The Importance of Theology in the Church

What do you think about when hear the word "Theology"? Does it conjure up some grey haired, bearded old man who wears a tweed jacket and talks in a dreary monotone voice like Ben Stein? For many Christians theology equals boring. We want a feeling. We want a worship experience. We want the warm fuzzies. It seems like theology is largely out of style in most churches. Who cares about doctrine anyway? It seems like the local church has exported theological education to seminaries and reserved it just for pastors. As a result it is commone to find a Christian who has been attending church their whole lives to be but theological ignoramus.

Worshiping an UnKnown God

I fear that many churches look more like the greeks at the Areopagus where they are worshiping an unknown God. Many will enter into church longing to worship a God about whom they know very little. Could it be possible that many Christians are raising their hands and feeling warm fuzzies about a god of their own creation and not the God of the Bible?

I'll never forget visiting an older lady one time to help her learn how to work the TV (cause that's what young pastors do in an older church, help the older members with technology). We spent some time talking and she made reference to a recent sermon I preached. I don't even remember the sermon, but she referenced a comment I made about the Holy Spirit. The sermon wasn't even on the Holy Spirit, but she was curious. She told me, "You know I've been in Church a long time, but I know nothing about the Holy Spirit". I left encouraged by an older woman's desire and thirst to learn more about her God even in her old age, but I also left extremely disappointed. How is it possible that she has been in this church her whole life and never been taught on the third person in the Trinity?

The Pressure for Practicality

The failure is largely on pastors who fail to teach their people theology. This is largely because they feel the pressure to give the people what they want. It is easier to tickkle people's ears rather than teach theology. However, as pastors we must remember we must give people what they need, not necessarily what they want. Many people will tell their pastors, "I don't want to hear a sermon on the Trinity. Just give me five ways to get my kids to obey me."

Some how Christians have bought into the lie that theology is not practical or relevant to their lives. However for the Christian faith not only is doctrine and theology essential (less we cease to be Christian), but it is also incredibly relevant and practical to our lives.

Theology Increases Our Ability to Worship

Theology does not hinder worship but increases it. Doctrine does not hinder love but deepens it. It is incredibly hard to love someone you know very little about isn't it? In fact, as you get to know someone better your love for them deepens. I'll give you an example with my son Jude.

When Jude was born I loved him. He was my son; Yet, I did not know a thing about him. That little baby boy in my arms was but a stranger. I loved him, but I did not know him. Yet as he has grown into a rambunctious toddler, my love for him has deepen drastically over the past year and a half. Why? Because I know him, both intellectually and experientially. I know that his favorite movie is The Muppets that he watches at least once a day. I know that he loves to eat blueberries and that he can't go anywhere without his musical giraffe. The more I've gotten to know him, my love for him has deepen.

So too it is with God. In his letter to the Philippians Paul writes,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of _knowing_ Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8, ESV)

Paul zealously desired to know Christ. In fact his love for knowing Christ deepened his desire to live for Christ. His thirst for knowing Christ was so powerful that knowing Christ became the ultimate treasure. Everything else was rubbish compared to this glorious privilege of knowing Christ.

Knowing Christ: The Task of All Theology

The aim of all theology is to know Christ. As we learn about who God is and what his word teaches, our love for him deepens and we live boldly for him as our chief treasure. When we have a thorough and ever increasing understanding of the Word of God we begin to experience true worship. Theology is not some dry, boring study reserved for seminary professors. Theology leads us to doxology. As we reflect on the glorious truths of the love of God in the sending of his son Jesus and on the costly redemption God has purchased for us, these truths lead us to deep, moving, and authentic worship.

Theology is for the Church. It is for the people of God to lead them to Worship. Doctrine is the treasure of the church, because it informs us about the God in whom we are worshiping. When a church properly studies and values theology it will always lead them to a rich, corporate doxology.

Can You Be a Christian and Deny the Resurrection?

There is a rising skepticism of all things supernatural. The idea of the resurrection of Jesus has become nothing more than a fairy tale in the minds of most westerners. Many think the idea of Jesus rising from the grave is a ludicrous idea held by ancient, ignorant people. The anti-supernatural bias and presupposition that has infiltrated all aspects of western thought has even been brought into the church itself. Astonishingly enough, there are many today who are claiming to hold to some sort of Christianity while denying the resurrection itself.

Is holding to a a historical, literal resurrection of Jesus as a supernatural event necessary in order to be a Christian? The answer is simply and unwavering, yes. To deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to reject Christianity. You may claim to practice Christianity while denying the resurrection, but call it whatever you like – it is not Christianity.

There are certain areas of Christian doctrine that is non-negotiable. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of those essential beliefs that make Christianity what it is. To deny the resurrection turns Christianity into a religion of our own making.

1. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Jesus’ Deity

One of the most essential tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is the son of God. He is both fully God and fully man. To say that Jesus did not rise from the dead is to say that he remained in the grave and his corpse decomposed and rotted away. God is eternal and if Jesus is the eternal God of the universe than must resurrect.

One of the essential truths of orthodox, apostolic Christianity is that Jesus is God in the flesh. Therefore to claim that Jesus never resurrected is to claim that Jesus is not God. This turns Jesus into a martyred good teacher rather than the living God and resurrected King he really is.

2. To Deny the Resurrection is to Call Jesus a Liar

In the Gospel Jesus continually predicted his own death. There are several clear examples, but one comes from the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 9:31 Jesus says “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” Jesus made explicit claims about his own life, death, and coming resurrection.

Therefore if anyone is going to deny that Jesus did not rise from the grave bodily is to call Jesus himself a liar. This would not even make Jesus a good moral teacher but simply a con-man whose ministry is nothing but charade of deception. To deny the resurrection is to turn Jesus into a crooked, forked tongue liar.

3. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Christ’s Substitionary Death

One of the most dangerous results of denying the resurrection is that we lose salvation itself. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Jesus resurrection is the approval that his death did pay the penalty for our sins. It is the confirmation that Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary death. He died in the place of sinners. The sacrifice of Jesus paid in full all our sins and our redemption is secure.

When the resurrection is denied the very concept of salvation is lost. Without the resurrection Jesus’ life is nothing but a tragedy. Yet the greatest tragedy of no resurrection is that we remain condemned under the wrath and judgement of God because of our sins.

4. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Any Hope

Any hope we have in present suffering, sorrow, or death comes only from the assuredness of the resurrection. Life can be filled with heartbreak in this fallen world. The only hope we have not only in this life, but in the life to come is that we know our redeemer lives. As Paul again writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”.

If we deny the resurrection we have no hope. Death will swallow us up and we will perish. We have no hope that king Jesus will return and vindicate his people. If the resurrection is not true all we have left is the ashes of God’s broken promises.

The Resurrection is Essential

The Resurrection is essential to Christianity. In fact, to lose it is to lose every truth claim the church proclaims and believes. If Jesus was not raised than he is not God, he is a liar, his death was pointless, and we have no hope. If you deny Jesus’ bodily resurrection, though you may call it Christianity, it is anything but. If you deny the supernatural, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ you are not a Christian. You are still in your sins and you will one day find yourself before God condemned for your lack of belief.

Though a supernatural resurrection of Jesus may be difficult for the modern western mind, to reject it is to reject Jesus. The truth is that Jesus is alive as the ruling and reigning king of the universe. He is the resurrected Lord and “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. (John 20:28)

4 Bad Analogies for the Trinity

The trinity is an essential doctrine to the Christian faith. It is so important that to deny the trinity is to deny Christianity. Yet, the trinity is mysterious. The word trinity is not in the Scriptures, but is a word used to describe the three in one God revealed in the Bible. Before we look at a few bad analogies that many often use to try to illustrate the trinity, we need to first understand the doctrine itself. As we examine the scriptural witness we see three truths that make up the doctrine of the trinity.

  1. God is three persons (Mt 3:13-17)
  2. Each person is fully God (Phil 2; Acts 5:3-4)
  3. There is one God (Mk 12:29)

I do not have the time or space to exhaustively demonstrate in scripture these truths, but the Biblical witness teaches these three truths consistently about God. Over the course of church history there have been several heresies that have cropped up that deny one of these three truths. They've always led to error and have been rejected by the church. Since these bad analogies tend to lead to a heresy, we will examine the main three areas of heresy concerning the trinity.

Trinitarian Heresies

Modalism

Modalism teaches that the trinity is not three distinct persons, but just different modes that God reveals himself to human beings. So under modalism, God acts as the Father in the Old Testament, the son in the Gospels, and the Spirit in Acts and the Epistles. Modalism teaches that one God just changes forms or modes over the course of scripture.

Modalism is a heresy because it denies the distinction of God. God does not just change forms but exists as three persons in unity. In scripture we see explicit trinitarian references, especially at Jesus' baptism where the Father speaks, the Spirit descends, and the Son is in the water. All three persons exist at the same moment in history. Modalism denies the distinction of person in the trinity.

Arianism

Arianism is named after the heretic Arius. Arius was condemned by the council of Nicea in 325 AD. He taught that the son was at one point created by God the father. His motto was that "There was a time when the son did not exist". Jesus then becomes a created being and thus less than fully God.

Arianism clearly denies the deity of the three persons. Under Arianism Jesus is less than fully God. Unfortunately, Arianism is still around and can found within the Jehovah's Witnesses teachings. In the Scripture we see "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:9). Jesus isn't a demigod or partially god. Jesus is fully God. Arianism denies the deity of each person in the trinity.

Tritheism

Few if any have every tried to teach the heresy of Tritheism, but it needs to be mentioned anyway. Tritheism denies the unity of the God-head by saying there is just three different gods. Tritheism denies that there is only one God.

Overview

1. God is three persons (Distinction)

  • Deny this Truth: Modalism

2. Each Person is Fully God (Deity)

  • Deny this Truth: Arianism

3. There is One God (Unity)

  • Deny this Truth: Tritheism

Bad Analogies

Now that we know the doctrine of the trinity and its corresponding major heresies, now we are ready to look at some bad analogies for the trinity. Many of these analogies have the best of intentions, but God cannot be described in a way we can fully comprehend or rationalize. His being is somewhat of a mystery to us. When we tend to make an analogy about the trinity we are forced to diminish one of the three trinitarian truths in order to make the analogy work. Often these analogies explicitly teach heresy.

1. The Trinity is Like an Egg

How the analogy goes:

The Trinity is like an egg. In one egg you have the white, the yoke, and the shell composing one full egg.

This analogy denies the unity of the God-head. The problem with this analogy is that an egg yoke is of a very different substance than a shell. Also, the egg is made up of three distinct and unalike parts. This analogy actually teaches the heresy of tritheism.

2. The Trinity is like Water

How the analogy goes:

The trinity is like water. Water has three states: solid, liquid, and gas. Although the water changes forms it is still H2O. Just as water changes forms so too is the trinity.

This analogy denies the distinction of the God-head. The problem with this analogy is that no one molecule of H2O can actually exist as solid, liquid, and gas at the same time. As a result the water molecule must change forms. A single molecule cannot simultaneously exist in three different states. This analogy actually teaches the heresy of modalism.

3. The Trinity is Like a Three-Leaf Clover

How the analogy goes:

The trinity is a like a Three-Leaf Clover. There are three different cloves that represent the three different persons of the trinity.

The problem with this analogy is it denies the unity of the God-head. The analogy breaks down because the three cloves are overly distinct and cannot represent the unity of God. As a result, this analogy can easily lead to tritheism in which there are three different gods which might share some like substance.

4. The Trinity is Like a Man who is a Father, Husband, and Son

How the analogy goes:

The trinity is Like a man who is a father, husband, and son. Although he is one he has different roles to different people. The trinity is like this man.

The problem with this analogy is that it denies the distinction of persons in the God-head. The analogy breaks down because I can simultaneously be a father, husband, and son to any one person. In reality, I change my role depending on who I am interacting with. As a result, this analogy actually teaches modalism.

The Glorious Triune God

The trinity is a mystery that cannot be fully comprehended. The trinity is not a contradiction, but a paradox. God is much bigger and much greater than we can understand, and to be honest, I'm ok with that. The teaching of the trinity is clearly taught in Scripture and must be preserved as such. Here many of the creeds help us in clearly articulating the trinity.

In the words of the Athanasian Creed:

we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.

To help you out, here is a comical and silly video that teaches about these bad analogies.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw

Did I leave out any analogies? Which ones have you heard? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Stop the Ad Hominem Arguments

There seems to be debates all over the place. In the public square ideas often come into conflict with one another. Differing sides continue to fight and disagree with one another across all domains of society. People fight about politics, family, marriage, theology, economics, morality, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunatly our sensational media saturated culture of 30-second news clips and 140-chracter tweets, although the division is highlighted, there is little to no real discussion over the issues. Issues like theology and morality are crucial issues. Differences over such fundamental issues need to be debated and discussed. However although we watch on news networks of two people fighting over an issue constantly, there are little honest arguments presented by each side. Rather than delving into deep issues so as the worldview presupositions each side brings to the table, you just see people attack each other. Our brief attention spans don't want real discussion, we just want ad hominem arguments.

Ad hominem is a logical falacy in which you attack the man rather than his ideas. We see this all the time in newspapers, blog posts, and video clips. Rather than dealing with the issue we digress into drivelous name calling that is neither helpful or deals with the issues. These fallacious arguments come across as emotionally riviting but all they do is distract and distort the real conversations.

I'll give you some examples we encounter all the time.

  • Democrats are all socialist
  • Calvinists don't believe in sharing the Gospel.
  • Arminians are all universalists.
  • Republicans hate women and don't care about the poor.
  • Atheists are evil immmoral people.
  • Evangelicals hate homosexuals
  • Muslims are all terrorists

You see all these examples attack a particular group or person without ever addressing any of their arguments.  All it does is demonstrate our own ignorance of those who disagree with us, and proves we are unable to actually think and defend our position. Rather than a real discussion about real issues, the conversation degenerates to 1st grade name calling. We need to learn down and really engage with those who disagree with us. However a real conversation about real issues can't happen in a 30 second news clip. A real conversation means taking the time to listen, reflect, understand, then respond.

The issues debated in our age are much to important to distract with abusive ad hominem arguments. Real issues and difference require honest discussion. So lets cut out the name calling and start actually thinking.

Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!