I love Easter.
I love the celebratory music we sing at church. I love the passages of Scripture we read during worship. And most of all, I love the visual image of the empty tomb.
I’m deeply persuaded that the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals three fundamental character qualities about God.
The empty tomb reveals that God is faithful. Centuries earlier, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, God promised that He would crush wrong once and for all. He sent his Son to defeat sin and death by his crucifixion and resurrection.
For thousands of years, God neither forgot nor turned from His promise. He didn’t grow weary, nor would he be distracted. He made a promise, and he controlled the events of history (large and small) so that at just the right moment, Jesus Christ would come and fulfill what had been promised.
The empty tomb also reveals that God is powerful – powerful in authority and powerful in strength.
Think of the authority you would have to have to control all the situations, locations, and relationships in order to guarantee that Jesus would come at the precise moment and do what he was appointed to do!
Also, could there be a more pointed demonstration of power than to have power over death? By God’s awesome power, Jesus took off his grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. Those guys in power-lifting competitions may be able to pull a bus with their teeth, but they’ll all die, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
The empty tomb also reveals God’s willingness. Why would He go to such an extent to help us? Why would He care to notice us, let alone rescue us? Why would He ever sacrifice His own Son? Because He’s willing.
You and I need to recognize that His willingness was motivated not by what He saw in us but by what is inside of Him. He’s willing because He’s the definition of mercy. He’s willing because He’s the source of love. He’s willing because He’s full of amazing grace. He’s willing because He’s good, gentle, patient, and kind.
Even when we’re unwilling, full of ourselves, and wanting our own way, He’s still willing. He delights in transforming us by His grace. He delights in rescuing us by His powerful love.
A MOMENT OF HONESTY
These are beautiful and riveting truths, but we need to have a moment of honesty. It’s going to be very easy, come Sunday, to celebrate these truths. But what happens on after the celebration of Easter has died down?
What happens when you’re sinned against? You don’t have to lash out. What happens when the fallen world breaks your door down? You don’t have to run away. What happens when the things that God calls sinful start to look powerfully attractive? You don’t have to surrender.
Why? Because God is faithful, powerful, and willing. You see, Jesus wasn’t raised from death only to seal your future eternity. Certainly that’s an immeasurable gift on it’s own, but the resurrection has implications for you today.
You can stand in your weakness and confusion and say, “I’m not alone. God is with me, and He is faithful, powerful, and willing. He can do what I can’t do, and He gives me a new spirit to love what He loves.”
If you’re God’s child, the Resurrected Christ lives inside you today by His Spirit. You are a new person, not only in righteous standing before God, but in ability and desire. Jesus walked out of that tomb so you can walk in righteous hope until you meet Him face to face.
When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.
Expiation and Propitiation
Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.
In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.
The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.
Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation
Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.
What Is Salvation?
Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.
When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.
Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.
This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.
The atonement is like a multi-faceted diamond. What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story.
Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event. But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event.
In recent weeks, guest contributors have written about the different aspects of Christ’s atoning work. Here is a summary of their posts, with links for you to dig deeper into the significance of each truth.
On the cross, Christ slays the Dragon and wins our victory:
In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent. He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land. He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.
On the cross, Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath as a substitute sacrifice:
Because of this, when God looks at us, he no longer sees a sinner destined for wrath; he sees His Son nailed to the cross, shedding His own blood in our place. He died so that we may truly live, free from the shackles of sin and death.
On the cross, Christ redeems us from slavery to sin and death:
Can you see that this is what the redeeming love of God looks like—buying you back from the slave market? He wooed you to himself with gospel promises of mercy instead of punishment, belonging instead of estrangement. He loved you by redeeming you from your enslavement to all lesser lovers, and He is loving you even now as He cuts away from your character every lingering tether to your old way of life.
On the cross, Christ pays the ransom:
The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation.
On the cross, Christ is the Lamb who takes away our sin and shame:
Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean. What we need is the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us.
On the cross, Christ is our liberator:
Redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, for that’s slavery all over again. It’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because He has liberated and set me free.
On the cross, Christ shows how God is with us in our suffering:
There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.
On the cross, Christ is the propitiation that makes us right with God:
Everybody needs a plan for getting on the right side of the gods. But if the true God has made his character known as it is found in the Bible, then there’s only one way of propitiation: the one that God himself put forward in the blood of Jesus, to be received by faith, the one who is his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the cross, Christ becomes our ultimate example:
Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life. The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Three things here. One, the command of Christ, that we love one another. Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us. Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Christ, when we love one another his way.
Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23:
One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That is first. It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of should be so simple. But if you think it is easy, you have never tried to practice it. . . .”
Two, “There must also be open forgiveness. And though it’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s even harder to forgive. The Bible, however, makes plain that the world must observe a forgiving spirit in the midst of God’s people. . . .”
“[Does the world] observe that we say ‘I’m sorry,’ and do they observe a forgiving heart? Let me repeat: Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe it, or it does not fit into the structure of John 13 and 17. And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make the two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians, and that Christ was not sent by the Father.”
Francis Schaeffer, “The Mark of the Christian,” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 143-146.
The primary barrier to the advance of the gospel in our generation is not out in the world. The primary barrier is us Christians who do not practice Christianity as it was defined originally by Christ. We have our Christianity, with layers of historical accretions separating us from the real thing. Christ had his Christianity, and we need to peel away our layers and go back and recover Christ’s Christianity. In other words, what is needed in our time is nothing less than the re-Christianization of us Christians. Isn’t it obvious that we who say we are Christians should understand Christianity? Its greatest mark is our observable love for one another. Christ himself said so.
One of the most important subdivisions of theology is Christology, which is the study of the person and work of Christ. Within that field of study, when we want to get at the aspect that is most crucial, the aspect that we may call the “crux” of the matter of Jesus’ person and work, we go immediately to the cross. The words crucial and crux both have their root in the Latin word for “cross,” crux, and they have come into the English language with their current meanings because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus.
This was the view of the apostle Paul. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul made an astonishing statement about the importance of the cross to the entirety of the Christian faith: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Paul was a man who had the equivalent of two Ph.D.s in theology by the time he was 21 years of age, a man who wrote with great insight on the whole scope of theology. Nevertheless, he said that the focal point of his teaching, preaching, and ministry among the Corinthians was simply “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
When the apostle made that statement, he obviously was engaged in the literary art of hyperbole. The Greek prefix hyper is the source of our word super, and it indicates a degree of emphasis. Hyper takes a root word and makes it emphatic. In this case, the root word comes from the Greek verb “to throw.” So hyperbole is literally a “super throwing”; it is a form of emphasis that uses intentional exaggeration. This is a common device in communication. Sometimes, when a child disobeys, a parent may say in exasperation, “I’ve told you ten thousand times not to do that.” The parent doesn’t mean literally ten thousand times, and no one who overhears the parent understands him or her to mean literally ten thousand times. Everybody understands that a statement like that is an exaggeration—an exaggeration born not out of deceitfulness or falsehood, but out of an intent to bring emphasis.
That’s what Paul was doing when he told the Corinthians he had determined to know nothing except Christ crucified. Clearly Paul was determined to know all kinds of things besides the person and work of Jesus. He wanted to teach the Corinthians about the deep things of the character and nature of God the Father. He planned to instruct them about the person and work of the Holy Spirit, about Christian ethics, and about many other things that go beyond the immediate scope of Christ’s work on the cross. So why, then, did he say this? The answer is obvious. Paul was saying that in all of his teaching, in all of his preaching, in all of his missionary activity, the central point of importance was the cross. In effect, this teacher was saying to his students, “You might forget other things that I teach you, but don’t ever forget the cross, because it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gathered His people for eternity.
This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.
Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.
And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.
By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God’s written Word.
I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more:
You claim that “what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.” Aren’t you guilty of bibliolatry here?
Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, “Well, we worship the ‘Word Christ’ not the ‘word the Bible.’” Which is true in a sense. We don’t prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don’t worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God’s speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.
What Scripture-related error is most “live” among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?
I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture’s perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We’ve seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say “that’s just your interpretation” instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.
Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God’s truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we’ve misread the Bible, let’s see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.
What’s wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?
It’s better to obey the Bible when you don’t like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he’s like.
What do you mean when you claim God’s speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?
God continues to speak. We don’t have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don’t have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ’s work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.
Why do you believe Scripture’s sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute “most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians”?
It’s wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can’t be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I’m thinking of people who make their sense of “calling” more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I’m thinking of denominational groups I’ve been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I’m talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say “yes,” but then often live out “no.”
It’s not a secret the church has been in decline for a number of years and for a variety of reasons. You can read some statistics and views on why, here and here and here. Everyone has their opinions.
Abuse, apostasy, and irrelevance are just a few of the words that keep coming up in the search for reasons for the decline. There are a variety of compelling opinions and I even have a few of my own.
But I suggest there is another area of decline more significant and perhaps much less obvious—and one that certainly contributes to the church’s decline in numbers.
And I think its likely a careful analysis would implicate the church’s leadership for this more significant issue.
In other words, I’m concerned about pastors and the role they play in the church’s decline.
By saying so, I’m not suggesting this pastor has it all together. Nor am I trying to cultivate (or ratify) some dishonest skeptics’ hate for the church. Rather, I’m hoping to raise some concerns in a conversational kind of way.
Further, I’m not claiming to be the expert in all church issues. However, I have been in some form of pastoral ministry for the last 19 years and feel I have some measure of insight about the issue.
So in an effort to pursue this conversation in a healthy way, here are 10 pastors I’m concerned about.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who is better at managing church programs than he is at making disciples of Jesus. Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger addressed this topic somewhat in the book Simple Church, but I’m not sure how many pastors paid attention to the message. The church is not better because it has more programs. It’s quite possible for programs to hinder its real mission.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who attracts people with fancy self-help sermons instead of teaching people to be students of the Bible and theology. Sure topical sermons can be helpful teaching tools when used appropriately and in moderation. But to pique interest in the unchurched, church-growth pastors have promoted episodic sermons ad nauseam and to no avail at effectively grounding deeply committed disciples of Jesus, as the statistics provided previously demonstrate.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who is a chief executive instead of a contemplative sage. The pastor is called to a contemplative life of prayer and study of the word (Acts 6:4 cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). From that life his ministry flows to the church. The pastor was never called to be a rock-star communicator or bench-mark business leader. He was called to model redemption and shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-4 cf. Acts 20:28). Perhaps pastors should consider putting away their John Maxwell and Nelson Searcy books and picking up the Bible and the church fathers.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who uses the pulpit to milk members instead of minister to the saints. It was the angry atheist, Richard Dawkins, who asked Ted Haggard (back in the day) why he needed a multi-million dollar sound system that paralleled that of MTV to teach people about God. I think that’s a question that deserves an answer. Why do pastors need to build bigger and better on the backs of God’s people? I think the answer may be rooted in the human heart. Francis Chan seemed to have caught that vision when he was still pastor in Simi Valley. And if we think we need to build bigger barns, perhaps we should pray about church planting as a viable alternative.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who makes growing the church the goal instead of glorifying God the goal. There is no biblical mandate for growing the church. Sure there is one for propagating the gospel and making disciples. But the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. There is nothing in Scripture, except pride, that drives pastors to drive the flocks they are supposed to be tending.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who builds his ministry with people instead of building people by his ministry. It seems I’ve said this already, just differently. But here I’m speaking to a philosophy that often underlies many of the abuses in the church. For example, a well-known mega-church pastor once advised me to think of people in seven-year terms. He explained that people generally burn out after seven years. And if I wanted to build a big ministry for God, I would need to leverage those seven years. Funny, I don’t recall God asking pastors to leverage his people for the pastor’s dream of building a big church for God.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who cultivates a culture of dependency on himself instead of cultivating a culture of community within the church. Of course, I’m not denying spiritual dependency on Christ is biblical. But the pastor is not the people’s savior. He’s a just man who will burn out and fail himself given enough time and responsibility. Christians should be taught to depend on Jesus as our Savior, the church as our sanctifying community, the Bible as our word from God, and the Spirit as our parakletos.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who reads and teaches the Bible literally instead of literarily. This is not to suggest the Bible is not important or any less God’s word. It’s to say the Bible is literature, divine literature to be sure, but literature nonetheless. That means it needs to be read and understood as God’s word to us (or for us) in the context of its literary genre. Not all the Bible is prescriptive; and none of it was written to be used as a random list of verses cherry-picked capriciously to beat people up or defend our personal ideas and beliefs. The Bible is the holy canon which reveals God to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pastors who mishandle God’s word are extremely dangerous.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who contributes to the culture of consumerism instead of combating idolatry. Pastors who pander to the consumerism in the church are no different than parents who give their kids everything they want to keep them from throwing a fit or to get them to reciprocate love. Christianity isn’t a smorgasbord where people get to pick and choose what they like or don’t. It’s a community of believers on a journey and mission of faith who live in communitas with others for the glory of God, the blessing of his people, and the advancement of his kingdom.
- I’m concerned about the pastor who sees the church as a stepping stone instead of seeing it as a custodian of Christ’s kingdom. Certainly, God moves people. And certainly pastors have a right to pursue other ventures as the Lord leads and gives liberty. But the church is the primary agent for the stewardship of the gospel and the redemption of the cosmos. It’s the integral institution for advancing Christ’s kingdom and for shaping culture and society. It’s not God’s second-hand agency. It’s not his “Plan B.” Jesus died for the church and it is significant.
These are a few of my concerns about pastors. What are your concerns? Let me know in the comments.
Christianity is not the conclusion at the end of a syllogism. It is a meeting with God. It is a living supernatural power, called the Holy Spirit, moving into our hearts, shedding abroad the love of God experientially…
So Christianity, While not being merely the conclusion at the end of an argument is neither an experience at the end of a needle… Christianity is a supernatural experience of the Holy Spirit mediating the love of God to you through a historical person who did a historical act, namely, dying and rising to bear your sin…
To become a Christian is not to draw a conclusion at the end of a syllogism and sign a card that you think it is good logic. That makes nobody a Christian. To be a Christian is as the syllogism unfolds the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the heart so that in the truth of the gospel being presented… as the gospel is unfolded and the historical events of Jesus embodying the love of God are pointed to the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart and you see them as glorious, true, beautiful. You see God in Christ and He stands forth in those historical facts mediated along the news of the gospel into your mind and then down into your heart as the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God as your eyes are opened by the Spirit to see the love of God as the most precious treasure in all the world. That’s how you got saved.
Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999): Romans 5:3-8 – God Demonstrates His Love Toward Us (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 1999).
(HT: The Cross Quoter)
Tim Keller on the banality of evil:
Evil does not usually make people incredibly wicked and violent – that would be interesting, and tends to wake people up. Rather, sin tends to make us hollow – externally proper and even nice, but underneath everyone is scraping and clutching for power, in order to get ahead. We continually just step on each other…
C. S. Lewis called these folk “men without chests” in The Abolition of Man. They may have reason (represented by the head) or visceral feelings and drives (represented by the gut), but they don’t have hearts. They are not really choosing, but rather are being driven by their desires for power and gain, by their fears and anger. We are all in danger of being just as banal and hollow and uninteresting, if we insist on making God “tame” and banal! Only by worshiping the real God can we escape this boring fate and know the blessing of coming to the house of God, the Lord Jesus, the One who has the words of eternal life.
- Judges for You, 179.
(HT: Trevin Wax)
“The biggest problem people have in searching for community is just that. You don’t find community; you create it through love. Look how this transforms the way you enter a room full of strangers. Our instinctive thought is, “Who do I know? Who am I comfortable with?” There’s nothing wrong with those questions, but the Jesus questions that create communities are, “Who can I love? Who is left out?”
Here are two different formulas for community formation:
1. Search for community where I am loved: become disappointed with community
2. Show hesed love: create community”
–Paul Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014), 100; italics original
So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?
I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer.
We all pay lip service to the reality that we cannot necessarily measure the health of a church by its size. We all know that some of the biggest churches in the world are also some of the unhealthiest churches in the world. The history of Christianity has long-since shown that it is not all that difficult to fill a building with unbelievers by just tickling their ears with what they want to hear. We also know that the Lord is sovereign and that he determines how big each church should be and we know that in some areas even a very small church is an absolute triumph of light over darkness. And yet “How big is your church?” is one of the first questions we ask.
Why is this? I don’t know all the reasons but I’d suggest at least two. First, I think our question betrays us and shows that in the back of our minds we equate size and health. Somewhere we make the connection between big and healthy, between big and blessing. We exacerbate the problem when we ask and answer this too-easy question. Second, we just haven’t taken the time and made the effort to form better questions. Instead, we gravitate to the easy one.
I wonder, what would happen if we found better questions to ask and better ways to answer them. Instead of going to the easy question of, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we ask things like this:
How have you seen the Lord working in the lives of the people in your church?
What evidences of the Lord’s grace has your church experienced in the last few months?
What are you excited about in your church right now?
Who are you excited about in your church right now?
What has the Lord been teaching you?
Who have you been discipling recently? Tell me about some of the future leaders at your church.
When asked, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we consider answering something like this:
As many as the Lord has determined we can care for at this time.
Enough that we are actively working toward planting a church.
I don’t know, but let me tell you about a few of them…
Now obviously there are times when it is perfectly appropriate to discuss numbers, and especially so when we remember that each number is actual a human being made in God’s image that we have been tasked to care for. My concern isn’t so much that we never ask the numbers question, but that we gravitate away from asking it first.
So tell me what you think. Do you think it would benefit the church to have us migrate away from asking and answering the number question?
In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches’ drive toward producing a “worship experience.” I excerpted it in my current book project (on the attractional church model), and thought it might be of interest to blog readers:
MS: So how does all this “experience providing” apply to the church?
Gilmore: It doesn’t. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry.
MS: I’m stunned. So you don’t encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders?
Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience.
KM: When people come to church, don’t they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with the same mindset as they do a purchase.
Gilmore: Increasingly you find people talking about the worship experience rather than the worship service. That reflects what’s happening in the outside world. I’m dismayed to see churches abandon the means of grace that God ordains simply to conform to the patterns of the world.
KM: So what happens in church? Are people getting a service, because they’re helped to do something they couldn’t do on their own, that is, get closer to God? Or are they getting an experience, the encounter with God through worship?
Gilmore: The word “getting” is, I think, the problem with contemporary Christianity. God is the audience of worship. What you get is, quite frankly, irrelevant as a starting point.
ER: But people, especially unchurched people, don’t perceive it that way. They’re expecting some return.
Gilmore: They come that way at first: “Give me, feed me, make me feel good.” But they should be led to say, “Hey, this is not about me, God. Worship is to glorify you.”
KM: But if my mission is to reach a consumerist culture—if I’m going to get a hearing for my message—then I’m going to have to provide something that the consumer considers of value.
Gilmore: That is the argument. But the only thing of value the church has to offer is the gospel. I believe that one result of the emerging Experience Economy will be a longing for authenticity. To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences, it will lose its effectiveness
– Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 72-73.
William Everett Bell:
The final test for the meaning of an Old Testament passage is not necessarily its literal meaning, but the meaning given to it by the inspired New Testament writers, whether that meaning be literal or typical. . . . The dispensationalist practice of deciding the meaning of a concept at its first embryonic appearance in the Old Testament, together with the refusal to expand, restrict or otherwise modify the concept in the light of additional and fuller subsequent revelation, must be rejected as an unacceptable hermeneutical method, because it must frequently distort New Testament revelation in order not to disturb a premature “literal” Old Testament interpretation, and thus it simply does not account satisfactorily for the totality of the Biblical data.
In: Menn, Jonathan (2013-09-04). Biblical Eschatology (Kindle Locations 3306-3310). Resource Publications – An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
One of the most amazing statements by the Apostle Paul is his indictment of the Galatian Christians for abandoning the Gospel. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel,” Paul declared. As he stated so emphatically, the Galatians had failed in the crucial test of discerning the authentic Gospel from its counterfeits.
His words could not be more clear: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!” [Gal. 1:6-7]
This warning from the Apostle Paul, expressed in the language of the Apostle’s shock and grief, is addressed not only to the church in Galatia, but to every congregation in every age. In our own day — and in our own churches — we desperately need to hear and to heed this warning. In our own time, we face false gospels no less subversive and seductive than those encountered and embraced by the Galatians.
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.
In one sense, we are born to be moralists. Created in God’s image, we have been given the moral capacity of conscience. From our earliest days our conscience cries out to us the knowledge of our guilt, shortcomings, and misbehaviors. In other words, our conscience communicates our sinfulness.
Add to this the fact that the process of parenting and child rearing tends to inculcate moralism from our earliest years. Very quickly we learn that our parents are concerned with our behavior. Well behaved children are rewarded with parental approval, while misbehavior brings parental sanction. This message is reinforced by other authorities in young lives and pervades the culture at large.
Writing about his own childhood in rural Georgia, the novelist Ferrol Sams described the deeply-ingrained tradition of being “raised right.” As he explained, the child who is “raised right” pleases his parents and other adults by adhering to moral conventions and social etiquette. A young person who is “raised right” emerges as an adult who obeys the laws, respects his neighbors, gives at least lip service to religious expectations, and stays away from scandal. The point is clear — this is what parents expect, the culture affirms, and many churches celebrate. But our communities are filled with people who have been “raised right” but are headed for hell.
The seduction of moralism is the essence of its power. We are so easily seduced into believing that we actually can gain all the approval we need by our behavior. Of course, in order to participate in this seduction, we must negotiate a moral code that defines acceptable behavior with innumerable loopholes. Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient.
Moralists can be categorized as both liberal and conservative. In each case, a specific set of moral concerns frames the moral expectation. As a generalization, it is often true that liberals focus on a set of moral expectations related to social ethics while conservatives tend to focus on personal ethics. The essence of moralism is apparent in both — the belief that we can achieve righteousness by means of proper behavior.
The theological temptation of moralism is one many Christians and churches find it difficult to resist. The danger is that the church will communicate by both direct and indirect means that what God expects of fallen humanity is moral improvement. In so doing, the church subverts the Gospel and communicates a false gospel to a fallen world.
Christ’s Church has no option but to teach the Word of God, and the Bible faithfully reveals the law of God and a comprehensive moral code. Christians understand that God has revealed Himself throughout creation in such a way that He has gifted all humanity with the restraining power of the law. Furthermore, He has spoken to us in His word with the gift of specific commands and comprehensive moral instruction. The faithful Church of the Lord Jesus Christ must contend for the righteousness of these commands and the grace given to us in the knowledge of what is good and what is evil. We also have a responsibility to bear witness of this knowledge of good and evil to our neighbors. The restraining power of the law is essential to human community and to civilization.
Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures.
But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.
The moralist impulse in the church reduces the Bible to a codebook for human behavior and substitutes moral instruction for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far too many evangelical pulpits are given over to moralistic messages rather than the preaching of the Gospel.
The corrective to moralism comes directly from the Apostle Paul when he insists that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation comes to those who are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” [Gal. 2:16]
We sin against Christ and we misrepresent the Gospel when we suggest to sinners that what God demands of them is moral improvement in accordance with the Law. Moralism makes sense to sinners, for it is but an expansion of what we have been taught from our earliest days. But moralism is not the Gospel, and it will not save. The only gospel that saves is the Gospel of Christ. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” [Gal. 4:4-5]
We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.
The Church must never evade, accommodate, revise, or hide the law of God. Indeed, it is the Law that shows us our sin and makes clear our inadequacy and our total lack of righteousness. The Law cannot impart life but, as Paul insists, it “has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” [Gal. 3:24]
The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.
Hell will be highly populated with those who were “raised right.” The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Moralism is not the gospel.
Lessons learned by John Piper through a recent spell in hospital:
1. Don’t murmur about delays and inefficiencies in the hospital, when you are getting medical care that surpasses by a hundredfold what is available in 90% of the world.
2. Don’t let yourself be numbed spiritually by the ceaseless barrage of sounds, noises, television, and chatter that surround you in the hospital.
3. Don’t default to the television.
4. Pray for the patients near you and, if possible — without undue offense — see if your roommate will let you pray for him, and tell him words of hope in Jesus.
5. Realize that physical pain makes focusing on God’s promises more difficult and demands greater concentrating effort.
6. Reach out to a friend or family member to help you.
7. Accept the humiliation of wearing the same unflattering gown everyone else wears.
8. Let the pain and misery of your body, and of the people around you, remind you of the exceeding moral horror and spiritual ugliness of sin.
9. Let the self-revelation of Jesus as the good physician be sweet to your soul, and preach to yourself that this light momentary affliction is working for you an eternal weight of glory.
10. Pray that none of these hospital hours, none of this pain, none of these fears, none of these relationships, none of this life-altering season will be wasted.
You can read the whole thing here.
No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.
So observes Paul Tripp — and in doing so, he accents our need to daily preach the gospel to ourselves.
In our sin, we constantly find our responses to life in our fallen world to be disconnected from the theology that we confess. Anger, fear, panic, discouragement stalk our hearts and whisper in our ears a false gospel that will lure our lives away from what we say we believe.
The battleground, says Tripp, is meditation. What is it that is capturing your idle thoughts? What fear or frustration is filling your spare moments?
Will you just listen to yourself, or will you start talking? No, preaching — not letting your concerns shape you, but forming your concerns by the gospel.
Defensive and Offensive
Preaching the gospel to ourselves is a spiritual discipline that is both proactive and reactive. It’s reactive as we encounter temptation and frustration and seek to restock in the moment, or as we reflect back on our sin and circumstances and try to evaluate them with a gospel lens.
But it’s also proactive — it goes on the offensive — when we feed our souls in some regular rhythm before the events and tasks and disappointments of daily life begin streaming our way. Tripp counsels that we make it a daily practice to 1) gaze on the beauty of Christ, 2) remember who we are as a child of God, 3) rest in his power and provision, and then 4) act in reliance upon him.
The Gospel and the Scriptures
There is a difference, Tripp notes, between merely reminding ourselves of truth, and preaching to ourselves the truth of the gospel. The latter is self-consciously and intentionally reminding ourselves of the person and presence and provisions of our Redeemer.
But while gospel self-preaching is not the same thing as Bible reading, the connections and interdependences are profound. The Scriptures, says Tripp, provide the material for preaching to ourselves the gospel of grace. They are the content to be taken up and applied to our lives in view of Jesus’s person and work.
It will not adequately strengthen our soul, in the long run, just to hear the same canned gospel repeated over and over. Neither will it sustain our spiritual lives to merely take in information without seeing it in light of Jesus, and pressing it into our hearts.
The apostle Paul wrote to Titus that pastors must not only preach faithfully but also “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). The idea is very simple. Pastoral ministry is not merely a building up, but also a tearing down. As Paul would say elsewhere, it involves tearing down every speculation and lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). To fail to do this is ministerial malpractice and harmful to God’s people.
Given this obligation, it becomes all the more imperative to be able to identify false teachers when they emerge. Sometimes false teaching originates from outside of the church. Sometimes such teaching originates from within. The New Testament teaches that a more rigorous response is required when it arises within. Thus faithful pastors must learn how to identify and deal with false teachers. But how do we do that?
For the next two blog posts, I want to address each half of that question. First, how to identify false teachers in the midst of the church. Second, how to deal with them.
The Bible suggests at least six characteristics that commonly identify false teachers. Not every false teachers exhibits all of these characteristics at once, but often times they present some combination of these traits.
1. False teachers contradict sound doctrine.
Even in the first century during the lifetimes of the apostles, there was an authoritative body of truth that functioned as the norm for faith and practice. Jude calls it “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul calls it “sound teaching according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10-11). Elsewhere, it’s the “standard of sound words” and “the treasure” (2 Tim. 1:13-14), the “words of faith” and “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). John calls it the “the teaching of Christ” (2 John 9).
In the first century, sound doctrine consisted of the Old Testament plus the apostolic word that Christ assigned to His apostles. The apostolic word was eventually written down as the apostles began to pass on. For us, the standard of sound doctrine–the faith once for all delivered to the saints–is the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. False teaching, therefore, is any teaching that departs from that norm. A false teacher is anyone within the church who stands against what the Bible teaches (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 John 9).
2. False teachers promote immoral living.
Jude shows us that false teachers often sneak into the church and “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). Licentiousness means a lack of moral restraint, especially with respect to sexual conduct. It is a total suppression of the moral norms of scripture. It is a life that excuses behavior that the Bible condemns. Peter says that such teachers deny the Lord Jesus by following “sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2). A person who will not be ruled by God’s word is often being ruled by their own lusts. There is no shortage of charlatans who infiltrate churches with their charisma only to prove themselves lecherous meddlers with the women of the flock.
Some of them will try to justify their own sexual immorality or the immorality of others. But they often won’t mount a frontal assault on the moral norms of scripture. That is too obvious. Instead, they will redefine the Bible’s terms so that they no longer witness against their evil deeds. Those who redefine the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality fall into this category.
3. False teachers deemphasize sin and judgment.
This is a trait that false teachers share in common with the false prophets of old. Jeremiah describes them this way:
For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is greedy for gain,
And from the prophet even to the priest
Everyone deals falsely.
And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, “Peace, peace,”
But there is not peace (Jer. 6:13-14).
False teachers characteristically downplay sin. Instead of naming the people’s “brokenness” as sin, they simply say, “nothing to see here, move along.” The false teachers tell sinners whom God will judge that they are not really that bad and that there’s no need to fear God’s judgement. They divorce God’s love and grace from His holiness. They tell people who should have every reason to fear God’s judgment that they really don’t have anything to worry about. They flee from the confrontation that truth brings, and they tell sinners whatever their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
4. False teachers are motivated by greed or selfish gain.
Peter says that in their “greed” false teachers exploit God’s people with “false words” (2 Pet. 2:3). Indeed their hearts are “trained in greed” (2 Pet. 2:14). Paul says false teachers “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). Teachers who love money and material gain will often say whatever they have to say in order to increase their bottom line. They are mercenaries, not following the call of God but going after the highest bidder. They will embrace novelty. They will scratch whatever itch sinners want scratched. They turn the ministry into a profit machine because they are motivated by greed. Beware of the pastors who seem to have an appetite for material gain. This is a tell-tale mark of a false teacher.
5. False teachers cause division.
False teachers will try to convince the flock that sound doctrine causes division. But this is a lie. It is actually the false teaching that seeks to divide and conquer God’s people. Jude warns about them in this way:
“In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly- minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God…(Jude 18-20)
Who causes dissension in the ranks? Not those teaching sound doctrine. Christ’s people unite around the truth. They divide over error. False teachers are the ones who draw people away from the standard of divine truth into error.
6. False teachers resemble the flock.
Jesus says to “beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). The false teacher never comes to us with a cardboard sign around his neck saying, “I’m a false teacher.” The false teacher comes to us in the guise of Christianity. He has the form of godliness while denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5). If the false teacher looks and sounds like a Christian, then how are we to know if he is a false teacher? Jesus tells us how we know, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). In other words, what they do will often reveal far more about who they are than what they say.
There is probably more that could be said to define false teachers, but these six characteristics are the very least that we might highlight here. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss what a faithful response to false teachers should look like.
What do you do with your sin? You can explain it with science. You can minimize it with sophistication. You can swallow it up with self-talk. Or you can confess it to your Savior.
There are the two radically different schools of thought when it comes to dealing with our imperfections.
One message–the “good news” of the world–tells you: “You own yourself, you engineer yourself, you invent yourself, you discover yourself.” This message screams an absolutely diabolical falsehood. It will not give you the freedom you are looking for. It will not give you peace of mind. It will not give you a clean conscience. It will not give you eternal life.
The second message–the good news of the cross–will give you real freedom. It confesses, “I am not my own. I was bought with a price. I am not in charge. I am not the purpose of my life. I will not find the “true” me. I cannot create a better me. I need a new me.” The gospels promises life, but only through death–Christ’s death first, then yours in his.
Do you want true, lasting comfort for your body and your soul? Do you need what you can’t supply? Are too lost to find yourself? Do you want to cope or do you want to be saved? If you have sin (and we all do), and if you are ready to name it for what it is, call out to God. Do not delay. Weep, wail, plead. See the Son of God crucified in your place. See the Son of Man risen for your justification. Approach the throne of grace in Jesus’ name. God will not turn a deaf ear to an honest cry. A broken and contrite spirit he will not despise.
Run to the cross. There you will find salvation for your sin sick self.
He is the radiance of the glory of God . . .” Hebrews 1:3a
All that God is — the measureless sum of his eternal and eternally rich attributes — shines forth in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus is supremely radiant.
What does this mean? It means that this Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will be the sun of the new heavens and the new earth. We won’t need this old sun, we will have the Lamb as our Lamp (Rev. 21:23). And it means that even now, the sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2) must be the center of our spiritual solar system or everything else goes out of whack. Indeed, if we were to kick our sun out from the center of our system, we wouldn’t just have chaos, but death. Life would be unsustainable. So it is with Jesus. If he is not the center, we die.
Also like the sun’s beams, the radiating lines of the Son’s glory are too numerous to count. Ever tried counting sunbeams? You can’t do it. It’s like counting airwaves in the wind. Jonathan Edwards says that in Christ we find an “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” These diverse excellencies are the sunbeams of his magnificence, finding their unity in him, as they — though disparate — converge and emanate back out to reflect the imprinting of the nature of God.
He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Shepherd and the Warrior. He is the Warrior and the Priest. He is the Priest and the Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice and the Victor. He is the Victor and the Servant. He is the Servant and the King. He is the King and the Convicted. He is the Convicted and the Judge. He is the Judge and the Advocate. Diverse excellencies, each pair juxtaposed yet complementary, finding their admirable conjunction in him.
And there’s so much more. John says if all the things Jesus did during his earthly ministry were written down all the books on earth could not contain them all (John 21:25). Is it any wonder, then, that we will take all eternity to bask in the radiance of his glory?
Biblical theology and systematic theology are two different manners of arranging the teaching of the scriptures. Biblical theology seeks to understand the progressive unfolding of God’s special revelation throughout history, whereas systematic theology seeks to present the entire scriptural teaching on certain specific truths, or doctrines, one at a time. Biblical theology is thus historical and chronological in its design; and in fact, a close synonym for biblical theology, at least in its wide-angle task of accounting for all of special revelation, is the term “redemptive history”. Biblical theology is not always pursued in so broad a fashion, however; sometimes, certain themes are approached in a biblical theological manner; for instance, a biblical theology of holy space in worship would seek to understand how that specific motif unfolded in redemptive history, from the beginning of revelation until the end. Another narrower application of biblical theology would be the study of the unfolding of revelation during a specific time period (for example, post-exilic biblical theology); or the study of the development of themes in a particular author (for example, Johannine biblical theology); but ultimately, even these narrower applications are truly biblical-theological in nature only as they seek to advance an understanding of the progression of redemptive history as a whole.
Systematic theology, on the other hand, is laid out, not chronologically, nor with a consideration of the progressive development of doctrines, but thematically, taking into account from the outset the complete form which revelation as a whole has finally assumed. Systematic theology attempts to answer the question, “what is the full extent of the truth that we may know about the doctrine of sin, or salvation, or the Holy Spirit, etc.?”. Hence, systematic theologies progress from the doctrine of the Godhead, or theology proper, to christology, pneumatology, angelology, soteriology, and so on, treating each theme exhaustively.