Tag Archives: theology

How Theology Drives Spirituality (Thinking and Doing Are Inextricable!)

It’s very common in evangelicalism to either be a “thinking Christian” or a “doing Christian.”  I think that these divisions are bunk.  I think that thinking drives doing.  Theology drives spirituality.  I recently had the opportunity to say as much at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, a church featuring a thriving discipleship ministry led by my buddy (and fellow TEDS PhD grad) Doug Hankins.  Here’s the link to the original talk.  If you want to ponder this topic further, check out John Piper’s Think.  There’s some discussion of this theme in the book I coedited from 2011 that Piper and D. A. Carson coauthored.

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Big Truths: #287 on Amazon

wareBruce Ware’s Big Truths for Young Hearts just clocked in at #287 out of every book sold on Amazon.com.  That’s outrageous!  The numbers are due in part to the book being featured today (and yesterday and tomorrow) on the radio program of Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Reviving Our Hearts. Click here for a transcript of today’s program.

Here’s a selection from the conversation between Bruce and Jodi Ware and DeMoss:

Nancy: Bruce, I think that a lot of people think of doctrine as something that’s just for theologians. It’s just for intellectual gymnasts. But doctrine and theology, the study of God, really are intensely practical. How do they make a difference in a life?

Dr. Ware: Well, the first difference they make, Nancy, in my experience, is not first and foremost things that you do that are a direct result of what you know doctrinally.

  • It’s shaping your own life.
  • What you love.
  • What you care about.
  • The values that you have.
  • The priorities you assign to things.

This is what gets shaped first and then out of that, as Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34, ESV).

So then the practical result in terms of how we live is a function of what we love. We live out what we love. So really what doctrine is—I mean that word, I suppose, sounds to many ears to be a sterile sort of a term, but actually all it means is teaching. That’s what the term refers to.


Amen to that.   How exciting to see the traction this book is getting in the broader Christian culture.

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Upcoming: John Piper and Don Carson on Pastors and Scholars

pipercarsonIn just two weeks, on Thursday, April 23, 2009, at Park Community Church in Chicago, IL, the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School will host an evening of free lectures and discussion with Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Dr. D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The event will begin at 7:00pm and conclude around 10:00pm.

Titled “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”, the evening will feature hour-long lectures by Drs. Piper and Carson that offer reflection of a theological and personal nature on the work of the pastor and the scholar, respectively.  All are welcome and invited.  See below for details on parking and transportation (note: shuttle buses will run from both the Chicago and Division blue line train stops to the church from 5pm to 7pm).

We at the Henry Center are really excited about this free event, which is sponsored by our title partner, BibleMeshAdditional partners include Moody Press, Christian Focus Publications, and Crossway Books, all of which will be featuring a book in the initial moments of the event.  The evening will be recorded in high-definition by Desiring God Ministries and live-blogged by the Henry Center.  All material will be available for free at DGM, The Gospel Coalition website, and the Henry Center website.

For more information as we rapidly approach this event, please visit the event website, pastortheologian.com.  If you are a budding pastor or scholar with a love for God’s Word and a heart for the church, I encourage you to come out to this free event and be a part of a growing movement that is changing the church as it recovers the historic model of the pastorate and reinvigorates it with the riches of biblical truth and the resources of theological study.


1. Event Location:

Park Community Church (Chicago, IL, 60610)

1001 N. Crosby map between Chicago and Division Streets

River North District.

2. Parking:

Parking is available on the street level of the building (enter on Crosby).  It will be scarce, so the train may be optimal for local attendees.

Additional parking is available in the lot on the north side of the building; street parking is available in the neighborhood.

Validated parking is available in the parking deck at 950 N. Kingsbury ($4 for 3 hours).

3. Public Transportation:

For those in the city, by bus, take #66 Chicago, #70 Division or #8 Halsted.

By train, to the Brown Line to Chicago and head east to Larrabee; take the Red Line to Chicago & State and catch the westbound #66 Chicago bus.

Special Note: For those coming from the northwest (from The Gospel Coalition), take the blue line to either Chicago or Division. From 5:00pm until the event begins, chartered buses will take attendees from either stop to the church building.

4. Schedule:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

7:00pm | Introductions
7:10pm | Piper Talk on “The Pastor as Scholar”
8:10pm | Carson talk on “The Scholar as Pastor”
9:10pm | Break
9:20pm | Audience discussion
10:00pm | Conclusion


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Opening Statements for the Trinity Debate on This Thursday, October 9

In working with the Henry Center, I get to work on events that bless and strengthen the faith and witness of the church.  This Thursday, October 9th at 7pm at TEDS we’re hosting such an event, a debate featuring Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware on others on the question: Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead? The Center is pleased to release excerpts from the opening statements of each side participating in the debate.  If you’re in the Chicagoland area, please do join us this Thursday at 7pm in ATO chapel at TEDS in Deerfield, IL for this stimulating debate.

1.  From the side of Dr. Grudem and Dr. Ware:

“Scripture gives us a few glimpses into inter-Trinitarian relationships in eternity past:

Ephesians 1:3-5 –  3 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, 4 even as he [the Father] chose us in him [the Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love 5 he [the Father] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his [the Father’s] will.

This passage speaks of acts of God “before the foundation of the world.”  This is clearly pre-incarnation.. And what is there? The Father is the one who chooses and predestines, and the Son is already (prior to creation) designated as the one who would be our Savior and earn our adoption as God’s children.

It does not say “the Father and Son chose us.” It says the Father chose us in the Son.  It does not say, “The Father suggested some people for salvation and the Son agreed on some and disagreed on others.”  It says the Father chose us in the Son. (And this is true no matter whether you take a common Arminian view that this refers to choosing a group of people (those who would believe) or a Reformed position that it included specific people who were chosen.) On either view, it happened before the foundation of the world and it indicates a unique authority for the Father – an authority to determine the entire history of salvation for all time, for the whole world.”

2.  From the side of Dr. McCall and Dr. Yandell:

“First, let me say what this debate is not about.  It is not about biblical authority.  All of us who are involved in this debate hold to the full and final authority of Scripture.  Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Keith Yandell, and I are in full and hearty agreement about the authority of the Bible.

Nor is this debate about “philosophical theology” versus “biblical theology.”  Just as both sides accept the authority of Scripture, so also both sides in this debate employ terms and concepts that are drawn from philosophy – Drs. Ware and Grudem as well as Dr. Yandell and I refer to “essence,” to “being” to “substance,” to “person.”  Both sides draw distinctions between “ontology”or “being,” on one hand, and “function” or “economy” on the other.  Both sides use philosophical terms and concepts, and I’m sure that both do so not only out of deference to tradition but also out of the conviction that such tools are genuinely useful (and perhaps even indispensable).

So this debate is not about “philosophy versus the Bible,” nor can it properly be adjudicated by counting how many verses are quoted.  Any of us could produce long lists of biblical texts that say that the Son submits to the Father in the economy of salvation, and we can just as readily produce lists of texts that show (explicitly or implicitly) that the Son is fully divine.  The important questions, however, are not “who quotes the most verses?” but “how are these  passages to be interpreted theologically?”, “do they actually support the theological conclusion that is said to be drawn from them?”  In responsible discourse in Trinitarian theology, the vital question is not “who cites the most biblical texts rather than resorting to arcane philosophical discourse?”  Instead, the vital methodological questions are “are these passages properly interpreted, and do they support the view in question?” and “are the important ontological claims adequately understood, and are these claims defensible?””

Looks to be an excellent and helpful debate.

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The Week-est Link, June 28, 2008

1. Here’s a PDF copy of the 9Marks eJournal I mentioned yesterday. It’s on marriage and pastoral families. A terrific issue, as I said. Thanks, Z, for the note.

2. Did you miss the audio download from the 2008 Band of Bloggers session? If so, here it is. Some of the best commentary from Christians on blogging that I’ve heard.

3. A Nashville church recently hosted a conference on the church and theology. Speakers included D. A. Carson, Tim Challies, and Steve Lawson. The audio material looks tremendous. Download it and see your vision for the church expand before your eyes. So exciting to see churches, not seminaries, do this kind of thing!

4. If you are in the market for faith-building music that just happens to be elegantly played and beauitfully sung, check out Red Mountain Church’s cd “Help My Unbelief.” I recently downloaded it and love it.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Dever and Packer on the Importance of Penal Substitution

The following quotations are from the latest Crossway “Book Report” (HT: JT). They include very helpful statements. Of course, these statements only scratch the surface of the topics covered. If you want to read more about the current state of atonement theory and the biblical case for penal substitution as the central motif of New Testament atonement theory, I would heartily recommend both In My Condemned He Stood by Packer and Dever and Pierced for Our Transgressions by Brits Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach. Both were published very recently by Crossway, and both will prove very helpful in understanding contemporary debates and a robust biblical conception of atonement.

Here are the questions and answers from the “Book Report”.

Crossway Books: What are some current objections to the doctrine of substitionary atonement?

J. I. Packer (JIP): One stream of thought claims that God’s holy, just nature does not require any form of propitiation at all. Another claims that for God to expose, and indeed direct, his Son to suffer as a substitute for sinners would be divine child abuse.

MD: Many critics have even suggested that we proponents of penal substitution are trashing all other views, or at least ignoring them. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book on the atonement which does that. Their argument is, I think, theological caricature. The truth is that there’s a soundly biblical and logically compelling case for considering various biblical images of the atonement, and that the image of penal substitution is legitimately considered central. That is a more subtle argument, and Jim Packer makes it superbly in this book.

Crossway Books: You coin the term “anti-redemptionism” as that which the church is up against today. What exactly is anti-redemptionism?

JIP: It’s the view that God forgives or ignores our sins without requiring their punishment. It was the Father’s wisdom to make his incarnate Son our representative substitute who endured the punishment due to us. Liberal Christianity regularly denies this.

MD: One simple way to understand it is the view that people are basically okay, and that we don’t have to have anything quite as dramatic as redemption to fix what needs fixing. Because no name exists for the unorthodoxy we have in view in this book, we labeled it anti-redemptionism. Its essence is sidelining—and in some cases actually denying—the work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, who did all that had to be done to save us from hell, in favor of the idea of Jesus as teacher, model, and pioneer of godliness.

If these quotations pique your interest, and I hope they do, consider purchasing these books, and enhancing your own view of the atonement vis a vis the attacks on penal substitution. You might not know it, but many professing evangelicals today question strongly the idea that penal substitution is the central atonement motif in the New Testament. In such times, we need good resources like those Crossway is providing, both to teach us and to keep the church centered on this most central of scriptural teachings.

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Hong Kong Travelogue, Day One: Discovery and Jetlag

I’m in Hong Kong with the Henry Center, my employer, as we’re hosting an international conference on evangelical identity. I’ll be blogging about the conference on the Henry Center blog and will cross-post here.

The Henry Center has gone international. Director Doug Sweeney and Managing Director Owen Strachan (the author) are hosting an international conference in Hong Kong, China this week that covers the topic of Christian identity in diverse situations. A number of faculty from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL are joining, as are scholars from Westmont College, Beeson Divinity School, Christar in India, Alliance Bible Seminary of China, Evangel Seminary in Hong Kong, and China Graduate School of Theology. Students from TEDS and local seminaries will attend, as will area pastors and interested laypeople. The conference will be on May 29-31 (see here for more details), but most of the conference speakers are here.

It is my privilege to give you just a little taste of this exciting event through a blog series. I don’t have a lot of time, and there’s a great deal going on, but my posts should give you a window into what we’re doing. We are really excited by this conference, as it’s not common for Christians from East and West to gather together for such meaningful and productive fellowship. This is a very unique part of the privilege it is to labor for Christ in a world of increasing connection.
Without further ado, my humble little travelogue.

Day One (and Two): Discovery and Jetlag

(Sunday) 9:00am–Say goodbye to wife. Brave the wilds of O’Hare Airport. Check-in goes surprisingly well.
9:30am–11:35am–Wander O’Hare in search of vitals. Debate on which magazine to buy when confronted with 13,000 choices.
11:35am–Board plane for flight to Hong Kong. Sit for an hour. Am aware of what it is like to be a distinct ethnic minority. Think to myself that this experience is going to be very good for me.
12:35pm–Fifteen hour flight to Hong Kong commences. Ponder the fact that I’ve only once been on a flight longer than eight hours. Begin reading book (one).
1:15pm–First movie (of five!) begins screening.
3:45pm–Start reading book (two).
6:45pm–Lunch is served. A little plate of noodles and chicken with a microwaved roll never tasted so good.
1:15am–Both seatmates are asleep, as is most of the plane. I’m staying up so that I can sleep once we arrive in Hong Kong (we will arrive at 4:30pm their time–HK is 13 hours ahead of Chicago time (CT)). Realize that this means I have to stop reading. Commence watching of “27 Dresses.”
1:25am–End watching of “27 Dresses.”
2:30am Chicago Time, 4:30pm HK time–Arrive at HK. Connect with fellow TEDS folks. Find our escort. Drive into Hong Kong.

I’m going to break in here and talk for a bit about my first impressions of the city. For those who don’t know, it’s a port city. In addition, though the city stretches over many miles, the terrain is quite hilly, even mountainous. There is not a great deal of actual real estate in the city. Thus, there are skyscrapers everywhere. The roads are narrow. The city is very clean. It is utterly baffling to be in such a tightly constructed area. Not a spare inch is wasted. After we arrived at our hotel, we went out for a bite to eat. Along the way, we entered a mall whose ceilings could not have been higher than 7.5 feet. Little tiny shops proliferated, and people were almost back to back. I noticed a number of real estate shops–places advertising apartment housing. The rooms in these apartments boggle the mind, as they’re nothing less than tiny. Yet if one wants to live in the city, it appears that this is standard–less than 800 square feet for whole families is quite normal. For many Americans (outside of New York), such an apartment would be quaint. Here, it is standard.

The city is crawling with red taxis. At one stoplight, roughly thirty cars were stopped. Over half were taxis. Big rectangular buses swoop in from out of nowhere and park on a dime. It’s interesting to ponder what it would be like to live in a city like this all of one’s life. One gets used to simple things like seeing thousands of people per day. In general, people seem to move in their own isolated trajectories with little sense of the larger flow of others. Chinese pop music is everywhere. It throws me off, because I expect to hear American voices. In just a few blocks, we pass five banks. The market here seems to be exploding. Little noodle shops are also everywhere. Some smell good to my American nose, others hint of strange foods I’ve never encountered and couldn’t imagine.

I have never felt like more of an outsider in this world than these moments. I don’t say this in a negative sense, as if I think that people are excluding me. No, I mean more what is cold, hard fact: I am an outsider. All around me are people speaking words I can’t understand. Language appears now more of a unifier than ever before. Walking along, I yearn to be able to connect with others through language. It is perhaps the simplest means of communication, one we take for granted, and I have no access to it, and am thus something of a shadow in the city, a passing presence who might as well not be there.

Back at the hotel, we ready for rest. We’re all flagging, and jetlag is working its stupor-inducing magic. Before I fall asleep, I look out my window. A place like this reminds one of the bigness of God. He oversees all of this, all of the madness, the controlled chaos, the billions of people who live and walk and buy noodles in places just like this. I am overwhelmed by this city–though I’ve seen probably 1/50th of it–and discover that it is in places like this, places that overwhelm the senses and boggle the mind, that God’s sovereignty and presence becomes very real. In a natural sense, there seems to be no center, no common point around which this all coheres and takes shape. Life is anonymous, moving at light-speed, insignificant. With God, though, there is a center. Better than this, there is a personal center. God is here. He is ruling. He is caring for His people and His world. To eyes struggling to take it all in, His transcendence emerges clearest. It is not simply in the pastures and meadows that we find God, and our need for Him. It is in the city, walking on sidewalks, surrounded by ten thousand people who do not know my name, do not speak my language, and do not even know I exist.

That concludes day one (and two). I put this all under day one because our flight and arrival was of a piece, though it stretched over two days. The value of this experience will, I know, be immense, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be here, to go outside of myself, to fellowship with fellow Christians of foreign background, and to learn lessons of faith in a new land. Tomorrow, I’ll give you a snapshot of our sightseeing, and the next few days, I’ll take you into the conference, and give you some highlights.


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Theologian Russ Moore on the Story of Scripture

Today, I found a great link from Tim Challies’s website. Dr. Russ Moore has just published a lengthy and incisive essay on the story of Scripture. It relates heavily to the development of Christocentric theology, a topic I’ve discussed at times on this blog and one which I’m working through in seeking to develop my own theological system.

In hopes of advancing this discussion, here are three sections from Moore’s essay, “Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text.”

1. What Scripture is fundamentally about–

“Every text of Scripture–Old or New Testaments–is thus about Jesus, precisely because, at the end of the day, everything in reality is about Jesus. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why are human beings religious? Why do people want food and water and sex and community? Why are there galaxies and quasars and blue whales and local churches? God is creating all that is for His heir, for the glory of Jesus Christ. When you see through Jesus, you see the interpretive grid through which all of reality makes sense.

With this in mind, the Scripture tells us that all of Scripture tells us the story of Jesus. The Gospel writers show us how Jesus fulfills the Scripture, but, interestingly enough, He doesn’t simply fulfill direct and obvious messianic prophecies. He also relives the story of Israel itself–exiled in Egypt, crossing the Jordan, being tempted with food and power in the wilderness during a forty-day sojourn there. Jesus applies to Himself language previously applied to Israel and its story–He is the vine of God, the temple, the tabernacle, the Spirit-anointed kingship, the wisdom of God Himself.”

2. How the story of Scripture can be missed, and corrupted–

“There’s plenty of Veggie Tales preaching out there, and it’s not all for children. As a matter of fact, the way we teach children the Bible grows from what we believe the Bible is about–what’s really important in the Christian life. There’s also such a thing as Veggie Tales discipleship, Veggie Tales evangelism, even erudite and complicated Veggie Tales theology and biblical scholarship. Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing in on what the Bible is about–Christ Jesus and His Gospel–we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn’t last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered.

Preaching Christ doesn’t simply mean giving a gospel invitation at the end of a sermon–although it certainly does entail that. It means seeing all of reality as being summed up in Christ, and showing believers how to find themselves in the story of Jesus, a story that is Alpha and Omega, from the spoken Word that calls the universe together to the Last Man who governs the universe as its heir and King.”

3. How Christ’s centrality in Scripture and life relates to our lives as Christians–

“It is only when I see what God is doing with the world through Christ, and for the glory of Christ, that I am able to see where I fit in the big storyline of the universe or in the little storyline of my own life. The Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans are familiar passages of comfort for believers. “And we know that fro those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). This verse does not mean, however, simply a cheery “What doesn’t kill you’ll make you stronger; hang in there.” Instead, Paul says that the believer’s little story ultimately is a glorious one because it is part of a larger story, that I may be “conformed to the image of His Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). How do I know that my story ends happily? I only know this if I am found in Christ.

But, if I am, then like all my forefathers and foremothers before me, I am free from condemnation, liberated from the curse, triumphant over death, the heir of the universe, the child of God in whom He is well pleased. How do I know this? I know it because I know the story of Jesus. I know that David may be dead and buried–but Jesus was raised. I know that Moses may never have walked in the Land of Promise–but Jesus has received it. I know that Abraham never saw with his eyes his descendants outnumber the stars–but Jesus stands before His Father, “Behold, I and the children God has given me” (Heb 2:13). I know that when the Accuser indicts me of sin, that I am worthy of sharing a lake of fire with him and his minions, I point to Jesus Christ, and announce, “I have already been to hell–and, in Christ, there is therefore now no condemnation.”

This is beautiful, rich, weighty writing. Whether you agree with every point or not, I would encourage you to read the entire piece. It would be great for a Bible study or group of Christians to think through together. Or, it would be great simply to think through on your own as you attempt to piece out the story of Scripture, the story of your life, and the way the two fit together.

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Embodied Theology: Or, a Brief Investigation of How Theology Applies to Life

I’m taking a PhD class on the Enlightenment with the master historian John Woodbridge. He’s a genuine gem of a Christian scholar, as he combines humble piety with an academic pedigree including a PhD on the Enlightenment era from the University of Paris, a teaching stint at Northwestern University, and multiple monographs, including the hugely influential The History of Biblical Authority (Zondervan 1982).

In the course of this class, we’ve covered many of the “philosophes”, hugely influential 18th century thinkers who combined brilliant but irreligious writing with lifestyles awash in decadence. One of the best-known philosophes is the social and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. There’s much one could say about Rousseau (on the state of nature, social compact theory, etc.), but I will focus here on a little-known aspect of the Frenchman’s life: he left all of his children to the state. That’s right–the man who literally wrote the book on how to raise children, the classic work Emile, cast off his children in pursuit of pleasure and unimpeded contemplation. Rousseau, you see, was no mere high-minded thinker; he was actually a despicable person, despite how he might be viewed by certain sectors of society.

This got me thinking about theology. We are all like Rousseau. By this I mean that we all live out our beliefs. Though Rousseau portrayed himself as an expert on the family, he was the farthest thing from it. Thus, the way he embodied, or lived out, his ideology shows that he didn’t really embody it at all. It may be easy for us to scorn Rousseau (or whomever) for his utter failure to live out his teaching, but how well do we embody our own theology? Having been rescued by grace, do others find grace in us? Having been saved by the mercy and kindness of God, do others see such mercy and kindness in us? Believing that every human being is an imprint in some sense of the very form of Deity, do we treat people of all types and beliefs with respect and compassion? In short, then, do we live out our theology? Does our life embody our doctrine?

This question must be asked of Christians of all stripes. In my own life, though, I identify most with the reformed tradition. So I pose this question to myself and other reformed types. Does how we live match up with what we believe? Do we represent graciously the truths we hold fast? While clearly and unapologetically standing for what we believe, are we kind to those who differ from? In engaging the culture, do we shout at it, or do we reach out to it? We all must acknowledge that we stumble in many ways. We do better at this in some seasons than others. But I wonder if we in the reformed movement, broadly speaking, might do a far better job than we have of embodying our theology.

One of the main ways that people end up subscribing to a doctrinal system is by seeing it lived out. This is of course not the only way, or perhaps even the primary way, that people’s minds and hearts are changed, but it is nonetheless a key factor. How good it would be if we of the reformed stamp were not merely polite, but nice. How much more might we see others warm to the biblical truths we hold so firmly? Most of us don’t struggle at all with being bold and defensive in our theologies. But many of us struggle with living out the theology we believe in a kind, compassionate, accessible way. This is not in any way to call for weakness or holding hands or pretending differences don’t exist. We need not fly to ignorance to flee from folly. But it is to say that, for perhaps many of us, we do little to represent reformed theology well to those who, for whatever reason, are already closed to it.

This is by no means a very developed little piece on this subject. It’s merely a musing on a matter that came up in a class far removed from the issue at hand. But I do think that there is something potent to be said about the way one practices one’s faith. Rousseau, after all, ends up looking like a fool. It’s hard–though not impossible–to take his Emile fully seriously after knowing his history. Despite what some might say in the current day (or any day), it is not possible to divorce one’s philosophy from one’s life. If the two do not necessarily rise or fall together (after all, we all have feet of clay, and thus all fall prey to hypocrisy at some point), then we may still they are closely connected. One is moved to take care, then, by Rousseau’s example, lest one–like Rousseau–end up embodying a theology that is in practice the opposite of what it is on paper.

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