering the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth; the songs of praising and adoring beings are ascending continually before His throne; the rush of myriad worlds as they whirl through space, is listened to by THE ONE form whose hand they were rolled forth upon their wondrous paths! But despite all these, the mind of the Infinite One is undistracted, and listens in undisturbed calmness to the whisperings of the least among His saints. O my soul, be deep in thy belief of this; and in that belief, even though thou canst pray with but a whispering voice, yet pray; let the belief of the Psalmist be also thine, “Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:17)
~ P. B. Power*

*P.B. Power (1822-1899) is one of the more powerful writers on the topic of prayer. This quotation is from his book, The “I wills” of the Psalms (Banner of Truth Edition,1985; out of print), which is subtitled: The Determinations of the Man of God as found in some of the ‘I Wills’ of the Psalms.

Do not poison your concept of Heaven

Is your understanding of Heaven poisoned by self-centeredness? In one of the most helpful books on Heaven and Hell, Edward Donnelly writes that

“Heaven does not exist primarily for our sake. Its main purpose is not to make us happy, to offer us a selection of pleasures, or to provide for us an eternity of well-being. It will do all these things… but that is not why God created heaven and it is not why he will bring heaven to its glorious consummation at the return of Christ. Heaven exists for God’s own glory. It is essential that this be absolutely clear before we move on. If it is not, our whole concept of heaven will be poisoned by self-centeredness. We will have a degraded perspective, interested in heaven only for what we hope to get our of it. And that is profoundly wrong.”

Amen.

Quoted from:
Edward Donnelly, HEAVEN AND HELL,
Banner of Truth Trust, 2001,
page 77 (emphasis added).