Category Archive: Theology

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September 2, 2010


Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

The other day, I came across a blog entry by Davey Henreckson, an acquaintance of mine from long ago, entitled “Trajectories in Contemporary Reformed Theology.”  In it, he lists “some of the more interesting contemporary scholars” working in the Reformed tradition (somewhat broadly defined) in various fields.  You can read his comments on that blog, but here’s his list:

Systematic Theology
John Webster
Kevin VanHoozer
Todd Billings
Daniel Treier
Edwin Chr. van Driel, Incarnation Anyway
Oliver Crisp
Paul Dafydd Jones
James K. A. Smith
Michael Horton
Paul DeHart
Peter Leithart

Historical Theology
Richard Muller
John Bowlin (on Aquinas)
Bruce Gordon (“new standard biography of John Calvin”)
Paul Helm
Mark Noll

Moral Theology
David VanDrunen
Stephen Grabill
Jennifer Herdt, Putting On Virtue
Oliver O’Donovan
John Witte
Philip Benedict
Eric Gregory
Peter Leithart
Michael Scott Horton
Gerald McKenny
John Bowlin
George Hunsinger
Philip Ziegler

In the comments, Jamie Smith recommends (under Moral Theology) Rebecca DeYoung’s Glittering Vices, and Henreckson mentions Graeme Smith’s Political Theology.

Now to my point: I look over this list and realize that I don’t know who most of these people are.  I recognize a handful of names, more under Historical Theology than under the other categories.  In fact, I think I’ve read something — anything! — by only two of the people mentioned here, Michael Scott Horton and Peter Leithart.

That makes me recognize that (a) theology is probably not my strong point right now, at least not high-level academic theology, which is understandable, given that I’m a pastor and not a full-time theologian and so my primary focus is on the text of Scripture and on pastoral work, but also that (b) I’m apparently completely out of date when it comes to my theological reading and studies.

When I was in seminary, I read Berkhof.  I’m somewhat familiar with Bavinck and Berkouwer, Dabney and Hodge, Kuyper and Schilder, Hoekema and Hoeksema, Murray and Van Til, Shepherd and Frame and Gaffin.  I’ve read some Barth, though barely.  I know James B. Jordan and Peter Leithart.  But I don’t know who else is good out there — and by “good, ” I mean worth spending my money and my time on (especially given that I’m a pastor and not an academic theologian).  I’m not interested in parting with the hard-earned for a book full of academic jargon and mumbo-jumbo or for something that isn’t well grounded in Scripture or for something that tells me what I already know.

For instance, Van Driel’s Incarnation Anyway looks interesting, given that it’s an argument that the incarnation was part of God’s plan even apart from the Fall.  But I’ve already heard a pretty good case for that from Jim Jordan, and I don’t know that it’s worth paying $60 to have Van Driel make it (and, I suspect, perhaps not make it as well, that is, as Scripturally).

This is my problem with a lot of biblical theology: I buy the books and then discover that they tell me things I already learned — and learned better — from Jordan.  (See Bill DeJong’s forthcoming essay on “Preaching and Typology,” for a comparison between Jordan and G. K. Beale on the Temple, in which he argues that Jordan and Beale cover a lot of the same ground, except that Jordan does more with it and is therefore more of an aid for preaching.)

So here’s my big request, for those of you who do read contemporary theology.  Could you please list for me the best books or authors — that is, the most interesting, most stimulating, most thought-provoking, most helpful, most worth the buck and the time for a guy like me.  Please don’t limit yourself to people within the “Reformed” field, as Henreckson does, either.  But if the guys he mentions are really worth reading, please do let me know.  And let’s add some categories to Henreckson’s list:

Systematic Theology
Historical Theology
Moral (and Political) Theology
Liturgical Theology
Biblical Theology
Pastoral Theology

The ball’s in your court.  Fire away!

Posted by John Barach @ 2:30 pm | Discuss (4)
September 19, 2009

No God, No Judge

Category: Apologetics,Missions & Evangelism,Theology :: Link :: Print

Pagans say that matter has always existed, whether they are primitive pagans (“the cosmic egg”) or Greek pagans (“the co-eternity of matter and form”) or modern scientific pagans (“the Big Bang”).  They refuse to accept that God could and did create matter out of nothing.  This would point to a God Who presently sustains His creation personally, which in turn points to the existence of a God Who judges His creation continually.  Pagans seek above all else to escape God’s judgment — Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper, 25.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a young man on the street in Grants Pass.  He indicated that he was an atheist.  People believe in God because they don’t believe in themselves; belief in God is wish fulfillment, a crutch to help people who are too weak, who lack self-confidence.  In the course of the conversation, he kept saying that he had examined the evidence and that there was no evidence for God’s existence.

But then he made a telling admission.  In response to something I asked (I forget what), he said that he hoped God didn’t exist.   Why not?  Because if God did exist, then he would have to submit to him.  “I don’t want to submit,” he said.

He’s not alone.  When we encounter atheists, we ought to recognize that their problem is not simply intellectual, as if they just haven’t heard the right arguments (our arguments, perhaps) for the existence of God.  Rather, their problem is moral.  They don’t want to submit.

I think I learned this from Doug Wilson: the young man who goes to college and abandons the faith probably doesn’t do so because he heard arguments in a philosophy class.  He does so because he wants to sleep with his girlfriend.  Any arguments he hears against God’s existence — whether philosophical or ethical or scientific, as in Sutton’s example above, or whatever — suddenly take on new cogency because they help him soothe his fears.  No God means no need to submit.  No God means no Judge.

When you come along and argue for the existence of God, he doesn’t hear you neutrally.  He doesn’t hear you as a “rational man” who is interested in following your argument, wherever it leads.  He hears you arguing for the existence of the very God who forbids him his sin and who will judge him for it, and he’s not interested in hearing anything that suggests that conclusion.  If he’s honest, he’ll tell you so, as the young man in Grants Pass told me: “I don’t want to submit.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:31 pm | Discuss (0)
September 17, 2009

Freshness of Vision

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

One of the tragedies of growing up is that we get used to things.  It has its good side of course, since irritations may cease to be irritations.  But there is immense loss when we get used to the redness of the rising sun, and the roundness of the moon, and the whiteness of the snow, the wetness of rain, the blueness of the sky, the buzzing of bumble bees, the stitching of crickets, the invisibility of wind, the unconscious constancy of heart and diaphragm, the weirdness of noses and ears, the number of the gains of sand on a thousand beaches, the never-ceasing crash crash crash of countless waves, and ten million kingly-clad flowers flourishing and withering in woods and mountain valleys where no one sees but God.  I invite you … to seek a “freshness of vision,” to look, as though it were the first time, not at the empty product of accumulated millennia of aimless evolutionary accidents (which no child ever dreamed of), but at the personal handiwork of an infinitely strong, creative, and exuberant Artist who made the earth and the sea and everything in them — John Piper, The Pleasures of God, 96.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:59 am | Discuss (0)
July 3, 2009

Going Unpunished?

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms,Theology :: Link :: Print

Augustine on Psalm 10, in which the wicked prosper in their sins and believe they are going unpunished:

Nobody should congratulate the person who prospers in his own way, whose sins go unavenged and who has someone to praise him.  This is the Lord’s anger, an anger all the greater.  The sinner has provoked the Lord, and deserved to suffer precisely this absence of any lashes of reproach (Expositions of the Psalms, pp. 152-153).

Later, he adds:

People consider physical blindness, which means the withdrawal of daylight, a great evil.  Just imagine, then, how great the punishment people suffer who, while their sins are a roaring success, are led to the point where God is no longer in their field of vision…. (p. 153).

So when we see the wicked prosper, it’s right to cry out to God to avenge and to punish them for their sins.  That’s what Psalm 10 itself does.  But at the same time, Augustine wants us to recognize that God’s rebukes are a mercy and the lack of those “lashes of reproach” is itself God’s wrath, as he gives men over to their sins, leading to greater punishment down the road.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:38 pm | Discuss (0)
February 21, 2008


Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

The other day, I was thinking about patience, which led to some thoughts on how we reify virtues.  In plain English, people treat patience as if it were a thing, something which some people have and others lack.”I don’t have a lot of patience for that kind of thing,” people say.  Or they say things like: “My wife has more patience than I do; the kids drive me nuts.”  “I’m running out of patience.”  Or: “If you’re going to take on that project, you’ll need a lot of patience.”

This way of talking doesn’t seem accurate to me.  Is patience something that you have, a quality that you possess somehow?  Or is patience something you display by continuing with a project in spite of all obstacles?  I suspect it’s the latter.  That is, someone can be patience (and thus can display “patience,” which is the quality of being patient), but a person cannot have patience as if it were a thing.  You can’t have patience in advance; you can only be patient in the midst of the project.

When someone says, “My wife has a lot of patience with the kids, but I run out of patience fast,” that makes it sound as if the wife (somehow) has gallons of patience while the speaker himself (somehow) ended up with only a couple tablespoons of it.  He simply has less to start with and so he runs out more quickly.  If only somehow he could get a bigger supply of it in advance.

Put like that, isn’t it obvious that this way of speaking is really an excuse?  The truth is that the guy who’s speaking puts up with the kids to a certain point.  Then they get on his nerves and he tries to control them so that they get off his nerves.  What he tries doesn’t work right away.  He gets impatient, and he allows himself to get angry.

But the very same things may get on his wife’s nerves and yet she perseveres.  She keeps speaking calmly to the children, correcting them gently, and so forth.  She doesn’t blow up.  She doesn’t throw up her hands and storm out of the room.  She remains patient.  What makes the difference?  Not that she isn’t bothered by what the kids are doing.  But also not that she has several gallons more of the substance called “patience” to start with.  The difference is that she keeps going.  She keeps doing what she ought to do.  She keeps parenting the children in spite of the obstacles.

Now by practice, she develops the kind of character that makes this endurance easier, and in our shorthand we call that character trait “patience.”  I suppose that’s okay.  But what we really mean is simply that she stays patient with her kids, whereas her husband doesn’t.  It’s not a difference in how much “patience” they possess.  It’s a difference in how they behave.

The same is true, isn’t it, with love?  People talk as if they possess love: “I have a lot of love to give” or something like that.  But love isn’t a substance you possess at a certain point in time.  Love has to do with how you think and feel and act.  If you’re treating your wife like dirt, you’re not loving her.  You don’t “have love for her.”

The same is true of perseverance, right?  Perseverance isn’t a gift God gives certain people.  It’s not as if the elect get a bunch of graces from God, some of which they share with the non-elect covenant members, but one of which they certainly don’t, namely, the gift of perseverance.  We shouldn’t reify perseverance.  That is, we shouldn’t turn it into a “thing.”  It’s not something you have to begin with (though you can, through exercise, develop traits of stick-to-it-iveness and perseverance in general).  Perseverance is really just persevering.

At least, that’s what I was turning over in my mind the other day.  Thoughts?

Posted by John Barach @ 6:30 pm | Discuss (3)
February 1, 2008


Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

Here’s some wisdom on wisdom from an old blog entry by Doug Wilson:

In order to exercise wisdom in the world, we have to come to grips with the fact that wisdom is counterintuitive. If you have ever taken any kind of lessons, whether driving lessons, piano lessons, golf lessons, guitar lessons, or “whatever else” lessons, your instructor invariably communicated to you the fact that what you felt like doing was not what you ought in fact to be doing. The novice holds the guitar wrong, holds the golf club wrong, and so on. The instructor patiently explains to you the right way of doing it, a way which initially feels awkward and all wrong.

The same is true if we step back and look at the overall tasks and calling given to us by God. Jesus says that the way up is the way down, and that the one who wants to be first must become the servant of all. This is counterintuitive.  How can the way down be the way up? How can humbling be the way of advancement? Why would the farmer think the way to get a crop would be to bury his seed in the ground? What an idiot.

But that is the way it goes. As we seek to work in the world in such a way as to have God bless the work of our hands, we must understand this principle. As we are establishing the work of dominion, many of the initial things that God would have us do will seem like impediments or setbacks. But they are not. And many quick-fixes and shortcuts will seem like techniques that the worldly wise would commend. But they are not.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:01 pm | Discuss (0)
December 5, 2007

Wright Interview

Category: Bible,Theology :: Link :: Print

Here is a recent interview with N. T. Wright by Trevin Wax at Asbury Seminary.  Here’s a snippet, but the whole thing is really worth reading:

As I’ve said before, God is going to fix the whole world. He’s going to put the whole world to rights. But actually, the advance plan for that is to put human beings to rights in advance. And when that happens, which is what happens through the gospel, it isn’t just, Phew! I’m okay now so I’m going to heaven! It’s I am actually being put right, in order that I can be part of that ongoing purpose.In other words, it’s both conversion and call, which as it was for Paul… converted to see that Jesus is the Messiah, which he’d never dreamt of before, called simultaneously ipso facto to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And in the same way, when the gospel reaches an individual, it is so that they can take part in God’s larger kingdom project.

You can listen to the interview here, if you prefer.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:13 pm | Discuss (0)
October 9, 2007

A Moment of Silence

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

Josh Gibbs rebukes the god of silence whom our society honors from time to time:

Where the Church says, “Let’s petition our God,” the world has scooped God out and insisted on leaving the void empty. “We will do nothing for ten seconds. That will have to be enough,” says the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:14 am | Discuss (1)
October 3, 2007

Authority in God’s Kingdom

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

The kingdom of God does not arrive like the 82nd Airborne, but rather arrives the way yeast works through a loaf of bread. Because it does not happen instantaneously, there is room for those who doubt the Word of God to scoff in the meantime.

As the history of the church has unfolded, there have been two main competitors to the biblical theology of dominion. The first is to fear the maturity it represents, and to flee from it and all attendant responsibilities. This is the tack taken by most contemporary evangelicals, who only real cultural hope is for Jesus to return any moment now and snatch our bacon out of the fire. The other false option is the attempt to seize power, rather than to grow dominion. The one who wants power wants it now, and so he grabs it.

The one who wants to labor for dominion is one who does exactly what Jesus said to do. Jesus taught us that authority flows to those who take responsibility through service, and it flees those who try to evade that responsibility, whether through flight or through grasping. But the least will become the greatest. — Doug Wilson, “The Yeast of True Service“ (paragraph breaks added).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (0)
September 20, 2007

Sons or Tools

Category: Literature,Theology :: Link :: Print

In a chapter comparing John Milton’s theology with that of St. Augustine, C. S. Lewis points out that Milton and Augustine both shared a belief in God’s sovereignty.  That’s particularly interesting because Milton himself was, if I understand things correctly, no Calvinist.  Nor, for that matter, was Lewis, though he quite seems to approve the doctrine he’s describing here which is nothing short of a doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty even over evil.  It’s really the last line that made me want to quote it here:

Though God has made all creatures good He foreknows that some will voluntarily make themselves bad (De Civ. Dei, XIV, II) and also foreknows the good use which He will then make of their badness (ibid.).  For as He shows His benevolence in creating good Natures, He shows His justice in exploiting evil wills.  (Sicut naturarum bonarum optimus creator, ita voluntatum malarum justissimus ordinator, XI, 17.)

All this is repeatedly shown at work in the poem [Paradise Lost].  God sees Satan coming to pervert man; “and shall pervert,” He observes (III, 92).  He knows that Sin and Death “impute folly” to Him for allowing them so easily to enter the universe, but Sin and Death do not know that God “called and drew them thither, His hell-hounds to lick up the draff and filth” (X, 620 et seq.).  Sin, in pitiable ignorance, had mistaken this Divine “calling” for “sympathie or som connatural force” between herself and Satan (X, 246).

The same doctrine is enforced in Book I when Satan lifts his head from the burning lake by “high permission of all-ruling Heaven” (I, 212).  As the angels point out, whoever tries to rebel against God produces the result opposite to his intention (VII, 613).  At the end of the poem Adam is astonished at the power “that all this good of evil shall produce” (XII, 470).  This is the exact reverse of the programme Satan had envisaged in Book I, when he hoped, if God attempted any good through him, to “pervert that end” (164); instead he is allowed to do all the evil he wants and finds that he has produced good.  Those who will not be God’s sons become His tools (A Preface to Paradise Lost 67-68, with added paragraph breaks).

Posted by John Barach @ 3:35 pm | Discuss (2)
September 11, 2007

Gifts & Gratitude

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

Another old parable from Doug Wilson‘s blog:

There was once a father who was very kind to His little daughter. But she was introspective, and tended to condemn herself for anything, and did not really think her father’s kindness to her was warranted. One morning her father gave her a beautiful gift — a wonderful doll. She thanked him profusely, and told him that she did not understand why he was so good to her. He asked that evening if she had enjoyed playing with her doll, and she replied that she had not felt worthy enough to enjoy the gift. Her father only nodded.

The next morning, he gave her a second gift — a whole box of doll clothes that went with the doll. Again, she thanked him over and over, and almost wept at the kindness he was showing to her. That second evening he asked how she had enjoyed her gift. She confessed again that she had not played with the doll — it was too wonderful a gift.

The third morning — you can see now that the father had prepared all three gifts beforehand — he gave her a complete dollhouse, completely furnished. This time she did cry, and thanked him as best she knew how to do. That night, he asked if she had enjoyed playing with the doll, the clothes, and the doll house.

She shook her head, and said that she was entirely unworthy of such gifts. She was very thankful, full of thanksgiving, but she was not worthy of his kindness. At this, her father sat down to admonish and teach her, for this was his intent all along. He took her on his lap and said, “Darling, the reason I gave you these gifts was to show you something that you do not yet see. You really are not worthy, and this can be seen in how you have not received my gifts. You are being a very ungrateful daughter. But you think you are being grateful because you say so, and not because you enjoy what I give you. You must learn that gratitude does not consist of rejecting gifts.”

But she was a stubborn little girl, and so it took her a long time to learn this lesson.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:18 pm | Discuss (0)
July 7, 2007


Category: Miscellaneous,Theology :: Link :: Print

Thomas Howard on the significance and importance of doors:

Hence the closed door.  It is not so much saying, “Stay outside there, all you unwashed,” as “There is an inside here, protected from mere randomness and clutter, in which things begin to be set in their proper order and seen in their true light.”

This door is for closing and for opening.  To slam a door in the face of a suppliant is not the same act as closing the door after you as you welcome the stranger in from the tempest.  In both cases a door has closed, though.  In the former, it was a sign of hell, that is, the attitude that says, “I’ll have my things and damn your need.”  In the latter, it was a sign of heaven, that is, the attitude that says, “Here.  What we have is for you.”

There has to be a “here” — a special place fenced off from indeterminateness — before the host can say, “Come in here.”  You can’t invite somebody into a generality. — Hallowed Be This House, pp. 19-20 (paragraph breaks added).

This book, by the way, has been reprinted as Splendor in the Ordinary, and was a major inspiration behind (not to mention the source of the title of) Doug Wilson’s My Life for Yours. Both books tour the house and talk about the significance of various aspects of the house, though they touch on different things.  I’ll likely blog some more from Howard later.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:12 pm | Discuss (0)

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