Monday, April 16, 2018

MY Top Ten: Theological Works

Over the past week, I have seen multiple posts concerning "Top 10" lists covering a variety of topics. I'm not a big fan of such lists since they are quite subjective and really prove very little.

Last evening, at our church's Bible study, the subject of theologians was raised for the second time in the past few days. So, I decided to assemble a list of MY top 10 theological works. Here are the criteria I used in ranking the works:

1. It must be a published theological work (not sermons or commentaries).
2. It must be a work I own.
3. It must be a work I use!
4. Its position in the list is, for the most part, indicative of its frequency of use by me.
5. It is not necessary that I agree with everything in the work (as though anyone does other than the author of the work).

With those in mind, here is my list in reverse order.

10. "The City of God" by Augustine - Perhaps the first systematic theology of the Christian era. I find it to be Augustine's best work, at least of the ones I own. As with others, I disagree with the church father in some areas. But, I feel reading Augustine is a prerequisite for doing theological studies.

9.  "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin - Need I say more? Brother John and I disagree on several points and, given the historical context at the time he ministered, he is difficult to read in certain areas. Yet, if you haven't read Calvin's Institutes (or own it!), you need to, whether you agree with him or not.

8.  "Manual of Theology" by John L. Dagg - A Baptist theologian of the south, later President of Mercer University, Dagg was a blind theologian. This work is not nearly as thorough as others but very good, especially, in my opinion, when it comes to the church.

7.  "Abstract of Systematic Theology" by James P. Boyce - Boyce was a Southern Baptist, one of the founders of Southern Seminary and on its original faculty. I view the work as more of an outline of Systematic Theology but refer to it often.

6.  "Systematic Theology" by L. Berkhof - Louis Berkhof was Dutch Reformed (as was Bavinck and Kuyper below). An excellent work highly appreciated by Wayne Grudem (also see below).

5.  "Dogmatic Theology" by W. G. T. Shedd - another Presbyterian who is as good as Hodge. Once again, my major problem with Shedd is his understanding of the church.

4.  "Reformed Dogmatics" by Herman Bavinck - Bavinck was a Dutch Reformed theologian of the 19th century. This work is very good though I find him difficult to read in spots.

3.  "Systematic Theology" by Charles Hodge - Possibly the best Presbyterian theologian. This is a great work. If only he would have better understood Ecclesiology! 

2.  "A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity" by John Gill - Gill is always criticized for being "hard shell". But, for an older writer, I find him well-organized, easy to read, and quite thorough.

1. "Systematic Theology" by Wayne Grudem - I consider Grudem to be the best systematic work done in the past one-hundred years. Since it is more recent, it is very easy to read. Grudem is quite thorough, utilizing the Scriptures extensively. There is a smaller version containing a subset of the material available.

A few of honorable mentions to:

"A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion" by James Oliver Buswell - Buswell is good but I prefer Berkhof of the two.

"Systematic Theology" by Augustus H. Strong - I feel he is weak in certain areas.

John Owen's work (several volumes) but especially "The Death of Christ". Owen is a terrific theologian but very difficult to read.

"Lectures in Systematic Theology " by Henry Thiessen - the original work was written more from an Arminian position; the revised version is more Reformed.

The works of Dutch theologian Hermann Witsius. Not an organized systematic theology but good nevertheless.

The same may be said for the works of Abraham Kuyper.

"The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression" by E. Y. Mullins - there are spots where I believe this work falls short.

"Christian Doctrine" by W. T. Connor - not overly thorough and, like Mullins, I feel it falls short in many areas. 

That's my list for what it is worth. It has changed over the years and, most likely, will change again in the future if the Lord delays His return!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

For Some, This World is All There Is

The 17th Psalm is a prayer of David and his conclusion contains the following:

"Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: from men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes."
(verses 13-14, King James Version).

Two more recent translations render the passage similarly.

"Arise, O Lord, confront him, bring him low; deliver my soul from the wicked with your sword, from men with your hand, O Lord, from men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly you fill with your treasure; they are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes."
(New American Standard)

"Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants."
(English Standard Version)

No matter which translation you use, the message is the same. And, the part of this particular message which grabbed my attention today is in verse 14: "which have their portion in this life". For some (David calls them wicked in verse 13), this life is all there is.

God is often gracious to such individuals, yet they never acknowledge Him. He fills their bellies, giving them food, possessions, notoriety, money, influence, power, offspring, or a thousand other earthly "treasures". But, no word of gratitude is offered up to the giving Lord. For these individuals, this world is all they have. When their life ends, "the rest of their substance" ("their abundance") will be left with their children ("you can't take it with you"). Nothing of enjoyment remains for them for they have enjoyed God's blessings in this life but are not prepared for the life that is yet to come.

In fact, it is not uncommon to find those people who serve and worship God encountering a multitude of hardships during this life the aforementioned people never experience. You see, God has promised something MUCH better for them than for those who reject Him. So, for now, He permits the "wicked" to enjoy this life for that is all there is for them.

The believer in Christ is a mere pilgrim in this world. We are no longer citizens of this earth for our citizenship is in Heaven. God has promised us an abundance in the life to come. It will be a perfect life, a sinless life, a joyful life, a painless life, a forgiven and redeemed life, a life of fellowship, worship, and praise. It will be a life that is eternal in every sense of the word.

So, when this world knocks us about during our time here, let us rejoice and, with hope, look forward to the world yet to come. Our stay on this earth is brief compared to an eternity of joy.

But, to those who have never repented of their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ, enjoy the blessings God is giving you NOW. For this is all there is, at least, all that will be enjoyable for you.

You see, your existence will not end at the moment of your death. However, your enjoyment of life will. Judgment awaits and the Great Judge of the Universe knows you and of your rebellion against Him. Yes, by refusing to bow to the Lord Jesus, the only Savior and Redeemer, you have "thumbed your nose" at God. Your sin remains without an atonement and redemption. You stand guilty of an offense against an eternal, infinite God. Your punishment will match the crime.

At that time, you will experience the full wrath of God and will be tossed into eternal torment. Your punishment will never end. Your pain will never cease. You will never find joy, ever! All that awaits you upon your death is eternal misery.

Therefore, enjoy the blessings of God now, while you have them. They will end. For you, this is as good as it gets.

May the Spirit of God bring to you conviction of your sins and cause you to repent of them and put your faith in Christ.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Religions are NOT all the same

I was reading in Acts 3 and 4 this morning and, following our celebration of Christ's resurrection yesterday, the passage spoke to my heart. Without going into specific detail about every religion man has ever pursued, I will simply say, all religions are NOT the same.

What do I mean by "religion"? The Oxford dictionary gives as a definition: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. ... A particular system of faith and worship."

Many today try to teach the concept that all religions are the same. They claim there are many ways to God (if he truly exists). No one religion is better than any other religion. We must treat all religions the same. But I do not believe that for a second nor does the Bible teach such nonsense.

Jesus has died on the cross, arose from the dead, appeared to over 500 people, and ascended into heaven. Then, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles became dynamic witnesses for Jesus. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a lame man and call upon the unbelievers to repent. The Apostles are seized by the priests and Sadducees at the beginning of chapter 4. What disturbed these religious zealots is noted in verse 2.

"Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead."

The message of the resurrection offended them and they wanted that message stopped. These two apostles appeared before the high priest and were asked by what power they healed the lame man. Peter gives the answer very clearly beginning in verse 10.

"Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

There it is. Christianity stands unique from other religions because it has a unique Savior. There is one and only one name by which men may be saved and that name is Jesus Christ. The proof that this is the case is the FACT that Jesus has been raised from the dead by God. He is a unique Savior. He is the only Savior of men given by God.

I may be viewed as simplistic, but if God has provided only one means of salvation, then true faith and worship must include this means of salvation. In other words, the only true religion is the faith and worship which teaches Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation.

True religion must be centered on Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christianity must be the only, true religion.

And the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves it.