Should every Christian study theology?

  J.I. Packer: Theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realise. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant. People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It’s something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails. I don’t believe it’s at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our “minds” then we need to be in the business of theology. So when I

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The Intolerance of Tolerance

. . Tim Challies: Several times in the past decade D.A. Carson has been asked to give a public lecture at one university or another. Three times he has taken the opportunity to speak on the subject of tolerance, or intolerance, as the case may be. Those lectures proved the foundation of what would become his cleverly-titled new book, The Intolerance of Tolerance. Here’s the thing: In a society obsessed with tolerance, we are actually not tolerant at all. It’s all a big lie, a big fiction, and we’re all playing along. In order to claim tolerance we’ve had to rewrite the definition of the term and in so doing we’ve put ourselves on dangerous ground. Tolerance has become part of the Western “plausability structure”–a stance that is assumed and is not to be questioned. We are to be tolerant at all times. Well, almost all times, that is. Carson begins by showing that tolerance presupposes disagreement. That’s the beauty of being tolerant–one person expresses

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Improving your relationship with God

Tim Chester: Can you improve your relationship with God? People are often unsure how to respond. The promises of grace suggest one answer; the experience of life often suggest another. In the confusion, we often do nothing. We stagnate. But there is a way forward. Can you improve your relationship with God? Yes. Let’s turn for help to the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen. In his classic book Communion with God, Owen says, Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him. (Works, Vol. 2, 8–9, modernized) Note how Owen makes a distinction between “union” and “communion.” In the gospel, through faith, we have union with God in Christ. From start to finish this union is God’s gracious work toward us. But this union leads to communion with God — a genuine, two-way relationship of give-and-take in which our

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Certainty, openness, and theological wisdom

Ray Ortlund: Some Christians seem “all certainty.” Maybe it makes them feel heroic. But they see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset. Other Christians seem “all openness.” Maybe it makes them feel humble. But they see too few black-and-white areas. They have a liberal mindset—though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty. The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. For example,  1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as “of first importance.” Here is the center of our certainty. From that “of first importance” theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical and worldview questions deserving our attention. The more clearly our logic connects back with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further

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Ten things you should know about Christian Hedonism

Sam Storms: Christian Hedonism often goes misunderstood and thus maligned. Let’s look closely at ten things that bring clarity to what is meant by the label. (1) When it comes to Christian Hedonism, the adjective is everything. Hedonism is itself a godless approach to life that says we should pursue whatever brings us optimum pleasure. Hedonism judges right and wrong on the basis of whether or not an action brings pleasure or pain. But Christian Hedonism is an entirely different thing. The pleasure we seek as Christians is pleasure and satisfaction and delight in God. God is not the means to some other pleasure but the object of it. It is in him, his beauty, power, and presence that we find our deepest delight. (2) Christian Hedonism insists that the most effective way to glorify God is to enjoy God. It was Jonathan Edwards who helped me see that God’s glory and my gladness were not antithetical. He helped me

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The Perils of Preaching an Implications-Free Gospel

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. — Galatians 2:10 Jared Wilson: One of the strangest developments of late in the ongoing scrums over the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of “social justice” is the shifts in understanding by various evangelical tribes and movements of the distinctions and connections between law and gospel. “Just preach the gospel” has become a frequent rebuke heard from camps who are concerned about the muddling of gospel and works. To be clear and fair, not everyone concerned about emphases on social justice agrees with the alleged antidote of “just preaching the gospel,” but this imperative has been leveled enough — and from some places of influence — that it has gained a fair amount of traction. Also to be fair, the muddling of gospel and works is always a threat to real Christianity, and nobody is immune. We must take care not to confuse any works, be they works we call “social justice”

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The Promise-Driven Life

John Piper: So the challenge of the Christian life — and at 66, I am deeply desirous to learn how to do this. Paul did say, “I’ve learned the secret” as though it took some time (see Philippians 4:12 NASB). How many times do I come to the end of a day and I shake my head and say, “It’s been eight hours since I thought about trusting a promise.” I haven’t even thought about it. But do you know what else I’ve had in those eight hours? Anxiety. Murmuring. Where do they come from? Not trusting promises. This takes some of us a lifetime to learn. O you young people, get this now. That’s why I prayed at the beginning, “O God, build habits into our lives.” Habits of trusting promises, habits of hourly going to the Lord and saying, “I need you. I need you. I need you.” And then don’t just go away saying, “Yeah, I need him,” and feeling

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Seven Ways God Reigns over Evil

Satan Always Asks Permission John Piper: What does the Bible present to us, through the whole range of redemptive history — from beginning to end — as the way God relates to Satan’s will? I don’t want to speculate. I want Bible verses. I want Bible statements about how God relates to Satan, and then maybe seeing enough ways that God relates to Satan, I could project back and say, Well, if he relates to him that way here, he related to him that way there. That’s my approach, and you can assess whether you think that’s wise. What I want to do is just give you seven glimpses of how God relates to Satan in the Bible. 1. Satan is just God’s lackey. Satan is called “the ruler of this world” in John 12:31. However, other texts say things like this: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:17) The Lord

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How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

D.A. Carson: (1) By doing evangelism. I know numerous groups that claim to be engaging in “holistic” ministry because they are helping the poor in Chicago or because they are digging wells in the Sahel, even though few if any of the workers have taken the time to explain to anyone who Jesus is and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Their ministry isn’t holistic; it’s halfistic, or quarteristic. (2) By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation. The popular buzz is that evangelicals before this generation focused all their energies on proclamation and little or nothing on deeds of mercy. Doubtless one can find sad examples of such reductionism, but the sweeping condescension toward our evangelical forbears is neither true nor kind. To take but one example: The mission SIM has emphasized evangelism, church planting, and building indigenous churches for a century—yet without talking volubly of holistic ministry it built, and still operates,

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Freedom from the Self-Focused Life

John Piper: 1. Do you love the thought that you exist to make God look what he really is — glorious? Do you love the thought that you exist to reflect and display the glory of God? Does that bring joy to your heart and make you tingle with awesome historical destiny? I am on planet earth to make God look glorious, because he is. 2. Do you love the thought that all creation exists to display the glory of God? “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Are you glad about it? When you see spring just trying to come in Minnesota — soon the branches will get little bulges and you’ll say, “Come on; come on.” When they come in, the heads that you chop back so far, you wonder if it’ll ever come back, it gets the little green things on it and you say, “God is real and living.” Are you glad that it’s about

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10 Things You Should Know about Jesus Christ

Sam Storms: It actually sounds a bit silly, even irreverent, to speak of only ten things we should know about Jesus. There are thousands of things to know about him, perhaps millions. Indeed, when we arrive in the new heaven and new earth we will discover that there is an infinity of truths about our Savior that it will be our joy to see, know, and savor. But for now, today, let’s consider the ten things said about him in Colossians 1:15-20. There Paul writes: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

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Beware Theological Dangers on Both Left and Right

Tom Schreiner: Paul charges Timothy to “guard the good deposit” (2 Tim. 1:14), which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re to remain vigilant in guarding the gospel because both the Scriptures and also church history remind us that many have swerved from the truth. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that upholding the truth and the purity of the gospel has been a challenge from the beginning. We aren’t facing anything new in our day, and we have the promise that the church of Jesus Christ will triumph over “the gates of Hades” (Matt. 16:18). In this article I want to briefly consider threats to the gospel—from the left and from the right. Dangers from the Left Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders is the only speech in Acts addressed to Christians (Acts 20:17–35), and it’s significant that it’s addressed to leaders, to the elders and overseers in the church (Acts 20:17, 28). Paul warns them in

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Who Are God’s Covenant People?

Sinclair Ferguson: God’s covenant commitment to His people, made in successive promise-bonds, forms the scaffolding within which He builds His church; its shape and growth are determined by it. But like a medieval cathedral, the church is built over centuries; and like a great book, its story is divided into chapters. The word covenant (Hebrew berith, Greek diathēkē) first occurs in the context of the judgment-flood from which only Noah and his family were saved: “I will establish my covenant with you,” God promised (Gen. 6:18). While God brought judgment-curse on the earth (vv. 11–13), by contrast He promised to bless Noah and his seed (9:1). “Establish” here reflects an earlier promise-bond. God’s command to Noah to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (v. 1) echoes His command to Adam (1:28) and hints at an earlier covenant. Certainly, the Lord’s bond with Adam included essential covenant ingredients: His commitment to Adam would lead to blessing for faith and obedience (1:28; 2:3), but mistrust and

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How Not to Worship Your Worship

Bob Kauflin: It was almost forty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. At the end of an evening church meeting, we flowed seamlessly into an “afterglow service.” For the first time in my life I heard and sang these words, penned by Laurie Klein: I love you, Lord And I lift my voice To worship you. O my soul, rejoice. Take joy, my King, in what you hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear. I was moved to tears, not simply by the beautiful melody, but by the realization that my ultimate desire in life really was to love the Lord. To be pleasing to him, to bring him delight. In the seemingly constant swirl of worldly temptations, sensual distractions, and seasons of apathy, I had a moment of clarity. I loved the Lord. Importance of the Heart Telling the Lord how we feel about him is a healthy and natural part

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God Is the Prize of the Gospel – Explaining a Sixth Sola

John Piper: For five hundred years, Christians in the lineage of the Reformation — that is, Protestant Christians who love the Bible and are bent on seeing the gospel for all that it is — have described the gospel in terms of five solas, which is the Latin word for only or alone — like the English word solo. What I want to do is just put those five together in a gospel definition and add one, which is implicit in the other five. You can decide if it’s eccentric or not: As revealed with final authority in Scripture alone, the gospel is the good news that by faith alone, through grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, sinners are granted to enjoy God alone forever. Enjoying God alone is my own addition, but Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon — all this long line of Reformation lovers of the gospel would hear me say that and respond, Amen. Let me show you how

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What is the theology of the cross?

Here, Robert Kolb gives a brief description of the theology of the cross that Martin Luther developed through reading the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The theology of the cross directs us away from all attempts to speculate about God as he is hidden behind nature or the clouds of our imagination. The theology of the cross directs us to God in human flesh, God on the cross, God raised from the dead. To all the modern questions about what truth might be and what kind of claim truth might have on us, the God who is revealed in crib, cross, and crypt seizes us anew as we present him to those who have lost their way. We introduce our God on his cross. We witness to God revealed as Jesus, on the cross. For people who are dissatisfied with their old identity, the cross helps explain why they do not “feel good” about themselves. The theology of the

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Evangelism Starts With God

David Qaoud: One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in evangelism is telling people the good news without telling them the bad news. No wonder I’m met with blank stares or “That’s nice for you, but not for me.” When we don’t tell unbelievers about sin and wrath, they often think grace is irrelevant. They don’t see their need for a Savior. I know I’m not alone. Myself, I suspect I don’t like sharing the bad news because of fear of man. I don’t want to offend people or bring up words like hell and wrath and sin because then the conversation may get weird. I don’t like awkward moments. I want to seem cool. I want to win people to Christ simply by telling people only about Christ and avoiding all the difficult parts. DEFINING EVANGELISM But true evangelism requires more. As it’s been said, evangelism is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with an unbeliever with the aim

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Redemptive-Historical Typology

Dennis Johnson: Old Testament events, offices, and institutions (hereafter OTEOI) are invested by God with spiritual significance as integral steps in his history-long project to reverse sin and its effects… these OTEOI point beyond themselves, symbolizing the comprehensive, eschatological salvation that is God’s purpose for history and that has been inaugurated by Christ in his first coming and that will be consummated by Christ in his second coming. To understand how any OTEOI preaches Christ and finds its fulfillment in him, we first must grasp its symbolic depth in its own place in redemptive history. Then we need to consider how the OTEOI’s original symbolic depth (the aspect of redemption to which it pointed in shadow-form) finds final and complete fulfillment in Christ. Finally, we must identify and articulate how its message applies to ourselves and our listeners. The apostles’ proclamation of Christ as the fulfillment of all God’s promises provides abundant direction for the grateful outworking of this good

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Two Reasons the Trinity Matters

Justin Dillehay: How much does the Trinity matter to you? If you found out tomorrow that God is actually only one person instead of three, would your relationship with God feel any different? Would it require a drastic overhaul in the way you think or witness or pray? How much does the Trinity matter to you personally? How much does the Trinity matter to your church? If you found out tomorrow that your beloved youth pastor had become a staunch modalist—he now insists the Father, Son, and Spirit are actually one person in three manifestations instead of three distinct persons—would your church excommunicate him? Or would that seem like splitting hairs? Is the Athanasian Creed really right to say, “Whoever wishes to be saved must think thus of the Trinity. And whoever rejects this faith will perish everlastingly”? Or is that the overstatement of the millennium? Judging by the church’s historic creeds, Christians used to think the Trinity is really important. Judging

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Are You Too Earthly-Minded to Do Earthly Good?

  Kyle Strobel: We often think of heaven as something that affects us after we die, with little impact on our daily lives now. Heaven feels speculative, ethereal, and impractical; we’re better off spending our time dealing with down-to-earth things. But Jonathan Edwards believed that being “too heavenly minded for earthly good” is an impossibility. The only way to be of true earthly good is to be heavenly minded. Thinking about heaven doesn’t take our eyes off of the world; it allows us to live in the world according to the way of Christ. Knowing God To live a heavenly life now you must “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). The “things that are above” don’t primarily reference a place, but the triune God. Heaven is only “heavenly” because God is there. He’s the spring of love that gives life and direction to that place. The life we know

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