Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

Eight Principles for Holding the Truth in Love

hands.jpegAt the end of 2 Peter 3:18 Peter prays that the church might grow in grace and knowledge. Truly, when that happens Christians not only learn truths about God, they come to know God and share his character through studied communion with him. Likewise, in becoming like our heavenly Father we learn what is most important to God, and how, in our fallen world, can and should give grace to people who do not perceive as we do (rightly or wrongly) what is most important.

Extending grace to others has application in all areas of life, including theology. Yet, too often in an attempt to give grace to others, well-meaning (and well-deceived) Christians can compromise the truth. Therefore, learning to contend for the faith while growing in the fruit of the Spirit can be a difficult. Yet, nothing is more important than knowing how to hold the sound doctrines God has given to us.

lutzer

On this subject, how to hold the truth in love, there are very few books. Albert Mohler’s article on Theological Triage is instrumental here, but for books, the list is short. One book that should be included, however, is Erwin Lutzer’s The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians. In this book published in 1998, Lutzer considers nine different theological debates. They include

  • Is Christ Truly God?
  • Is Christ Truly Man?
  • Was Mary the Mother of God?
  • Was Peter the First Pope?
  • Justification: By Faith, Sacraments, or Both?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about the Lord’s Supper?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about Baptism?
  • Predestination or Free Will?
  • Can a Saved Person Ever Be Lost?

With pastoral wisdom, Lutzer explains various angles to the subject and argues with great winsomeness for his own position. In fact, showing the complexity of the predestination and free will question, he spends four chapters, considering differences that arose at different points in church history. Continue reading

Behold *the Man*: B.B. Warfield on the Perfection of Christ

raphael-nogueira-519766-unsplashWhat a straightedge is to a carpenter’s board, Jesus is to the human soul.
— Fred Zaspel —

In his summary of B.B. Warfield’s theology, Fred Zaspel observes the unique way Warfield presents the humanity of Jesus Christ. Instead of just showing the weaknesses and limitations of Christ, he portrayed our Lord as fully and wonderfully human. In other words, while defending the full deity of Christ, he also insisted on capturing the full and glorious humanity of Christ. Jesus came to identify himself with fallen humanity, yet in himself he was humanity par excellence. Jesus was the perfect man and an image of what mankind was supposed to be and, amazingly, what humanity will be once again, when we see our resurrected Lord.

To get a sense of what Warfield’s view of Christ’s humanity consider these three truths, accompanied by Warfield quotations. Continue reading

How the Trinity Shines Light on Difficult Doctrines

light.jpegFree will.

The doctrine of election.

The New Testament use of the Old.

The problem of evil.

These are just a few of the most complex issues we face when we read the Bible and formulate doctrine. They are debated by well-meaning and biblically-committed Christians, and often they leave us perplexed, if not flummoxed, at how to understand them and apply them to life.

Certainly, there are mysteries related to each of these doctrines, but in God’s revealed word, we still find ample evidence for explaining them as Scripture teaches. That said, I believe it is impossible to understand any of these doctrines rightly without a self-conscious awareness of how they all relate to the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or, to put it the other way, how a robust doctrine of the Trinity sheds light on these doctrines that relate God to his world and his Word. Let me try to illustrate. Continue reading

“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

Systematic Theology in Military Garb: B.B. Warfield on The Theological Task

warfieldThis year I am reading through the works of Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield. As I find various important points or quotes, I’ll try to put them up here. Today I offer this first quotation that pertains to the task of systematic theology and its relation to exegesis and biblical theology.

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“The Idea of Systematic Theology,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii 1896, pp 243–71; reprinted in The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68. Cf. Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield81).

Using military imagery, Warfield explains how systematic theology takes the recruits of exegetical theology and the companies formed by biblical theology and marches them into battle.

The immediate work of exegesis may be compared to the work of a recruiting officer: it draws out from the mass of mankind the men who are to constitute the army. Biblical Theology organizes these men into companies and regiments and corps, arranged in marching order and accoutered for service. Systematic Theology combines these companies and regiments and corps into an army in a single and unitary whole, determined by its own all-pervasive principle. It, too, is composed of men—the same men which were recruited by Exegetics; but it is composed of these men, not as individuals merely, but in their due relations to the other men of their companies and regiments and corps.

The simile is far from a perfect one; but it may illustrate the mutual relations of the disciplines, and also, perhaps, suggest the historical element that attaches to Biblical Theology, and the element of all inclusive systematization which is inseparable from Systematic Theology. It is just this element, determining the spirit and therefore the methods of Systematic Theology, which, along with its greater inclusiveness, discriminates it from all forms of Biblical Theology, the spirit of which is purely historical. (The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68)

Systematic theology is an imminently biblical discipline. And as Warfield’s vivid illustration reports, any systematic theology that does not recruit from the scriptures and march with the organized companies of biblical theology has little power to defeat the dark armies of this world.

With that in mind, may we be biblical systematic theologians. And may our Bible reading grow into a strong army of systematic theology.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo credit: Banner of Truth

Somewhere Between History and Fantasy: Read(ing) Genesis 1–11 Theologically

greg-rakozy-38802Few places in Scripture are more important, more debated, or more theologically-rich than Genesis 1–11. As to their importance, they introduce the Bible to God and his purposes in the world; as to debate, they were polemical from the start, as Moses wrote these chapters to combat other creation stories in the ancient Near East; and as to theology, these eleven chapters introduce nearly every doctrine found in the rest of Scripture.

It is to this last point, the theological message of Genesis 1–11, that I want to address. Affirming the historicity of God’s direct creation of mankind on the sixth day, it seems the best way to read these chapters is as a poetical—dare I say, fantastical—introduction of Israel to the God of Creation, who happens to be their covenant Lord.

Thus, as Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen rightly assess, citing the earlier observation of Gerhard von Rad (Genesis: A Commentary, 46): “The creation story is so rich in meaning that ‘it cannot be easily over-interpreted theologically'” (The Drama of Scripture28). Indeed, from the creation of the world to its subsequent recreation after the Flood, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are seminal ground for all that will grow up in the rest of Scripture. For the careful biblical theologian, these chapters are worth a life-long study, and what follows are simply seed-thoughts that can and should be traced back to the beginning.  Continue reading

How Justification by Faith Alone Works: Remembering the Reformation as We Enter 2018

samuel-zeller-432101.jpg8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:8–10 —

Few things are more important than getting the doctrine of justification right. Because we are made by God, for God’s glory, and yet find ourselves as objects of his wrath by our very nature, there is no more important question than this: “What must I do to be saved?” How one answers that question will do more to determine the course of a person’s life, not to mention eternity, than anything else.

Indeed, one’s standing before God is what the Protestant Reformation was all about. And though 2018 leaves behind the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel is as important today as at any time in history. Mass confusion remains about how one is reconciled to God—both inside the church and out. And thus it remains wise and good to learn from the Reformers about justification by faith alone and to learn how justification by faith alone is the engine to a life of good, God-pleasing works. Continue reading

Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Canonical Reading

bill-williams-3302And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
— Genesis 1:28 —

Few commands in Scripture are more important than the first one: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In Genesis 1 we learn God made mankind in his image and after his likeness. The purpose of this “imaging” is disputed and multi-faceted (as I’ve described here). However, it is clear that the first command is to be fruitful and multiply, a pregnant command if there ever was one.

In fact, from the placement of this command—the first chapter of the first book in the Bible—we see how programmatic this command is. It is fundamental to being human, and therefore it applies to every one of us. At the same time, from a canonical reading of Scripture we learn how this phrase repeats and develops, so that it bears significance for more than just having babies. In other words, though it never loses this meaning (child-bearing is an implicit part of humanity), the progress of revelation also shows how fruitfulness relates to the Word of God, regeneration, and the Great Commission.

So, in what follows, I will list out many places where this language (“be fruitful and multiply”) occurs, with a few comments along the way.  Then, I will list four ways that reading Genesis 1:28 canonically helps us understand this verse and the whole structure of the Bible. Continue reading

The Arm of the Lord: From Moses to Isaiah to Christ

robert-nyman-442994In the Bible, the “arm of the Lord” is a vivid image of God’s saving power. But is it more than that? In Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5, the prophet tells how God will save his people by his own arm. In context, this builds on an important theme in Isaiah 40–66. But it also amplifies the promise of the messiah. Indeed, as we study “the arm of the Lord” across the Bible, I believe we begin to see how the “arm of the Lord” leads to the Son of God, who as Hebrews 10:5 says, citing Psalm 40, has received a body prepared by God.

Indeed, by better understanding the origin, development, and goal of this phrase (“the arm of the Lord”), we will gain greater insight into God’s Word and the work he planned for Christ to accomplish—namely the salvation of a people from all nations. Even more, we learn something about how the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are intended to direct us toward God in Christ.

So to organize our thoughts, lets consider the arm of the Lord in eight steps. Continue reading