Friday, January 31, 2014

4 Books for Introductory Studies in Theology

I have spent the last couple days talking about the importance of theology. First by a simply proposition and then second by way of the Jenga analogy. I hope that someone out there wants to study and know God a little more because of those articles. Remember that we cannot claim to know God without knowing about God, just like we cannot really claim to know a person without knowing quite a bit about them. So here are a few resources to get you started.

1. A Bible
Yes, I know, pretty cliche huh? While we may know some things about God apart from the Bible, by observing creation, we cannot really know God without reading the Bible. Every other resource I mention on this list is merely a tool to help you understand what the Bible has to say about God. The Bible is God's self revelation, it is where he chooses to reveal certain aspects of his character. He is beyond us and we can never know everything there is to know about him, but we can get a good start. The Bible is inerrant, and it is infallible. You may disagree with some things said in some of the other books on this list (I know I do), but the Bible does not give you that option. I would advise a study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, which gives helpful background information at the beginning of each book which can help bridge the cultural and historical gap.

2. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Packer in this book postulates that we were made to know God. This book is not a theological textbook, but is instead a series of 22 short chapters on varied theological points. Each one is less then ten pages long, and easily read in one sitting.

3. Truth for All Mankind by John Calvin
The subtitles of this book, "A Brief Outline of The Christian Faith", really explains what this book about. This very short book is a great summary of the doctrines of the Christian faith. In some ways it is a very short version of John Calvin's magnum opus The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin has a way of opening your eyes to the grandeur of God.

4. Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris
This book is half introduction to theology and half the story of Josh Harris. This book explains theological ideas and terms in easy to understand language. I took a group of teenagers through this book when I was a youth pastor, and it challenged me as well as them.  Not only does this book explain theological truth, it also explains why it matters.

All of these books are great additions to anyone Christian's library. Even if you are an astute theologian these books may affirm your study of God, and remind you of why you study God. If you are a new Christian these books will help you worship God more deeply.

I would love to hear from some of you, what books of this kind do you recommend?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Jenga Analogy

Imagine a set of Jenga blocks each with a different doctrine of the Christian faith written on them. One might say "penal substitution" and another might say the "inerrancy of scripture" or "the bodily resurrection of Jesus" or the "virgin birth of Christ." These jenga blocks form a tower, and this tower is the Christian life. At the top of the tower you might have things like eschatology and mode of baptism, and at the bottom you have your more central beliefs that the other beliefs build on. For instance you have "inerrancy of scripture", and "salvation by faith", and "penal substitution", towards the bottom of the tower.

You could possibly remove a couple of these blocks from various places on the tower, especially the blocks towards the top, and continue to live the Christian life. With each removal of a doctrine the tower gets less and less stable. The very bottom row of blocks are practically impossible to remove because of how important they are to the Christian faith. This is why it is so important to know what we believe. To study God. The more things we fail to believe about God, whether through lack of knowledge or denial, the less capable we are of living the Christian life and the more unstable we become.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Theology, Not Just Preacher Talk

I was once talking to another pastor about the inerrancy of Scripture (which is the belief that Scripture is completely and totally without error in its original manuscripts) with a group of other Christians present. One of the other Christians said that we were engaging in "preacher talk," and insinuated that this issue was not important to anyone who was not in the ministry.

The belief that theology is not important to the average Christian is blatantly false. Theology is knowledge of God and His Word.  How can we worship what we do not know?  We all have ideas about God.  The real question becomes where did these ideas come from. We can hold to "folk" theology which is just tradition and people's best guesses at what God is like, we can make up what we think God is like or we can study his inerrant Word and determine what God is like from that.

As Joshua Harris says in the first chapter of Dug Down Deep:
"I've come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live.  What you believe about God's nature--what He is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him--affects every part of your life. Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.

What we believe will eventually be revealed by how we act. To worship God and to live as we are called we must understand who He is as revealed by His Word.

Coming up soon: a resource list for knowing God, and a post about the Jenga Analogy (how mysterious!)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

3 Reasons Why I Do NOT Use the KJV

I grew up using the King James Version of the Bible first published in  1611. I stopped using it at some point in high school, and I adopted the English Standard Version as my primary translation at some point in college. I want to start by saying that the KJV was useful, and was a good translation. It accurately portrayed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and was translated masterfully, but I do not use it, nor do I advocate its use in the current era. Why? Well Three main reasons actually:

1. It adds an extra barrier to understanding. 
Lets get one thing straight: the Bible takes work to understand. We have a barrier of time and culture between use and the writers. We have to over come those barriers through a proper understanding of the historical context, then we have to read carefully, seeking to under the literary context. We should remove any barrier we can from understanding the text. So why use a Bible translated in 1611 instead of a more modern one.

2. Language changes
This is the big one. Language has radically changed since 1611.  I remember hearing a story as a child about a little old lady prayer warrior climbing into her closet to pray for others. Now I cringe that this Godly lady who wanted to commune with God thought she was supposed to climb into her closet to pray. Matthew 6:5-6 in the KJV says;

"5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

The word "closet" at the time meant room, but now no one would use the word in that sense. This is not an error in the KJV, it is actually just the evolution of language over time.  Also the point of the passage is not that you should only pray in your room, but that you should not make a show of prayer.

3. We have more manuscripts now.
The King James Version was translated using significantly less manuscripts than modern translations are. We want to try to determine, from the manuscripts that we have, what the original writings of the Apostles, Patriarchs, and other writers said. We have significantly more texts now than they had then to use to determine what the original manuscript said. In reality this is not as important as it sounds, and affects a much smaller portion of the text than the other two points made above.

So those are three reasons why I do not use the KJV. And I urge you to do the same. If you have been using the KJV all your life you may realize that if you open the ESV or the NASB that you have failed to understand the text properly simply because of the language used.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Ideas, New Problems, Same God

So much changes year to year doesn't it?

This past year I left the church where I was a youth minister thinking I was going to be a part of a church planting residency at another church. The church planting residency did not work out, so for the time being I am not ministering in any official capacity at any church, though that does not stop me from serving God. This huge change was, of course, hard on me and my family and has left me scrambling to find work.

I have also had a child in the past year. Jude is my third child (and first son!), so I now I have three under three. This comes with its joys, blessings, and its difficulties.

Life changes. We grow and we move. We have different jobs, different attitudes, and different struggles. But one thing does not change and never will: God.

Hebrews 3:18 says "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

This verse was equating the idea of Jesus being God, and is parallel to Malachi 3:6 where God claims: "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."  The unchanging nature of God, in all three persons of the trinitarian Godhead, assures us of His promises. All else may change, but our God does not.

Spurgeon had this to say:  "The mountains with their snow-white crowns, doff their old diadems in summer, in rivers trickling down their sides, while the storm cloud gives them another coronation; the ocean, with its mighty floods, loses its water when the sunbeams kiss the waves, and snatch them in mists to heaven; even the sun himself requires fresh fuel from the hand of the Infinite Almighty, to replenish his ever burning furnace. All creatures change. Man, especially as to his body, is always undergoing revolution. Very probably there is not a single particle in my body which was in it a few years ago. This frame has been worn away by activity, its atoms have been removed by friction, fresh particles of matter have in the mean time constantly accrued to my body, and so it has been replenished; but its substance is altered. The fabric of which this world is made is ever passing away; like a stream of water, drops are running away and others are following after, keeping the river still full, but always changing in its elements. But God is perpetually the same."

In a world of constant and continual change we have one single constant. We have one great promise keeper. No matter what, God stays the same. We can find comfort in His offer of grace at the cross of Jesus.