Tag Archives: Theology

“The encouragement of good theology” by John Webster

“The encouragement of good theology requires that certain interventions be made in order to promote certain practices and achieve certain ends.

Thus, for example, I shall argue that among the most important practices which need to be cultivated – especially at the present time– are textual practices, habits of reading.

There can be few things more necessary for the renewal of Christian theology than the promotion of awed reading of classical Christian texts, scriptural and other, precisely because a good deal of modern Christian thought has adopted habits of mind which have led to disenchantment with the biblical canon and the traditions of paraphrase and commentary by which the culture of Christian faith has often been sustained.

Such practices of reading and interpretation, and the educational and political strategies which surround them, are central to the task of creating the conditions for the nurture of Christian theology.

Fostering the practice of Christian theology will involve the cultivation of persons with specific habits of mind and soul. It will involve “culture” in the sense of formation.

To put the matter in its simplest and yet most challenging form; being a Christian theologian/ involves the struggle to become a certain kind of person, one shaped by the culture of Christian faith.

But once again, this is not some sort of unproblematic, passive socialization into a world of already achieved meanings and roles. It is above all a matter of interrogation by the gospel, out of which the theologian seeks to make his or her own certain dispositions and habits, filling them out in disciplined speech and action.

Such seeking is painful; as a form of conversion it involves the strange mixture of resistance and love which is near the heart of real dealings with the God who slays us in order to make us alive.

Good theological practice depends on good theologians; and good theologians are— among other things— those formed by graces which are the troubling, eschatological gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

—John Webster, The Culture of Theology, Eds. Ivor J. Davidson and Alden C. McCray (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 45-46.

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“He will never leave us” by Garry J. Williams

“As God, the Son is omnipresent in his divine essence. As man, the same Son is present in just one place at a time, now at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). In his speech in Acts 7 Stephen defends himself from the charge that he denounced the temple.

He does not deny that the temple was the dwelling place of God, but he does recount various ways in which God had met his people in other places before and beyond the temple, even on Gentile ground in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the wilderness.

Toward the end of his speech Stephen sees heaven itself opened and Christ standing at the right hand of the Father. He is the new temple (John 2:18–22), the dwelling place of God, now in the heavenly home of God’s glory. There is a new place where God dwells, and it is in the heavenly Jesus.

Given this, how could Jesus himself promise his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20)? If he is in heaven, and heaven is the place of glory, how can he be with us here below in the goodness and grace of his human nature?

John Calvin puts the answer beautifully: “The coming of the Spirit and the ascent of Christ are antithetical.” When Christ ascends, he sends the Holy Spirit down to be with us.

Because the Spirit is his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), he mediates Christ’s presence to us. The Son is with us to the end of the age by the Spirit.

Does this then mean that we always have our Brother with us, but not our Father? Do we have only the goodness and grace of the Son with us but not the goodness and grace of the Father?

Is God the Father ever-present with us only in his essence (as he is present even to the lost), but not as our loving Father? This does not follow, because as the Son is present in his goodness and grace by the Spirit, so the Father is present in his goodness and grace by the Son.

The Spirit makes the Son present to us, and in doing that makes the Father present to us as well, because the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father (John 14:10).

The persons of the Godhead indwell one another, so that by having the Son in us by the Spirit, we have the Father in us by the Son.

Our Brother and Father together come to dwell in us: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

Because the Son has promised us that he will never leave, we have the same assurance from the Father, who is in him.”

–Garry J. Williams, His Love Endures Forever: Reflections on the Immeasurable Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 90–91.

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“What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“A misshapen understanding of the gospel impacts the spirit of a minister and affects the style and atmosphere of his preaching and of all his pastoral ministry. What the Marrow Controversy actually unveiled was the possibility of acknowledging the truth of each discrete chapter of the Confession of Faith without those truths being animated by a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.

The metallic spirit this inevitably produced would then in turn run through one’s preaching and pastoral ministry. There is a kind of orthodoxy in which the several loci of systematic theology, or stages of redemptive history, are all in place, but that lacks the life of the whole, just as arms, legs, torso, head, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth may all be present—while the body as a whole lacks energy and perhaps life itself. The form of godliness is not the same as its power.

Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.

Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the heart of the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God! Such a heart may have undergone the process that Alexander Whyte described as “sanctification by vinegar.” If so, it tends to be unyielding and sharp edged. A ministry rooted in conditional grace has that effect; it produces orthodoxy without love for sinners and a conditional and conditioned love for the righteous.

In the nature of the case there is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear—not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently “hear the Word of God.”

But what if there is a distortion in the understanding and heart of the preacher that subtly distorts his exposition of God’s character? What if his narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father?

When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

Such, alas, were precisely the kind of pastors who gathered round poor Job and assaulted him with their doctrine that God was against him. From their mouths issue some of the most sublime discrete theological statements anywhere to be found in the pages of the Bible.

But they had disconnected them from the life-giving love of God for his needy and broken child Job. And so they too “exchanged the truth about God for the lie.” (Romans 1:25)

This will not do in gospel ministry. Rather, pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. From them the vestiges of a self-defensive pharisaism and conditionalism need to be torn. Like the Savior they need to handle bruised reeds without breaking them and dimly burning wicks without quenching them.

What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?

In these respects the Marrow Controversy has a perennial relevance to all Christians. But it has a special relevance to gospel preachers and pastors.

It raises the question: What kind of pastor am I to my people? Am I like the father?

Or am I, perhaps, like the elder brother who would not, does not, will not, and ultimately cannot join the party?

After all, how can an elder brother be comfortable at a party when he still wonders if his once-prodigal brother has been sorry enough for his sin and sufficiently ashamed of his faults?”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 71-73.

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“The matchless love the Father has for us” by Sinclair Ferguson

“When and how did God show His grace to us? Were there conditions to be met in us prior to Christ’s grace? Clearly not, since it was:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10)

What conditions were met in us in order for God to send His only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.

The Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e., the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his … Son”) so loved the world that He gave His Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; He already loves us!

The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it He may not actually love us at all.

He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father Himself loves us—“deep down” with an everlasting love?

True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but He does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because He loves us that Christ died for us!

We must not confuse the truth that our sins are forgiven only because of the death and resurrection of Christ with the very different notion that God loves us only because of the death and resurrection of Christ.

No, He loved us from the first of time and therefore sent His Son, who came willingly, to die for us. In this way a right understanding of the work of Christ leads to a true understanding of the matchless love the Father has for us.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 65–66.

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“He had a body of Divinity in his head, and the power of it upon his heart” by John Reeve

“He had a body of Divinity in his head, and the power of it upon his heart.”

–John Reeve, as quoted in The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1866/2001), xxxvi. Thomas Brooks died at age 72 on September 27, 1680. In his funeral sermon, John Reeve said these words about this “fine old man” and this “faithful minister of Christ.”

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“God’s Name” by Mark Jones

“We can learn about God by understanding the meaning of His name as revealed in Scripture. His name is identical with His attributes in terms of how He manifests them to us in His Word.

God does not need a proper name. His self-appointed name describes Him not as He exists within himself but as He reveals himself and relates to His creatures. Thus, by using names, God accommodates Himself to His creatures and reveals Himself to us.

God’s names function as a synonym for His character, the sum of His attributes (Ex. 20:7; Ps. 8:1). Correspondingly, to know His name is to know Him (Ex. 6:3). While they are anthropomorphic, these names do not originate with humanity, as if we were in any position to name God.

Rather, these names disclose to us God’s personal existence, His attributes, and His glorious being. Although nameless within himself, God in His revelation has many names. We have chosen to focus on just one in this chapter, the “LORD,” or Yahweh (sometimes also referred to as Jehovah or YHWH), which is used roughly five thousand times in the Old Testament.

The etymology of Yahweh has been discussed a great deal through the course of church history, with no firm consensus on all the details. Coming from the root hwy or hyh (meaning “to be, be at hand, exist, come to pass”), the name of God may be understood in light of God’s works rather than the name’s sheer etymology. To ask for God’s name is to ask for His character:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Ex. 3:13–14)

With the revelation of His “name,” we must remember that no one name can fully reveal who God is. Nevertheless, this revelation tells us a great deal about God. Yahweh reveals His nature, particularly that He is not only self-existent (“I am”) but also unchangeable (“I will be what I will be”). God’s immutability (i.e., unchangeability) carried no small consequence for the Israelites, who depended on his covenant faithfulness. This proclamation was the high point of God’s revelation up to that time in redemptive history.

In the context of Exodus, the name Yahweh points to His covenant faithfulness: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7; see also 3:7–9, 13–14; 6:1). His name also reveals His sovereignty and glory: “that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18). As the Lord, Yahweh is the everlasting, omniscient, omnipotent God:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)

His name remains synonymous with his eternal being (Isa. 41:4; 44:6). As the Glorious One, Yahweh expresses jealousy for the worship of His people and the glory of His name: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa. 42:8).

His name can strike terror in hearts. Yahweh speaks in thunder and shoots lightning across the sky (Ex. 19:16–19; 20:18). He reveals His presence by fire (Ex. 13:21) and controls the elements of the earth, such as the sea (Ex. 14:21). Yet as noted above, Yahweh deals with his people as the God of the covenant. He creates and preserves all things, but in a special way, He sustains His people according to His promises to them. Thus, the name Yahweh is peculiarly significant to God’s people because it represents his covenant-keeping faithfulness toward them.

After Christ fulfilled the work that the Father gave him to do, God bestowed on Him the divine name:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)

The name is not explicitly given, but there is good reason to assume that it refers to Yahweh. Jesus has perfectly represented the Father on earth as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). As such, He has the public authority to receive the highest blessing possible: the name above every name. What name could be higher than Yahweh and all that it means?

Not only Paul but also John uses language from Isaiah that enforces this basic theological point about Christ’s exalted status. In Isaiah we read the following claims by Yahweh:

I, the LORD, the first,
and with the last; I am he. (Isa. 41:4)

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god. (Isa. 44:6)

I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last. (Isa. 48:12)

Now look at John’s description of Jesus in Revelation:

Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. (Rev. 1:17–18)

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” (Rev. 2:8)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 22:13)

As these passages in Revelation show, Jesus’s name speaks to His prerogatives as the immutable, eternal, and living God. The exalted Christ bears the name of Yahweh.

God names Himself to bless his people. He names Himself to instruct His people. God does not need to name Himself, but He chooses freely to condescend in order to give us knowledge of God’s being and his purposes toward us. Remarkably, while God does not need to name Himself, He does name His Son.

The God-man has the peculiar dignity of being recognized as Yahweh. In light of that truth, we can be as sure of Christ’s heart toward us as we can be of God’s heart toward the Israelites when he brought them out of Egypt.

As the exalted Messiah and High Priest interceding in the heavenly places, Jesus is trustworthy. Christ’s purposes, and thus his teachings, remain the same toward believers. He is unchangeable in his purposes. Hence, the author of Hebrews assures his readers of this aspect of Christ’s ministry: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

If God is able to bestow a name on Jesus, he is also able to bestow a name on those who remain faithful to the end like Jesus did. In Revelation 2:17, we are told that believers will receive a new name. This promise extends to all of God’s faithful servants and is not limited to the immediate recipients of John’s letter.

To receive this new name is to receive Christ’s kingly name (Rev. 19:12–16). We are named in baptism, as we enter into a new relationship with God. At the end, we shall also receive a new name that will confirm to us our exalted status.

Without this new name, we will not enter into the new heavens and the new earth.”

–Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 91-95.

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“Our place is on our faces before Him in adoration” by John Stott

“It is of great importance to note from Romans 1–11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated.

On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who He is and what He has done.

It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1–11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God.

Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.

On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God.

God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before Him in adoration.

As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must ‘beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion’.”

–John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 311–312.

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