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The Tucson Tragedy and God’s Gift of Moral Language

Kevin DeYoung:

On Saturday a young man opened fire outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people, a 9-year old girl among them, and wounding 14 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. This is a tragedy. Twenty persons made in the image of God with a right to life and liberty have been killed or wounded by the attack. May God grant healing to those whose lives can still be saved and comfort to all those mourning their dead.

Most of you know all this already. And most of you know all about the political jabs going back and forth whether this attack was made more likely because of a “climate of hate” (to use Paul Krugman’s phrase describing the rhetoric of the right) or whether those who posit such theories (like Krugman on the left) are themselves the indecent ones. Personally I think Ross Douthat’s op-ed piece in the New York Times gets it just about right: “Chances are that [Jared] Loughner’s motives will prove as irreducibly complex as those of most of his predecessors in assassination.” And later, “There is no faction in American politics that actually wants its opponents dead.” Thankfully this is true.

But I noticed in Douthat’s article what I notice in every other write-up on the shooting: a reflexive reluctance to speak of the killer’s inner workings–his motivations, his make-up, his soul if you will–with moral categories. Douthat does better than most in speaking of Loughner’s “darkness,” but even here there is the subtle use of passive imagery. “Politicians and media loudmouths,” Douthat writes, “shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.” True enough, but who should be held responsible? My vote is for Loughner who, by all accounts, appears to be not only the accused killer but also the real killer. Certainly darkness is appropriate imagery, but I’d argue it’s more appropriate to say he committed a dark deed rather than to imply darkness swallowed up an unstable young man.

Read the whole article.

Also Worth Reading

Music: WorshipRises just released a new song, “Maker of My Heart”

Theology: What’s the Message of the Bible in One Sentence?

Parenting: It’s Never an Interruption

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Review: By Grace Alone by Sinclair B. Ferguson

A Movement of Personalities

Cliff Notes from the Xchange

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:12-18

C.S. Lewis: “A Faith Destroyed by War Cannot Really Have Been Worth the Trouble of Destroying

Building (and Rebuilding) Your Library

About a week or so ago, Nathan Harbottle asked me a great question on Twitter:

If you had to start your personal library over, what would be your first 3 purchases?

Interestingly enough, this something I’ve had to do before. When I first started my library, it was books by Rob Bell, Erwin McManus and I think one book by Craig Groeschel. (I even had a copy of Wild at Heart. I never read beyond chapter 3.)

It was not a terribly robust library, nor was it terribly deep.

Then, for some reason, I decided to get a copy of 18 Words by J.I. Packer, and it rocked my socks. It also set me on a path to building what I think is becoming a fairly well-rounded, theologically sound library.

So, back to Nate’s question. What three books would be my first purchases if I were starting over again?

Aside from a good study Bible (I profiled a few here in the “Get Serious About Your Studies” series), I’d recommend getting the following books to start off:

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul (Cover)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

Why? In The Holiness of God, Sproul helps believers gain a better grasp of this all-too-often neglected attribute of God. Sproul is a master at communicating complex subjects in a way that is completely understandable for the average layperson and encouraging a deeper passion for the Lord in his readers.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Why? Knowing God is one of the first books I ever read that left me in awe. Packer’s insights into the central pursuit of the Christian life—not simply knowing things about God, but knowing God intimately—are a great gift to believers.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem

Why? In Christian Beliefs, Grudem addresses 20 essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that is clear and accessible. It also includes chapter review questions that are perfect for private reflection or group study. This is a book that I wish I had had the day after I got saved. Seriously.

As an immediate fourth pick, I’d also recommend getting a copy of Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. It’s packed with great principles on how to study the Bible in a way that will keep you from winding up in some pretty scary places theologically.

What three books would you recommend?

Seeing the World through a Biblical Lens

Yesterday, my friend Amber asked a great question:

What has led you (or others) to believe that biblical illiteracy is such a widespread problem? What has led you to believe that it’s any worse now compared to other times?

I gave a lengthy answer in response (because I’m a bit long-winded, I suppose); but I as I was writing, I remembered a great point from a recent sermon by Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor of The Village Church in his October 10 message, Ultimate Authority 3: Government and Institutions. I pray you’ll find it helpful as we all continue to pursue a deeper knowledge of Christ.

Audio (excerpt starts around 38:20): : Matt Chandler: Ultimate Authority 3

Here’s the transcript if you’d rather not listen to a six minute rant:

You and I, as believers in Jesus Christ, should be looking at the world through a biblical/gospel lens.

Now this creates two huge frustrations in me. Because of what God has done here, I get invited to speak at pastors’ conferences all over the world. So I’ve been to those pastors’ conferences where the men sitting in the seats are pastors. They are preachers like I am. I will see a guy stand up in front of pastors and they’ll open up the Bible and they’ll teach something contrary to the Bible. And because they can do it in a way that’s entertaining and their church has grown, the pastors will applaud them. So that, like Paul in Athens, provokes me, and so I get up and say they’re not saved, they don’t know their Bibles, they should never preach again and that their churches aren’t actually churches. And then they applaud me.

It’s like they can’t tell the difference.

One guy actually got up and said that the gospel can’t be defined outside of your individual communities in front of twelve thousand pastors. He’s saying that the gospel is for you whatever you want it to be.

This is heresy. And nobody said anything. They took notes. God help us.

How in the world are we supposed to see through a gospel/biblical lens when our pastors can’t do it?

So if you’re a pastor reading this, know your Bible.  What are you shovelling to your people if you don’t know the Bible? What are you talking about? I don’t care if your church is growing. Might does not make right. God simply moving in a place always happens despite men. [Read more...]

Growing Deeper with Theological Clarity

After Tuesday’s review of Grounded in the Gospel, I began thinking more about the idea of catechism.

As you look at the stats, read our blogs, and browse the shelves of our bookstores, I suspect most of us would agree that this kind of ministry is absolutely needed in our churches today if we’re to combat the biblical illiteracy that is spiritually killing us and hindering our ability to be a witness among the nations.

So where do we start? What can we do to help equip believers with a solid grasp of Christian doctrine?

A few months back, Pastor Scott Thomas, President of the Acts 29 Network, released—for free—Theological Clarity and Application: Equipping Believers in Biblical Doctrine.

This is a fantastic curriculum based on the book Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem and Elliot Grudem. Here’s how Thomas describes the workbook:

This guide is designed to equip Christians in the core beliefs of Bible doctrine in preparation for church leadership or to help new Christians to distinguish truth from error. This guide can be used to prepare elders, deacons, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers and all those who want to learn more about maturing in their Christian faith and becoming equipped to give a gentle and respectful answer to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). An instructor in a class or small group or in a one to one environment can facilitate the questions or it can be utilized as a self-study or as a tool to equip a family in Biblical doctrine.

Theological Clarity and Application seeks to preserve the contents of Grudem’s Christian Beliefs by using questions to stimulate further understanding and application. The participants in this curriculum would benefit by first reading each chapter in Christian Beliefs before answering questions in the workbook. It is also highly recommended to have a respected study Bible and a copy of Grudem’s Systematic Theology available for reference.

Each chapter of this guide corresponds to the chapters in Christian Beliefs. At the end of each section, a prayer text and Scripture memory is included. . . . This material is not something that should be rushed through to complete. It is like a refrigerated locker full of meat that must be eaten slowly and systematically one meal at a time, allowing ample time to chew and digest the information and ideally to savor with others. One can complete the study in 20 weeks by covering one chapter a week or complete it in 40 weeks (approximately one school year) by covering one chapter every two weeks. The latter allows for a deeper reading of the accompanying Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.

I’ve been reading through the workbook and am thoroughly impressed by the amount of work Pastor Thomas has put into this project. It’s one that I’d highly encourage any of  you looking for a place to dig deeper into your faith to pick up a copy of Christian Beliefs and  download a copy of Theological Clarity and Application (you can also purchase a print copy from Lulu).

Question: What resources have you found helpful in growing deeper in your faith?

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.

The Human Mind: A Perpetual Forge of Idols

The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness . . . it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God…

The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited, appears from the example of the Israelites: “Up,” said they, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wet not what is become of him,” (Exod. 22:1).

They knew, indeed, that there was a God whose mighty power they had experienced in so many miracles, but they had no confidence of his being near to them, if they did not with their eyes behold a corporeal symbol of his presence, as an attestation to his actual government. They desired, therefore, to be assured by the image which went before them, that they were journeying under Divine guidance. And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God. In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.

After such a figment is formed, adoration forthwith ensues: for when once men imagined that they beheld God in images, they also worshipped him as being there. At length their eyes and minds becoming wholly engrossed by them, they began to grow more and more brutish, gazing and wondering as if some divinity were actually before them. It hence appears that men do not fall away to the worship of images until they have imbibed some idea of a grosser description: not that they actually believe them to be gods, but that the power of divinity somehow or other resides in them. Therefore, whether it be God or a creature that is imaged, the moment you fall prostrate before it in veneration, you are so far fascinated by superstition. For this reason, the Lord not only forbade the erection of statues to himself, but also the consecration of titles and stones which might be set up for adoration. For the same reason, also, the second commandment has an additional part concerning adoration. For as soon as a visible form is given to God, his power also is supposed to be annexed to it.

So stupid are men, that wherever they figure God, there they fix him, and by necessary consequence proceed to adore him. It makes no difference whether they worship the idol simply, or God in the idol; it is always idolatry when divine honours are paid to an idol, be the colour what it may. And because God wills not to be worshipped superstitiously whatever is bestowed upon idols is so much robbed from him.

Let those attend to this who set about hunting for miserable pretexts in defence of the execrable idolatry in which for many past ages true religion has been buried and sunk. It is said that the images are not accounted gods. Nor were the Jews so utterly thoughtless as not to remember that there was a God whose hand led them out of Egypt before they made the calf. Indeed, Aaron saying, that these were the gods which had brought them out of Egypt, they intimated, in no ambiguous terms, that they wished to retain God, their deliverer, provided they saw him going before them in the calf. Nor are the heathen to be deemed to have been so stupid as not to understand that God was something else than wood and stone.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.XI.VIII-IX

No One Can Will the Will to Will What it Will Not Will!

photo: iStock

“Most assuredly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “whoever commits sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

Does this really need to be underlined? Jesus thought it did, and perhaps someone reading these pages may need a little help to understand what Jesus was saying here:

  • We do not become sinners by committing specific acts.
  • We commit specific acts of sin because we are sinners.

In short, my problem is not the isolated actions that I see as aberrations from what I really am. I am deceiving myself if I think that way. These actions are not aberrations but revelations of what is in my heart. They show that I commit sin because I am in bondage to it…

As Jesus hinted, this sinfulness affects every dimension of our lives:

  • Our minds. We do not think clearly. We may be well educated and have high IQs. But that is no guarantee that we think clearly about spiritual things.
  • Our desires. When we are on our own and at our most honest, we recognize that we are not masters of our desires. We try to master them. We have a moral consciousness that says, “You must get these things under control.” But inwardly we are out of control. There is a world within us over which we have no mastery.
  • Our wills. They are in bondage to sin. “Oh yes,” we say, “this message about being right with God—I will come to it another day. That is my decision and I can make it whenever I want.”

The truth, however, is that we cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will! Only God’s grace can set us free to come to trust in Him.

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp 4-5

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

Though Ryle Be Dead, Yet He Speaks! Erik Kowalker on J.C. Ryle and JCRyleQuotes.com

If you’re following anyone in the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” circles of evangelicalism, you’ve probably seen the odd link to a site called JCRyleQuotes.com. This website came out of nowhere a little over a year ago offering daily insights from the works of Anglican theologian John Charles Ryle.

The site’s founder, Erik Kowalker, kindly agreed take answer a few questions about how the site started and why he thinks Ryle connects with so many believers today.


John Charles Ryle (1816-1900)

Image via Wikipedia

1. How did you discover J.C. Ryle? What was it about his work that caught your attention? How did his work impact you personally?

I first discovered the writings of John Charles Ryle [1816-1900] on April 10, 2003. That is the date which is written on the inside cover of Ryle’s book Practical Religion, which a person bought for me while in a local Christian bookstore here in Portland, Oregon. Up to that time, I had never heard of J.C. Ryle.

I actually didn’t even begin reading Practical Religion until just over a year later, on April 12, 2004, for that is the date written on the last page of the chapter entitled Prayer. That chapter impacted my Christian life like no other book on the subject of prayer has ever done. I remember closing the book that night in my college dorm room and feeling like Ryle was speaking directly to me. It was convicting and encouraging, all at the same time, which sort of summarizes the style of Ryle’s books. So, from then [2004] till now [2010] I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the various Christ-centered, God-glorifying writings of Ryle.

2. When you decided to start JCRyleQuotes.com, how did your family react?

I launched the J.C. Ryle Quotes site on August 1, 2009. After several months of reading Ryle’s writings and underlining/highlighting almost every other paragraph, I remember thinking, “Wow! This guy is so incredibly quotable!”

As far as my families reaction to me launching the site, my kids are currently 6, 5 and 2 so they are more into Toy Story 3 and Dora the Explorer. :-) My wife simply said, ‘you do whatever you like Erik.’ :-)

3. Did you expect it taking off the way it has?

If you would have told me that 15 months after launching the Ryle Quotes site that I would have over 170,000 views, I would have laughed you right out of the room. I’m very grateful for “big wig bloggers” like Tim ChalliesJustin TaylorJosh HarrisStephen and Mark AltroggeTrevin WaxNick UvaZach Nielsen, etc. for being so kind as to refer their subscribers towards the site over the past year.

4. How has the site’s success affected you (if at all)?

The site’s success really hasn’t affected me in the least. I still am just Dad to my kids, Erik to my wife and a FedEx courier to my fellow co-workers. I’ve had a few opportunities to be interviewed with radio stations regarding the Ryle Quotes site, but honestly, I’ve turned them down due to being way too nervous. So, this question and answer format is much more up my alley. :-)

5. Why do you think Ryle’s work is connecting with so many people?

I truly believe Ryle’s writings connect with so many people for this one reason: clarity. Ryle has the uncanny ability/gift to make the difficult things in Christianity/theology so incredibly simple to understand. I think Charles Nolan Publishers (who have reprinted many of Ryle’s books) sum up why Ryle connects with so many today:

From his conversion [in 1837] to his burial, J.C. Ryle was entirely one-dimensional. He was a one-book man; he was steeped in Scripture; he bled Bible. As only Ryle could say, “It is still the first book which fits the child’s mind when he begins to learn religion, and the last to which the old man clings as he leaves the world.”

This is why his works have lasted—and will last—they bear the stamp of eternity. They contrast fruit which “remains” (John 15:16) against wood, hay, and stubble. Today, more than a hundred years after his passing, these works stand at the crossroads between the historic faith and modern evangelicalism. Like signposts, they direct us to the “old paths.” And, like signposts, they are meant to be read.

6. Besides Ryle, what other theologians do you have a particular affinity for?

I enjoy reading J.I. Packer and John Stott (both Anglicans) from the present, and have just started reading the Puritan John Flavel from the past.

7. Any final thoughts?

I want to thank everyone who has visited the Ryle Quotes site. When I launched the site I made sure that sole purpose for doing it was for the glory of God and the benefit of His Church, and I still stick to that. I thoroughly enjoy typing out the quotes for others to view Monday-Friday. It truly is a labor of love for my favorite author J.C. Ryle. I trust all who are introduced to Ryle for the first time will realize just how relevant his writings are over a hundred years after his death.

Though Ryle be dead, he yet speaks!

Pragmatism Destroys the Possibility of Progress

…it is unreasonable, the pragmatist theologian says, to reject the physics and chemistry of the first century or the seventeenth century and yet maintain unchanged the theology of those past ages; why should theology be exempt from the universal law of progress?

But . . . far from advocating progress in theology, the current pragmatism really destroys very possibility of progress. For progress involves something to progress to as well as something to progress from. And in the intellectual sphere the current pragmatism can find no goal of progress in an objective norm of truth; one doctrine, according to the pragmatist view, may be just as good as an exactly contradictory doctrine, provided it suits a particular generation or a particular group of persons. The changes in scientific hypotheses represent true progress because they are increasingly close approximations to an objectively and externally existent body of facts; while the changes advocated by pragmatist theologians are not progress at all but the meaningless changes of a kaleidoscope…

At this point, then, we find the really important divergence of opinion in the religious world at the present day; the difference of attitude toward theology or toward doctrine goes far deeper than any mere divergence in detail. The modern depreciation of theology results logically in the most complete skepticism. it is not merely that the ancient creeds, and the Bible upon which they are based, are criticized—indeed we ourselves certainly think that they ought constantly to be criticized in order that it may be seen that they will stand the test—but hte really serious trouble is that the modern pragmatist, on account of the very nature of his philosophy, has nothing to put in there place. Theology, according to him, may be useful; but it can never by any possibility be true. As Dr. Fosdick observes, the liberalism of today must necessarily produce an intellectual formulation which will become the orthodoxy of tomorrow, and which will then in turn have to give place to a new liberalism; and so on (we suppose) ad infinitum.

This is what the plain man in the Church has difficulty in understanding; he does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the Church the Modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the Biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed Faith. it is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true.

J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, pp. 31-32, 34

A God-Sized Gospel

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

In this passage of Ephesians, Paul shows his readers a picture of the triune God initiating and accomplishing the reconciliation and redemption of His people all for the praise of His infinite glory. It’s one of the most beautiful passages of the entire Bible.

And in the Greek text, it’s one, long, elegant sentence.

It’s the run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences—one that some commentators call a monster!

So what would cause Paul to create a “monster” sentence like this, detailing the story of redemption on such an epic scale? Why would he, in the middle of writing a letter, break out into what almost seems to be a spontaneous fit of praise?

It’s that he has a God-sized gospel. I really appreciated reading Fred Sanders’ insights into this passage in The Deep Things of God. Take a look and ask yourself: Is my gospel too small?

On the basis of Ephesians 1:3-14, nobody can accuse Paul of having a gospel that is too small. There is an abundance here bordering on excessiveness. And Paul’s sentence has that character precisely because, as Scripture breathed out by God, it faithfully corresponds to the character of the reality it points to: a gospel of salvation tha tis the work of the untamable holy Trinity. Like all Scripture, this passage is the word fo God and has within itself the life, activity, and incisiveness we would expect in an almighty speech-act through which God does his work (Heb. 4:12). It is an effective word, and one of its effects here is to snatch its listeners out of their own lives and drop them into Christ. It immediately takes the reader to the heavenlies, to the world of the Spirit, and from that vantage point invites us to join in blessing God for the blessing he blessed us with…

All of us think from our own point of view, starting from a center in ourselves and how things look to us. This is unavoidable, since everyone has to start from where they are. . . . The only way to escape this tendency is to be drawn out of ourselves into the bewilderingly large and complex gospel of God. . . . What we need is the miracle of being able to see our own situation from an infinitely higher point of view. We need to start our thinking from a center in God, not in ourselves. . . . Paul invites us to an ecstatic gospel: the good news of standing outside (ek-stasis) of ourselves. (pp. 101-102)

He Loved Us Because He Loved Us

At the moment, I’m reading Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It’s a very impressive piece of work and as I’ve been reading, I came across this quote from Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley:

Let me beseech you to join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. . . . He is the great God, “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

Susanna Wesley, as quoted in The Deep Things of God, p. 67

It’s easy to wonder if there’s much value in a doctrine like the Trinity—it seems so abstract and we’re not always sure if it has practical value. But the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of creation.

God didn’t create us because He didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely or bored. And God didn’t save us because He needed to save us.

He doesn’t love us because he needs to love us. Instead, “He loved us because he loved us.”

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).

The terrifying, awesome, amazing grace of God. And it only makes sense if God is Trinity.

Around the Interweb (09/26)

More than a view of Scripture

When you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture.  What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is.  This is necessarily so, for a theology is a seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God.  Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man.

J. I. Packer, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, p. 61.

HT: Ray Ortlund

In Other News

Theology: Ben Reed offers a list of what God owes you

Books: Enjoy a preview of John Piper’s latest, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (HT: JT)

Bible: Who’s afraid of Inerrancy?

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Matt Chandler talks about an epic beatdown

A review of Bryant Wright’s Seeds of Turmoil

Always get to the gospel

I didn’t want to go to church anymore (but I was wrong)

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing Your Systematic Theology

Outside of a great study Bible, one of the most important study tools in a Christian’s library is a good systematic theology.

What is a Systematic Theology?

The term “systematic theology” is a scary one for a lot of people. It sounds cold and mechanical. But a good systematic theology can help inspire a greater love for the Bible and the God who inspired its writing.

Systematic theology, in broad strokes, seeks to compile everything that the Bible says about a particular doctrine (such as the Trinity, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the Attributes of God, Creation, etc.) into an orderly and rational form. More simply, “systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given subject.”1

While some are uncomfortable with the idea of systematic theology, thinking of it as being a divergence from biblical theology (a critique usually made by folks who are opposed to doctrinal certainty of any sort), a good systematic theology seeks to avoid importing man-made ideas and go no further than Scripture itself. While it doesn’t ignore the historical development of doctrine or philosophical ideas surrounding them, these fields lack the authority of Scripture.

Why do I need one?

The primary reason to have a systematic theology in your reference library is so that you can gain a better understanding of and appreciation for Christian theology. We are commanded to love the Lord with all of our minds, as well as our hearts, souls and strength, and therefore the study of theology—of the attributes of God as found in Scripture, of penal substitutionary atonement, of sin, of creation and a host of other subjects—should lead us not simply to gain knowledge, but lead us to praise God for who He is.

How do I use it?

As with all things, Systematic theologies should be studied prayerfully and carefully. Keep your Bible handy, check references and make sure that what is there aligns with what Scripture clearly says. Further to that, a systematic theology is not a weapon (although some are big enough that you could defend your home with them). Studying and referencing a systematic theology is not to be an exercise in showing off intellectual prowess. If the knowledge lies merely in your head, but doesn’t move to your heart, then it’s time wasted.

Which one should I get?

There are a couple that I enjoy a great deal and am referencing with greater frequency. They are Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.

I love Grudem’s Systematic Theology because it’s easy to understand, provides thoughtful explanations, tons of notes and personal application questions (as every good book should). This is, in large part, because it’s intended to be read by students (although teachers, pastors and professors will gain much from it).

I love Calvin’s Institutes in part because of its historic value. Calvin was one of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation and it’s powerful to see how influential this masterpiece of theology has become. It’s extremely pastoral, and it is steeped in Scripture—the key reasons to purchase any book. What shines through most clearly in the Institutes is Calvin’s love for Christ, love for Scripture and love for people.

At the end of the day though, it’s up to you. There are several fantastic Systematics available; for what it’s worth though, I suspect you’ll be hard pressed to find ones better than these (at least until J.I. Packer releases one :)).

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 21 (Zondervan, 1994)