Three assumptions of sound theology

everyone-theologian-sproul

Whether we admit it or not, all of our opinions and ideas are based on certain assumptions (or presuppositions). These are basic principles through which we view what we read, what we study, how we think, etc.

In studying the Bible, it’s no different; we all come to the study of the Bible with certain basic assumptions. In fact, the basic assumptions guiding our study drastically affect how we read it and comprehend what we find in its pages. In his new book Everyone’s a Theologian, R.C. Sproul introduces readers to three basic assumptions he finds necessary for sound theological thinking:1

1. God has revealed Himself not only in nature but also through the writings of the prophets and the Apostles.

In other words, Sproul says, “the Bible is the Word of God. It is theology par excellence. It is the full logos of the theos.”

2. When God reveals Himself, He does so according to His own character and nature. “Scripture tells us that God created an orderly cosmos. He is not the author of confusion because He is never confused. He thinks clearly and speaks in an intelligible way that is meant to be understood.”

3. God’s revelation in Scripture manifests those qualities.

There is a unity to the Word of God despite the diversity of its authors. The Word of God was written over many centuries by many authors, and it covers a variety of topics, but within that diversity is unity. All the information found in Scripture—future things, the atonement, the incarnation, the judgment of God, the mercy of God, the wrath of God—have their unity in God Himself, so that when God speaks and reveals Himself, there is a unity in that content, a coherence.

What would systematic theology look like if we did not hold to these basic assumptions? Ultimately, it would look like much of the confusion we see in the world around us, and especially in many churches. Where we lack consistency, it’s because at a foundational level, we’re not really sure of these things:

  • We question (in the negative sense) the Bible because we not certain it’s truly God’s Word, even if we would say otherwise.
  • We waffle on notions of God’s wrath because we’re not sure it fits with our notion of good (as opposed to God’s).
  • We reject particular patterns or emphases because we don’t know that God is consistent in His actions and character (which therefore means His Word would be as well).

While certainly, no theologian has ever gotten everything right, we can easily see the fruit of theology gone awry. One does not need to look hard for examples. Nevertheless, we’re all called to engage in the task of theological thinking and exposition. This is a basic part of what it means to be a Christian—to think Christianly. When our assumptions are sound, our theology will be as well. So the question we all need to ask is: what am I bringing to the table?

How Jesus’ teaching reinforces the sanctity of life

BabyGirl

The law not only prohibits certain negative behaviors and attitudes, but by implication it requires certain positive behaviors and attitudes. That is, if adultery is prohibited, chastity and purity are required.

When we apply these patterns set forth by Jesus to the prohibition against murder, we understand clearly that, on the one hand, we are to refrain from all things contained in the broad definition of murder, but on the other hand, we are positively commanded to work to save, improve, and care for life. We are to avoid murder in all of its ramifications and, at the same time, do all that we can to promote life.

Just as Jesus considered lust a part of adultery, so He viewed unjustifiable anger and slander as parts of murder. As lust is adultery of the heart, so anger and slander are murder of the heart.

By expanding the scope of the Ten Commandments to include such matters as lust and slander, Jesus did not mean that it is just as evil to lust after a person as it is to have unlawful physical intercourse. Likewise, Jesus did not say that slander is just as evil as murder. What He did say is that the law against murder includes a law against anything that involves injuring a fellow human unjustly.

How does all of this apply to the abortion issue? In Jesus’ teaching we see another strong reinforcement of the sanctity of life. Murder of the heart, such as slander, may be described as “potential” murder. It is potential murder because, as an example, anger and slander have the potential to lead to the full act of physical murder. Of course, they do not always lead to that outcome. Anger and slander are prohibited, not so much because of what else they may lead to, but because of the actual harm they do to the quality of life.

R.C. Sproul, Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue

Links I like

The Violence of Christmas

Mike Cosper:

Do yourself a favor before Christmas. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. Then read Genesis 1-3. Then read Revelation 12. Then throw in Romans 16:20 for good measure.

That’s the whole Christmas story.

A functional car made entirely out of LEGO

Wow!

HT: Z

Don’t Be a Scrooge This Christmas

R.C. Sproul:

Every generation has its abundance of Scrooges. The church is full of them. We hear endless complaints of commercialism. We are constantly told to put Christ back into Christmas. We hear that the tradition of Santa Claus is a sacrilege. We listen to those acquainted with history murmur that Christmas isn’t biblical. The Church invented Christmas to compete with the ancient Roman festival honoring the bull-god Mithras, the nay-sayers complain. Christmas? A mere capitulation to paganism.

And so we rain on Jesus’ parade and assume an Olympian detachment from the joyous holiday. All this carping is but a modern dose of Scroogeism, our own sanctimonious profanation of the holy.

The Joy of Christmas: A Meditation

Matthew Lee Anderson:

This too is the joy of the incarnation, though it is entangled with weeping and repentance.  They are not so different, really, the joy and the sorrow.  Within both lie the awe at a harsh and demanding goodness who asks of us repentance and gives us life in return.

Links I like

The 5 Gossips You Will Meet

Tim Challies:

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.

Pastors, how do we respond to brothers in error?

Denny Burk:

So here’s the question we have to ask and answer anytime we are refuting error. What are our motives in the confrontation? Are we just being pugnacious? Or is there a more biblically formed motive for the controversy? If all we’re trying to do is put red meat before the congregation or drive up blog stats, that’s not really a good motive. That’s the sign of a person who’s self-promoting through public pugnacity. Everyone can smell that rot from a mile away, and it’s not very becoming of a man of God (Rom. 12:18).

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get The Prince’s Poison Cup in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Don Carson on The Hole in our Gospel

…some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.

Links I like

A Profile of Christian Courage

Tim Challies:

It began harmlessly enough—just a little bit of numbness in three toes. At first it was no more than an annoyance, but then the numbness spread to her foot and began to creep upward. Soon it was accompanied by fatigue, nausea, headaches. She visited a doctor and then a neurologist who promptly arranged a battery of tests. And then the diagnosis: “I am so sorry, but it is a brain tumor.” Though the tumor was benign, it was in a bad spot, right at the junction of the brain and the spinal cord. In that moment she knew her life had changed forever.

This is the story of Elaine Grant, a dear friend of my family’s, a sister in Christ, and a woman of exemplary Christian courage.

He said he was leaving. She ignored him.

Laura Munson:

I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “the End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

But I wasn’t buying it.

Weekly specials from Crossway

Crossway’s latest weekly special includes:

Does Your Facebook Rant “Honor Everyone?”

Trevin Wax:

Sometimes, evangelical Christians do more harm than good on Facebook.

Under the veil of “taking a stand” for our values, I fear we are letting loose all kinds of dishonoring, uncharitable speech. We need to stop.

Luther and the Reformation: Free today from Ligonier Ministries

To celebrate Reformation Day, Ligonier Ministries is offering an audio-video download of R.C. Sproul’s 10-part teaching series, Luther and the Reformation, free.

Centuries after his death, Martin Luther is celebrated as an intellectual giant, a brave opponent of corruption, a shaper of culture, indeed, as one of the most significant figures in Western history. Many people, however, are unaware of the events of Luther’s life that led him to make a courageous stand for the gospel in the sixteenth century. In this series, R.C. Sproul provides a thorough introduction to the life and thought of Martin Luther. With an eye to the lessons we can learn today, Dr. Sproul traces the major events of Luther’s life and explores the gospel recovered by Luther and the other Protestant Reformers.

Here’s a look at part one:

(RSS readers: click through to see the video)

This special offers ends tonight at 11:59 EDT, so act quickly.

Around the Interweb

The Only Hope We Have, And It Is Hope Enough

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

R.C. Sproul from Together for the Gospel 2008 on the curse motif of the atonement:

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Also Worth Reading:

Controversy: Michael Krahn on what he thinks John Piper meant when he tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” (Incidentally, Piper responded: “Pretty close.”)

Men: A Bigger Problem Than “Boys Will Be Boys”

Bible: What About the Issues Scripture Doesn’t Address?

Documentary: The Life of George Whitefield as told by The Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Apparently this video will no longer be available after March 31, so watch it while you can. It’s fascinating stuff:

In Case You Missed It:

Book Review: Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Husbands, Date Your Wives

What Good Will Come From the Bell Brouhaha?

Richard D. Phillips: Your Witness Matters

Meet My Friend Deni Gauthier

Thomas Watson: Let Us Imitate Our Father

(Audio)Book Review: Justified by Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Justified By Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Title: Justified by Faith Alone
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: Crossway Books/Christian Audio (2010 edition)

Martin Luther famously said that justification by faith alone is “the article by which the church stands or falls.” So certain of its importance to the Christian faith was Luther that it became the crucial dividing issue between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Today, however, many evangelicals “know” that we are justified by faith alone but are not entirely sure what it means. And because of this uncertainty, we begin to ask—does it really make sense? And is it really that important?

In his (very) short book Justified by Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul answers that question with a resounding yes as he lays out the Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines of justification.

One of Dr. Sproul’s greatest gifts as a teacher is his ability to clearly and charitably examine positions with which he disagrees. In doing so, he manages to clear up a great number of misconceptions that Protestants have regarding Romanism.

A key example is whether or not Roman Catholicism offers a works-based salvation. Sproul argues that it is, in fact, not accurate to make this claim. As he examines Roman Catholic teaching, he reveals that faith in Christ is essential to salvation… it’s just not all you need. The congregant’s works of penitence, his acts of contrition, are also required. In essence, the Roman Catholic position is that of faith in Christ plus works equal justification (Justification = Faith + Works).

The Protestant position, however, is that faith in Christ alone brings justification, and our works are our response to and the evidence of our right standing before God (Faith=Justification + Works).

Sproul is also quick to address the common complaint against the Protestant position, which is that it is Antinomianism. In this error, we are saved by faith in Christ alone (justification), and there need be no evidence of saving faith (Faith=Justification – Works). However, the Scriptures are clear that one who says that he has faith, but there is no evidence of it in his life is a liar (cf. James 2:14-26).

Moving from the content to the audio production, this is one place where I find that the book falls a bit flat. Sean Runnette is a wonderfully clear narrator and I’ve enjoyed his work on other productions, but in this instance, I found his reading to be a bit bland. His reading seemed to lack the passion that tends to come out in Sproul’s text (as well as in his speaking). This is only a minor criticism, but it was bothersome enough that I felt it warranted mentioning.

Justified by Faith Alone is an important book, one that I believe readers of all ages and stages would benefit greatly from. Read (or listen to) the book, and gain a greater understanding and appreciation for this crucial doctrine—and praise God that it is by faith in Christ alone that we are saved.

A complimentary download of this book was provided for review purposes by ChristianAudio.com

Giving and Receiving

R.C. Sproul at the Ligonier National Conference

© All rights reserved by Ligonier Ministries

Courtesy of the Ligonier Affiliates program, I’m giving one of you $50 worth of merchandise from Ligonier Ministries—details at the end of this post.


Over the last year and a half, one of the men whose increasingly been a positive influence on me and my faith has been R. C. Sproul. I’ve been an online student in the Systematic Theology certificate program (and dreadfully behind on, unfortunately) since last fall and this was really my first introduction to his work and teaching.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from Dr. Sproul is a MUCH better understanding of theology’s place in the sciences and the essentials of Reformed theology’s essential doctrines as summarized in the acronym TULIP, that is:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

In his book What is Reformed Theology?, Dr. Sproul argues that Reformed theology is theology proper—God is its starting point and its center. Theology is “the queen of sciences,” from which all other scientific disciplines find their foundation, where religion finds its root in anthropology.

Reformed theology strives to keep God at its center, remembering that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” rather than thinking God exists to glorify man. It finds its basis in God’s Word alone; thus, where Scripture is clear, so must the Christian be. It is committed to justification by faith alone, understanding that man cannot please God. It is devoted to Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King Who preaches the Word of God, intercedes on our behalf & rules over us as Sovereign Lord. And it is structured upon three covenants that ultimately illustrate the graciousness and wonder of God.

TULIP applies this understanding of God’s grace. If election were conditional upon us, no one would be saved. If Christ’s atonement was not effective, it would serve no purpose. If God did not preserve, we could not persevere.  TULIP remind us that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psa. 3:8; Jonah 2:9).

These are great gifts and great reminders—the clarity that Sproul brings to these often contentious doctrines in his teaching is something that I am grateful for.


Alright, where was I…? Right—I was about to tell you how you can win the latest giveaway.

Want to win $50 worth of merchandise of your choice from the Ligonier store?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Leave a comment—tell me how Dr. Sproul’s ministry has influenced your faith or what books or teaching series you’re interested in from the store.
  2. Tell a friend about this contest—Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or through email, if there’s someone you know who you think would benefit from this prize, you should tell them

That’s it!

I’ll be choosing the winner on Sunday at 5 pm EST and announcing the winner on Monday, December 6th. In the meantime, start taking a look at the Ligonier store and get some ideas for how you can use the prize.

Sometimes What Sounds Deep is Merely Unintelligible

Biblical Christianity is not an esoteric religion. Its content is not concealed in vague symbols that require some sort of special “insight” to grasp. There is no special intellectual prowess or spiritual gift that is necessary to understand the basic message of Scripture.

You may find that in Eastern religions where insight is limited to some guru who lives in a shanty high in the Himalayas. Maybe the guru has been thunderstruck by the gods with some profound mystery of the universe. You travel to inquire and he tells you in a hushed whisper that the meaning of life is the sound of “one hand clapping.” That’s esoteric. that’s so esoteric that even the guru does not understand it. He cannot understand it because it’s an absurdity.

Absurdities often sound profound because they are incapable of being understood. When we hear things we do not understand, sometimes we think that they are simply too deep or weighty for us to grasp when in fact they are merely unintelligible statements like “one hand clapping.”

The Bible does not talk like that. The Bible speaks of God in meaningful patterns of speech. Some of those patterns may be more difficult than others, but they are not meant to be nonsense statements that only a guru can fathom.

R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, p. 19 (line breaks and emphasis added)

You Can Have Knowledge Without Wisdom, But Not Wisdom Without Knowledge

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2:7

It is possible to have knowledge without having wisdom. It is not possible, however, to have wisdom without knowledge. Knowledge is a necessary precondition for wisdom. The practice of godliness demands that we know and understand what godliness requires.

The Christian life is a transformed life. The transformation of life comes about, as the apostle Paul declares, through the renewal of the mind. An understanding of the Word of God renews the mind. The Word of God expresses the mind of God to us.

Our minds are to be conformed to the mind of Christ. That conformity does not automatically or instantly occur with conversion. Our conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit is not the end of our learning process but the beginning. At conversion we enroll in the school of Christ. There is no graduation this side of heaven. It is a pilgrimage of lifelong education.

The pursuit of wisdom is the pursuit of the knowledge of God. In one sense, Socrates was right in his insistence that right conduct is right knowledge. This is not in the sense that correct knowledge guarantees right behavior, but in the sense that knowledge, when it grows to wisdom, leads into right behavior. Thus, philosophers can become philotheos, “lovers of God.”

Coram Deo: Renew your mind today by immersing it in God’s Word.

R. C. Sproul, Renewing the Mind

When Grace No Longer Amazes

Cross in Winter

The false conflict between the two testaments may be seen in the most brutal act of divine vengeance ever recorded in Scripture. It is not found in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross. If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.

The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath.

It was the most just and the most gracious act in history.

God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world.

Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin He carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us.

This “for us” aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy.

It is too astonishing to fathom.

We cringe at God’s justice because its expression is so unusual… God’s usual course of action is one of grace.

Grace no longer amazes us.

We have grown used to it; we take it for granted.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, pp. 121-122 (line breaks & emphasis added)