Reading Recommendations

Charles Spurgeon: Scripture Is a Lion to be Unleashed

Charles Spurgeon: Scripture Is a Lion to be Unleashed

“Defend the Bible? Would you defend a lion? Loose him; and let him go!” When he spoke of Scripture, Charles Haddon Spurgeon consistently returned to two closely related themes. First, the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Second, this inspired Word bears testimony to the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Authority and Inspiration

The authority and inspiration of Scripture was especially important to Spurgeon throughout his life. As Lewis Drummond concludes, “Spurgeon realized the ultimate question in all theology has to be the question of authority. Where does one find the source of reliable truth concerning the Christian faith?” (Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers). The answer to this question for Spurgeon was clearly and unequivocally Scripture. Reflecting on Psalm 119, Spurgeon comments: “What is truth? The holy Scriptures are the only answer to that question. Note, that they are not only true, but the truth itself. We may not say of them that they contain the truth, but that they are the truth: ‘thy law is the truth.’ There is nothing false about the law or preceptory part of Scripture. Those who are obedient thereto shall find that they are walking in a way consistent with fact, while those who act contrary thereto are walking in a vain show.” (Treasury of David: Spurgeon’s Classic Work on the Psalms)

Full and Complete Authority

In fact, for Spurgeon, recognition of the full and complete authority of the Bible was essential to theological dialogue. Without this, there is no room for further discussion: “We can be tolerant of divergent opinions, so long as we perceive an honest intent to follow the Statute-book. But if it comes to this, that the Book itself is of small authority to you, then we have no need of further parley: we are in different camps, and the sooner we recognize this, the better for all parties concerned. If we are to have a church of God at all in the land, Scripture must be regarded as holy, and to be had in reverence.” (A Book for Parents and Teachers on the Christian Training of Children)

A Sword in the Hand of the Holy Spirit

For Spurgeon, the authority of the Bible was based on its inspiration. Therefore, this inspired and authoritative book is the Holy Spirit’s tool for accomplishing his work in the believer: “When work is done nowadays, it is, as a rule, badly done. Work done by contract is usually scamped in some part or another; but when a man does a work for himself he is likely to do it thoroughly, and produce an article which he can depend upon. The Holy Ghost has made this Book himself: every portion of it bears his initial and impress; and thus he has a sword worthy of his own hand, a true Jerusalem blade of heavenly fabric. He delights to use a weapon so divinely made, and he does use it right gloriously.” (The Sword of the Spirit)

Unleash the Lion

At the end of the day, Spurgeon was adamant about the authority of the Bible because without it, there is no sure foundation for the church and the gospel. Ultimately, the message of the Bible is Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible. He is the constant theme of its sacred pages; from first to last they testify of him… The Scriptures are the swaddling bands of the holy child Jesus; unroll them and you find your Saviour. The quintessence of the word of God is Christ (Morning and Evening).

Throughout his ministry, Spurgeon willingly entered controversy only because of his uncompromising commitment to the authority of the Scripture. However, Spurgeon’s aim in such controversy was not a meticulous defense of the Bible’s inspiration and authority. Instead, his aim was simply to “unleash the lion.” For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Jonathan Edwards: Scripture Points to the Glory of God in Jesus Christ

Jonathan Edwards: Scripture Points to the Glory of God in Jesus Christ

“It seems to me that God would have our whole dependence be upon the Scriptures, because the greater our dependence is on the Word of God, the more direct and immediate is our dependence on God himself. The more absolute and entire our dependence on the Word of God is, the greater respect shall we have to that Word, the more shall we esteem and honor and prize it; and this respect to the Word of God will lead us to have the greater respect to God himself.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies)

Although many scholars consider Jonathan Edwards the finest philosophical mind that America has ever produced, Edwards’ primary allegiance was to the God revealed through the Bible, and not philosophy. When one examines the writings of Edwards, every page reflects a mind that was saturated in Scripture. In particular, Edwards viewed of Scripture as accomplishing four tasks:

1. To Correct Errors

First, Scripture is given to correct errors. This correction is especially evident in the ministry of preaching: “One great use of the word of God is correction of errors, with regard to which use ministers are commanded to study it” (Sermons and Discourses).

2. To Interpret Experience and Emotions

However, the Scripture does not simply correct error, but secondly, it teaches how to interpret our experience and even our emotions: “All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the Word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the Word of God, are right, and can’t be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right, which arise on occasion of the Word of God, coming to the mind” (Religious Affections).

3. To Redeem Us

Third, the scriptures are God’s tool for redemption: “The written word of God is this main instrument Christ has made use of to carry on his Work of Redemption in all ages since it was given” (A History of the Work of Redemption).

4. To Testify of God’s Glory

Fourth, above all else, Edwards saw the Bible as a testimony to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. “Truly to see the truth of the Word of God, is to see the truth of the gospel; which is the glorious doctrine the Word of God contains, concerning God, and Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation by him, and the world of glory that he is entered into, and purchased for all them who believe; and not a revelation that such and such particular persons are true Christians, and shall go to heaven. Therefore those affections which arise from no other persuasion of the truth of the Word of God than this, arise from delusion, and not true conviction; and consequently are themselves delusive and vain” (Religious Affections).

God’s Glory in Jesus Christ

For Edwards, the center of Scripture was the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. The aim of Scripture is to point us to the glory of God in Jesus Christ and increase our longing to enter into his glory. From beginning to end, the Word of God is sufficient for all things related to life and faith. For Jonathan Edwards, the ultimate aim of such things was to see God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

John Calvin Says Scripture Is God’s Self-Disclosure

John Calvin Says Scripture Is God’s Self-Disclosure

Interpretation Matters

John Calvin was not only concerned about the authority of Scripture, but also with true interpretation of Scripture and its proper use in the church. To be sure, one must begin with the authority and inspiration of Scripture: “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard” (Institutes). However, according to Calvin, asserting the authority and inspiration of Scripture is not enough unless interpreters of Scripture, according to their ability, supply weapons to fight against false teachings.

Doctrine and Biblical Languages

Calvin dedicated his life to the restoration of the teaching of Scripture to the church and to the training of future interpreters of Scripture, so that all Christians might be brought to the true knowledge of God and Christ. Therefore, in his pastoral training he insisted that pastors be well grounded in both doctrine and biblical languages. In parallel with the training of pastors, he saw the two key responsibilities of pastors as teaching doctrine through the catechisms and preaching through books of the bible.

Accessibility to the Uneducated

In all of this, Calvin’s aim was to help make the Scriptures accessible to all people. He combined his conviction regarding the divine authority of Scripture with the claim that God’s teaching in Scripture is accommodated to the capacity of the most unlearned of people. He wrote, “All I have had in mind with this is to facilitate the reading of holy Scripture for those who are humble and uneducated” (Preface to Chrysostom’s Homiletics).

The Illumination of the Spirit

However, one cannot accept the Scripture’s author nor interpret it correctly without the illumination of the Holy Spirit: “For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted” (Institutes). Calvin argues that humans can have knowledge of God only because God first condescends and accommodates to human capacity to reveal to humans the truth about God. God takes on human nature and reveals through human words. According to Calvin, the self-disclosure of God is founded in the self-manifestation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and Scripture.

Scriptures Testify to Christ

According to Calvin, once Scripture sets forth the self-disclosure of the Creator, in the works God does in the universe, it passes on to the knowledge of God the Redeemer revealed in the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Christ is visible in both the symbols and shadows in the Law and the clear manifestation of the gospel. While one must avoid the dangers of over-spiritualizing the Old Testament and overemphasizing the differences between Israel and the church, when rightly understood, all the Scriptures testify to the one God and his Mediator, Christ Jesus.

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Aquinas Says Scripture Foreshadows Christ

Aquinas Says Scripture Foreshadows Christ

Aquinas and the Literal Sense of Scripture

Although often overlooked by Protestants because of his place as the theologian of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about Scripture. He followed the “four-fold sense” understanding of Scripture, as developed by Origen, but his emphasis was on the literal sense of Scripture. Through his account of the literal sense, Aquinas continually uses Scripture to indicate the abundance of what we are allowed to and called to believe. Scripture is not just something that is “handed over” by tradition, but Scripture itself “hands over” divine revelation to us. Scripture is not just a static repository of propositional truth, but Scripture does something: it reveals truth and it testifies to Christ. In fact, for Aquinas, one cannot discuss Scripture without speaking of Christ, for Scripture is necessarily derived from the revelation of the Incarnate Word. To read Scripture is therefore to witness the revelation of the Word.

Foreshadowing Christ

However, it is not simply from Aquinas’ literal readings of Scripture that we can learn. Lest we dismiss all of his “non-literal” readings as medieval superstitions, observe how Aquinas explains the spiritual sense of how the Old Testament Law is to be read in light of Christ: “The reasons for the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law can be taken in two ways. First, in respect of the Divine worship which was to be observed for that particular time: and these reasons are literal… Secondly, their reasons can be gathered from the point of view of their being ordained to foreshadow Christ: and thus their reasons are figurative and mystical” (Summa Theologica). According to Aquinas, the key point is that Christ is the key to reading Scripture properly.

The Instruction of the Holy Spirit

Scripture is living and active for Aquinas—it “passes on” that knowledge of God that is true wisdom, and in doing so “hands over” the reader of Scripture to the instruction of the Holy Spirit. To follow Aquinas as a reader of Scripture is to confess that we are not the masters of truth, and that we must give ourselves over to the revelation of God in Jesus and God’s knowledge in Scripture.

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Martin Luther Says Scripture Is All About Christ

Martin Luther Says Scripture Is All About Christ

The Certainty of Scripture

Caught up in the heat of controversy, Martin Luther reached the revolutionary conclusion that when the conflicting pronouncements of popes and councils threaten to leave the believer uncertain, the Scriptures alone speak with certainty and bind the consciences of the faithful in obedience to the Word of God. This certainty is grounded in the Scripture’s testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Luther understood it, the Bible as a whole is about Christ. Its purpose is to impart the knowledge of the triune God that has been given in the reality of Christ.

A Wondrous Exchange

Luther had found the Word of God’s grace in the promises of Christ given in the gospel. The Word of God promises us Christ as a sheer unmerited gift. Therefore, faith in the Word of God’s promise unites believers with Christ and affects a “wondrous exchange,” in which what belongs to Christ is made the possession of every believer and what belongs to each of us as members of the fallen human race is imposed on Christ, made his, and judged in his death on the cross. On this central theme in Scripture, Luther wrote:

    “Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that he, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to him and believe in him.
    Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably reads Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation.
    I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever” (Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition).

Practical Wisdom

For Luther, Scripture was a source not only of theological truth, but also of practical wisdom for facing all the challenges of life. The reality of the Christian experience of testing leads full circle, pointing the believer back to the biblical text where one prays again for the illumination of the Spirit, and attempts to understand the text anew.

Nothing Less Than Christ

The purpose of the Scriptures as a whole is to witness to Christ, who is apprehended in faith. What counts in biblical interpretation, the substance of the matter for which the best expositors must always seek, is nothing less than Christ. “Whatever promotes Christ,” Luther insists, is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture. For Luther, Christ is the essential content of Scripture, that to which the Scriptures as a whole direct our attention for the purpose of salvation. “Take Christ from the Scriptures,” he demands rhetorically, “and what else will you find in them?”

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

The Purpose of Scripture Is to See Christ—Augustine

The Purpose of Scripture Is to See Christ—Augustine

God-Inspired Through Human Beings

For Augustine, the words of Scripture have a divine authority, integrally linked with the authority of the eternal Word of God. God has revealed himself to us in the words of Scripture which are the God-inspired words of mortal beings: “All those matters could have been done by angels, but the human condition would have been degraded if God would not seem to want to minister his own words to human beings through human beings” (On Christian Doctrine).

The Word in Flesh

The center of Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is the incarnate Word. Augustine sets his theology of Scripture within the broader spectrum of the theology of salvation: “To enlighten us and enable us, the whole temporal dispensation was set up for our salvation.” Augustine had insisted that the ministry of Scripture is adjusted to the human condition: “Notice how although the Truth itself and the Word by which all things were made became flesh so that it could live among us, the apostle says: ‘And if we knew Christ according to the flesh, we do not know him in the same way now.’” Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is determined by his decades-long contemplation of the eternal Word of God, incarnate in human history, assuming the lowliness of the human condition, at once our Way, our Truth and our Life.

Linked Together

The Word Incarnate and the words of Scripture are properly conditioned to our human time-bound existence and thus bind together the ministry of the Incarnate Word and the ministry of the words of Scripture. Thus the authority of Scripture is integrally linked with the ministry of Scripture, which in turn is linked with the ministry of the Word Incarnate. In his reflection on Psalm 99, Augustine writes: “Our whole purpose when we hear the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Law is to see Christ there, to understand Christ there.”

Interpreting Himself

In his study of Augustine as a biblical interpreter, Charles Kannengiesser notes: “In analyzing Augustine’s place in the long line of biblical interpreters, it must be noted that the Bible helped Augustine to interpret himself as much as he became an interpreter of the Bible” (Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters).

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

What Is Scripture? Theological Giants Weigh In

What Is Scripture? Theological Giants Weigh In

What is Scripture? The good news is that we are not the first to try to answer this question. In fact, 2,000 years of Christian history provide us a tradition of helpful answers.

Trustworthy and Authoritative

The Bible is inspired by God and does not misrepresent the facts. It is entirely trustworthy and is the final authority in everything it teaches. The Bible records the drama of redemption in both the history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians we acknowledge both Jesus (John 1:1-4) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as the “Word of God.” Christians should not focus solely on Christ and treat Scripture just like any other “classic text.” Nor should we focus so much on the Bible as God’s divine inerrant word and treat Jesus as simply a character in a small part of the texts.

Scripture Reveals Jesus

Jesus is the message—God participating in human life, coming near to us, bringing his good news, expressing God’s love for us, dying as our substitute, rising as the victor over death, and building his church as a community of grace. Jesus is not just the main person in one of many events in the story of God’s people. Jesus is the final revelation of God’s drama of redemption. Humanity sees God in full light in Jesus. Jesus is God’s ultimate word about human life and the Bible is God’s word about God’s self-revelation through human life. This is what Christian theologians have been saying in various ways for 2,000 years (Christian Theologies of Scripture). In answering the question—“What is Scripture?”—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and Edwards have given us categories to use, concepts to ponder, and doctrines of Scripture that we should continue. As we survey some of the major theologians in Christian history in the next series of posts, notice how much they refer to Jesus when explaining their theology of Scripture. Their doctrines of Scripture are surprisingly Christ-centered.

Further Studies

For more study about Scripture—what is it and how we got it—check out these books:

To be continued.

3 Books for Ministry to Emerging Adults and “Guys”

3 Books for Ministry to Emerging Adults and “Guys”

If you care about ministering to emerging adults (18-24 year olds), or guys (16-26 year old males), then the following books should prove helpful to you in understanding their world. These books are filled with the best and newest sociological research on the topics. They are not “how to” books on ministering to young adults. Rather, they are descriptive and will give you the lay of the land.

Book #1: Souls in Transition

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell

This book is top-notch research that tells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, ages 18 to 24, in the United States. It describes the major influences on their developing spiritual lives and reveals how the religious beliefs and practices of teenagers are strengthened, challenged, and often changed as they move into adulthood. Many of their findings are surprising. First, parents are the single most important influence on the religious outcomes of young adults. Second, participation in evangelization, missions, and youth groups does not predict a high level of religious vitality just a few years later. Third, the common wisdom that religiosity declines sharply during the young adult years is shown to be greatly exaggerated. What many will find particularly helpful is how Smith and Snell describe the broader cultural world of today’s emerging adults, how that culture shapes their religious outlooks, and what the consequences are for religious faith and practice in America more generally.

Book #2: Guyland

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael S. Kimmel

This book is about “guys.” Guys are initiated into guyland sometime around high school and hopefully exit in their mid-20s. Kimmel paints a vivid picture of this depressing place populated by “almost-men.” Young men are doing things very differently today than they have in the past. Guys are delaying the milestones of adulthood for a longer period of time, such as moving out of their parents’ home, getting jobs, buying homes, marrying, and having children. They are rejecting the traditional notions of mature masculinity by opting for vanity and narcissism. They follow Hugh Hefner’s model of a life based on unrealistic and childish male wish fulfillment. Guyland celebrates and sustains guys’ failure to launch into the adult responsibilities of work and family. Kimmel powerfully drives home the point that guyland defines “being a man” through consumption rather than production: video games, pornography, bars, parties, sports, the media, and other things. Guyland is filled with many of the most toxic elements of our culture: violence, hazing, drinking, drugs, pornography, emotionally detached intimacy, sexual harassment, and degradation of women. It is clear why guyland is detrimental to both women and men. But Kimmel is hopeful. He discusses possibilities for change, addressing the importance of actively involved parents beyond their children’s high school years. He also provides stories of hope and bravery of individuals and institutions that have sought to address the problems associated with guyland.

Book #3: After the Baby Boomers

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow

Wuthnow offers a broad description of this demographic: “Young adults are marrying later, having fewer children and having them later, moving more often, going to college in higher numbers, living with more immigrant neighbors and therefore more ethnic and religious diversity, and living in the suburbs even more than their baby boomer parents.” This plays out in the fact that 46 percent of those in their early forties attend church weekly while only 29 percent of people in their twenties do. The biggest single social factor related to declining church attendance among younger adults is the postponement of marriage and children. Wuthnow explains: “Being married or unmarried has a stronger effect on church attendance than anything else. Children also make some difference. This means that the postponement of marriage and children continues to suppress church attendance at least until adults are in their early forties.” While those in their early forties go to church more often, young adults in their twenties talk about religion with their friends more than any other demographic. Furthermore, Wuthnow reports that “core beliefs have remained remarkably pervasive and stable” over the past 30 years. This means younger adults are interested in spirituality and are sympathetic to essential Christian doctrine.

6 Essentials of College Ministry

6 Essentials of College Ministry

I have served as a campus minister for five years and have taught at two universities for nine years. In that time, I’ve learned some lessons about doing campus ministry both the hard way and from great mentors. Here are the top six things you need to know if you’re doing college ministry:

1. Don’t confuse the grace of God with the commands of God’sTo prevent doing this, talk about Jesus (who he is and what he has done) all the time. If you don’t, students will think Christianity is really about something else, like morality, philosophy, piety, social justice, or a religious experience. If you start talking more about what they should do instead of what Jesus has done, you’re preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), which is to put heavy burdens on them (Matt. 23:2-4).

2. Learn about sexual assaultThe prevalence of sexual assault is staggering. At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. And the numbers are much worse for college students. These young women and men feel crippling shame, deep guilt, and painfully alone because of what has been done to them.

3. Teach students how to read and interpret the Bible for themselvesThis means being clear on the relationship between the law and the gospel. The law is “perfect, true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9) and “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12), but it does not effect what it demands (Gal. 3:21). The good news is that on the cross Jesus took our penalty of law-breaking and fulfilled the law, so he could give us his righteousness. God then works in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). The very law that condemns us becomes the very thing that God fulfills in us through the power of his Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18-23), not through our effort (Gal. 3:1-3).

4. Be prepared to comfort students because of divorce and death. College students are at a phase in life where their parents seem to get divorced, if they aren’t already, now that their children are leaving home. This is also the age when grandparents begin to die.

5. Study apologeticsMany students have legitimate questions about who Jesus is and what he did and why he isn’t just a good example. They want to know why they should trust the Bible as reliable. The immense suffering in the world makes them doubt either the goodness or power of God or both. They think Christians are hypocrites and bigots, so why should they become one?

6. Be prepared to counsel students about what they’re really facing. You must be prepared to counsel about eating disorders, pornography, cutting, abusive relationships, and the lingering damage of sexual sin. College students tend to be the shock-absorbers of the myths our cultural sells. Idols are brutal slave masters.