Writing Theology for the Church

“The responsibility of making theology applicable to the church rests both with the theologian and the church.

Theology must be understandable to the church. Too often what theologians write is unintelligible for many church members. As someone has observed, our best minds are sometimes siphoned off to seminaries and graduate schools where they are expected to write highly technical research works for the limited number of people in the world who can understand what they are talking about.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I think that kind of scholarship should continue, especially at Baptist seminaries, but that cannot be the end of the theological enterprise. In the past, theologians of the church wrote so that literate people could understand, and it must be acknowledged that Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley are often much easier to read than many contemporary theologians.

Today we need theologians who can write in ways that are both accessible to and engaging of the church and the cultures.”

–David S. Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H Academic, 2008), 159.

God Sets Them Working for Good

“If all things work together for good, hence learn that there is a providence. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. God is the great Disposer of all events and issues. He sets everything working. ‘His kingdom ruleth over all‘ (Psalm 103:19). It is meant of His providential kingdom. Things in the world are not governed by second causes, by the counsels of men, by the stars and planets, but by divine providence. Providence is the queen and governess of the world. There are three things in providence: God’s foreknowing, God’s determining, and God’s directing all things to their periods and events. Whatever things do work in the world, God sets them a working …. That which is by some called chance is nothing else but the result of providence. …

Learn how little cause we have then to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies! What! discontented at that which shall do us good! All things shall work for good. There are no sins God’s people are more subject to than unbelief and impatience. They are ready either to faint through unbelief, or to fret through impatience. When men fly out against God by discontent and impatience it is a sign they do not believe this text. Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions work for good. Discontent is a sin which puts us upon sin. …

See what cause the saints have to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. In this Christians are defective; though they are much in supplication, yet little in gratulation.”

–Thomas Watson, All Things for Good or A Divine Cordial (1663).

That They May Have Life

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

“Every human life is intended by God from eternity for eternity. Human life is sacred because it is the creation of God, the Lord of life. ‘For you did form my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13). Nature shares in the consequences of sin and innumerable lives are lost before they have an opportunity to develop in the womb, as many die in disasters such as famine, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Mortality is the common denominator of all life on earth. We are morally responsible, however, for the protection and care of life created in the image and likeness of God. The commandment ‘You shall not kill’ is the negatively stated minimum of what we owe to our fellow human beings.

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic research is rightly understood as murder. In the exceedingly rare instance of direct threat to the life of the mother, saving her life may entail the death of the unborn child. Such rare and tragic instances are in sharpest contrast to the unlimited abortion license created by the Supreme Court, resulting in more than forty million deaths since 1973.

The blindness of so many to this moral atrocity has many sources but is finally to be traced to the seductive ways of evil advanced by Satan. Jesus says, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44).

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life may be attended by what is believed to be compassion, especially in the case of the dependent and debilitated aged. While we can sympathize with those who view their own life or the life of another as a burden and not a gift, and while, by the grace of God, there can be repentance and forgiveness for those who are guilty of committing great evil, there can be no moral justification for murder. We are determined to employ every legal means available to protect, in law and in life, the innocent and vulnerable members of the human community.

We plead also with our fellow citizens who do not accept the authority of God’s commandments or the good news that is the gospel of life to consider the consequences of having created a license to kill. In the present state of our tragically disordered law, citizens are given, in the case of abortion, a private ‘right’ to kill those who are too young, too small, too handicapped, too burdensome, or, for whatever reason, not ‘wanted.’ When this ‘right’ and the lethal logic that supports it is established in law, there is no principled reason why it should not be applied to the ‘unwanted’ at any point along life’s way, as advocates of eugenics, euthanasia, and assisted suicide logically contend.

The inescapably public question posed is whether we as a political community adhere to the founding proposition articulated in the Declaration of Independence that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain ‘unalienable rights,’ beginning with the right to life. The course of progress in our political history has been one of inclusion rather than exclusion. Most notable has been the inclusion of slaves and their descendants, and the recognition of the political rights of women. The foundational moral claim on which our polity rests is the claim that all human beings are created equal and are the bearers of rights that we are obliged to respect. [….]

There are no doubt many reasons for our society’s perilous drift toward a culture of death. One major cause is the abortion regime established by the Supreme Court by the Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973. That decision is rightly described as an act of raw judicial power that eliminated in all fifty states existing legal protections of unborn children. It is an encouraging measure of the moral health of our society that the abortion license decreed by Roe has not been accepted by the great majority of Americans. It now seems possible that this question will be returned to the process of democratic deliberation and decision in the several states. In that process, we as Evangelicals and Catholics together pledge our relentless efforts to persuade our fellow citizens to secure justice in law for the most vulnerable among us. [….]

Finally, our society’s drift toward a culture of death will not be arrested and reversed without a bolder and more persuasive witness to the gospel of life centered in Jesus Christ who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Whatever our cultural circumstance, whatever the ebb and flow of political and legal fortunes, our first duty is evangelization: to share ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2) the good news of the unsurpassable gift of eternal life, beginning now, in knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. [….]

We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society committed, in life and law, to honoring the inestimable dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God. For our part, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, we refuse to despair of the power of public witness and persuasion in the service of every member of the human community, for whom Christ came ‘that they may have life and have it abundantly.'”

That They May Have Life, A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2006.

See Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino, eds., Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics (Brazos, 2015).

Why We Should Worship God With Others on Sunday

“[The] word of God is everywhere in worship.

In the call to worship we hear God’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear God’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our faith-parents; in the sermon we hear that word reexpressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate.

Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the judgments of God, we are familiarized with what God says, what he has decided, the ways he is working out our salvation.

There is simply no place where these can be done as well as in worship. If we stay at home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss a lot, for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unnoticed prejudices.

In worship we are part of ‘the large congregation’ where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us not only in our heads but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith, and blessing with worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience.

We want to hear what God says and what he says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God.”

–Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 2nd Ed. (IVP, 2000), 55.

Tolkien’s Lost “Noel”

Originally published in the 1936 Annual of Our Lady’s School, Abingdon, Tolkien’s “Noel” was unknown and unrecorded until scholars Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull discovered it while searching for another poem in June 2013. In May 2015, Our Lady’s School, Abingdon discovered their copy of the Annual and in Feb 2016, news of the discovery was widely reported.

As the Tolkien Estate and Our Lady’s School has future plans to publish the poem, I include just the first section of the poem here.

NOEL by J. R. R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.

For more information on the discovery and future plans, see:

“Undiscovered J R R Tolkien poems found in 1936 school magazine,” Oxford Mail, February 15, 2016.

“Two Poems by J.R.R. Tolkien Found in School Publication in England,” New York Times, February 16, 2016.

“There and Back Again, Again: New Tolkien Poems Found in Old Annual,” Tor.com, February 17, 2016

If interested in reading other posts I’ve written on Tolkien, please click here.


Jason G. Duesing is provost and associate professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and author and contributor to several books including Seven Summits in Church History (Rainer Publishing, 2016). You can follow him on Twitter @JGDuesing.

The Light Still Shines in the Darkness: Carl Henry on Advent Hope

“The opening chapters of two great New Testament books keep running through my mind. Both deal with God’s creation and its despoilment by sin; both hold out the alternatives of salvation or judgment. Both chapters are familiar to you, I’m sure. One is the classic prologue of John’s Gospel; the other, that awesome first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

John’s prologue twice mentions darkness, each time sweepingly enough to cover not only man’s fall and sinfulness but also the darkness of Crucifixion Day, and even that of our own declining civilization. How graphically this work ‘darkness’ brings into focus the moral malignancy and spiritual sham of the human race! ‘The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not’ (1:5, KJV). Other versions stress the point that no fury of darkness can overcome or extinguish God’s light; until endtime judgment overtakes us, the light of God’s living Word will continue to expose human wickedness for what it is.

Romans chapter one is much more specific about moral evil. The exploding wickedness of the Gentile nations supplies a sort of Richter scale of civilizational decline, a measure of the slide of men and nations into the abyss of iniquity. As shocks and aftershocks of ethical earthquake surge over modern life, Paul’s letter speaks not only to the Romans but to us also about the crucial crisis of our times, and the judgment that lowers above us.

The theme of Paul’s epistle and John’s Gospel is the same: The light of God is shining through the darkness of human history and is penetrating the very mind and conscience of even a rebellious age. Suppress the truth of God though it may, fallen mankind can in no way eradicate it. God’s light and truth remain and continue to unmask what we are ….

Even in the midst of this dark hour, the Christian community is called upon to sound the call of repentance, forgiveness, and God’s triumph. God is still active in our secular society. He not only warns the impenitent masses of dire judgment but prods them also toward faith, and even prepares some for salvation. Multitudes today are thirsting for personal faith. Many are looking for a messiah; they must be turned from false christs to the risen and returning Lord.

God’s Logos is still lighting every man, still shining in the darkness. The truth of God is still penetrating the mind and conscience of even the most wicked. Even some who seem hopelessly given over to iniquity may come by God’s grace to new life and hope and joy. God is still at work in our world. He is manifesting the consequences of rebellion by abandoning the impenitent wicked to licentiousness and by allowing a long-privileged West to revert to paganism. But God is also lifting to his Savior Son those who seek refuge from the nihilism of daily life without Christ. In his mercy God enables even the desperate to embrace Christ as the rescuer from ruin and despair.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans this planet was overwhelmingly pagan. All the Christians to be found in the ancient empire city of Rome could have squeezed into a few small homes. But Paul knew something that, hopefully, you too know and will carry with you into a world desperately needing a vanguard of devout and dedicated disciples. Paul knew the reality and power of the Risen Christ who can turn a vagrant world right side up, can restore recognition of the Lord of nature, of history, and of conscience.

If hope is to prevail in our time, we who know God’s transforming mercy and power must become roving tentmakers in the service of Christ who pitched his tent in a terribly wicked world and unveiled, for us to see, the glory of our life-renewing God. Let us call individuals and nations to a new vision of justice and righteousness. Let us invite a vagabond race to share with us the joys of life redeemed and fit for eternity. For the crisis of our times, the light that shines in darkness is still more than adequate.”

–Carl F. H. Henry, “The Crisis of our Times and Hope for Our Future,” May 14, 1979, published in The Christian Mindset In A Secular Society (Multnomah, 1984), 143-150.

Why evangelicals can’t brush off conversations about racial reconciliation

“Putting your faith in action with regards to racial reconciliation means you must be willing to: speak to your neighbor; gain knowledge; and see those around you. But you must also see that there’s still a fight worth engaging. So often what hinders racial reconciliation is apathy to the topic of race ….

One of the problems from our apathy is that when people do rise up to discuss the continued racial struggles, concerns, and problems within our churches and society, many cry out that if we simply stop talking about race then all the struggles we see will disappear. I can understand why someone might think that bringing up the need for racial reconciliation can rebirth old wounds and, therefore, cripple the progress of racial reconciliation.

The problem is, race continues to be talked about because there continue to be problems.

And there continue to be problems because often conversations about race revolve around racism.

And these conversations centered on racism happen because people are racist.

So, until we see an end to racism, both personal and systemic, we will need to continue this conversation. And we can’t brush off conversations about racial reconciliation because the gospel so clearly addresses it.”

— Trillia Newbell, “How Should the Christian Live?” in The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, 48-49.

Are you rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God?

–We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2 ESV)

“Are you boasting and exulting and glorying in the hope of the glory of God? If not, and if you would like to, I can give you Paul’s prescription as to how it becomes possible to do so.

“It is in 2 Corinthians 4, versus 17 and 18: ‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while (as long as we) look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ …

“For exactly the same reason he says in writing to the Colossians, ‘Set you affections on things above, not on the things on the earth’ (Col 3:1).

“If you have not seen something of the glory of God and of Christ it is because you are looking too much at other things. You are looking too much at your newspapers, at your television, at the world and its gaudiness. Turn away from it all and begin to look at, to gaze upon, the things which are not seen, the things which are eternal. Set your affections there.

“It calls for an effort of the will, and discipline. It means diligence in your study of the Scriptures, and meditation upon them. Seek Him there; ask the Spirit to reveal Him to you. Ask Him to manifest Himself to you. Once you have caught a glimpse of Him and the glory that awaits you, then you will be very ready to join Paul and say that you boast and glory and exult in the hope of the glory of God.”

— D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Assurance, 57-58.

The Competitive Christian Athlete

“Competition, rightly understood and ordered, is not simply about the individual competing; it is about the God who created him and the opportunity to be challenged to greater achievement because we live in community with other image bearers.

Thus, the appropriate way to compete in sporting activities is to fight self-sacrificially to win the contest with all of your might, but having done so, to respect and admire your opponent for having done the same.

In other words, the Christian should understand that his or her opponent is not the enemy; he or she is a friend whom God has provided to help him or her grow and develop and to cultivate God-magnifying excellence. The Christ honoring competitor will be more competitive–not less.

Nevertheless, the Christ-honoring competitor will not get his or her identity and self-worth from his or her performance because to do so would turn God’s gift into an idol. Christian competitors thank God for the ability to compete, but they also thank God for their opponent’s ability as well.”

–David E. Prince, In the Arena, 25-26.

In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship

David E. Prince
B&H Books, 2016

I Can’t Live Without You

“[B]elievers look on Christ as the only one who gives the Spirit and the one who gives all grace necessary for sanctification and holiness …. The natural man tries to spin out a web of holiness from his own fleshly efforts. Such men begin with great determination and follow this with vows, duties, resolutions and self denials. In this way, they continue for a while, their hypocrisy, for the most part, ending in apostasy.

The saints of God, on the other hand, as they begin to walk with God, realise their need of these things.

  1. Saints see their need of the Spirit of holiness to dwell in them.
  2. Saints see their need of a habit of holiness to be infused into them.
  3. Saints see their need of actual assistance to enable them to do the good works which God had planned for them to do.

Saints know that if these three things are lacking, they can never, with all their might, power and efforts, do one act of holiness before the Lord.

They know that without Christ they can do nothing. Therefore they look to Jesus, and this is their communion with him in their life of sanctification and holiness.”

— John Owen, Communion with God, 151-52.