Bernhardus de Moor, Volume 1 Available

It is with great delight and eager anticipation that I announce the publication of volume 1 of Bernhardus de Moor’s Continuous Commentary on Johannes a Marck’s Compendium. I should point out that the volume 1 of Dilday’s translation does not equal the entirety of volume 1 of de Moor’s work. My understanding is that it will take several volumes of Dilday’s translation to equal one volume of de Moor. Here are some things that Richard Muller says about this work:

De Moor’s efforts did for late Reformed orthodoxy what the massive system of Quenstedt did for Lutheranism in the concluding years of the seventeenth century: the work was so exhaustive and so complete in its detail and bibliography that it virtually ended the development of Reformed doctrine in the form of orthodox system (PRRD I.83)…De Moor’s work…provides evidence of the stubborn survival of theological orthodoxy, long after its era of dominance, into an otherwise rationalist era, without the loss of its scholastic balance on the issues of faith and reason, philosophy and theology, and without the loss of its scriptural principle (PRRD I.118)…massively erudite (PRRD I.146).

Tolle Lege.

A Great Book for the Burned-Out Pastor

The author of this book is a pastor in the same Presbytery where I labor. He is the chairman of the shepherding committee in the Presbytery, and this book certainly helps explain why. Clay is a warm, pastoral man with a heart for hurting people. I heartily recommend this book to any pastors who are discouraged and beaten down with the routine or with crises in the ministry. This book is also a good antidote to the almost universal naivete afflicting good-hearted young men as they come out of seminary ready to fix all the world’s problems (if only the stupid world would listen to them!). Heck, I would even recommend it to pastors who are doing just fine, so that they stay that way!

Clay is certainly honest about his own journey, which makes the book all that much more interesting and compelling. The first five chapters are diagnosis, and the last five are solution. The diagnosis section is painful but healing to read. Chapter 3 comes to mind. Here are a few things that zapped me: “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Clay, let my people go!'” (p. 51). “Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now” (44). “Constant conflict made me seek comfort anywhere I could find it, especially in a quiet office with a closed door in the safety of reading books” (60). “Resurrection power may heal the hurt, or it may simply give us the strength to endure. Either way, resurrection power meets us in our weakness” (85). “[T]he love inside of our hearts can be padlocked, whereas our anger often has a hair trigger” (89). The book is well-designed to make a pastor feel really, really guilty, and then really, really forgiven in Christ.

I don’t have any quibbles with what he says. There are a few things that I would like to see in, say, a second edition of the book, or a “revised and expanded” edition (or a second book!). Of course, one can’t say everything in one book, and this is Clay’s first book. One question that nagged at me throughout the book was this: how do we pastors get this grace, when we are the ones “dishing it out”? I don’t mean that we are the source of grace, of course. But how do we get the benefit, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper and of the sermon, when we are the ones presenting those things to the congregation? This goes along with a parallel concern: I would like to have seen more emphasis on the means of grace, and how those factor in to relieve the burdened pastor. A second thing I would like to see addressed is the day off. How do we see our roles on Sunday? As work, or as our part in the worship services? And then, what do we do for a day off during the rest of the week? A third thing is coordinated with the last chapter. He has an admirable and biblical emphasis on pursuing unity (unity achieved is a great stress reliever!). What I would like to see is how that relates to the pursuit of truth and purity of the gospel. How do we avoid burnout, for instance, when we are fighting wolves in sheep’s clothing? What about the temptation to avoid conflict about gospel issues for the sake of our own comfort and avoiding burnout? What is the difference between pursuing our own comfort versus avoiding burnout? I would love to see these questions answered, if not by Clay, then by someone building on what Clay has done here.

This is a great little book. It doesn’t take long to read (and it is, by and large, well-written). It lays a great foundation for thinking about the ministry in a grace-driven way. It deserves a very wide readership by pastors of all stripes. Tolle lege.

A Very Disturbing Book

Today I read this book. It was extremely disturbing to me. It was disturbing, not because I disagree with it, but because I was so shocked by it. I had been used to thinking about the reasons our children leave the church in this way: we haven’t trained them in apologetics, and so when they leave for college, their faith is attacked, and they do not have the weapons at hand to defend their faith, and actually share the gospel. To a certain extent, I think the previous analysis is still partially correct, but it has received a large wake-up call corrective from Ken Ham. His thesis, based on the research of Britt Beemer, is that very few people who leave the church do so because college started them on the road to doubt. In fact, they were already gone! Their doubts started (in 88% of the 20-year olds who were interviewed!) in middle school and high school. Folks, we are losing our children long before college.

I received a further shock upon reading his statistics on Sunday School, and his analysis of why Sunday School, even when conducted by faithful, truth-telling folks, is not helping in this matter. The problem with many Sunday Schools is that they tell a story that is not really addressing the narrative they receive from the secular world even in middle school. Sunday School winds up being about faith, whereas school is about life and facts. In other words, our middle and high school Sunday School curricula, while often faithful to the texts, do not teach the texts apologetically! They hear from scientific teachers, and are typically unable to distinguish between the science of present phenomena and the science of origins (if there even is such a thing!). If science is correct in matters related to rockets, cell phones, robots, organic chemistry, mathematics, and biology (to name only a few fields), then mustn’t it also be right in matters of origin? Certainly not. However, our children are not receiving the message on these matters. The other problem with Sunday School is that parents are often abdicating their home responsibilities with regard to spiritual matters because “the children will learn it in church.” Ken Ham is not advocating the abolishment of Sunday School, and neither am I. But we do need to rethink what we’re doing in Sunday School. Ham argues that we need apologetics much earlier, and that the apologetics needs to address human origins in ways that directly challenge what our kids are hearing in school.

We need to talk about origins, and here’s why. An erosion of faith in the authority of Scripture is taking place. Ken Ham argues that it starts with the age of the earth. If science has proved that the earth is old, then in the minds of most folks, that disproves the Bible’s account, which then must turn into myth. Yes, yes, there are the day-age view, the framework view, and the analogical day view of Genesis 1 and 2. Most people are not able to make such fine distinctions in their head between interpretation and fact. Their minds will not typically jump to the idea that their interpretation of the Bible must alter. Instead, the Bible must go. The erosion starts in Genesis, but never stops there.

Now, Ham’s analysis is much more sophisticated than I have here laid out (and the complete results of the survey are included in the back for the benefit of statisticians). I am simplifying to give people a flavor for the whole. It is a very quick read (I read it in less than 2 hours). I think we need to heed its warnings, and its proffered solutions.

Bowled Over

I just got this commentary in the mail today. I do not get bowled over very often when it comes to commentaries, but this commentary was an enormous surprise to me. The International Critical Commentary series has the following characteristics: extreme technical detail; moderate to strongly liberal perspectives; little to no interaction with conservative writers; comprehensive in scope (with the exception of the conservative writers); little to no concern with systematic theological concerns. The only really notable exception that I know of to this trend besides the new Allison commentary is Cranfield’s masterwork on Romans. Allison’s work reminds me strongly of Cranfield.

For those of my readers who have any familiarity with the ICC at all, can you imagine an ICC volume that cites the following authors (many of them favorably!): Thomas Manton, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Francis Turretin, John Owen, A.W. Pink, Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Johannes Piscator, Martin Bucer, W.G.T. Shedd, William Pemble, John Newton, Martin Chemnitz, and Wolfgang Musculus? And yet, Allison does in this commentary on James. I’m not saying that that makes him a conservative Presbyterian. I haven’t read his conclusions on the section 2:14-26 to know exactly where he comes out on that. His work with W.D. Davies on Matthew is similarly exhaustive, but is moderately liberal. Be that as it may, he drops all those names mentioned in his history of the intepretation of 2:14-26, along with dozens and dozens more from every theological persuasion. Folks, even if Allison is not conservative, he is listening to us. He writes in his preface: “I have aspired to read as many relevant books and articles, of whatever date and provenance, as possible, including much outside the usual scope of standard academic study” (p. ix). Indeed, he has! His efforts are extremely refreshing and will not go unnoticed, I hope, by the Reformed world.

What amazes me so much about this commentary is that Allison does not shrink from engaging in systematic theological categories and ideas (and theologians!). It would, of course, be difficult to avoid this in the difficult passage 2:14-26. However, he doesn’t just dip his toes into the theological arena: he dives in with full force! Surely, if a conservative Reformed pastor is going to read just one commentary that might be outside his tradition, he should make it Allison. What a tremendous work of scholarship. I am bowled over. Since he has done us conservative Reformed folk the courtesy of reading our works, we should definitely return the favor.

On Peer-Reviewed Scholarship and Self-Criticism

I see a growing trend/problem in today’s scholarship. Authors are becoming less and less likely to submit their manuscripts to anyone who would disagree with the main thesis of their work. They are not submitting their materials to those who would be their staunchest critics. This is in keeping with the growing self-idolization of scholars, who quite often think that if they say it, then it is true. This is pride and egotism at work, not humility and desire for truth. Scholars are motivated by whether they can sell the book, or whether they can gain prestige as “the world’s foremost authority” on the subject. Of course, rarely can those two things both be accomplished in one book. They usually try for one or the other. But their motivation is incorrect. The true motivation of the scholar must be the glory of God, which is only to be gained by the pursuit of truth.

Truth must be tested by all those who oppose it. This is why God has given the tremendous gift of heresy to the church: to test the truth in the church so that the church will know why it does not believe X, and instead believes Y. I would even say that the Holy Spirit uses heresy more often than almost any other goad to get the church to realize what the Bible really says. I remember well Ligon Duncan’s rule of thumb in reading the early church fathers: when they are responding to heretics, they are generally on target. When they are not, watch out!

If we are really after the truth, and not just our own prestige, then surely we should submit our materials to the very best and brightest critics of our position on the matter in question. It is a humble thing to do, and it is a wise thing to do. Two examples of this, one positive and one negative, will help illustrate: when Peter Enns published his book Inspiration and Incarnation, he did not submit the manuscript to those of the faculty of WTS who would have opposed his main theses. As a result, the book suffered from lack of probation, if you will. The book has a certain anemia about it that bears the mark of musings, but not of tested scholarship. On the other hand, when John Piper wrote his book critiquing N.T. Wright (The Future of Justification), he sent the whole manuscript to none other than N.T. Wright himself, surely the very best critic who opposed Piper’s position that Piper could find! This shows not only humility on Piper’s part (notice that in N.T. Wright’s response to Piper, entitled simply Justification, he did not extend the courtesy back to Piper, which says a lot about Wright’s ego, in my opinion), but also a desire to get at the truth, and to have it tested against the most rigorous standards possible.

Of course, there is an additional side benefit to doing this sort of thing. If and when the scholar is published, he will already know the vast majority of ways that his book could be criticized, and will therefore not be very surprised by any of the book reviews (except perhaps the positive ones!). Some scholars have been known to sink into a deep depression because their work was not well received, and because they were shocked at the reception it got. This is their own fault for peddling a book to stroke their own ego, and to feed their own idol: the fear of man.

Amandus Polanus’ Syntagma Theologiae Christianae

Now, there’s a catchy title! It has such a familiar ring about it, doesn’t it? Now that everyone knows precisely what I am talking about…

This is a massively huge project (a 10-volume work), of which the director of the program (Christian Locatell) is trying to assess interest. It will need a fair bit of support for the project to get underway. Polanus’ work is nothing more or less than a complete compendium of Reformed theology from the period of Reformed orthodoxy. This work has been buried in the mists of obscurity before now, but it was a very important work indeed in its time. Polanus is one of the most-quoted sources in Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. So show your support for this work, and help get some of the riches of Reformed orthodoxy in print in English!

Recent Book on Trent

There are very few full-length books on the council of Trent. There is an historical reason for that, in that the pope forbade any commentaries from being written about the council, since he wanted to control the reception and implementation of the council. With the opening up of the Vatican archives in the twentieth century, Trent is finally fair game for historians. In this regard, John O’Malley has done it again, and the scope of his achievement is rather mind-blowing to me, especially when one considers how much research he also has done on Vatican II. In both cases, he not only read the complete series of books that document the councils, but also most of the secondary literature as well. This may not seem huge until one realizes that in both cases (Trent and Vatican II), the documentary series of books runs to over 30 volumes. O’Malley certainly seems to have read everything of importance, and the result is a highly compact, incredibly fact-dense, but also very readable history of Trent. I thought I was going to run out of the world’s supply of lead, I underlined so much. Now, his being Roman Catholic means, of course, that I am not going to agree with him in many places. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is an incredible book. It will give you an excellent handle on what happened at Trent. Given the situation of the RCC at the moment, which is in large part determined by Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, it is exceedingly important that we know not only what happened at Trent, but also what did not happen.

He does an especially good job making distinct the actual acts of the council from the reception and perception of the council. His delineation of the political situation was a real eye-opener. The reason why the council took so long and was interrupted, was due to the highly volatile political situation involving the two most powerful political entities (France and the Holy Roman Empire) in their various relations and machinations with the popes of the day.

The only thing I wish he had done was to analyze the Joint Declaration that the Lutherans did with the Roman Catholics. O’Malley seems to think that the entire discussion of whether the anathemas of Trent still apply is to be referred to those ecumenical discussions. I’m not so sure about that, to put it mildly, and I would have liked to see his own evaluation of that in the light of his own mastery of the history of Trent. Still, this is only a minor blemish on a work of fantastic historical value. If you want to know what happened at Trent, you really need to read this book.

Wise Words on Preaching

Timothy Ward concludes his wonderful book on Scripture with some wise words on preaching that I would like to share with folks.

Firstly, he notices that some pastors are so afraid of seeming too arrogant, authoritarian, or tyrannical in the pulpit that they seek to avoid any and all trappings of power in their sermons: “In sermons like these the preacher comes not proclaiming, declaring, exhorting and rebuking, but sharing, musing, reflecting and imagining” (157). He puts his finger directly on the problem with this: “The main problem with preaching in this ‘weak’ style is that it is not weak for any of the same reasons that the apostle Paul judged his own preaching to be weak” (157). His trenchant conclusion on this issue is very quotable indeed: “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent” (158).

Secondly, Ward establishes a very clear, strong and beautiful connection of the Holy Spirit to the Word in preaching: “[W]hat the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (emphasis original, 162). This should have a profound effect on the preacher himself: “The preacher should have grappled with the meaning of the text in his preparation, desiring the Spirit-given purpose of the biblical text to become real in in his own life. He should enter the pulpit as someone who has been chastened by the Spirit, or given new hope, or set out on a new course of action, or renounced a kind of behaviour, or had love rekindled in his heart, that is, responding faithfully to the speech act conveyed by the Scripture on which he is preaching” (164).

Thirdly, Ward connects the private reading of Scripture to the public preaching in an interesting and helpful way: “the healthiest way to relate the two is to think of the individual reading of Scripture as derivative of, and dependent on, the corporate reading and proclamation of Scripture in the Christian assembly” (171). What he means by that is that “good preaching exercises something of a ‘credal’ function in the local church” (172). It helps the people read their Bibles better.

Fourthly and lastly, Ward gives us a good argument for turning to commentaries a bit sooner in our preparation of sermons. This statement is worth quoting in full. Notice how balanced it is, with appropriate qualifications and limitations set on it:

There is certainly merit in not simply turning to learned books to find ‘the answer’, as a lazy short-cut to avoid wrestling with Scripture for myself. Yet increasingly, when reading Scripture, I find myself wanting to turn to a good Bible commentary sooner rather than later. My reason is this: a good commentary will give me an insight into the consensus view on the meaning of each passage held by the generations of believers who have come before me. Working within that framework seems to be a sensible, humble and faithful place to start. For most Christians, who lack the time, resources and perhaps also the inclination to do the research themselves, good preaching will be a crucial means by which that historic consensus on Scripture’s meaning is conveyed to individual believers. For that, of course, the preacher needs to be, as he should be, well educated in biblical, historical and systematic theology. (paragraph break, LK) Nothing that I have just said denies outright that God can cause new light to break out from Scripture, enabling us to see truths in it that our forebears did not” (173-174).

Longman and Carson on Commentaries

The subject of bibliography has always been a favorite of mine, and that of commentaries in particular. I have my own commentary recommendations here. So, I picked up the recent editions (both published in 2013) of Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey.

I will start off with Carson’s survey, because it is so incredibly impressive. I was very hard pressed indeed to think of a single important NT commentary that has appeared since his sixth edition (2007) that Carson has not commented upon, and that is certainly saying something. Almost all the time, I agree with his assessments, as well. He even knew about some commentaries that are not in the mainstream of scholarship, and mentioned them as well. The only commentaries published between 2007 and 2013 of any real importance for pastors that he failed to mention were Pipa’s and Fesko’s commentaries on Galatians. He mentioned McWilliams’s commentary, though, which I did not expect (not because it is not important, but because it would appeal primarily to a fairly niche market). I highly recommend Carson’s study as a great bibliographical help for students and pastors seeking the best commentaries.

I cannot be nearly as positive about Longman’s book. Most of the shortcomings of the previous editions are still there, and there are vast swaths of scholarship that he simply ignores. There is almost no mention of the Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (which has a growing number of volumes in it), which is not only available through Dove Booksellers (and most of them on Amazon as well), but represents extremely important scholarship. He mentions the name Renkema, for instance, in connection with Garrett/House’s commentary on Lamentations, but fails to rate Renkema’s own commentary, which is surely the most important detailed exegetical commentary of Lamentations in existence. Many of the recent International Critical Commentary volumes are missing, as well (Williamson on Isaiah 1-5, Goldingay/Payne on Isaiah 40-55, Mackintosh on Hosea, Salters on Lamentations). On Lamentations, he includes the Daily Study Bible entry, but not the ICC volume. Really? Absolutely none of John Currid’s commentaries are mentioned at all, nor are Dale Ralph Davis’s. Only one of Iain Duguid’s commentaries are mentioned (his Ezekiel volume), and none of John Mackay’s. So, among the four best living Old Testament commentators (in my estimation), only one receives any mention at all, and only for one of his books. I am well aware how huge the field is. It is impossible to include absolutely everything. But the gaps I have mentioned are particularly glaring for Reformed pastors. Reformed pastors should own every commentary published by Currid, Davis, Duguid, and Mackay (who among them have covered a huge amount of the Old Testament).

It is not very well updated, either. For instance, he shows no knowledge that Fox completed his Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs (the second volume was published in 2009). His blurb on the first volume reads precisely the same as it did in the fourth edition (“The only drawback is that it covers just the first nine chapters. Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for the rest of the commentary to appear,” page 78). Oops! He does include a review of every single contribution to the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which he edited. I’m glad he did that, don’t get me wrong, but without some of the other far more important contributions, it feels a bit like an advertisement for his own work. I counted only 35 new entries outside the REBC. There have been quite a few more than 35 new important commentaries written on OT books since 2007.

He still includes glaringly arrogant recommendations of his own commentaries, though not always. His blurb on his Job commentary is much more humble than his blurb on his Proverbs commentary, which I hope is an embarrassment to him (“You can guess my feelings on this commentary. I wouldn’t have published it if I didn’t like it!” p. 79).

There are many, many times when I disagree with his judgment on commentaries. For instance, his assessment of Hamilton’s Exodus commentary, while generally positive (which I do agree with wholeheartedly, as Hamilton’s commentary is one of my favorites), includes a statement that I think is completely off the mark: “a good treatment of the text’s meaning without much further theological or canonical reflection.” And he only gave it 4 stars. If any commentary deserves 5 stars, it’s Hamilton on Exodus, and there is a LOT of theological and canonical reflection. He does not appear to have read this one yet.

This is not much of an update on the fourth edition, has numerous gaps (where Carson has practically none), and has more than hints of self-serving in it. I cannot recommend this book as a reliable guide to commentaries, I am sorry to say. The fourth edition was much better in its time (though still suffering from some of the problems mentioned, the problems were less glaring in older editions) than this fifth edition.

Growing in Devotional Discernment

C.S. Lewis once said:

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

What I wish to talk about today is discernment in reading Christian books so that we will grow. There is a large tendency in evangelicalism and also in Reformed circles, to read nothing but “devotional” literature. By this I mean books like “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose-Driven Life.” I am not going to disparage such books completely, although Warren’s book has some serious theological problems with it. Devotional books can indeed lift our spirits heavenward on occasion, especially the better ones, and by the better ones, I mean primarily the Puritan devotional literature. There is, however, one big difficulty with devotional literature, and it can be illustrated by an analogy. Supposing someone told you that in order for you to experience the emotion of joy, you had to pursue the experience of having the emotion joy. “Just feel joyful” they might say. The problem with this is that it doesn’t work. If you just lost a loved one, for instance, joy may be hard to come by, and it might be even harder to achieve if someone tells you that you need to pursue it. Because then you pursue it in ways that do not tend to bring joy, but rather despair, because when you pursue something and don’t get it, then the pursuit becomes quite counter-productive. The same thing can be said about devotion to God. Telling someone directly that they must be devoted to God emotionally and spiritually is often counter-productive.

It can be much more productive to try an indirect way. Ask yourself this question: what are some reasons why I should love God? Well, look at who God is. You can’t look at God very long before you realize just how beautiful He is, with all His marvelous Trinitarian attributes, dazzling in their multi-faceted unity. Similarly, look at what He has done, and you can’t help but love a God who loves us that much, and has shown us that much grace. But do you notice what we just did in asking those questions? We have moved out of the realm of most devotional literature, and instead entered the realm of systematic theology. We asked questions about who God is and what God has done. Those are the primary questions that systematic theology seeks to address. The answers to these questions give us reasons to sing. The promote what my father lovingly calls “doxological didacticism.” This brings us back to the quotation by C.S. Lewis. What Lewis was getting at was that the indirect approach to devotion (getting at devotion to God through theology) is often more effective than trying to do it directly.

The problem is that most Christians are absolutely terrified of “systematic theology.” They think that they cannot understand any of it. They think that it is irrelevant and impractical. What I would say to that is that any theology that is not understandable, or that is irrelevant and impractical is not good theology, but rather bad theology! The Puritans used to define theology itself as the science of living for God. That obviously has a very strong practical component in the very definition of theology itself. I would go even farther. A systematic theology that is impractical is not even theology at all. All true theology is practical and useful. Theology that is not understandable is not theology but gobbledy-gook.

Here is another way of thinking about systematic theology. Systematic theology asks one question many times, and that question is, “What does the Bible as a whole say about x?” You can fill in “x” with any theological topic you want. The process of comparing Scripture to Scripture will result in a larger picture of what the Bible says about God, man, sin, Jesus Christ, redemption accomplished, redemption applied, the church, the sacraments, the last things, and other topics. Systematic theology is something that we do all the time, even though we may not call it that. Whenever you ask a question about who God is or what He has done, you are engaging in systematic theology. The word “systematic” simply means that after you have compared Scripture with Scripture, you will wind up with a system, or a pattern. The Bible itself commands us to do this. “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2Ti 1:13 NKJ) This passage tells us that there is a pattern, or system, to what Scripture teaches, and that we are to hold it fast. Obviously we cannot hold it fast, unless we know what it is. It is not a system or pattern that we impose on it from outside the Scripture. Rather, it is the pattern that the Scripture itself suggests. Jude tells us to contend for the faith once for all given to the saints. There is a special sense given to the words “the faith.” The Faith in that sense is what we confess, a body of doctrine. Whether you look at Jude’s way of putting it or Paul’s way of putting it, the Bible commands us to engage in systematic theology. It commands us to search the Scriptures to see what the Scripture says about various things.

All this to say that if we as teachers in the church are not growing by asking these questions, then we risk several unmitigated disasters: 1. We will not pass on this pattern of sound teaching to our children, and their knowledge of the Christian faith will be very fragmented, and they will therefore be unable to cope with all the challenges they will face in a secular world (they will be swept away by people who have a more coherent system of thought!). 2. We ourselves will not have discernment when it comes to new books and ideas that come out. Systematic theology gives you a core of knowledge to which you will always be adding, and to which you can compare any new thing that comes along. If you don’t have that core, you will have almost no discernment whatsoever. 3. Our teaching itself will be fragmented, disjointed, and illogical. It will have a much more “stream of consciousness” feeling about it. We do not want Faulkner theology. 4. We will stagnate in our growth as Christians, because we will not be learning how to read our Bibles better, and we will not be challenged by anything. We will want everything spoon-fed to us. We will be dipping our toes in but never learning how to swim.

So read books that will make you stretch. Read books where you will not automatically understand everything that is said, but where you have to grow in order to understand. Read books where you might need a dictionary of theology terms handy. Read Calvin’s Institutes, Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, and get what you can out of it, which is a lot more than you might think. Then ask questions so that you will grow. If you are not growing, then your students won’t grow either. So work through that tough bit of theology with a pipe between your teeth and a pencil in your hand! You might find your heart singing the praises of God more often than you might think.

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