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To Be Human, To Read the Bible, To Live

This is a guest post by Dr. James Hamilton Jr., associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.

The Challenge We All Face

The challenge confronts us all. We face it for ourselves, as our parents did before us and the coming generations will after us.

What challenge? That of being human, bearing the image, striving to know God, to find truth, and to help others find their joy, satisfaction, purpose, meaning, and life in knowing God through his Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit. Mercifully, God gave us a book that teaches how to take on this great challenge of our lives. The book is no mere user’s manual. It’s a grand narrative that explains the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

The grand narrative stitches stories together, and adorning it are commandments and coaxings, poems and prophecies, prohibitions and promises, apothegms and apocalypses. There is no book like this one. Sweeter than honey, more precious than gold, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Every word of God proves true.

What a book. Breathtaking in scope. Often imitated; impossible to replace. The Bible is just what we need. Jesus prayed the Father to sanctify his people in the truth. Then he said: “Thy word truth.” The Bible is true. The Bible is the tool God uses to change lives.  This book, the Bible, really is the great code. Crack it, and it will explain everything. If you come to understand the Bible, you will rise to the great challenge of life. Not only will you be made like Christ, you will equip others for this most epic of tasks.

How do we crack the code? How should we understand the book?

How Do You Read It?

I contend that we should interpret the Bible the way later biblical authors interpreted earlier Scripture. If we learn to do that, it’s a short step to learning how the biblical authors interpreted their own lives and the situations they addressed in their writings. What does it mean to attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors? To attempt that is to attempt biblical theology.

Who Taught Them That?

Who taught the biblical authors how to interpret earlier scripture and their own lives? 2 Peter 1:21 says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This means the biblical authors were inspired by the Spirit to interpret things the way they did. In addition, the authors of the New Testament learned to read the Old Testament from Jesus himself. Jesus taught his disciples to read earlier Scripture, to understand the world, and to make sense of life.

Should We Try This At Home?

If we aren’t inspired by the Holy Spirit, and if we haven’t been taught by Jesus, dare we attempt this?

The fact that we are not inspired by the Holy Spirit does not mean we should not follow the example of the biblical authors. It does mean that our conclusions are not inspired by the Spirit the way theirs were. Nor does the fact that we were not taught directly by Jesus mean that we shouldn’t learn from those who were.

We are not Apostles, but we follow them as they followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We are not inspired, but we are taught in the Scriptures by those who were.

So I say yes: you should try this at home. You should try to interpret the Bible and life the way the biblical authors do. What alternative strategy do you have? Read the Bible in an un-Christian or a-Christian way? Adopt a perspective other than the one the Spirit and the Lord Jesus taught the biblical authors?

If someone suggests that what the biblical authors have done is illegitimate, consider what they are saying: that the Spirit inspired something that doesn’t withstand examination? That the teaching of Jesus somehow led people into unreliable interpretive practices?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with the inspired guys. I’m not sure those who conclude that the biblical authors are bad interpreters have understood them. What if those who say a New Testament author got the Old Testament wrong have failed to understand both passages in question? It doesn’t matter where he got his PhD or who published his book: the biblical authors get the benefit of the doubt. Challenge them at your peril.

That doesn’t mean I understand everything. It does mean I don’t declare the biblical authors wrong, I keep reading the Bible, and I keep looking for satisfying answers.

Soak Yourself in the Text

The Bible has a story, it uses symbolism and imagery, and the symbolism and imagery summarize and interpret the story. The best way to learn biblical theology, to embrace and apply the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors, is to read the Bible. Constantly. Ask the Lord for insight into it. Memorize it. Meditate on it day and night. And keep at it.

There is always more to see. The Lord has yet more light to break from his most holy word. Open it up and ask him to do it.

James HamiltonJames M. Hamilton Jr. (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, the Revelation volume in the Preaching the Word commentary series, and What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.


An Interview with David Wells

We recently asked David Wells, author of God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Jan. 2014),  a few questions about what he hopes to accomplish with his new book and why he thinks a renewed appreciation for God’s “holy-love” is important for evangelicalism.

How does God in the Whirlwind contribute to the work you’ve already done in No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, and The Courage to Be Protestant?

Christianity Today has dismissed this new book as being a mere retread of these prior works with lots of hurrumphing, they say, along the way! Oh, dear. I am sorry that they were unable to see that this book is actually quite different from what I have written in the past. It is true that my understanding of modernized culture remains substantially the same as before. In this book, though, I have focused most of my attention, not on the culture, but on developing a biblical understanding of the character of God. This is something I have not done before and some of my critics have said that while I have exposed the problems in the church, I have not given the answers. Well, the answers are all tied up in knowing God and obeying him. This book is really a biblical theology of God’s holy-love showing how that holiness and that love are progressively revealed through the O.T., are embodied in Christ, and come together in the cross that God’s love provided and that his holiness required. This is what grounds and defines our sanctification, worship, and service in the world.

In the introduction, you write that the primary thing that evangelical theology lacks is an understanding of God’s character that carries “weight.” What do you mean by this?

What gives weight to God in our lives is two things. First, he has to be enthroned in the center and not merely circling on the periphery. Second, the God who is enthroned must be the God who has revealed himself in Scripture. This God is not simply the supplier of everything we want, our concierge, and our therapist dispensing comfort as we feel the need for it. He is the God of burning purity as well as of burning love. That God, as he rules our own private universe, will wrench around what happens in that universe to conform us to who he is in his character. The “god” who is there only for our needs as we define them will be a “god” who is light and skinny.

You’ve coined the term “holy-love” as a way to refer to the essential union of God’s holiness and love. You write, “Today, our constant temptation, aided and abetted as it is by our culture, is to shatter the hyphen.” How does this happen and why is it dangerous?

We have to hold God’s holiness and his love together in our understanding because that is how he is! His holiness and his love are never incompatible with each other. Just the reverse. Let’s think about it this way. His holiness is his utter moral purity. If it did not include his love, then that holiness would be far less than what we know God’s holiness to be. Without his love, his holiness would be emptied of what is essential to being holy. In fact, his love is his holiness in action. That is why his love always seeks what is right and what is morally pure. It is never indifferent to what is wrong in life. At the same time, God’s holiness is essentially redemptive in nature, just like his love.

But this hybrid, this holy-love, is hard for us to practice consistently in our own lives. We tend to fall to the one side or the other—holiness without love or love without holiness. Legalists err by focusing on the demands of God’s holiness and then lose sight of his love. The result is a hard, unattractive moralism. Antinomians err on the side of his love and lose sight of his holiness. The worst form of this was the old Protestant liberals who were so taken with God’s love and its inclusiveness that they jettisoned his holiness. So, Christian faith was emptied out of any atonement because God was no longer seen as wrathful in response to sin. Neither legalism nor antinomianism are good—though for entirely different reasons. The truth is that God’s holiness, as expressed in the law, gives us the moral norms for life, and God’s love fills us with the desire so to live and thus to please him. Love in the service of what is true and right is a beautiful thing!

How should Christians answer the charge that we are intolerant and exclusive in our thinking about God and salvation?

There is no way to soften the truth that Christ is the only incarnate Son of God, uniquely the way to God, and the only source of saving grace. But why would anyone who belongs to Christ want to soften this? The uniqueness of Christ is, in fact, what makes the Christian faith so glorious. What can be tempered, though, is the way that we relate to people as we tell them this gospel. I am quite certain that if unbelievers saw in us more authenticity, more of the character of Christ, more of the spirit of service, their hostility to Christian faith would subside quite a bit.

You argue that our thinking is fundamentally flawed if we seek to understand God’s love through the lens of our own experiences related to loving and being loved. Why is that? Doesn’t such a claim negate the importance of the imago Dei?

There is nothing wrong and, indeed, everything right with loving and being loved! By creation, we have been made social beings for whom giving and receiving love is at the heart of our families and relationships.

But here is the problem. Our need for a relationship with God is often understood in therapeutic ways. We need answers to our sense of emptiness, to the bruises life gives us, and to disappointments. The answers we really want are for God to make those things go away and to restore us to full happiness, fulfillment, and wholeness. God, no doubt, is gracious to us in the midst of our pressure-filled lives, with their fast pace and debilitating anxiety. But what we are thinking about as his love may be very different from what it really is. We are often looking only for therapy, for comfort. God, though, is about building our character. He loves us, but his love goes hand-in-hand with his holiness. That is why he is more interested in our character than in our comfort! So, God’s love may be very different from what we are thinking we want and very different from how God relates to us in grace!

What is the biggest challenge the evangelical church will face in the next 50 years?

The evangelical church is in different situations in different parts of the world. Since I have traveled to Africa a lot, I can tell you that while Christianity is spreading rapidly, there is a deep need now for that faith to be instructed in the truth of God’s Word. In some places, Bibles are scarce. In almost all places, educational materials are non-existent, and often pastors have had no opportunity to receive training.

But here in the U.S., we have Bibles, theological education, literature, a surfeit of education, organizations, and churches. What is astonishing today is that despite this surfeit, there is a growing literature pointing out the obvious: the church seems to be losing ground and people more and more seem to be losing interest. I think of Julia Duin’s quick, journalistic trip around the religious world called Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What To Do About It or Eddie Gibbs new book which begins at the same point, The Rebirth of the Church: Applying Paul’s Vision for Ministry in Our Post-Christian World. In my view, the greatest challenge that stands before us is that Christian faith, for too many, has lost its reality. It is no longer on the same moral and spiritual scale as the world around us but has become a much smaller and more comfortable thing than it actually is. It has been domesticated in ways that are really very injurious to its nature.

I am, however, greatly heartened by the fact that more and more people are understanding this. There is a younger generation that is arising that really wants the real thing. And we can be assured that, if we do want the real thing, God, in his grace, will ensure that we find it!

David F. Wells (PhD, University of Manchester) is the Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  In addition to serving as academic dean of its Charlotte campus, Wells has also been a member of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and is involved in ministry in Africa.  Wells has written numerous articles and books, including a series that was initiated by a Pew grant exploring the nature of Christian faith in the contemporary, modernized world. He is the author of God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World.


The Gospel: An “It” or a “He”?

This guest post was written by Dr. Marcus Johnson, assistant professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (excerpt).

Can “the Gospel” Do All that We Say it Can?

The gospel saves. The gospel transforms. The gospel heals. The gospel renews. The gospel liberates.   Such are the familiar refrains that issue forth from our faithful preachers and teachers. But are they right? Can the gospel do all this?

The answer is, of course . . . no, it cannot. Only Jesus himself can.

Wait a Second…

But, it seems right to ask, isn’t the gospel “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes …” (Romans 1:16)? Yes, of course it is.  But surely it makes all the difference what we mean when we so echo the Apostle Paul, especially given that his own experience of salvation was an encounter with the crucified, resurrected Lord himself (Acts 9).  So, which would be more accurate to say: that Paul was saved by the gospel (it), or by Jesus Christ (he)?

If it is the former – that Paul was indeed saved by his experience of the risen Lord – then how shall we think of his assertion that the gospel is the “power of God” for salvation?  Are we to think of the gospel as intrinsically able to save us, that is, apart from the presence of the Savior himself?

Although questions such as these might strike some as mere theological semantics, I submit that the way we conceive of the relationship between Jesus Christ himself, and the good news regarding him, is crucial for how we understand salvation.  In our faithful insistence that the gospel (it) is the power of God for salvation we must be careful never to lose sight of the One who alone can save us (he).

In other words, there may be a danger in how we speak which suggests that something rather than someone is the proper subject of our salvation.

The Gospel and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ

The danger for many Christians – who no longer think of salvation as constituted by a union with the crucified, resurrected, incarnate Son of God – is that the living presence of the Savior becomes unnecessary to the good news about him. In such a case, the gospel about Jesus Christ may begin to assume a role in our language and thought that only Christ can and should bear.  As our evangelical forefathers knew well, we must be able to distinguish between the gospel, which bears witness to Christ, and Christ who is the living reality of that gospel.  “To preach the gospel,” Martin Luther once wrote, “is nothing else than Christ’s coming to us or bringing us to him.”  Similarly, John Calvin noted that God ordained the preaching of his Word “as the instrument by which Jesus Christ, and all his benefits, is dispensed to us.”  Thus, while the preaching of the gospel is never less than revelation about Christ and his saving work, it always involved much more. 

That much more was the self-giving of Christ in and through his gospel; his real presence mediated through the proclamation of the good news. The Reformers knew that unless Christ was truly present through the gospel, preaching would be but an exercise in spiritual reflection or religious instruction, as opposed to the medium of his saving presence. Given our present cultural milieu, in which knowledge is essentially reducible to information—suffering as we do from the hangover of post-enlightenment rationalism—the distinction between knowledge about Christ in his gospel (mental appropriation or assent) and knowing Christ himself through the gospel (experiential intimacy) seems well worth marking.

In the Bible, “knowledge” is characterized by personal and life-giving union, not informational data (though it certainly includes the latter).  Think here of Adam’s knowledge of his wife, Eve; or, more importantly, the Son’s knowledge of his Father. So too, to have saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is to experience intimate union with him, not merely to know about him. Thus, knowledge about the gospel, imperative as it is, can no more save us than can its preacher, unless Jesus Christ is himself present to be experienced as the living reality of that very good news.

The Confusion of Means and Ends

The failure to emphasize the real presence of Christ in his gospel is often characterized by a resultant confusion of means and ends. The gospel is a divinely-ordained means for which Jesus Christ, and union with him, is the end (or goal).  Thus, the gospel can only be called “saving” because it functions as a means through which the Savior is present to bring us into his existence as the crucified, resurrected Lord (e.g., Colossians 1:24-29; Galatians 2:20).

To make the gospel an end rather than a means would be to lose the significance (literally, “the signifying purpose”) of that gospel: to bring us to partake of the One whose gospel it is.  As the Apostle Paul proclaimed it, the gospel ushers us into mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), the mystery of Christ’s union with his Bride (Ephesians 5:32).

The gospel is the gloriously good news about what Jesus Christ has accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension to reconcile us to God and recreate the world.  The offer of the gospel, however, is not enlightened data about what he has done.  The offer of the gospel is none other than Jesus Christ himself, who (through faith and by the Spirit) brings us into his very life as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Savior.  To say or suggest otherwise leaves the sinner (and the church!) without her only comfort.

By all means, then, let us proclaim the saving significance of the gospel, but may we never forget that “it” is not very good news at all unless “he” is truly present to save.

Marcus Peter Johnson (PhD, University of Toronto) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute. Along with writing his doctoral dissertation on union with Christ in the theology of John Calvin, he is also the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. He and his wife, Stacie, live in Chicago with their son, Peter, and are members of Grace Lutheran Church.

One with Christ is currently on sale for 40% at Crossway.org.


November 22, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,Guest Post,Jesus Christ,Life & Doctrine,The Gospel,The Gospel,Theology,Theology | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »

Weekly Specials: Theology in Community Series

This month marks the release of Fallen: A Theology of Sin, the newest volume in the Theology in Community series edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson.

The Theology in Community Series assembles a world-class team of scholars bringing their unique expertise to bear on a biblical and theological topic from the perspectives of biblical theology, systematic theology, history, pastoral application, missiology, and cultural analysis. These volumes—written in community and combining academic acumen with a pastoral ethos—provide pastors, leaders, and laypeople an up-to-date resource for exploring both theology and practice with accessible depth.

With the release of Fallen: A Theology of Sin, we’ve discounted the previous volumes in the series in both print and digital formats.

To learn more about each title, click on the covers below. The print deals are only available on Crossway.org; the ebook deals are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshout, Christianbook.com, eChristian, ibooks (apple), Vyrso, or your participating independent bookstore’s site. Discounted prices available through 9/9/2013.*

This Week’s Specials:

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God

Edited by Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson

Print: $18.99 $9.99

Ebook: $12.99 $3.99

First-rate evangelical scholars collaborate to articulate a robust theology of the kingdom of God across multiple disciplines.

“…biblically informed, theologically incisive, and pastorally sensitive.”
—Stephen T. Um, Senior Minister, Citylife Presbyterian Church, Boston, Massachusetts; Adjunct Faculty, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Buy: Print | Ebook


The Deity of Christ

The Deity of Christ

Edited by Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson

Print: $24.99 $9.99

Ebook: $16.99 $3.99

This multidisciplinary treatment of the doctrine of Christ’s deity combines first-rate evangelical scholarship and rich application with substantial and accessible theological content.

“…a well-crafted, faithfully biblical, meticulously worked out study of the deity of Christ that brings us from the Old Testament through the New Testament, and into the modern world. This is a superb study.”
—David F. Wells,
Distinguished Senior Research Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Buy: Print | Ebook



The Glory of God

The Glory of God

Edited by Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson

Print: $23.99 $9.99

Ebook: $16.99 $3.99

Köstengerger, Longman, Gaffin, and other collaborating scholars from multiple disciplines guide believers through a biblical and theological treatment of the glory of God. This theologically substantial and accessible book will greatly benefit readers in their personal studies and ministries.

“…an overarching and powerful portrait of God’s grandeur, beauty, and transcendence. I am pleased to recommend this outstanding volume to students, lay leaders, pastors, and theologians alike.”
—David S. Dockery,
President, Union University

Buy: Print | Ebook


Suffering and the Goodness of God

Suffering and the Goodness of God

Edited by Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson

Print: $23.99 $9.99

Ebook: $16.99 $3.99

When believers face suffering and hardships, the question they most often ask is, Why? Suffering and the Goodness of God offers biblical truths concerning suffering, and it challenges believers to promote justice in the harsh, unsure world and to emulate God’s grace as they minister to those who are suffering.

“The editors and authors have thoroughly combed the Scriptures to give us the answers we need in tough times. This book should help both those who are suffering and those called upon to comfort and encourage others in their suffering.”
—Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness

Buy: Print | Ebook


Featured New Release

Fallen: A Theology of Sin

Edited by Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson

Everyone knows the world is broken. Leading evangelical scholars join forces to explore the biblical doctrine of sin from a variety of angles, including historical theology and the modern world. Part of the Theology in Community series.

“…the most far-reaching, well-rounded modern treatment of sin that I have ever read. I commend it very highly.”
—Jason C. Meyer, Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Learn more about Fallen

*Note: Some discounts may be unavailable outside the United States due to international rights agreements.

September 3, 2013 | Posted in: Books,Theology,Weekly Ebook Specials | Author: Ted Cockle @ 3:35 pm | 0 Comments »

Free Study Guide for Begg & Ferguson’s Name above All Names

Name Above All Names Study Guide CoverWe’re pleased to share with you this study guide companion to Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson, put together by our friends at Truth for Life.

Containing seven sessions to help you study the Bible’s multi-faceted portrayal of Christ’s identity and ministry, this study guide can be used for small groups or personal reflection alongside Name Above All Names. Each session includes four parts:

  1. Getting Started – a quote from the book with an introductory question
  2. Key Scriptures – key Bible verses referenced in the chapter
  3. Going Deeper – questions to help you process the main ideas of the chapter
  4. Giving Praise – a poem, hymn, or verse that can be committed to memory and incorporated in worship.

The opening words of Name above All Names summarize the impetus behind this book and study guide which we commend to you:

Jesus Christ has been given the name above all names. The names
assigned to him begin in Genesis and end in Revelation. Taken together
they express the incomparable character of Jesus Christ our Savior and
Lord. Reflecting on them better prepares us to respond to the exhortations
of Scripture, to focus our gaze upon him, and to meditate on how great he is.

Download the Study Guide

Learn more about Name Above All Names