How to talk when we talk about God

word-balloons

What kind of pronouns should we use when we talk about God?

We typically default to the masculine “He,” but should we?

Is there anything wrong with referring to God as “she”?

While the answer might seem obvious, it is worth considering. After all, as Christians, we want to speak of God in a way that is pleasing to Him. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to to talk when we talk about God:

1. God is not a man but is spirit (Numbers 23:19a; John 4:24). Simply, human gender does not apply to God. God is neither male nor female. God is spirit and we are wise to remember this, even as we hold to the necessary tension of things like the eternal sonship of Jesus as the second member of the Trinity.1

2. God uses masculine and feminine terms and attributes when describing Himself. God is likened to a “dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11) and a faithful and long-suffering husband (Hosea—all of it!), a “mighty man” and a “woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:13-14). Wisdom is personified in female form (Proverbs 1:20-21). Jesus even emphasizes the feminine when He laments over Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:27; Luke 13:34) Without being too reductionistic, God is quite comfortable referring to Himself using or inspiring the use of both feminine and masculine characteristics, even if it makes some of us uncomfortable.2

3. God reveals Himself as “our Father.” But regardless of God’s comfort with taking on feminine attributes, how does God reveal Himself? As our Father. When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tell us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Seven times in Matthew and Luke, Jesus calls God our “heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:48; 6:14; 6:26; 6:32; 15:13; 18:35; Luke 11:13), and another 17 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke “our Father in heaven” or “our Father who is in heaven.” This is something that’s continued into the epistles, with God being called “Father” at least nine times by Paul and Peter.

This should tell us something very important: While God is very comfortable attributing feminine characteristics to Himself, when He does so, it is typically in the form of a simile—God’s love and longing for His people is like that of a mother hen’s for her chicks. His anguish over sin is like that of a woman in labor. But when God chooses to reveal Himself, and when He gives us context for our relationship with Him, He does so in the masculine—as Father.

So, how should we talk when we talk about God? We should talk about Him the way God Himself does. Embrace both masculine and feminine characteristics as He does, but pay close attention to how God speaks of Himself. He is our Father, and He wants to be referred to as such. Let’s make sure we honor His wishes.

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Satan’s lies about prayer

Sam Freney:

It’s a fair bet that most Christians would see prayer as a vital component of our relationship with God. We can bring our worries and troubles to our Father, we can ask for anything in Jesus’ name, we can be confident in our approach to God because of the blood of our saviour—these are all things we affirm and love.

This is good. Because each aspect of prayer to the Father is the gospel of grace in miniature. I have done nothing to earn the ear of the creator of the universe; quite the opposite, in fact. The relationship I now enjoy in prayer with my Lord is entirely his gracious gift.

So how is it that we can be so often and so easily deceived about and diverted from prayer? Well, for a start, we’re sinful creatures. And often lazy. Distractible. Not yet transformed into glory. Very often more interested in shiny things (or glowing screens) than the invisible, immortal God.

 One Reason People May Be Skipping Church

Trevin shares a brilliant and timely parable from Charles Spurgeon.

Jesus and non-violence

Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy:

Does Jesus’s teaching in the sermon on the Mount to “turn the other cheek” and not resist evil require pacifism on the part of Christians?

Since most religious pacifists ground their convictions in a purported nonviolent “love ethic” of Jesus that is understood to be the teaching of Matthew 5:38–42, it is imperative that the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount be assessed.

What Did Jesus Teach About Homosexuality?

Denny Burk:

Those who stage hermeneutical cage matches between Paul and Jesus are staging a contest that neither Jesus nor Paul would ever have tolerated. The approach tends to undermine the New Testament’s claim to be a normative basis for ethics by making the black letters subservient to the red letters.

How to run a theology pub

Darryl Dash:

For the past six years or so, I’ve convened a Theology Pub in Toronto. It all began with a post that expressed a desire to get together with others to eat and discuss theology. I hoped that this group would be open but orthodox, and that our discussions would drive us to mission.

Theology Pub is relatively easy. I don’t work at it a lot; I convene and organize it a little, and it just seems to happen. It’s also enjoyable. It combines two things I really love: theology and getting a network of people together who want to learn.

Know the Heretics

Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb

“Heretic” is one of those words we struggle to use well. Often times, you see it used in one of two ways—either liberally or ironically. One equates all disagreement with apostasy, the other pretends disagreement doesn’t matter at all.

Both rob the word of its power.

Justin Holcomb understands the seriousness of heresy and what it means to call someone a heretic—it is “a weighty charge that [is] not made lightly, nor [is] it used whenever there [is] theological inaccuracy or impression” (14).

So how do we learn to use this word wisely? By knowing what heresy really is. And so, we have Holcomb’s newly released Know the Heretics. This short book introduces readers to several heresies that have threatened the church throughout history, and how the controversies surrounding each—whether it be the requirement to obey the Law, the existence of original sin, or the Trinity itself—helped shape the church as it is today.

Learning from the past to understand the present

It’s tempting to pretend that ancient heresies don’t matter anymore because, well, they’re ancient. But this tendency is our chronological snobbery at work. We like to think we’re beyond the problems of the ancient world; that because we are so much more advanced, we couldn’t possibly fall prey to the same errors our spiritual forbearers did.

You know what they say about those who ignore the past, right?

That’s why we need a book like this one. “This book is a case study of fourteen major events when the church made the right call—not for political or status reasons… but because orthodox teaching preserved Jesus’ message in the best sense, and the new teaching distorted it,” Holcomb writes (12).

These case studies confront readers with our core problem: apathy. Take Sabellianism—a form of Modalism—for example. The reason this error gained ground so easily wasn’t because it was intellectually sound or vigorously defended. It gained ground simply because we have a tendency to be apathetic. The idea of the Trinity as best we understand it from Scripture—that there is one God who exists in three persons (Father, Son, Spirit)—is one of the chief areas in which our apathy reigns.

It’s not that we don’t care, though. It’s just that the idea of the Trinity is too hard for us to comprehend fully. “Compared with the idea that God is merely one, the orthodox answer might seem overly complex and philosophical, or an unnecessary later addition to the authentic Christian faith” (85).

So we wind up not thinking about it too much, and use really bad analogies to describe it—often ones that themselves find their roots in Sabellianism. But, as Holcomb notes, “Trinitarian theology…takes seriously the idea that God has revealed himself in Scripture and wants to be known, and that he has revealed himself in a certain way” (85). And so, the Bible forces us to answer the question of whether or not God is one or three.

Just as practically, having a sense of the Trinity better helps us respond to the claims of other religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who actually view biblical Christianity as Sabellian:

Since many of the errors that these groups ascribe to mainstream Christianity are actually Sabellian in nature, it is useful to know the middle road that orthodox doctrine strikes between unity and distinction. Being able to articulate concisely what the Trinity is, how it makes the best sense of Scripture and how it affects our salvation and the worship of God can be valuable in witnessing to others as well as developing our own relationship with God. (86)

The Trinity also helps us see the power of the gospel at work—in fact, it’s safe to argue that without the Trinity, there is no atonement. Only if Christ is God as well as man could He pay for the sins of the world. Without the three persons of the Godhead agreeing from before the foundations of the world to redeem and rescue sinners, we’re left with a deficient view of the gospel that sees it as some sort of back-up plan.

These are the truths we ignore at our peril.

Understanding God’s purposes in heresy

Reading Know the Heretics is equally disheartening and encouraging. It’s disheartening simply because it’s easy to see the heresies of the past still making the rounds in our day, in one form or another, as (mostly) sincere people ask sincere questions, but accept wrong answers. These lies continue to be propagated, and men and women continue to be lead astray, thinking they know God when they are in fact rejecting Him.

But it’s also encouraging because, in learning more about the heretics of the past, readers gain greater insights into God’s purposes in allowing these aberrant teachings to exist—to strengthen the Church’s understanding of the truth about—and love for—God. “In order to love God, one must know who God is… right belief about God—orthodoxy—matters quite a bit” (156).

  • Without the Marcionites, we may never have formally developed the canon of Scripture.
  • Without the many heresies surrounding the nature of God and Christ, we might never have had the doctrine of the Trinity clarified.
  • Without the Pelagian error, we might not have as significant an understanding of the grace of God in saving sinners.

In that sense—and in that sense alone—we should be thankful the events and teachings Holcomb describes, not because falsehood is praiseworthy, but because the truth about God is.

Particularly valuable for those taking their first steps into studying church history, Know the Heretics offers powerful insights into the past and practical relevance for today. Read it carefully, learn from the past, and be encouraged for the future.


Title: Know the Heretics
Author: Justin Holcomb
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

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I Miss the Absurdity

Tim Challies:

It was with a twinge of remorse that I realized I can’t relate to her as a little kid any more. For so long our love language has been the language of absurdities: “Mommy says you don’t want birthday presents this year, so mommy and I are going to use the money to go out on a date.” We used to have such fun with these, teasing one another back and forth with increasingly absurd statements. Now all I get is rolled eyes and the one-word exasperated exclamation, “Daddy!” I guess it’s time to stop, time to find something new, time to learn a new language.

Nine things you should know about prayer from the Bible

Joe Carter:
Do you know how many prayer are mentioned in the Bible (and how many were answered)? Here’s the answer to that question and other things you should know about the prayer in the Bible.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are a few deals for you:

St. Patrick’s bad analogies

This is pretty fantastic:

Why Playing it Safe as a Pastor Is the Riskiest Move You’ll Make

Eric McKiddie:

With all the opposition we face in ministry, it’s tempting to play it safe. Evasive maneuvers often seem like the best course of action. Mitigate the risk, and live to minister another day.

The irony is that while avoiding church conflict buys you time now, long-term—as I hope to show you—it guarantees failure. And anything that guarantees failure is the opposite of safe. It’s the ultimate risk, because you’re betting you will be the one-in-a-million pastor whose church problems go away all by themselves.

If playing it safe isn’t safe in church anymore, then what is? Risk is. In ministry, risky is the new safe.

The Ministry of Watching Sparrows Fall to the Ground

D.L. Mayfield:

It has been a hard few weeks. Death has been stalking this neighborhood. Suicides, both passive and otherwise, have haunted us. I have sat in the apartments of recent widows and had nothing to say but “I’m sorry”. I have listened to people as they told me about all of their possessions going up in a blaze, looked at the floor where they and their 8 children now sleep. I have had people clutch my arms, tell me their stories in snippets, beg for bus money. I have heard so much that I cannot share with anyone. Instead of debating the finer points of Pauline doctrine or sharing the stories of Jesus I find myself sitting in stuffy apartments, listening to sad stories being translated to me.Lately I have taken to chastising myself: what right do you have to be sad? You are just a newcomer, an outsider. Don’t co-opt the grief of others and pretend like it is your own. I have settled into a numb sort of dullness, objectively identifying situations with my lips: yes, yes, this is all very sad. But I am floating far above it all, afraid of being an emotional, slobbering wreck; tired of the increased distance I feel between myself and people who are not living this same life; hesitant to plumb the depths of my feelings towards the person who got me into this mess. Who is, of course, God. Some people feel called to do certain things. “Called by God,” they say, and I listen with envious ears. I imagine a gentle voice, a guiding light, when all I ever feel (as my good friend Jessica says) is a great big shove from the Almighty one. A grim sort of determination is the sheen around everything that I do. Of course, there is joy–I cannot get over the pleasures of living in diversity–but still I think that compulsion fits the bill for me better than calling.

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A spiritual family tree

Jason Helopoulos:

What does your family tree look like? I am not so concerned about your biological family tree. Frankly, that is of very little interest to me. I’m interested in your spiritual family tree. From where did you come spiritually? Who shared the faith with you? And who shared the faith with them? If you are a believer, you are in a long line dating all the way back to Abraham. But even more importantly, what does your spiritual family tree look like going forward? What growth is budding off of your branch? This is Asaph’s concern in Psalm 78. It is a glorious Psalm about passing on the faith to the next generation. It is quite easy to dismiss the call of Asaph–to treat this charge as something light or as someone else’s duty; but it is anything but a light charge and it is our duty.

The ad man’s gospel

Alastair Roberts:

As Don [Draper] says, ‘You are the product. You, feeling something.’

The ad man knows this secret, and so do many contemporary evangelicals. Much of the time Bell isn’t trying to communicate a particular abstract theology to people. Rather, he elicits desirable emotive states from his audience and connects those with a heavily chamfered theology while tying undesirable emotive states to opposing viewpoints. All of this can be done without actually presenting a carefully reasoned and developed argument for one’s own position, or engaging closely with opposing viewpoints.

The advertising style comes with a fragmentation of thought. Even the way that Bell describes his thinking and writing process – trying to find a theme to bind together hundreds of detached impressions – seems to manifest this. The advertiser does not make lengthy and involved arguments and those who are raised on advertising can seldom handle them.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This weekend I shared a pretty great list of new Kindle deals; here are a few of them in case you missed them earlier:

Carnal Peace

R.C. Sproul:

In our generation we’ve been told that the highest virtue is peace. We’ve lived in the age of the atomic bomb. We’ve seen widespread warfare. We’re tired of disputes, tired of people fighting and killing each other. It is by God’s grace that churches aren’t burning people at the stake or putting them on torture racks as was done in earlier centuries. We’ve learned to coexist with people with whom we disagree. We value that peace. But I’m afraid the danger is that we value it so much that we’re willing to obscure the gospel itself. We have to be careful of speaking about unity when we really don’t have it. At times I think we believe we have more unity than we actually have.

God’s Not Dead and the angry atheist professor

James Hoskins:

In several ways, my life is similar to Josh Wheaton, the main character and hero of the recent movie God’s Not Dead. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home (the son of a preacher). I considered myself a devout Christian throughout high school and later when I enrolled at a very progressive state university and chose to major in philosophy. I quickly learned that all of my philosophy professors were either atheists or agnostics (to my knowledge), and that several of them are rock stars in their respective fields. One professor,Clancy Martin, is even considered an expert on Nietzsche, whose famous statement “God is dead” is where the film derived its title. So, from just about every angle, one could easily have expected that my college experience would equal or exceed the combative anti-Christian environment of Josh Wheaton’s philosophy class depicted in the film.

But it didn’t. It was the complete opposite.

Who are the false teachers?

snake

The whole concept of false teachers and false teaching is one that makes many Christians squirm. We don’t like to think about the idea that there are people who are actively trying to deceive believers, to turn them away from the truth of the Christian faith. But all one has to do is look around at a Christian bookstore and you can see it—deception is present.

So who are they?

Anytime someone writes on this topic, it’s tempting to name names. Tim Challies has been profiling a number of them over the last several weeks, for example, looking at false teachers throughout history and up to our present day. Making the cut are luminaries such as Benny Hinn, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Pelagius, Arius… even the Pope made the cut!

Trying to make a list can be a double-edged sword. One danger is becoming too narrow, letting a secondary issue take precedence and become the measure of orthodoxy (think: egalitarianism vs complementarianism, or Calvinism vs Arminianism). A second is being too open, lacking any firm criteria upon which to make a judgement about orthodoxy whatsoever.

And it’s this error that I want to challenge in particular. When you start to examine the nature of false teaching, it tends to consistently focus on three primary areas:

The nature and character of God (including the person of Christ).

I wrote about this in a bit more detail in Contend, but imagine you’re standing dominoes up in a line to watch them fall. You’ve set up all your pieces just so and you’re ready to push the lead one. If you’ve got that first domino in the right place, when you knock it down, the chain reaction can begin, with every properly situated piece falling in exactly the right way. But if your first domino is pointing in the wrong direction or is placed too far away from the others, it’s just not going to work.

Our understanding of God is kind of like that. If we get God wrong, nothing else will truly fall in place. We won’t understand the gospel and there will be no energy or momentum to drive us forward into a life of fruitful labor to the glory of God. Thankfully, due to the immeasurable gift of the Bible, we have everything we need to get that first “domino” right. Indeed, if we begin to grasp even the most basic truths regarding God’s nature and character, that changes everything.

What this means for us is grasping as comprehensive picture of God as we can from Scripture—we see Him as immanent (He is personal and knowable), transcendent (He is far above us in every meaningful way) and Triune (He is one in essence and three in persons). He is many things—loving, jealous, just, and merciful… but undergirding all of this is his holiness. It is this fact that reminds us that God is perfect and distinct from the world He has made, it calls on us to pay attention to all He is. So we don’t take one aspect of His character at the expense of another—love doesn’t trump justice and vice versa; instead, we see God’s love as holy and His justice as holy. They spring from the same source. They are perfect and wonderful and glorious.

And this is what false teachers consistently attack. They strive to make God smaller, more distant, less intimidating… Honestly, if the thought of standing before God in His glory doesn’t make you want to wet yourself in terror a little bit, you probably don’t understand the God of the Bible.

The gospel.

Ask “what is the gospel” to 100 people, and you’re likely to get 101 answers. But the gospel, in its most basic and essential form, is this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

There’s much that could be said about this, but notice the key elements: Christ died, and more specifically, He died to pay the penalty for our sins). He was buried, meaning He was truly dead. And He was raised to life again physically—not spiritually, not emotionally, not in our hearts or any such notion.

Without these things, there is no gospel, period. And when someone fudges on any of these, a different gospel is preached, and it’s one that damns its teachers to hell (Gal. 1:9). Yet this is what we consistently see in false teaching—men and women who make the gospel about something other than what Christ has done, and make it about giving us an example to follow, or giving us a Jesus who didn’t physically rise from death… But according to Scripture, such things are nonsense.

The authority of the Bible.

The final consistent point of opposition is the Bible itself. Notice how even with His gospel summary above, Paul consistently pointed back to the Scriptures—meaning, these things that happened to Jesus, God said would happen in His Word. And throughout the Bible, we see this kind of emphasis on the Bible’s authority and trustworthiness. Two examples:

Peter says that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).  And this prophetic word, he says, was not produced “by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Paul, likewise, describes all Scripture as “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

But look throughout and you’ll find this repeated emphasis on the authority of Scripture. And this is what false teachers consistently strive to undermine, even before they’ll go after the nature of God or the gospel. They do it with appeals to experience and emotion as authoritative, and arguments designed to obscure the clarity of the Bible… it all amounts to the same trick the serpent played in the beginning, asking “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Thankfully, we have a “more sure” word than one that can be obscured easily. In the Bible, we have something we can rely on and trust. Kevin DeYoung, commenting on 2 Peter 1, says it well:

We do not follow myths. We are not interested in stories with a nice moral to them. We are not helped by hoping in spiritual possibilities which we know to be historically impossible. These things in the gospel story happened. God predicted them. He fulfilled them. He inspired the written record of them. Therefore we ought to believe them. Nothing in all of the Bible was produced solely by the human will. God used men to write the words, but these men did their work carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book.

So who are the false teachers out there? Look at how a teacher views God, the gospel, and the Scriptures. That will likely tell you most everything you need to know.

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Wolverine: the musical

Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Seeds Project

Mike Leake’s started a new Kickstarter project for a family devotional geared toward younger kids. Back it if you can!

Toward a Theology of Dessert

Bethany Jenkins:

Our relationship with dessert is sweet but complicated. When God created the world, he said, “Behold, I have given you . . . every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Gen. 1:29). The Scriptures then affirm the goodness of fruit-bearing trees, saying they are “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). Thus, God made fruit—the main dessert of their time—to be lovely and delicious.

Yet this same dessert—when placed in a particular context—was used by God a means to test our ancestors’ allegiance and affections.

7 Things a Good Dad Says

Tim Challies:

I think I may be leaving one phase of fatherhood behind even while I enter into another. My youngest child is just about to turn eight, which means that we are not only past the baby and toddler stages, but even nearing the end of the little kid phase. Meanwhile my oldest child has turned fourteen and is just months away from high school. All this change has caused me to think about fatherhood and the new challenges coming my way. I have found myself thinking back to the many models of fatherhood I have seen and admired through the years. What made these fathers admirable? What set them apart? What was it that they said to their children? From these models I have drawn seven things a good father says.

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‘Non-Shepherding’ Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

This is a very important discussion:

A Theology of Acquiescence

Tim Kimberley:

If you’ve been a Christian for a while you should have several relationships where you have acquiesced. You should have several spiritual workout partners who like to swim. In these relationships you have decided to minister together above a secondary point of doctrine. Here’s an example. Imagine if I told you, “I only associate, go to church with, and minister alongside Christians who hold to the northern theory of Galatians.” Wouldn’t you think that I’m a moron? Now, you might already think I’m a moron without the Galatians stuff but wouldn’t it seem silly for me to divide over the northern/southern Galatians theory debate?

Get Gospel Wakefulness in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • Eternal Security teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Handout Apologetics teaching series by John Gerstner (audio & video download)

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

Once Confused, Now Complementarian

Brittany Lind:

I sat wide-eyed across the table from my new friend Courtney in our college cafeteria. I had just told her I was interested in a guy who sat near me in my freshman biology class. My plan was to go to him and inform him about my interest in dating. Courtney was convincing me to think otherwise — I was confused and didn’t understand why it mattered.

How Churches Can Care for Their Pastor’s Children

Chap Bettis:

Too many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.

But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.

What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?

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The Church’s Identity

Erik Raymond:

Many times, out of a desire to love their neighbor, churches can get involved in all types of ministries. Many of these things are good things. They are things that Christians are free to do and should be encouraged to do however they are not the mission of the church. What ends up happening to the church is disastrous. They get involved in things that are good but not precisely what they are called to do. They leave off the ministry of the word in view of other “good” things. And as a result, churches become little more than non-profits with a spiritual tone.

4 Problems with Free-Spirit Theology

Kevin DeYoung:

With such a mystical view of the Christian life, it’s not surprising Marguerite had little patience for the institutional church. She taught a rigid two-tier ecclesiology. On one side (and these were her titles) was Holy Church the Little — a fading institution of non-liberated souls, guided by reason, relying on sermons and sacraments. On the other side was Holy Church the Great — a body of liberated souls freed from organizational shackles, governed by love, relying on contemplation. Her book was written for the enlightened ones set free from Holy Church the Little into Holy Church the Great.

Why reintroduce this long-forgotten, little-known French mystic? Because the same ideas that got her labeled a heretic are alive and well in the twenty-first-century church. Let me mention four problems with her free-spirit theology that seem particularly relevant to our situation today.

Everyone’s a Theologian

This new book by R.C. Sproul is one you’re going to want to get:

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why I Care Which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle I Am?

Mike Leake:

Apparently, if I were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle I would be Raphael. Yep, you guessed it, I got sucked into one of those ridiculous quizzes on Facebook that I’m certain is some form of a ponzi scheme. Thankfully, I was able to restrain myself and not take the quiz which would have identified which Golden Girl I am. Though now as I write this my curiosity is growing…

I just lost.

I’m Sophia–that’s which Golden Girl I am. At least I think. Truth be told, I didn’t understand half the questions. So maybe I’m really closer to Bea Arthur.

Why in the world is my Facebook feed filled with answers to these quizzes? Why do people—myself included—waste 5 minutes of their lives trying to discover which donut they are?

What You Really Need In Marriage

Mark Altrogge:

Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.

It’s so easy to bring this mentality into marriage. We can think we “need” certain things from our spouse. But in reality, we often take our desires, which may not be wrong in themselves, and elevate them to the level of “need.” “I want” becomes “I won’t be happy unless I get…”

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?

A quick look at some new books

Every so often, I get a really nice present in the mail—books! Here’s a look at a few that have shown up over the last few days:

In case you can’t make them all out, they are:

I’ve only had a chance to start digging into one of these books (United), there are a number I’m excited about reading, particularly Truth Matters and Everyone’s A Theologian (Sproul does a wonderful job of making systematic theology accessible and interesting to the common person).

What stands out to you on the list? What are some books you’re looking forward to reading over the next few weeks?

Spontaneous baptisms and a nasty case of the heebie jeebies

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Over the last week, there’s been a lot of discussion about the practice of spontaneous baptism, spurred on by controversy surrounding Elevation Church’s how-to guide for “doing your part in God’s miracle.” Russell Moore’s weighed in, The Gospel Coalition released a roundtable discussion between Matt Chandler, Mark Dever and Darrin Patrick about 18 months ago, and undoubtedly many more voices are bound to say something.

None of us, of course, should be surprised that Furtick and Elevation would meticulously plan out such things—after all, anyone who has read Furtick’s books or heard him speak anywhere would be painfully aware of his Revivalist, um, “exuberance.” The first time I heard him speak was at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a few years back where he demoed the power of Spirit Keys to set the mood during a worship gathering (and I hated Spirit Keys ever since).

Obviously there’s a lot more to be concerned about with Furtick than the spontaneous baptism issue (I’ll spare you my laundry list)—but the spontaneous baptism issue is an important one. While we see a few instances of spontaneous baptism in Scripture, which should lead us to be cautious of completely ruling it out as a practice in all circumstances, it’s still something we need to be careful of.

A bit of backstory: I was baptized in a more-or-less spontaneous situation. I’d been a Christian for about three months at that point and knew it was something I should do, but didn’t know when. One weekend in August 2005, the church we attended was performing baptisms (the majority of which were planned in advance). Emily and I watched each person and as we did, I felt compelled to get baptized. So Emily and I both talked to the youth pastor, asked if we could, the pastor got back into his wet pants, we shared what God had been doing in our lives—how He brought us to faith, how the gospel changed us—and then we were baptized.

The church I was baptized in was careful—their wasn’t a pressure for us to get baptized right away. There wasn’t an overly emotional appeal at the end, although they did invite people to come forward if they felt the Holy Spirit compel them to do so (which is fairly typical for most evangelical churches these days from what I can tell).

As you can imagine, the whole conversation is very personal to me. But here’s where I land, for what it’s worth: we should be very, very cautious to baptize anyone too quickly. I’d rather wait and (as best as any of us are able) be sure that someone is truly saved, is bearing fruit (even if it’s a tiny amount) and understands the significance of the sacrament.

What Furtick’s approach (and the revivalist mindset in general) reveals is a deficient understanding of this essential sacrament. But Furtick isn’t alone in this. We laughingly call baptism getting a bath, or getting dunked… When we’re being serious, we tend to stick to the now standard “outward declaration of an inward transformation” definition.

And while this elevator speech version is certainly true, we need to more fully express what that “inward transformation” entails. J. I. Packer’s definition of baptism is exceptionally helpful in this regard:

Christian baptism, which has the form of a ceremonial washing (like John’s pre-Christian baptism), is a sign from God that signifies inward cleansing and remission of sins (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:25–27), Spirit-wrought regeneration and new life (Titus 3:5), and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s seal testifying and guaranteeing that one will be kept safe in Christ forever (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13–14). Baptism carries these meanings because first and fundamentally it signifies union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3–7; Col. 2:11–12); and this union with Christ is the source of every element in our salvation (1 John 5:11–12). Receiving the sign in faith assures the persons baptized that God’s gift of new life in Christ is freely given to them. At the same time, it commits them to live henceforth in a new way as committed disciples of Jesus. Baptism signifies a watershed point in a human life because it signifies a new-creational ingrafting into Christ’s risen life. 1

While a convert doesn’t necessarily have to understand all the implications of this reality, if they understand none of it—if they’re compelled only by an emotional experience, if there is no credible evidence of Spirit-borne fruit, if there’s no evidence they understand the gospel at all—then we are absolutely right to have a nasty case of the heebie jeebies. Baptism signifies our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins and is a commitment to living as one of His disciples. When people just take a bath, they’re missing the point. And when we encourage them to do so, so are we.

photo credit: Mars Hill Church via photopin cc

Links I like

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Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

Ray Ortlund:

A text message came in from a pastor friend.  I’ve known him for decades.  He is the kind of man for whom the adjective “saintly” was invented.  He pastored a thriving church for many years.  Then someone on staff stabbed him in the back and rallied others to get him thrown out.  The objections to his ministry had no substance.  “The issues” were not the real issues.  As Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, said to me once, “Some try to pull down a prominent man, not because they themselves wish to take his place, but because doing so gives them a feeling of power.”

My friend had met with someone from his former church, wishing to reconcile.  But the person blew him off.  All that the meeting accomplished was to re-open an old wound.

So here is what I want to say to my friend:

You’re not crazy.  This has been happening to God’s men since Cain and Abel.  It is one way you identify with Jesus himself.

Are Tongues Real Languages?

Nathan Busenitz begins a new series asking an important question:

Has the church, historically, been right to conclude that the gift of tongues in the New Testament consists of the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages previously unknown to the speaker? Or is the modern charismatic movement right to conclude that the gift of tongues encompasses something other than cognitive foreign languages?

Ridiculously good deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books has a whole bunch of great titles on sale for up to 70% off, including:

The Cold that Bothers Us

Greg Forster:

The most obvious lesson of Frozen—the one made explicit in the movie—teaches viewers that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This theme by itself profoundly inverts the old Disney culture; it’s a big win for the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it also traces some wide-ranging consequences. It shows us why people are investing too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love, like sisterhood. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” are not your enemies; they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

Dan Doriani:

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

What does the Bible say about religion?

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It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:

Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?

The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.

But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.

Keep reading at ExploreGod.com.

(photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc)