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.

Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn

Some thoughts from Chad Granger, applying a lesson from Sunday, worth reading.
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Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn.

Doctrinal sermons?

A generation or two ago, Thomas Murphy wrote:

It is taken for granted that the sermon in which there is much doctrine must necessarily be dry, unspiritual, full of sectarianism and almost necessarily incomprehensible…. In fact there can be no preaching without doctrine…. The attributes of God, the mysteries of the Trinity, the fall of our race, the incarnation, life, death, and ascension of Christ, salvation by his blood, faith, conversion, the Church, the resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell — what are all these but doctrines?

[from Pastoral Theology, quoted by Dr Joel Beeke in “How To Evaluate Your Sermons” in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan. 2011)

Are Evangelicals Doctrinally Weak?

I am just back from my annual time at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference. The campus goofed on the wifi password, so I was off-line all week (not a bad thing really). In my catching-up this morning, I spotted this quote and post. I commend it to you. pdb

Are Evangelicals Doctrinally Weak?.

God’s great gift of sacrifice

Do you know the precious connection between the Old Testament sacrifices, and the cross of Jesus Christ? Do you see them both as gifts from God? In one of the best theological books I’ve read in many years, THE FAITH ONCE ENTRUSTED TO THE SAINTS? (IVP, 2010), Geoffrey Grogan writes the following:

God’s gift of the Old Testament sacrifices and his supreme gift of Christ’s one final sacrifice reveal the marvel of his grace to sinners. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of this, so well expressed in the Old Testament by Leviticus 17:11 where God says of the blood sacrifice, “I have give it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar,” and in the New by Romans 3:25 and 1 Corinthians 5:21, in both of which the cross is seen as God’s act. The way back to God was provided by God himself.

The Gospel Coalition — Day One

Effervescence is a fine sounding word that describes the process of bubbles moving through a liquid solution. At the end of the first day of the conference here in Chicago, I’m weary in body, but my spirit is effervescent! There has been ample spiritual stimulation — from the Word of God, from times of corporate worship, from reconnecting with old friends, and from discovering new friends.

This morning Ron and I walked through all the exhibits (seminaries and ministries) on display here — even one highlighting African Christian University (a seminary planned in Zambia, the vision of Conrad Mbewe and others). I hope you take a minute to check it out…

Then it was off to walk through the book store — the size of a small Walmart — with discounts offered of up to 50% on some mighty fine titles. I ran into friends working the tables at: the Matthias Media (Marty), Reformation Heritage Books (Mike & Joel), Banner of Truth books (Steve). I might mention some of the good books I bought later on, after the conference.

After an opening word of welcome by Dr Don Carson, we were led in worship by Keith & Kristyn Getty and their wonderful band. The room rang out with songs of praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, as an estimated 6,000 or more souls sang together in the huge convention hall.

SESSION ONE: Dr Al Mohler on “Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus” from John 5:31-47. The words of Jesus here Continue reading

Sails and ballast

John Piper posted this yesterday at his Desiring God Blog

LARGE SAILS AND LITTLE BALLAST
Large spiritual passion with small doctrinal understanding is large sails and tall masts on a tiny boat in high winds. It will dart wildly over the surface for a hundred yards. Then one wave, or one crosswind, will bring it all crashing into the unforgiving sea.

Give as much attention to enlarging the depth of your ballast as you do to the height of your sails.

Of course, if you are a sixty-ton flat-surfaced barge, with a broken engine, pray for God to give you sails and wind.

Simplest description of heaven & hell

Ponder these two concise and powerful descriptions, by Tony Reinke.

Heaven is eternity in the presence of God through a Mediator.

Hell is eternity in the presence of God with no Mediator.

• eternity — Matthew 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

• presence of God (heaven) — Psalm 16:11, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

• presence of God (hell) — Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

• mediator — 1 Timothy 2:5, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

• no mediator — John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Timeless wisdom meets social media

Tim Challies brings Solomon like wisdom to bear (quoting Proverbs) on the modern use of social media in his post today. If you blog (or read lots of blogs), post comments, or use Facebook, et cetera, please take a prayerful read through these points. It’s so timely, I’ve quoted the whole thing below. ~ pdb

There are many who doubt or downplay the relevance of the Old Testament to our times. Those people have probably never taken the time to read the book of Proverbs. I read from Proverbs almost every day and I am continually amazed at just how relevant this book is. It seems that wisdom is timeless. The lessons David taught Solomon speak to myself and my children as much as they did to the men and women of ancient Israel. The wisdom of God given to Solomon continues to ring loud and clear in my heart.

If Solomon were alive today and we were to ask him how we are to relate to one another in this digital world, if we were to ask him how we can honor God in our use of all these social media available to us today, here is how he might respond.

Count to ten before posting, sharing, sending, submitting. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).” How many arguments could be avoided and how many relationships saved if people were only a little less hasty with their words? Before posting an article or before replying to a Facebook status, it is always (always!) a good idea to re-read what you have written and consider if your words accurately express your feelings and if expressing such feelings is necessary and edifying. And while I’m on the topic, a spell-check doesn’t hurt either.

Leave the fool to his folly. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself (26:4).” There are times when it is best to leave a foolish person to his own devices rather than to try to change him. Sometimes it is best just to leave him alone rather than providing him more ammunition to work with. This means that it may be best to ignore the troll, to leave a rebuke unanswered, than to bait him and to suffer his wrath.

Expose folly. “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:5).” Here it is—undeniable proof that the Bible contradicts itself! Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not? Evidently this “contradiction” is deliberate and is in the Bible to show that there is no absolute law in this situation. There are times when folly must be exposed, either if the fool is one you believe is honestly seeking after wisdom, or if his folly will damage others. If a fool is impacting others, drawing them into his foolishness, he must be exposed for the sake of the church’s health.

Know when to walk away. “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (29:9).” There are times when you need to walk away instead of carrying on an argument. Foolish people have no real desire to learn or to be wise. Instead, they only seek opportunities to loudly proclaim the folly. Walk away so you can have peace. Shut down, log off, erase—do what you need to.

Be careful what you read. “Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool (26:8).” Be careful whose words you read and whose wisdom you trust. Foolish men may seem wise, but they will still lead others astray. If you give honor to a foolish man by reading and soaking in his words, you are as foolish as a person who binds his stone in a sling, rendering the sling useless and leaving himself defenseless.

Avoid the gossiper. “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body (29:22).” There are many web sites, blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated almost entirely to gossip, to sharing what is dishonorable rather than what is noble. Avoid these people and their gossip!

Be humble. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips (27:2).”“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (29:23).” Let others praise you. If you never receive praise from anyone, especially from those who are wise, it may be a good time to examine your heart and examine if you are walking in the ways of wisdom. Those who are humble and lowly in spirit will receive honor while the arrogant will be brought low.

Mind your own business. “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears (26:17).” If you have ever grabbed a dog by the ears you know it will inevitably bring trouble. Grabbing a strange dog by the ears will bring even more trouble. Stay out of other people’s fights rather than wading into them as if they are your own. There may be times to wade into a theological dispute or to try to mediate a disagreement in the blogosphere, but wisdom would usually tell you to mind your own business.

Don’t be a troublemaker. “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling (26:27).” Those who exist only to bring trouble to others will pay a price. And unfortunately, on the Internet there are many of these people. Don’t be one!

Examine why you write. “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike (27:14).” The proverb speaks of a quarrelsome wife, but it could as easily apply to anyone. If you are writing merely to be quarrelsome or because you enjoy an argument, perhaps it is best to find something else to do. “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” Do not be the kind of person who kindles strife for his own enjoyment.

Be careful what you teach. “Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, and the blameless will have a godly inheritance (28:10).” Those who choose to teach others accept a grave responsibility; if they mislead others, they must expect that there will be consequences. Be careful what you teach, what you share, what beliefs you express. Remember that your words are public and that they may remain available forever. [I take this to heart, along with JAMES 3:1]

Walk with the Lord. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (28:26).” And here is the key to everything else. Trust in the Lord rather than in yourself. Walk with the Lord and in the ways of wisdom taught in the pages of the Bible. Be a wise man or woman of the Word, rather than a fool who trusts in his own wisdom (or lack thereof). Arm yourself with spiritual maturity, with true wisdom, before venturing into the world of social media.

(by Tim Challies)