What did you hear on Easter?

I know, it’s a bit late to be posting about Easter. This post was inspired by the Easter sermon I heard, and therefore couldn’t have been posted before Easter. I hope you’ll bear with me.

Maybe you went to a church on Easter Sunday and empty_tomb11heard a clear gospel proclamation centered on the resurrected Christ. If so, you can probably skip the rest of this post.

Maybe, however, you ended up in a service where the sermon gave a nod to Jesus and then moved on to more “relevant” topics. Maybe you sat through a sermon full of law and no gospel at all. Maybe you didn’t hear it for what it was – many Christians seem to miss this type of law.

We are fairly new at the church that we attend. My husband and I have felt a bit uncomfortable at the lack of Jesus and the message of salvation through faith alone in the sermons, but I figured that Easter would be different. It’s Easter, after all, the biggest day of the liturgical year.

The sermon started well, although the pastor seemed to be focused on Jesus’ death instead of resurrection. He was talking about Jesus’ words of forgiveness to those who crucified Him even though they neither asked for nor deserved forgiveness. Then, about a third of the way in, the sermon changed and became about showing love and compassion to hurting people in a broken world and ended with an exhortation to BE Jesus* in our relationships.

No forgiveness for our sins.

No hope of salvation.

No gospel and no grace.

Law centers on what we have to do. Be compassionate. Be loving. Be Jesus. Go and do and be and work. The gospel centers on what Jesus did in our place. He took our punishment and died our death. He rose from the dead and secured our place in heaven.

Yes, we should do good works. James is pretty clear on this point with verses like “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22) “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). But good works, as seen in these verses, stem from hearing the word and from faith – not from our desire to be Jesus in our communities and our trying harder to love people.

The Bible says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). If we don’t regularly preach the gospel how will anyone know what they object of our faith is, why we do good works, or how to be saved?

Here is the gospel in the words of Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
1 Cor 15:3-5

This is what we proclaim as Christians – Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead. Be reconciled to Christ. It is more than shameful when Easter visitors hear a message of moralism and self-helpism instead of the message of forgiveness for sin through the very Son of God.

* It’s a bit off topic, but I wanted to address this quickly. Where in the Bible are we called to “be Jesus”? The best I can get is Paul’s “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). There was one Jesus, and you’re not Him.

On Theology

Recently I sat in a church classroom and listened to a seminary-trained pastor strongly imply that learning theology makes people proud Pharisees, while people who know little to nothing about theology are closer to an “authentic” relationship with God. They may sound wrong, and do things wrong, and hold wrong beliefs, but at least they are not full of pride.

I thought my head was going to explode.

I do think that people can be Christians without having done any study of theology. That’s where many people start their walk with Jesus. However, I don’t think that is the proper place for people to end their walk with Jesus (unless the beginning and end are really close together). Here are three arguments people make against learning theology and why I don’t believe they are valid. I am also including a list of books that I have found to be greatly helpful at the end of the post.

1. Theology is unnecessary to know Jesus

Maybe it is unnecessary to have studied theology to become a Christian, as I said above. The longer you are a Christian, though, the more you should know about the God you worship. Many different versions of Jesus are being preached today—the Jesus of orthodox Christianity, the Jesus of the prosperity gospel, the Jesus of liberal theology, etc. How do you know which one (or ones) is/are right? How do you know what Jesus was and is really like? Further, how do you know what Jesus wants?

2. Theology is divisive

Yes, it can be—and necessarily so. A Christian should not be in fellowship with false teachers (Ro. 16:17). Many people try to make a church split over theology sound as stupid as a church split over what color the carpet should be, but that simply shows how little value they place on knowing what God has told us. Theology does not always divide, and mature Christians should be able to work and worship alongside other Christians who hold valid theological positions different from their own. However, we should be able to recognize and root-out heresy within our ranks.

3. Theology makes you proud

I will concede that theology can make you proud. So can not knowing theology. I’ve heard pastors who are proud of the fact that they have no formal theological training; I’ve heard laymen who are full of pride because they have never let someone else teach them about God. I will also argue that a good understanding of theology shouldn’t make you proud. Indeed, as you study who you are and what God has done through His Son more and more deeply, you will have less cause for pride—not more.

Pastors, teach theology—even the deep stuff. Teach it in your sermons. Teach it in your Bible studies. Make sure your church’s other teachers know enough to teach theology in their Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday school classes. Strive to pastor a church full of mature Christians who know what they believe.

Christians, learn theology. The Bible is the best teacher of theology, so start with dedicated Bible reading. Read the whole book, not just the sections you like. After that, get a good book about theology, either general or on a specific topic, and read it. Then read another. Learn to take the good and leave the bad. Most importantly, let your learning drive you to your knees before God in worship and adoration.

Books I have enjoyed:

  • Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
  • Why We’re Not Emergent – Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (I know the Emergent Church thing is kind of over, but the information in this book is still really relevant and interesting)
  • Raised with Christ – Adrian Warnock
  • Scandalous – D. A. Carson
  • The God Who is There – D. A. Carson
  • Redemption – Mike Wilkerson
  • Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus – Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
  • The Work of Christ – R. C. Sproul
  • By Grace Alone – Sinclair Ferguson

Originally posted at The Anon Church blog. Reposted here in its entirety.

Summer Reading

Life got crazy around the Calvinist house for a while, and I have been badly neglecting my blog. Between homeschool conferences, family changes, and regular life I haven’t had much time for blogging – which is sad to say on a pretty much brand new blog.

Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to post a list of books I’m hoping to get through this summer. Here it is:
Some of these are books I’ve almost finished (KJO Controversy, Intolerance of Tolerance), some are books that I’m re-reading (Amazing Back into Grace, Raised with Christ), one is a book on economics (Incredible Bread Machine), but the rest are books I’ve never read. I’m planning to post book reviews as I finish them.
On my Kindle (aka books I read when I’m waiting in line or waiting rooms):
  • Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright
  • The Scriptures Testify About Me by D. A. Carson
  • Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur
  • Alone with God by John MacArthur
  • How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp
  • Putting Jesus in His Place by Robert Bowman, J. Ed Komoszewski and Darrell L. Bock
  • Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards
  • The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan
  • The Truest Thing About You by David Lomas, D. R. Jacobsen and Francis Chan
  • Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson
  • Shame Interrupted by Edward T. Welch
  • Heretics by G. K Chesterton
  • Christless Christianity by Michael Horton
  • The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
  • On the Incarnation by Athanasius
What’s on your reading list? Any book recommendations for me?