Theology

Ancient Truths for our Modern Age

Along my journey of lifelong learning, I can say with confidence that I’m not merely storing up knowledge for myself. God has blessed with opportunities to build up the body of Christ; whether within the walls of my local church, ministry of the Word from my home, or on the mission field, I’m compelled to share ancient truths for our modern age.

Age old biblical wisdom is passed from one generation to the next in the form of systematic theology and it is with that legacy in mind that I lead a group of women on Sunday evenings at FBC Russellville. We will begin our third semester studying the core truths of the Christian faith this weekend.

In an attempt to meet women where they are, in the throes of work life and motherhood, each week picks up a brand new topic and carries over absolutely no homework to return the following week. To put it simply, we are a group of women studying theology for the glory of our God. Author and Pastor Kevin DeYoung penned six points of why we should study systematic theology. He writes:

Reason 1: The Bible’s interest in truth demands it. Systematic theology is nothing if it not the pursuit of truth, and truth is essential to biblical Christianity. Jesus said the truth will set you free (John 8:32). The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The work of the Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). Eternal life is to know the only true God (John 17:3). Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17). Paul warned that for those who do not obey the truth there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:8). We are to be transformed by understanding the truth (Rom. 12:2). People can go to hell for preaching what is not true (Gal. 1:8). People within the church should be corrected when they believe the wrong things. “[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). People are sometimes to be kept out of your house for believing what is not true (2 John 9-10). The wicked perish because they refused to love the truth (2 Thess. 2:10). The workman of God must rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In other words, no Christian worthy of the name should be indifferent to the pursuit of right doctrine. As Louis Berkhof put it, “They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left” (Systematic Theology, 29).

Reason 2: Our view of Scripture demands it. All of Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that everything in the Bible matters. It also means that everything in the Bible possesses a fundamental unity, coming as it does from the same author (Matt. 19:4-6Hebrews 3:72 Peter 1:21). Systematic theology seeks to make the comprehensive unity seen and savored.

Reason 3: Realism about the human intellect demands it. One way or another, we will come to conclusions about the most important religious questions. Who was Jesus? What is the human predicament? Is there a hell? How can we be saved? How should we treat each other? What does it mean to be a good person? Why is there something rather than nothing? As soon as we set out to answer these questions we are engaging in systematic theology. The human mind can’t help but synthesize and organize.

Reason 4: The history of the church demands it. Why can’t we just let the Bible speak for itself? Because that’s not what we see in the Bible or in the early church. In Nehemiah 8:8, the leaders “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to the tradition they had received from him. God has always given his people teachers to not only read Scripture but to communicate and guard the truth of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13-14). This is why the early church naturally wrote creeds and confessions. They did not consider it sub-biblical to explain, defend, and protect the truths that were handed down to them in the Bible.

Reason 5: The unity of the church demands it. True ecumenicity is not possible apart from robust theological fidelity. Church unity requires doctrinal agreement: “There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). How can we contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) if we do not have a deep understanding of that faith?

Reason 6: The duty of the church demands it. Why waste time on systematic theology when there are people who need to hear the gospel?! Because those people need to hear the true gospel. If we are to proclaim the message, we must know what that message is. We owe it each other, we owe it to other churches, and we owe it to the world to give a clear articulation of our faith. “An open statement of the truth” is what Paul called it (2 Cor. 4:2).  “The Church of Jesus Christ,” Berkhof observed, should never seek refuge in camouflage, should not try to hide her identity” (31).Clarity requires carefulness, carefulness requires precision, and precision requires systematic theology. Get into it. Stick with it. Pass it on.

Goal Setting & Decision Making, Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

And so it is that the current decade is coming to a close. For many of us, 2019 leaves with a mix of joys and sorrows, goals achieved and opportunities missed, friendships gained and relationships lost. Though not a Christian holiday, New Year’s Eve is an opportune time to pause for reflection, repentance, and renewal.

The Bible reminds us of reflection’s importance: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, from Psalm 90:12. Before posing new ideas and resolutions, we would do well to consider how we use our days. Reflecting past and present realities gives clarity and wisdom for the future.

Beyond reflection, may we evaluate our shortcomings as we bring them to the foot of the cross. By confession and repentance we gain strength from the Giver’s fresh grace. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us, But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. We can begin anew with confidence that in our weakness we rely continuously on the strength of our Lord.

Godly living focuses on Christ. In doing so, we become evidence of the one who made us. The blood sacrifice of Jesus was not that we might be a people serving ourselves but to become His people, saved out of this world. As followers of Jesus, we are to make distinctions between ourselves and those of this world. C.S. Lewis penned, “Glory is an all pervasive reality that surrounds us every day and beckons us to belief and delight.”

Renewing commitments, love, friendships, and faith creates new possibilities. Our God himself provides new experiences and opportunities in his steadfast love. Isaiah 43:19 reads, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. But are you sincerely setting God highest in your thoughts? Do you hold him in the highest possible position? And asking, Do my resolutions match my priorities? is a tool in determining sincerity in your new year’s commitments. Keep in mind, if we desire to know God more, to experience an intimate relationship with him in 2020, we must learn from him and about Him.

As Christians, it is appropriate for us to establish and keep certain priorities and principles as we strive to love and follow Christ. Jonathan Edwards remarked, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.” When our resolutions align with scripture our efforts glorify God and that time will be redeemed.

Each year’s passing serves as a reminder of the frailty of life with the breath of a new year – a miracle, a gift given to us. Closing 2019 with reflection, repentance, and renewal offers promise and potential for 2020. May we approach the Lord in humble reliance on His grace as we seek not merely the blessings but the One who blesses.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Note: If you are unsure in making God-honoring decisions, you will find this previous post helpful. https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/24/seeking-gods-will-in-decision-making-a-topical-study/

Reading, Reading List

Top Ten + Two

Throughout the year I’ve shared book titles for pleasure and purpose. I am grateful for published authors whose education far exceeds my own; many good men and women have spent the bulk of their lives learning, teaching, and sharing through writings as their life’s vocation. Aside from my own continued learning, I am an advocate for women to learn, enjoy, and share God’s Word. In this blog post I will share the top ten book titles aiding my Bible understanding, expanding my knowledge of theology and the church, and those offering wisdom that speaks to the Christian life.

10) Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson reminds us of how living our lives in the present should be shaped by what is certain at life’s end. Seeing life as God’s wondrous gift frees us to live wisely and faithfully, Gibson engages the reader with his retelling of Ecclesiastes. I found this book especially helpful with long-term planning and decision making.

9) Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith by Joel R. Beeke is a book that will bring comforting peace to the child of God who is trapped in doubting her assurance of faith. Tackling the hard topics of both easy believism and hard believism Beeke presents a thorough biblical case.

8) Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp is an honest yet compelling book of comfort. Tripp offers an empathetic ear without trivializing our own sufferings. Personally, I found this book timely and helpful. This is an important book in the life of the church as we come alongside one another.

7) Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson focuses on the important lesson the New Testament has to teach us about the process of Christian growth to spiritual maturity. Rooted in the reality of the Christian life, Ferguson seeks to show what maturity is and how it is to be obtained. For me, this book prompted reflection time and again.

6) Knowing Christianity by J.I. Packer turns our attention to the central doctrines of God, the Bible, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As the author explores the principal elements of the Christian life, his book offers help and hope from the unchanging truth of God. Packer offers much more than the latest self-help books, laying out a vast picture of the Christian faith.

5) Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church by Michael J. Kruger is a readable and well-researched book. With little writing for the lay person on this time period, I had great appreciation for the author’s work. Through Kruger’s summaries, the reader is presented with practical data of the transitions faced by Christians in the second century that would determine the future of the church. I gained better understanding of Christianity as well as the church we know today. My only regret is that I had not read it sooner.

4) The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre is written specifically for counselors and shepherds. A Professor of Biblical Counseling, Pierre provides biblical truth as he shows how to carefully make diagnoses. While sharpening the counselor’s skills in remedy by way of scripture, he takes us into sound doctrine while equipping us to help with wisdom and love. This book is a discovery of a dynamic relationship with God and how it changes the way people respond to every other aspect of life. Pierre’s work is endorsed by Ed Welch, Bruce Ware, Russell Moore, and Alistair Begg.

3) The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders is a readable book on the Trinitarian shape of evangelical faith and practice. Sanders writes, “Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father’s love.” With a personal study guide included, I believe this book would be ideal for life application and group discussion. This book was a staple when teaching the Doctrine of the Trinity.

2) Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper is a reminder that Christians often pit thinking and feeling against each other. This book’s focus helps us to consider how thinking and things of the heart glorify God together. This book is helpful to any woman whose desire is to learn and grow in the Christian faith. I highly recommend Think to those who attend the Sunday evening class, Let’s Do Theology. My personal copy is on loan to my granddaughter. It’s an important read!

1) None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett addresses how Christians have domesticated God, bringing him down to our level. Rightly lifting Him up as the Creator rather than the creature, Barrett presents the attributes of God as the most perfect, supreme being. This excellent book lays out clear, accessible terms in his glossary (helping the reader track the argument throughout the book). I found Barrett’s glossary superior to others in the comprehension of these particular theological terms. Without question, this was my best read of 2019. None Greater was an excellent resource in preparing to teach the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God.

+2) Last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not list two recurring titles in my yearly reading. Knowing God by J.I. Packer and The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer are two classics. Whether reading Tozer’s focus on the attributes of God, or J.I. Packer’s significant book on the glory and joy of knowing God, each time I am left better equipped to deal with basic spiritual truths in a practical way.

I hope my list encourages reading the works of these skilled authors. May you grow in grace and knowledge in the upcoming year.

Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. – J.C. Ryle

Reading

Digging Deeper

Recent weeks brought me to a place of digging deeper for the purpose of affirming what I had known as truth. In addition to my personal Bible studies, I read several books whose titles I will share with you here. My quest was to explore complementarianism going beyond the 1988 Danvers Statement (https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/) and search for the church’s position throughout history. You should know that questions from women in my local church and community prompted my quest. In addition to biblical text, accompanied by numerous systematic theologies and commentaries, I found these resources helpful:

Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood – writers explore key issues, including the interchangeability of male-female roles.

Andreas J. Kostenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church – concluding the unfolding of biblical text in depth, they offer a roundtable discussion of women’s voices.

Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads – summarizes the best of contemporary research about second-century Christianity.

Diana Lynn Severance, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – encouragement through the telling of faith of ordinary women humbly trusting the Word of God and living to serve. Deeply researched survey of the last 2,000 years.

Kathleen Nielson, Women & God – A conversational book about what God says about women. Unpacks some difficult passages many want to avoid.

Theology

When Seasons Transition

Amidst the books on my desk this week is my 2020 calendar. It’s the time of year that I begin transferring events and appointments. Seasons are an integral part of our lives and in comfort, we experience life in familiar places and familiar ways, with predictable people. The desire to be a good steward of time prompts me to pause, as I consider my days and weeks. Have these times displayed a life that is God honoring? Are there adjustments that need to be made for the upcoming year? We are challenged when seasons transition, yet with unmet expectations I embrace today. All things in all seasons come to us, not by chance but by God’s heavenly hand.

The red leaves on the maple out my back window are a reminder of God showing us new and different things about himself and his character when we slow down, take in the view, and rest in truth. God’s handiwork in seasons past provides hope and confidence for seasons yet to come. And as I study God’s providence this week, I am reminded once again of his ever-present power, sustaining and governing all things.

If God controls all things, how can our actions have real meaning? Even in recognizing God’s providence, we are responsible to do our part. Mistakes and shortcomings become opportunities to turn a corner as we move forward. As means for long-term growth, our past is used in shaping our present and developing our future. There are events fully caused by God and fully caused by the creature as well: The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs and works through the properties of each created thing.

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic TheologyAn Introduction to Biblical Doctrine has words worth repeating: “We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world. If we do, then we begin to think that our actions and our choices do not make much difference or do not have much effect on the course of events.” To guard against any misunderstanding of God’s providence Grudem makes the following points of emphasis.

  1. We are still responsible for our actions.
  2. Our actions have real results and do change the course of events.
  3. Prayer is one specific kind of action that has definite results and that does change the course of events.
  4. In conclusion, we must act.

With this in mind, the thing on my desk I submit in prayer today is not the stack of systematic theologies or the textbooks for my current course work (though they do have importance), but the blocks on my calendar structuring my days. May God take pleasure in me as I fear and hope in his steadfast love, with the transition of each new season.

For further study, see:

  • Ephes. 1:11, Gen. 45:5, Ex. 4:11-12, Jos. 11:6, Prov. 21:1, Ezra 6:22, Deut 8:18, 2Sam 16:11, Isa. 10:5, 1Kings 22:20-23, Acts 17:28
  • Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Chapter 16
  • Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, Pages 171-175

Biblical Counseling

What’s Your Idol?

From my biblical counseling studies this morning:

“A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the truth and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” – Martin Luther, Luther’s Catechism

Our emotions are pointers to what we worship: What controls us? What do we desire above all else? What do we live for? What are we pursuing to satisfy ourselves? What do we need? What do we feel we have to have? If we trace these questions back, we will find what we really worship. 

Perhaps it’s pleasure, control, respect, being understood, acceptance, opinions of others, being pretty, being pain free, golf, football, video games, tv, friends, family, food, exercise, shopping, to only name a few. We are all idolators and what we worship leads to our behavior.

“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

Consider Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.”

Theology

In the Thick of Theology

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared with readers what they might find on my desk. Alongside my coffee mug and laptop this morning are: Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology, and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. This week’s resources beyond the weighty systematic theologies are Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Attributes of God by Arthur Pink, None Greater by Matthew Barrett, Life’s Biggest Questions by Erick Thoennes, and The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Close by are shelved Gregg Allison’s Theological Terms and Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. I’m in the thick of theology.

In Let’s Do Theology, a Sunday evening class, we discussed the study of God and how it has been widely recognized as the queen of the sciences. I emphasized that theology is not reserved for formal education but is actually something every single human being should desire to know. Yet, we should approach the study of God differently than other subjects. Theology is not a subject to place under a microscope or one we simply get to know. We want to be careful and cautious as we study God. We are studying the very One who spoke all things into existence. God has revealed himself to all of us and we should approach theology with prayer, excitement, humility, and expectation.

As I continue my personal study and preparation, I keep this in mind. And also, that the Scriptures from which my study flows will be working on me as God is revealed in a greater way. Unlike any other subject of study, I approach theology proper with reverence, awe, and respect. Below, I’m sharing a few of last week’s scripture passages and study notes on the incomprehensibility and knowability of God:

Hebrews 11:3 – “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Humans are always limited in their knowledge (finite), but God is not (infinite).

Psalm 145:1-3 – “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” Properly understanding how great and unsearchable God is humbles us, exalts Him, and should lead to greater worship.

Romans 11:33-36 – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Acknowledging God’s infinite greatness and our inability to fully know Him should not lead to frustration, but to worship.

Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are our ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Acts 17:28-29 – “for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring we out not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Not recognizing God’s limitlessness often leads to a weak view of God and the creation of idols (seen or unseen).

Exodus 20:3-5a – “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or the is in the earth beneath, or the is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” The worship of an idol brings God down to a god who is created by the creature.

Psalm 97:6-7 – “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All worshippers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!” Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus says the Lord, the king of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God has made Himself known and we are to strive to know Him as He has revealed Himself. Although, we must be cautious and careful not to add to or subtract from who He says He is. Our God is so great (and our belief in Him so important) that even the smallest change in perspective on who He is can transform our lives. In reality, our whole moral compass and standards in life have to do with who we believe God is.

John 4:24 – “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 17:3 – “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Romans 1:18-21 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” There is really no such things as atheists, only suppressors of the truth.

Hebrews 1:1-3a – “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” John 1:1-5 & 14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.” Job 42:1-6 – “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Even when we know God to some degree, our prayer should be to know him even more.

Erik Thoennes writes, “God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery.” and “We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know him and to please him with our lives.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Knowledge of the one true God should be our greatest delight.