Check out my new video series that we’re calling, Theology for Men. Today is more of a “meet and greet” to introduce ourselves, tell you why we’re doing this and what’s coming up down the road. Enjoy.
Everyone Is A Theologian
Godly men know that, for good or ill, everyone is a theologian. We each think thoughts and imagine ideas about God, even if those thoughts and ideas are that God does not exist. Some have plumbed the depths of theology while others have only skimmed along the surface. Regardless of one's efforts or abilities, thinking theologically is unavoidable.
Far from being dry, boring, and stale, theology ought to be spirit-renewing, soul-forming, and life-transforming. It isn't (or, shouldn't) be merely for academic and intellectual pursuits, but instead, to draw us closer to God and conform us more to his likeness. Thinking more intentionally about God should lead us to know him better and love him more. Indeed, the more we learn of God's magnificence, the more worship, joy, and gratitude ought to break out among us. In fact, it will become impossible to contain our pleasure brought forth from our discoveries of the person and work of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks:
"What is the chief end of man?"
"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."
To increasingly know ("about" and "relationally") and love God leads men pursuing godliness to seek their Lord's glory in all aspects of their lives. They shift from self-centered to God-centered lives in which every sphere is integrated because each is connected to and empowered by God, who is at the center. And each part exists to bring God the glory due his name.
Studying textbooks about God alone won't accomplish all of this. But pursuing God more intentionally will move us in the right direction of knowing, loving, following, and trusting God, as well as seeking and submitting to his will. This is theology at its best.
Brothers, is God your chief pursuit and greatest desire?
Soli Deo Gloria,
The discipline of Christian Apologetics holds a place near and dear to my heart. It was one of the primary means by which God strengthened my faith and called me into ministry. Like many others, I remember having conversations in college about my Christian faith. I recall discussing the tough issues college students love to spend time talking about. These discussions were not quite on the level of whether or not God could create a stone too heavy for him to lift (Dr. Ronald Nash would later tell me the answer to that question is, “no.”). But we did deal with some very practical questions about Christianity, especially as it relates to other belief systems. I was a very unprepared Christian. That, however, led me to read. I began reading a book on world religions and cults by Josh McDowell. I next remember buying and reading a book on this strange ”thing” called Christian apologetics by some guy I had never heard of named, Norman Geisler.
What I learned in the years that followed was almost all I really needed for most “defenses of the faith” was a better knowledge of what I believed. This drove me to dig into God’s Word as well as systematic theology. The rest, as they say, is history. God used the study of Christian apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) in my life to drive me to a deeper understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith and how to communicate those truths more effectively.
As a pastor, I’ve discovered over the last couple of decades there are very few new questions. There are simply the same questions being asked in different ways. My mentor, Ken Boa, told me while I was in seminary that it’s okay to be asked a tough question by someone and not have the answer… the first time. But, he said, you should never be asked the same question twice without having an answer. In other words, being “stumped” once is virtually a rite of passage. Being stumped by the same question twice is lazy.
The first time we’re stumped by a tough question should encourage us to read and study to find the answer. What I’ve tried to do over the years is to get back together with the person who asked me the question and use the opportunity to share my faith with them if they are not a Christian or to disciple them if they are. One of the worst things you can do is try to bluff an answer. It seldom works and I’ve learned folks respect your honesty.
Having said all of that, I need to be clear: There are indeed some very hard questions about the Christian faith. These questions relate to evil, other religions, science, the Bible, just to name a few. By God’s grace I’ve learned there are some very bright and gifted Christian thinkers who have thought and prayed long and hard about those questions and what God’s Word has to say about them. These very capable apologists have written extensively on most, if not all of those issues, and many have some very helpful websites.
The following websites on this list are general apologetics websites. In other words, they are my favorite websites that address a little bit of everything. Make sure to check these sites out. I think you’ll find them a big help.
PS – There are many outstanding apologists who will not be found on the list below only because they either do not have a website or because their site is not much more than a storefront or a calendar of where and when they will be speaking. They are being used of God in mighty ways, but the sites below are the ones I believe will be the most useful to you online.
PSS - New apologists and apologetics websites are popping up regularly. If I've left anyone off of this list, please share their information with me and I'll take a look. Thanks.
Grace and Truth,
1.) Reasonable Faith.org (William Lane Craig’s site)
2.) Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
3.) The Veritas Forum
4.) Stand to Reason (Greg Koukle)
5.) Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry
6.) Apologetics 315
7.) Apologetics Press
8.) Ankerberg Theological Research Institute
9.) Gary Habermas
10.) Christian Research Institute
11.) Lee Strobel
12.) Mary Jo Sharp (Confident Christianity)
13.) J. Warner Wallace (Cold-Case Christianity)
15. Always Be Ready
16. Sean McDowell
In preparing for a Bible study (Galatians 1:10-24), Galatians 1:12 jumped off the page at me. I’ve read that verse many times before, even studied it in depth. Yet, this time it made a unique impression in my heart and mind once. Paul tells us,
I did not receive it [the gospel he preached] from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Revelation. God’s personal self-disclosure.
I don’t hear much debate these days on God’s revelation of himself, and all truth that pertains to him, at least not as much as I used to. I don’t think that’s because the debates are over. Perhaps I’m just not running in the same circles I once was.
On that note, one of the most helpful books I purchased and read back in my seminary days was Volume 2 of Carl Henry’s series on God, Revelation, and Authority. That book was quite a contrast for me since the two theologians my Systematic Theology class dealt with primarily were Paul Tillich and Karl Barth. It was helpful for me way back then (about 1990) to read what an American evangelical author had to contribute to the debate regarding how God reveals himself. I’ve read many useful critiques since then, but it was Carl Henry who first gave me some nutritious food for thought.
In his six-volume series, Henry lays out fifteen theses related to how he understands the Bible’s teaching on divine revelation. You may find yourself bickering with a point here are there, but I have found them succinct and quite helpful as I explain how God reveals himself to creatures who are slow on the uptake, and who certainly would have never "discovered” God on their own.
Below are Henry’s fifteen theses with no added comments from him or me. (You can purchase his six volumes if you are craving his explanations for each.) I am, however, going to share an excerpt from a paragraph in his introduction to the theses.
God is not the Great Perhaps, a clueless shadow character in a Scotland Yard mystery. Far less is he a nameless spirit awaiting post-mortem examination in some theological morgue. He is a very particular and specific divinity, known from the beginning solely on the basis of his works and self-declaration as on the one living God. Only theorists who ignore divine self-disclosure are prone to identify God as the nondescript John Doe of religious philosophy.
1. Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.
2. Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God.
3. Divine revelation does not completely erase Gold’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.
4. The very fact of disclosure by the one living God assures the comprehensive unity of divine revelation.
5. Not only the occurrence of divine revelation, but also its very nature, content, and variety are exclusively God’s determination.
6. God’s revelation is uniquely personal both in content and form.
7. God reveals himself not only universally in the history of the cosmos and of the nations, but also redemptively within this external history in unique saving acts.
8. The climax of God’s special revelation is Jesus of Nazareth, the personal incarnation of God in the flesh; in Jesus Christ the source and content of revelation converge and coincide.
9. The mediating agent in all divine revelation is the Eternal Logos – preexistent, incarnate, and now glorified.
10. God’s revelation is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verbal form.
11. The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth.
12. The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first, by inspiring the prophetic-apostolic writings, and second, by illuminating and interpreting the scripturally given Word of God.
13. As bestower of spiritual life the Holy Spirit enables individuals to appropriate God’s revelation savingly, and thereby attests the redemptive power of the revealed truth of God in the personal experience of reborn sinners.
14. The church approximates the kingdom of God in miniature; as such she is to mirror to each successive generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.
15. The self-manifesting God will unveil his glory in a crowning revelation of power and judgment; in his disclosure at the consummation of the ages, God will vindicate righteousness and justice, finally subdue and subordinate evil, and bring into being a new heaven and earth.
While I'm sharing excerpts from Packer, I thought I should also share this snippet from one of Packer's books that I have read a number of times, A Quest for Godliness. I've been listening to an audio course of Packer's lectures (from 1988) on the Puritans, and it inspired me to share this little list from Packer on why the church really does need to sit at the feet of the Puritans and learn from them. Here's a little from his list...
1.) There are lessons for us in the integration of their daily lives. As their Christianity was all-embracing, so their living was all of a piece. There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God.
2.) There are lessons for us in the quality of their spiritual experience. In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme.
3.) There are lessons for us in their passion for effective action. They had no time for idleness of the lazy or passive person who leaves it to others to change the world.
4.) There are lessons for us in their program for family stability. It is hardly too much to say that the Puritans created the Christian family in the English-speaking world.
5.) There are lessons to be learned from their sense of human worth. Through believing in a great God, they gained a vivid awareness of the greatness of moral issues, of eternity, and of the human soul.
6.) There are lessons to be learned from the Puritans’ ideal of church renewal. The essence of this kind of renewal (what they called “reformation”) was enrichment of understanding of God’s truth, arousal of affections Godward, increase of ardour in one’s devotions, and more love, joy, and firmness of Christian purpose in one’s calling and personal life.
Last week we began looking at the subject of God’s GRACE by trying to understand what grace is and why it’s so important – vital. Then we took a brief look at Prevenient Grace – that grace that goes before us… drawing us to God before we’re even aware of God or aware of our need for him.
Well, this morning we’re going to study a second understanding of GRACE, called Justifying or Converting or Saving Grace. One thing to remember this morning, as I said last week: These are not three different kinds of grace starting and stopping at distinct points in our lives. Remember the quote I shared with you: “Grace is Grace.” These fancy words that we’re using just help us to get a handle on how God works his grace in our lives.
[Read Luke 18:9-14]
Back in the early 1960’s, the U.S. Bureau of the Census came out with what they called the “Index of Leading Economic Indicators.” They chose 11 indicators of the American economy and used them to interpret current business developments and to predict future economic trends.
In 1993, William Bennett came out with what he called the “Index of Leading Cultural Indicators.” His goal was to examine the moral, social and behavioral conditions of modern America. It showed, for example, that in 1960 there were 288,000 violent crimes committed. And in 1991, there were 1,900,000 violent crimes committed. He showed that the average SAT score in 1960 was 975, and in 1992, the average score was 899. Those are just a couple of things he looked at.
Well, back in 1996, another index came out. This one was done by George Barna, who is the “Gallop Poll” of religious statistics. His little book was called: “The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators.” In fact, he still puts out an email once or twice a month that helps to give us an idea of where America is spiritually.
Here were some of Barna’s findings 13 years ago:
But perhaps one of the most disturbing statistics was this: Barna said,
“that most Americans believe that …salvation is an outcome to be earned through their good character or behavior. …Six out of ten people (57%) believe that ‘if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their lives, they will earn a place in heaven.'”
He then said that, “this perspective has remained constant throughout the 90’s.” His present research is telling us that this statistic hasn’t changed much. This statistic means that at least 57% of Americans are relying on “themselves” for their eternal life. And yet, as staggering as that figure is, it’s really not new. It really isn’t all that different from what Jesus experienced in his day. In fact, it was because of this kind of mindset that Jesus told the parable in our Scripture lesson for today.
Next time we’ll dig into the text and discover what Jesus taught about this.
From a sermon I preached on July 19, 2009
One of the things that I love about Oden is that not only is he biblical, but that he doesn’t write as though he is the first (or only) person to have ever read the Bible. He draws (very thoroughly) from Christian history, especially the early Church. He understands what it means to read the Bible in community.
His three volume set on systematic theology is arranged in a Trinitarian fashion: Book 1: The Living God, Book 2: The Word of Life, and Book 3: Life in the Spirit. It’s not necessarily an easy read, but it is thorough and comes from a deep and abiding faith.
Oden is a United Methodist, but in this work his emphasis is focused more on what all (or at least “most”) Christians can and should agree on if we would call ourselves Christian.
Here’s a description of the series from Christianbook.com…
Covering the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, Oden’s masterful study emphasizes the ecumenical common ground of theological doctrine. Faithful to biblical teaching and classical tradition, his direct, provocative approach articulates the concerns of pastors, teachers, seminarians, and thoughtful laypersons. An indispensable reference at an irresistible price! 1561 pages total, three hardcovers from Hendrickson.
Click here to learn more about it or to order it.