The Bishop: Sharp Edged Doctrine

“Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply cut, doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing. The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology, by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice, by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross and His precious blood, by teaching them justification by faith and bidding them believe on a crucified Savior, by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit, by lifting up the bronze serpent, by telling men to look and live, to believe, repent and be converted. This, this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honored with success, and is honoring at the present day both at home and abroad. Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology—the preachers of the gospel of earnestness and sincerity and cold morality—let them, I say, show us at this day any English village or parish or city or town or district, which has been evangelized without “dogma,” by their principles. They cannot do it, and they never will. Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing. It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over facts. The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound and ignorant impatience may murmur, and cry out that Christianity has failed. But, depend on it, if we want to “do good” and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to “dogma”. No dogma, no fruits! No positive evangelical doctrine, no evangelization!” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

The Don: The Archetype

“Even our sexuality should be regarded as the transposition into a minor key of that creative joy which in Him is unceasing and irresistible. Grammatically the things we say of Him are ‘metaphorical’: but in a deeper sense it is our physical and psychic energies that are mere ‘metaphors’ of the real Life which is God. Divine Sonship is, so to speak, the solid of which biological sonship is merely a diagrammatic representation on the flat.” —C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (HarperCollins, 2001), pp. 146

The Don: Doctrinal Books are the Best Devotional Books

caleb-woods-i6pKVDldgVA-unsplash.jpg“Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” —C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149

The Exegetical Systematician: Doctrine is for Doing

Some of the greatest pronouncements of Scripture respecting God and his work of redeeming grace are introduced in order to enforce practical exhortation. Paul, for example, is urging the necessity of unselfish consideration for others, that each one should not look on his own things but every one also on the things of others. It is to enforce this duty that he says: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:5–7). Again, when urging upon the church at Corinth the grace of Christian liberality, he says: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). It was not the practice of the apostle only; the same feature appears in the teaching of the Saviour himself. It is when he urged upon his disciples the grand virtue of humility and of readiness to serve rather than be served that he gave utterance to one of his most significant pronouncements: ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). So it is in our text. When John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’, he makes appeal to God’s greatest work in giving his own Son in order to drive home the practical virtue: ‘Beloved, let us love one another’ (I John 4:7).

This characteristic of Scripture reminds us that the profoundest truths respecting God and his work of redeeming grace bear directly upon the most elementary duties of the Christian vocation. Doctrine is indeed high. But Christian life is also; it is the life of a high and holy and heavenly calling. —John Murray, God’s Love and Our Life

Work in the Theology You Work out (Philemon 17–25)

A Biblical scholar has written, “Few ideas in New Testament studies produce higher levels of agreement than the notion that Paul’s letter to Philemon has little or no theological substance.” All that statement says is that a lot of smart people are really quite dumb.

This book may not tease out the doctrine of redemption, but I dare you to find another one that works it in so well. Only if your Christianity is all brain and no heart or limb can you say such a thing. Only if you approach the Bible with an academic processor and not an ardent heart, could you be so blind.

Theology here is worked out further than many care to go. It is worked pass the brain, into the heart, and out the hands. This is theology well digested and carried through the body. This is what it looks like when the blood of Jesus gets into our bloodstream. Here you see the doctrines of union with Christ, adoption in Christ, the family of God, redemption, and forgiveness as they take root in the heart of man and produce the fruit of the Spirit. Philemon is applied theology.

Just as the aforementioned doctrines are light in a dark world, so too, the life they produce in man is contrary to this culture. The gospel is foolishness to this world all the way down and all the way out. Thus, Philemon just might have been the most shocking little letter in the ancient world. If we too so ingrain the truth of Christ and his redemption, it is still surely so today.

The Deep Theological Moorings of Thankfulness (Colossians 1:3–8)

When we read Paul’s thanksgivings in the opening of his epistles, we’re oft rightly convicted, but wrongly act. We pray so little, and when we do, we express our discontent. We don’t say thank you for the food on our plate and we complain about the lack of dessert. Being reprimanded, we double down our efforts for a spell. But that only lasts until we’re given Brussels sprouts again.

Thankfulness does not flow merely from the shallows of a resolve of will. Thankfulness has deep theological moorings. If you want thankfulness to go up, your doctrine must go deep. Trying to mimic Paul’s thankfulness by just praying is like trying to build a replica of the Empire State Building, but just building up, without doing the necessary sub-structure work.

There are several deeps to Paul’s thanks, but lets just unearth a few. Paul thanks God concerning the Colossians’ faith in Christ and love toward the saints. He doesn’t thank the Colossians for their belief and love. Praise is due to God. Dig a bit and you see that total depravity (Colossians 1:21-22) is one reason Paul gives thanks. Faith and love being a sovereign gift (James 1:17; Ephesians 2:8; Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25), springing out of regeneration (1 John 4:7. 5:1), which was worked in his saints through the fruit bearing gospel (Colossians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:23–25) is another.

And on we could go, but you’ve seen enough to realize this, theology opens our eyes to reality, a reality that necessitates thanksgiving in the highest to the Highest.

Where to Deposit the Deposit (1 Timothy 6:20–21)

“Guard the deposit entrusted to you…”

“He killed it.” It matters a great deal if I am talking about a boy and a baseball game, or a boy and his dog. Likewise, when you understand what the “deposit” is, it shades your meaning of “guard.”

What is the deposit entrusted to Timothy? In 1:18 Paul told Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Paul later tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” Fighting for the faith isn’t fighting for faith, though we must do that. Nor is is fighting by faith, notwithstanding, that is how we fight. Fighting the good fight is more fundamental than these. It is a fight not for belief, but beliefs; not to believe, but for that which we believe. The fight for the faith is foundational because if we don’t have the gospel, we can’t have faith (Romans 10:17). If we don’t have the faith, we don’t have anything to have faith in.

In Timothy, and throughout Paul, “the faith,” often references those truths and doctrines we believe. Deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9).” Persons who believe false teaching “depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1).” Paul instructs Timothy “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

A part of fighting for the faith is guarding the good deposit. The faith is the deposit. “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The deposit is the faith. The faith was received, by the apostles and the prophets, and, through them, by the church. It is entrusted to the church in one way (1 Timothy 3:15), and to elders as the leaders of the church in another.

When a CIA agent is entrusted with precious information and told to guard it I assume that means he is to keep it secret. Likewise, when I entrust the bank with a deposit, I want them to restrict access to it. Not so this deposit. To guard this deposit is to let it loose, to proclaim it. The safety deposit box that the faith is kept safe in is the hearts of men. The faith, the deposit, is guarded not when it is merely in our confessions, or in out heads, but in out hearts.

B.B. Warfield fought for the faith. he fought against the theological liberals who were infecting the mainline denominations. Theological liberals were using the same terminology but hollowing out the words so that one left their theology market ripped off. One such word was redemption. In their dictionary it meant little more than “God delivers.” But completely absent, and intentionally so, was any idea that a holy God delivers us from His wrath by giving His Son to pay the ransom, the redemption price of His own blood. Warfield knew how to guard the faith—by fighting for the belief of the saints.

I think you will agree with me that it is a sad thing to see words like these die like this. And I hope you will determine that, God helping you, you will not let them die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor. But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand. As ministers of Christ it will be your function to keep the things alive. If you can do that, the words which express the things will take care of themselves. Either they will abide in vigor; or other good words and true will press in to take the place left vacant by them. The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual Redemption in Him,—or are you ready to deny the Master that bought you, and to count His blood an unholy thing? Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed His blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed His blood for you is Himself your God? —B.B. Warfield

The Dogmatician: Trinity means Unity and Diversity

“The glory of the confession of the Trinity consists above all in the fact that that unity, however absolute, does not exclude but includes diversity. God’s being is not an abstract unity or concept, but a fullness of being, an infinite abundance of life, whose diversity, so far from diminishing the unity, unfolds it to its fullest extent.” —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

The Dogmatician: The Blessed God

Now, when ascribed to God blessedness has three components. In the first place it expresses that God is absolute perfection, for blessedness is the mark of every being that is, and to that extent it is complete; in other words, blessedness is the mark of every being that lives and in living is not hampered or disturbed by anything from within or without. Now, because God is absolute perfection, the sum total of all virtues, the supreme being, the supreme good, the supreme truth (etc.); in other words, because God is absolute life, the fountainhead of all life, he is also the absolutely blessed God. In Scripture ‘life’ and ‘blessedness’ are very closely related: life without blessedness is not worthy of the name, and in the case of God’s children eternal life coincides with blessedness. Second, implied in the words “the blessed God” is that God knows and delights in his absolute perfection. …God absolutely delights in himself, absolutely rests in himself, and is absolutely self-sufficient. …God’s delight in his creatures is part and parcel os his delight in himself. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Theology Is as Practical as the Prayers on Your Lips (1 Timothy 2:4–6)

In 1 Timothy 2 Paul urges Timothy to urge prayer. In doing so Paul not only tells Timothy what to do, he shows him how. Paul wants the Ephesian church to say all kinds of prayers for all kinds of people (2:1). Paul says that such prayer pleases God (2:3), and then goes on to describe God and what he has done (2:4ff). Paul’s solution to the prayer problem was theology. This is natural, for the prayer problem was caused by bad theology. Paul tells Timothy, “First of all, then.” The “then,” relates this admonition to the “certain persons,” like “Hymenaeus and Alexander,” who were teaching “different doctrine.” Theology is as practical as the prayers in your mouth.

If you are prayerless, or if your prayers are small and selfish the wrong place to start is with disciplines regarding the time, posture, and method of prayer. The proper place to begin is disciplines regarding Bible study, Bible reading, Bible memorization, and Bible meditation. The professional interviewer who spends all of his time practicing in the mirror concerning his posture, using the right intonations and emphasis in his speech, and making sure that the time and setting of the interview are perfect, rather than studying the interviewee, will be a poor interviewer. Likewise, the Christian who spends all their time thinking about posture, time, and method will pray small, selfish prayers because all their focus is on themselves. Get to know God, and you’ll pray. You’ll know the right kind of questions to ask. You’ll grow in prayer. Your prayer life can only be as big and deep as your theology.