THEOLOGICAL RESOURCES:

DEBATE & DIALOGUE – MULTIPLE VIEWS & PERSPECTIVES

Compiled by David P. Craig, August, 2021

AFTERLIFE – Death, Intermediate State, Heaven and Hell

  • William V. Crockett, ed. Four Views on Hell. Counterpoints first edition: John F. Walvoord defends the “Literal View”; William V. Crockett defends the “Metaphorical View”; Zachary J. Hays defends the “Purgatorial View”; and Clark H Pinnock defends the “Conditional View.”
  • Edward William Fudge. Two Views of Hell: A biblical Theological Dialogue. Edward Fudge gives the case for “Conditionalism” and Robert A. Person gives the case for “Traditionalism.”
  • Steve Gregg. All Your Want To Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. Covers the Case for “Traditionalism”; “Conditionalism”; and “Restorationism.”
  • Peter Kreeft. Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. An entertaining fictional dialogue using the socratic method by a supporter of “Mere Christianity” – Kreeft is a staunch Roman Catholic Philosopher at Boston College, who shares much in common with evangelicals. 
  • Preston Sprinkle, ed. Four Views on Hell (Second Edition with New Contributors: Denny Burk defends the Eternal Conscious Torment view; John G. Stackhouse defends the Terminal Punishment view; Robin A. Parry defends the Universalist view; Jerry L. Walls defends the Hell and Purgatory view).
  • Michael E. Wittmer, ed. Four Views On Heaven. Zondervan Counterpoints Series: John S. Feinberg, “The Traditional View”; J. Richard Middleton, “Platonic Earthly View”; Michael Allen, “Heavenly Earth View”; Peter Kreeft, “Roman Catholic Beatific Vision View”.

APOLOGETICS – Giving Good Evidence for the Truth of Christianity 

  • James K. Beilby. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Most introductions to apologetics begin with the “how to” of defending the faith, diving right into the major apologetic arguments and the body of evidence. For those who want a more foundational look at this contested theological discipline, this book examines Christian apologetics in its nature, history, approaches, objections and practice. What is apologetics?; How has apologetics developed?; What are the basic apologetic approaches?; Why should we practice apologetics? Countless Christians today are seeking a responsible way to defend and commend their faith. If you are one them, Thinking About Christian Apologetics is a good place to start.
  • Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman Jr. Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith. Ever since the apostle Paul addressed the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens, relating the Christian worldview to a non-Christian world has been a challenge. And despite Peter’s charge to be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15), most Christian laypeople have left apologetics―the defense of the faith―to the ecclesiastical pros. Faith Has Its Reasons is a study of four different models of how apologetics should be done, an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, and a proposal for integrating the best insights of each. Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman have assembled a wealth of information about what Christians believe and how to present that faith to an unbelieving world. Remarkable both in its depth of content and ease of accessibility, Faith Has Its Reasons gives Christian laypeople the tools to address such critical questions as: Why is belief in God rational despite the prevalence of evil in the world?; What facts support the church’s testimony that Jesus rose from the dead?; Can we be certain Christianity is true?; and How can our faith in Christ be based on something more secure than our own understanding without descending into an irrational emotionalism?
  • Scott R. Burson & Jerry L. Walls. C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. In some ways, they could not be more different: the pipe-smoking, Anglican Oxford don and the blue-collar scion of conservative Presbyterianism. But C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, each in his unique way, fashioned Christian apologetics that influenced millions in their lifetimes. And the work of each continues to be read and studied today. In this book Scott Burson and Jerry Walls compare and contrast for the first time the thought of Lewis and Schaeffer. With great respect for the legacy of each man, but with critical insight as well, they suggest strengths and weaknesses of their apologetics. All the while they consider what Lewis and Schaeffer still have to offer in light of postmodernism and other cultural currents that, since their deaths, have changed the apologetic landscape. This incisive book stands as both an excellent introduction to the work of these two important figures and a fresh proposal for apologetics at the dawn of a new century.
  • Steven B. Cowan, ed. Five Views on Apologetics (Zondervan Counterpoints Series). William Lane Craig presents the “Classical Method”; Gary R. Habermas presents the “Evidential Method”; Paul D. Feinberg presents the “Cumulative Case Method”; John Frame presents the “Presuppositional Method”; and Kelly James Clark presents the “Reformed Epistemological Method.”
  • William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. God? A Debate Between A Christian and An Atheist. The question of whether or not God exists is profoundly fascinating and important. Now two articulate spokesmen–one a Christian, the other an atheist–duel over God’s existence in an illuminating battle of ideas. In God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong bring to the printed page two debates they held before live audiences, preserving all the wit, clarity, and immediacy of their public exchanges. Avoiding overly esoteric arguments, they directly address issues such as religious experience, the Bible, evil, eternity, the origin of the universe, design, and the supposed connection between morality and the existence of God. Employing sharp and humorous arguments, each philosopher strikes quickly to the heart of his opponent’s case. For example, Craig claims that we must believe in God in order to explain objective moral values, such as why rape is wrong. Sinnott-Armstrong responds that what makes rape wrong is the harm to victims of rape, so rape is immoral even if there is no God. By assuming a traditional concept of God in their discussion, the authors ensure that they are truly addressing each other’s viewpoints and engaging in a disagreement over a unified issue. The book is composed of six chapters that alternate between Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong, so that each separate point can be discussed as it arises.
  • Gary R. Habermas, Antony G.N. Flew, & Terry L. Mieth. Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? The Resurrection Debate. This is the most important question regarding the claims of the Christian faith. Certainly no question in modern religious history demands more attention or interest, as witnessed by the vast body of literature dealing with the Resurrection. James I. Packer says it well in his response to this debate: ‘When Christians are asked to make good their claim that this scheme is truth, they point to Jesus’ resurrection. The Easter event, so they affirm, demonstrated Jesus’ deity; validated his teaching; attested to the completion of his work of atonement for sin; confirms his present cosmic dominion and coming reappearance as Judge; assures us that his personal pardon, presence, and power in people’s lives today is fact; and guarantees each believer’s own reembodiment by Resurrection in the world to come’ The Apostle Paul considered the Resurrection to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole structure, Christianity, collapses. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, ‘our preaching is useless and so is you faith’ More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile [emphasis added]’ The Christian faith-and its claim to be Truth-exists only if Jesus rose from the dead. The heart of Christianity is a living Christ.
  • J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen. Does God Exist? The Debate Between Theists and Atheists. Is there a God? What is the evidence for belief in such a being? What is God like? Or, is God a figment of human inspiration? How do we know that such a being might not exist? Should belief or disbelief in God’s existence make a difference in our opinions and moral choices, in the way we see ourselves and relate to those around us? These are fundamental questions, and their answers have shaped individual lives, races, and nations throughout history. On March 24, 1988, at the University of Mississippi, J.P. Moreland, a leading Christian philosopher and ethicist, and Kai Nielsen, one of today’s best-known atheist philosophers, went head-to-head over these questions. Does God Exist? records their entire lively debate and includes questions from the audience, the debaters’ answers, and the responses of four recognized scholars – William Lane Craig, Antony Flew, Dallas Willard, and Keith Parsons. Noted author and philosopher Peter Kreeft has written an introduction, concluding chapter, and appendix – all designed to help readers decide for themselves whether God is fact or fantasy.
  • Armand M. Nicholi Jr. The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. Renowned psychiatrist and educator Armand Nicholi here presents a fascinating comparison of the beliefs of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. For all the variety of specific religious beliefs, there are fundamentally only two kinds of people: believers and nonbelievers. In the 20th century, no spokesman was more prominent for nonbelief than Sigmund Freud, and no one argued for belief more successfully than C. S. Lewis. From pain and suffering to love and sex, from God to morality, Lewis and Freud carefully argued opposing positions and even considered the chief objections to their positions. Based on Nicholi’s years of studying both men, including wide access to Freud’s letters, this debate on the greatest of subjects strikes at the deepest chords in our souls.

BAPTISM – One of two essential ordinances of the Christian Faith.

  • John H. Armstrong, ed. Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Counterpoints: Church Life). What is the significance of water baptism? Who should be baptized? Is infant baptism scriptural? Which is the proper baptismal mode: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion? Should people be rebaptized if they join a church that teaches a different form of baptism? Should baptism be required for church membership? These and other questions are explored in this thought-provoking book. Four historic views on baptism are considered in depth: “Baptism of the professing regenerate by immersion: Baptist View” presented by Thomas J. Nettles; “Believers’ baptism on the occasion of regeneration by immersion: Christian Churches/Churches of Christ View” presented by Hohn D. Castelein;  “Infant baptism by sprinkling as a regenerative act: Lutheran View” presented by Robert Kolb; and “Infant baptism of children of the covenant: Reformed View” presented by Richard L. Pratt Jr. Each view is presented by its proponent, then critiqued and defended in dialogue with the book’s other contributors. Here is an ideal setting in which you can consider the strengths and weaknesses of each stance and arrive at your own informed conclusion.
  • David F. Wright, ed. Baptism: Three Views. Bruce A. Ware presents the “Believers’ Baptism View”; Sinclair B. Ferguson presents the “Infant Baptism View”; Anthony N.S. Lane presents the “Dual-Practice View.”

BIBLIOLOGY – A Defense of the Bible and Controversies in the Bible, about the Bible, and its People and Books

  • Michael F. Bird, ed. Four Views On The Apostle Paul (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The apostle Paul was a vital force in the development of Christianity. Paul’s historical and religious context affects the theological interpretation of Paul’s writings, no small issue in the whole of Christian theology. Recent years have seen much controversy about the apostle Paul, his religious and social context, and its effects on his theology. In the helpful Counterpoints format, four leading scholars present their views on the best framework for describing Paul’s theological perspective, including his view of salvation, the significance of Christ, and his vision for the churches. Contributors and views include: “The Reformed View”:  presented by Thomas R. Schreiner; “The Catholic View”: presented by Luke Timothy Johnson; “The Post-New Perspective View”: presented by Douglas Campbell; and “The Jewish View”: presented by Mark D. Nanos. Like other titles in the Counterpoints: Bible and Theology collection, Four Views on the Apostle Paul gives theology students the tools they need to draw informed conclusions on debated issues. General editor and New Testament scholar Michael F. Bird covers foundational issues and provides helpful summaries in his introduction and conclusion.
  • David Alan Black, ed. Perspectives On The Ending of Mark: Four Views. Because it is conspicuously absent from more than one early Greek manuscript, the final section of the gospel of Mark (16:9-20) that details Christ’s resurrection remains a constant source of debate among serious students of the New Testament. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark presents in counterpoint form the split opinions about this difficult passage with a goal of determining which is more likely. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professors Maurice Robinson and David Alan Black argue for the verses’ authenticity. Keith Elliott (University of Leeds) and Daniel Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary) contend that they are not original to Mark’s gospel. Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary) responds to each view and summarizes the state of current research on the entire issue.
  • D.A. Carson. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. The author addresses laypeople and pastors with a concise explanation of the science of textual criticism and refutes the proposition that the King James Version is superior to contemporary translations.
  • Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. In Defense of the Bible gathers exceptional articles by accomplished scholars (Paul Copan, William A. Dembski, Mary Jo Sharp, Darrell L. Bock, etc.), addressing and responding to all of the major contemporary challenges to the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. The book begins by looking at philosophical and methodological challenges to the Bible—questions about whether or not it is logically possible for God to communicate verbally with human beings; what it means to say the Bible is true in response to postmodern concerns about the nature of truth; defending the clarity of Scripture against historical skepticism and relativism. Contributors also explore textual and historical challenges—charges made by Muslims, Mormons, and skeptics that the Bible has been corrupted beyond repair; questions about the authorship of certain biblical books; allegations that the Bible borrows from pagan myths; the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments. Final chapters take on ethical, scientific, and theological challenges— demonstrating the Bible’s moral integrity regarding the topics of slavery and sexism; harmonizing exegetical and theological conclusions with the findings of science; addressing accusations that the Christian canon is the result of political and theological manipulation; ultimately defending the Bible as not simply historically reliable and consistent, but in fact the Word of God.
  • F. David Farnell and Norman L. Geisler, eds. Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate. The inerrancy of God’s Word has been attacked throughout church history. Today’s assaults are unique since neo-evangelicals now surrender to post-modernistic ideas of history and historical-critical ideologies that assault this vital doctrine. They seek to redefine the orthodox meaning of inerrancy. Since the signing of the Chicago Statements, troubling signs have once again appeared in recent years among many who either did not fight the battles for the inerrancy of Scripture as did the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, or who do not remember the troubling times that caused their development. The nature and definition of “inerrancy” are now being changed to include ideas of fallibility. History is forgotten. The need arises for sounding the alarm for Vital Issues in Inerrancy. Evangelical schools and churches that broke away earlier to defend inerrancy surrender now to academic prestige and scholarly fads instead of faithfulness to God’s inerrant Word. The contributors pray that the Lord will raise up a new generation with the spiritual fervency of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy to uphold the inerrancy of God’s Word: Isaiah 40:8–“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”
  • Scott M. Gibson and Matthew D. Kim. Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today. Scott Gibson and Matthew Kim, both experienced preachers and teachers, have brought together four preaching experts–Bryan Chapell, Kenneth Langley, Abraham Kuruvilla, and Paul Scott Wilson–to present and defend their approach to homiletics. Reflecting current streams of thought in homiletics, the book offers a robust discussion of theological and hermeneutical approaches to preaching and encourages pastors and ministry students to learn about preaching from other theological traditions. It also includes discussion questions for direct application to one’s preaching.
  • Stanley N. Gundry, ed. Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views On God and Canaanite Genicide (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). A discussion of various contemporary evangelical views of genocide in the Old Testament. Christians are often shocked to read that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, commanded the total destruction―all men, women, and children―of the ethnic group know as the Canaanites. This seems to contradict Jesus’ command in the New Testament to love your enemies and do good to all people. How can Yahweh be the same God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? What does genocide in the Bible have to do with the politics of the 21st century? This book explores, in typical Counterpoints format, the Old Testament command of God to exterminate the Canaanite population and what that implies about continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The four points of view presented on the continuity of the Testaments are: “Strong Discontinuity” presented by C . S. Cowles; “Moderate Discontinuity” presented by Eugene H. Merrill; “Spiritual Continuity” presented by Tremper Longman III; and “Eschatological Continuity” presented by Daniel L. Gard.
  • Charles Halton, ed. Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). James K. Hoffmeier writes about “Genesis 1-11 As History and Theology”; Gordon J. Wenham writes about “Genesis 1-11 As ProtoHistory”; and Kenton L. Sparks writes about “Genesis 1-11 As Ancient Hisoriography.”
  • Mark D. Janzen, ed. Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Five Views on the Exodus looks at competing views on the historicity, chronology, and theological implications of the exodus. The biblical account of the Israelite exodus from Egypt is one of the most enduring narratives ever told and is a foundational event for several world religions. It resonates across cultures with its timeless themes of redemption and deliverance. It is also the only explanation the Bible gives for Israel’s origin. Despite its unique legacy, many scholars regard the exodus as fictitious or a cultural memory that may not be a historical event. Even among those who believe the exodus happened, there is no consensus regarding its date. Five Views on the Exodus brings together experts in the fields of biblical studies, Egyptology, and archaeology to discuss and debate the most vexing questions about the exodus. Each offers their own view and offer constructive responses to other leading views on the exodus. The five views presented here include: “The Early Date: The Exodus Took Place in the Fifteenth Century BC” by Scott Stripling; “The Late Date: A Historical Exodus in the Thirteenth Century BC” by James K. Hoffmeier; “A Hyksos Levite Led Exodus in the Time of Ramesses II” by Peter Feinman; “The Alternative Late Date: The Exodus Took Place in the Twelfth Century BC” by Gary A. Rendsburg; and “The Exodus as Cultural Memory: A Transformation of Historical Events” by Ronald Hendel.
  • Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views. This five-views work brings together an all-star lineup of Pauline scholars to offer a constructive, interdenominational, up-to-date conversation on key issues of Pauline theology. The editors begin with an informative recent history of biblical tradition related to the perspectives on Paul. John M. G. Barclay, A. Andrew Das, James D. G. Dunn, Brant Pitre, and Magnus Zetterholm then discuss how to interpret Paul’s writings and theology, especially the apostle’s view of salvation. The book concludes with an assessment of the perspectives from a pastoral point of view by Dennis Edwards.
  • Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, eds. Romans: Four Perspectives. There are several top notch evangelical scholars that participate in this book that interact with various issues in dialogue: Stephen Westerholm writes about “Romans and the ‘Lutheran’ Paul”; Scot McKnight writes about “Romans and the New Perspective”; Douglas A. Campbell writes “Romans and the Apocalyptic Reading of Paul”; and Michael J. Gorman writes “Romans and the Participationist Perspective.” There are significant passages and issues in Romans dealt with by Michael F. Bird; Thomas R. Schreiner; Carl R. Trueman; James D.G. Dunn; and others.
  • J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett, eds. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The following five views are presented: “When The Bible Speaks, God Speaks: The Classic Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.; “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What The Bible Does” by Peter Enns; “Inerrancy Is Not Necessary For Evangelicalism Outside the USA” by Michael F. Bird; “Augustinian Inerrancy: Literary Meaning, Literal Truth, And Literate Interpretation In the Economy of Biblical Doctrine” by Kevin J. Vanhoozer; and “Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible As Witness To Missional Plurality” by John R. Franke.
  • Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell, eds. Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. Craig L. Blomberg presents the “Historical-Critical/Grammatical View”; F. Scott Spencer presents the “Literary/Postmodern View”; Merold Westphal presents the “Philosophical View”; Richard B. Gaffin Jr. presents the “Redemptive-Historical View”; and Robert W. Wall presents the “Canonical View.”
  • Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer. The Synoptic Problem: Four Views. The relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke is one of the most contested topics in Gospel studies. How do we account for the close similarities–and differences–in the Synoptic Gospels? In the last few decades, the standard answers to the typical questions regarding the Synoptic Problem have come under fire, while new approaches have surfaced. Following an overview of the issues, leading proponents of each view set forth their positions and respond to each of the other views. This up-to-date introduction articulates and debates the four major views: “The Two Source Hypothesis” presented by Craig A. Evans;  “The Farrer Hypothesis” presented by Mark Goodacre; “The Two Gospel Hypothesis” presented by David Barrett Peabody; and “Orality and Memory Hypothesis” presented by Rainer Riesner.  A concluding chapter summarizes the discussion and charts a direction for further study.
  • Robert B. Stewart, ed. The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue. Several renowned evangelical scholars tackle the many and varied objections of liberal scholar Bart D. Ehrman.
  • Robert L. Thomas. Three Views On The Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. While secular critics and liberal religious scholars have discounted the historicity and integrity of the first three Gospels, evangelicals maintain that the Synoptic Gospels fully support a high view of inspiration and historicity, despite varying views among evangelicals on Gospel origins. Four evangelical scholars join together in a presentation/response format to examine the three dominant views on Gospel origins. Grant Osborne and Matthew Williams present the “Two-Source or Markian Priority View”; John H. Niemelä presents the “Two Gospel or Matthewan Priority View”; and F. David Farnell presents the “Independence View”. Robert Thomas provides a helpful introduction to the issues and a final summary of the discussion.
  • James R. White. Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity. A denial of the sufficiency of Scripture is at the core of almost every form of opposition to the Christian faith today. Scripture Alone is written to instill a passionate love for and understanding of the Bible. In this defense of God’s inspired Word, readers will comprehend what “God’s Word” is, the nature of Scripture, the relationship of the Bible to tradition, how to apply Scripture to today’s issues, and much more. Included is a faith-inspiring study of the canon–what it is and where it came from.

CHRISTOLOGY – The Doctrine of Jesus – His Historicity, Person, and Nature

  • W. David Beck and Michael R. Licona, eds. Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Raised on the Third Day approaches these questions with critical and believing eyes. A variety of contributors―including J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Craig A. Evans, Beth M. Sheppard, and Sean McDowell―evaluate scriptural, historical, moral, and apologetic issues related to Christ’s death and resurrection. Readers will better appreciate how Gary Habermas has shaped the discussion and how scholarship can be moved forward. Study of Christ’s resurrection is far from exhausted. Gary R. Habermas is one of the most influential Christian philosophers and apologists of the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. His life’s work has focused on matters pertaining to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and it is widely agreed that Habermas is the foremost authority on the subject. This festschrift is a tribute to that work.
  • James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds. The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). The scholarly quest for the historical Jesus has a distinguished pedigree in modern Western religious and historical scholarship, with names such as Strauss, Schweitzer and Bultmann highlighting the story. Since the early 1990s, when the Jesus quest was reawakened for a third run, numerous significant books have emerged. And the public’s attention has been regularly arrested by media coverage, with the Jesus Seminar or the James ossuary headlining the marquee. The Historical Jesus: Five Views provides a venue for readers to sit in on a virtual seminar on the historical Jesus. Beginning with a scene-setting historical introduction by the editors, prominent figures in the Jesus quest set forth their views and respond to their fellow scholars. On the one end Robert M. Price lucidly maintains that the probability of Jesus’ existence has reached the “vanishing point,” and on the other Darrell Bock ably argues that while critical method yields only a “gist” of Jesus, it takes us in the direction of the Gospel portraits. In between there are numerous avenues to explore, questions to be asked and “assured results” to be weighed. And John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson and James D. G. Dunn probe these issues with formidable knowledge and honed insight, filling out a further range of options. The Historical Jesus: Five Views offers a unique entry into the Jesus quest. For both the classroom and personal study, this is a book that fascinates, probes and engages.
  • Darrell L. Bock. Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. Interest in the historical Jesus continues to occupy much of today’s discussion of the Bible. The vexing question is how the Jesus presented in the Gospels relates to the Jesus that actually walked this earth. Studying the Historical Jesus is an introductory guide to how one might go about answering that question by doing historical inquiry into the material found in the Gospels. Darrell Bock introduces the sources of our knowledge about Jesus, both biblical and extra-biblical. He then surveys the history and culture of the world of Jesus. The final chapters introduce some of the methods used to study the Gospels, including historical, redaction, and narrative criticisms. Bock, a well respected author, provides an informed evangelical alternative to radical projects like the Jesus Seminar. His audience, however, is not limited only to evangelicals. This book, written for college and seminary courses, offers an informed scholarly approach that takes the Gospels seriously as a source of historical information.
  • Paul Copan and Ronald K. Taccelli. Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann. Was the resurrection of Jesus a fact of history or a figment of imagination? Was it an event that entailed a raised and transformed body and an empty tomb? Or was it a subjective, visionary experience–a collective delusion? In the view of many, the truth of Christianity hangs on the answer to this question. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? is a lively and provocative debate between Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig and New Testament scholar and atheist Gerd LÜdemann. This published version of a debate originally set at Boston College is edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, who invite the responses of four additional scholars. Robert Gundry, a New Testament scholar, and Stephen Davis, a philosopher, argue in support of a historical and actual resurrection. Michael Goulder and Roy Hoover, both New Testament scholars, offer their support for Gerd LÜdemann’s view that the “resurrection” was based on the guilt-induced visionary experience of the disciples. The book concludes with a final response from LÜdemann and Craig.
  • Paul Copan, ed. Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Offers readers a clarifying and insightful comparison and contrast between the Jesus Seminar (Crossan), on the one hand, and evangelical theologians (Craig), on the other.
  • John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus: John Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue. Two of today’s most important and popular New Testament scholars–John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright–air their very different understandings of the many historical realities and theological meanings of Jesus’ Resurrection.
  • Bart D. Ehrman, Craig A. Evans, and Robert B. Stewart. Can We Trust on the Historical Jesus? This book features a learned and fascinating debate between two great Bible scholars about the New Testament as a reliable source on the historical Jesus. Bart Ehrman, an agnostic New Testament scholar, debates Craig Evans, an evangelical New Testament scholar, about the historical Jesus and what constitutes “history.” Their interaction includes such compelling questions as: What are sound methods of historical investigation? What are reliable criteria for determining the authenticity of an ancient text? What roles do reason and inference play? And, of course, interpretation? Readers of this debate—regardless of their interpretive inclinations and biases—are sure to find some confirmation of their existing beliefs, but they will surely also find an honest and well-informed challenge to the way they think about the historical Jesus. The result? A more open, better informed, and questioning mind, which is better prepared for discovering both truth and contrivance. The debate between Ehrman and Evans along with Stewart’s introductory framework make this book an excellent primer to the study of the historical Jesus, and readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for the ongoing quest for the historical Jesus.
  • Peter Kreeft. Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ. What would happen if Socrates–yes, the Socrates of ancient Athens–suddenly showed up on the campus of a major university and enrolled in its divinity school?; What would he think of human progress since his day?; How would he react to our values?; To our culture?; And what would he think of Jesus? Peter Kreeft, A Catholic philosopher and longtime admirer of the historic Socrates, imagines the result. In this drama Socrates meets such fellow students as Bertha Broadmind, Thomas Keptic and Molly Mooney. Throughout, Kreeft weaves an intriguing web as he brings Socrates closer and closer to a meeting with Jesus. Here is a startling and provocative portrayal of reason in search of truth. In a new introduction to this revised edition, Kreeft also highlights the inspiration for this book and the key questions of truth and faith it addresses.
  • Michael R. Licona. Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate On The Resurrection. Imagine if the Apostle Paul were alive to defend the truth of Jesus’s resurrection only to be countered by none other than the prophet Muhammad himself. In an approach as creative as any scholar has taken, Michael R. Licona describes an invention that can make historical figures appear alive and present. Imagining an audience of both Christians and Muslims, Licona crafts a lively debate between Paul and Muhammad, each speaking on and analyzing the validity of the Qur’an, the gospel accounts, and both Christian and Muslim doctrine.Intriguing and entertaining, Paul Meets Muhammad uniquely offers evangelism advice for Christians who want to speak the gospel to Muslim friends and neighbors. This fictional scenario presents a powerful, comprehensive defense of Jesus’s resurrection and of Christianity itself.
  • Robert B. Stewart, ed. The Message of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and Ben Witherington III in Dialogue. Several respected evangelical scholars interact with liberal scholars on issues related to the Historical Jesus.
  • Benjamin B. Warfield, Benjamin W. Bacon, Andrew C. Zenos, & Rush Rhees. The Supernatural Birth of Jesus: Four Perspectives on the Historicity and Meaning of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. In 1906 The American Journal of Theology commissioned four scholars to write on the question of the ‘Supernatural Birth of Jesus and whether belief in the same is essential for Christianity. These contributions have been reformatted to make it more readily accessible to readers using e-readers. This book reproduces their contributions. In it Benjamin W Bacon and Andrew C Zenos, respectively from Yale Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary address the question of whether the supernatural birth of Jesus can be historically established. Also contributing are Rush Rhees and Benjamin B Warfield, respectively from the University of Rochester and Princeton Theological Seminary address the theological question of whether the supernatural birth of Jesus is an essential doctrine of Christianity. 
  • Peter S. Williams. Resurrection: Faith or Fact?: A Scholars’ Debate Between a Skeptic and a Christian. Is there enough evidence to believe Jesus rose from the dead, or must such a judgment be based only on faith? Can the resurrection story be considered a fact of history, or should it be viewed as an ahistorical account? Two renowned professors, atheist Carl Stecher and Christian Craig Blomberg, engage in a groundbreaking new debate on these very questions. Other experts on the resurrection, atheist Richard Carrier and Christian Peter S. Williams, comment on the outcome. Presenting new approaches to these centuries-old questions and taking into account the latest scholarly research, Resurrection: Faith or Fact? is a must-have not only for all those following the resurrection question—but also for those skeptics and Christians alike who are interested in determining for themselves the truth behind this foundational doctrine of the Christian faith.

COMMUNION – Understanding, preparing for, and participating in the Lord’s Supper

  • John H. Armstrong, ed. Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Counterpoints Church Life). Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? How frequently should we observe it? What does this meal mean? What happens when we eat the bread and drink from the cup? What do Christians disagree about and what do they hold in common? These and other questions are explored in this thought-provoking book.This new volume in the Counterpoints: Church Life series allows four contributors to make a case for the following views: “The Baptist View: Memorialism” defended by Russell D. Moore; “The Reformed View: Spiritual Presence” defended by  I. John Hesselink; “The Lutheran View: Consubstantiation” defended by David P. Scaer; and Roman Catholic View: Transubstantiation” defended by Thomas A. Baima. All contributors use Scripture to present their views, and each responds to the others’ essays. This book helps readers arrive at their own conclusions. It includes resources such as a listing of statements on the Lord’s Supper from creeds and confessions, quotations from noted Christians, a resource listing of books on the Lord’s Supper, and discussion questions for each chapter to facilitate small group and classroom use.
  • Peter Kreeft. Symbol or Substance?: A Dialogue on the Eucharist with C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, and J.R.R. Tolkien. An entertaining fictional dialogue using the socratic method by a supporter of “Mere Christianity” – Kreeft is a staunch Roman Catholic Philosopher at Boston College.
  • Gordon T. Smith, ed. The Lord’s Supper: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Book). Lord’s Supper. Eucharist. Communion. Sacrament. Ordinance. While it’s the meal that should unite us as followers of Christ, it sometimes appears we can’t even agree on what to call it, let alone how we might share a common theological view of its significance. Even if we cannot reach full agreement, how can we better understand one another and this central observance of the Christian faith? Gordon Smith has invited five representatives of differing views within Christian tradition. Each holds his or her views with conviction and makes the case for that tradition. Each responds to the other views with charity, highlighting significant areas of agreement and disagreement. The views and contributors include: “The Roman Catholic View”–Brother Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C., Professor of Church History, Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tennessee; “The Lutheran View”–John R. Stephenson, Professor of Historical Theology, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catherines, Ontario; “The Reformed View”–Leanne Van Dyk, Academic Dean and Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan; “The Baptist View”–Roger E. Olson, Professor of Theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, Texas; “The Pentecostal View”–Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Professor of Systematic Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Here’s a book that offers more light than heat on an important topic.

CONFLICT and PEACEMAKING – How to interact with those you disagree with

  • Ronald H. Nash. Great Divides: Understanding the Controversies That Come Between Christians. Great Divides addresses the following ten issues on which many Christians disagree: The Health and Wealth Gospel; The End Times; Divorce and Remarriage; Reconstructionism; Political Involvement; Lordship Salvation; Radical Feminism; Abortion; and Women in Church Leadership. By examining the major positions held by other Christians today, it will encourage you to articulate your own position, understand the positions of others, and act upon the issues faithfully.
  • Gavin Ortlund. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. In theology, just as in battle, some hills are worth dying on. But how do we know which ones? When should doctrine divide, and when should unity prevail? Pastor Gavin Ortlund makes the case that while all doctrines matter, some are more essential than others. He considers how and what to prioritize in doctrine and ministry, encouraging humility and grace along the way. Using four basic categories of doctrine in order of importance, this book helps new and seasoned church leaders alike wisely labor both to uphold doctrine and to preserve unity.

ECCLESIOLOGY  – The Study of the Church and It’s Nature and Practices

  • Paul A. Basden, ed. Exploring The Worship Spectrum: 6 Views ((Zondervan Counterpoints Series). Paul F.M. Zahl prescribes the “Formal-Liturgical  Worship View”; Harold M. Best prescribes the “Traditional Hymn-Based Worship View”; Joe Horness prescribes the “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship View”; Don Williams prescribes the “Charismatic Worship View”; Robert Webber prescribes the “Blended Worship View”; and Sally Morgenthaler articulates the “Emerging Worship View.”
  • James R. Beck, ed. Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The views presented are as follows: “Women In Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective” by Linda L. Belleville; ““Women In Ministry: A Complementarian Perspective” by Craig L. Blomberg; “Women In Ministry: Another Egalitarian Perspective” by Craig S. Keener; and “Women In Ministry: Another Complementarian Perspective” by Thomas R. Schreiner.
  • Chad Brand, ed. Perspectives on Church Governance: Five Views Of Church Polity. “The Single-Elder-Led Church: The Bible’s Witness to a Congregational/Single-Elder-Led Polity View” is defended by Daniel L. Akin; “The Presbyterian-Led Church: Presbyterian Church Government View” is defended by Robert L. Reymond; “The Congregation-Led Church: Congrgational Polity View” is defended by James Leo Garret, Jr.; “The Bishop-Led Church: The Episcopal or Anglican Polity View” is defended by Paul F.M. Zahl; and “The Plural-Elder-Led Church: Sufficient as Established—The Plurality of Elders as Christ’s Ordained Means of Church Governance View” is defended by James R. White.
  • Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse, eds. Women in Ministry: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Should women teach men? Should they exercise authority over men? What about ordaining women? Even those who agree that Scripture must determine our answers do not agree on what it teaches. And too often differing sides have not been willing to listen to one another. Here in one volume are the views of four deeply committed evangelicals that focus the discussion on the issues. Robert Culver argues for what might be called the “traditional view” that women should not exercise authority over or teach men. Susan Foh suggests a “modified view” which would allow for women to teach but not to hold positions of authority. Walter Liefeld presents a case for “plural ministry” that questions ordination as a means of conferring authority. Alvera Mickelsen defends the “full equality of men and women in the church.” What makes this book especially helpful is that the writers all respond to the other essays, pointing out weaknesses and hidden assumptions.
  • Steven B. Cowan, ed. Who Runs The Church? 4 Views on Church Government (Counterpoints Church Life). Churches have split and denominations have formed over the issue of church government. Yet while many Christians can explain their particular church’s form of rule and may staunchly uphold it, few have a truly biblical understanding of it. What model for governing the church does the Bible provide? Is there room for different methods? Or is just one way the right way? In Who Runs the Church? Four predominant approaches to church government are presented by respected proponents: “Episcopalianism” articulated by Peter Toon; “Presbyterianism articulated by L. Roy Taylor;  “Single-Elder Congregationalism” articulated by Paige Patterson; and “Plural-Elder Congregationalism” articulated by Samuel E. Waldron.
  • David A. Croteau, ed. Perspectives On Tithing: 4 Views. Was the tithe just for Israel, or is it also applicable to Christians? Must a tithe go only to your local church, or can it be received by any Christian organization? Do we tithe on the net or the gross amount? Perspectives on Tithing presents in point-counterpoint format the most common views about how Christians are to give of their financial resources, addressing the myriad of questions that surround the complex issue. Ken Hemphill (Empowering Kingdom Growth) and Bobby Eklund (Eklund Stewardship Ministries) contribute “The Foundations of Giving” while the book’s editor, David A. Croteau (Liberty University), writes “The Post-Tithing View: Giving in the New Covenant.” A chapter by Reggie Kidd (Reformed Theological Seminary) is called “Tithing in the New Covenant? ‘Yes’ as Principle, ‘No’ as Casuistry.” Finally, Gary North (Institute for Christian Economics) looks directly at “The Covenantal Tithe,” and Scott Preissler (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) provides the epilogue.
  • Christopher John Donato, ed. Perspectives on the Sabbath. Perspectives on the Sabbath presents in point-counterpoint form the four most common views of the Sabbath commandment that have arisen throughout church history, representing the major positions held among Christians today. Skip MacCarty (Andrews University) defends the Seventh-day view which argues the fourth commandment is a moral law of God requiring us to keep the seventh day (Saturday) holy. It must therefore remain the day of rest and worship for Christians. Jospeh A Pipa (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) backs the Christian Sabbath view which reasons that ever since the resurrection of Christ, the one day in seven to be kept holy is the first day of the week. Craig L. Blomberg (Denver Seminary) supports the Fulfillment view which says that since Christ has brought the true Sabbath rest into the present, the Sabbath commands of the Old Testament are no longer binding on believers. Charles P. Arand (Concordia Seminary) upholds the Lutheran view that the Sabbath commandment was given to Jews alone and does not concern Christians. Rest and worship are still required but not tied to a particular day.
  • Gary L. McIntosh, ed. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views (Zondervan Counterpoints Series). Gaining form and momentum over the second half of the 20th century, the Church Growth movement has become an enormous shaping force on the Western church today. You may love it, you may hate it, but you can’t deny its impact. But what exactly is Church Growth? In what ways has the movement actually brought growth to the church, and how effective has it been in doing so? What are its strengths and weaknesses? This timely book addresses such questions. After providing a richly informative history and overview, it explores—in a first-ever roundtable of their leading voices—five main perspectives, both pro and con, on the classic Church Growth movement: “Effective Evangelism View” presented by Elmer Towns; “The Gospel in Our Culture View” presented by Craig Van Gelder; “The Centrist View” presented by Charles Van Engen; “The Reformist View” presented by  Gailyn Van Rheenan; and “The Renewal View” presented by Howard Snyder.
  • J. Matthew Pinson, ed. Perspectives On Christian Worship: 5 Views. Perspectives on Christian Worship presents in counterpoint form five basic common beliefs on Christian worship that have developed over the course of church history with a view toward determining which is most faithful to Scripture. Each chapter is written by a prominent person within each tradition, and each writer has the opportunity to respond to each differing view. The views presented are “Liturgical Worship” by Timothy C.J. Quin; “Traditional Evangelical Worship” by Ligon Duncan; “Contemporary Worship” by Dan Wilt; “Blended Worship” by Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever; and “Emerging Worship” by Dan Kimball.
  • Robert Saucy and Judith TenElshof, eds. Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective. The role of women in the church is a debate that has raged within the church for much of the twentieth century. On one side are those who say there is no difference between men and women. On the other side are those who severely limit women who want to offer ministry to the church. Judith TenElshof and Robert Saucy take the middle approach. Believing that the modern views have denied the distinctions between men and women, the authors adopt a view called complementarianism. TenElshof and Saucy argue that while men and women are equal, God has given different roles to each and that these roles rely on each other to be fully effective.
  • Jason S. Sexton, ed. Four Views On The Church’s Mission ((Zondervan Counterpoints Series). This book articulates various evangelical views regarding the church’s mission and provides a healthy, vigorous, and gracious debate on this controversial topic. In a helpful Counterpoints format, this volume demonstrates the unique theological frameworks, doctrinal convictions, and missiological conclusions that inform and distinguish the views: “Soteriological Mission”:  presented by Jonathan Leeman; “Participatory Mission”: presented by Christopher Wright; “Contextual Mission”: presented by John Franke; and “Ecumenical-Political Mission”: presented by Peter Leithart. Each of the four contributors is to answer the same key questions based on their biblical interpretations and theological convictions. What is your biblical-theological framework for mission? How does your definition of mission inform your understanding of the church’s mission? How does the Mission of God and Kingdom of God relate to the mission of the church? What is the gospel? How does your view on the gospel inform the mission of the church? How do verbal proclamation of the gospel, discipleship, corporate worship, caring for the poor, social justice, restoring shalom, developing culture, and international missions fit into the church’s mission? The interaction between the contributors will help readers get a clearer picture of where the differences lie and why different conclusions are drawn and provide a fresh starting point for discussion and debate of the church’s mission.
  • Robert Webber, ed. Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives. What are the beliefs of the new movement known as the emerging church? In thought-provoking debate, prominent emerging leaders John Burke, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, and Karen Ward discuss their sometimes controversial views under the editorship of author and educator Robert Webber. Hear what they say about their views of Scripture, Christ, the atonement, other world religions, and other important doctrines, so you can come to your own conclusions about the emerging church.

EDUCATION – How To Best Make Disciples among children, youth & families

  • Michael J. Anthony, ed. Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation: Four Views. Scott May argues for “The Contemplative-Reflective Model”; Gregory C. Carlson and John K. Crupper argues for “The Instructional-Analytic Model”; Trisha Graves argues for “The Pragmatic-Participatory Model”; and Tim Ellis, Bill Baumgart, and Greg Carper argue for “The Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model.”
  • Chap Clark, ed. Youth Ministry in the 21st Century (Youth, Family, and Culture): Five Views. Bestselling author Chap Clark is one of the leading voices in youth ministry today. In this multiview work, he brings together a diverse group of leaders to present major views on youth ministry. Chapters are written in essay/response fashion by Fernando Arzola Jr., Greg Stier, Ron Hunter Jr., Brian Cosby, and Chap Clark. As the contributors present their views and respond to each of the other views, they discuss their task and calling, giving readers the resources they need to develop their own approach to youth ministry. Offering a model of critical thinking and respectful dialogue, this volume provides a balanced, irenic approach to a topic with which every church wrestles.
  • Adam Harwood and Kevin E. Lawson. Infants and Children in the Church: Five Views on Theology and Ministry. A congregation rejoices when a new child is added to its midst, yet the church often wrestles—in both theology and practice—with how to best receive and minister to infants and children entrusted to her care. Frequent questions arise like: How are infants and children impacted by sin?; How does God treat people who die in their infancy or childhood?; When and how are children considered members of the church?; and When and how are children instructed in Christian doctrine? Infants and Children in the Church addresses these critical and sensitive questions from a variety of rich traditions, including Eastern Orthodox (jason Foster), Roman Catholic (David Liberto), Lutheran (David P. Scaer), Reformed (Gregg Strawbridge), and Baptist (Adam Harwood), so that Christians can make the most of every opportunity as they minister to children.
  • Timothy Paul Jones, ed. Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views. Every church is called to some form of family ministry, but this calling requires far more than adding another program to an already-packed schedule. The most effective family ministries refocus every church process to engage parents in discipling their children and to draw family members together instead of pulling them apart. In this second edition, Jones expands the definition of family ministry, and broadens the book’s focus to address urban perspectives and family ministry in diverse settings. 
  • Timothy Paul Jones, ed. Perspectives on Your Child’s Education: Four Views. In Perspectives on a Child’s Education, proponents of four very different learning options present their faith-based positions on how a parent should answer the question, “Where should I send my child to school?” Troy Temple (International Center for Youth Ministry) is convinced every Christian parent should consider public schooling. G. Tyler Fischer (Veritas Academy) believes open admission Christian schools are best for Christians and non-Christians alike. Mark Eckel (Mahseh Center) favors covenantal Christian schools that don’t enroll non-Christians. Michael Wilder (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) advocates homeschooling. For each contributor’s chapter, a counterpoint chapter from the other contributors follows with a goal of determining which view is most in line with what the Bible teaches.
  • Mark H. Senter III, ed. Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church: Inclusive Congregational, Preparatory, Missional, and Strategic. Join the conversation as experts propose, defend, and explore Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church. In a dialog that often gets downright feisty, four youth ministry academicians delineate their distinct philosophical and ecclesiological views regarding how youth ministry relates to the church at large–and leave a taste of what’s profound and what’s not in these four typologies: “Inclusive congregational” (Malan Nel). What happens when a church thoroughly integrates its adolescents, making them full partners in every aspect of congregational life? “Preparatory” (Wesley Black). Why and how should a church consider its teenagers as disciples-in-training and its youth ministry a school of preparation for future participation in church life? “Missional “ (Chap Clark). What does a church look like, whose youth ministry does not necessarily nurture “church kids” but is essentially evangelistic? Whose youths and youth workers are considered missionaries? “Strategic” (Mark Senter). How feasible is it for a youth ministry to become a new church on its own–the youth pastor becoming the pastor, and the new church planted with the blessing of the mother church? In Four View of Your Ministry and the Church, solid academic writing and an inviting tone and design create a compelling text for both in-the-field, practicing youth workers and undergraduates and graduate student

ESCHATOLOGY – The Study of Last Things

  • Darrell L. Bock, ed. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Craig A. Blaising defends the “Premillennial View;” Kenneth L. Gentry defends the “Postmillennial View”; and Robert B. Strimple defends the “Amillennial View.”
  • Chad Brand, ed. Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. Robert L. Raymond presents the “Traditional Covenantal View”; Robert L. Thomas presents the “Traditional Dispensational View”; Robert L. Saucy presents the “Progressive Dispensational View”; and Tom Pratt presents the “Progressive Covenantal View.”
  • Robert G. Clouse, ed. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. George Eldon Ladd defends the “Historic Premillennialism View”; Herman A. Hoyt defends the “Dispensational Premillennial View”; Loraine Boettner defends the “Postmillennial View”; and Anthony A Hoekema defends the “Amillennial View.”
  • Jared Compton, ed. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Michael J. Vlach defends “A Non-Typological Future Mass Conversion View”; Fred G. Zaspel and James M. Hamilton defend “A Typological Future Mass Conversion View”; Benjamin L. Merkle defends “A Typological Non-Future Mass Conversion View.”
  • John S. Feinberg, ed. Continuity and Discontinuity. Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments. Evangelicals agree that the Bible is God’s inerrant word. But we sometimes differ on how to relate the messages of the Old and New Testaments. Without a basic understanding of this crucial matter, it is difficult to know how to use the Testaments to formulate either doctrine or practice. For example: Was Israel the OT Church—are OT promises to God’s national people fulfilled in the church today? Or, is Mosaic Law binding on believers now—are twentieth-century Christians to obey the Ten Commandments, including sabbath observance? In this book, thirteen noted evangelical theologians discuss, fairly but clearly, the continuity/discontinuity debate in regard to six basic categories: theological systems, hermeneutics, salvation, the Law of God, the people of God, and kingdom promises. Covering much more than the differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, this work of distinguished evangelical scholarship will fuel much profitable study and discussion.
  • Steve Gregg. Revelation: A Parallel Commentary Four Views(Revised and Updated). Gregg quotes from various sources representing the four primary ways that evangelicals interpret the book of Revelation: Historical, Idealist, Futurist, and Eclectic.
  • Steve Gregg. All Your Want To Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. Covers the Case for “Traditionalism”; “Conditionalism”; and “Restorationism.”
  • Alan Hultberg, ed. Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulational, Prewrath, or Posttribulational. Craig Baising presents the “Pretribulational View”; Alan Hultberg presents the “Pre-Wrath View”; Douglas Moo presents the “Posttribulational View.”
  • Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry. The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? Two Evangelicals Debate The Question. Thomas Ice defends the “Futuristic View,” and Kenneth L. Gentry defends the “Preterist View.”
  • Timothy Paul Jones. Four Views of the End Times. A brief overview of the four main ways scholars interpret Eschatology – pros and cons of each view.
  • Robert M. McKenzie. Identifying the Seed: An Examination and Evaluation of the Differences between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. This book has one goal in mind, to try and bring greater understanding between two dedicated groups of Christians. Dispensationalists and Reformed Christians have a very different understanding of how God has worked in this world as well as how God will continue to work. There is a theological divide that has developed after many years of discussion and stems from a mixture of ignorance; misunderstanding and actual disagreement. Robert McKenzie seeks to examine what each side believes, fleshing out the differences and misunderstandings. He takes a look at the history of each system as well as their theological developments. The author seeks to be faithful to each system pointing out their strengths and weaknesses all the while citing the Scriptures that are used to support each side’s belief. It is hoped that with greater understanding the two groups will be able to engage in conversation with a clearer view of why a doctrine is believed and how the different doctrines build into the system. Whether you are a Dispensationalist, believe in Covenant theology or you aren’t quite sure if you fall in either camp this book can be tremendously helpful.
  • Benjamin L. Merkle. Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. Outstanding resource that involves the author interacting with all the key players in the debate over this important debate.
  • Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas, eds. Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture (Spectrum Multiview Book Series). With contributions by Michael Horton and Stephen Wellum (Covenantal perspectives) and Darrel Bock and Mark Snoeberger (Dispensational perspectives).
  • C. Marvin Pate, ed. Four Views on The Book of Revelation. Kenneth Gentry defends the “Preterist View”; Sam Hamster defends the “Idealist View”; C. Marvin Pate defends the “Progressive Dispensationist View”; and Robert L. Thomas defends the “Classical Dispensationalist View.”
  • Richard R. Reiter, ed. Three Views on the Rapture. Paul D. Feinberg presents the Pretribulational View”; Gleason L. Archer presents the “Midtribulational View”; Douglas Moo presents the “Posttribulational View.”
  • Ron Rhodes. The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy: Understanding the Ongoing Controversies. Thoroughly covers the following debates in eschatology: (1) Should Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically? (2) Are Israel and the Church Distinct in Bible Prophecy? (3) What Can We Know About the Signs of the Times? (4) Which View of the Rapture is Correct? (5) How Are We To Understand the Book of Revelation? (6) How Are We To Understand The Antichrist? (7) Which view of the Millennium is Correct? (8) Is it Okay to set prophetic dates?
  • Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker, eds. Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. Building on the foundation of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012), Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker have assembled a team of scholars who offer a fresh perspective regarding the interrelationship between the biblical covenants. Each chapter seeks to demonstrate how the covenants serve as the backbone to the grand narrative of Scripture. For example, New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner writes on the Sabbath command from the Old Testament and thinks through its applications to new covenant believers. Christopher Cowan wrestles with the warning passages of Scripture, texts which are often viewed by covenant theologians as evidence for a “mixed” view of the church. Jason DeRouchie provides a biblical theology of “seed” and demonstrates that the covenantal view is incorrect in some of its conclusions. Jason Meyer thinks through the role of law in both the old and new covenants. John Meade unpacks circumcision in the OT and how it is applied in the NT, providing further warrant to reject covenant theology’s link of circumcision with (infant) baptism. Oren Martin tackles the issue of Israel and land over against a dispensational reading, and Richard Lucas offers an exegetical analysis of Romans 9-11, arguing that it does not require a dispensational understanding. From issues of ecclesiology to the warning passages in Hebrews, this book carefully navigates a mediating path between the dominant theological systems of covenant theology and dispensationalism to offer the reader a better way to understand God’s one plan of redemption.

ETHICS – How Should I live Morally as a Christian?

  • Paul Chamberlain. Can We Be Good Without God? A Conversation about Truth, Morality, Culture & a Few Other Things That Matter. In Paul Chamberlain’s intriguing, inventive book, the pivotal questions of ethics and morality are explored by a cast of five: a Christian joins an atheist, a moral relativist, an evolutionist, and a secular humanist.
  • Robert G. Clouse, ed. War: Four Christian Views. Have you ever wondered….. Should Christians ever go to war? If so, under what conditions? Here are four modern expressions of four classical views. Dr. Herman Hoyt explains the Biblical Nonresistance view. Christian Pacificism is discussed by Myron S. Augsburger. Arthur F. Holmes explains the Just War view. Preventive War is explained by Harold O.J. Brown.
  • Steven B. Cowan. Problems in Value Theory: An Introduction to Contemporary Debates. Problems in Value Theory takes a pro and con approach to central topics in aesthetics, ethics and political theory. Each chapter begins with a question: What Makes Actions Right or Wrong? Does Morality Depend on God? Do We Need Government? Contemporary philosophers with opposing viewpoints are then paired together to argue their position and raise problems with conflicting standpoints. Alongside an up-to-date introduction to a core philosophical stance, each contributor provides a critical response to their opponent and clear explanation of their view. Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter to guide further discussion. With chapters ranging from why the government should never wage war to what is art and does morality depend on God, this introduction covers questions lying at the heart of debates about what does and does not have value.
  • Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King, eds. Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics. Morality and religion: intimately wed, violently opposed, or something else? Discussion of this issue appears in pop culture, the academy, and the media—often generating radically opposed views. At one end of the spectrum are those who think that unless God exists, ethics is unfounded and the moral life is unmotivated. At the other end are those who think that religious belief is unnecessary for—and even a threat to—ethical knowledge and the moral life. This volume provides an accessible, charitable discussion that represents a range of views along this spectrum. The book begins with a lively debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on the question, Is goodness without God good enough? Kurtz defends the affirmative position and Craig the negative. Following the debate are new essays by prominent scholars. These essays comment on the debate and advance the broader discussion of religion and morality. The book closes with final responses from Kurtz and Craig.
  • H. Wayne House, ed. Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Divorce. No one likes it, but it doesn’t go away. Even among Christians, the divorce rate continues to climb. How should Christians approach this issue? May Christians ever legitimately divorce? If they divorce legitimately, may they remarry? Not everyone who appeals to Scripture agrees on how we should understand what it says about divorce and remarriage. In this book, four authors present their distinct perspectives. Carl Laney argues that the Bible indicates that marriages are always intended to be permanent, that there is never a need for divorce and that remarriage is never permissible after divorce. William Heth contends that while there are legitimate biblical grounds for divorce, there are no legitimate grounds for remarriage after divorce. Thomas Edgar defends the position that Scripture allows for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or desertion. Larry Richards holds that Scripture, while decrying divorce and the pain it causes, points to a God of grace who will not condemn those who divorce and remarry. Such a sensitive debate cannot remain abstract, so a case study accompanies each position, followed by critical responses from each essayist. The result is a thoughtful, helpful resource for all who wish to think biblically about a crucial issue confronting the church.
  • Douglas S. Huffman, ed. How Then Should We Choose?: Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making. The three-views approach is an effective and succinct means of introducing theological subjects to readers of all levels. How Then Should We Choose? applies this proven format to the vital topic of decision making and the Christian’s search for the will of God. Garry Friesen of Multnomah Bible College, Henry and Richard Blackaby of Blackaby Ministries International, and Gordon T. Smith of Regent College each contribute summaries of their perspectives on God’s will and their approaches to decision making. Friesen discusses the “wisdom” view, Henry and Richard Blackaby delineate the “specific will” view, and Smith champions the “relationship” view of God’s will. In an effort to make this discussion reader friendly, the contributors have applied their beliefs regarding God’s will and decision making to three practical, concrete topics: career, relationships, and stewardship. Using three hypothetical stories, the authors illustrate how their respective views would influence decisions in these common areas of concern.
  • Adam Lloyd Johnson, ed. A Debate on God and Morality: What is the Best Account of Objective Moral Values and Duties? In 2018, William Lane Craig and Erik J. Wielenberg participated in a debate at North Carolina State University, addressing the question: “God and Morality: What is the best account of objective moral values and duties?” Craig argued that theism provides a sound foundation for objective morality whereas atheism does not. Wielenberg countered that morality can be objective even if there is no God. This book includes the full debate, as well as endnotes with extended discussions that were not included in the debate. It also includes five chapters by other philosophers who have written substantive responses to the debate – J. P. Moreland, David Baggett, Mark Linville, Wes Morriston, and Michael Huemer. The book provides crucial resources for better understanding moral realism and its dependence on, or independence from, theistic foundations. 
  • Nathan L. King and Robert K. Garcia. Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics. Morality and religion: intimately wed, violently opposed, or something else? Discussion of this issue appears in pop culture, the academy, and the media―often generating radically opposed views. At one end of the spectrum are those who think that unless God exists, ethics is unfounded and the moral life is unmotivated. At the other end are those who think that religious belief is unnecessary for―and even a threat to―ethical knowledge and the moral life. This volume provides an accessible, charitable discussion that represents a range of views along this spectrum. The book begins with a lively debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on the question, Is goodness without God good enough? Kurtz defends the affirmative position and Craig the negative. Following the debate are new essays by prominent scholars. These essays comment on the debate and advance the broader discussion of religion and morality. The book closes with final responses from Kurtz and Craig.
  • Peter Kreeft. A Refutation Of Moral Relativism: Interviews With an Absolutist. No issue is more fateful for civilization than moral relativism. History knows not one example of a successful society which repudiated moral absolutes. Yet most attacks on relativism have been either pragmatic (looking at its social consequences) or exhorting (preaching rather than proving), and philosophers’ arguments against it have been specialized, technical, and scholarly. In his typical unique writing style, Peter Kreeft lets an attractive, honest, and funny relativist interview a “Muslim fundamentalist” absolutist so as not to stack the dice personally for absolutism. In an engaging series of personal interviews, every conceivable argument the “sassy  feminist” reporter Libby gives against absolutism is simply and clearly refuted, and none of the many arguments for moral absolutism is refuted.
  • Peter Kreeft. The Best Things in Life: A Contemporary Socrates Looks at Power, Pleasure, Truth the Good Life. What are the best things in life? Questions like that may boggle your mind. But they don’t boggle Socrates. The indomitable old Greek brings his unending questions to Desperate State University. With him come the same mind-opening and spirit-stretching challenge that disrupted ancient Athens. What is the purpose of education?; Why do we make love?; What good is money? Can computers think like people?; Is there a difference between Capitalism and Communism?; What is the greatest good?; Is belief in God like belief in Santa Claus?In twelve short, Socratic dialogues Peter Kreeft explodes contemporary values like success, power and pleasure. And he bursts the modern bubbles of agnosticism and subjectivism. He leaves you richer, wiser and more able to discern what the best things in life actually are. A supporter of “Mere Christianity” – Kreeft is a staunch Roman Catholic Philosopher at Boston College yet evangelicals share much common ground with him.
  • Peter Kreeft. The Unaborted Socrates: A dramatic debate on the issues surrounding abortion. An entertaining fictional dialogue using the socratic method by a supporter of “Mere Christianity” – Kreeft is a staunch Roman Catholic Philosopher at Boston College yet evangelicals share much common ground with him.
  • R. Keith Loftin, ed. God & Morality: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series). Is morality dependent upon belief in God? Is there more than one way for Christians to understand the nature of morality? Is there any agreement between Christians and atheists or agnostics on this heated issue? In God and Morality: Four Views four distinguished voices in moral philosophy ariticulate and defend their place in the current debate between naturalism and theism. Christian philosophers Keith Yandell and Mark Linville and two self-identified atheist/agnostics, Evan Fales and Michael Ruse, clearly and honestly represent their differing views on the nature of morality. Important differences as well as areas of overlap emerge as each contributor states their case, receives criticism from the others and responds. Of particular value for use as an academic text, these four essays and responses, covering the naturalist moral non-realist, naturalist moral realist, moral essentialist and moral particularist views, will foster critical thinking and contribute to the development of a well-informed position on this very important issue.
  • Mark L. Strauss, ed. Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views (Counterpoint: Church Life). A biblical and practical case for three main evangelical views on remarriage after divorce among born-again Christians, 27 percent have experienced divorce as compared to 24 percent in the general population. Yet no consensus exists among evangelicals on their views of remarriage, leaving many Christians confused. This single volume summarizes and explores three main evangelical views: “No Remarriage After Divorce”, presented by William A. Heth; “Remarriage After Adultery or Desertion”, presented by Gordon J. Wenham; and “Remarriage for a Variety of Reasons” presented by Craig S. Keener.
  • Steve Wilkins, ed.Christian Ethics: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series). Brad J. Kallenberg presents, “Virtue Ethics”; John Hare presents, “Divine Command Ethics”; Claire Peterson presents, “Natural Law Ethics”; and Peter Heltzel presents, “Prophetic Ethics.”

HAMARTIOLOGY – The Study of Sin

  • W. Paul Franks, ed. Explaining Evil: Four Views. In Explaining Evil four prominent philosophers, two theists and two non-theists, present their arguments for why evil exists. Taking a “position and response” format, in which one philosopher offers an account of evil and three others respond, this book guides readers through the advantages and limitations of various philosophical positions on evil, making it ideal for classroom use as well as individual study. Divided into four chapters, Explaining Evil covers Theistic Libertarianism (Richard Brian Davis), Theistic Compatibilism (Paul Helm), Atheistic Moral Realism (Michael Ruse) and Atheistic Moral Non-realism (Eric J. Wielenberg). It features topics including free will, theism, atheism, goodness, Calvinism, evolutionary ethics, and pain, and demonstrates some of the dominant models of thinking within contemporary philosophy of religion and ethics. Written in accessible prose and with an approachable structure, this book provides a clear and useful overview of the central issues of the philosophy of evil.
  • Chad Meister, ed. God and The Problem of Evil: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Evil abounds. And so do the attempts to understand God in the face of such evil. The problem of evil is a constant challenge to faith in God. How can we believe in a loving and powerful God given the existence of so much suffering in the world? Philosophers and theologians have addressed this problem countless times over the centuries. New explanations have been proposed in recent decades drawing on resources in Scripture, theology, philosophy, and science. God and the Problem of Evil stages a dialogue between the five key positions in the current debate: Phillip Cary: “A Classic View”; William Lane Craig: “A Molinist View”; William Hasker: “An Open Theist View”; Thomas Jay Oord: “An Essential Kenosis View”; and Stephen Wykstra: “A Skeptical Theism View.” According to the classic position, associated especially with the Augustinian tradition, God permits evil and suffering as part of the grand narrative of divine providence to bring about the redemption of creation. Molinism modifies the classic view by adding God’s middle knowledge to the picture, in which God has knowledge of what creatures would do in all possible worlds. Open theism rejects the determinism of the classic view in favor of an account of God as a risk-taker who does not know for sure what the future holds. Essential kenosis goes further in providing a comprehensive theodicy by arguing that God cannot control creatures and thus cannot unilaterally prevent evil. Skeptical theism rejects the attempt to provide a theodicy and instead argues that, if God exists, we should not expect to understand God’s purposes. Edited and with an introduction by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr., God and the Problem of Evil hosts a generous and informative conversation on one of the most pressing issues in the Christian life.
  • J.B. Stump, ed. Original Sin and the Fall: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). “What is this that you have done?” Throughout the church’s history, Christians have largely agreed that God’s good creation of humanity was marred by humanity’s sinful rebellion, resulting in our separation from God and requiring divine intervention in the saving work of Christ. But Christians have disagreed over many particular questions surrounding humanity’s fall, including the extent of original sin, the nature of the fall, the question of guilt, how to interpret the narratives from Genesis, and how these questions relate to our understanding of human origins and modern science. Views and Contributors: “An Augustinian-Reformed View” by Hans Madueme, Covenant College; “A Moderate Reformed View” by Oliver Crisp, The University of St. Andrews; “A Wesleyan View” by Joel B. Green, Fuller Theological Seminary; “An Eastern Orthodox View” by Andrew Louth, Durham University; and “A Reconceived View” by Tatha Wiley, University of St. Thomas.
  • Terry L. Wilder, ed. Perspectives on Our Struggle with Sin: Three Views of Romans 7. Perspectives on Our Struggle with Sin presents in point-counterpoint form three differing views of a Christian’s relationship with the law, flesh, and spirit as illustrated through Paul’s often-debated words in Romans 7. Stephen Chester (North Park Theological Seminary) writes “The Retrospective View of Romans 7: Paul’s Past in Present Perspective,” suggesting the apostle’s description of his struggle speaks more to his pre-Christian self. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) offers “The Flesh Without the Spirit: Romans 7 and Christian Experience,” perceiving Romans 7 as an accurate representation of what believers go through even after their conversion. Mark Seifrid (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), in “The Voice of the Law, the Cry of Lament, and the Shout of Thanksgiving,” asserts that Paul is not speaking of his past or his present Christian experience in Romans 7, but more fundamentally and simply about “the human being confronted with the Law.”Chad Owen Brand (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes a conclusion on the theological and pastoral implications of Romans 7.

HOMOSEXUALITY & LBGTQ & SEX – What Does The Bible Teach?

  • James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy. Understanding Transgender Identities: Four Views. One of the most pressing issues facing the evangelical church today involves dramatic shifts in our culture’s perceptions regarding human sexuality. While homosexuality and same-sex marriage have been at the forefront, there is a new cultural awareness of sexual diversity and gender dysphoria. The transgender phenomenon has become a high-profile battleground issue in the culture wars. This book offers a full-scale dialogue on transgender identities from across the Christian theological spectrum. It brings together contributors with expertise and platforms in the study of transgender identities to articulate and defend differing perspectives on this contested topic. After an introductory chapter surveys key historical moments and current issues, four views are presented by Owen Strachan, “Transition or Transformation? A Moral-Theological Exploration of Christianity and Gender Dysphoria”; Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky, “The Complexities of Gender Identity: Toward a More Nuanced Response to the Transgender Experience”; Megan K. DeFranza, “Good News for Gender Minorities” and Justin Sabia-Tanis, “Holy Creation, Wholly Creation: God’s Intention for Gender Diversity.” The authors respond to one another’s views in a respectful manner, modeling thoughtful dialogue around a controversial theological issue. The book helps readers understand the spectrum of views among Christians and enables Christian communities to establish a context where conversations can safely be held.
  • Preston Sprinkle, ed. Two Views On Homosexuality, The Bible, and The Church (Zondervan Counterpoints Series). No issue is more divisive or more pressing for the church today than homosexuality. Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church brings a fresh perspective to a well-worn debate. While Christian debates about homosexuality are most often dominated by biblical exegesis, this book seeks to give much-needed attention to the rich history of received Christian tradition, bringing the Bible into conversation with historical and systematic theology. To that end, both theologians and biblical scholars—well accomplished in their fields and conversant in issues of sexuality and gender—articulate and defend each of the two views: “Affirming View”: William Loader and Megan K. DeFranza; and the “Traditional View”: articulated by Wesley Hill and Stephen R. Holmes. Unique among most debates on homosexuality, this book presents a constructive dialogue between people who disagree on significant ethical and theological matters, and yet maintain a respectful and humanizing posture toward one another. Even as these scholars articulate pointed arguments for their position with academic rigor and depth, they do so cordially, clearly, and compassionately, without demeaning the other. The main essays are followed by exceptionally insightful responses and rejoinders that interact with their fellow essayists with convicted civility. Holding to a high view of Scripture, a commitment to the gospel and the church, and a love for people—especially those most affected by this topic—the contributors wrestle deeply with the Bible and theology, especially the prohibition texts, the role of procreation, gender complementarity, and pastoral accommodation. The book concludes with general editor Preston Sprinkle’s reflections on the future of discussions on faith and sexuality.
  • Dan O. Via and Robert J. Gagnon. Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Few recent issues have sparked such debate in the churches as homosexuality, same-sex unions, and ordination of gays and lesbians. A key point of contention is the meaning and authority of the biblical witness. In this brief book, two New Testament scholars discuss the relevant biblical texts on the subject of homosexual behavior and orientation. Discussing both Old Testament and New Testament texts, each author also raises important interpretive and moral questions and then offers a response to the other’s main assertions. Chief questions examined by each include what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and homosexual behavior, the meaning of those texts in their cultural contexts, and the larger hermeneutical dilemma of what kind of authority the Bible’s teaching, if recoverable, has for Christians today. A thoughtful and irenic dialogue, this volume can facilitate reflection and discussion among church members on a vital and contentious issue in American church life.

MIRACLES – A Miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself

  • Wayne Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? Four Views. (Zondervan Counterpoints Series). Robert B. Gaffin Jr. defends the “Cessationist View”; Robert L. Saucy defends the “Open But Cautious View”; C. Samuel Storms defends the “Third Wave View”; and Douglas A. Oss defends the “Pentecostal/Charismatic View.”

PHILOSOPHY – The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, & existence

  • Steven B. Cowan, ed. Problems in Epistemology and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Contemporary Debates. Problems in Epistemology and Metaphysics takes a pro and con approach to two central philosophical topics. Each chapter begins with a question: Can We Have Knowledge? How are Beliefs Justified? What is the mind? Contemporary philosophers with opposing viewpoints are then paired together to argue their position and raise problems with conflicting standpoints. Alongside an up-to-date introduction to a core philosophical stance, each contributor provides a critical response to their opponent and clear explanation of their view. Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter to guide further discussion. With chapters covering core questions surrounding religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, truth, being and reality, this is a comprehensive introduction to debates lying at the heart of what we know, how we know it and the nature of the world we live in.
  • Paul M. Gould, ed. Four Views On Christianity and Philosophy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Philosophy and Christianity make truth claims about many of the same things. They both claim to provide answers to the deep questions of life. But how are they related to one another? Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy introduces readers to four predominant views on the relationship between philosophy and the Christian faith and their implications for life. Each author identifies the propositional relation between philosophy and Christianity along with a section devoted to the implications for living a life devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. The contributors and views include: Graham Oppy—“Conflict: Philosophy Trumps Christianity”; K. Scott Oliphint—“Covenant: Christianity Trumps Philosophy”; Timothy McGrew—“Convergence: Philosophy Confirms Christianity”; and Paul Moser—“Conformation: Philosophy Reconceived Under Christianity.” General editors Paul M. Gould and Richard Davis explain the background to the discussion and provide some historical background in the introduction, as well as helpful summaries of each position in the conclusion.
  • Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer. In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem. Honored in 2006 as a “Year’s Best Book for Preachers” by Preaching magazine. Why a search for the soul? Many Christians assume that it is biblically faithful and theologically noncontroversial to speak of humans having a soul. Yet a wide range of biblical scholars are questioning whether we have correctly understood what the Bible means when it speaks of the “soul.” And contemporary neuroscience is laying more and more questions at the doorstep of the church, asking whether our human sense of self is intelligible on the basis of soul. But for thoughtful Christians, following science on this point looks like caving in to reductionism, while denying science gives off the odor of obscurantism. In Search of the Soul provides a rare opportunity to listen in as four Christian philosophers set forth their best arguments for their distinct views and then respond to each other. While each of these views calls for careful framing and patient exposition, they are labeled as follows: “Substance Dualism (Stewart Goetz); “Emergent Dualism” (William Hasker); “Nonreductive Physicalism” (Nancey Murphy); and “Constitution View of Persons” (Kevin Corcoran). Editors Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer introduce the debate by laying out the critical issues at stake, and wrap it up by considering the implications for the Christian life, particularly hospitality and forgiveness. This is a book of timely interest to philosophers, theologians, psychologists and pastors. Whatever conclusions readers may draw, they will find here an instructive and engaging discussion of a controversy that will not go away any time soon.
  • Anthony C. Thiselton. Approaching Philosophy of Religion: An introduction to key thinkers, concepts, methods and debates. The book opens with an engaging history of the subject, mapping the major landmarks and outlining the main issues of current debate. The rest of the book falls into three parts: Part 1: Approaches. Descriptions of the main approaches developed by scholars to study the subject, with lively case histories and working examples showing the approaches in action, and assessing their lasting value. Part 2: Concepts and Issues. Brief introductions to their origins and evolution, highlighting their significance in the work of major thinkers. Part 3 Key Terms. Concise explanations of all the words and phrases that readers need to know in order to fully grasp the subject.
  • Steve Wilkins, ed. Faith and Reason: Three Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). In Faith and Reason, Steve Wilkens edits a debate between three different understandings of the relationship between faith and reason, between theology and philosophy. The first viewpoint, “Faith and Philosophy in Tension,” articulated by Carl A. Raschke proposes faith and reason as hostile, exclusive opposites, each dangerous to the integrity of the other. The second, “Faith Seeking Understanding,” articulated by Alan G. Padget suggests that faithful Christians are called to make full use of their rational faculties to aid in the understanding and interpretation of what they believe by faith. In the third stance, “Thomistic Synthesis,” articulated by Craig A. Boyd natural reason acts as a handmaiden to theology by actively pointing people toward salvation and deeper knowledge of spiritual truths. Bringing together multiple views on the relationship between faith, philosophy and reason, this introduction to a timeless quandary will help you navigate, with rigor and joy, one of the most significant discussions of the Christian community. Steve Wilkins concludes the book with a helpful essay on how we can disagree Christianly.

POLITICS  – How A Christian Should Respond To and Be Involved in Society

  • Amy E. Black, ed. Five Views On The Church and Politics (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Thomas W. Heilke defends the “Anabaptist Separationist View”; Robert Benne defends the “Lutheran Paradoxical View”; Bruce L. Fields defends the “Black Church Prophetic View”; James K. A. Smith defends the “Reformed Transformationist View”; and Brian Benestad defends the “Catholic Synthetic View.”
  • P.C. Kemneny, ed. Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Abortion. Physician-assisted suicide. Same-sex marriages. Embryonic stem-cell research. Poverty. Crime. What is a faithful Christian response? The God of the Bible is unquestionably a God of justice. Yet Christians have had their differences as to how human government and the church should bring about a just social order. Although Christians share many deep and significant theological convictions, differences that threaten to divide them have often surrounded the matter of how the church collectively and Christians individually ought to engage the public square. What is the mission of the church? What is the purpose of human government? How ought they to be related to each other? How should social injustice be redressed? The five noted contributors to this volume answer these questions from within their distinctive Christian theological traditions, as well as responding to the other four positions. Through the presentations and ensuing dialogue we come to see more clearly what the differences are, where their positions overlap and why they diverge. The contributors and the positions taken include Clarke E. Cochran: “A Catholic Perspective”; Derek H. Davis: “A Classical Separation Perspective”; Ronald J. Sider: “An Anabaptist Perspective”; Corwin F. Smidt: “A Principled Pluralist Perspective”; and J. Philip Wogaman: “A Social Justice Perspective.”

PSYCHOLOGY – How To Counsel People From a Christian Perspective

  • Stephen P. Greggo and Timothy A. Sisemore, eds. Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches (Christian Association for Psychological Studies). What does authentic Christian counseling look like in practice? This volume explores how five major perspectives on the interface of Christianity and psychology would each actually be applied in a clinical setting. Respected experts associated with each of the perspectives depict how to assess, conceptualize, counsel and offer aftercare to Jake, a hypothetical client with a variety of complex issues. In each case the contributors seek to explain how theory can translate into real-life counseling scenarios. This book builds on the framework of Eric L. Johnson’s Psychology Christianity: Five Views. These include the Levels-of-Explanation Approach, the Integration Approach, the Christian Psychology Approach, the Transformational Approach and the Biblical Counseling Approach. While Counseling and Christianity can be used independently of Johnson’s volume, the two can also function as useful companions. Christians who counsel, both those in practice and those still in training, will be served by this volume as it strengthens the connections between theory and practice in relating our faith to the mental health disciplines. They will finally get an answer to their persistent but unanswered question: “What would that counseling view look like behind closed doors?”
  • Eric L. Johnson, ed. Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). How are Christians to understand and undertake the discipline of psychology? This question has been of keen interest (and sometimes concern) to Christians because of the importance we place on a correct understanding of human nature. Psychology can sometimes seem disconnected from, if not antithetical to, Christian perspectives on life. How are we to understand our Christian beliefs about persons in relation to secular psychological beliefs? This revised edition of a widely appreciated text now presents five models for understanding the relationship between psychology and Christianity. All the essays and responses have been reworked and updated with some new contributors including the addition of a new perspective, the transformative view from John Coe and Todd Hall (Biola University). Also found here is David Powlison (Westminster Theological Seminary) who offers the biblical counseling model. The levels-of-explanation model is advanced by David G. Myers (Hope College), while Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) offers an entirely new chapter presenting the integration model. The Christian psychology model is put forth by Robert C. Roberts (Baylor University) now joined by Paul J. Watson (University of Tennesee, Chattanooga). Each of the contributors responds to the other essayists, noting points of agreement as well as problems they see. Eric L. Johnson provides a revised introduction that describes the history of Christians and psychology, as well as a conclusion that considers what might unite the five views and how a reader might evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each view. Psychology and Christianity: Five Views has become a standard introductory textbook for students and professors of Christian psychology. This revision promises to keep it so.

SANCTIFICATION – How does one grow as a Christian?

  • Donald Alexander, ed. Christian Spirituality: Five Views On Christian Sanctification (Spectrum Multiview Series). How can we grow closer to God? Is there a secret to spiritual life? Do we need a second blessing? Is sanctification God’s work or ours? Is it instantaneous or is it a process? The nature of Christian spirituality has been widely debated throughout the history of the church. The doctrine of sanctification was one of the main fissures separating Luther from the Catholic Church. Even today different groups of Protestants disagree on how we draw closer to God. What distinguishes the different positions and what exactly is at stake in these recurring debates? To answer these questions Donald L. Alexander, professor of biblical theology at Bethel College, has brought together five scholars that represent each of the main historical Protestant traditions: Gerhard O. Forde on the “Lutheran View”; Sinclair B. Ferguson on the “Reformed View”; Laurence W. Wood on the “Wesleyan View”; Russell P. Spittler on the “Pentecostal View”; and E. Glenn Hinson on the “Contemplative View.” With an introduction by Alexander and responses to each of the main essays by the other contributors, this book provides a helpful and stimulating introduction to an important doctrine Christianity.
  • Chad Owen Brand, ed. Perspectives On Spirit Baptism: 5 Views. Perspectives on Spirit Baptism presents in counterpoint form the basic common beliefs on spirit baptism which have developed over the course of church history with a view toward determining which is most faithful to Scripture. Each chapter will be written by a prominent person from within each tradition—with specific guidelines dealing with the biblical, historical, and theological issues within each tradition. In addition, each writer will have the opportunity to give a brief response to the other traditions.
  • Bruce A. Demarest, ed. Four Views on Christian Spirituality (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The Views articulated in this book are as followed: “Orthodox Spirituality: A Quest For Transfigured Humanity” by Bradley Nassie; “Come To The Father: The Fact At The Foundation of Catholic Spirituality” by Scott Hahn; “The Progressive Face of Mainlain Protestant Spirituality” by Joseph Driskill; and “Evangelical Spirituality” by Evan Howard. The views presented are as following: “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit as the Promise of the Father: A Reformed Perspective” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.; “Spirit Baptism: A Pentecostal Perspective” by Stanley M. Horton; “Spirit Baptism: A Dimensional Charismatic Perspective” by Larry Hart; “A Wesleyan Perspective on Spirit Baptism” by H. Ray Dunning; and “Spirit Baptism: Catholic Perspective” by Ralph Del Colle.
  • Stanley N Gundry, ed. Five Views on Sanctification (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Christians generally recognize the need to live a holy, or sanctified, life. But they differ on what sanctification is and how it is achieved. Five Views on Sanctification brings together in one easy-to-understand volume five major Protestant views on sanctification. Writing from a solid evangelical stance, each author describes and defends his own understanding of the doctrine, and responds as well to the views of the other authors. This book addresses such practical questions as: How does one achieve sanctification in this life? How much success in sanctification is possible? Is a crisis experience following one’s conversion normal―or necessary? If so, what kind of experience, and how is it verified?  The following views are presented and defended: “The Wesleyan View” by Melvin E. Dieter; “The Reformed View” by Anthony A. Hoekema; “The Pentecostal View” by Stanley M. Horton; “The Keswick View” by J. Roberson McQuilkin; and “The Augustinian-Dispensational View” by John F. Walvoord.
  • Alan P. Stanley, ed. Four Views on The Role of Works at the Final Judgement (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).Views Presented: “Christians Will Be Judged According To Their Works At The Rewards Judgement, But Not The Final Judgement” by Robert N. Wilkin; “Justification Apart From And By Works: At The Final Judgment Works Will Confirm Justification” by Thomas R. Schreiner; “If Paul Could Believe Both In Justification By Faith And Judgment According To Works, Why Should That Be A Problem For Us?” by James D.G. Dunn; and “A Catholic Perspective: Our Works Are Meritorious At The Final Judgment Because Of Our Union With Christ By Grace” by Michael P. Barber.

SCIENCE – Science and the Bible

  • Michael J. Behe and T.D. Singh. God, Intelligent Design and Fine-Tuning: A Dialogue between T. D. Singh and Michael J. Behe. Is God no longer necessary in a world that is increasingly influenced by a scientific temper? Or, on the contrary, have the findings of modern sciences forced us to approach the question of the existence of God in new ways? The scientific enterprise has gifted us the ability to examine and contemplate deeply the mysterious and beautiful order behind nature. Over the past four decades modern biochemistry has uncovered the secrets of cells and has revealed us the marvelous design even at the molecular level. Advancements in science have also shown us some of the precise laws and unique fundamental constants in the universe. All these facts and observations point to a fine-tuned and specially designed universe with a purpose by a Supreme Being or God. As one journey through the newly discovered marvels of the cosmos and life discussed in this volume, one will be compelled to reexamine his opinion concerning the origins, evolution and essence of this wonderful world in which we live.
  • Ardel B. Caneday, ed. Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Denis O. Lamoureus articulates the “No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View”; John H. Walton articulates “A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View”; C. John Collins articulates “A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View”; and William D. Barrick articulates “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View.”
  • Richard F. Carlson, ed. Science & Christianity: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Wayne Frair and Gary D. Patterson argue for “Creationism: An Inerrant Bible and Effective Science View”; Jean Pond argues for ”Independence: Mutual Humility in the Relationship Between Science and Christian Theology View”; Stephen C. Meyer argues for a “Qualified Agreement: Modern Science and the Return of the God Hypothesis View”; and Howard J. Van Till articulates the view called “Partnership: Science and Theology As Partners.”
  • Paul Copan and Christopher L. Reese, eds. Three Views on Christianity and Science. (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Michael Ruse writes the “Independence View”; Alister McGrath writes the “Dialogue View”; and Bruce Gordon writes the “Constrained Integration View.”
  • William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse. Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA. In this book, first published in 2004, William Dembski, Michael Ruse, and other prominent philosophers provide a comprehensive balanced overview of the debate concerning biological origins – a controversial dialectic since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. Invariably, the source of controversy has been ‘design’. Is the appearance of design in organisms (as exhibited in their functional complexity) the result of purely natural forces acting without prevision or teleology? Or, does the appearance of design signify genuine prevision and teleology, and, if so, is that design empirically detectable and thus open to scientific inquiry? Four main positions have emerged in response to these questions: Darwinism, self-organization, theistic evolution, and intelligent design. The contributors to this volume define their respective positions in an accessible style, inviting readers to draw their own conclusions. Two introductory essays furnish a historical overview of the debate.
  • David G. Hagopian, ed. The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation. J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall argue for “The 24-Hour View”; Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer argue for the “Day-Age View”; and Lee Irons and Meredith G. Kline argue for “The Framework View.”
  • Preston Jones, ed. Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?: A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism Christianity. Greg Graffin is frontman, singer and songwriter for the punk band Bad Religion. He also happens to have a Ph.D. in zoology and wrote his dissertation on evolution, atheism and naturalism. Preston Jones is a history professor at a Christian college and a fan of Bad Religion’s music. One day, on a whim, Preston sent Greg an appreciative e-mail. That was the start of an extraordinary correspondence. For several months, Preston and Greg sent e-mails back and forth on big topics like God, religion, knowledge, evil, evolution, biology, destiny and the nature of reality. Preston believes in God; Greg sees insufficient evidence for God’s existence. Over the course of their friendly debate, they tackle such cosmic questions as: Is religion rational or irrational? Does morality require belief in God? Do people only believe in God because they are genetically predisposed toward religion? How do you make sense of suffering in the world? Is this universe all there is? And what does it all matter? In this engaging book, Preston and Greg’s actual e-mail correspondence is reproduced, along with bonus materials that provide additional background and context. Each makes his case for why he thinks his worldview is more compelling and explanatory. While they find some places to agree, neither one convinces the other. They can’t both be right. So which worldview is more plausible? You decide.
  • Kenneth Keathley, J.B. Stump and Joe Aguirre, eds. Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins With Reason To Believe and Biologos. Various issues are addressed from several scholars belonging to the Two Largest Old Earth organizations: Reason to Believe (Hugh Ross, founder) and Biologos (Francis Collins, founder). Note: there is very little discussion of a “Young Earth” position in this book.
  • J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger and Wayne Grudem, eds. Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. Thirty-One chapters by top Scientists, Philosophers, and Theologians who critique the primary sources and articulators of Theistic Evolution in the 20th-21st Century – a landmark book – approximately 1000 pages of material!
  • Alister McGrath, John Wilson, et. al. The Origins Debate: Evangelical perspectives on creation, evolution, and intelligent design (Christianity Today Essentials). For centuries, Christians have argued exactly what God did “in the beginning.” If this were only a question of science, it would not be so contentious. But theology and science shape one another, and there are few easy answers. This key collection of essays presents the current state of the debate, showing how faithful evangelicals have come to their respective views, and what is at stake for the church. Contents: Chapter 1: The Search for the Historical Adam – Richard N. Ostling; Chapter 2: A Tale of Two Scientists: A Young-Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist – Tim Stafford; Chapter 3: Augustine’s Origin of Species: How the Great Theologian Might Weigh In on the Darwin Debate – Alister McGrath; Chapter 4: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: The Furor Over Intelligent Design – Nancy Pearcey; Chapter 5: God by the Numbers: Math and the Theology of Origins – Charles Edward White; Chapter 6: What Good is Stardust?: The Remarkably Equipped Universe – Howard J. Van Till; Chapter 7: Your Darwin Is Too Large: Evolution’s Exaggerated Significance for Theology – John Wilson; Chapter 8: Living with the Darwin Fish: Another ‘Missing Link’ Won’t Destroy My Faith – Stan Guthrie; Chapter 9: The Evolution of Darwin: The Scientist’s Problem with God – Dinesh D’Souza; and Chapter 10: Science in Wonderland: Perspective (250 Million Years’ Worth) on the Evolution Controversy – John Wilson 
  • J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds. Three Views on Creation and Evolution (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds defend the view of “Young Earth Creationism”; Robert C. Newman defends the view of  “Old Earth Progressive Creationism”; and Howard J. Van Till defends the view called “Theistic Evolution.”
  • Gerald Rau. Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning. The debate over evolution and creation has raged for decades and shows no signs of letting up. Many promote one view as the only reasonable solution. But what are the main viewpoints, and just why do they disagree? In the midst of an increasingly intense dispute, Gerald Rau answers the important questions with level-headed clarity and evenhanded analysis. Rau lays out six models of origins, ranging from naturalistic evolution to young-earth creation. He shows how each model presupposes an underlying philosophy that adherents take on faith. With the sensitivity of a seasoned educator, Rau demonstrates how each model assesses the scientific evidence in relation to four different kinds of origins: the universe, life, species and humans. In an age of specialists, Rau sees the big picture. Mapping the Origins Debate cuts through the cacophony and the complexity to provide a lucid and charitable contribution to the conversation.
  • James Stump, ed. Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design  (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Ken Ham’s view is “Young Earth Creationism”; Hugh Ross gives the “Old Earth (Progressive) Creationism View”; Deborah B. Haarsma articulates the “Evolutionary Creation View”; and Stephen C. Meyer presents the “intelligent Design View.”
  • Todd Charles Wood and Darrel R. Falk. The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue About Creation and Evolution. The Fool and the Heretic is a deeply personal story told by two respected scientists who hold opposing views on the topic of origins, share a common faith in Jesus Christ, and began a sometimes-painful journey to explore how they can remain in Christian fellowship when each thinks the other is harming the church. To some in the church, anyone who accepts the theory of evolution has rejected biblical teaching and is therefore thought of as a heretic. To many outside the church, as well as a growing number of evangelicals, anyone who accepts the view that God created the Earth in six days a few thousand years ago must be poorly educated and ignorant – a fool. Todd Wood and Darrel Falk know what it’s like to be thought of, respectively, as a fool and a heretic. This audiobook shares their pain in wearing those labels, but more important, provides a model for how faithful Christians can hold opposing views on deeply divisive issues yet grow deeper in their relationship to each other and to God.

SOTERIOLOGY – The Study of Salvation in the Bible

  • David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds. Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (Spectrum Multiview Book Series). If God is in control, are people really free? This question has bothered Christians for centuries. And answers have covered a wide spectrum. Today Christians still disagree. Those who emphasize human freedom view it as a reflection of God’s self-limited power. Others look at human freedom in the order of God’s overall control. David and Randall Basinger have put this age-old question to four scholars trained in theology and philosophy. John Feinberg of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Norman Geisler of Dallas Theological Seminary focus on God’s specific sovereignty. Bruce Reichenbach of Augsburg College and Clark Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College insist that God must limit his control to ensure our freedom. Each writer argues for his perspective and applies his theory to two practical case studies. Then the other writers respond to each of the major essays, exposing what they see as fallacies and hidden assumptions.
  • Herbert W. Bateman IV., ed. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Using the popular four-views format, this volume explores the meaning of the five warning passages in the book of Hebrews to both the original readers and us today. Each of the four New Testament scholars present and defend their view and critique the view of their interlocutors. This unique volume will help readers better understand some of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. Contributors include Grant R. Osborne, Buist M. Fanning, Gareth L. Cockerill, and Randall C. Gleason.
  • James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Gregory A. Boyd defends the view called “Open-Theism”; David Hunt defends “The Simple Foreknowledge View”; William Land Craig defends “The Middle-Knowledge View”; and Paul Helm defends the “Augustinian-Calvinist View.”
  • James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds. Justification: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). When Paul wrote these words he seemed confident he had made himself clear. But for centuries the Pauline doctrine of justification has been a classic point of interpretation and debate in Christian exegesis and theology. And while in recent decades there have been moments of hopeful convergence among the various traditions of the Western church, the fine print often reveals more facets and distinctions than ever before. This volume focuses on five views of justification and calls on representative proponents to set forth their case and then respond to each other. The five views are: “Traditional Reformed” defended by Michael S. Horton;  “Progressive Reformed” by Michael F. Bird; “The New Perspective” by James D. G. Dunn;  “Deification, or Theosis” by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen; and  “Roman Catholic” by Gerald O. Collins and Oliver Rafferty. In addition, editors James Beilby, Paul R. Eddy and Steven E. Enderlein provide an extensive introduction to the issues informing this important debate. This distinguished forum of biblical interpreters and theologians offers a lively and informative engagement with the biblical, historical and contemporary understandings of justification. Justification: Five Views is not only a fascinating probe into Paul?s meaning, it is also a case book in theological method.
  • James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). A long history of biblical exegesis and theological reflection has shaped our understanding of the atonement today. The more prominent highlights of this history have acquired familiar names for the household of faith: Christus Victor, penal substitutionary, subjective, and governmental. Recently the penal substitutionary view, and particularly its misappropriations, has been critiqued, and a lively debate has taken hold within evangelicalism. This book offers a “panel” discussion of four views of atonement maintained by four evangelical scholars. The proponents and their views are: Gregory A. Boyd: “Christus Victor View”; Joel B. Green: “Kaleidescopic View”; Bruce R. Reichenbach: “Healing View”; and Thomas R. Schreiner: “Penal Substitutionary View.” Following an introduction written by the editors, each participant first puts forth the case for their view. Each view is followed by responses from the other three participants, noting points of agreement as well as disagreement. This is a book that will help Christians understand the issues, grasp the differences and proceed toward a clearer articulation of their understanding of the atonement.
  • Chad Brand, ed. Perspectives on Election: Five Views. Perspectives on Election presents in counterpoint form five basic common beliefs on the doctrine of spiritual election (for example, predestination) that have developed over the course of church history with a view toward determining which is most faithful to Scripture. Each chapter is written by a prominent person within each tradition, and each writer has the opportunity to respond to each differing view. Despite the focus upon a topic that divides many people, editor Chad Brand says, “The goal of this book is to add clarity to the discussion and to further the discussion, insofar as it is possible, in an amiable manner.” Contributors and their views are the following: “Divine Election to Salvation” presented by Bruce A. Ware; “The Classical Arminian View of Election” by Jack W. Cottrell; “A Consistent Supralapsarian Perspective on Election” presented by RobertL. Reymond; “Universal Reconciliation and the Inclusive Nature of Election” presented by Thomas B. Talbot; and “Divine Election as Corporate, Open, and Vocational” by Clark Pinnock.
  • Gabriel J. Fackre, ed. What About Those Who Have Never Heard?  Three Views on The Destiny of the Unevangelized (Spectrum Multiview Series). What is the fate of those who die never hearing the gospel? Do Hindus, Jews, agnostics and others who do not profess faith in Christ really suffer damnation after death? These and similar questions have long been contemplated by people from every religious persuasion and every walk of life. But in a culture of increasing diversity and growing doubt in the existence of “objective truth,” it seems ever more pressing. In this book three scholars present the span of evangelical conviction on the destiny of the unevangelized. Ronald Nash argues the restrictivist position, that receptive knowledge of Jesus Christ in this life is necessary to salvation. Gabriel Fackre advocates divine perseverance, with the expectation that those who die unevangelized receive an opportunity for salvation after death. And John Sanders sets forth the inclusivist case–asserting that though God saves people only through the work of Jesus Christ, some may be saved even if they do not know about Christ. As each scholar presents his own case and responds to strengths and weaknesses of differing positions, readers are treated to a lively and informative debate. What About Those Who Have Never Heard? is a truly helpful book on one of today’s–and every day’s–most crucial questions.
  • Dave Hunt and James White. Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views. A centuries-old belief system is put to the test as two prominent authors examine and debate the subject of Calvinism from opposing viewpoints. James White, author of The Potter’s Freedom, takes the Calvinist position. Dave Hunt, author of What Love Is This, opposes him. The exchange is lively and at times intense as these two articulate men wrestle over what the Scriptures tell us about God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. This thought-provoking, challenging book provides potent responses to the most frequently asked questions about Calvinism.
  • Adam J. Johnson, ed. Five Views on the Extent of the Atonement (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). For whom did Christ die? Who may be saved? are questions of perennial interest and importance for the Christian faith. In a familiar Counterpoints format, this book explores the question of the extent of Christ’s atonement, going beyond simple Reformed vs. non-Reformed understandings. This volume elevates the conversation to a broader plane, including contributors who represent the breadth of Christian tradition: “Eastern Orthodox”: expounded by Andrew Louth; “Roman Catholic”: expounded by Matthew Levering; “Traditional Reformed”: expounded by Michael Horton; “Wesleyan”: expounded by Fred Sanders; and “Barthian Universalism”: expounded by Tom Greggs.
  • R.T. Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen. The Christian and the Pharisee: Two Outspoken Religious Leaders Debate the Road to Heaven. The book reproduces a candid exchange of letters between two leading religious figures: an evangelical preacher and a senior Jewish rabbi. This groundbreaking publication is a rare opportunity to read the heartfelt correspondence of two prolific and acclaimed theologians, as they both seek to vigorously defend their own beliefs and allow themselves to be challenged by the claims of the other. As the discussion continues we see mutual respect grow and a strong friendship forged before the relationship is inevitably tested as they encounter points of seemingly irreconcilable differences. Though there are issues and beliefs which separate the two theological camps, this book shows how they share enough to not only get along, but form strong alliances.
  • John D. Laing, Kirk R. MacGregor, Greg Welty, et al. Calvinism and Middle Knowledge: A Conversation. Calvinism and Middle Knowledge is an anthology of essays that moves the discussion of Molinism/middle knowledge out of the philosophical arena, where it has almost exclusively remained, and into the broader theological community. In particular, it sparks a conversation between Calvinists and Molinists regarding the fruitfulness or deficiencies of middle knowledge and the feasibility or infeasibility of Calvinist use of middle knowledge without acceptance of libertarian human freedom. To this end, nine distinguished experts address such topics as the history of the doctrine of middle knowledge, the potential role of Molinism in discussions of evolution and intelligent design, Calvinist concerns with Molinism, and Calvinist appropriation of middle knowledge. This book empowers theologians, historians, biblical scholars, and pastors to join the ongoing conversation and to judge for themselves what explanatory role middle knowledge may or may not play in accounts of providence and practical theology.
  • Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds. Four Views On Salvation In A Pluralistic World (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). John Hick proposes the “Pluralist View”; Clark Pinnock proposes the “Inclusivist View”; Alister McGrath proposes “A Particularist View: A Post-Enlightenment Approach”; and R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips present “A Particularist View: An Evidentialist Approach.”
  • Kirk R. MacGregor and Kevaughn Mattis, eds. Perspectives on Eternal Security: Biblical, Historical, and Philosophical Perspectives. Eternal security, or personal assurance of final salvation, constitutes the single most important matter of practical theology in the Christian tradition. For the past twenty centuries, no other doctrine has exerted such a direct impact on the lives of lay Christians, driving their daily actions, guiding their permanent choices, and shaping their psychology. From the New Testament period onward, a diversity of views on biblical interpretation, anthropology, and divine sovereignty have produced numerous models of eternal security. However, due to the early modern fracturing of Protestant thought along Reformed and Arminian lines, today most evangelicals equate eternal security with Calvin’s perseverance of the saints. In an ecumenical vein, this collection of essays aims to remedy the knowledge gap by bringing a breadth of biblical, historical, and philosophical perspectives to bear on the question of eternal security. These essays comprise the first print anthology from the online theological journal Testamentum Imperium, an international forum founded and edited by Kevaughn Mattis featuring scores of first-rate articles from Christian thinkers worldwide on the topic of eternal security. This book therefore analyzes Calvin’s model of perseverance alongside views on eternal security ranging historically from Clement of Rome to contemporary developments in philosophical theology and process theology. Furthermore, this book explores and strengthens the biblical roots of eternal security through an illuminating host of thematic studies on whole books and exegetical studies on particular passages. Hence this volume will profit all who are interested in the scriptural foundations and historical outworkings of eternal security.
  • Andrew David Naselli and Mark A. Snoeberger, eds. Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views. Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement presents a point-counterpoint exchange concerning God’s intention in sending Christ to die on the cross. All three contributors recognize a substitutionary element in the atoning work of Christ, but disagree over the nature and objects of that substitution. Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work secured the redemption of his elect alone. While infinite in value, Christ’s death was intended for and applied strictly to those whom the Father had elected unconditionally in eternity past. John Hammett (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work had multiple intentions. Of these intentions two rise to the fore: (1) the intention to accomplish atonement for God’s elect and (2) the intention to provide atonement for all mankind. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) argues that Christ’s atoning work provided atonement generally for all mankind. The application of that atoning work is conditioned, however, on each person’s willingness to receive it.
  • J. Matthew Pinson, ed. Four Views On Eternal Security (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Does the Bible support the concept of “once saved, always saved,” or can a person lose his or her salvation? How do the Scriptures portray the complex interplay between grace and free will? These and related questions are explored from different angles in this thought-provoking Counterpoints volume. The contributors each state their case for one of four prominent views on eternal security: “Classical Calvinist” (Michael Horton), “Moderate Calvinist” (Norman L. Geisler), “Reformed Arminian” (Stephen M. Ashby),  and “Wesleyan Arminian” (Steve Harper). In keeping with the forum approach of the Counterpoints series, each view is first presented by its proponent, then critiqued and defended. This fair and respectful approach allows you to weigh for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of the different doctrinal stances. By furnishing you with scholarly and thoughtful perspectives on the topic of eternal security, this book helps you sift through opposing views to arrive at your own informed conclusions. 
  • James R. White. The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and the Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free. Norman L. Geisler’s Chosen but Free sparked a firestorm of controversy when he labeled Calvinism “theologically inconsistent, philosophically insufficient, and morally repugnant.” White steps into the breach with his cogent response. His systematic refutation of Geisler’s argument will help you understand what the Reformed faith really teaches about divine election and how Reformed thought conforms to the gospel.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE – How to Practically Do Battle with the Enemy 

  • James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, editors. Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views. Walter Wink, “The World Systems Model”; David Powlison, “The Classical Model”; Greg Boyd, “The Ground-Level Deliverance Model”; C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood, “The Strategic-Level Deliverance Model.”

THEOLOGICAL METHOD – How to Do Theology and Communal Expressions of It

  • Paul L. Allen. Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed). Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed is a book that introduces the reader to the practice of doing theology. It provides a historical survey of key figures and concepts that bear on an understanding of difficult methodological issues in Christian theology. Beginning with a description of philosophical themes that affect the way theology is done today, it summarizes the various theological methods deployed by theologians and churches over two millennia of Christian thought. The book uncovers patterns in the theological task of relating biblical texts with beliefs and doctrines, according to historically conditioned theological and cultural priorities. The book’s highlights include a discussion of Augustine’s epoch-making De doctrina Christiana. Also receiving close attention is the relationship between philosophy and theology during the Middle Ages, the meaning of sola scriptura for the Protestant Reformers, the methods of key interpreters of doctrine in the nineteenth century and the theological priorities of the ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ movement.
  • Kenneth Berding, ed. Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Walter C. Kaiser defends the view: “Single Meaning, Unified Referents”; Darrel L. Bock defends the view: “Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents”; and Peter Enns defends the view: “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal. 
  • Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy. Across The Spectrum: Understanding Issues In Evangelical Theology (Second Edition). This new edition of a popular text presents an accessible yet comprehensive primer that helps readers understand the breadth of viewpoints on major issues in evangelical theology, with chapters using the popular three- or four-views book format. The authors carefully examine thirty-four positions taken by evangelical scholars on seventeen seminal issues. They lay out the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments for each position in point-counterpoint fashion and discuss possible objections. The second edition retains the helpful features of the first edition–end-of-chapter “For Further Reading” sections and an extensive glossary–and adds an appendix that addresses thirteen peripheral issues in contemporary evangelicalism.
  • Ronnie Campbell, ed. Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews Worship the Same God? Four Views (Counterpoints Theology and Life).During a time of global conflict, the theological question of whether Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God carries political baggage. Is the God of ISIS the same as the God of Israel? Do Sunni Muslims and Protestant Christians pray to the same Creator and Sustainer of the universe? In this Counterpoints volume, edited by Ronnie P. Campbell, Jr., and Christopher Gnanakan, five leading scholars present the main religious perspectives on this question, demonstrating how to think carefully about an issue where opinions differ and confusion abounds. They examine related subtopics such as the difference between God being referentially the same and essentially the same, what “the same” means when referring to God, the significance of the Trinity in this discussion, whether religious inclusivism is inferred by certain understandings of God’s sameness, and the appropriateness of interfaith worship.The four main views, along with the scholars presenting them, are: “All Worship the Same God: Religious Pluralist View” presented by Wm. Andrew Schwartz and John B. Cobb, Jr.; “All Worship the Same God: Referring to the Same God View” presented by Francis J. Beckwith; “Jews and Christians Worship the Same God: Shared Revelation View” presented by  Gerald R. McDermott; and “None Worship the Same God: Different Conceptions View” presented by Jerry L. Walls) Additionally, essays by Joseph Cumming and David W. Shenk explore the implications of this question specifically for Christians wanting to minister among and build relationships with Muslims. Cumming stresses that finding common ground is key, while Shenk advocates for a respectful focus on differences.
  • John Jefferson Davis. Handbook of Basic Bible Texts: Every Key Passage for the Study of Doctrine & Theology. This volume provides the complete text of key Scripture passages that form the basis for theological study. The text used is the highly readable and modern New International Version. The verses listed are grouped by the classical categories of systematic theology (e.g., God, Christ, Salvation); on disputed points, verses from which the major theological views derive are given. Footnotes provide clarification and brief commentary on verses as appropriate. This work is intended to assist the theological student who might not take the time to look up the verses cited in systematic theologies, but it will also be useful to anyone seeking to better understand the major themes of Scripture.
  • Louis Goldberg, ed. How Jewish Is Christianity? 2 Views On The Messianic Movement (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Diverse perspectives about the messianic movement ― from six contributors. Are Messianic congregations necessary or should Jewish believers be incorporated into the Gentile church? This is the topic of the latest volume in the Counterpoints series. The question of how Christian Jews relate their Jewish practices and customs to the church has been an issue within Christianity since the first century. Contemporary contributors who have lived and wrestled with this issue present informed arguments and counter-arguments. The book concludes with a chapter on the future for Messianic Jews and a directory of messianic movement organizations. Contributors include: John Fischer (ThD, California Graduate School of Theology, PhD, University of South Florida) is a rabbi of Congregation Ohr Chadash and Chairman of Judaic Studies at St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum (ThM, PhD, New York University) has served with the Chosen People Ministries and Christian Jew Foundation in the past and is now the founder and director of Ariel Ministries. Gershon Nerel (PhD, Hebrew University, Jerusalem) has served as “Israel Secretary” for the International Messianic Jewish Alliance and has also been a member of the executive committee for the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel. David Stern (PhD, MDiv) is the translator of the Jewish New Testament from Greek to English to express its Jewishness; his version of the Tanak is the Complete Jewish Bible. Will Varner (EdD, Temple University) servers as professor of biblical studies at the Master’s College, CA, and the director of the Israel Bible Extension campus of this college in Israel.
  • Stanley N. Gundry, ed. Five Views On Law and Gospel (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). “The Non-Theonomic View” is presented by Willem A. VanGemeren; “The Theonomic Reformed View” is presented by Greg L. Bahnsen; “The Law As God’s Gracious Guidance For The Promotion of Holiness View” is presented by Walter C. Kaiser; “A Dispensational View” is presented by Wayne G. Strickland; and “A Modified Lutheran View” is presented by Douglas J. Moo.
  • Collin Hansen and Andrew David Naselli, eds. Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The following views are presented in this dialogue: “Fundamentalism” by Kevin T. Bauder; “Confessional Evangelicalism” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.; “Generic Evangelicalism” by John G. Stackhuse Jr.; and “Postconservative Evangelicalism” by Roger E. Olson.
  • Glenn R. Kreider and Michael J. Svigel. A Practical Primer on Theological Method: Table Manners for Discussing God, His Works, and His Ways. Around a table sit men and women with distinct roles: the interpreter, the theologian, the virtuous, the philosopher, the scientist, the artist, the minister, and the historian. Each is ready to engage in a passionate discussion centered on God, his works, and his ways. Regardless of which role you play at the same table, you’re invited. You simply need to pull up a chair and join the conversation. But how? What do you say when you take your seat? Where do you start? What are the “rules” of the dialogue? A Practical Primer on Theological Method will help you answer these questions. This primer is not only a “how-to” manual for doing theology, but a handbook of etiquette for doctrinal discussions with other believers. This popular-level introductory text presents the proper manner, mode, and means of engaging fruitfully in theology.
  • Gordon R. Lewis. Decide For Yourself: A Theological Workbook. The great Christian doctrines are worth thinking through for ourselves. That’s why Gordon Lewis has provided this concise and complete survey of the major truths of the Christian faith. But rather than just telling us what he has discovered in Scripture, he offers a theological workbook that helps us explore the evidence itself and to draw our own conclusions. He has organized the material around the main themes of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, creation, the church, and the end times. This unique text has been used by students of the Bible over the last three decades in the classroom, in the home and in the church. Its enduring quality continues to make it a valuable tool for all who want to develop a systematic theology for themselves.
  • Erwin W. Lutzer. The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historical Doctrines That Separate Christians. Lutzer examines various controversies that exist within the broad spectrum of Christianity, presenting the historical background of the issue and the biblical understanding of the doctrine. Chapters include “Predestination or Free Will?”; “Why Can’t We Agree about Baptism”?; and “Justification by Faith.”
  • Gary T, Meadors, ed. Four Views on Moving Beyond The Bible To Theology (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The following models of methods are proposed: “A Principlizing Model” by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.; “A Redemptive-Historical Model” by Daniel M. Doriani; “A Drama of Redemption Model” by Kevin J. Vanhoozer; and “A Redemptive-Movement Model” by William J. Webb.
  • Stanley E. Porter, ed. Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). How should one approach the task of theology? The question of methodology is increasingly one of interest among theologians, who recognize that the very manner in which we approach theology informs both the questions we ask and the conclusions we reach. This volume in IVP’s Spectrum Multiview series brings together five evangelical theologians with distinctly different approaches to the theological task. After presenting the approaches―which include appeals to Scripture, context, missions, interdisciplinary studies, and dogmatics―each contributor responds to the other views. Emerging from this theological conversation is an awareness of our methodological commitments and the benefits that each approach can bring to the theological task. Contributors:Sung Wook Chung, “Bible Doctines Conservative Theology: Codifying God’s Word”;  John R. Franke, “Missional Theology: Living God’s Love”; Telford C. Work, “An Interdisciplinary Theology Response”; Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo, “A Contextual Theology Response”; and Paul Louis Metzger, “A Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology Response.”
  • James Stamoolis, ed. Three Views On Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Bradley Nassif answers the question, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? Yes”; Michael Horton answers the question, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? No”; Vladimir Berzonsky answers the question, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? No”; George Hancock-Stefan answers the question, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? Maybe”; And Edward Rommen answers the question, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? Maybe.”
  • Mary M. Veeneman. Introducing Theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches. Sound theological method is a necessary prerequisite for good theological work. This accessible introduction surveys contemporary theological methodology by presenting leading thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries as models. The book presents the strengths and weaknesses in each of the major options. Rather than favoring one specific position, it helps students of theology think critically so they can understand and develop their own theological method.

THEOLOGY PROPER – The Study of God: 

The Trinity, His Nature, Character & Activity in Our World 

  • John M. DePoe and Tyler Dalton McNabb. Debating Christian Religious Epistemology: An Introduction to Five Views on the Knowledge of God. Debating Christian Religious Epistemology introduces core questions in the philosophy of religion by bringing five competing viewpoints on the knowledge of God into critical dialogue with one another. Each chapter introduces an epistemic viewpoint, providing an overview of its main arguments and explaining why it justifies belief. The validity of that viewpoint is then explored and tested in a critical response from an expert in an opposing tradition. Featuring a wide range of different philosophical positions, traditions and methods, this introduction: Covers classical evidentialism, phenomenal conservatism, proper functionalism, covenantal epistemology and traditions-based perspectivalism; Draws on MacIntyre’s account of rationality and ideas from the Analytic and Conservatism traditions; Addresses issues in social epistemology; and Considers the role of religious experience and religious texts. Packed with lively debates, this is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in understanding the major positions in contemporary religious epistemology and how religious concepts and practices relate to belief and knowledge.
  • Dennis Jowers, ed. Four Views on Divine Providence (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Paul Kjoss Helseth propounds the view that “God Causes All Things”; William Lane Craig propounds the view that “God Directs All Things”; Ron Highfield propounds the view that “God Controls By Liberating”; and Gregory A. Boyd propounds that “God Limits Control.”
  • Gregory E. Ganssle, ed. God & Time: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Series). Paul Helm proclaims the “Divine Timeless Eternity View”; Alan G. Padgett proclaims the “Eternity As Relative Timelessness View”; William Lane Craig proclaims the “Timelessness & Omnitemporality View”; and Nicholas Wolterstorff proclaims the “Unqualified Divine Temporality View.”
  • Stephen R. Holmes, ed. Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). The doctrine of the Trinity stands front and center of the Christian faith and its articulation. After a sustained drought of trinitarian engagement, the doctrine of the Trinity has increasingly resurged to the forefront of Evangelical confession. The second half of the twentieth century, however, saw a different kind of trinitarian theology developing, giving way to what has commonly been referred to as the “social Trinity.” Social—or better, relational—trinitarianism has garnered a steady reaction from those holding to a classical doctrine of the Trinity, prompting a more careful and thorough re-reading of sources and bringing about not only a much more coherent view of early trinitarian development but also a strong critique of relational trinitarian offerings. Yet confusion remains. As Evangelicals get better at articulating the doctrine of the Trinity, and as the current and next generation of believers in various Christian traditions seek to be more trinitarian, the way forward for trinitarian theology has to choose between the relational and classical model, both being legitimate options.In this volume, leading contributors—one evangelical and one mainline/catholic representing each view—establish their models and approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity, each highlighting the strengths of his view in order to argue how it best reflects the orthodox perspective. In order to facilitate a genuine debate and to make sure that the key issues are teased out, each contributor addresses the same questions regarding their trinitarian methodology, doctrine, and its implications. Contributors include: Stephen R. Holmes; Paul D. Molnar; Thomas H. McCall; and Paul S. Fiddes.
  • John W. Loftus and Randal Rauser. God or Godless? One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions. In this unique book, atheist John Loftus and theist Randal Rauser engage in twenty short debates that consider Christianity, the existence of God, and unbelief from a variety of angles. Each concise debate centers on a proposition to be resolved, with either John or Randal arguing in the affirmative and the opponent the negative, and can be read in short bits or big bites. This is the perfect book for Christians and their atheist or agnostic friends to read together, and encourages honest, open, and candid debate on the most important issues of life and faith.
  • Robert J. Matz, ed. Divine Impassability: Four Views of God’s Emotions and Suffering (Spectrum Multiview Series). Does God suffer? Does God experience emotions? Does God change? How should we interpret passages of Scripture that seem to support one view or the other? And where does the incarnation and Christ’s suffering on the cross fit into this? The lively but irenic discussion that takes place in this conversation demonstrates not only the diversity of opinion among Christians on this theological conundrum but also its ongoing relevance for today. Views and Contributors: “Strong Impassibility” by James E. Dolezal, assistant professor in the School of Divinity at Cairn University; “Qualified Impassibility” by Daniel Castelo, professor of dogmatic and constructive theology at Seattle Pacific University; “Qualified Passibility” by John C. Peckham, professor of theology and Christian philosophy at Andrews University; and “Strong Passibility” by Thomas Jay Oord, professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University.
  • J.P. Moreland, Khaldoun A. Sweis, and Chad V. Meister, eds. Debating Christian Theism. Comprising groundbreaking dialogues by many of the most prominent scholars in Christian apologetics and the philosophy of religion, this volume offers a definitive treatment of central questions of Christian faith. The essays are ecumenical and broadly Christian, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and feature lucid and up-to-date material designed to engage readers in contemporary theistic and Christian issues. Beginning with dialogues about God’s existence and the coherence of theism and then moving beyond generic theism to address significant debates over such specifically Christian doctrines as the Trinity and the resurrection of Jesus, Debating Christian Theism provides an ideal starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current debates in Christian theology.
  • Anthony C. Thiselton. Approaching the Study of Theology: An Introduction to Key Thinkers, Concepts, Methods & Debates. From the opening pages of the Bible, we learn of God as one who communicates with humankind―offering us first steps toward knowledge of the divine, the very foothold of theology. On this basis, Approaching the Study of Theology presents an engaging introduction to the breadth and depth of the study of theology, mapping the significant landmarks as well as the main areas of debate. The book is divided into three parts: Part I (Approaches) describes the major approaches to theology that have emerged and developed over time. Part II (Concepts and Issues) explains the major concepts and issues, identifying theologians associated with each. Part III (Key Terms) provides a helpful glossary of all the key terms that readers need to understand in order to better understand theology. Written by the eminent theologian Anthony Thiselton, here is an accessible resource for both those in the midst of a theological course or program as well as those contemplating the field.
  • Bruce A. Ware, ed. Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views. Perspectives on the Doctrine of God presents in counterpoint form four basic common beliefs on the doctrine of God that have developed over the course of church history with a goal of determining which view is most faithful to Scripture. Contributors to this fifth book in the PERSPECTIVES series are Regent College J.I. Packer chair in Theology and Philosophy Paul Helm (Classical Calvinist perspective), editor Bruce Ware (Modified Calvinist perspective), Baylor University professor of Theology Roger Olson (Classical Arminian perspective), and Hendrix College assistant professor of Religion John Sanders (Open Theist perspective).

WORLDVIEW – A particular philosophy of life or conception of the world

  • Ronnie P. Campbell Jr. Worldviews and the Problem of Evil: A Comparative Approach. How does the Christian response to the problem of evil contrast with that of other worldviews? Most attempts at answering the problem of evil either present a straightforward account of the truth claims of Christianity or defend a minimalist concept of God. This book is different. Inside, you’ll examine four worldviews’ responses to the problem of evil. Then, you’ll hear the author’s argument that Christian theism makes better sense of the phenomenon of evil in the world equipping you to reach an informed conclusion. This book’s unique approach integrating worldviews with apologetics with theology will give you a better understanding of the debate surrounding the problem of evil, in both philosophy and theology. Learn to think cogently and theologically about the problem of evil and Christianity’s ability to answer its challenges with Worldviews and the Problem of Evil as your guide.
  • Myron B. Penner, ed. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (Six Views). R. Douglas Geivett, writes, “Is God a Story? Postmodernity and the Task of Theology”; R. Scott Smith writes, “Christian Postmodernism and the Linguistic Turn”; Kevin J. Vanhoozer writes, “Pilgrim’s Digress: Christian Thinking on and about the Post Modern Way”; John R. Franke writes, “Christian Faith and Postmodern Theory: Theology and the Nonfoundationalist Turn”; James K. A. Smith writes, “A Little Story about Metanarratives: Lyotard, Religion, and Postmodernism Revisited.” 

A Comparison of Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology

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MUSINGS ON BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THESE TWO THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS

By Dr. Bruce Ware

These are both movements that really affect a large swath of the evangelical Church with Covenant Theology affecting so much of the Church in the Reformed tradition and Dispensationalism largely through the first study Bible that came out, The Scofield Reference Bible (that was the only one when I was growing up; my folks had the Scofield Reference Bible). It made a big impact on Dallas Seminary and all of its graduates when Dallas was putting out so many pastors for Bible churches and independent Baptist churches. The Bible school movement was largely Dispensational. Moody Bible Institute and most of the Bible schools around the country were Dispensational. Some other seminaries that were Dallas-influenced are Talbot Seminary, Biola University (it used to be Bible Institute of Los Angeles and that is where Biola comes from; J. Vernon McGee and a number of people connected with Biola were Dispensational), Western Seminary (where I went) used to be a Dallas clone and it was Dispensational. So many areas in evangelical life in North America were affected by it.

We need to take a brief look at these two views. One heartening thing I will tell you at the beginning is it is one of those wonderful areas where, though there was such disagreement forty years ago, to the point where there were strong accusations being made by both sides about the other, today there has been a coming together of these movements by sort of progressives of both sides. With Modified Covenantalists and Modified Dispensationalists, the differences between them now, among those Modified groups, is minor in significance. It is not that much to worry about, to be honest with you. It is one area where godly, humble biblical scholarship and theological reflection has resulted in both sides being willing to acknowledge the excesses of their traditions and make changes. The result of that has been to come together in a marvelous way. If you want to read something that talks about this well, Dr. Russ Moore wrote his dissertation on the changing theological positions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology as that affects socio-political action. But in order to get that “as it affects” part, he had to do quite a bit of theological ground work in describing what was going on in these two movements. A large portion of his dissertation relates to mega-changes, and the mega-shifts that have taken place in both of these movements. It is very well done.

A. Covenant Theology

1. General Description – Two Broad Covenants

Covenant theology holds, in terms of its basic understanding of Scripture, that we should understand the Bible as portraying fundamentally two covenants: a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Works, God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden, according to Covenant Theology. Namely, if you obey me and follow me and resist eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; if you stay away from that, if you don’t eat of that tree and follow me in obedience, then you will ultimately receive life. Covenant theologians have seen this as something more than the life of Adam then. It is not just a continuation of his life in the garden temporally, but what we would speak of as eternal life. They propose that there must have been a probationary period in which this testing was undertaken. Had Adam passed the test (who knows how much longer it might have been; maybe two more days and the test would have been over; we just don’t know), then he would have received eternal life because of his works. But if Adam failed the test, if he were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, then we know from the text, in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:17). So death for disobedience; life, presumably a better life, a greater that the life he had now for obedience.

Covenant theologians acknowledge that the first part of this, the promise of life for obedience, is not stated explicitly in Scripture. But they think that it is implied by the negative statement, “If you eat of it you will die”. If you don’t eat of the tree, then you would receive the gift of eternal life. If that is the case, then it must be something different than what you have now, and if that is the case, there must be a probationary period. There must be a time period after which this would be given. All of that follows from what they know to be the case; namely, there is command given that if you eat of the tree you will die. The other part of it is spin off from that.

We all know that Adam failed the test and brought death upon himself and all of his progeny. Romans chapter 5 tells us that in Adam all sin and deserve his death. So we learn from Paul in Romans 5:12 and following that all die in Adam’s one sin.

In order to save sinners, God brings about another covenant. This is not a Covenant of Works because sinners could never work to make the payment necessary to satisfy a holy God on account of the offense that has been committed. The guilt is too great, and the offense is too serious. Another Covenant of Works (work it off now, pay your dues, pay off your debt) won’t work for human beings, for sinners. God inaugurates, instead, a Covenant of Grace, whereby his Son will pay the penalty for sinners, and those sinners in exchange will receive the righteousness of Christ. It is quite a deal for sinners. We give Christ our sins and he gives us his righteousness.

Double imputation is part of this understanding as well. Our sin is imputed to Christ, so he pays the penalty for our guilt and it is charged against him even though he doesn’t deserve to pay it. That’s what imputation means at that point; our sin is charged against Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us; it is credited to our account by faith – justification.

How much of the Bible does the Covenant of Works cover, what does it span? The Covenant of Works covers Genesis 1, 2 and part of Genesis 3 where the sin takes place. What about the Covenant of Grace where sinners now cannot be saved by works? If they are going to be saved it has to be by grace? Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. The point of this is that it leads Covenant theologians, in the traditional understanding, to think in terms of the broad sense of the holistic nature of virtually all of the Bible, from Gen 3 on, which is most of the Bible. Basically, the whole Bible fits under this Covenant of Grace notion. This leads to, in Covenant Theology, a strong sense of uniformity throughout the Bible, that is a strong sense of continuity. There is one thing God is doing from the sin in the garden and on, that is he is providing for human sin and saving the people. The Covenant of Grace spans both Testaments; it spans Israel and Church. In that sense, it leads to a unified sense in all of Scripture: Old and New Testaments together.

2. Covenant Hermeneutic

Because of this sense of unity that takes place, the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology tends to see in Scripture a unified teaching in both Testaments. So there is less of a notion in Covenant Theology that new things come about in divine revelation at new periods of revelation, rather there is more of a notion of simply amplifying or explaining with grater clarity or precession what has been there from the beginning. So for example, in Covenant Theology there is much more a tendency to look back in the Old Testament and see the same kinds of things as you do in the New Treatment. I’ll give you an example of that; some of you know that I teach an elective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The older Covenant theologians (some of the more recent ones, Richard Gap and Sinclair Ferguson have not have gone this route) would tend to see everything that is true of the of the Holy Spirit’s work in the New Testament, his indwelling, his sealing, his empowering that is true for New Testament believers, is also true for Old Testament believers because of this uniformity idea. So if you ask the question what is new at Pentecost or new in the New Covenant? It is more a sense of extension of coverage than it is qualitative experience in the lives of true believers. God will extend this to the ends of the earth: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. To the ends of the earth means extending this beyond the boundaries of the restricted members of the people of God. It is going to go public, nationwide, worldwide. My view is that this is a mistake to think this way. Instead there is a radical new happening when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost that the Old Testament actually prophesied and predicted was going to happen that would make a tremendously different change to the people of God. So you really have to have, it was once this way but now is this way. There really is a change, a marked qualitative kind of change that takes place in the coming of the Spirit in the New Covenant than in the Old. This is a more Dispensational way of thinking. Take a text like Romans 8:3-4

“For what the Law could not do [under the law this didn’t happen, the Law couldn’t do this], weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [we are talking history now, at this point in history, when Christ comes], and as an offering for sin, Him condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4) So that looks to me like we ought to read it as under the Law things were one way, but now that the Spirit has come, Christ has come, things are different. But if you read the Old Covenant writers on the Holy Spirit, you will find a very strong urge to assume that New Testament teachings about the Holy Spirit must be true of Old Testament saints as well.

A similar thing might be said of Christology. There is a very strong sense of trying to see as much as possible of Christ in the Old Testament. Luke 24 makes it very clear that Christ taught concerning himself from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Luke 24:27).

It is a matter of which texts, what they are saying, and to what extent. There is a tendency in Covenant Theology to see more than what others might see from other traditions. The main point I am trying to stress here is that with this Covenant hermeneutic there is a tendency to see uniformity of content between the Testaments.

3. Israel and the Church

One of the places where this becomes both the clearest and most decisive in terms of separating covenant and Dispensational views is how Covenant Theology understands Israel and the Church. Here again, with the basic hermeneutic of uniformity, Covenant Theology would view true Israel as the people of God, that is, true Israel, saved Israel as the people of God and the Church as the people of God. There is really one people of God in both Testaments, both saved by faith, both serving the same God, both the special objects of God’s saving love. Israel really could be thought of and spoken of as the Old Testament Church. The Church in the New Testament can rightly be thought of as New Testament Israel. So we have Old Testament Church, that’s Israel, and we have New Testament Israel, that’s Church. So there really should not be seen significant differences as they are the people of God. Granted Israel is also ethnic and the Church is multiethnic. But apart from that difference, as it relates to nation and ethnicity, we ought to understand the people of God, as believers, constituting the same group of people.

What about promises made to Israel that seem to relate to a time in the future; for example, Israel coming back to her land, or her ultimate salvation by God. What about promises that look like they are eschatological in the Old Testament, and are not fulfilled at any particular point in history in the Old Testament or New Testament period? What do we say about those promises that relate to Israel? God makes the promise, I’ll take from your lands where you have been and I’ll bring you back to your land and you shall have one God, and I will reign over you, and I will destroy your enemies. All of these promises given to Israel, what should we do with those? In Covenant Theology, there is a very strong tendency to go in the direction of saying those promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Israel – the Church. So the Church becomes the object of those promises.

In Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see Old Testament promises as coming straight forward and being fulfilled in the Church. So the land promises (you will be back in your land) shouldn’t be understand as literal land; there is not going to be a day when the ethnic people of Israel occupy literal geography; that is not the point of those promises. It is rather that they will have their kingdom, and it is a spiritual kingdom.

So the promises to Israel are to be fulfilled in a spiritual manner in the Church. When it talks about the Jews being saved, we are all Jews. Remember Paul in Romans 2 says, we are circumcised in Abraham. We are, by faith, part of the seed of Abraham in Galatians (Galatians 3:16). We should understand that all of us are Jews spiritually because we are tied in through Christ, through the seed of Abraham. After all, the promise in Genesis 12 was that through Abraham all the nations in the world will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). So we are tied in.

What about the reign of Christ over nations? This is not a political military reign; it is a spiritual reign as people from every tribe and nation are brought into subjection to Christ. So in Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see, basically, Israel and the Church as equated spiritually.

One place that you see that Reformed Baptists differ is with pedobaptism. In Presbyterian, Anglican, and the majority of reformed theology, they hold to pedobaptism. Here the same thing is happening; Israel circumcised their people as a sign of the Covenant and we are the new Israel. The difference is that our sign of the Covenant is a sign that is Christological in nature because we have been brought together in Christ; everything in the Old Testament pointed to him. Christ has now come, so the sign of the Covenant changes to baptism as a mark of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Israel’s sign of the covenant was given to infants, so the Church’s sign of the Covenant should be given to infants. Honestly, the strongest argument for pedobaptism (in my judgment) is a theological argument; if you try to argue texts, you run out quickly. In a used bookstore in Springfield, Illinois (we were visiting there as a family to look at all of the Lincoln memorabilia that was there), I spotted a rather sizable book on the shelve; the spine was pretty fat. It said on it, All That The Bible Teaches About Infant Baptism. That was the title of it. Wow, I thought, this is a thick book; it is impressive. So I took it off of the shelf and opened it up and it was an empty book. It was just all blank pages. They were charging something like $18 for it, so I didn’t buy it, but I wish I had. I would like to have a copy of that book. The argument is really a theological one: Israel, Church, sense of unity, and hence a very strong case is made on theological grounds for pedobaptism.

One question is: How do they understand a more unified sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament when it looks as though in the Old Testament there are these special works with selective people? What they argue, in particular, are primarily theological arguments. These people had to be regenerated. How does regeneration take place? We know from John 3, it must come from the Holy Spirit. So you see how this works; these people exercised faith didn’t they? Where did faith come from? It must have come from the Holy Spirit. So it is a theological argument that utilizes what the New Testament says the Holy Spirit does. It sees those same actions or similar actions in the Old Testament and concluded that Holy Spirit must do these things as well. It is a very important question of how to account for Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. How do you account for a Daniel and a Joseph who exercised tremendous trust in God through very difficult experiences? It is a very good question, and I think that we just have to work very hard in the Old Testament to try to understand what is said there and what is happening there and take seriously the notion that something new takes place. Roman 8:3-4, says, “In order that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those are remarkable words. Or in Galatians 3 (Galatians 3:24, to be precise) the Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. It is a tough question; I’ll admit it. I think that are some things that can be said, but it’s why this theological reasoning is persuasive to a number of Reformed people. The problem is so many Old Testament texts indicate the selectivity of the Spirit at work in the Old Testament and then there are specific texts that promise a future day that matches New Testament reality. Ezekiel 36:27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” You read that and realize the holiness that He requires of his people will come about when the Holy Spirit comes and works in them. Think of 2 Corinthians 3:3, the letter written on their hearts by the Spirit. This is New Covenant.

B. Dispensationalism

1. General Description – Progressive Revelation

Dispensationalism is an understanding of the Bible, of biblical history, that notices and points to distinguishable Dispensations or administrations of God’s purposes, will, and relationships with people in general and particularly his people.

The key idea in Dispensationalism is progressive revelation. This is the bottom rock notion in this understanding of reading the Bible. Progressive revelation means, essentially, that God provides revelation at a particular time and that revelation provides certain commandments, requirements, warnings and promises. Some of those commands, warnings, and promises may continue beyond when that revelation is given, beyond the next period when great revelation is given. Or some revelations may stop at that particular point. When new revelation comes with Noah, or then with Abraham, or with Moses (think of these periods where new great revelation is given), some things continue on, and some things continue all the way through. Obey the Lord your God; that is from the beginning right to the end. In the revelation given to Adam in the garden, the command, “You shall not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day you eat of it you will die,” (Gen 2:17) doesn’t apply to you and me anymore, specifically as a commandment. Where is that tree? How could you eat of it? You can’t. So it applies to Adam very much so. When revelation comes, there may be new things that start up that were not here before.

Noah is told that he can eat animals; that is part of the statement made to Noah after the flood. He can eat these animals (Genesis 9), but he cannot kill human beings (I take it that continues). I don’t find vegetarianism theological defensible. Both because of what God says to Noah about eating animals (which I assume continues), and certainly the prohibition of killing humans continues. Nor do you find it defensible in light of Israel, in what they are permitted to eat. And Jesus who pronounced all foods clean is obviously talking about unclean foods, which would include pork. So I guess you can have a bacon or a ham sandwich.

The point is that with progressive revelation, you see some things that are new which continue only for a time, and there are other things that might start, ones that weren’t here before, which continue all the way through, and some things which are just for that time period itself. This, then, amounts to different dispensations, different ways in which God administers his relationship with people. The most obvious example is the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. We now have in this time period these laws that relate to the sacrificial system; and it is clear that they last until Christ comes who fulfills what they are pointing to: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When God’s Lamb comes, then you don’t have to keep taking your lamb to the priest to be slaughtered. When the High Priest reigns, you don’t need a priest any longer. So here we have in this time period laws that are very relevant, extremely relevant, in exact literal detail. Fulfilling those Laws is extremely important in this time period, then when Christ comes they end. You don’t take a lamb; you don’t go to the priest; the priest doesn’t have to prepare himself for the Day of Atonement. All of these things that were there before are done. This is the main idea of Dispensationalism. It is progressive revelation. When revelation comes you need to notice what things have quit what was revealed before, what things start that weren’t revealed before and what things endure. Whatever you come up with in that time period marks that particular dispensation as the revelation of God in that time period.

2. Dispensational Hermeneutic

This notion of progressive revelation has lead Dispensationalist to interpret the Bible, to look at biblical history and interpret where you are in the Bible, very differently than the way Covenant theologians look at the Bible. The tendency in Covenant Theology is to look for uniformity; there is one Covenant of Grace that spans virtually the entire Bible. So there is a tendency to see this uniformity; there is one people of God. In Dispensationalism the mindset is very different. It is instead to notice discontinuity, differences in how God relates to people depending on the revelation that is given at that particular time. It is much more attuned to the discontinuities between various dispensations and to respect those, to be careful not to interpret something in this dispensation as you are reading it from a different time period. So you are not being respectful of what it means here. Charles Ryrie no doubt overstated it in his book, Dispensationalism Today, but he gave this threefold sine qua non (a Latin phrase meaning without which there is none) of Dispensationalism or the essential markings of Dispensationalism. One of them is a literal hermeneutic. He didn’t mean you interpret poetry literally. John kicked the bucket means that John died; that is the way you are supposed to interpret it. He didn’t mean literal in the sense of ignoring metaphorical poetic meanings or terms. What he meant by that is, when reading the Bible, understand what an author intends to say within the historical context of when he is writing it, so that you don’t read back into it things from the future or read forward of things in the past. You take care to read it within its own dispensation. That is what he meant by literal hermeneutic; to understand what the author meant then and there as he spoke at that time.

3. Israel and the Church

A literal hermeneutic has led to, in particular, the way Israel and the Church are evaluated. It is clear in Dispensationalism that Dispensationalists insist upon seeing Israel as Israel and the Church as the Church. There is a strong discontinuity between the two. The Church starts as Christ built it. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my Church.” Therefore, we shouldn’t talk about it in the Old Testament, even though the term ekklesia is used in the Septuagint (it is not being used in the technical sense, it just means a gathering of people together). We shouldn’t talk about Old Testament Israel as the Church. Jesus said, “I will build my Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes” (Acts 1:4), “And when he comes he will anoint you with power” (Acts 1:8). So Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. We shouldn’t talk about Israel as the Old Testament Church nor should we talk about the Church as the New Testament Israel because Israel is an ethnic national group and we are multiethnic; we are multinational. It is confusing to talk of the Church as Israel.

So as it pertains to these promises we talked about under Covenant Theology, what do you do with the Old Testament promises that particularly relate to Israel? How do understand these when God says through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:24, I will take you from the lands where you have been and bring you back to your land. And he goes on to say at the end of Ezekiel 37 that the Messiah will reign as your king; David will reign as your king. What do you do with these promises that relate to a future for Israel where the Messiah is reigning over his people in the land, the nations are subjected to the Messiah, and there is peace on earth; what do you do with these?

If these promises have to do with Israel, instead of seeing them fulfilled in the Church (because the Church is not Israel), you see them fulfilled at a future time when God will finish his promised work with Israel. There is a sense in which the premillennial view for Dispensationalism is supported because of Old Testament promises to Israel whether or not you have Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is a really nice extra to have because it gives you the exact time period, a thousand years. It makes it crystal clear that this comes after Christ has returned to earth and he reigns upon the earth for this thousand year period. That is nice to know all that, but we didn’t need Revelation 20 to know there had to be a time period in the future after Christ returned for God to finish his work with Israel. Why? Because these promises back here talk about land, Messiah, Jerusalem. According to a literal hermeneutic, what did Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zachariah mean when they said “Jerusalem”? What did they mean when they said “in your land”? What were the authors intended meanings of these terms: land, Israel, Messiah, and other nations? They understood those things to be referring to physical realities. Have they happened yet? Has Messiah come? No. Is Israel in her land? Hence all the hoopla over 1948; this is when Dispensationalism just went nuts because here we have what appears to be (of course people said it much stronger than that back then) God’s movement to begin the fulfillment of bringing Israel back to her land to fulfill all of these promises. Then there were all kinds of speculation that came in terms of date setting and that kind of stuff.

In my judgment, Dispensationalism has far more merit as a Biblical Theology than its popularizers have allowed it to have in public perception. The popularizers went too far; they extended it into the unknowable. It was speculation but stated as fact. This has hurt the Dispensational movement, in my view.

So for dispensationalists, God is going to come back and wipe out the nations and save Israel, that will happen during the tribulation and he (The Messiah) is going to reign in Jerusalem over his people in the Millennial period fulfilling Old Testament promises.

C. Modifications of both Dispensational and Covenantal Understandings

What has happened, essentially, is that the notions that Israel equals the Church or Israel is totally separate from the Church have been challenged by both representatives in the Covenantal tradition and representatives in the Dispensation tradition. Both have come to see that a better model is one in which there is continuity and discontinuity together. Something like a screen between the two rather than a complete equation or a complete separation of the two. Some things can pass through (hence the screen), yet there are differences between them.

One the Covenant side there has been a recognition, for example, that we really should think of a future for Israel. There was a time when very few Covenant theologians would deal with Romans 11 (Roman 11:17, 23, 24, 26) where Paul talks about the olive tree and the natural branches were cut off and the unnatural branches were grafted on. But a time will come when he will graft the natural branches back on to the tree; that is Israel. That analogy is so helpful. How many trees are there in that analogy? One. How many kinds of branches? Two. Do you have one people of God or two? If you mean one people in Christ, then there is one. If you mean specifically designated Jewish people, for whom God has specifically promised salvation, verses the rest of God’s saved people, then it is two. How else do you understand the natural branches and the unnatural branches? Doesn’t Paul continue to think of the people of God as comprised of Jews and Gentiles? At the moment, most of those Jews are not saved; there is a hardening that has taken place. That is how he describes it in Romans 11. This hardening has taken place, so the Gospel has gone to Gentiles, but the day will come when he will graft the natural branches back on. Who are those people? They are Jews; they are going to be saved. So Paul says, all Israel will be saved. It was difficult for Covenant theologians and Covenant interpreters (a few did but not many) to see that as ethnic Israel. But increasingly in this more modified understanding, you are finding more and more Covenant theologians, people from the Covenant tradition acknowledging that, yes, this is what Paul means; he means that there will be some kind of future salvation of Jews – literal ethnic Jews. Whether this has to happen in the way Dispensationalist conceive it in a tribulation period where vast persecution takes place, tremendous destruction of people and material well-being in everything across the world, and at the same time massive conversions of Jews to Christ, or whether it happens in this age through some kind of evangelistic effort is really beside the point. That is a secondary question. Where there is much more agreement among Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians (in the Modified groups) is that it does look like there is future salvation of Israel.

Dispensationalists have changed. I think it might be fair to say that they have done more changing than the Covenant side. I think that is correct. In other words, Dispensationalists have recognized a bit more that has needed to be changed in their views and tradition than has necessarily been the case in with Covenant theologians.

I will give an example of this. In fact, I have written an article on this in the book that Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising edited entitled, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. I have a chapter in there on the New Covenant. Here is basically what I talk about in there. In the old view for Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing and the Church is another and you can’t mix the two. Here you are, reading your New Testament and you hear Jesus say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). And Paul says, I am a minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6). And Hebrews speaks of the Old Covenant is taken away, and the New Covenant has come (Heb 8:13). The New Covenant is the Covenant for the Church, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant for Israel.

What do you do with how Jeremiah 31-34 relates to the New Covenant for the Church, the New Covenant that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3, where he says he is a minister of the New Covenant? How do you relate Jeremiah 31 to that? There is a real problem with that because Jeremiah 31 (Jeremiah 32:31) says, “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In traditional Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing, the Church is another and here you have this statement about a new covenant with the house of Israel, so what relation does this Jeremiah 31 New Covenant have to do with the 2 Corinthians 3 New Covenant, of which Paul is a minister? Jesus says, “This cup is the New Covenant of my blood”(Luke 22:20), and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 repeats that, so what is the relation between the two? The dispensational answer is that they are two separate Covenants. Traditional Dispensationalism had a two New Covenant view. Because Jeremiah 31 had to be for Israel, whatever Paul is talking about, whatever Jesus is talking about, and (here is where it get really messy) whatever Hebrews is talking about has got to be a different covenant.

Now why did I say that, here is where it gets really messy in reference to Hebrews? Because Hebrews 8 and 10 quote Jeremiah 31 twice (Hebrews 8:8,9; 10:16) in making the point that the Old Covenant, the Mosiac Covenant is done away and New Covenant, to quote Jeremiah 31, “has taken its place”. Even despite that, they maintain this difference. This is how strong the theological commitment was to two peoples, Israel and the Church; keep them separate and don’t confuse them. It was so strong that even with Hebrews starring at them quoting Jeremiah 31, they insisted on two different Covenants. The text won with Progressive Dispensationalists (That is what they are called). Craig Blaising, who taught here for years, is one of the main leaders of this movement. He and Darrell Bock at Dallas are the champions of Progressive Dispensationalism. They argue that we have got to say that the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is the Church’ New Covenant. What else would Jesus be referring to? The phrase, New Covenant, is only used one time in the Old Testament; it is in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews quotes it and says the old has passed and this has come in its place. So we have got to understand this is to be the Church’s New Covenant. In my article here is what I proposed: Are we to say then that everything that Jeremiah 31 talks about is fulfilled now in the Church? In other words, should we do this sort of an interpretation of Jeremiah 31; in which we have an Old Testament promise and we draw the arrow straight forward and say Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the Church period? I say no. Rather, I think that we draw an arrow forward and we draw an arrow to the future; we draw both. What allows for a “both and” answer? It is both in some sense fulfilled in the Church and in some sense fulfilled in the future. This is the theology of one of the strongest opponents of Dispensationalism: George Eldon Ladd.

Ladd is the one who really faced the evangelical church with this “already not yet” theology. We understand biblical eschatology as being fulfilled in a preliminary partial way, but are still awaiting the complete consummation, complete fulfillment.

This is a different topic; I’ll come back to New Covenant. How do answer the question has the Kingdom of Christ come, or is the Kingdom of Christ here? “Yes but,” or “Yes and no.” Don’t you have to say both? Is the Kingdom of Christ here? Yes, Colossians 1:13 says, We have been transferred from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. In Matthew 12, Jesus casts out a demon, and the Pharisees said he casts out demons by Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24 ). But he says in response, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). So has the kingdom come? Yes. But what does the New Testament call Satan at various points? The god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the ruler of this world (John 12:13), and the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). When you read Isaiah 9:6, 7, have you ever asked yourself the question, has this happened? “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of increase of his government there will be not end to establish it and to uphold it from this day forth and for ever more for the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Has this happened? Did you read the paper this morning? Something tells me we are not there yet. This was exactly John the Baptist’s problem. This is huge to get this. John the Baptist in Matthew 11 sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the appointed one or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3). This is an incredible question, an unbelievable question. John the Baptist witnessed the dove descend on Jesus (John 1:32), and was told, “The One upon whom you see the dove descend, this is my son; follow him (John 1:33). John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-16). John the Baptist was the one who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and, “I am not worthy to untie the thong on his sandal” (John 1:27). He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is John the Baptist who now in prison says, I’m not sure if this is the anointed one. What has happened?

John knows his Old Testament. This is the problem; he knows the promises that relate to the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, guess what the Messiah is going to do? Isaiah 9:6, 7 says he is going to reign over nations. Read the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Incredible devastation to unrighteousness; he is going to destroy those who stand against him; he is going to exalt Israel. Here is the forerunner of the Messiah in prison. What is wrong with this picture? That is what John is thinking. So he thinks, maybe this isn’t the Messiah after all. Consider the angst that he must have been going through in prison, the huge spiritual struggle he must have been facing for that question to come out of him, of all people.

Jesus’ response is brilliant. “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4, 5). Jesus is quoting Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah. So the point is, John, don’t miss it; the Messiah is fulfilling prophecy; I am the Messiah. But not all prophecy, not all now, it is “already and not yet.” Is the kingdom here? Already and not yet. Yes and no, you have to say. Yes, in some things; no, in others.

Back to the New Covenant, how do we see the New Covenant fulfilled? Already in the Church; in some aspects, in a preliminary partial way, we enter into this new covenant, but even a reading of Jeremiah 31 will show that not all of it is fulfilled yet. Because it says, “I will put my Law within you and you won’t have to teach each one his neighbor, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Jer 31:33, 34). That hasn’t happened yet. We have teachers in the Church appointed by God to tell people about God, teach them about the Lord. We have the gift of teaching in the Church for that very purpose. So it hasn’t happened yet.

Everyone acknowledges that there has to be an “already not yet.” It includes, in my view, an already in this age predominately gentiles (who were not even given the New Covenant, it was given to Israel) who get in through the seed of Abraham: Jesus. That is our avenue. They get in as Jews, well granted through faith in Christ, they will be brought to faith in Christ, but no other ethnic national group is promised, “I am going to save you.” God promises that to Israel though; they will be saved as a whole ethnic group. Not Babylonians, not Assyrians not anybody else, but Jews will be because God chose them. It is clear in Deuteronomy 7; God chose them, and he is going to save them. When that happens, the New Covenant God made with Israel and Judah is going to be fulfilled. You watch; God will keep his word

Blessings on You.

Dr. Bruce Ware

– See more at: http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/covenant-theology-dispensationalism/systematic-theology-i/bruce-ware#sthash.NKg0GYoD.dpuf

Jewish Evangelism in the New Millennium in Light of Israel’s Future (Rom. 9-11) By Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr

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It is impossible to read and interpret the epistle to the Romans without confronting its central issue—the relation of the Jewish people to God’s plan of salvation and evangelism. Throughout the entire apostolic ministry of Paul, we, in fact, find this “two-step missionary pattern”: [Note #1: This expression is from Mark D. Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 239-47]. “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:10 RSV). Paul’s custom, upon arrival in a city where he had not previously preached, was first to enter the synagogue to preach, then to preach to the Gentiles of that city. [Note: #2: Acts 17:1-2, “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”]. This two-step pattern is a distinctive of the apostle’s ministry and message: the Jew first and then to the Gentiles.

Nevertheless, even though all will agree on the correctness of this assessment, it has become commonplace among more recent theologians to regard the Christian church as the new successor and replacement for the Israel of Romans 9-11. Or alternatively, Israel is treated as a parenthetical insertion into, or disruption to the Gentile evangelistic outreach of, the otherwise unified argument of the book of Romans.

Examples of the former mistake can be seen in a fairly large number of places. The second Vatican Council described the Christian church as “the new Israel.” [Note #3: Geoffrey Chapman, The Documents of Vatican II (London: n.p., 1966), 24-26, as cited in D.B. W. Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” Reformed Theological Review 26 (1967): 81. Robinson also alerted me to several of the surfaces that follow from the church documents.] A similar document titled “Report of the Joint Commission on Church Union of the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches of Australia” also identified the church with “the true Israel.”[Note #4: Joint Commission on Church Union, The Church: Its Nature, Function and Ordering (Melbourne: Joint Board of Christian Education, 1964), 12ff.]. These citations are only a small representation of the reigning thought among many reformed and covenantal theologians today.

But just as troubling is another sentiment among many dispensational and non reformed theologians. This perspective asserts that the doctrine of salvation in the book of Romans can be dealt with apart from the question of the Jewish people. It is thought that Romans 9-11 is merely a parenthetical insertion between Romans 1-8 and Romans 12-16, one that momentarily halts the discussion of the doctrine of salvation in the former passage and its practical implications in the latter. Even though this group correctly believes there is a future for ethnic Israel of the flesh, they do not clearly connect it with the present-day church. It is almost as if the plan of God for salvation changes as the days of the eschaton appear in the windup of the present period of history.

To counter such a belief, both of these positions must come in for some serious modification according to the biblical data. The task of this article, then, is not only to interpret the meaning of Romans 9-11 as faithful to the apostle’s assertions, but also to show that Romans 9-11, with its message about Israel, is integral to the subject matter of the epistle as a whole with its single plan of the salvation of God.

The Ancient Covenant: A Troubling Question

Romans 9-11 is not, as Hendrikus Berkof affirmed, some sort of “eccentric outburst, nor is it particularly difficult, as is suggested by the contradictory explanations.” [Note #5: Hendrikus Berkof, Christ the Meaning of History, trans. Lambertus Buurman, Dutch 4th ed. (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1966), 141.]. Berkhof went on to correctly observe that this text becomes especially difficult only when we wish to make it say something it does not say.

Why, for example, does the apostle say, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. 9:2 NIV)? So strongly does Paul feel about this matter that he could wish himself personally accursed and cut off from the Messiah if it would have the benefit of bringing his Jewish brethren to the light of the gospel in the Messiah (Rom. 9:3).

Surely, this is a noble and praiseworthy sentiment, but it does not explain why the area of Jewish acceptance of the gospel is so troubling for Paul. Only when we get to Romans 11:1 do we find out what is so troubling to the apostle: “Did God reject his people?” The question poses a potential problem not only about Israel, but a bigger problem not only about Israel, but a bigger problem about God. In short, how can the everlasting plan of God be trusted and believed in for the salvation of all peoples? If God—the same God, who, based on His word and his own life (Gen. 12; 22; Her. 6:18)—once promised to Israel similar outcomes as those found in Romans 9-11, but has now rejected Israel and turned his back on them, what is left of the doctrine of the faithfulness and dependability of God? It is simply impossible for God to lie or go back on what he promises. Therefore, the problem of Israel is the problem of God due to his eternal promise-plan. [Note #6: I have developed the continuity theme of the promise-plan of God between the two testaments in my books Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) and The Christian and the “Old” Testament (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Press, 1999).].

The answer Paul will give to his own question is that the rejection of Israel is not total or complete, but only temporary and partial at that. “It is not as though the word of God had failed; for not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6 NIV). That is, there are many Israelites who are not lost, but are saved. This same divine discriminating policy has been observed from the very beginning. God chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau (Rom. 9:7-12). In so doing, Paul argues, God was not unjust. The marvel is that anyone experienced the mercy of God. The better question to ask is why God spared anyone at the time of the golden calf (Rom. 9:14-18). Furthermore, this divine sovereignty does not exempt human responsibility, for while the grace and mercy of God cannot be pursued by works, but only by faith (Rom. 9:31-32), mortals still culpable for their own refusals of this grace of God. But there is more to the answer: in Romans 10 Paul demonstrates that the rejection of so large a number in Israel is not arbitrary or out of character for God. Israel disregarded the righteousness that came from God and substituted instead a homemade righteousness that refused to submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3). Most of Israel failed to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). Thus, there is no way that any Israelite, who rejects God’s way of salvation, can blame anyone other than themselves. Had not the prophet Isaiah cried out on God’s behalf, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (Isaiah 65:2) Paul used in Romans 10:21 this very argument from the prophet Isaiah to show that many of the Jewish people must bear responsibility.

The rejection of the majority of Israel, however, is “neither absolute nor unqualified.” [Note #7: Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 142]. Romans 11:1-10 argues that God’s dealings with the Jews and the Gentiles are closely interrelated. What may have seemed to be a divine rejection of the Jewish people was and is not such, for there has always been a remnant selected by grace who did believe and were saved (Rom. 11:5). Thus, the gospel had a twofold effect: some were saved and others were hardened by the same good news. This double effect mirrors that which the plagues of Egypt had on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The plagues were meant to lead the Egyptians to repentance (Exodus 7:17; 9:14, 29 et passim), but it hardened many off them. Some did believe (Ex. 12:38), but most, like Pharaoh, rejected all of God’s evidences.

Israel: An Indefectible Destiny

It is clear that Paul focuses his attention on Israel in these three chapters, but what “Israel” is Paul thinking about? Nowhere else in Paul’s writings has he expounded and used the term Israel so centrally and so insistently. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, Israel occurs only five times (NIV):

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:18—“Consider the people of Israel,” a passing allusion to the sacrificial order in the older testament;
  2. 2 Corinthians 3:7, 13—“the Israelites,” who were unable to look on Moses’ face when he came down from Mount Sinai;
  3. Ephesians 2:12—“excluded from citizenship in Israel,” refers to Christians who were not part of the state of Israel;
  4. Philippians 3:5—“of the people [stock] of Israel,” describes Paul as being a legitimate Jew;
  5. Galatians 6:16—“Israel of God,” is a passage hotly contested both for and against an identification with Israel.

In Romans 9-11, however, the term Israel or Israelites occurs fourteen times. But this recurrence represents more than focus: Paul speaks from within, and on behalf, of Israel. We shall badly misunderstand Paul if we think that he has renounced his membership within Israel due to his faith in Jesus. The apostle never seceded from his Jewish heritage and his people, for what he taught was consistent with his Jewish faith taught in the Tenakh.

Paul proposes no new definition for Israel: for him there was only one Israel. C.F.D. Moule had thought that the name Israel had lost its original character, with Paul reserving the name Jews for those who are externally, or by both, Jewish, and the term Israel being reserved for those who were part of the people of God, the religious community. [Note #8: C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1962), 46.]. This cannot be sustained however, in biblical usage. These two terms, Jews and Israel, are never contrasting terms, for when Paul wished to make that distinction, he spoke of those who were Jews “outwardly” versus those who were Jews “inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29).

The real character and definition of Israel is set out in Romans 9:4-5. Their articles of incorporation, as it were, included “the adoption as sons,” “the divine glory,” “the covenants,” “the receiving of the law,” “the temple worship,” “the promises,” “the patriarchs,” and “the human ancestry of Christ [the Messiah]” (NIV). But even more startling, this calling and these gifts were “irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). God himself could not change his purpose and plan toward his people whom he had set as the object of his election (Rom. 11:2).

It is this simple but complex affirmation that makes Romans 9-11 so difficult for those who approach it with a different idea in mind. The Jewish people are forever loved by God because of the promise God had given to the patriarchs (Rom. 11:28). Moreover, the promise of Isaiah 54:17 was true: “Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation” (NIV). This would be fulfilled when “all Israel” would be saved (Rom. 11:26).

Therefore, we must not separate and set asunder an eschatological Israel of the promise from an ethnic-empirical Israel of history. The Israel that Paul refers to in these three chapters is the one that “descended from Jacob/Israel” (Rom. 9:6, 10). What is more, the salvation of the Gentiles is closely related to the salvation of Israel, two arms of the one and same divine purpose and plan of God. That single plan for both is, in fact, the finale to the whole argument of the book of Romans. Paul concludes, “Messiah has become a minister of the circumcision {Jews} for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8-13). Accordingly, the salvation of the Gentiles rests on the promises given to the patriarchs just as much as did the salvation of the Jews. But that same salvation is the one now confirmed in the appearance of the Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, who is also a minister to the Jewish people with the same message of salvation.

There is the marvel: even though the Gentiles lacked the covenant and the divine promises made with Israel, they can now enter into that same experience though faith without becoming Israelites. They are partners with Israel, but not Israel. As believers, Gentiles are “children of Abraham” (see Gal. 3:29), but that’s not the same thing as saying they are “children of Israel.” [Note #9: This fine point is made by Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” 89. Robinson notes that this equation is sometimes made by theologians, but Paul never makes it.].

Paul uses the former term, but he refrains from using the latter. Thus, the term of continuity between believers, Jew and Gentiles, is “the people of God.” [Note #10: For further details, see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Israel as the People of God,” in The People of God: Essays on the Believer’s Church, dedicated to James Leo Garret Jr. (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 99-108.]. God may, and does, call other nations as “his.” Egypt, for example, is called “my people” in that future day of the Lord (Isa. 19:25). He also took out of the Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14), but in no case did the writers of Scripture ever thereby consider these new believers as the “new Israel” and to be equated with national Israel.

The One Olive Tree

The imagery of the olive tree [Note #11: The most extensive treatment of the olive tree is found in A.G. Baxter and J.A. Ziesler, “Paul and Arboriculture: Romans 11:17-24, “Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24 (1985); 25-32.] is developed to warn the new Gentile believers that they have not supplanted Israel or that the ancient promises made to the patriarchs have been rescinded. W. D. Davies suggests that Paul may have purposely chosen the olive tree analogy over that of the vine, which is more natural to the Jews. The olive, Davies remarks, is a powerful symbol of Athens and the Greek culture. [Note #12: W.D. Davies, “Paul and the Gentiles: A Suggestion Concerning Romans 11:13-24,” in Jewish and Pauline Studies (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 153-63, esp. 155].

Paul’s primary purpose, though, was to make his sharp contrast between the wild and cultivated olive trees. The wild tree (Gr. agrielaios) was unproductive and bore no useful fruit, thereby making it a perfect analogy for contrast between the Jewish culture as supplied by God and the Hellenistic culture of the Gentiles.

The olive tree analogy focuses on the root and the branches. The other symbols in Romans 11:16, that of the “firstfruits,” the “dough,” and the “whole batch,” serve the same purpose as the root and the branches: the solidarity of the part with the whole. The apostle uses the Semitic concept of solidarity when he argues that the character of the root of a tree, or body, carries over into the whole plant or the branches into two separate entities, for the quality of the source of nourishment inheres in the quality of the resulting branches.

But what is the “root”? Whether the root is Abraham, the blessings and promises given to Abraham, or Messiah himself, as he is the “seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made” (Gal. 3:16ff.), makes little difference here. The same covenantal promise of God is referred to in any event: the promised Messiah who would come though Abraham. It is this root that sustains all the branches, whether they are newly grafted in or part of the original olive tree.

The branches, however, are a different story. The olive tree is rightly regarded as the Israelites’ “own olive tree” (Rom. 11:24). But does the entire tree represent Israel? Yes, insofar as it represents the dependence of Israel on the Abrahamic blessing. “Certain,” or “some” (Gr. tines), of the olive branches, however, have been lopped off (Rom. 11:17). So sensitive is Paul to the unbelief of his people that he uses the word “some,” or a “certain”  number, of branches have been cut off, thereby suggesting a minority, even though he perceives that it is a majority for the present time (cf. Rom. 3:3).

But from what have these natural branches been cut? They have not been severed from their ethnic entities, for they are still Jews regardless of their lack of belief. Moreover, Paul uses the passive verb (Gr. exeklasthesan—Rom. 11:17, 19029) for the breaking off of the branches, indicating that it is the action of God himself. (If it is a middle voice, then the action is one that the branches have brought themselves.) The branches have left the promises that God to Abraham. It is not that these branches have been replaced, but branches from a wild olive have been grafted in—in and among those natural branches that still have their roots in the promise of Abraham. The salvation now enjoyed by the Gentiles is continuous with the root of Abraham. In this way, Gentiles share in what had originally been given to Israel, which “some,” or “certain,” of Israel now reject.

The Gentile believers are designated as a wild olive. It is not their “wildness” that is in view here, however, but that they are not “cultivated,” “cultured.” In and of themselves, the Gentiles will never produce olive oil. (Had Paul used a vine for his analogy, it wouldn’t have worked because the wild grapevine does produce wild grapes.) Therefore, if the Gentiles are going to produce anything, they must be grafted into the people of God who spring from the root of Abraham. The Gentiles do not “support the root, but the root supports [them]” (Rom. 11:18 NIV). Without this root, Gentile Christians cannot live—nor can the church exist, for it would float in midair with no anchorage in the past or present.

Has God grown weary of Israel? Is that why some of the natural branches were lopped off? Paul meets this misconception in Romans ,11:19. On the contrary, the Jews have chosen not to believe and thus were lopped off. The Gentiles have been grafted in not because of a superior virtue on their part; rather, it was solely because of their belief (Rom. 11:19-20). Jews who believe in Messiah do not need to be grafted into an alien root as do the Gentiles, who came from paganism (Rom. 11:23-24). Jews could be re-engrafted into the olive tree all the more easily than the Gentiles were grafted in.

The ultimate acceptance of the Jews into those “in Christ” would be like “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15 NIV). By this, Paul meant that more than merely untold spiritual blessings would result. The “acceptance” (Rom. 11:15—Gr. prolempsis) would be an act inaugurating the end of all things. The final act of history would rest upon the Jews. When these who were “in Abraham” would also be “in Christ,” untold benefits would result, signaling the coming of the eschaton itself.

The Mystery of Romans 11:25

The “mystery” in Romans 11:25 does not hark back to the olive tree analogy so much as it does to the earlier statements in Romans 11:11-14, with its reference to “provoking to emulation,” i.e., “arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (Rom. 11:14 NIV). The mystery is not so much that “all Israel will be saved” as it is how all Israel will be saved.

So the mystery is not the fact of Israel’s having “stumbled” (Gr. proskoptein). Note that Paul distinguishes between Greek ptaiein, “to stumble,” and Greek piptein, “to fall.” Israel has stumbled but not fallen. The question is why Israel stumbled and how they will be saved. The mystery, then, is the process that God is employing to bring about Israel’s final redemption.

How, then, does the metaphor of “hardening” of Israel illustrate the mystery of how God is dealing with the nation that has rejected him? Paul has used the concepts of “stumbling,” over the “stone that causes men to stumble” (see Rom. 9:32-33 NIV), and the branches that have “been broken off”(Rom. 11:17)—as well as the concept of “hardening” (Rom. 11:7)—to indicated the status of “the others” from the “remnant” (Rom. 11:7, 5). Mark D. Nanos comments that the word hardening (Gr. porosis) is derived from a medical group of words that refers to the hardening swelling of a bone that has been broken. It was used frequently and so interchangeably with the Greek paposis, meaning “maiming,” or “blinding,” that there was often little or no distinction between the two terms. [Note #13: Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, 261]. This hardening is not final, but is a temporary division of Israel that will set up the final benefits that will come in the end times.

What, then is the “partial hardening,” or “hardening in part” (Gr. app merous—Rom. 11:25) that has come over Israel? Some interpreters argue that only a part of the people were hardened while others argue that all Israel is hardened partially. But Paul is only concerned here with that part of Israel that has stumbled, not with all of Israel stumbling partially. Further, not all Israel has been hardened, even partially. There have always been a remnant and holy branches in the nation of Israel. But it is the hardened part in contrast to the remnant, that is in Paul’s view, who will eventually see and believe along with the newly grafted-in Gentile believers.

When will this hardening that has come over a part of the Jewish people end? Not “until [Gr. achri, a conjunction followed by an untranslated relative pronoun hou, that gives a future, temporal sense] the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25 NASB). Sometime during or after the “fulness of the Gentiles” (KJV) takes place, this hardening of part of Israel will end.

But what di Paul mean by “the fulness of the Gentiles”? The “fulness” (Gr. pleroma) usually takes on a numeric quality of that which brings to completion what had been planned or sought. The RSV translates the term “fulness” in Romans 11:12 as the “full inclusion,” or “full number.” Thus, God has in mind a full number of Israelites just as a full number of Gentiles. When the full number of the Gentiles is reached, it will be Israel’s opportunity to experience their full number. The gathering of Gentiles goes on throughout all history, but there will come a time when this process will be wrapped up. That time is similar to Luke 21:24, where “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (KJV). Upon that happening, Jesus’ comment was, “You know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31 NIV).

The benefits that God has bestowed on the Gentiles are but “the proleptic deposit of what God will bestow upon Israel at the culmination of salvation history.” [Note #14: Bruce W. Longenecker, Eschatology and the Covenant: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Romans 1-11 (Sheffield, UK: Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 1991), 261]. That is the point of Paul’s jealousy motif: Israel will one day realize that some Gentiles are enjoying what was originally promised to all Israel and thereby be provoked to jealousy to start emulating the faith that the Gentiles are exercising. Accordingly, the Gentiles are presently awaiting their full adoption as sons (Rom. 8:23), an adoption that Israel originally enjoyed (Rom. 9:4). These two adoptions come together, as we have already seen in Romans 15:2, where it is said that Gentiles share in the blessings of the Jews.

All Israel Will Be Saved

All Israel” cannot refer to the church. Instead, the real goal of Paul’s ministry could now be announced: it was the restoration of “all Israel” as God had promised (Rom. 11:26).

The “And so” (KJV Gr. kai hoots) that introduces verse 26 is descriptive of a process that plays off the earlier “until the full number of the gentiles has come in.” As Nanos said, “This balance allows one to avoid  the bifurcation most interpreters find necessary to support their larger reading of Paul’s message here. Paul is telling his reader both how and when God is saving ‘all Israel.’” [Note #15: Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, 274].

Surely this will answer Anthony A. Hoekema’s objection that Romans 11:26 does not say, “And then [implying the Greek word tote or epeita] all Israel will be saved,” but it has (kai) hoots (“thus, so, in this manner”), a word manner, not temporal succession. “In other words, Paul is not saying, ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and then (after this has happened) all Israel will be saved.’ But he is saying, ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.’” [Note #16: Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 144-45].

Hoekema’s objection was dealt with more than a decade before Hoekema’s time when Hendrikus Berkof also connected the “And so” with “until the full number of the gentiles has come in.” But a point that both Hoekema and Berkhof missed was that Romans 11:27 linked this “And so,” with “this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” That has to be a clear reference to the new covenant [Note #17: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “The Old Promise and the New Covenant,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15 (1972): 11-23.] that Jeremiah announced in 31:31-34 and that is seen in some sixteen other passages that refer to the “eternal covenant,” “my covenant,” or “the new heart and the new spirit.” The contents of that new covenant are not only a replication of the promises made to Abraham and David but an expansion of them into the future.

The late Reformed theologian John Murray commented, after noting that Romans 11:26-27 is a quotation from Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:34, “There should be no question but Paul regards these passages as applicable to the restoration of Israel.” He went on to say, We cannot dissociate this covenantal assurance from the proposition in support of which the text is adduced or from that which follows in verse 28 [‘on account of the patriarchs’]. Thus the effect is that the future restoration of Israel is certified by nothing less than the certainty beginning to covenantal institution.” [Note #18: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 2:99-100.].

It can be concluded then, that while the “And so” may not be as fully temporal in its reference as some may desire, it is sequential in though and consequential in that it ties the promises of the patriarchal-Davidic-new covenant with the coming of the full number of Israel. Once this interconnectedness is admitted, the three elements—Messiah, the gospel, and the land—come back into play once again.

Hoekema also did not like limiting the “full inclusion” to the end times. But this too came from a refusal to see the past and present remnant of Israel as the foundation and guarantee that God would complete his eschatological and climactic act. Had not the prophets of Israel depicted a remnant returning to the land (e.g., Isa. 10:20-23) and becoming prominent among the nations in the latter day (Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1)? Paul’s phrase of “life from the dead” in Romans 11:15 takes on new force in light of Ezekiel’s figure in 37:12, 14. There, Ezekiel intoned, “O my people. I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel…I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land” (NIV).

But how many of Israel will be saved—“all”? It cannot mean “true” or “spiritual” Israel, as some have alleged, as if the church had supplanted Israel. That was the very point Paul was arguing against.

The notion of the substitution of the church for Israel was a historical development that Richardson says first began with Justin Martyr around A.D. 160. [Note #19: Peter Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 205-6.]. But this conclusion is not based on what Paul is claiming in this passage; it owes more to many having concluded that Israel has been rejected. Surprisingly, however, Paul claims the reverse: Israel has not been rejected. Indeed, the church is built on the shoulders of the ancient promises to Israel and the future restoration of all Israel.

So how many did “all Israel” involve? “All Israel,” argued Dunn, was a common idiom for corporate or collective Israel as a whole. It referred to Israel as a people, even if not every person was necessarily meant. [Note #20: James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1988), 38B:681. See, for example, 1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Chronicles 12:1; Daniel 9:11, etc.]. The apostle has maintained a distinction between the “remnant” and “the others” in Israel. His goal was to “save some of them” (i.e., “the others,” Rom. 11:14 NIV) who were among the hardened. In this way, he sees all Israel being saved.

How will the coming “deliverer,” who comes out of Zion, accomplish this task of restoring Israel and regathering the dispersed of Israel? Contrary to Mark Nanos, the Dekliverer is a christological figure. He alone is able to “turn godlessness away from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26 NIV). If it is asked, “When shall Deliverer do this?” the answer is “When [he] take [s] away their sins” (Rom. 11:27 NIV), as was promised in the covenant promises.

Thus the pendulum of history swung from Israel to the Gentiles, but it will swing back to Israel again. And that is but another way of stating the mystery of this passage. From the standpoint of Messiah, many of the Jewish people are enemies of the gospel, but from the standpoint of God, they are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs (Rom. 11:28).

Conclusion

It is possible that the Gentile Christian church has lost its rootage and connectedness with its past and the single plan of redemption that stretched from eternity to eternity. When many in the church denied a physical Israel as being a part of God’s plan, it lost its missionary and evangelistic strategy for Jews, for it floated in the air without any antecedent history of, or connectivity to, the plan of God delivered in and through Israel.

The key objection to replacement or parenthetical theologies was made by Willis J. Beecher in his 1904 Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. He warned,

“If the Christian interpreter persists in excluding the ethical Israel from his conception of the fulfillment, or in regarding Israel’s part in the matter as merely preparatory and not eternal, then he [sic] comes into conflict with the plain witness of both testaments…Rightly interpreted, the biblical statements include in their fulfillment both Israel the race, with whom the covenant is eternal, and also the personal Christ and his mission, with the whole spiritual Israel of the redeemed in all ages.” [Note #21: Willis J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 383. See also Walter C. Kaiser Jr. “The Land of Israel and the Future Return (Zechariah 10:6-12),” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 168-85.].

Jewish evangelism in the new millennium will need to take a full accounting of this marvelous book of Romans. God’s plan of salvation cannot be announced without taking the promise of God given to Israel and her history into its purview. The two-step program of Paul appears to be more than a matter of personal strategy: it is a program to go to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles, and has a divine rationale behind it. It would be wise for the church to once again take another look at how she is carrying out the work of the kingdom and how she is regarding the nation of Israel. Otherwise we will have small victories here and there, but we will miss the full favor of our Lord, who calls us to a much higher biblical standard of performance for the sake of his excellent name and his Jewish people.

Adapted from Chapter Two in To The Jew First: The Case For Jewish Evangelism In Sacrifice and History. Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 2008.

CHART OF TITLES FOR JESUS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

TITLE REFERENCE SIGNIFICANCE
Alpha and Omega Revelation 21:6 The Beginning and Ending of all things
Bread of Life John 6:35 The one essential food
Chief Cornerstone Ephesians 2:20 A sure Foundation of life
Chief Shepherd 1 Peter 5:4 Gives guidance and protection
Christ Matthew 16:16 The Anointed One of God seen in the OT prophets
Firstborn from the Dead Colossians 1:18 Leads us into resurrection
Good Shepherd John 10:11 Gives guidance and protection
High Priest Hebrews 3:1 The Perfect Mediator
Holy One of God Mark 1:24 Perfect and Sinless
Immanuel Matthew 1:23 God with us
Jesus Matthew 1:21 His personal name meaning Yahweh saves
King of Kings, Lord of Lords Revelation 19:16 The Sovereign Almighty
Lamb of God John 1:29 Offered His life as a sacrifice for sins
Light of the World John 9:5 One who brings hope and gives guidance
Lord Romans 10:9 Sovereign Creator and Redeemer
Lord of Glory 1 Corinthians 2:8 The power of the living God
Mediator 1 Timothy 2:5 Redeemer who brings forgiven sinners into the presence of God
Prophet Luke 13:33 One who speaks for God
Rabbi/Teacher John 3:2 A title of respect for one who taught the Scriptures
Savior John 4:42 One who delivers from sin
Son of David Matthew 9:27 One who brings in the Kingdom
Son of God John 20:31 A title of Deity signifying Jesus’ unique and special intimacy with the Father
Son of Man Matthew 20:28 A divine title of suffering and exaltation
Word John 1:1 Eternal God who ultimately reveals God

COVENANT, DISPENSATIONAL, & REVELATORY THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS COMPARED

A CHART COMPARING DISPENSATIONAL & COVENANTAL SYSTEMS

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Pattern of History:

Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works with Adam; Covenant of Grace with Christ on behalf of the elect (some distinguish between the covenant of Redemption with Christ and the covenant of grace with the elect).

Classical Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations (usually seven); e.g., (1) Innocence (pre-fall), (2) Conscience (Adam), (3) Human Government (Noah), (4) Promise (Abraham), (5) Law (Moses), (6) Grace (Christ’s First Coming), (7) Kingdom (Christ’s Second Coming).

Progressive Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations, of which four are prominent: (1) Patriarchal (Promise); (2) Mosaic (Law); (3) Ecclesial (Church); (4) Zionic (Millennium, the New Heavens and New Earth).

Revelatory View: Revelation and election initiatives succeeded by human failure to respond appropriately. Periods of transition then lead to further initiatives.

God’s Purpose in History:

Covenant Theology: There is a unified redemptive purpose.

Classical Dispensationalism: There are two distinct purposes, one earthly (Israel), one heavenly (church).

Progressive Dispensationalism: To manifest His glory in a progressive redemption that covers every sphere of creation and every structure of human relationship.

Revelatory View: The objective of self-revelation is pursued culminating in the revelation of a plan of salvation, whereby the goal of relationship may be achieved. It is a unified purpose, but not soteric throughout.

View of Biblical Covenants:

Covenant Theology: They are different administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Temporal promises are conditional and applicable to the church.

Classical Dispensationalism: They mark of periods of time during which God’s specific demands of people differ. Temporal promises are unconditional and are applicable to ethnic Israel.

Progressive Dispensationalism: The biblical covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) are made originally to His people, Israel. Believing gentiles are included through Christ, who is the means of blessing for all who believe. All covenants have an “already-not-yet” structure.

Revelatory View: There are revelatory initiatives facilitated through various types of election. Temporal promises are conditional but remain applicable to ethnic Israel. The covenant is characteristically redemptive; ultimately soteric; but essentially revelatory.

Relationship of the OT Law to the NT:

Covenant Theology: Acceptance of OT teaching required unless specifically abrogated  by the NT.

Classical Dispensationalism: OT prescriptions are not binding unless they are reaffirmed in the NT.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Individual aspects of the Law are assessed canonically on a case-by-case basis. Christ completes and fulfills the law.

Revelatory View: OT legal passages function within the covenant serving a revelatory purpose that continues to be relevant. The law of Christ has been superimposed on the law of Moses.

Relationship Between Israel and the Church:

Covenant Theology: The church is spiritual Israel, in continuity with true Israel of the OT.

Classical Dispensationalism: The church is the spiritual people of God, distinct from Israel, the physical people of God.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Church = the unified community that receives God’s spiritual blessings in Christ. Israel = the national and political community in the midst of nations that ultimately will be blessed fully by God. Ultimately united in redemption.

Revelatory View: The Church is the people of God defined soteriologically. Israel, previously the revelatory people of God, now may cross over and become a subset of the soteriological people of God (now that their revelatory function is complete) if they respond by faith to the plan of salvation.

Old Testament Prophecy:

Covenant Theology: Refers to God’s people, the church.

Classical Dispensationalism: Refers to ethnic Israel.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Fulness of blessing to be given to believing Israel (and those in the nations who believe) in the final dispensation.

Revelatory View: Refers to ethnic Israel but conditional upon their faithful response.

Church Age:

Covenant Theology: God’s redemptive purpose continued to unfold.

Classical Dispensationalism: There is a parenthesis between past and future manifestations of the kingdom.

Progressive Dispensationalism: From Pentecost to the rapture, a phase in the progressive outworking of God’s wholistic redemption. It is not a parenthesis in the kingdom program.

Revelatory View: The period begun when the people of God are defined soteriologically as a result of God’s plan of salvation being reveled.

*Chart adapted from John H. Walton. Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. John H. Walton has proposed the “Revelatory View.”

Tim Keller Sermon: The Power of The Gospel

SERIES – Bible: The Whole Story—Redemption and Restoration – Part 6

Tim Keller preaching image

Prached on February 8, 2009 in Manhattan, N.Y.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:1-7, 14-17

Every week we start by saying we are tracing out the storyline of the Bible, because the Bible is not so much a series of disconnected, individual stories, each with a little lesson or moral telling us how to live. It’s primarily a single story telling us what’s wrong with the human race, what God has done to make things right, and how it’s all going to work out in the end.

We’re drilling down into three places in the Bible. We’ve drilled down into Genesis 1 to 4, where we learned something about what the Bible says about what’s wrong with us. Now we’re going to drill down into Romans 1 through 4, perhaps the single most comprehensive and packed place where, through a letter of Saint Paul, we learn what God did about it.

All scholars and students of Romans believe verses 16 and 17 are Paul’s way of putting the gospel in a nutshell, his message in a kind of thesis statement. Therefore, it’s an extremely important statement. I want to meditate on it with you to help you break through. That’s kind of an odd statement (break through). Let me tell you why I use the phrase.

Martin Luther, founder of Protestantism, actually, later in his life told a story. In the preface to one of his collections of writings, he wrote a little reminisce of a great experience he had (it’s also called the “Tower Experience”) as a young man. Many people would call it his conversion experience. It all had to do with Romans and Romans 1:16 and 17.

He wrote, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.

Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. […] Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that, ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that … through gift and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” “When I saw that Law meant one thing and Gospel another, I broke through.”

That’s interesting. He had this breakthrough. What he means is he was completely transformed … his thinking, his heart, his life, everything … by these verses because he pondered and pondered until he broke through. I would like to help everybody here break through. That is to say if you haven’t, if these two verses have never done to you what they did to Luther, I’m going to try to show you three factors you have to grasp if you’re going to break through.

If it has, if the ideas here of these verses have transformed you, I’d like to give you by telling you the same three things (of course, since you’re all in the same room together) how you could help other people who are open have a breakthrough. There are three factors that have to do with breakthrough.

You have to grasp, according to, I think, this text, the form of the gospel, the content of the gospel, and the power of the gospel. The form, the content, and the power. I’ll give you tests along the way. I’m being very focused. How do we break through? You have to understand …

1. The form of the gospel

You can see, especially if you read all the way through Romans 1:1–17, the word gospel shows up more here than any other place in the book. In fact, I think it may be the word gospel shows up more in these verses per phrase than any other place in the Bible. We have to ask ourselves, “What is so important? Why this word?”

The word gospel, as most of you know, is a Greek word we transliterate euaggelion. That is, eu, the good, and aggelos, an angel. We look at the word angel in English, of course. Right away we think of wings and things like that, which is wrong, because the word aggelos means a herald. What actually is at the very heart of the word gospel is the news media. Did you know that? News media? Okay.

How did news about great historic events get distributed back in those days? What was the news media? No print paper. No audio, video, radio, television. Well, then how was news …? What was the media for the news? The answer is it was heralds. That is, everybody is back in the town because they know there’s a great military battle that’s being fought miles away, so they’re behind the barricades. They don’t know what’s going to happen.

What happens when the general achieves a great military victory? How do we spread the news? He would send heralds. The aggelos. An aggelia, which is a message or a herald. The news. The herald would come in to the town and declare the news, “Victory!” Then he would run to the next town square and proclaim “Victory!” Then everyone would go back home with joy.

If that’s at the very, very heart of the word gospel, if that’s what the message is, the essence of the Christian message is news … good, joyful news … then this is the difference between the gospel and every other philosophy or religion. The gospel is not good advice about what you must do. It’s primarily good news about what’s already been done for you, something that’s already happened.

See, other religions say, “If you really want to meet God, do this, this, and this.” It’s good advice. Only Christianity is not good advice but primarily good news about something that’s already been done for you. This is test one. We’ve talked about this actually not too many weeks ago, so I won’t belabor it, but it’s crucial. One of the breakthroughs is to realize how utterly different Christianity is because it’s good news, not good advice.

If I ask somebody here in New York, “What do you think the essence of Christianity is? What does it mean to be a Christian?” the average person on the street would say, “Well, I think it means to try to live like Jesus and try to love your neighbor, try to live by the Golden Rule.” I want you all to know I think that is an incredibly great idea. Let’s all do that. I’m all for it, but that’s not news. That’s not the heart of Christianity. It can’t be, because it’s not news.

Is that news? Is that news about what has been done for you … outside of you, for you … that inflicts in you such joy that you finally can live according to the Golden Rule? See, that’s Christianity. Something has happened outside you, something momentous. It’s happened outside you for you, and that’s what inflicts into you life-changing joy. Now I can live according to the Golden Rule.

To say being a Christian is the Golden Rule, that’s not news. Therefore, there’s no breakthrough. See, breakthrough, transformation, comes like this. If you say to somebody, “Here’s the essence of the Christian message. You need to live like Jesus and love your neighbor according to the Golden Rule,” there are only three responses to that. One is you say, “Sure, I knew that.” Shrug. Indifference.

The second, like Luther, is, “Oh, that’s very hard. I can’t do that.” Crushed. Discouraged. The third is the Pharisees say, “I do that all the time.” So either shrugged or bugged or smug. No breakthrough. No breakthrough! No, “Oh my word! I never thought of that.” See, that’s what happened. When Luther broke through, he said, “This is a paradigm shift.” Sorry, it’s cliché, but it’s far more than that but it’s not less.

Here’s my question. Here’s the first test. I don’t know what you believe, but whatever you believe about God or how you ought to live, is it mainly about you, or is it mainly about what he has done? Is it mainly about you and what you must do, or mainly about him and what he has done? Which is it? See the breakthrough? The gospel is news, not advice.

2. The content of the gospel

The content of the gospel is that very spot where Luther meditated and meditated, where he says, “For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed. A righteousness that comes by (dia, through) faith. Just as it is written, the one who is righteous through faith, that’s the person who lives.” He was thinking and thinking about this until suddenly he realized, “The righteousness of God is a righteousness that comes to me, and I receive by faith.” That opened everything up.

If we want to understand this term, which isn’t a very ordinary term … It’s a technical term in a way. It’s a term Paul uses, though, so we need to try to figure it out. It changed Luther’s life. It changed mine. We’re justified by faith. Let me use two illustrations to show you. The second one is considerably more poignant than the first.

The first one, though, think about this. Whenever we talk about being justified, we’re talking about not a change in the object but a change in the relationship to the object. Not a change inside the object, but relationship to the object. For example, if you’re speaking to me, and you say something, and I say, “Hmm. Justify that statement,” what do I mean?

I’m not saying, “Change the statement.” What I’m actually saying is, “It’s hard for me to accept that. Do something. Say something to change my relationship to the statement, to change my regard for it so I can accept it.” I’m not saying, “Change the statement.” “Help me get into a new relationship with it because I’m about to reject it.” “Justify that statement” means, “Change my regard for it. Do something.”

That is actually what the word means, especially at certain points here but also in Romans 5 where Paul says in verse 2, “Since we’re justified by faith, we have access to this grace in which we stand.” The word stand there means to stand in the presence of a great God or a great king or judge. This is what Paul is saying. Jesus has done something so God, looking at us, in spite of everything wrong with us … Jesus has done something to change God’s regard for us, his relationship to us.

Something has been done. See, that’s the news. Something has been done so now the Father looks at us and loves us and delights in us and accepts us. Our relationship has been changed. It’s not so much something happened inside, because then that would all be about us. That wouldn’t be gospel. It would all be, “Well, you have to do something.” It’s about something that’s happened outside of us that has changed God’s relationship to us. What is that?

To me, the second factor in what brings a breakthrough over the gospel is when you realize the gospel is about more than just forgiveness. Follow me, please. It’s about more than just forgiveness. Please don’t think I’m saying there’s anything wrong with forgiveness, but most people think that’s what this is. That’s what salvation is. That’s what Jesus did.

The idea is because Jesus died on the cross, when I do something wrong, I can ask God for forgiveness, and I’m forgiven. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, of course it’s wonderful. It’s more than wonderful, but I want to show you here for a second it would not be enough. It’s way less than what’s being promised here. Yeah!

Because, see, if it’s true that that’s really salvation, that because Jesus died on the cross, now when I ask for forgiveness, I’m forgiven … God forgives me, wipes the slate clean. Do you realize what that means? It means that even though he has forgiven me for what I just did wrong, my relationship with him is still up to me because actually, in a sense, God says, “Hey, I just forgave you for what you did. I’m not going to hold that against you, but now you’d better get it right.” If that’s all forgiveness is, it’s not enough.

You know, for example, here’s a man, let’s just say, and he is in prison. What is going to get him a new life? Well, you could say the first thing that’s going to get him a new life is pardon. The governor writes a pardon, and he is out. Wow! He has a new life. No. He is just back to where all the rest of us slobs are. He is not in prison. Now he has to get a job. Now he has to work. It’s a long haul. He doesn’t have a new life yet.

You say, “Well, what more do you want?” I’ll tell you what’s more. The salvation of the gospel is not so much like simply getting a pardon to get out of prison. It’s besides getting a pardon, forgiveness. It’s also like getting the Congressional Medal of Honor on top of it. It’s a negative and a positive.

There’s a TV series called NCIS. It’s about Naval Criminal Investigative Services. It’s a cop show amongst military and criminal investigators. There’s a really great episode that was done about four years ago. The main character was played by Charles Durning, the great actor. The episode is about a poor broken-down old man, a former Marine, played by Charles Durning. He is in his eighties. He is broken down. He is kind of dowdy, and he is accused of murder. He is accused of murder!

At one point, two big, beefy Marines and a snarling Navy lawyer come after this poor little old man. They’re about to arrest him. They’re overshadowing him. Here he is standing in their presence accused. As they stand and they’re about to cuff him, actually, a friend of the old man pulls his tie aside. Under it is the Congressional Medal of Honor, because on Iwo Jima, he had done acts of extraordinary valor and bravery beyond the call of duty and had been given a Congressional Medal of Honor.

When he pulled that aside, the Marines and the snarling lawyer immediately saw what it was. Instead of looking at the poor little old man, the accused, condemned man, they saw that medal of honor, and they immediately snapped to attention and saluted. They were in awe. Just like that. It’s very, very good drama, and it’s very, very kind of moving to see. It is just an image, however faint, of what Paul is talking about here.

You know, one of the verses I always quote to you but I never explain is 2 Corinthians 5:21. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What does that mean? “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Well, think.

On the cross, what does it mean to say Jesus was made sin? God made him sin. Does that mean God made him sinful, God put sin in his heart so he became greedy and angry and violent? No! He was up there forgiving his enemies. I mean, no! He was up there loving his Father, even when his Father was turning on him. Absolutely it didn’t mean he became sinful. It means he was treated as our sins deserve. He was given the treatment our record deserves.

So what does it mean to say that when you give your life to Christ, our sins are put on him? “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In him! What does that mean? It can’t mean that automatically the minute you become a Christian, you become righteous in your heart any more than he became sinful on the cross. No, no, no, no.

What it must mean is we are covered with his medals. We are covered with his glory. We’re covered with all the awards and the medals of his valor and his cosmic bravery because he took on evil and he went down to death. All that he deserved is now on us. Here’s where the illustration doesn’t quite work because that old man basically was suddenly given all this … Even though he was condemned, they suddenly saw his medal, which he had won in a former life. In our case, the medals on us were won by Jesus in a former life.

Now the whole universe salutes us. Now God himself delights in us. We have become the righteousness of God in him. Now do you see the test? Do you see where the breakthrough comes? The first breakthrough is when you see it’s not advice but news. The second breakthrough is when you see it’s not just forgiveness, but it’s being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. It’s a righteousness from God given to me by a gift.

No wonder Luther said, “Oh my word! That’s incredible.” It is incredible. When you ask somebody (I do all the time), “Hey, are you a Christian?” and the person says, “Well, I’m trying,” that shows they have no idea about what Christianity is about because Christianity is a standing. We have access to this grace in which we stand. See? It means you have no idea about what it means to be a Christian. You’re still stuck back in the idea it’s good advice.

Some people say, “Well, I hate to call myself a Christian, because I don’t feel worthy of the name.” Of course you don’t feel good enough, but you’re in him if you understand the gospel. He is always good enough. He is utterly good enough. Covered with his medals. Covered with his trophies. Covered with his badges and banners and ribbons in glory.

You know, some people will say, “That’s interesting. I guess the Luther types, religious people … Gosh. He was a monk. How much more religious can you get than that? I guess there are people who are always filled with guilt and shame. They’re religious, and they need this. They need this idea.” No, it’s not just them. Oh no!

I have talked to an awful lot of people recently who have lost an awful lot of money. Do you know what? One of the things you can see (in fact, sometimes they tell me) is it was a lot more than money. They didn’t know. They didn’t know! There’s a disorientation at the center of their being. They’re not sure who they are. There’s a complete loss of identity. There’s a complete loss of confidence. Do you know why? Because that money was their righteousness.

See, irreligious people don’t use the word righteousness. As we said a couple of week ago when we were talking about Cain and Abel, no human being can assure themselves … We cannot assure ourselves of our value and worth. We have to get somebody outside approving us, acclaiming us, declaring us worthy, declaring us a people of value.

Some people do it through, “I want to look beautiful.” Some people say, “I want to make money.” Some people say, “I want to achieve.” Whatever. The fact is, everybody is desperately struggling for righteousness. Here’s the weird thing. Everybody’s righteousness, if it’s not God’s, is going to be blown away. Recession is one way, but it’s going to happen. Old age is another way. Everybody’s righteousness is going to blow away unless this is upon you.

The second breakthrough then that you see is not just forgiveness, wiping the slate clean, but getting the cosmic Medal of Honor. You know, being accepted in the beloved, having the righteousness of God put upon us in Jesus. Being legally righteous even when we’re actually unrighteous. We’ll see more about that. Thirdly, the last thing you have to do if you’re really going to understand and break through is you have to have a sense of …

3. The power of the gospel

Not just the form, not just the content, but the power. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation …” I guess in my case, of all these … You know, even though it’s brief (verses 16 and 17 are brief), this is my favorite part of this nutshell.

Because, see, it’s not saying that the gospel brings the power of God or it results in the power of God or it’s a means to the power of God, does it? Well, no, it doesn’t. What does it say? It says the gospel is the power of God in verbal form. Therefore, when I believe it, when I hear it, when I understand it, when I grasp its propositions, its meanings, its words, to the degree that I actually get this gospel into my life, the power of God is coursing through me.

It is the power of God! Therefore, the way you know you’re beginning to understand the gospel and breaking through is instead of it just being a set of ideas, you begin to sense it being a power. How is that so? Well, here are a couple of ways. First of all, one of the ways you know you’re breaking through (or perhaps breaking through or have a chance of breaking through) is you feel its offensiveness.

Notice connected to this idea of the power of God, he says, “I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the gospel.” When you say something like that, “I am not ashamed of her. I am not ashamed of him. I am not ashamed of that,” that means there are whole lot of other people who are, or you wouldn’t have said that. Okay? There are a whole lot of other people who are offended or they think it’s crazy.

I want you to know everybody who hasn’t broken through or isn’t on the verge of breaking through thinks the gospel is crazy. Everybody! I’ve had two churches: one in a very blue collar, traditional, conservative place (a small southern town) and the opposite place. Here’s what’s so interesting. Everybody is offended by the gospel.

In Hopewell, Virginia, where I was pastor, everybody was hard working. They’re all religious. Even the atheists are Baptists. Everybody! I mean, even the atheists, the God they don’t believe in is the Baptist God. Everybody is religious. Everybody is very traditional. Everybody is hard working. Everybody is conservative. They’re offended by the gospel because they think it’s too easy.

I’ll never forget one of the first people I shared the gospel with was a woman. Right across the parking lot behind our church was a very broken down area. You know, rental property. Bad rental property, by the way. Trailers and things like that. There was a woman there. She was a very unhappy woman. Her name was Joy. In a southern town in the late 70s, she was divorced. She had two children. One was, I think, with no husband. One was with her former husband.

She was living essentially in poverty. She was a mess. She was disgraced. She was ashamed. We went in there. Three of us sat down, and we shared what I just shared with you, almost exactly the same thing. She couldn’t believe it. She said, “You mean, in spite of everything, he can accept me?”

I remember one of the things we talked about was I said, “Well, you know, if you really understand the gospel, that means the minute you believe in Christ and ask God to accept you because of what he has done, the minute your sins are put on him and his righteousness is put on you, God loves you and delights in you as much this very second as he will a billion years from now when you’re perfect and glorious and someone can’t even look at you without sunglasses. You see?” I said, “He won’t love you any more then than now, any less now than then.”

She couldn’t believe it. She cried. She thought it was the greatest thing. She embraced it. She believed it. A week later, we came back. You know, followup. We sat down. She was really upset because she had called her sister. Her sister was a very hard-working woman. She had a husband, three or four children. They were upstanding citizens. They went to church. They were good people.

When Joy called her older sister up and told her she was born again, she was saved, God loved her and all that, the sister said, “What are you talking about? It can’t be that easy. You have to work for this sort of thing. You have to work very hard, years of self-discipline, years of moral effort. I don’t know what kind of God that pastor is talking to you about, but I have no respect for him that he would just take somebody like you like that. It’s too easy.”

You see, it sounds really very dignified to say, “I can’t believe in a God. I have higher standards than that,” except do you know what? That sister had built her identity on being the good daughter, and Joy was the bad daughter. It was incredibly self-justifying to say, “It can’t be that easy.” You know, the gospel was in danger of destroying that wonderful dysfunctional family system in which Joy was the sick one. See?

So we had to go right back with the gospel. It did. I think it did. You see, in a traditional conservative culture, it’s too easy. Now we come up here where everybody is liberal and sophisticated and secular. Up here, it’s offensive not because it’s too easy but because it’s too simplistic. Here’s why. Because, you see, everything here is ambiguous and difficult. Nobody is sure.

See, we like philosophy here. We like ethics. We like discussions. Here are the pros and the cons. We get together, and we have discussions and forums. Everybody is a little bit right, and everybody is a little bit wrong. Nobody is really sure. Then we can go home and live anyway we want. It’s a great, great system, because who is to say. The clarity of the gospel, the absolute clarity of it, you know? They even like religion better because in it, you’re always trying, and you’re trying. You’re never quite sure whether you’ve done it. The clarity of it.

Here’s this first-century carpenter. He dies. Everything changes if you believe in that. You believe in that, and then you’re in. You don’t believe in that, and you’re out. Oh my gosh! The clarity of it! The simplicity of it! Don’t you see? Liberal or conservative, blue collar or white collar, north, south, east, west. The gospel is absolutely unique. It’s absolutely on its own. Everybody hates it. It makes absolutely no sense to anyone. It contradicts every system of thought in the world. It contradicts the heart of every culture in the world, every worldview.

It’s completely on its own. It offends everyone. See, whoever you are, you have to come from somewhere. You have to come from north or south or east or west or conservative or liberal. Something! You’re human beings. Therefore, unless you’ve felt the offense of the gospel, you don’t know yet what it even claims. Unless you’ve wrestled with it, struggled with it, you don’t even know what’s in it. You couldn’t know what’s in it.

When you begin to feel it and you begin to wrestle and struggle, then you at least have the possibility of breaking through. By the way, the gospel is not an academic thing. It’s not a set of bullet points we’re trying to get you to memorize. It’s from a person to a person. Therefore, it feels personal. When you’re really beginning to hear the gospel truly and understand the gospel, you start to sense there’s a power dealing with you, disturbing you, upsetting you. Maybe during this sermon, I hope. Maybe when you think about it or talk to a friend about it.

Do you find the gospel upsetting you, kind of dealing with you? Are you wrestling with it? Is it bothering you? I would rather somebody came to Redeemer for a couple of weeks and was so revolted that they had to leave. At least they were feeling the power rather than just saying, “Well, that’s interesting, but I don’t have much time for that.” Then you’re absolutely, absolutely in no position to ever have a breakthrough.

You have to feel the power of it. You have to feel the offensiveness of it. Here’s the other way in which is the power. Some people would say, “Well, all that matters, I suppose, is that you … Now that you’ve received the righteousness of Christ, that’s all that matters. Now you’re fine. It doesn’t matter how you live.” No, no, no, no, no. You know, what’s so amazing about Paul is he is able to get sound gospel theology everywhere.

Look at verse 7. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints …” At the beginning of the memo: “To, From, Re:” He already has the gospel in there. Do you know why? He says, “What is a Christian?” “To all … who are loved by God and called to be saints …” Look at that. What is a Christian? Not primarily someone who is living in a certain way. The first is you’re loved by God. Your relationship has been changed. Something has been done to justify you.

You’re loved, but if you’re loved and if you know you’re loved, then you’re called. That means you’re invited. That means you’re attracted to be saints, which means to be holy. You never, ever, ever have the righteousness of God put upon you without, at the same time, finding it’s beginning to develop in you. You never, ever, ever, ever are loved by God in spite of your bad character without that starting to change your character.

You’re never justified except that you automatically begin to get sanctified. The righteousness of God will never be put upon you without it developed within you. If it’s not developed within you, then you haven’t really received it upon you. That’s the reason why Paul could look at Peter in Galatians 2, where Peter’s old racist sensibilities have begun to come back. He is not eating with Gentile Christians. He won’t even eat with them.

What does Paul say? Paul doesn’t say, “Peter, you broke the ‘no racism’ rule.” (Even though there is a ‘no racism’ rule; Christians shouldn’t be racist.) What he says is, “Peter, you say you’re justified by faith, not by works. You say you’re a sinner saved by grace. How can you be superior to any other race? You say you have the righteousness of Christ on you, but you’re not living in righteousness. Therefore, it’s not upon you if it’s not beginning to develop within you.”

If you are loved, then you are called, you’re attracted, into holiness. You want it. You long for it because, “I want to look like the One who did this for me. I want to please the One who did this for me.” If you don’t want to please, if you don’t want to look like the one who did this for you, then it’s still not personal. You really still don’t know what’s happened.

One of the great things I love about … There’s a passage in Matthew 11 where John the Baptist, in prison, about to be beheaded, sends some messengers to Jesus. The messengers say, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John the Baptist is doubting. I can understand why. You know, he declared Jesus the Messiah. He said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” but everything is going wrong. He is in prison.

“Wait a minute. You’re the Messiah, and I’m with you. I’m about to get my head chopped off. Are you really the one who is to come, or should we be looking for somebody else?” He is doubting. Jesus so nicely says, “Go back and tell John the Baptist, ‘The blind see … the poor have good news preached to them.’ ” He gives him some arguments why he is the Messiah. Then he says, “Say this to John: ‘And blessed is he who does not take offense at me.’ ”

What I loved about that is instead of Jesus saying, “How dare you question me! I’m the Messiah,” he says, “Let me give you some answers. I want you to know I am not offended by people who are struggling with my offensiveness. Good luck. Hope you get through it. It’s not very easy. I hope you get the blessedness of people who finally get through that offensiveness and break through.”

What a man. He is not offended that we struggle with his offensiveness. He is not at all upset about the fact that it’s hard. He says, “Here are some answers to questions. If you have any more, please come back.” What a Savior. What a man. Go to him. Let us pray.

Our Father, we thank you for the gospel. We thank you that we’re able to look these few weeks together at what Saint Paul has said that has changed so many lives. It’s changed mine. It’s changed so many here. We ask you would help us to break through. We ask you would help us to grasp the form, the content, and the power of the gospel in such a way that we do so that we, knowing we’re loved by you, sense your calling into a whole new life. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Romans 1-7 For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 

The Power of the Gospel Over Idolatry in the 21st Century

Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair”

A Classic Article by Dr. David Powlison

One of the great questions facing Christians in the social sciences and helping professions is this one: How do we legitimately and meaningfully connect the conceptual stock of the Bible and Christian tradition with the technical terminologies and observational riches of the behavioral sciences?  Within this perennial question, two particular sub-questions have long intrigued and perplexed me.

One sort of question is a Bible relevancy question.  Why is idolatry so important in the Bible?  Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Scriptures.1 So what? Is the problem of idolatry even relevant today, except on certain mission fields where worshipers still bow to images?

The second kind of question is a counseling question, a “psychology” question.  How do we make sense of the myriad significant factors that shape and determine human behavior?  In particular, can we ever make satisfying sense of the fact that people are simultaneously inner-directed and socially-shaped?

These questions-and their answers-eventually intertwined.  That intertwining has been fruitful both in my personal life and in my counseling of troubled people.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF INDIVIDUAL MOTIVATION TO SOCIOLOGICAL CONDITIONING

The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry.  But let me focus the question through a particular verse in the New Testament which long troubled me.  The last line of 1 John woos, then commands us: “Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).  In a 105-verse treatise on living in vital fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God, how on earth does that unexpected command merit being the final word?  Is it perhaps a scribal emendation?  Is it an awkwardfaux pas by a writer who typically weaves dense and orderly tapestries of meaning with simple, repetitive language?  Is it a culture-bound, practical application tacked onto the end of one of the most timeless and heaven-dwelling epistles?  Each of these alternatives misses the integrity and power of John’s final words.

Instead, John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart.  Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?  It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings.  In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question.  Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?  The undesirable answers to this question—answers which inform our understanding of the “idolatry” we are to avoid—are most graphically presented in 1 John 2:15-17, 3:7-10, 4:1-6, and 5:19. It is striking how these verses portray a confluence of the “sociological,” the “psychological,” and the “demonological” perspectives on idolatrous motivation.2

The inwardness of motivation is captured by the inordinate and proud “desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), our inertial self-centeredness, the wants, hopes, fears, expectations, “needs” that crowd our hearts.  The externality of motivation is captured by “the world” (1 John 2:15-17,4:1-6), all that invites, models, reinforces, and conditions us into such inertia, teaching us lies.  The “demonological” dimension of motivation is the Devil’s behavior-determining lordship (1 John 3:7-10,5:19), standing as a ruler over his kingdom of flesh and world.  In contrast, to “keep yourself from idols” is to live with a whole heart of faith in Jesus. It is to be controlled by all that lies behind the address “beloved children” (see especially 1 John 3:1-3,4:7-5:12).  The alternative to Jesus, the swarm of alternatives, whether approached through the lens of flesh, world, or the Evil One, is idolatry.

An Internal Problem

The notion of idolatry most often emerges in discussions of the worship of actual physical images, the creation of false gods.  But the Scriptures develop the idolatry theme in at least two major directions pertinent to my discussion here.  First, the Bible internalizes the problem.  “Idols of the heart” are graphically portrayed in Ezekiel 14:1-8.  The worship of tangible idols is, ominously, an expression of a prior heart defection from YHWH your God.3 “Idols of the heart” is only one of many metaphors which move the locus of God’s concerns into the human heart, establishing an unbreakable bond between specifics of heart and specifics of behavior: hands, tongue, and all the other members.  The First Great Commandment, to “love God heart, soul, mind, and might,” also demonstrates the essential “inwardness” of the law regarding idolatry.  The language of love, trust, fear, hope, seeking, serving—terms describing a relationship to the true God—is continually utilized in the Bible to describe our false loves, false trusts, false fears, false hopes, false pursuits, false masters.

If “idolatry” is the characteristic and summary Old Testament word for our drift from God, then “desires” (epithumiai) is the characteristic and summary New Testament word for the same drift.4 Both are shorthand for the problem of human beings.  The New Testament language of problematic “desires” is a dramatic expansion of the tenth commandment, which forbids coveting (epithumia).  The tenth commandment is also a command that internalizes the problem of sin, making sin “psychodynamic.”  It lays bare the grasping and demanding nature of the human heart, as Paul powerfully describes it in Romans 7.  Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) the New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires.  Idolatry becomes a problem of the heart, a metaphor for human lust, craving, yearning, and greedy demand.5

A Social Problem

Second, the Bible treats idolatry as a central feature of the social context, “the world,” which shapes and molds us.  The world is a “Vanity Fair,” as John Bunyan strikingly phrased it in Pilgrim’s Progress.6Bunyan’s entire book, and the Vanity Fair section in particular, can be seen as portraying the interaction of powerful, enticing, and intimidating social shapers of behavior with the self-determining tendencies of Christian’s own heart.  Will Christian serve the Living God or any of a fluid multitude of idols crafted by his wife, neighbors, acquaintances, enemies, fellow members of idolatrous human society…and, ultimately, his own heart?7

That idolatries are both generated from within and insinuated from without has provocative implications for contemporary counseling questions.  Of course, the Bible does not tackle our contemporary issues in psychological jargon or using our observational data.8 Yet, for example, the Bible lacks the rich particulars of what psychologists today might describe as a “dysfunctional family or marital system” only because it does not put those particular pieces of human behavior and mutual influence under the microscope.  The “lack” is only in specific application.  The biblical categories do comprehend how individuals in a family system—or any other size or kind of social grouping—work and influence one another for good or ill.  For example, the life patterns often labeled “codependency” are more precisely and penetratingly understood as instances of “co-idolatry.”  In the case of a “co-idolatrous relationship,” then, two people’s typical idol patterns reinforce and compete with each other.  They fit together in an uncanny way, creating massively destructive feedback loops.

The classic alcoholic husband and rescuing wife are enslaved within an idol system whose components complement each other all too well.  There are many possible configurations to this common pattern of false gods.  In one typical configuration, the idol constellation in the husband’s use of alcohol might combine a ruling and enslaving love of pleasure, the escapist pursuit of a false savior from the pains and frustrations in his life, playing the angry and self-righteous judge of his wife’s clinging and dependent ways, the self-crucifying of his periodic remorse, a trust in man which seeks personal validation through acceptance by his bar companions, and so forth.

The idol pattern in the wife’s rescuing behavior might combine playing the martyred savior of her husband and family, playing the proud and self-righteous judge of her husband’s iniquity, a trust in man which overvalues the opinions of her friends, a fear of man which generates an inordinate desire for a male’s love and affection as crucial to her survival, and so forth.  Each of their idols (and consequent behavior, thoughts, and emotions) is “logical” within the idol system, the miniature Vanity Fair of allurements and threats within which both live.  Their idols sometimes are modeled, taught, and encouraged by the other person(s) involved: her nagging and his anger mirror and magnify each other; his bar buddies and her girl friends reinforce their respective self-righteousness and self-pity. The idols sometimes are reactive and compensatory to the other person: he reacts to her nagging with drinking, and she reacts to his drinking by trying to rescue and to change him. Vanity Fair is an ever so tempting…hell on earth.

Spiritual Counterfeits

Idols counterfeit aspects of God’s identity and character, as can be seen in the vignette above: Judge, savior, source of blessing, sin-bearer, object of trust, author of a will which must be obeyed, and so forth.  Each idol that clusters in the system makes false promises and gives false warnings: “if only…then….”  For example, the wife’s “enabling” behavior expresses an idolatrous playing of the savior.  This idol promises and warns her, “If only you can give the right thing and can make it all better, then your husband will change.  But if you don’t cover for him, then disaster will occur.”  Because both the promises and warnings are lies, service to each idol results in a hangover of misery and accursedness.  Idols lie, enslave, and murder.  They are continually insinuated by the one who was a liar, slave master and murderer from the beginning.  They are under the immediate wrath of God who frequently does not allow such things to work well in His world.9
The simple picture of idolatry—a worshiper prostrated before a figure of wood, metal or stone—is powerfully extended by the Bible.  Idolatry becomes a concept with which to comprehend the intricacies of both individual motivation and social conditioning.  The idols of the heart lead us to defect from God in many ways.  They manifest and express themselves everywhere, down to the minute details of both inner and outer life.  Such idols of the heart fit hand in glove with the wares offered in the Vanity Fair of social life.  The invitations and the threats of our social existence beguile us towards defection into idolatries.  These themes provide a foundational perspective on the “bad news” that pervades the Bible.

In sum, behavioral sins are always portrayed in the Bible as “motivated” or ruled by a “god” or “gods.”  The problem in human motivation—the question of practical covenantal allegiance, God or any of the substitutes—is frequently and usefully portrayed as the problem of idolatry.  Idolatry is a problem both rooted deeply in the human heart and powerfully impinging on us from our social environment.

This brings us squarely to the second kind of question mentioned at the outset.  This second question is a counseling question.  How on earth do we put together the following three things?  First, people are responsible for their behavioral sins.  Whether called sin, personal problems, or dysfunctional living, people are responsible for the destructive things which they think, feel and do.10 If I am violent or fearful, that is my problem.

Second, people with problems come from families or marriages or sub-cultures where the other people involved also have problems.  People suffer and are victimized and misguided by the destructive things other people think, want, fear, value, feel, and do.  These may be subtle environmental influences: social shaping via modeling of attitudes and the like.  These may be acutely traumatic influences: loss or victimization.  My problems are often embedded in a tight feedback loop with your problems.  If you attack me, I tend to strike back or withdraw in fear. Your problem shapes my problems.

Third, behavior is motivated from the inside by complex, life-driving patterns of thoughts, desires, fears, views of the world, and the like, of which a person may be almost wholly unaware.  We may be quite profoundly self-deceived about what pilots and propels us.  My behavioral violence or avoidance manifests patterns of expectation that own me.  “You might hurt me…so I’d better keep my distance or attack first.”  My behavior is a strategy which expresses my motives: my trusts, my wants, my fears, my “felt needs.”  Such motives range along a spectrum from the consciously calculating to the blindly compulsive.

How are we—and those we counsel—simultaneously socially conditioned, self-deceived, and responsible for our behavior without any factor cancelling out the others?!  That is the question of the social and behavioral sciences (and it is the place they all fail when they excise God).  It is also the question that any Christian counselor must attempt to answer both in theory and practice in a way that reflects Christ’s mind.  The Bible’s view of man—both individual and social life—alone holds these things together.

A Three-Way Tension

Motives are simply what move us, the causes of or inducements to action, both the causal “spring” of life and the telic “goal” of life.11 The notion of motivation captures the inward-drivenness and goal-oriented nature of human life in its most important and troublesome features.  All psychologies grapple with these issues.  But no psychology has conceptual resources adequate to make sense of the interface between responsible behavior, a shaping social milieu, and a heart which is both self-deceived and life-determining.

Here are some examples.  Moralism—the working psychology of the proverbial man on the street—sticks with responsible behavior.  Complex causalities are muted in toto.  Behavioral psychologies see both drives and rewards but cast their lot with the milieu, taking drives as untransformable givens.  Both responsible behavior and a semi-conscious but renewable heart are muted.  Humanistic psychologies see the interplay of inner desire/need with external fulfillment or frustration but cast their final vote for human self-determination.  Both responsible behavior and the power of extrinsic forces are muted.  Ego psychologies see the twisted conflict between heart’s desire and well-internalized social contingencies.  But the present milieu and responsible behavior are muted. It is hard to keep three seemingly simple elements together.

Unity ‘with Respect to God’

The Bible—the voice of the Maker of humankind, in other words!—speaks to the same set of issues with a uniquely unified vision.  There is no question that we are morally responsible: our works or fruit count.  There is no question that fruit comes from an inner root to which we are often blind.  “Idols of the heart,” “desires of the flesh,” “fear of man,” “love of money,” “chasing after…,” “earthly-minded,” “pride,” and a host of other word pictures capture well the biblical view of inner drives experienced as deceptively self-evident needs or goals.  There is also no question that we are powerfully constrained by social forces around us.  The “world,” “Vanity Fair,” “the counsel of the wicked,” “false prophets,” “temptation and trial,” and the like capture something of the influences upon us.  Other people model and purvey false laws or false standards, things which misdefine value and stigma, blessedness and accursedness, the way of life, and the way of death.  They sin against us.  God quite comfortably juxtaposes these three simple things which tend to fly apart in human formulations.  I am responsible for my sins: “Johnny is a bad boy.” My will is in bondage: “Johnny can’t help it.”  I am deceived and led about by others: “Johnny got in with a bad crowd.” How can these be simultaneously true?

The answer, which all the psychologies and sociologies miss, is actually quite simple.  Human motivation is always “with respect to God.”  The social and behavioral sciences miss this “intentionality,” because they themselves are idolatrously motivated.  In a massive irony, they build into their charter and methodology a blindness to the essential nature of their subject matter.

Human motivation is intrinsic neither to the individual nor to human society.  Human motivation is never strictly psychological or psycho-social or psycho-social-somatic.  It is not strictly either psychodynamic or sociological or biological or any combination of these.  These terms are at best metaphors for components in a unitary phenomenon which is essentially religious or covenantal.  Motivation is always God-relational.  Thus human motivation is not essentially the sort of unitary species-wide phenomenon that the human sciences pursue.  It is encountered and observed in actual life as an intrinsically binary phenomenon: faith or idolatry.  The only unitary point in human motives is the old theological construct: human beings are worshiping creatures, willy-nilly.  Seeing this, the Bible’s view alone can unify the seemingly contradictory elements in the explanation of behavior.

The deep question of motivation is not “What is motivating me?”  The final question is,“Who is the master of this pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior?”  In the biblical view, we are religious, inevitably bound to one god or another.  People do not have needs.  We have masters, lords, gods, be they oneself, other people, valued objects, Satan.  The metaphor of an idolatrous heart and society capture the fact that human motivation bears an automatic relationship to God: Who, other than the true God, is my god?  Let me give two examples, one dear to the heart of behaviorists and the other dear to the heart of humanistic psychologists.

Hunger as Idolatry

When a “hunger drive” propels my life or a segment of my life, I am actually engaging in religious behavior.  I—”the flesh”—have become my own god, and food has become the object of my will, desires, and fears.  The Bible observes the same mass of motives which the behavioral sciences see as a “primary drive.”  Something biological is certainly going on. Something psychological, and even sociological, is going on.  But the Bible’s conceptualization differs radically.  I am not “hunger¬driven.” I am “hunger-driven-rather-than-God-driven.”

We are meant to relate to food by thankfully eating what we know we have received and by sharing generously.  I am an active idolater when normal hunger pangs are the wellspring of problem behavior and attitudes.  Normal desires tend to become inordinate and enslaving.  The various visible sins which can attend such an idolatry—gluttony, anxiety, thanklessness, food obsessions and “eating disorders,” irritability when dinner is delayed, angling to get the bigger piece of pie, miserliness, eating to feel good, and the like—make perfect sense as outworkings of the idol that constrains my heart.12 Problem behavior roots in the heart and has to do with God.

The idolatries inhabiting our relations with food, however, are as social as they are biological or psychological.  Perhaps my father modeled identical attitudes.  Perhaps my mother used food to get love and to quell anxiety.  Perhaps they went through the Great Depression and experienced severe privation, which has left its mark on them and made food a particular object of anxiety.  Perhaps food has always been my family’s drug of choice.  Perhaps food is the medium through which love, happiness, anger and power are expressed.  Perhaps I am bombarded with provocative food advertisements.  The variations and permutations are endless.

Membership in the society of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam ensures that we will each be a food idolater in one way or another.13 Membership in American consumer society shapes that idolatry into typical forms.  A complex system of idolatrous values can be attached to food.  For example, we characteristically lust for a great variety of foodstuffs.  Food plays a role in the images of beauty and strength which we serve, in desires for health and fears of death.  Food—the quantities and types prepared, the modes of preparation and consumption—is a register of social status.  Membership in a famished Ethiopian society would have shaped the generic idolatry into different typical forms.  Membership in the micro-society of my family further particularizes the style of food idolatry: for example, perhaps in our family system hunger legitimized irritability, and eating was salvific, delivering us from destroying our family with anger.  Yet in all these levels of social participation, my individuality is not lost.  I put my own idiosyncratic stamp on food idolatry.  For example, perhaps I am peculiarly enslaved to Fritos when tense and peculiarly nervous about whether red food dyes are carcinogenic!

Security as Idolatry

Behaviorists speak of “drives” and tend to “lower” the focus to the ways we are most similar to animals.  Humanists and existentialists, on the other hand, speak of “needs” and tend to “raise” the focus to uniquely human social and existential goals.  But the same critique applies.  When a “need for security” propels my life or a segment of my life, I am again engaging in religious behavior.  Rather than serving the true God, the god I serve is the approval and respect of people, either myself or others.  I am an idolater.  I am not “motivated by a need for security.”  I am “motivated by a lust for security rather than ruled by God.”  Or, since desire and fear are complementary perspectives on human motivation, “I fear man” instead of “I fear and trust God.”  Need theories, like drive theories, can never comprehend the “rather than God,” which is always built into the issue of human motivation.  They can never comprehend the fundamental idolatry issue, which sees that the things which typically drive us really exist as inordinate desires of the flesh that are direct alternatives to submitting to the desires of the Spirit.

Our lusts for security, of course, are tutored as well as spontaneous.  “Vanity Fair” operates as effectively here as it does with our hunger.  Powerful and persuasive people woo and intimidate us that we might trust or fear them.  In convicting us of our false trusts and acknowledging the potency of the pressures on us, the Scriptures again offer us the liberating alternative of knowing the Lord.14

Idols: A Secondary Development?

When the conceptual structures of humanistic psychology are “baptized” by Christians, the fundamental “rather than God” at the bottom of human motivation continues to be missed.  For example, many Christian counselors absolutize a need or yearning for love.  As observant human beings, they accurately see that fallen and cursed people are driven to seek stability, love, acceptance, and affirmation, and that we look for such blessings in empty idols.  As committed Christians they often want to lead people to trust Jesus Christ rather than their idols.  But they improperly insert an a priori and unitary relational need, an in-built yearning or empty love tank as underpinning the heart’s subsequent divide between faith and idolatry.

They baptize this “need,” describing it as God-created.  Idolatry becomes an improper way to meet a legitimate need, and our failure to love others becomes a product of unmet needs.  The Gospel of Christ is redefined as the proper way to meet this need.  In this theory then, idolatry is only a secondary development: our idols are wrong ways to meet legitimate needs.  Repentance from idolatry is thus also secondary, being instrumental to the satisfaction of needs.  Such satisfaction is construed to be the primary content of God’s good news in Christ.  Biblically, however, idolatry is the primary motivational factor.  We fail to love people because we are idolaters who love neither God nor neighbor.  We become objectively insecure because we abide under God’s curse and because other people are just as self-centered as we are.  We create and experience estrangement from both God and other people.  The love of God teaches us to repent of our “need for love,” seeing it as a lust, receiving merciful real love, and beginning to learn how to love rather than being consumed with getting love.

Humans lust after all sorts of good things and false gods—including love—in attempting to escape the rule of God.  The love-need psychologies do not dethrone the inner sanctum of our heart’s idolatry.  Structurally, the logic of love-need systems is analogous to the “health and wealth” false gospels.  Jesus gives you what you deeply yearn for without challenging those yearnings.

It is no surprise that, for good or ill, love-need psychology only rings the bells of certain kinds of counselees, who are particularly attuned to the wavelength of what we might call the intimacy idols.  Such theories lack appeal and effectiveness “cross-culturally” to people and places where the reigning idols are not intimacy idols but, for example, power, status, sensual pleasure, success, or money.  A love-need system must interpret such idols reductionistically, as displacements or compensatory versions of the “real need” which motivates people.

The Bible is simpler.  Any one of the idols may have an independent hold on the human heart. Idols may reduce to one another in part: for example, a man with an intractable pornography and lust problem may be significantly helped by repentantly realizing that his lust expresses a tantrum over a frustrated desire to be married, a desire which he has never recognized as idolatrous.  Idols can be compounded on top of idols.  But sexual lust has its own valid primary existence as an idol as well.  A biblical understanding of the idolatry motif explains why need models seem plausible and also thoroughly remakes the model.  In biblical reality— in reality, in other words!—there is no such thing as that neutral, normal and a priori love need at the root of human motivation.

The biblical theme of idolatry provides a penetrating tool for understanding both the springs of and the inducements to sinful behavior.  The causes of particular sins, whether “biological drives,” “psychodynamic forces from within,” “socio-cultural conditioning from without,” or “demonic temptation and attack” can be truly comprehended through the lens of idolatry.  Such comprehension plows the field for Christian counseling to become Christian in deed as well as name, to become ministry of the many-faceted good news of Jesus Christ.

CASE STUDY AND ANALYSIS

Using a case study of a hurt-angry-fearful person, this article will now explore in greater detail the relationship between “world” and “heart” in the production of complex and dysfunctional behaviors, emotional responses, cognitive processes, and attitudes.

Wally is a 33-year-old man.15 He has been married to Ellen for eight years.  They have two children.  He is a highly committed Christian.  He works for his church half time as an administrator and building overseer and half time in a diaconal ministry of mercy among inner city poor.  He and his wife sought counseling after an explosion in their often-simmering marriage.  He became enraged and beat her up.  Then he ran away, threatening never to come back.  He reappeared three days later, full of guilt, remorse, and a global sense of failure.

The current marital problems are exacerbated versions of long-standing problems: anger, inability to deeply reconcile, threats of violence alternating with threats of suicide, depression, workaholism alternating with escapism, a pattern of moderate drinking when under stress, generally poor communication, use of pornography, and loneliness.  Wally has no close friends.

Several years ago Wally became involved sexually with a woman he was working with diaconally: “I know it was wrong, but I just felt so bad for her and how rough she’d had it that I found myself trying to comfort her physically.”  He broke it off, and Ellen forgave him; but both acknowledge there has been a residue of guilt and mistrust.

He oscillates between “the flame-thrower and the deep freeze.”  On the one hand he can be abrasive, manipulative, angry, and unforgiving.  On the other hand he withdraws, feels hurt, anxious, guilty, and afraid of people.  He oscillates between anger at Ellen’s “bossiness, nagging, controlling me, not supporting me or listening to me” and depression at his own sins.  Her patterns and his create a feedback system in which each tends to bring out and reinforce the worst in the other.

Wally grew up in a secular, Jewish, working class family.  He was born when his father was 52 years old and his mother, 42.  By dint of hard work, long hours, and scraping by, they bought a house in a relatively affluent WASP suburb shortly after Wally was born.  Wally’s father was a critical man, impossible to please.  “If I got all A’s with one B, it was ‘What’s this?’  If I mowed and raked the lawn, it was ‘You missed a spot behind the garage.’”

After his retirement at age 70, Wally’s father became “much more mellow; and, with my having become a Christian and trying to forgive him, our relationship wasn’t half bad the last five years of his life.”  His mother was “well-meaning, nice, but ineffective, totally intimidated by my Dad.”  Wally had been a bit of a “weirdo” in high school: “I never matched up to the bourgeois values. I was too smart, too uncoordinated, too ugly, too shy, too awkward, and too poor to cut it in school.”

Wally became a Christian during his first year in college and immediately gravitated towards work with the poor and downcast.  “I have little sympathy for rich, suburban Christians; but I love the poor, the single parents, the ex-addicts, the psychiatric patients, the ex-cons, the orphans and widows, the handicapped, the losers.”  His Christian commitment is intense and life-dominating.  He loves Jesus Christ.  He believes the Gospel.  He desires to share Christ with others.  He knows what his behavioral sins are, but he feels trapped.  “I just react instinctively.  Then I feel guilty.  You know the pattern!”

Financially, Wally and Ellen are not well off.  They are not extravagant spenders, but they face continual financial decisions: Dental work for the children?  Should we buy a house?  Should we take a vacation or work side jobs to earn a little extra money?  How many hours a week should Ellen try to work outside the home?  Can we really afford to tithe?  Should we accede to the kids’ desire for a VCR?  They live month to month, and the bill cycle periodically creates quite a bit of stress.

How are Christian counselors to understand Wally in order to help him?

“Vanity Fair”: The Sociology of Idolatry

Idols define good and evil in ways contrary to God’s definitions.  They establish a locus of control that is earth-bound: either in objects (e.g., lust for money), other people (“I need to please my critical father”), or myself (e.g., self-trusting pursuit of my personal agenda).  Such false gods create false laws, false definitions of success and failure, of value and stigma.  Idols promise blessing and warn of curses for those who succeed or fail against the law: “If you get a large enough IRA, you will be secure.  If I can get certain people to like and respect me, then my life is valid.”  There are numerous idolatrous values which influenced Wally and continue to pressure him: beguiling him, frightening him, controlling him, constraining him, enslaving him.

His father’s perfectionistic demands were one of the prominent idols impressed into Wally’s personal history: “You must please me in whatever way I determine.”  Wally believed his father’s sinful, lying demand.  “Fear of man” describes the phenomenon from the psychological side of the equation, a particular “idol of the heart.”  “Oppression” and “injustice” describe his father’s powerful demands on the sociological side.  We see the dominion of a father whose leadership style was that of a tyrant-king, not that of a servant-king promoting the well-being of his son.16 In essence, he lied, bullied, enslaved, and condemned.  “I can remember lying on my bed while my Dad went on and on lecturing me, ranting and raving.”  Wally was conditioned to be very concerned with what significant people thought of him.  At the same time Wally bought the idol.  He is simultaneously a victim and guilty.  He was abused by powerful idols operative within his family system.  He also instinctively both bought into those idols and produced his own competitive idols.

Relationships are rarely static.  There were various sides and various phases to Wally’s relationship with his father’s critical opinion.  At times Wally temporarily succeeded in pleasing his father and felt good about himself.  At other times he failed in his father’s eyes, earning only scorn for being “a spaz, girlishly emotional.”  At other times he obsessively, almost maniacally, strived to please his father.  He once spent a summer, with dismal results, trying to learn to dribble a basketball in a way that did not “look like a six-year-old girl.”  Some of the classic “low self-esteem” symptom patterns were established in this crucible.

At other times Wally rebelled against his father and his father’s implacable demands.  He pitted his will against his father.  Being highly intelligent, he was formidable and creative as a rebel.  In his teens he succeeded in driving his father half crazy by setting up contrary value systems (serving contrary idols): rock music, bizarre dress and hairstyle, left-wing politics, marijuana use.  One idol—”I need to please my father”—led into another—”I’ll do what I want and set myself in opposition to my father.”17

There are even elements in Wally’s conversion to Christianity which might be construed as part of this tendency to define himself in opposition to his father’s secular, ethnic Jewish, upwardly mobile culture.  His Christianity could be used at times to torment his father.  Idols are fluid.  The rebellious stance ultimately became Wally’s predominant long-term commitment and undergirds a certain low-grade resentment he still feels at the memory of his father, now five years dead.  But rebellion is not unmixed.  It can be tinctured with regrets, a sense of failure, or even with merciful and gentle tendencies.  “Sometimes I think I have really come to peace with my father—an honest, merciful peace that Christ has painstakingly wrought in me.  At other times I know I lose it and react like the wounded and proud animal I once was.”

Wally’s father was not static either.  In his later years he mellowed considerably.  Wally’s Christian faith and his father’s evolution into a gentler man combined to bring a fair measure of kindness and forgiveness into the relationship.  It became peaceable but never warm.  Idols have a history, a “shelf life.”18 Vanity Fair evolves.  A demanding father became a less demanding father who eventually promulgated a friendlier idol: he wanted to bask in the warmth of “family” and retirement.  Our hearts also evolve.  A youth with a compulsion to please became a young man who half wanted to please and half rebelled.  The young man became a middle-aged man driven and haunted by some of the same patterns of contradictory compulsions, even after his earthly father’s death.  Wally both lusts after the approval and respect of people and yet rebels and isolates himself in his pride.

Multiple Idols

We become infested with idols.  The idolatrous patterns in Wally’s relationship with his father manifest in other relationships.  Wally has had ongoing problems with authority figures in school, the military, work, and the church.  He has had the same sorts of problems with his wife, friends, and even his children.  Naturally, he brings this same pattern into the counseling relationship, with all the challenges that creates for building trust and a working relationship.  He continues to manifest a typical stew of associated problems: a slavish desire to be approved, a deep suspicion that he won’t be approved, a stubborn independency.

We have attended in some detail to the way in which his father’s demandingness constituted an idol system which staked out a claim in Wally’s affections.  We will give less detail to other influences, though each might be explored in equal detail.  His mother’s passivity in the face of conflict set a model for him which still frequently colors his relationship to Ellen.  The “bourgeois values” of his high school peer culture—dating, athletics, scoring sexually, looks, clothes, money, “cool”—also marked him out as a failure and fueled both his rebellion and his sense of shameful inadequacy.  He bought the bourgeois values and failed against them.  He rebelled against those values and bought the alternative values of the drug culture, in which he succeeded.  He rebelled against both straights and druggies and isolated himself as a world of one, which sometimes worked and sometimes failed.  All these things happened, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes successively.

Even the counterculture values of his “radical Christian” subculture can be understood in part as an idolatrous narrowing of the Christian life in reaction to the opposite idolatrous equation of Christianity with the American Dream.  Certain biblical goods are magnified to the exclusion of other biblical goods.  In various ways Wally continues to play out a three-fold theme.  First, he typically rebels against certain dominant “successful people” cultures.  Second, he finds his validity in the affirmation of a “down-and-out” subculture.  Third, all the while he acts in idiosyncratic pride to create his own culture-of-one in which he plays king, and his opinions on anything from the dinner to eschatology are self-evident truth.

“Who can understand the heart of man?!”  And who can understand the world that negotiates with that heart?!  Wally and the myriad forces which impinge on him elude exhaustive, rational analysis.  Yet we can describe enough of what goes on in his complex heart and complex world to minister helpfully to him.  And the Wally we meet today is only today’s Wally, not the Wally of some prior point in his personal history.  Biblical counsel, the mind of Christ about Wally’s life, can be given.  Wisdom, the nourishing and honeyed tongue, can make satisfying and convicting sense of things, and Wally can learn to live, think, and act with such wisdom.

Many other idol systems and sub-systems impinge on Wally.  Some are the same players Bunyan described in his Vanity Fair: cultural attitudes, values, fears, and opportunities which circle around money, sex, food, power, success, or comfort.  Certain gentle-faced idols—the mass media, professional sports, and the alcohol industry—woo him with temporary compensations and false, escapist saviors from the pressures generated by his slavery to the harsh, terrifying idols which enslave and whip him along at other times: “I must perform. I must prove myself.  Everyone I respect must like me.  What if I fail?”

Some of the other idol systems which daily impact on Wally are found within the marital system and the family system.  Ellen’s and the children’s values and desires provoke and persuade Wally in various ways.  If Ellen worries about money, if the children get swept up with complaining when they do not get what they want, if Ellen nags Wally with expectations of moralistic behavioral change, Wally is variously worried, angry, compliant, depressed, defensive, full of denial, or whatever else, depending on how he interfaces with the particular micro-society that is constraining him.19

This way of exploring “What rules me?” is “sociological.”  False gods are highly catching!  With good reason both Old and New Testaments abound with warnings against participating in pagan cultures and associating with idolaters, fools, false teachers, angry people, and the like.  Our enemies not only hurt us, they also tempt us to be like them.  False voices are not figments which the individual soul hallucinates.  “World” complements “flesh” to constitute monolithic evil: the manufacture of idols instead of worship of the true God.

If we would help people have eyes and ears for God, we must know well which alternative gods clamor for their attention.  These forces and shaping influences neither determine nor excuse our sins.  But they do nurture, channel, and exacerbate our sinfulness in particular directions.  They are often atmospheric, invisible, unconscious influences.  Conscious repentance begins to thrive where I see both my own distortions and the distortions impinging upon me from others.  Both tempt me, and I must battle both.

Scripture is sensitive to sociological forces without compromising human responsibility.  But, of course, idols are also “in here” in our hearts, determining the course of our lives.  In the discussion above, Wally’s heart response to his environment—idols of the heart—continually intruded.  The two are impossible to disentangle absolutely.  But in the next section I will look in greater detail at the more psychological dimension of idolatry.

Idols of the Heart: the Psychology of Idolatry

At the simplest level Wally both imbibed the idols to which he was exposed and creatively fabricated his own.  He has variously succeeded, failed, or rebelled against various value systems.  But in each case he nurtures and serves numerous unbiblical values.  His life implicitly validates many lies.  His heart is deeply divided between the true God and idols.  Is he a Christian?  Yes.  But the ongoing work of renewal must engage him genuinely over the particular patterns of idolatry that functionally substitute for faith in Christ.  There has been a measure of genuine fruit in his life.  But there has been a measure of bending the true God to the agenda of the flesh.

Idols are rarely solitary.  Our lives become infested with them.  Wally is psychologically controlled by a lush variety of false gods.  For example, he typically oscillates between “pride” and the “fear of man.”20Pride or “playing god” generates one set of sins: anger, manipulation, compulsions to control people and circumstances, a “Type A personality,” rebellion against parents and the bourgeois.  The fear of man or “making others into god” generates another set: self-consciousness, fears, depression, failure, anxiety, withdrawal, a gnawing sense of inferiority, chameleon behavior.  They work hand in hand to produce his “perfectionism,” both in its anxious and its demanding aspects: “My performance in your eyes.  Your performance in my eyes.”

Many other gods wait in the wings, playing occasional bit parts in the drama of Wally’s life.  At times Wally’s god is a lust for escapist comfort from the pressure cooker he creates.  Alcohol abuse, TV watching, video games and pornography provide fleeting escape.  At times he is owned by a desire to “help” people.  He becomes obsessed with his ministry, angry at any who hinder it, prone to become messianic (and even adulterous), justifying any doubtful actions on his part by reference to the supreme value of “my ministry.”  Of course, this is only a sampler.  Any of scores of particular lesser gods can appear in the temple of his heart depending on traffic conditions, the weather, how his wife treats him, how his children do in school, etc.

The real Wally is irreducibly complex!  Even as I portray Wally in broad strokes, it is clear that his life emerges from an ever-shifting mosaic of false loyalties.  This noted, are there hierarchies of idols or prepotent idols of unusual significance in Wally’s case?  Yes, there are.  Wally’s life may well play out typical, oft-repeated themes.  He is a “type” in a loose sense, though he can never be reduced to a rigid diagnostic type because of the myriads of fluid idols which constrain him.  Certain idols strike me as predominant in Wally.  “Pride” (I play god) and “fear of man” (I install you as god) are crucial.  One finds variations on the themes of “I want my way” and “How do I perform in your eyes?” endlessly repeated in Wally’s life.  Demand and fear take turns in the spotlight.  Other typically dominant idols—sexual pleasure, money, etc.—certainly have their say in Wally’s life but have a more low-grade, nagging quality, which in a different counselee might be greatly intensified.

It is striking how biblical categories—the idol motif, in this case—stay close to the concrete details of life and do not speculate abstract typologies.  The bedrock similarities between people tend to be brought into view.  In our psychologized culture we are used to definitive analyses of Wally and others according to a typology.  He is a type-A person.  He is a Pleaser.  He is a Controller.  He is a combination of melancholic and choleric temperaments.  He is a typical ACOA or member of a dysfunctional family.  His root sin is anger.  His problem is low self-esteem.  In DSM-III categories he is a…, and so forth.  Such statements tend to pass for significant knowledge.  In fact, they are not explanations for anything but are simply ways of describing common clusters of symptoms.

Root Idols?

Given the prevalence of this mode of typing people, it might be expected that we could say something like, “His root idol is….”  But the data on idolatry does not generally support such reductionistic understandings of the human heart.21 At best we can make the softer claim, “His most characteristic idol is…usually…but at other times…!”  For purely heuristic purposes it may be useful to notice that one person is particularly attuned to the intimacy idols, another to avoidance idols, another to power idols, another to comfort idols, another to pleasure idols, another to religiosity idols, and so forth.  A person’s style of sin—”characteristic flesh” in Richard Lovelace’s graphic term22—may tend to cluster habitually around particular predominant idols.

But sin is creative as well as habitual!  We should not forget that the reductionism the Bible consistently offers is not a typology that distinguishes people from each other but is a summary comment that highlights our commonalities: all have turned aside from God, “each to his own way,” “doing what was right in his own eyes.”23 Under this master categorization the temple teems with potential shapes for idols and false gods.  The rampant and proliferating desires (plural) of the flesh contend with the Spirit and clamor for our faith and obedience.  Typologies are pseudo-explanations.  They are descriptive, not analytical, though as conceptual tools for various psychologies and psychotherapies they pretend to explanatory power.  At best, typologies describe “syndromes,” patterns of fruit and life experience that commonly occur together.24 Current typologies are not helpful for exposing the real issues in the lives of real people.  At best they are redundant of good description and intimate knowledge of a particular individual.  At worst, they are bearers of misleading conceptual freight, for they duck the idolatry issues.

How do we explain the fact that all of us are not exactly like Wally though we share the same generic set of idolatrous tendencies?: the numerous forms of pride and the fear of man; obsession with sensual pleasures; preoccupation with money; tendencies towards self-trust regarding our opinions, agendas, abilities; the creation of false views of God based on our life experience and desires; desire to be intrinsically righteous, worthy, and esteemable; and the like.  Jay Adams has perceptively commented on the commonality inhering within individual styles of sin:

Sin, then, in all of its dimensions, clearly is the problem with which the Christian counselor must grapple.  It is the secondary dimensions—the variations on the common themes—that make counseling so difficult.  While all men are born sinners and engage in the same sinful practices and dodges, each develops his own styles of sinning.  The styles (combinations of sins and dodges) are peculiar to each individual; but beneath them are the common themes.  It is the counselor’s work to discover these commonalities beneath the individualities.25

 ‘Neighborhoods’ in Vanity Fair

How do individual styles develop?  Certainly particular “neighborhoods” in Vanity Fair can empower different idols.  It doesn’t surprise us that Wally’s demanding and unpleasable father can be correlated with a particular form of the “fear of man” as a significant idol in Wally’s heart.  Yet because of the continual interplay of idol-making heart with idol-offering milieu, another child might grow up with very accepting parents, and the “fear of man” would be similarly empowered as a lust never to be rejected or fail.  Our idols both covet what we do not have and hold on for dear life to what we do have.

Many of the nuances of our idolatries are socially shaped by the opportunities and values that surround us.  For example, it is unsurprising that more people will become homosexuals (or adulterers, or pornographers, or whatever) in a culture that makes certain forms of sexual sin available, legitimate, or normal.  For example, Wally grew up in a family moderately obsessed with academic and professional achievement.  His next door neighbor might have grown up in a family obsessed with escapist pleasure, and he might have been nurtured to live for “Miller Time” and televised sports.  The generic idols in every heart may bear different fruit in different people.  For example, Baal is no threat to produce “religious” forms of idolatry today, but Mormonism is such a threat.

Much of the variation among us is simply empowered by the “accidents” of life experience: tragedies or smooth sailing, handicaps or health, riches or poverty, New York City or Iowa or Uganda, a high school or a graduate school education, first-born or eighth-born, male or female, born in 1500 B.C. or 1720 or 1920 or 1960, and the like.  Much individual variation is due to hereditary and temperamental differences: kinds of intelligence, physical coordination and capabilities, variation in talents and abilities, metabolic and hormonal differences, and so forth.  In the last analysis, idiosyncratic choice from among the opportunities and options one encounters accounts for the nearly infinite range for individuality within the “commonalities” that biblical categories discern in us.

The diagnostic categories which pierce to the commonalities are categories such as “idolatry versus faith,” which we are using here.  These alone can embrace both the fluidities and relative stabilities of Wally’s world, flesh, and devil—and can embrace the true God who has saved Wally.  They apply toevery person in a way which is simple, but never simplistic, accounting for all the complexities.  For all our differences, the Bible speaks to every one of us.

OTHER DIAGNOSTIC PERSPECTIVES AND THE GOSPEL: MULTIPERSPECTIVAL INTERPRETATION

As we have indicated, Wally’s mass of behaviors, attitudes, cognitions, value judgments, emotions, influences, et al. can be understood right down to the details utilizing the biblical notion of idolatry.  The disorder in Wally’s life is produced by the interplay between particular idols of his heart and particular idols of his social environment.  Sins occur at the confluence of disoriented heart motives and disoriented socio-cultural systems of all sizes.  The intention of this essay has been to explore some of the dense connections between flesh and world.  But there are other ways of approaching these things which are important to recognize.

Notably absent has been attention to the equally dense connecting links between the Devil and both world and flesh in the production of Wally’s dysfunctional and sinful living.  “Who rules me?” invites awareness of spiritual powers.  Idols and demons go hand in hand in literal worship of false gods.  Not surprisingly, the functional lordship of Satan is equally evident in the more subtle idolatries that enslave Wally.  Does this mean that Wally is “demon-possessed” and the treatment of choice is exorcism?  Decidedly not.  But wherever we are problematically afraid or angry—to isolate two particular bad fruits—we are being formed into Satan’s image rather than Christ’s.  The same modalities that fight world and flesh also fight the Devil.  Intelligent faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately the answer.  But awareness of the spiritual warfare occurring emphasizes the fact that Christian counseling is a ministry of prayer.26 Awareness of spiritual warfare also helps shake us out of the behavioral science mindset which tempts us to think about people psycho-socially, rather than with respect to God.

The Dark Lord’s stratagems are all intended to establish his lordship over people.  Satan methodically disintegrates Wally’s relationships, leads him into gross sins, deceives his mind into highly distorted and selective perceptions, accuses him into despair, discourages him, ties his life into knots in every imaginable way, fans normal desires into inordinate and addictive desires and “needs,” and the like.  This article has primarily attended to “world and flesh.”  “Devil” completes the monolithic triad of biblical perspectives on the motivation of problem behavior.

Also notably absent has been detailed attention to the somatic influences on Wally.  His problems are exacerbated by allergies, overtiredness, a diet with too much “junk food,” sexual frustration and a sedentary lifestyle.  Close attention to patterns of irritability, marital tension, sexual lust, and depression would consistently reveal a plausible somatic component.  The fact that monitoring caffeine and sugar intake, and getting more regular rest, sexual intercourse, and exercise moderates Wally’s symptoms also points to somatic influences.  Somatic factors, at minimum, influence the “quantity” of Wally’s problems, though they do not create the “quality” of his problems.  A tense irritability can flare into rage and cursing.  A case of “the blues” can spiral into bleak despair.  A tendency to ogle women can break out into purchasing Penthouse.  Wally’s body variously exacerbates or moderates the intensity of his sins.  It does not create new kinds of sins.

The Role of the Will

Also notably absent has been a discussion of the degree to which Wally’s behavior is willed and, hence, immediately controllable.  As was stressed earlier, paying biblical attention to motives of heart and world is no ploy for cutting the force out of the Bible’s view of human responsibility.  Wally chooses, even when he plunges down well-worn ruts where a fork in the road seems experientially nonexistent.  Wally has made headway in self-discipline at various times in his life. He knows what is wrong and what is right.  He is able to describe many times when he “bull-headedly chose wrong.”  He can also tell of many times when he acted out of conscious faith in Christ to choose right.

Recognizing choice does not negate the power of world, flesh, and Devil.  The more Wally grows to know himself and his environment, the more he consciously knows and experiences that he has always been making choices.  One of the purposes of working with the idol motif (or with its more culturally accessible equivalents: the idolatrous desires, hopes, fears, expectations and goals which own people) is to expand the arena in which Wally is aware of the choices he has been making implicitly.  Sanctification expands the arena of conscious choice and biblical self-control.

Also notably absent has been a discussion of the providence of God in bringing intense, transforming experiences.  Wally’s conversion “dropped out of the sky” and gave him months of freedom from sins, joy in Christ, and growing love for people.  He has had other “high times” as a Christian: times of greater vision, love, and liberty produced by a good sermon, at a retreat, or by some inexplicable opening of his heart to God in a moment of daily life.

But changes in Wally’s life—whether the product of victories in conscious spiritual warfare, of physiological alterations, of volitional commitment or of mountaintop experiences—seemingly “happen” at random.  These four paradigms often provide the stuff with which Wally thinks about problems and change in his life.  Wally has little sense of confidence that his life is moving in the direction of consistent, intelligent, desirable, whole-souled change.  His life in general seems to be an unhappy chaos, with occasional and temporary moments of symptomatic relief.  One of the goals of this essay is to describe several elements which can make change more consistent, internalized, self-conscious and genuinely transformative.  In my experience the Wallys, both inside and outside the church, tend to be very blind to the things that move them.  It is a curious but not uncommon phenomenon that a biblically literate person like Wally has no effective grasp on the idols of his own heart and the temptations of the particular Vanity Fair which surrounds him.27 Wally is all action, impulse, and emotion.  He knows relatively little about what God sees going on in his heart and his world.  The question, “What is God’s agenda in my life?” can often be answered with some confidence when I start to grasp the themes which play out in my life.

My analysis has been predominantly “psycho-social” (covenantally psycho-social!).  A full biblical analysis of Wally’s problems would be a “psycho-social-spiritual-somatic-volitional-experiential” analysis.28 To understand the exact weight of each variable is, obviously, to quest after something which is—from a human point of view, the intentions of social scientists notwithstanding!—ultimately elusive.  But the Bible’s answer is always powerfully applicable: turning from idols to the living God, renewal of mind and heart in the truth, activities captured in shorthand by the phrase “repentance and faith.”

The Lordship Question

There is some utility to teasing out these two strands of human motivation, while never forgetting that we are focusing only on several perspectives within a unified whole.  The two I have concentrated on in this article— the heart and the social milieu—without question receive the bulk of the Bible’s attention.  But the question of human motivation is ultimately the multiperspectival question of lordship, of faith in idols and false gods in tension with vital faith in the true God.  This can be looked at through numerous lenses:

  • Lordship through the lens of our hearts: The grace-filled, “strait and narrow” will of the Spirit versus the rampant, idolatrous desires of my flesh.

  • Lordship through the lens of social influences: Social shaping by the Kingdom of God and the body of Christ versus imbibing the models and values of the kingdoms of our world (various micro-kingdoms of marital and family systems; on up through progressively larger kingdoms of peer relations; of neighborhood, school, and work place cultures; of ethnic group, socio-economic class, nationality, etc.).

  • Lordship through the lens of spiritual masters: The good King Jesus versus the tyrant Satan.

  • Lordship through the lens of somatic influences: living through bodily pains and frustrations in the hope of the resurrection versus immediate service to and preoccupation with my belly’s and body’s pains, pleasures, deprivations, and wants.

  • Lordship through the lens of volitional choices: Conscious faith in God’s promises and obedience to God’s will versus believing and choosing according to my spontaneous will, desires, and opinions, “the way that seems right to a man.”

  • Lordship through the lens of experiential providence: Learning to rejoice in God amid blessings and to repent and trust God amid sufferings versus growing presumptuous, proud, or self-satisfied when things go our way and depressed, angry, or afraid when life is painful, frustrating, or unsure.

Though this article has commented particularly on the interplay between the first two lenses, my intent throughout has been to expand our view of Wally, not to constrict it.  Within the biblical conceptual framework we can bring into view all of Wally and his world.  The notion of behavior as ruled lets us hold together seeming paradoxes.  Wally is fully responsible for what he does.  Wally’s inner life is full of kinks, distortions, and blind compulsions.  Wally is continually being conditioned from without, tempted, tried, and deceived.  Wally is also a Christian.  The Spirit and the Word can work powerfully both to reorient him from the inside and to set him free from the control of what impinges on him.

Idolatry and the Ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

In this article my attention has been heavily weighted towards the issue of diagnosis: How do we biblically understand people?  But biblical diagnosis bridges immediately into biblical treatment.  The understanding of people presented here enables the message of the Gospel to apply relevantly to the problems of troubled people.

One of the major challenges facing Christian counselors is how to apply the Gospel of the love of God incisively.  There are many faulty, distorted, or inadequate ways to go about this.  The Gospel is easily truncated and weakened when idols of the heart and Vanity Fair are unperceived or misperceived.  But if we accurately comprehend the interweaving of responsible behavior, deceptive inner motives, and powerful external forces, then the riches of Christ become immediately relevant to people.  What was once “head knowledge” and “dry doctrine” becomes filled with wisdom, rel-evancy, appeal, hope, delight, and life.  People see that the Gospel is far richer than a ticket to heaven and rote forgiveness for oft-repeated behavioral sins.

How many Wallys—and Ellens—are stuck with a vague guilt over seemingly unshakable, destructive patterns?  But when Wally sees his heart’s true need and his need for deliverance from enslaving powers-that-be, he then sees how exactly he really needs Christ.  Christ powerfully meets people who are aware of their real need for help.29 We Christian counselors, both in our own lives and in our counseling, frequently do not get the Gospel straight, pointed, and applicable.  I will consider two broad tendencies among Christians who seek to help their fellows: psychologizing and moralizing.

Christian counselors with a psychologizing drift typically have a genuine interest in the motivation that underlies problem behavior.  Psychologically-oriented Christians attempt to deal with both the internal and external forces that prompt and structure behavior.  The heart issues are typically misread, however.  “Need” categories tend to replace biblical categories—idolatry, desires of the flesh, fear of man, etc.—which relate the heart immediately to God.  Also, environmental issues such as a history of abuse, poor role models, and dysfunctional family patterns tend to be given more deterministic status than they have in the biblical view.

These views of inner and outer motivation fit hand-in-glove as an explanation for behavioral and emotional problems.  “You feel horrible and act badly because your needs aren’t met because your family didn’t meet them.”  The logic of therapy coheres with the logic of the diagnosis: “I accept you, and God really accepts you.  Your needs can be met, and you can start to change how you feel and act.”  Behavioral responsibility is muted, and the process of change becomes more a matter of need-meeting than conscious repentance/metanoia and renewal of mind unto Christ.

What is the Gospel?

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped?  “God loves you” typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures.  The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—”grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned against”—is down-played or even twisted into “unconditional acceptance for the victims of others’ lack of acceptance.”  Where “the Gospel” is shared, it comes across something like this: “God accepts you just as you are.  God has unconditional love for you.”  That is not the biblical Gospel, however.  God’s love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large.  A need theory of motivation—rather than an idolatry theory—bends the Gospel solution into “another gospel” which is essentially false.

The Gospel is better than unconditional love.  The Gospel says, “God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contraconditional’ love for you.”  Christ bears the curse you deserve.  Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness.  Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me “as I am.”  He accepts me “as I am in Jesus Christ.”  The center of gravity is different.  The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself.  Rather, it radically decenters people—what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord” and “faith”—to look outside themselves.

Christian counselors with a psychologizing drift typically are very concerned with ministering God’s love to people who view God as the latest and greatest critic whom they can never please.  But their failure to conceptualize people’s problems in the terms this article has been exploring inevitably creates a tendency towards teaching a Liberal Gospel.  The cross becomes simply a demonstration that God loves me.  It loses its force as the substitutionary atonement by the perfect Lamb in my place, who invites my repentance for heart-pervading sin.  “The wound of my people is healed lightly.”30

Christian counselors with moralistic tendencies face a different sort of problem.  Where there is a moralizing drift to Christian counseling, Christ’s forgiveness is typically applied simply to behavioral sins.  The content of the Gospel is usually more orthodox than the content of the psychologized Gospel, but the scope of application may be truncated.  Those with psychologizing tendencies at least notice our inner complexities and outer sufferings, though they distort both systematically.  In some ways the moralizing tendency represents an inadequate grip on the kinds of “bad news” this article has been exploring.

Moralistic Christianity does not usually evidence much interest in the pressures and sufferings of our social milieu.  Counselors fear that such interest would necessarily feed those varieties of blame-shifting and accusation which spring up so readily in our hearts.  Human responsibility would be compromised.  But they do not see that understanding the evil that happens to me—the Vanity Fair that is swirling around my life—is a crucial part of my widening and deepening appreciation of Christ.  Attendance to the forces that have pressured and shaped me—and are shaping me—for ill allows me to respond intelligently, responsibly, and mercifully.  As psalm after psalm demonstrates, our sufferings are the context in which we experience the love of God, both to comfort us and to change us.  We are comforted in our afflictions as we learn of God’s promises and power.  We are changed in our afflictions as we learn to take refuge in God rather than in vain idols.

Moralizers are also weak on the inward side of motivation.  Heart motives may be attended to in part via an awareness of “self” or “flesh.”  But the solution is typically construed in all-or-nothing terms. Conversion, “Let go and let God,” and “total yieldedness” attempt to deal with motive problems through a single act of first-blessing or second-blessing housecleaning.  The Gospel is for the beginning of the Christian life or a dramatic act of consecration.  There is little sense of the patient process of inner renewal which someone like Wally—and each of us!—needs.  Jesus says to take up our cross daily, dying to the false gods we fabricate, and learning to walk in fellowship with Him who is full of grace to help us.  Receptivity to God’s love—”The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want”—is the absolutely necessary prerequisite for any sort of active obedience to God.31

I have looked at two common truncations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Both evidence an inadequate grasp of the deviance of our hearts and our corresponding vulnerability to external influences.  People are idol-makers, idol-buyers and idol-sellers.32 We wander through a busy town filled with other idol-makers, idol-buyers, and idol-sellers.  We variously buy and sell, woo, agree, intimidate, manipulate, borrow, impose, attack, or flee.  But there is a bigger Gospel.  At the gates of Vanity Fair, Christian met a man who entreated him and his companion:

Let the Kingdom be always before you; and believe steadfastly concerning things that are invisible.  Let nothing that is on this side of the other world get within you; and, above all, look well to your own hearts, and to the lusts thereof, for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  Set your faces like a flint; you have all power in heaven and earth on your side.33

Christian passed through Vanity Fair bloodied but purer in heart.  He remembered, amid hard combat with world, flesh, and Devil, the Celestial City which was his destination, and the Lord Jesus who beckoned him to life.

The biblical Gospel delivers from both personal sin and situational tyrannies.  The biblical notion of inner idolatries allows people to see their need for Christ as a merciful savior from large sins of both heart and behavior.  The notion of socio-cultural-familial-ethnic idolatries allows people to see Christ as a powerful deliverer from false masters and false value systems which we tend to absorb automatically. Christ-ian counseling is counseling which exposes our motives—our hearts and our world—in such a way that the authentic Gospel is the only possible answer.

Article published on October 9, 2009 @ http://www.ccef.org/idols-heart-and-vanity-fair

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Powlison

David Powlison, M.Div., Ph.D. worked for four years in psychiatric hospitals, during which time he came to faith in Christ. He teaches at CCEF and edits The Journal of Biblical Counseling (soon to be re-launched online). He received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in the history of science and medicine, focusing on the history of psychiatry. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary, and has been doing biblical counseling for over 30 years. He has written numerous articles on counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books include Speaking Truth in Love, Seeing with New Eyes, Power Encounters, and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context. – See more at: http://www.ccef.org/biography/david-powlison#sthash.BgnGUHsy.dpuf


1 The “First Great Commandment,” like the first two or three commandments from the decalogue, contrasts fidelity to the Lord with infidelities. The open battle with idolatry appears vividly with the golden calf and reappears throughout Judges, Samuel, Kings, the prophets, and Psalms.

2 This confluence of the world, the flesh, and the devil is unsurprising, as it recurs throughout the Scriptures: see Ephesians 2:1-3 and James 4:1-7 for particularly condensed examples.

3 “Heart” is the most comprehensive biblical term for what determines our life direction, behavior, thoughts, etc. See Proverbs 4:23, Mark 7:21-23, Hebrews 4:12f, etc.  The metaphor of “circumcision or uncircumcision of heart” is similar to “idols of the heart,” in that an external religious activity is employed to portray the inward motivational dynamics which the outward act reflects.

4 See such summary statements by Paul, Peter, John, and James as Galatians 5:16ff; Ephesians 2:3 & 4:22; 1 Peter 2:11 & 4:2; 1 John 2:16; James 1:14f, where epithumiai is the catch-all for what is wrong with us.

5 Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5.

6 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), pages 84-93.

7 I’m commenting here only on the impact of “negative” social influences, which both communicate their idols to us and provoke our hearts to produce idols.  If you rage at me, I tend to learn from you something about the supreme importance of getting my own way, as well as a few tricks and techniques for accomplishing that.  I also instinctively tend to generate compensatory idols in order to retaliate, to defend, or to escape. We tend to return evil for evil.

I could equally comment on the impact of “positive” social influences—both in Bunyan and in life—which communicate faith to us and tend to encourage faith in our hearts and repentance from idolatry.  The biblical way to deal with “enemies,” returning good for evil, is both learned from others and a product of the heart.

8 Sociologists, anthropologists, and historians of psychiatry have described how most symptoms and all diagnostic labels are culture-bound.  This is especially true with regard to functional problems (as opposed to the distinctly organic problems) which comprise the vast bulk of human misery and bad behavior.  This relativizing observation means that diagnostic labels are not “scientific” and “objectively true.”  Labels are occasionally useful heuristically if we recognize them for what they are: crude taxonomic orderings of observations.  But labels are elements within schemas of value and interpretation.  Because diagnostic categories are philosophically and theologically “loaded,” a Christian who seeks to be true to the Bible’s system of value and interpretation must generate biblical categories and must approach secular categories with extreme skepticism.

9 It is obvious that if idolatry is the problem of the “co-dependent,” then repentant faith in Christ is the solution.  This stands in marked contrast to the solutions proffered in the co-dependency literature, whether secular or glossed with Christian phrases.  That literature often perceptively describes the patterns of dysfunctional idols—addictions and dependencies— which curse and enslave people.  The idols which enslave the rescuer or the compulsive drinker do not work very well for them.

The literature may even use “idolatry” as a metaphor, without meaning “idolatry against God, therefore repentance.”  The solution, without exception, is to offer different and presumably more workable idols, rather than repentance unto the Bible’s Christ!  Secularistic therapies teach people eufunctional idols, idols which do “work” for people and “bless” them with temporarily happy lives (Psalm 73).

So, for example, self-esteem is nurtured as the replacement for trying to please unpleasable others, rather than esteem for the Lamb who was slain for me, a sinner.  Acceptance and love from new significant others, starting with the therapist, create successful versions of the fear of man and trust in man rather than teaching essential trust in God.  Self-trust and self-confidence are boosted as I am taught to set expectations for myself to which I can attain. The fruit looks good but is fundamentally counterfeit. Believers in false gospels are sometimes allowed to flourish temporarily.

Therapy systems without repentance at their core leave the idol system intact. They simply rehabilitate and rebuild fundamental godlessness to function more successfully.

The Bible’s idolatry motif diagnoses the ultimately self-destructive basis on which happy, healthy, and confident people build their lives (eufunctional idols), just as perceptively as it diagnoses unhappy people, who are more obviously and immediately self-destructive (dysfunctional idols).

10 Terminology is, of course, not indifferent. “Personal problems” and “dysfunctional living” imply a primary responsibility only to oneself, family, and society.  “Sin” implies a primary responsibility to God the Judge, with personal and social responsibilities entailed as secondary consequences.

11 The Bible’s mode of everyday observation is comfortable describing both the push and the pull of human motivation as complementary perspectives.  Psychologies tend to throw their weight either towards drives or towards goals.  Idolatry is a fertile and flexible conceptual category which stays close to the data of life, unlike the speculative abstractions of alternative and unbiblical explanations.

12 Matthew 4:1-4, 6:25-34, John 6, and Deuteronomy 8 are four passages, among many, which work out these themes in greater practical detail.  Notice how the language of relating to God—love, trust, fear, hope, seek, serve, take refuge, etc.—can be applied to relating to food.

13 Matthew 6:32: “The nations run after these things.”

14 Proverbs 29:25; Jeremiah 17:5-8.

15 Resemblances between “Wally” and any actual human being are purely coincidental products of the essential similarities among all of us.  The external details of this case study are fabricated of snippets and patterns from many different lives, altered in all the particulars of behavior, gender, age, background, etc.

Similarly, the analysis of idolatries derives from a biblical analysis of the generic human heart—my own heart included— rather than from any particular individuals. Wally is Everyman, idiosyncratically manifesting idolatrous human nature.

16 Mark 10:42-45.

17 John Calvin, in his remarkable discussion of the nature of man in the opening section of hisInstitutes, comments on the way that idols “boil up from within us.”  It could equally be said that they boil up around us.  There is always some object at hand for us to put our faith in.

18 I am indebted to Dick Keyes of L’Abri Fellowship for this felicitous phrase.

19 Where do we begin in counseling? Are there hierarchies of influence or “key” influential relationships to tackle?  There may well be.  In particular, is Wally’s relationship with his parents the key to effective counseling?  Not necessarily, although psychodynamic psychology is strongly biased towards parent-child relationships.  The Bible is not similarly biased (either for or against looking at relationships with parents).

I do not believe that in this case, as presented, Wally’s relationships with his father and mother are the most important ones to tackle now in counseling.  Theoretically, we could tackle any troubled relationship in Wally’s life, and we would end up grappling with generically similar issues, the same idols and sins.  My instincts in counseling would be to tackle vignettes involving Wally and Ellen or his children.  That is where most of the hot patterns are being played out.  His relationship with his father could come up as could other significant relationships where there are live issues.  But for Wally to grow and be renewed, to repent intelligently, to be transformed both in heart and behavior, he does not necessarily need to look at the parental relationship.

20 And “there is no temptation which is not common to all men” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  This pride/fear of man oscillation is run-of-the-mill human nature.  It plays itself out in an endless variety of forms.

21 Of course, at specific points in time specific idols will need to be named and faced.  Wise biblical counseling grapples with specifics.  Jesus faces the rich, young ruler with his mammon worship.  The parable of the sower faces people with their unbelief, their social conformity, their preoccupying riches, pleasure, and cares (all of which can be rephrased as expressions of the idol motif).  In the Old Testament Elijah directly confronts Baal worship.  For example, Wally will need to deal with his drive to perform in people’s eyes as the issue unfolds in counseling.

22 Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of the Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), page 110.

23 Isaiah 53:6 and Judges 21:25.

24 The word “syndrome” ought to be stripped of its clinical pretensions to significant explanatory power.  It is purely descriptive.  It literally means, “things that tend to all run along together.”

25 Jay Adams, Christian Counselor’s Manual (U.S.A.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), Page 124f.

26 Acts 6:4 is a classic text defining ministry in terms of both truth and prayer.  Ephesians 6:10-20 is a classic text on the mode of warfare: faith in all its elements and ways of expression defeats demonic powers.  James 3:13-4:12 adds the note that repentance is crucial to the defeat of Satan.

27 The Bible indicates the reason for this by frequently describing our inordinate desires as “deceptive.”  Satan is the arch-deceiver.  We tend to conform to the atmospheric deceptions of our socio-cultural milieu.  Our idols are so plausible and instinctive that a person can even describe them, without really seeing them as the crucial problem in his or her life.

28 There are doubtless any number of other ways of slicing the pie of human motivation.  See Tim Keller’s “Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling” (The Journal of Pastoral Practice, 9:3 (1988), pages 11-44) for a stimulating portrayal of the multi-perspectival subtlety of a previous generation of Christian counselors.

29 Hebrews 4:12-16; Matthew 5:3-6; Luke 11:1-13; Matthew 11:28-30; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; indeed, the entire Bible!  Christ’s forte is our acknowledged need in the face of compulsions from within and pressures from without.

30 Jeremiah 8:11(cf.23:16f).

31 Active love is the fruit of receptive faith.  Psalm 23—like many portions of Scripture—is a pure promise to be drunk in.  Other passages detail the transition from gift to gratitude, from root to fruit, from abiding to fruit-bearing, from faith to works (Galatians 5 and 1 John 4:7-5:12 are two of the most sustained expositions).  Performance-oriented people like Wally, idol-driven people, rarely drink and eat of the life-giving bread of heaven.

32 We have not mentioned how Wally’s distorted system of interpretation and valuation affects—is “sold” to—his children, wife, friends, and parents.  There is obviously a feedback loop of mutual effects, a vicious circle.

Conversely, as Wally is able to change both heart and behavior, he will create a gracious circle of positive effects in his family and church.  We have emphasized the negative side of social shaping, but faith is just as catching as idolatry.

33 Bunyan, ibid., page 83.

– See more at: http://www.ccef.org/idols-heart-and-vanity-fair#sthash.oEMKasPC.dpuf

James Montgomery Boice on “The First Miracle”

An Expositional Sermon By James Montgomery Boice on Acts 3:1-26

Acts Boice

 

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” – Acts 3:1–6

In chapter 3 of this study I pointed out that Acts is a transitional book. Acts comes between the Gospels and the Epistles. When we begin to read it, the Lord Jesus Christ is still here. The characters we come across are people who knew Jesus, those who in many cases had traveled with him during the days of his ministry. Most of them were witnesses of his resurrection. But then as we go on through the book, we come to people who did not have those experiences. Paul himself did not live with Christ during the days of his earthly ministry. And there are people like Timothy and Titus, Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, who had not even seen him. The flow of the book is from those early days in Jerusalem, when Jesus is still present, to Rome, which is where Acts ends. Acts is a transition in another way too. It is a transition from an age in which miracles were common to a time more closely resembling our own.

Better Than Gold

Luke described the early fellowship of believers by saying, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). In Acts 2 Luke does not give us any indication as to what those miraculous signs may have been. But now, when we come to Acts 3, we have the account of at least one of them.

Why did Luke choose to chronicle this particular miracle? The answer is two-fold: (1) because it was the occasion for a second sermon of Peter’s, which Luke wants us to hear; and (2) because the miracle and sermon were the cause of the first persecution of the church.

Verse 1 tells us that Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer. We were told in chapter 2 that one of the things the early church did was gather in the temple courts to pray. In time God would cause a break with formal Judaism. But the break had not come yet. The apostles and other early believers were still Jews as well as being Christians, and they were continuing to take part in the worship that their people had enjoyed for centuries.

As Peter and John were doing this, they met a man who had been placed at the temple gate to beg from those who were entering. He was unable to walk. But he had friends, and they had put him in what was obviously a good position. They must have reasoned that it would be difficult for people to enter the temple, offer heartfelt worship to God, and then, as they left, utterly ignore a poor man who clearly needed help. Peter and John saw him and stopped. We are told that Peter fixed his attention on him and demanded that the man look at them.

That is what the man wanted. I can imagine that if his experience was that of most beggars, most people would simply have walked by. If you see somebody who is needy and you do not want to help, you try not to notice him. That is what most people would have been doing. So when Peter and John stopped, looked at him, and said, “Look at us,” the man must have looked up very hopefully, thinking that they were going to give him something. I do not know what they begged with in those days. But if he had owned a tin cup, I imagine he would have held the cup out to them, no doubt thinking, This is going to be a good day. These people are going to give me money.

Then Peter uttered the words that most of us know very well: “Silver or gold I do not have.…”

Can you visualize what must have happened at that moment? The man was expecting silver or gold. So when Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have…” his eyes must have dropped, and he must have put his cup down. But Peter went on, adding, “But what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6).

Notice, first, that it was to Peter’s credit that he could utter both parts of that sentence. There is a story from the Renaissance period that I have come across in several different versions. It may or may not be true. In any case, the version I like best goes like this: St. Thomas Aquinas was in Rome. He was walking along the street with a cardinal. The cardinal noticed a beggar. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a silver coin and gave it to him. Then he turned to Aquinas, the great doctor of the church, and said, “Well, Thomas, fortunately we can no longer say, as Peter did, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ ”

St. Thomas replied, “Yes, that is true. But neither can we say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ ”

It has always been sadly true that people have used religion as a means of acquiring wealth. We see much of this today, particularly in the way some “ministries” are promoted on television. The heads of these ministries make a great deal of money. Peter was not one of these people. I suppose that in the early church there were people who kept the church’s money. Later on we find that there was a treasury. Perhaps Peter had learned something from Judas, who dipped into the common purse when he needed something. Peter apparently did not. So when he went up to the temple to pray, he said quite honestly, I do not have any money. His penniless state may even have been a factor in his being close enough to God that he could also say, “But I am going to give you what I have.”

When Peter reached down, he took that man by the hand. Luke, who perhaps was interested in this miracle from the point of view of a physician, records with particularly vivid language how strength flowed into the man so that his feet and ankles could now bear his weight. He was completely restored to health. And he was so exuberant in his new-found health that he leaped—“walking and jumping, and praising God.” The language itself literally leaps, just as he leaped. This was a great, great day. And the people who knew the man because they had gone in and out of that gate many times and had seen him often were filled with amazement and undoubtedly praised God also.

In the case of the man who had been born blind, whose story is told in John 9, the man’s appearance was so altered that the people questioned whether or not this was the same man. In the case of the man healed by Peter there was no doubt at all. Everyone understood at once what had happened. A miracle had taken place by the same power that had been displayed in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and at Pentecost.

Peter’s Second Sermon

At this point Peter began to preach his second sermon. When we compare Peter’s first sermon with this one, we find some differences. Yet there are similarities too, because regardless of the circumstances, Peter was trying to do the same thing here as on the earlier occasion: He was trying to point his listeners to Jesus as the Savior of the world. He also confronted them with their sin, appealed for their repentance, and gave reasons to repent and believe.

Christ-Centered

Just as in the sermon at Pentecost, this new sermon focuses on Jesus. I suppose it would have been possible for Peter to have focused on something else. He could have focused on the miracle itself. He could have said, “This is an important thing that has happened, and I want to make sure that you understand that this really is a miracle. Look at this man. Let’s all gather around and examine him.”

Peter’s sermon could have led into a testimony service. He could have said, “Now, brother, you have been healed. Here’s your chance to give a testimony. Stand up and tell everybody what Jesus has done for you.” A testimony like that might have focused on the man. The man could have said, “Let me tell you about my experience. Let me tell you how I first came to be part of what is going on here today.…” The man could have gotten quite a bit of personal attention out of that.

Instead, Peter said, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus” (vv. 12–13). Jesus! This is where the emphasis of the entire sermon lies.

In speaking about Jesus, Peter is inevitably biblical. I say inevitably because this sermon is not so obviously biblical as the previous one. When we were studying the sermon Peter gave at Pentecost, I pointed out that it focuses on three great texts (see chapter 5 of this study). The way Peter preached that sermon was to quote each text at length and then explain it. The fact that he is biblical is not so obvious in this second sermon—although at the end he does quote from Deuteronomy and Genesis. Nevertheless, Peter is biblical.

The biblical nature of the sermon is apparent in Peter’s choice of words. When Peter refers to Jesus as God’s “servant,” as he does in verse 13, he uses the word for servant that occurs in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah 52:13–53:12, where the coming servant of God (52:13) is described as the one who would be “pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” (53:5). The concept of the “servant of the Lord” was well-known in Israel because of Isaiah 53 and other texts. So when Peter used “servant” and then went on to speak of “the Holy and Righteous One”—another title for the Christ that also appears in Isaiah—it is pretty clear that he was thinking of these chapters. He was teaching that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.

When Peter talked about Jesus, he had a number of important facts to mention. One is that Jesus was a real man. Earlier when he spoke to the paralyzed man, he referred to Jesus as “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (v. 6). It was not some imaginary, philosophical Jesus that Peter was proclaiming. It was a Jesus they all knew, a Jesus who had lived in Nazareth and who had traveled about the country teaching and doing good. But notice: That Jesus was also the same Jesus who had died for sin and then had been raised from death by the power of God. Peter was not retreating into philosophy, nor was he de-supernaturalizing the gospel, as some modern Bible critics have done. He was preaching a biblical Jesus who was both the Son of God and fully man.

When you think about Christianity, do you think primarily about Jesus Christ? And do you understand who Jesus is by the words and doctrines of the Bible? There is a lot more that Christians talk about, of course. But properly understood, those other things all relate to Jesus in some measure. Without Jesus you do not have Christianity, and the Jesus of Christianity is the Bible’s Jesus. To be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with him. Therefore Peter was preaching about him in this sermon.

Grappling with Sin

Peter’s sermon is also direct in speaking about sin. Even more than in his earlier sermon Peter emphasizes the sin of the people in disowning Jesus and handing him over to Pilate to be crucified.

He does it in a personal way. Where Peter begins to talk about the sin of the people he uses the word “you” (the second person plural pronoun) four times. In the previous sermon he only used it in that way once: You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23, italics mine). That is pretty blunt. But I suppose that as Peter reflected on it (and even got a little better with practice), he figured that when he got around to preaching a second time he would give that point emphasis. So now he says, “You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (vv. 13–15, italics mine).

Peter is saying this in the very city where the people had cried out against Jesus, saying, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He is speaking to these same people, perhaps with the very same leaders who had urged them to cry out looking on, and he is saying, You did it; you crucified him. The verbs are powerful, too: “You handed him over to be killed. You disowned [him]. You killed the author of life” (italics mine).

From time to time when I am preaching I will say something about the death of Jesus and how the Jewish leaders handed him over to Pilate to be crucified. Whenever a study like that appears on the radio later, as many of my studies do, I get letters from people who object to my saying that Jews demanded the death of Jesus. That is understandable, of course, because it is a sensitive point in Judaism, and I usually answer by pointing out that the Gentiles in the person of Pilate were also guilty. We are all guilty of Jesus’ death, and if we had been there at the time, we might all have joined in the cries of those who demanded Jesus’ death. But I notice here that, sensitive as that point may be, it was certainly never any more sensitive than it was in this early day when Peter preached in Jerusalem. In spite of the sensitive nature of the issue, Peter did not allow people’s feelings to stand in the way of preaching clearly. He did not say “Jews” to the exclusion of others. He included Pilate in his “you.” He included the Romans. They had actually put him to death. But that was not what concerned Peter in this sermon. Peter’s “you” meant everybody, including the Jews and perhaps even the Jews particularly. He was not pulling his punches.

We need to realize that we are all to blame for the death of Christ in one way or another. Even though we were not there at the time Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, it was our sins that took him there. And if Jesus were here today, we would spurn him today, just as the masses of Israel spurned him in Jerusalem long ago.

An Appeal for Repentance

Third, not only does Peter’s sermon point to Jesus and highlight the listeners’ sin—making it clear that the people of Jerusalem had something to repent of—but it also contains an appeal. This is because in the final analysis, Peter was not interested in merely condemning his hearers. On the contrary, he wanted them to repent of their sin and believe on Jesus.

He begins with the words “Now, brothers” (v. 17). He does not treat them as foreigners, aliens, or enemies. Indeed, how could he, since what he said earlier, “You disowned him… you disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (he repeated it), was the very thing Peter himself had done? Peter had denied Jesus on the night of his arrest. So he does not stand aloof now as he appeals to these people. He calls them brothers, saying, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Their ignorance did not make them guiltless. Nevertheless, they were not fully aware of what they were doing, and Peter was in exactly that category himself.

Where our English text has Peter encouraging his listeners to “turn to God” (v. 19), the Greek text actually says “flee to God.” That was probably intended to suggest a powerful image. In Israel there were cities set aside from other cities as “cities of refuge.” If an Israelite accidentally killed someone else, he could flee to one of these cities and there be protected from an avenger of blood, a relative of the deceased who might try to kill him in retaliation. These cities were not to protect real murderers. If somebody intentionally killed someone, well, he was to be tried and punished, as he should be. But if the killing was accidental—if it was what we would call “manslaughter” rather than “murder in the first degree”—then the killer could flee to the city and be protected there. He was to stay there until the high priest died. Then he could go home.

There is something like that idea in Peter’s sermon. Peter told the people that they were guilty of killing Jesus, but he taught that God would forgive their sin if they would repent of it and flee to the refuge that he has provided in Christ.

Peter tells them to “repent, then, and turn to God” (v. 19). These two things always go together. Sometimes we feel sorry for what we have done. But it is not enough merely to feel sorry. Sorrow is not repentance. Repentance is feeling sorry enough to quit, and quitting means turning from sin to Jesus Christ. When Peter tells the people, “Repent… and turn to God,” he makes the connection apparent and indicates exactly what we need to do.

Reasons to Repent and Believe

The fourth thing Peter does in this sermon is offer inducements to repent and believe on Jesus. The first is: “so that your sins may be wiped out” (v. 19), that is, so that you might be forgiven. Forgiveness is what people need, and the only place anyone will ever really find forgiveness is in Christ. A director of a large mental institution in England said to John Stott some years ago, “I could send half of my patients home tomorrow if only they could find forgiveness.”

Most people carry heavy loads of guilt. This may be true of you. You may not have not told anybody what you have done. You are afraid that if you told someone else, that person would reject you. Nevertheless, you remember what you have done, and you carry the guilt of your actions around with you day by day, week by week, and year by year. Your burden keeps you from being what you might otherwise be. Moreover, you do not find forgiveness in the world. The world is not capable of that. The world can judge you for your sin or pretend to overlook it. But it is not capable of forgiving it. On one occasion the Lord Jesus Christ said to a man, “Your sins are forgiven,” and the religious leaders who were standing by replied, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” They were absolutely right. They did not recognize that Jesus was God and therefore had the right to forgive sin. In that they were wrong. But their theology was right. Only God can forgive sin. That is why the world is so unsatisfactory in this respect. Peter is saying that God can forgive your sin; he can lift that great load of guilt. Clearly this is one great inducement to turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ.

Peter has another inducement too. It is the “times of refreshing [that] come from the Lord” (v. 19). This may be understood in different ways. On the one hand, it probably concerns a future day of blessing when the Jewish people will turn to Christ in large numbers and a final age of national blessing will come. Paul talks about it in Romans 11. On the other hand, there are also “times of refreshing” for all God’s people even now.

Many of us go through much of life feeling pretty stale in what we do. We feel like the horse that eats hay and oats on Monday, oats and hay on Tuesday, hay and oats on Wednesday, and so on throughout the week. Many people find, especially if they are in an unrewarding job, that life is often quite dreary. And sometimes even their Christianity becomes stale. They say, “I’ve been coming to church every week. But somehow it just isn’t what it used to be. I feel so flat when I come.” Well, that happens. We all go through dry spells. Times like that do not necessarily mean that we are far from God. They only mean that we feel far from God. Sometimes the cause is bad health. Sometimes the cause is the weather. A few days of gloomy rain and cold sometimes plunge me into a dark night of the soul. What we are told here is that in Christ there will be times of refreshing.

Haven’t you known times when Jesus became so real and the gospel so vivid that your whole spirit, soul, and body were revived? If you want times of refreshing, times that make life really worth living so you can say, “Oh, it is good to be a Christian,” turn from sin and follow close to Jesus.

There is another inducement here also, in verse 26. After Peter gets through saying that all that has happened in Christ is a fulfillment of prophecy and that they ought to know it because it is clear in their Bibles (he quotes from Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19 and Genesis 22:18), he says, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” First to you! To whom? Well, to the Jews! But more than that, because it was not just to Jews generally that Peter was preaching on this occasion. Peter was preaching to Jews who had been instrumental in the death of Jesus. They handed him over to be killed, disowned him, asked that a murderer be released to them, and demanded that Jesus be crucified. It is to these people, the very ones who had been instrumental in the greatest crime in human history, that God now comes with the gospel of salvation. And he comes to them first. It is God’s way of saying, “I know what you have done, but I do not hold it over you. I love you anyway. It is precisely for people like you that I caused Jesus to die.”

You and I cannot say that God sent his servant to us first of all. Many have come to Christ before us in former ages of human history. But the principle is the same. Regardless of what you have done, the low self-image you may have, or the guilt you may carry, God proclaims his Son to you. And the reason the gospel is proclaimed to you is because God says it is for you that Jesus died.

About the Author

Boice JM in pulpit

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 7 in Acts: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997, 2006.

A Summary of the Four Gospels

*THE FOUR GOSPELS

Symbols of the 4 Gospels

Background

The four Gospels record the eternal being, human ancestry, birth, life, and ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Taken together they present not a biography but a Person.

The fact that the four Gospels present a Person rather than a complete biography indicates the spirit in which they should be approached. It is more important to see and know Him who these narratives reveal than to try to piece together a full account of His life from these inspired records (John 21:25, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”). For some reason God did not lead men to write a full biography of His Son. The years preceeding His ministry are passed over in a silence that is broken only once, as recorded in a few verses in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:40-52, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man”). It is wise to respect the divine reticence.

Incomplete Story, Complete Revelation

But the four Gospels, though designedly incomplete as a story, are complete as revelation. We may not know everything that Jesus did, but we may know Him. In four great narratives, each of which in some respects supplements the other three, we have Jesus Christ Himself.

This is the essential respect in which these narratives differ from biography or portraiture. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The believing student finds here the living Christ.

The Old Testament is the inspired introduction to the New Testament, and whoever comes to the study of the four Gospels with a mind saturated with the Old Testament foreview of Christ–His Person, work, and kingdom–will be greatly helped in understanding them. Old Testament quotation, allusion, and type are woven into the Gospels. The very first verse of the New Testament drives the reader back to the Old Testament; and the risen Christ took His disciples back to the Hebrew Scriptures for an explanation of His suffering and glory (Luke 24:27, 44, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”).

Therefore, in approaching the study of the Gospels the mind should be freed, as far as possible from presuppositions such as the Church is to be equated with the true Israel, and that the Old Testament promises to Israel and the foreview of the kingdom relate only to the Church. Interpretations are not true simply because they are familiar. It should not, therefore, be assumed that “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32) is synonymous with the Father’s throne (Revelation 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne,” or that “the house of Jacob” (Luke 1:33) is the Church composed of both Jew and Gentile.

The mission of Jesus was initially to the Jews (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:23-25; John 1:11, “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” …He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”). He was “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4), and was “a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Romans 15:8) and to fulfill the law that grace might abound. Therefore, a strong legal and Jewish coloring is to be expected up to the cross (Matthew 5:17-19; 10:5-6; 15:22-28; 23:2 & Mark 1:44, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven…These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly…“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,…and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” The Sermon on the Mount is closely related to law in the highest spiritual sense, for it demands as the condition of blessing, that perfect character which only grace through power creates (Matthew 5:3-9 and Galatians 5:22-23, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

The doctrines of grace are developed in the Letters, not in the Gospels; but they are implicit in the Gospels, because they rest upon the death and resurrection of Christ and upon the great germinal truths he taught, truths of which the Letters are the unfolding. The Christ of the Gospels is the perfect manifestation of grace.

The Gospels do not develop the doctrine of the Church. The word “church” occurs in Matthew only. After His rejection as King and Savior by the Jews, our Lord, announcing a mystery until the moment “hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:3-10), said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). It was therefore, yet future; but His personal ministry had gathered out the believers who were, on the Day of Pentecost, made by the baptism of the Spirit the first members of “the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:23 compare with 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

The Gospels present a group of Jewish disciples, associated on earth with a Messiah in humiliation. The Letters present a Church which is the body of Christ, made up of the regenerate who are associated with Him “in heavenly places,” co-heirs with Him of the Father, co-rulers with Him of the coming kingdom; and, as to the earth, although strangers and pilgrims, yet acting as His witnesses and the instruments for doing His will among men (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:3-14, 20-23; 2:4-6; 1 Peter 2:11).

The Gospels present Christ in His three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.

As Prophet His ministry resembles that of the Old Testament prophets. But it is the nature and dignity of His Person that makes Him the unique Prophet. In former times God spoke through the prophets; now He speaks in the Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Old Testament prophet was a voice from God; the Son is God Himself (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

The prophet in any dispensation is God’s messenger to His people, first, to establish truth; and second, when His people are in declension and apostasy, to call them back to truth. The prophet’s message, therefore, is usually one of rebuke and appeal. At times, however, as when his message of rebuke and appeal is not heeded, he becomes a foreteller of things to come. In this too, Christ is like the other prophets; most of His predictive ministry occurs after His rejection as King.

The sphere and character of Christ’s kingly office are defined in the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:16), as interpreted by the prophets and confirmed by the New Testament. Whereas the New Testament in no way abrogates or changes the Davidic Covenant or its interpretation, it adds details  which were not in the original covenant. The Sermon on the Mount is an elaboration of the idea of righteousness as the predominant characteristic of the kingdom  (Isaiah 11:2-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:14-16). The Old Testament prophet saw in one horizon, so to speak, the suffering and glory of the Messiah (1 Peter 1:10-11, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”). The New Testament shows that His suffering and glory are separated by the present Church Age, and points forward to the Lord’s return as the time when the Davidic Covenant of blessing through power will be fulfilled (Luke 1:30-31; Acts 2:29-36; 15:14-17), just as the Abrahamic Covenant of blessing through suffering was fulfilled at His first coming (Acts 3:24-25; Galatians 3:6-14).

Christ is never called King of the Church. “The King” is indeed one of His divine titles, and the Church joins Israel in exalting “the King of ages, immortal, invisible” (Psalm 10:16; 1 Timothy 1:17). The Church is to reign under Him. The Holy Spirit is now calling out, not the subjects but the co-heirs and co-rulers of the kingdom (Romans 8:15-16; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:11-12; Revelation 1:6; 3:21; 5:10).

Christ’s priestly office is the complement of His prophetic office. The prophet represents God to the people; the priest represents the people to God. Because the people are sinful he, the priest, must be a sacrificer; because they are needy, he must be a compassionate intercessor (Hebrews 5:1-2; 8:1-3). So Christ on the cross entered upon His high priestly work, offering Himself without blemish to God (Hebrews 9:14), as now He exercises on ever-living intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:25). John 17 provides the pattern of that continuing intercession.

In the Gospels, primary interpretation should be distinguished from moral application. Much in the Gospels that belongs in strict interpretation to the Jews or the kingdom is yet such a revelation of the mind of God and is so based on eternal principles as to have a moral application to the people of God, whatever their dispensational position. it is always true that the “pure in heart” are blessed because they “see God” and that “woe” is the portion of religious formalists whether under law or grace.

Special emphasis should be made to the things the four Gospels have in common.

(1) In all of them there is revealed one unique Person. The pen is a different pen, the incidents in which He is seen are sometimes different incidents, but He is always the same Christ.

(2) All the evangelists record the ministry of John the Baptist.

(3) All record the feeding of the 5,000.

(4) All record Christ’s offer of Himself as King, according to Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

(5) All record the betrayal by Judas; the denial by Peter.

(6) All record the trial and crucifixion of Christ.

(7) All record the bodily resurrection of Christ.

(8) All record events occurring during the forty days of the post-resurrection ministry of Christ–a ministry keyed to a new note of universality and of power.

(9) All point forward to His second coming.

And this record is so presented as to testify that the supreme business that brought Him into the world was His death and resurrection; that all that precedes these was preparation, and that from them flow all the blessings God ever has bestowed or ever will bestow upon humanity.

Since the first three Gospels contain so much material in common that they may be arranged as a synopsis, they are called the Synoptic Gospels. Careful readers of the New Testament will observe the similarities among and also the difference peculiar to these Gospels. That they contain dissimilarities is not surprising in view of the fact that each of these three Gospels is written for a particular purpose–Matthew to present Jesus as King, Mark to present Him as Servant, and Luke to present Him as Son of Man.

Matthew may have been the first Gospel written. It is thought that Mark’s account reflects, in its subject matter, Peter’s view of our Lord. That there were in existence many early accounts of the life and work of Christ is plain from Luke’s prologue to his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).

As for John, this Gospel is in a class by itself. Probably written later than the Synoptics, it does not outline the life of our Lord but selects its material (including much that is not in the first three Gospels) in keeping with the writer’s declared aim of presenting Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31).

Certain scholars have tried to trace the forms or patterns into which the earliest traditions about Christ were put for oral repetition. These forms are supposed to have provided material for the Gospels and are also thought to have been so thoroughly shaped by the needs of the early Church as to preclude a full historical basis for all the events recorded in the Gospels. In its effort to explain the difference in the Gospels, this critical view raises a question concerning the historical accuracy of the whole record. However, it fails to recognize evidence which supports the historicity of the Gospels. It may also be observed that selectivity of material does not necessarily mean distortion of fact, nor is the use of reliable tradition incompatible with the inspiration the Gospel records.

The important thing to keep in mind is the established fact that these Gospels are inspired historical documents of genuine authenticity and full integrity. Moreover, the believer in Christ knows in his own life the reality of the living Lord, who is so faithfully and yet so variously presented in the Synoptics and in John’s Gospel.

 *Article adapted from the Scofield Study Bible (ESV). New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 edition.

Tim Keller on “Removing Idols From Your Heart”

Sermon: Removing Idols of the Heart – Series: Growth in Christ, Part 1—October 22, 1989

Tim Keller praching w bible image

Colossians 3:5–11

We are in the middle of a series of studies of Christian growth, and eventually we’re going to be talking about the fruit of the Spirit here. We’re going to be looking at love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control. We’re going to be looking at all of those, but for these few weeks here we’re looking at how you can create a dynamic (a cycle) in your life that results in supernatural maturity and character change, and what we have been saying is there is a combustion cycle, you might say, a dynamic, a motor that needs to be going on in the heart of a Christian.

When that cycle is going there is growth, there is progress, and if there is no progress in your life, it’s because that cycle is not going. It’s a two-part cycle, and we have said that cycle is repentance and faith. Let’s again read the passage we’ve continually looked at, but we’re going to be looking at it in more detail in one aspect here tonight. We’ve been looking at it for a number of weeks, but we’re especially going to read Colossians 3, and I’m going to read verses 5–11, because it’s about repentance, and that’s what we’re looking at tonight.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

The Word of the Lord

A quick review, but an important review. Repentance. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Wittenberg door to start the Protestant Reformation (one of the watersheds in the history of the world), the first thesis was all of life is repentance. That is misunderstood by the Christian church today. I believe the average Christian believes repentance is something for the bad times. It’s something for when you have done something rather majorly wrong.

You slid back in the Christian life. Then you need these times of repentance, but otherwise a Christian is supposed to walk on (if he or she is doing it right) in a obedience and having victory over sin and over troubles and rising above things and not letting anything get to them and always rejoicing in the Lord, whatever that is. Repentance is not understood the way Martin Luther understood it, who after all was the first Protestant, and we probably better take this seriously. He might have understood more about evangelical religion than many of the rest of us.

You see, he was right, not us. The cycle by which you grow, the thing you must be doing daily, is moving from repentance to faith. You remember in Luke 7, Jesus was in the home of Simon, a respectable pillar of the community, and when he was there a woman of ill-repute came in and began to kiss Jesus’ feet and anoint them, and Simon thought to himself, “If this man knew the kind of woman she was, he wouldn’t be doing this.” Or he probably also thought this, although it’s not listed in the text, “If this man does know what kind of woman this is and he’s letting her kiss his feet, what’s going on here?”

Jesus turns to Simon, perceiving his heart, and he says, “Let me tell you a story.” Whenever Jesus says, “Let me tell you a story,” you’re in for trouble. He has you in a corner, all right. He says, “Simon, there were two debtors. A single man had two debtors, and one debtor owed the man 50 denarii …” I still don’t know exactly what that is in yen yet, but I’ll find out. “… and the other debtor owed the man 500. He forgave both.” He said, “Simon, which of the two will love him more?”

Simon said, “Well, the one who was forgiven 500 denarii.” Then he turned to Simon and said, “Simon, listen. Ever since I got here she has been kissing my feet. She loves me, Simon. You don’t,” and then he said, “Because she was forgiven much, she loves much.” The last line of the little parable is, “… he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Here is what he was saying: “The difference between you and her, Simon, is not that you are more moral and she is less, or that somehow, because we’ve changed our standards, she is more moral because she is more honest or authentic or something like that and you’re a hypocrite or a stuffed shirt. That’s not the point.

She has more love and joy in her life toward me because her repentance is deeper, because she knows the size of her debt.” Because of her repentance being deeper and deeper her joy and her love are getting greater and greater, because the dynamic was unleashed in her heart. It was going on, and it wasn’t in Simon’s heart. Simon kept repentance for the bad times. Simon says, “I’m a pretty good person. I move right along, and as a result, occasionally … Yes, I repented last January, remember, when I did this thing I shouldn’t have done, and I repented maybe the September before that.”

He’s like most of us. Repentance is for the bad times, and as a result this woman is way ahead of him. Her joy and her love are deeper because her repentance is deeper. You see, the dynamic goes like that. If you understand the gospel (that Jesus Christ has covered your sins and he actually is your Savior) that means God doesn’t accept you because of your efforts but because of what Jesus has done. You’re accepted in him. You’re loved in him. If you understand that, then when you see your sins more deeply and when you repent, that releases joy and love.

If, on the other hand, you don’t rest your life on the gospel … If you’re an atheist, or if you’re a criminal, or if you’re a very moral and religious person but you don’t rest your life on the gospel … All those people are in the same boat for the purposes of this discussion because they all basically rely not on Jesus Christ for their sense of self-worth and acceptance, but rather they rely on their own power and ability. If you’re like that, if you’re one of them, then a discovery of your sin and a discovery of your weakness is going to lead you to despair.

In other words, repentance leads to despair if you don’t understand the gospel, and repentance leads to joy and love and a burst of energy and growth if you do, because repentance leads to a greater appreciation and gratitude and thrill at what Jesus has done for us. That is the dynamic and as that’s moving along, you grow. See, it’s very misunderstood. That is how you grow, and that’s what we’re talking about. The reason I keep repeating it is because I know how many of us think about repentance, but, oh, be very careful.

If you find that to look at your sins and to get a deeper knowledge of your sins leads to despair, I have to begin to ask you on what basis do you believe God loves you? What is the basis? Is it your efforts? Is it your moral excellence? Is it coming up to your standards? If so, of course repentance is just going to push you down, but if on the other hand Jesus Christ is your Savior, then repentance is the beginning of that cycle, it gets the combustion cycle going, and that’s what we’re talking about and what we have been talking about.

Now one more thing. See, I’m trying to recap, because I know people are in an out. A lot of you weren’t here last week or the week before last, so I have to recap, but I’m trying to recap using new illustrations so even if you were here, you’re getting a chance to rethink it and rethink it so it becomes clearer. The other thing I have to recap is we have tried to talk about repentance using a different name. We’ve said repentance is identifying and removing the idols of the heart. Now the reason we’re doing that is because if you don’t understand the idols of the heart, you can still think of repentance as just basically stopping certain kinds of superficial, external behavioral sins.

As we reread the Scripture we see the things the Bible talks about such as greed or sexual immorality and so on are really idols, you see. For example, covetousness (greed) is called an idol. Real quickly, again, psychologically from our point of view, an idol is actually something you get your identity from. Now I used an illustration this morning in the morning service I can use again tonight. Rocky Balboa says he wants to go the distance. He’s going to go for it. Why? What is he going for?

He says in the most important line in the film, “If I can just go the distance, I’ll know I’m not a bum.” Now I would submit to you … I propose to you … that you have something just like Rocky does in your life you believe, and you talk to yourself about it, and you say, “If I can have that, if I can get that, then I’ll know I’m not a bum.” We all have some things. In some cases, it might be relationships. In some cases, it might be financial security or independence. In some cases, it might be achievement and status.

It’s different for everybody, but there are some things in your life you look at and you say, “If I have that, I won’t be a bum.” That’s what an idol is, because an idol is making something else besides Jesus Christ your life, and the only way you can tell if something is an idol usually is God sends a problem into your life, and you begin to see you can’t get to that thing. “I can’t get there.” When you can’t get to it, you begin to realize what really is running your life. Now that is the psychological way to look at an idol. It’s identifying with something saying, “That’s my life. Then I’ll know I’m not a bum.”

Theologically, what the Bible says is these are things you are making your righteousness. See, from God’s point of view, God says what you have done is you have gone about to patch up a righteousness of your own. Paul, for example, in Philippians, the book right before Colossians, talks about himself like this. He says, I was “… circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”

He says, “… I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from [my striving], but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Now what he is very clearly saying is he’s giving you a list of all the things that used to be his righteousness. He’s saying, “Look at my pedigree. Look at my family background. Look at my career accomplishments. Look at my intellectual attainments, but I count them all as loss.”

What he means is, “They used to be my righteousness. They were the things I relied on and said, ‘This is my honor. This is my glory. This is my dignity.’ ” He said in order to be a Christian he had to give up on that, and he said, “I count them as rubbish.” Some of you know (it depends on your translation) rubbish is a kind of nice word the translators use there because it might be offensive. He said, “I count them all as dung, excrement, bowel movement,” you see, because that had become his righteousness.

Now the fact is, though, when you become a Christian, though you say, “Now I know God accepts me only because of the righteousness of Christ” (that’s what the gospel is), you still have a big part of yourself the Bible calls the “old” man. You have the new man who says, “Only in Jesus Christ am I acceptable, and he is my righteousness. He is my honor. He is my glory.” On the other hand, you have the “old” man who says, “Are you kidding?” You know, like that little 16-year-old girl years ago I remember talking to down in Hopewell, Virginia, at that other church I invited you to today.

I remember sitting down with Debbie. She was 16 years old. She was five foot ten and weighed about 90 pounds, and she couldn’t get dates. She was always saying, “Nobody wants to ask me out.” In as gentle a way as I possibly could do it, I used to say … I mean, I took time doing this. I didn’t just throw this at her, but I gently reminded her since she was a Christian and she professed faith in Christ, we have so many great things in Christ. We have our adoption. We’re in the family. We have guidance. We have protection. We have all these things. We’re going to rule and reign with him forever.

You talk about that, and at one point she looked at me, and she said, “Well, what good is all that if you’re not popular?” You see, Debbie will mature because at some point she’ll realize you don’t say that to ministers, and a couple of years after that, she’ll realize you don’t even say that to yourself because you don’t want to believe you’re really that crass. You don’t want to believe you’re really that enslaved. You don’t want to believe you’re really that childish, but we are, you see, and we do have a little thing down there saying, “If I can just go here, I’ll know I’m not a bum.”

We do have a little thing down there saying, “If I don’t have this, then what good is everything else?” You see, that was Debbie’s righteousness. She was going about doing that. There was an “old” man (a part of her) still operating on the old basis. The job of the Christian in order to grow is to identify what those things are and to pull them out. Now, by the way, we’re not going to go into identifying. That’s what we did last week, but doing that is a process like this. You’re looking at yourself and you’re saying, “Why am I so angry? Why am I so worried? Why am I so depressed?”

Then you say, “Let me analyze this. What is actually driving me? What goals do I feel like I must have?” Here is a good question a counselor friend of mine wrote down and would give his counselees when they were trying to analyze themselves and understand themselves. He says ask yourself this: “Has something besides Jesus Christ taken title to my heart’s functional trust?” That’s a great word, functional trust. Everybody who is a Christian says, “Oh, I trust Jesus and nothing else,” and he says, “I don’t care about what you say and what you believe and what you appear to say. What is your heart functionally trusting? What does it actually trust? What does it really rely on?

Here is the whole question: “Has something besides Jesus Christ taken title to my heart’s functional trust, its functional preoccupation, loyalty, service, and delight?” You can do that when you find yourself getting extremely anxious and biting your nails down to the knuckle. When you find yourself very depressed or extremely angry, you say, “What is it out there that I’m not getting to and why is it driving me like this?” That’s if you’re failing. But what if you’re succeeding and you find yourself stretching and stretching and working harder and enjoying it less?

At a certain point, you need to ask yourself a similar question. You should say, “The desires I have for this achievement, as satisfying as they are, isn’t it possible what’s going on here is I’m trying to go about patching up a righteousness of my own? Isn’t this success actually my effort to do for myself what only Jesus Christ can do for me? Am I trying to patch up a righteousness of my own?” Now that is what repentance is, and as we said before, you realize the flesh (the “old” man) …

Talking about the word, flesh, when the Bible says, “kill the flesh” or “war against the flesh,” it’s not talking about your body. When the Bible talks about the flesh, it will say, “These are the works of the flesh,” and it will say gossip, envy, pride … things that have nothing to do with the body … because the word flesh does not mean the body, usually, in the Bible when it talks like that. Usually, when the Bible talks about the flesh versus the spirit, the flesh is Self. It’s the “old” man. It’s the side of you who still wants to go about making its own righteousness, wanting to live for its own glory.

The fact is your flesh can still operate when you become a Christian. It can still operate, absolutely. People who still have a need to dominate the discussion, the need to hold forth, the need for security, the need for love and approval … You come into the church (the kingdom) and you can still be dominated by the flesh even in all of your Christian activity. Oh, yeah. There are some people who have this deep need for certainty and control.

They come into the church, and every time they take a class on the Bible what they’re actually doing, instead of reading the Bible to say, “Ah, I need to get this into my life,” instead they’re saying, “Aha! Now I can spot heresy. Now I can spot people who are not accurate, who are not preaching the true Word of God. Now I can hit them. Now I can get them. Now I can tell them what’s wrong.” There are a lot of people, you see, who are very critical and love control and love to be always the right ones.

Before they were Christians, they were insufferable, and now that they’re Christians, they’re still insufferable because the flesh is continuing to dominate them. It’s still continuing to control them. It’s very, very important to see. Therefore, every one of us has an “old” man. Every one of us has a flesh. Every one of us has a way of going about patching up our own righteousness, and the only way in which we’re going to grow is to recognize the ways in which that happens and repent of it every day.

You’re going to see pride. You’re going to see selfishness. You’re going to see gossip and defense. By the way, I know one pastor who, when somebody says, “I really don’t see all this going on in my life,” he says, “Okay. I want you to really do a discipline for me. This week a) don’t gossip, b) don’t defend yourself, and c) don’t brag. Now watch yourself. Never, ever, ever gossip. In other words, say nothing bad about anybody else, never defend yourself, and don’t brag. You just try that for a week and just see how easy it is.”

If you start looking for that sort of thing, which is the flesh, you’re going to find it’s all over. Repentance. Now last week, after the service a couple of people came up and said, “You were specific enough about identifying it. You were specific enough about making me feel terrible. You did a wonderful job of that. I thought I was doing okay until you showed me these things, but please give me a very specific one-two-three step way of taking the things out. I mean, it’s nice to see them, but taking the things out.

Okay. Let’s begin. I’ll be real specific, but on the other hand, it’s not that easy. Some of you get more frustrated than you ought to when you begin to see the things that are driving you, and you say, “I just can’t seem to purify my motives.” Some people say, “Now that you’ve helped me look at my motives, now that you’ve begun to help me see that, I begin to realize I can never purify my motives, and I start to feel discouraged, and I start to feel in despair.”

1. When you’re able to spot your problems like you are, half the battle is over

The only way your flesh can completely dominate you is if you are not aware of it at all. In a battle, for example, if the enemy is completely unknown to you (you don’t know where the enemy is or what their movements are at all) you’re going to get annihilated. If on the other hand, you can spot the enemy’s movements then you’re going to have a big fight. You might still lose on a given day, but at least you have a fighting chance.

In the same way, the only way you can be completely dominated by your flesh is if you don’t see it at all. If you know, because people have shown it to you and God has shown it to you, you need to control a group you’re in or if somebody has shown you that you’re extremely sensitive to what people think of you and you constantly get your feelings hurt … In other words, if you begin to get aware of your pride and the way in which your pride is shaped … Some of us, our pride (our Self, our flesh) takes the form of a need for domination and holding forth and telling everybody how they ought to live.

Others of us are just shy, self-conscious, or afraid of what people think and always getting our feelings hurt, which is just another form of self-centeredness. It’s just another form of pride. When you begin to see the form and see it for what it is, it no longer can ambush you the same way. On a given week you may fall prey to it, but if you’re able to name it, if you’re able to see it … In fact, anybody who comes and says, “Oh, I see all kinds of bad motives. I see all kinds of problems. I’m so discouraged,” I say, “You are not being really dominated by your flesh if you’re upset like that, if you can see the movement of it.

You have already basically engaged it. The most important part of the battle is actually over, and that is, you woke up.” You see, if the enemy is after you and you’re asleep, there won’t even be a battle. You’ll be dead, but if you’re awake, at least there will be a battle. If you feel the fight, that is a sign of life, and it’s a sign of growth, and it’s a sign God is working in you. The only people who are really losing are the people who have no struggle in their life at all, you see. Don’t be discouraged when you see the bad motives. That is a sign of life.

2. There are two basic parts to repenting of a sin

I began to tell you about the first one last week, but I’ll finish it and tell you the second part, too. First, you have to unmask it, and secondly, you have to take it to the cross. Unmasking it means make sure you stop doing little rationalizations, calling the sin by nice names, you see. Be ruthless with yourself. If you say, “Well, my feelings get hurt pretty easily, you mean you’re bitter. If you say, Well, I’m just very, very concerned,” you’re actually eaten up with anxiety.

You see, call it by its name, and recognize what is going on. We talked about that last week, and I just can’t go into it. The second part, which is what I really want to bring out, is the way in which you destroy the power of a sin is to take it to the cross, not to Mount Sinai. Take it to Mount Calvary, not to Mount Sinai. I’ll explain this for a minute. If you take a sin to Mount Sinai that means you’re thinking about the danger of it. You’re thinking about how it has messed up your life.

You’re thinking about all the punishments that are probably going to come down on you for it. That is not repentance; that is self-pity. Self-pity and repentance are two different things. I came to a place in my life where I realized 90 percent of what I thought I had been doing as repentance throughout most of my life was really just self-pity. The difference between self-pity and repentance is this: Self-pity is thinking about what a mess your sin got you into.

Self-pity is thinking about the consequences of it, what a wreck it’s made of you, how God will probably get me for it, or how my parents will probably get me for it, or how my boss will probably get me for it, or all the problems it will create in my life or already has created in my life. “Oh, Lord, how sorry I am this has happened. Oh, Lord, get this out of my life.” What you’re really doing is saying, “I hate the consequences of this sin,” but you haven’t learned to hate the sin. What is happening is instead of hating the sin, you’re hating the consequences of the sin, and you’re hating yourself for being so stupid.

Self-pity leads to continuing to love the sin so it still has power over you but hating yourself. Real repentance is when you say, “What has this sin done to God? What has it cost God? What does God feel about it?” Let me give you an interesting example of two guys who wrote 300 or 400 years ago. One man’s name is Stephen Charnock. Stephen Charnock tries to explain the difference between taking your sin to Mount Sinai, where you just look at the danger of it, and taking your sin to the cross, where you see what effect it’s had on God.

When you see what effect it has had on the loving God who died so you wouldn’t do it, who died for your holiness, when you begin to see that it melts you, and it makes you begin to hate the sin. It begins to lose its attractive power over you. Instead of making you hate yourself, you find you hate it, and so the idol begins to get crushed bit by bit. Listen carefully to Stephen Charnock, because he’s using old English. Charnock says there is a difference between a legalistic conviction of sin and an evangelical one.

“A legal conviction [of sin] ariseth from a consideration of God’s justice chiefly, an evangelical conviction [of sin] from a sense of God’s goodness.” Now hear this. “A legally convinced person cries out, ‘I have exasperated a power that is as the roaring of a lion … I have provoked one that is the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth whose word can tear up the foundation of the world …’ But an evangelically convinced person cries, ‘I have incensed the goodness that is like the dropping of a dew. I have offended a God that had his hands stretched out to me as a friend. My heart must be made of marble. My heart must be made of iron to throw his blood in his face.’ ”

Now you see what he’s done. Don’t you see the difference? Let me tell you. I’m going to have to close. I’ll say one more thing. You unmask the sin. We talked about that last week. You take it to the cross. The way to destroy the power of a sin in your life is to take it to the cross where, you see, Jesus Christ died so you wouldn’t do it. Jesus Christ died out of a commitment to your holiness.

When you see that and realize this sin is an insult to him because it’s putting something as more important than him in your life, yes, that will make you feel bad, but it’s not a pathological kind of bad feeling. Instead, it actually frees you, because instead of making you hate yourself, it makes you say, “I don’t want this. I know what he wants for me. This thing I can do without,” and you’re free. You have to look and see what Jesus has done. You know, there is a place in the Bible where Jesus said to the people, “Fear not those who could destroy the body, but fear him who can destroy body and soul in hell.”

Just keep this in mind. He’s talking to his disciples, all of whom were going to die horrible deaths. Stay with me for one minute here. The people who were in front of him who he talked to, we know historically how they died. Some of them were crucified, which is a pretty terrible death. Some of them were ripped to pieces. You know, one of the things they used to do to Christians was to tie one hand and one leg to this horse and one hand and one leg to this horse and just let the horses go and rip them apart. Some of them were impaled while still alive on stakes and covered with pitch and lit as torches.

Some of them had little holes drilled in their skull while they were still alive and molten lead poured into them. Jesus knew what they were going to go through, and he has the audacity to say that’s a picnic compared to hell. He says, “Don’t be afraid of any of that stuff. What’s that? That’s a Sunday school picnic compared to hell.” Jesus talked more about hell than anybody else. You want to blame hell on Paul or somebody nasty like that, I’m sorry. Go take a look. Jesus Christ experienced not just one hell but all of our hells on the cross. All of them pressed down into three hours.

Why? So you could be holy. Now if you think about it like that … Do you know what I’m doing? I’m telling you how you have to preach to yourself, because when you’re saying, like Debbie, the little 16-year-old girl, “What good is all that if you’re not popular? What good is what he’s done if you’re not popular?” You have to look. I said, “You know, Debbie …” I couldn’t do this to her because it’s a pat answer. You have to give yourself pat answers. You can’t get them from anybody else.

She should have come to the cross and said, “Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, I see what you’ve done so I wouldn’t put anything before you, so I wouldn’t do anything but be holy, because only when I’m holy am I happy. You died so I wouldn’t do this. I drop it. I don’t even want to see it. It’s an ugly thing to me because of your beauty.” That is something you should be doing every day, and usually what I do is I find a verse that works on me. You know, verses get radioactive for a while. Last week, a particular verse that got radioactive for me was the verse in Psalm 32 where it says, “You are my hiding place. You fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I’m afraid I put my trust in you.”

I began to realize, “Wait a minute here. I find all kinds of things to hide in.” If some friend calls up from some other part of the country and says, “How are things going?” and I say, “Well, we’ve only had five weeks.” “How many people are coming?” I’m so glad he asked me that. I say, “Well, I don’t know, but probably something like …” He says, “That’s wonderful.” I’m so glad he said that. I find myself hiding in that, you see.

But then all day, all week I find myself hiding in things besides him. I begin to see my flesh creeping back in. I began to see myself, and what I have to do is I have to go back to the cross with it and say, “Listen. Nothing is worth what he is. There is nothing as valuable as what he is. I put that to death.” I have to do it. You can. It’s something that is done every day. He who is forgiven much loves much. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we ask you would help us to get ahold of some of these important truths and use them in our lives. What we ask, more than anything else, is you would enable us to see the difference between repentance and self-pity, between legalistic repentance and evangelical repentance.

Father, in many of our lives we have found we’ve stayed away from looking at our sins. We’ve stayed away from dealing with our idols because we just despair when we see them, yet we realize now what we need to do. We need to recognize what they are. We need to take those things to the cross. We need to leave them there.

We pray, Father, you would enable us to do these things, because it’s only then that we grow. We want to have ourselves growing in joy and in love like that woman, because her repentance grew as well. All of life is repentance. We see that now, because all of life is your love. Your love gives us the security for that. Now Father, lead us into this. Grant us repentance into the life, for we pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

About the Preacher

Tim Keller praching w bible image

Timothy Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and the author of numerous books, including Every Good Endeavor, Center Church, Galatians For You, The Meaning of Marriage, The Reason for GodKing’s CrossCounterfeit GodsThe Prodigal God, and Generous Justice.