Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

The ‘Second Mark’  of a “Healthy Church” is Biblical Theology (see Nine Marks of Healthy Church), but because of its sweeping synthesis of the Bible, Biblical Theology is also one of the most confusing disciplines to church members.  At least, this has been my experience introducing the ‘Big Picture’ of the Bible to the churches I have served.

Enter Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.  In April, Michael Lawrence’s new book will come out, and hopefully serve as a tool introduce and clarify this critically-important discipline.  Here is Crossway‘s description:

Capitol Hill Baptist Church associate pastor Michael Lawrence contributes to the IXMarks series as he centers on the practical importance of biblical theology to ministry. He begins with an examination of a pastor’s tools of the trade: exegesis and biblical and systematic theology. The book distinguishes between the power of narrative in biblical theology and the power of application in systematic theology, but also emphasizes the importance of their collaboration in ministry.

Having laid the foundation for pastoral ministry, Lawrence uses the three tools to build a biblical theology, telling the entire story of the Bible from five different angles. He puts biblical theology to work in four areas: counseling, missions, caring for the poor, and church/state relations. Rich in application and practical insight, this book will equip pastors and church leaders to think, preach, and do ministry through the framework of biblical theology.

This forthcoming book looks like an excellent tool for introducing biblical theology to church members who have questions on why Biblical Theology is important and how to put the Bible together.  It goes beyond just the basics too, relating the big picture of the Bible to everyday life– ‘counseling, missions, caring for the poor, and church/state relations.’  Since biblical illiteracy is one of the church’s greatest obstacles for making mature disciples, encouraging biblical theology (read: a comprehensive understanding of the Bible) should be a priority of every pastor, church leader, and church member.

April 30, 2010 is its anticipated release date.  Mark it down!  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

9 Purposes of a Healthy Church: Reflections from Ephesians

The Church exists…

To Display the Glory and Grace of God (Ephesians 3:9-12)

To Unify the Saints of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6)

To Equip the Saints for the Work of Service (Ephesians 4:7-11)

To Grow Together in Grace & Truth (Ephesians 4:13-16)

To Learn How to Walk Together in Love (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

To Walk Together in Spirit-Filled Wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-18)

To Do Life Together with the Family of God (Ephesians 5:19-6:10; cf. Titus 2:1-10)

To Fight Together Against the Powers of Darkness (Ephesians 6:10-17)

To Pray for One Another Always and For All Things (Ephesians 6:18-20)

May we all purpose do so by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Saturation: The Third Mark of a Healthy Church Member

What does it mean to be Gospel-Saturated? 

That is what we considered on Sunday night — this post is a few days late — when we took another look at Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?  His third mark of a healthy church member is to be filled to overflowing with the gospel of Jesus Christ–that is, Gospel-Saturated. 

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine which leads to debauchery [or dissipation] but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  If I had to take a guess at what gospel-saturation looked like, I would say that just as someone is under the influence of alcohol, gospel-saturation would look like someone who is visibly manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ–after all, to be most “Spiritual” is to be most Christ-centered (cf John 16:13-14).  Consider the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  

In thinking about growing in gospel-saturation, here are five suggestions to help you grow in your understanding and application of the gospel. 

1. Memorize the Gospel.   Obviously, your confidence in the gospel is only as good as your knowledge of it.  The best way to do this of course is to read the Bible, because from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation, the whole Bible is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet, for a new Christian or one who has not spent a lot of time in the Bible, one of the best things you can do is memorize the turning points of the gospel– things like that God is the holy creator who made us for his glory, that all mankind is sinful and desrving punishment, that the sovereign plan of salvation has been in effect since the fall, and that Jesus Christ’s law-fulfilling life, substitionary death, and justifying resurrection and victorious ascension have secured salvation for all those who repent from sin and believe on Him.  This would be a start.

Here are a few other resources to help you memorize the key turning points of the gospel.  Select one and memorize it–and more importantly memorize the Scriptures contained in each–so that you can better know the gospel and share it with others.

2. Learn to summarize the Gospel in 30 Seconds.  Call this the Elevator Gospel.  If you were in an elevator, on the 95th floor of Sears Tower and the cable snapped, could you share the gospel in the 30 seconds you had before impending death?  Or for those twitteratis out there, could you tweet the gospel in 140 characters or less?  These guys did

Now hear me: THE POINT IS NOT TO SHRINK THE GOSPEL!!!  Or to think that the gospel can be distilled into less than the full canon of Scripture.  But, THE POINT IS to so imbibe and embrace the gospel that you are able to communicate it at any time, anywhere, to anyone.  The goal is to arm ourselves with the gospel so that we can preach to ourselves or witness to another, which leads us to our next two points.

3. Preach the Gospel to yourself.  The gospel does little good for others, when it is not first changing your life.  Because we sin repeatedly every moment of every day, we need to learn how to apply the gospel to ourselves.  To paraphrase Martyn LLoyd-Jones, we need to spend less time listening to ourselves, and more time preaching to ourselves.  This is the model of David in Psalm 103:1, where he commands his soul to bless the Lord (cf Psalm 42-43).  Yet, to do this we must fill our minds with heart-stirring gospel truths.  As you seek to preach the gospel to yourself, consider just a few verses to begin with: Psalm 103:1-5; Lamentations 3:21-26; Romans 5:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16-21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:9-2:2.  For more gospel-saturating verse suggestions, see Desiring God’s Fighter Verses.

4. Think about the Gospel.  This sounds simplistic and obvious, but really, how much time do you think about the gospel?  For you own sanctification, gospel meditation is necessary.  As you encounter sin, you must take time to see how the Cross of Jesus Christ is the singular, God-given means of forgiving your sin, cleansing your righteousness, and building up your faith.  See C.J. Mahaney’s book, The Cross-Centered Life, for more here.  At the same time, gospel-rumination prepares you for creatively sharing the gospel with others. 

What do I mean?  Well, I can remember the time that walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, coming back from a Campus Crusade evangelistic outreach, I was approached by a jewelry salesman offering som “mighty fine watches and rings.”   Like a dunce, I said no thanks and moved on.  I thought later, what if I had replied, “No, I am not interested in any of your jewelry, because I already have the pearl of greatest price!  Can I tell you about him?”  Now that would have been quite an evangelistic conversation starter, but because I wasn’t thinking that way I missed that opportunity.  So, we must learn to think (creatively) about the gospel, so that as we fill our minds with Scripture and meditate on the gospel, we will be more equipped for the next traveling salesman.

5. Order your life around the Gospel.  In What is a Healthy Church Member? (p. 43), Thabiti suggests that Christians should order their daily and weekly routines in such a way that they are constantly on the look out for gospel-sharing opportunities.  Whether at the grocery, Starbucks, the gym, the neighborhood park, or the local newstand–if those still exist– we should look for people with whom we can build relationships and share the good news of Jesus Christ.  In doing this, we are fulfilling the Great Commission and letting the Holy Spirit work in us to confirm the gospel we believe. 

Now, with these five suggestions in place, I can already hear some detractor saying that I have shrunk the gospel by advocating a 30 second, memorized list of verses.  Maybe.  But that is not my aim, so much as I am trying to think how we, as finite witnesses, can better know and make know the gospel.   In sum, I am simply trying to think through ways of practically applying the gospel to daily life.  I would love to hear how you do it, and how we can better become gospel-saturated Christians.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology: The Second Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Whether you know it or not, you are a theologian!  

Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), you are irreversibly created to think thoughts about God.    But whether or not you are a good ‘theologian’ is another story.   While everyone thinks about God — even the atheist who denies his existence — the unanswered question is “Do you think true and right thoughts about the triune God who made you?” 

Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:47 reminds us that the Word of God “is not merely a trifle, it is your life!”  Accordingly, we who want to grow in our relationship with God, who want to be healthy church members are those who must grow in our knowledge and love for the “macro-story” of the Bible.  In truth, our salvation and knowledge of God depend on it. 

Studying the second mark of Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), I suggested 5 ways to grow as  “biblical theologians,”  and I share them with you now:

(1) Find a Bible reading plan and set a course to read the Bible cover-to-cover. This exercise will familiarize yourself with God’s wise and gracious plan of salvation and insure that you see over the course of a year or two all that God has done in this age and in the age to come.  There are many helpful reading plans that can set your pace, as well as, resources to shed light on the Bible as you read. D.A. Carson’s two books,  For the Love of God: Volume 1 and For the Love of God: Volume 2 are excellent companions to your journey through the Bible.  Likewise The ESV Study Bible is another excellent reference for reading the Bible.

(2) Read an introductory book on Biblical Theology.  If you are new to the idea of biblical theology, Vaughan Robert’s book, God’s Big Picture is the best introductory work on the subject.  An intermediate work that also has an informative section on how to interpret the Bible is Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan.  For advanced “biblical theologians,” Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology is the standard.   

Finally, whether you are a novice or an expert in biblical theology, let me encourage you to invest $35 in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology — no single resource is better written to help you see the broad strokes of the biblical story.  Its short treatments of every book of the Bible and hundreds of articles–again short–will illumine many key themes and ideas present in the Bible, but often missed on account of unfamiliarity.  In the word of Nike, Just Do It!   

If you have kids, God’s Big Picture Story Bible is just as critical.  Rejecting the moralism that fills so many children’s story Bibles, God’s Big Picture Story Bible synthesizes the Bible into 40 managable chapters–short sentences and captivating pictures.  It takes the biblical themes of God’s King, God’s People, and God’s Place and shows how they all relate to Jesus.  It is excellent! 

(3) Read the Bible with eyes open to the intra-textual connections between the OT – NT connections.  Looking for ways that the OT promises, prepares, and pictures the coming of Christ is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Old Testament Scriptures.  How else can we read the Old Testament, but as New Covenant Christians.  See John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-49; 1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 for examples of how the New Testament authors read the OT. 

(4) In your Bible, write down personal cross-references when you make any inter-textual connection.  For instance, when you see Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23, or when you read the story of the serpent being lifted up in the desert in Numbers 21, scribble in the margin the John 3:14-16 connection.  There is no better way to get around the Bible then to install a personal set of markers and street signs that will help you remember that you have been here before.  Yes, this does presuppose that you are reading the Bible :-) 

(5) Learn from the experts.  Matthew, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Jude, indeed all the NT authors were Biblical Theologians par excellence.  Fortunately for us, they have left us with plenty of samples of how to relate the Christ of the NT to the promises of the OT.  For instance, notice the way Matthew begins his gospel applying the OT to Christ; read Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 where he traces biblical history from Abraham to Solomon; study Paul’s sermons in Acts 13 and 17 to see his reading of the OT (cf. Rom. 4; 9-11; Gal. 3-4); or examine the book of Hebrews and the way it presents Christ as superceding all of the OT offices, sacrifices, and promises. 

Finally, if Biblical Theology is still a mystery, let me encourage you to simply keep reading.  The Spirit of Christ will open your eyes to the truth of God’s word as you come to the Bible with humility and faith.  As Paul told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). 

God has not freed us from thinking, but he has promised to help.  He has promised that his word will never return void (Isa 55:10-11), that the one who studies it will be refreshed and rewarded (Ps. 19:7-11), and that he given us his Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth (1 John 2:27).   Remember: the men who confounded the world with the wisdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ were ordinary, uneducated fishermen who had simply been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). 

May that be said of us too!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Expositional Listening: The First Mark of a Healthy Church Member

9781433502125tThabiti Anyabwile, pastor of the First Baptist Church (Cayman Island), has written a very helpful book for local churches and church members.  Addressing concerns about the spiritual health of church members, Pastor Anyabwile in his book What is a Healthy Church Member?  gives 10 corporate disciplines that mark a healthy member of Christ’s body.

Last night, the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), looked at the first mark: Healthy Church Members Are Expositional Listeners.

Here are the five application points from the evening service.  They are ways that Christians can grow stronger in their understanding and application of God’s word.  I encourage you to incorporate them into your own weekly routine and to challenge others to do the same.

  1. Read, pray, and prepare BEFORE the Sunday message.  Take time to read the passage of Scripture that will be preached on the coming Sunday.  If you don’t know what that passage is, ask your pastor and tell them that you will be praying for and preparing to hear his message.  (For those at Calvary, the next sermon will cover Colossians 1:24 – 2:5).
  2. Take notes DURING the message.  Purchase a good notebook and take notes each week.  Over a lifetime of expositional listening, you should acquire a virtual commentary on the entire Bible as your pastor preaches the whole counsel of God.  Pastors: Preach the whole counsel of God! (Acts 20:27).
  3. Tell someone what you leared AFTER the message.   Either for the purpose of evangelism, edification, or further understanding, take time to talk to someone about the sermon you heard last Sunday.  This can be a great way to invite someone to church or to minister God’s truth to another believer.
  4. Send your pastor an email to clarify a question.  The Lord has given pastors and teachers to the local church so that the saints may be equipped for the work of service and grow in the Word of God (cf. Eph 4:11-16).  So, in other words, God has placed men in churches who know the Bible and love to share it with others.  Take advantage of these gifted leaders, and learn from them, so that you too may be a greater biblical witness.
  5. Listen to sermons from faithful expositors on the Internet, radio, or video.  Since we live in an electronic age, one where God’s word is so readily available online, let me urge you not to miss out on some of today’s premier Bible teachers.  Below is a list of some of my favorite preachers — men who have proven themselves to be faithful expositors of God’s word.

Alistair Begg is pastor of Parkside Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  Pastor Begg is a Scottish pastor who has come stateside.  He is a faithful and illuminating teacher of God’s word with a witty sense of humor.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  Pastor Mark is a truth-telling and big-hearted pastor whose commitment to the local church has shaped a generation of young pastors–including Pastor Anyabwile, who formerly served with him in D.C.  Pastor Mark will often preach large portions of Scripture, even whole books of the Bible.  His book-length sermons have been collected in a two-volume work called The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept.

John McArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California, is perhaps the premier biblical expositor alive today.  His commentaries on the New Testament are a treasure-trove of linguistic-historical-cultural exposition of the Bible.  His expositional preaching is filled with biblical insight and truth.

Russell Moore is a teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) and Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary.  Dr. Moore is a gifted biblical theologian whose penetrating exposition illumines the Scripture with captivating references that range from Wonder Woman to the Wal-Mart Breakroom

John Piper, pastor of Bethelehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, describes preaching as “expositional exultation.”  As seen in Nehemiah 8:12, understanding God’s word results in joy.   Pastor Piper’s siren call for joy in God is seen powerfully at work in his expositional preaching.

Finally, two preachers who are dead but still speak through the medium of recorded sermons are W.A. Criswell (1909-2002) and Adrian Rogers (1931-2005).  Standing for the truth in an age of modernist drift, Criswell and Rogers preached the word of God with expositional power and consistency.  Older generations in the church will remember these biblical stalwarts; younger generations need to learn of these spiritual forebears.

This week I pray that our church and your church would be filled with expositional listening.

For the glory of Christ and his church, dss