Tag Archives: Theology

Upcoming Project: Ad Fontes! (To the Sources!)

I have recently decided that I would like to start a project that will likely take me several years. In fact, I’ve been purchasing what I’ll need for said project for the past few months. I’m now very close to being ready to start, and I would like to share my mad idea with you, as you’ll be seeing quite a bit of it on my website in the future.

I’ve been a reader ever since I was a wee Lucas. My reading has been omnivorous; I love novels, savor poetry, delight over Shakespeare’s works (as you’ve likely noticed), learn from history, salivate over syllogisms, wonder at science and mathematics… I even read shaving cream labels and toothpaste tubes. But, of all the reading I do, nothing takes up more of my time – indeed, it is my life’s work – than studying the Scriptures and the works of the great commentators and theologians throughout Christian history.

Of course, as a Pastor and Teaching Elder in God’s church, much of my work is precisely that – pastoring and teaching, pastoring by teaching, and teaching by pastoring, as though the two could ever really be separate. My writing work is predominantly taken up in sermons and lessons; but, I’ve also been posting a lot of meditations, poetry, and the like on here.

The project, which would be additional to my regular sermons, studies, and writings on Scripture, is to study in more detail the great theological works of Christianity, beginning with the Apostolic Fathers (if you don’t know who they are, stay tuned!) and ending somewhere around Kuyper and Bavinck. My hope is to begin regularly sharing with you the insights I find there in short posts that will be accessible to a modern reader. That being said, these posts won’t be summaries, or merely sharing quotes from the works I’m reading. They’ll be more like my own personal meditations – gleanings, if you will – from portions of what I’m studying, along with applications.

Obviously, you can see why this project will take years. I see it not only as a way to introduce modern Christians to some of the major influential personages in our history, but also as a means of continuing my own development as a Pastor-Theologian. I’ve read a great deal of the Church Fathers, Medieval theologians, Reformers, Puritans, etc.; but the only library greater than the one I have read is the one I haven’t.

It’s important also to state that while I will be also reading some connected material, especially in helping me understand historical contexts, etc., my main focus will be on the works themselves. The reason for this is something akin to what C.S. Lewis stated so well in his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.

The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

In other words, I won’t just be reading books about Basil of Caesarea, etc.; no, I’ll be reading the works written by Basil of Caesarea, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Calvin, etc. And I hope that my posts about these great theologians will also inspire you to read works by them.

Clearly, I won’t be able to read every theologian, nor will I be able to read everything written by the theologians I do read. But, my hope is to read at least their major works (along with some of the minor ones). Also, many of the works I’ll be reading, I’ll actually be re-reading. But that’s a good thing, as I’ve learned recently in my re-reading of Augustine’s Confessions; I think I can comprehend that work better now than when I first read it many moons ago – and what a rich feast it has been to my soul!

I’m excited about beginning; like I said, I’m almost there. I have a few books to finish before I begin my project. I’m excited about studying these works, yes; but I’m also very excited about opening up the treasure box of our Christian heritage and sharing it with others.

As always, I desire your prayers that the LORD will give me strength and wisdom and a deeper love for Him and for His people. Pray also that this project would truly be helpful – for me, for you, and for anyone else who reads my future posts!

Judas at the Table

“I believe that Jesus is a good teacher, but not God.” Perhaps, as you’ve shared the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with others, you have heard this oft-rendered response. Generally, it comes from someone who has heard of Jesus, knows the gist of a few Bible verses, or has otherwise imbibed a cultural Christianity through growing up in places like Appalachia, the South, and parts of the Midwest. It’s not an unexpected response from unbelievers who are seeking to be nice (and make their way out of the uncomfortable conversation).

Where this utterance is not expected, however, is issuing from the lips of those who claim to be “evangelical Christians.” And yet, according to Ligonier’s biennial “The State of Theology” poll for 2020, when presented with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God”, 30% of those “evangelicals” polled agreed, and another 4% weren’t sure.

Let this sink in for a moment. An “evangelical” is defined in this poll as one who strongly agreed with the following statements: “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”; “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior”; “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin”; “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” Roughly a third of “evangelicals” are either unsure of or opposed to a central tenet of the Christian faith – if not the central tenet of the Christian faith – i.e., that Jesus Christ is God the Word incarnate.

My purpose here is not to define or defend the term “evangelical”; others have done so at much greater length than I would ever desire to do. But, if we accept the definition as proffered by the poll, one thing we can say about 1/3 of evangelicals is that they are terribly inconsistent in what they claim to believe.

  1. If one strongly holds the Bible (the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament) to be “the highest authority for what I believe”, the idea that Jesus is not God is ludicrous. This was the clear teaching of the Apostles. For example, John states in the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). A few verses later, we’re told that this Word Who is God, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). He was “full of truth”, the basis of being a good teacher, precisely because He was God incarnate. Likewise, Jesus Himself teaches that He is God. Numerous examples could be given here, but I will limit myself to one. During an exchange with the Jews in John 8, Jesus ends the discussion with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). In the next verse, we see the outcome of this statement – the Jews with whom He had been arguing pick up stones to stone Jesus, to put Him to death for what He just said. Why? Because He had not said, “Before Abraham was, I was“, but “I am“. In claiming for Himself the title “I AM”, He was equating Himself with the God Who had revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO I AM,” the covenant name of God. Both of these examples come from the Gospel of John – the Gospel most people who have done any sustained reading in the Scriptures have read; this Gospel itself could be seen as one long argument for the divinity of Christ (John 20:30-31; see also 5:18). I haven’t ventured out to, say, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3, etc. If “the Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”, then even a cursory reading of the New Testament would necessitate belief in the divinity of Christ.
  2. If Jesus is not God, why would it be “very important for me to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus as their Savior”? If He is only just a good teacher, then what makes Him and His message any different than the other good teachers who have lived in the past or are living today? I personally enjoy reading the writings of the Stoics, particularly Seneca and Epictetus. If Jesus is just a good teacher, then He’s no different than these great thinkers; actually, He would be worse, because, unlike them, He lived under the delusion that He was the Son of God. Thus, what is to keep me from converting to Stoicism? Personal preference? Also, if Jesus is not God, if He is just a good teacher, why should I expend myself in the evangelizing of those of other faiths? One would assume that these “evangelicals” would answer “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” And this brings me to my third point…
  3. If Jesus is not God then He is not our Savior. Indeed, His incarnate divinity alone makes Him a suitable Savior. In other words, if Jesus is not God incarnate then the statement “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin” is nonsense. To put it simply, if Jesus were only a human being like anyone else the sacrifice would have been unacceptable in both a qualitative and, for lack of a better term, a quantitative manner. a) If Jesus were only a man like you or me, then He would have been born with a sin nature, made not after the image of God, but after the image of our father, fallen Adam (Genesis 5:3, contrasted with Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, He would have been in need of salvation just as all the sinful children of Adam are in need of salvation. Qualitatively, then, He would not have been the perfect, unblemished sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), and His sacrifice would not have been accepted by God (e.g., Exodus 12:5; see also the sacrificial laws of Leviticus which point to Christ’s sacrifice as shadows point to substance). Rather, we see that through the particular circumstances of His birth (the Word taking on flesh in the womb of the Virgin), Christ is born without original sin, and the Son Who is the eternal essential image of God the Father becomes in our flesh the perfect representative imago Dei. b) If Jesus were only a man like you or me, then He would not have been able to die for the sins of all the elect. The reason for this is linked to what we have said in section a. If Christ were only a man, He would be, like all natural descendants of Adam, represented by the first Adam. As it is, Christ the God-Man, is the second Adam, the One representing all those in Him, united to Him by the Holy Spirit through faith. Paul writes, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49).

In these explanations, I have barely scratched the surface of the biblical and historical arguments presented for the reality and necessity of the divinity of Christ. As Ligonier’s poll arguably shows, American Evangelicalism has the theological depth of a puddle; the main reason being that they do not actually know the Scriptures they claim to be authoritative, but a correlative reason being that they have not sufficiently sunk their roots in historic Christian orthodoxy. They’re unaware of the two millennia of the catholic* (i.e., universal church, not Roman Catholic) biblical arguments for the divinity of Christ. They are unlikely to crack a book such as On the Incarnation by Athanasius, or Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-Man?) by Anselm, or The Person of Christ by John Owen; the reason generally proffered being that these books are not practical. They don’t think these books are practical because they don’t think the doctrine of the divinity of Christ is practical. Thus, the value of theology (like the value of most other things), in their view, should be determined by utility – how can this help me “live my best life now”? Of course, I would argue that the divinity of Christ is an incredibly practical doctrine – if Jesus isn’t God, you’re still in your sins and your faith is worthless – but I would also argue that “practicality”, or “utility”, is an ill-defined and poor filter for choosing what is important and what is not.

Matthew records that when Jesus and the disciples sat at table on the night He was betrayed, our Lord said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples became very sorrowful “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?'” That is, all of the disciples except one addressed Jesus as Lord – a divine title. That one who did not, the one who would betray Him, asked, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:20-25). Note the difference. To Judas, Jesus was not Messiah, Jesus was not Savior, Jesus was not Lord – He was “Rabbi”, a good Jewish teacher among good Jewish teachers. American Evangelicalism is plagued by Judases at the table.

Perhaps you read that last sentence and thought it too strong. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus after spending three years traveling with and being taught by Him. I admit that there are certainly some who are ignorant of Christ’s divinity through a lack of solidly biblical, doctrinal teaching; there are many pastors who will give account at the last Day for the fact that they lazily and foolishly sought only to teach their people through loosely biblical, socially acceptable fluff pieces they mistakenly term “sermons.” But, many have spent years in the church, hearing the Word of God preached and taught by faithful ministers, and, though they call themselves “evangelicals”, they still reject the central doctrines of our faith as mere tradition or archaic irrelevancies, and in so doing, they reject the Christ Who Is in favor of the Christ they’ve created in their own minds! Is this not a betrayal of the One they call Savior? a spiritual adultery against the One they call Husband of the Church? Indeed, these are still in the flesh, and know nothing of the Spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). And thus, when we hear that 34% of those who claim to be “evangelicals” don’t believe that Christ is divine, let us be assured, that 34% are without Christ, and are no more Christian than any other unbeliever.

In Memoriam: J.I. Packer (1926-2020)

Dr. J.I. Packer has gone to be with our Lord. He now beholds by sight the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that until this day He had only known by faith.

When I first came on a visit to the seminary I would attend, I came to hear Dr. Packer give a lecture on holiness. I remember shaking his hand and shyly muttering the words “Thank you”, wishing terribly I had thought of something more clever to say. He seemed so frail, as though a strong handshake might break him; how our Lord stores His treasure in jars of clay!

Over the years, I’ve gleaned a great deal from Dr. Packer’s writings. Perhaps his biggest influence on me, though, is to be found not so much in his own works (which are excellent, especially Knowing God and his Concise Theology – the closest he ever came to writing a systematic theology), but in his pointing me to the writers from whom he had himself so richly benefited. I owe him a great deal, for he was one of the first teachers to introduce me to the writings of the Puritans. He has written the forewords or introductions to many books in my library – not only to contemporary theological works, but also to several reprinted volumes of the Puritans (see also his excellent introduction to the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness). When I first read John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin when I was in my late teens, I was delighted to find that Dr. Packer was the one who ushered me into such a world-shaking work. Strangely, to this day, it’s hard to think of Owen (which I do often, as I have set myself the task to read all of his works over the next several years) without thinking of Packer. Reading his introduction, and then reading Owen himself, I found in Packer a friend of my heart; Dr. Packer’s experience was so similar to my own. He writes:

“Reaching across those three centuries, Owen showed me my inside – my heart – as no one had ever done before. Sin, he told me, is a blind, anti-God, egocentric energy in the fallen human spiritual system, ever fomenting self-centred and self-deceiving desires, ambitions, purposes, plans, attitudes, and behaviours. Now that I was a regenerate believer, born again, a new creation in Christ, sin that formerly dominated me had been de-throned but was not yet destroyed. It was marauding within me all the time, bringing back sinful desires that I hoped I had seen the last of, and twisting my new desires for God and godliness out of shape so that they became pride-perverted too. Lifelong conflict with the besetting sins that besetting sin generates was what I must expect.

What to do? Here was Owen’s answer, in essence: Have the holiness of God clear in your mind. Remember that sin desensitises you to itself. Watch – that is, prepare to recognise it, and search it out within you by disciplined, Bible-based, Spirit-led self- examination. Focus on the living Christ and his love for you on the cross. Pray, asking for strength to say ‘no’ to sin’s suggestions and to fortify yourself against bad habits by forming good ones contrary to them. And ask Christ to kill the sinful urge you are fighting, as the theophanic angel in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce tells the man with the lizard to do.”

God truly blessed His church through this man, and helped me personally. I am thankful for his life and work; I am thankful that Dr. Packer is with the Lord he loves; and I am thankful that we will meet again at the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead! I pray that the Lord will raise up more leaders and thinkers like J.I. Packer: men who love the Lord, who love His Word, and Who boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ!