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Posts Tagged ‘systematic theology’


You might think it a challenge to review a book it took 3 years to read. You would be right. In this case it took 3 years to read a relatively short book. This was no John Frame tome. The problem was not the book, but my life. Other projects and books seemed of greater importance. This speaks not to the quality of this book but of the choices we all have to make.

The book of which I speak is Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson. Though these two friends of Scottish descent and upbringing share a common love for Christ, they do have some differences in theology. These differences are not apparent here, nor should they be. It would be interesting if they wrote a book discussing their views of the Church and sacraments. But they wrote about Jesus Himself in this book.

You cannot really tell that two men wrote this book. Sometimes such books make references to this. For instance, sharing personal stories attributed to one of them. I don’t recall any of that (if it is there, it would be in the early chapters I read 2-3 years ago).

I would describe this book as a popular-level biblical theology focus on Christology developing 7 important titles or names of Christ in the Scripture.

“Standing in various pulpits in our native land of Scotland we have often seen words visible to the preacher but hidden from the congregation: ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (John 12:21).” from the Preface indicating their purpose.

It is popular-level because you don’t need to be an academic, professional or theology nerd to understand this book. As pastors, their pastoral hearts and minds are on display as they put the cookies where the average Joe and Jane can reach them. This does not mean the book is superficial, it certainly is not. But it is in “plain English” so ordinary people can understand and benefit from the book.

It is a biblical theology because it traces each of these themes through the Scriptures. Systematic Theology summarizes a doctrine. This means it can flatten out nuance, but it keeps you from heresy. Biblical Theology, when done well, shows the development through the progress of revelation and its importance to the history of redemption. It is the basis for the summary, such that they are meant to go hand in hand. This is not mere proof-texting but developing your theology from the texts in question. This book is an example of Biblical Theology done well.

It deals with 7 titles of Christ to develop our understanding of Christ, 7 being the number of completion so (okay, I’m kidding about this last part). I wish there were more chapter. One of the reasons I started the book was due to an Advent series that addressed some of these, particularly the Seed of the Woman. Over the last few years a quote or two from this book would pop up in a sermon. In addition to Seed of the Woman, they cover Jesus as True Prophet, Great High Priest, Conquering King, the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant and the Lamb on the Throne.

Each of these has great redemptive significance and they do a great job of fleshing that out for us in the book’s 180ish pages. That means the chapters are a tad long for our microwave, ADD generation. But the pages aren’t big, or writing dense so you can do it. Really!

They start with the protoevangelium, the Seed of the Woman. In other words they start in Genesis, in the Garden. In doing so they instruct the reader on why we have a Christ-centered approach to understanding the Old Testament from the words of Jesus to 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus. As Ferguson notes in another book, From the Mouth of God, the OT is a development of this theme from Genesis 3:15. How is the coming of the Seed of the Woman to crush the head of the serpent developed, and resisted. This conflict initiated and sustained by Satan, that old dragon, marks all of history. Tucked into this chapter they talk about Jesus as the Second Adam so it is a 2 for 1 deal. The Seed of the Woman crushes the head of the serpent by doing what the First Adam failed to do.

Over the next 3 chapters they delve into one of my favorite subjects, the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King. Jesus reveals to us the way of salvation as our Prophet, is the way as our Priest who sacrifices Himself for us and continues to intercedes for us, and applies that salvation to us by subduing our hearts and then protecting & expanding His kingdom in this world. In many ways this reveals the on-going ministry of congregations and pastors (a book for another time).

In the chapter covering the Son of Man, they spend a great deal of time in Daniel 7 before they get to the Son of Man sayings in the New Testament. The focus is not on a man but on Jesus’ role as “man as he was created to be”, an eschatalogical figure who ushers in the kingdom of God.

The road to the Son of Man coming before the Ancient of Days runs through the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. His is a representative suffering. He suffers not for His own sin but for the sins of others. He suffers not to deliver Himself but to deliver others. Before the crown comes the cross. This theme is developed in each of the last 4 chapters. They want us to grasp the theology of the cross and reject a theology of glory. Just as Jesus suffered here, we will too. But just as He was exalted, we are exalted in union with Him. But our life here is marked with suffering just as His was.

The final chapter focuses on the final book of the Bible, Revelation, to develop the title of the Lamb upon the Throne. Revelation is all about this Lamb who reigns for the comfort of His Church in conflict with the counterfeit trinity and church.

They help us to see Jesus more clearly through their examination of these 7 names. The reader will better understand the nature of Christ’s work for us. They will better understand how the Bible fits together. Begg & Ferguson have produced a book well worth reading. Tolle lege!

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This post will look at the third and last position discussed in Baptism: Three Views.  First, Dr. Bruce Ware used a (truncated) systematic theological approach to defend believers’ baptism.  Then Dr. Sinclair Ferguson used a biblical theological approach to defend infant baptism.  Now Dr. Anthony Lane will use a historical theology approach to defend what he called the dual practice approach.

Here is not what he means- most Reformed paedobaptist churches do not bind the consciences of credobaptist members.  They do not exercise church discipline for not practicing the doctrine of the church.  Most often such members are not eligible for office, however.  Some baptist churches also recognize the infant baptism of members, refusing to bind their consciences.  Those members often are not permitted to hold office due to their divergent views.  This is not “dual practice” per se, but extending grace to those who differ on a non-essential.

Dual Practice occurs in denominations, or congregations, that have no official practice but allow freedom to parents on the issue of whether or not to baptize or dedicate their children.  When I was between pastoral calls, I was open to considering the Evangelical Free Church since they were considering removing pre-milennialism from their statement of faith.  But they eventually decided to keep that, ruling me out.  Congregations there are free to practice each according to the theology of the pastor & lay leaders.  In the Evangelical Covenant, mentioned by Ware, they officially practice both based on the desire/convictions of the parents.  Ware was opposed to this, seeing it as binding his conscience.  As a good Southern Baptist, he has no problem binding the conscience of others forcing them to be baptized if they want to become members.  My mother-in-law was forced to do this to join an independent Baptist church. So his comments come across to me as hypocritical.

Back to Lane’s views.  He states that Marcel’s defense of infant baptism (which was very helpful to me) led him into believers’ baptism.  And then Beasley-Murray’s book led him into dual practice despite the author’s intention.  He sounds to me to be a contrarian.  The NT texts, he says, teach a converts’ baptism.  Baptism, in his view, is part of the conversion process and that there is not true conversion without it.  He believes the NT is silent on the issue of infants, and believes that this could be part of a biblical practice of converts’ baptism.  He thinks that some household baptisms involved infants, but this is not conclusive.

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I just finished Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology after laboring over it far too long.  I just haven’t had as much time to read as I like (this may shock some of you who think I read too much).  It is a collection of messages from one the Together for the Gospel conferences (sample pages).

I found it to be a very uneven book.  There was a great disparity in the length of the chapters, as though some speakers were given far more time than others.  Some of the shortest chapters were from those I most wanted to hear.  Yet, some of those (while good) sounded an awful lot like other messages they’ve done.  Since I don’t preach on the conference circuit, I am probably expecting too much for them to come up with a new message to fit the occasion.  When I was ‘only’ doing pulpit supply during my transition, I would preach the same text a few times, tweaking it depending on the congregation.  But no one travels hundreds, or thousands, of miles to hear me speak.  This was a tad disappointing.

The book kicks off with a rather long chapter on Sound Theology by Ligon Duncan.  He defends systematic theology as necessary for the life of the church.  It is popular today (and most days) to decry systems, but we should be able to summarize doctrine to promote understanding of the whole.  Preaching and teaching should be both expositional and theological, and Duncan notes.   This is, in part, because our theology must be biblical.  Yet, you don’t build a doctrine on only one text.  That is a HOV line to heresy.

“Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.”  John Murray

Duncan notes some problematic views that have popped up.  His charity is on display in that he doesn’t name names.  His goal is not to stigmatize anyone, but point out flaws in certain positions which tend to be anti-theological.

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Non-sermon related reading has fallen off the grid the last few months.  I feel like I’ve been reading this book for the better part of 6 months.  Not quite, but I have finally finished Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation.  I already reviewed the first 2 sections which dealt with the basics of interpretation and his argument for a gospel-centered hermeneutic, and how various methods of Bible interpretation have eclipsed the gospel throughout church history.

The final section, Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics, was the most difficult for me to read.  At times he covered areas of philosophy with which I was unfamilar.  So, I was occasionally thinking ‘huh?” (particularly speech-act theory).  But it was still profitable at times, just not as profitable as the previous 2 sections.

Among the areas that were helpful were his discussion of typology, and Dr. John Currid’s criteria for true typology.  This criteria is affirmed by Keller & Clowney in the DMin course available through RTS on I-Tunes.  He was also helpful in discussion contexting (his simpler term for contextualization).  The missionary mandate, as he argues, mandates this.  He also includes a chapter on the interaction and relationship between biblical and systematic theology.  He talks a great deal about how both Calvin and Luther viewed Bible interpretation, and the role of the Spirit (particularly Calvin on this front)

His Epilogue contains a few good quotes to sum all this up:

Hermeneutics is about reading God’s word with understanding so taht we might be conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

The purpose of God’s word is to bring us to God through the salvation that is in Christ.  It does this by revealing his plan and purpose, by conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and by providing the shape of the presence of God with his people through the Spirit of Christ.

So, pastors and those who regularly teach God’s people should find Goldsworthy’s book helpful as we seek to fulfill our calling.  As the ancient children’s song says, “take up and read.”

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I was disappointed to see that Wayne Grudem backtracked on his baptismal compromise.  At the time he discussed this in his Systematic Theology, he was in an Evangelical Free Church.  According to Grudem (since I didn’t know this and could be wrong) they accept people baptized as infants into membership without baptizing them again.  They are the only denomination that does this, and he now thinks this is a mistake although the EFC has maintained peace with this compromise.  I do believe that Bethlehem Baptist, where Piper is pastor, does this as well, though such people cannot be in leadership.  The Acts 29 Network also allows some freedom among its churches on this practice.

If you read my other posts on baptism, you can see that I believe the Bible teaches 1st generation Christians to be baptized at conversion (based on profession of faith), and to baptize their children (as Paul discusses Abraham in Romans 4).  Where some go wrong, I think, is in forgetting that Paul’s letters were written to 1st generation Christians who were baptized on profession.  So in 1 Corinthians they all had put on Christ.  But this would not rule out infant baptism for a man who believed the Old Testament Scriptures are useful to train us in righteousness.

In my denomination this is becoming a problem.  In our church plants many families choose not to baptize their children.  So the question becomes… do we put them on church rolls?  Are they considered a part of the visible Church?  Obviously credo-baptists have a difficult time calling them part of the visible church (consistently) if they have not been baptized- the sign of entrance into the community of Jesus.

In our congregation, we do not have unanimity on this issue.  Our standard for membership is that you have been baptized- not when you have been baptized.  We strongly encourage people to baptize their children.  Although I may think they are wrong to not do so, we do not exercise church discipline on them.  We see this as a matter of disagreement among brothers.

I have long wished more groups could see it this way.  My mother-in-law had to be baptized again to join a church in rural NY.  If you have been in upstate NY, you know that there are not many church options.  This church asked her to violate her conscience so she could join and participate fully in the life of the church- instead of remaining a second class citizen.  I think this is horrific.

I think it is horrific that we allow a sacrament meant to unite all Christians to divide Christians who simply disagree on when baptism should be administered.  We all agree it points to more than getting wet- that it is a picture of the gospel, that baptism itself does not save.  I don’t want to violate people’s conscience on a matter that is not essential to their salvation.  And I don’t want mine violated as well (I was baptized as an adult- but I want to be free to baptize my children believing this is what God commands me to do).

This is an issue that will not go away.  It will become all the more important with church plants in relatively unreached areas.  Whose baptism will you accept?  I’ll do my piece on mode of baptism later- which will make most of the debate on that a bunch of meaningless hot air.  Really, brothers & sisters, why are we fighting about this (and I love a good theological debate)?

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