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
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.
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.
Finally, I want to very quickly talk about something that I alluded to in my sermon a couple of weeks ago – PREVENIENT GRACE.
Professor and writer Steve Harper shared these profound words in his book, “The Way to Heaven.” He said, “GRACE is GRACE.” The point that he was making is that there aren’t three or four different kinds of grace floating around – each occurring at different and distinct points in our lives. Instead, the Wesleyan emphases of PREVENIENT, JUSTIFYING, and SANCTIFYING grace are just ways to help us think about how God works his grace in our lives.
PREVENIENT GRACE describes God’s work in our lives before we’re even aware that God exists – or before we realize that we need a right relationship with God.
For example, when we baptize a baby, we’re recognizing that God’s grace is already at work in that child. God’s grace is working in the life of that child before he or she even knows that God exists – even before the baby recognizes that he or she needs a relationship with God. God is already at work, through his Holy Spirit, drawing that child to himself. The same is true for all of us.
God’s love is previous to anything we do on our part. Remember the words from 1 John 4:19…
We love because he first loved us.
Jesus put it this way in John 6:44…
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…
You see, just as we would expect from a gracious God, God takes the initiative. God acts first. I love how Kenneth Kinghorn puts it…
God cultivates our hearts long before we have any inclination to turn to him. The Holy Spirit creates within us a desire for God, and this gracious activity takes place well ahead of our consciousness of his working in our lives. (Kinghorn, p. 68)
God’s grace really is amazing. So how could it be possible to hear how much you’re loved by God… and not be stunned with humility? Not be overwhelmed with gratitude? When we think of that… we can begin to really understand the words of the hymn, Amazing Grace.
Beloved, I want to encourage you to respond to this message. I’m not going to ask you to walk the aisle, raise your hand, or sign a card. But I do want to ask you a few things.
Have you recognized that God has been working in your life? Has God been drawing you closer to himself? Have you ever had the “aha moment” where you realized that God loves you and that you did nothing at all to deserve it or earn it?
If you’re not sure, then I would encourage you to pray for God to draw you to his Son Jesus Christ… so that you might place your trust in him and enter into that relationship that he desires with you. If you are a Christian, then I encourage you to spend some time praying to God – offering your thanks for what he’s done in your life.
Grace and Truth,
I won’t labor the point, but the Bible tells us over and over and over again that because of sin and rebellion, people, left to themselves, are not in a right relationship with God. Left to ourselves, we aren’t where God wants us to be. Left to ourselves we aren’t who God wants us to be. There’s nothing in and of ourselves that we can show God to commend ourselves to him. That’s just Christianity 101.
As you’ve heard me say before, God didn’t look down from heaven and say:
“My goodness, Dale Tedder is a righteous guy. He’s outstanding. He’s moving in the right direction. I think since he’s already doing such a great job, I’ll go ahead and bless him.”
It was Moses who told the people Israel that God didn’t choose them because they were the richest, largest, or most powerful nation.
You see, God bestows favor because that’s who God is. That’s his nature or his character to act in such a gracious way. GRACE, by definition, is voluntary – it’s NOT because of anything that we bring to the table. God never owes anyone grace.
There was a joke that made the email rounds a few years ago that attempts to make this point.
There was a man who died and, you guessed it, appeared before St. Peter. St. Peter asked him, “What have you done to get into heaven? Think hard… because you have to get 100 points to make it.” So the guy said smugly, “Well, I went to church every Sunday. I tithed regularly. And I attended every Bible study offered.” “Great,” said St. Peter. “That’s one point.”
Sort of shocked, the man said, “Well… I also fed the hungry, participated in a prison ministry, provided clothes for poor, and took care of orphans.” “Awesome,” replied Peter, “that’s another point.”
Well, as you can imagine, by this time the guy is getting desperate. He starts mentioning things like being an Eagle Scout, coaching little league baseball, and breaking for penguins… just to get some points.
Well, after several hours of this, the exhausted guy had accumulated only five meager points. Feeling completely broken and full of despair, he finally uttered, “I don’t know what else I can add. I guess I’ll have to throw myself on
the mercy of the court.” To which St. Peter responded, “Ah, GRACE – 95 points… come on in.”
Now that’s a cute story and we all the get the point. But the biblical version of that story would be…
You see, if we could earn God’s favor, we wouldn’t need GRACE. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:21…
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, [that is, by doing good works] Christ died for nothing!
That’s why Paul says in our Ephesians text – It’s by GRACE. It’s a GIFT. Interestingly, the Greek word for GRACE is charis. The Greek word for GIFT is charisma. You see… GRACE is a GIFT. You can’t earn it. You don’t pay for it.
Charles Swindoll drives the point home with this illustration. He writes…
Imagine coming to a friend’s house who has invited you over to enjoy a meal. You finish the delicious meal and then listen to some fine music and visit for a while. Finally, you stand up and get your coat as you prepare to leave. But before you leave you reach into your pocket and say, “Now, how much do I owe you.” (Swindoll, p. 10)
Can you imagine how insulting that would be to your friend? Well, how much more insulting would it be to Christ to say, I know you died on the Cross for me, but how much do I owe you?” As Paul said, if you could earn salvation by doing good works, then Christ died for nothing.
But this is a hard idea for our culture to grasp, isn’t it? We live in the land of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” We live in the land of rugged individualism where we’re told we have “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” We have a hard time receiving something that we didn’t earn… that we didn’t pay for.
Now, looking at our text, we might also ask this question: “Why is our salvation by grace? Why is it a free gift from God?” Well, Paul gives us an answer in verse 9. He says…
…so that no one can boast.
Can you imagine heaven being filled with people taking credit for their salvation? “Here’s what I did to get here?” “Oh, that’s nothing, here’s what I did?” Instead of people saturated in humility, gratitude, and joy… heaven would be filled with proud people who believed that God simply gave them what he owed them – based on their earthly performance. Can you imagine a greater insult to God? That kind of thinking robs God of his glory and seeks to give it to us. That’s why Paul said in Galatians 2:21 that he would not set aside (or compromise) the grace of God.
The point of all that I’ve said thus far is this: there’s no salvation – that is, there’s no right relationship with God – without GRACE.
Stay tuned for part 3.
Grace and Truth,