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Conference Lecture Series: The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century

October 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Among the conference lecture series I’ve recently listened to are two “Westminster Confession into the 21st century” (from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) conferences from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ archive – from 2004 and 2007.  As noted in a previous post these are the readings of scholarly papers, and so the audio recordings provide a type of “audio book” experience on various topics concerning the Westminster Standards and covenant theology.  The lectures feature a variety of speakers: some regulars within the Alliance conferences, along with a few well-known names such as Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson.  Some of the lectures are more interesting (and easier to follow) than others; the delivery of some is “abridged” with selected readings, skipping over some parts and then continuing to other sections, within the time permitted (about an hour).

The more recent conference lectures/journal articles, back to the fall of 2014, are also available online here.  The audio archive has the benefit of earlier material, such as the two I’ve been listening to:  2004’s Conference “The Richness of Our Theological Heritage” and from 2007, “Systematic Theology: Informing Your Life in Christ.”

The lectures assume a basic knowledge of the Westminster Confession and Reformed theology, and provide introduction to several interesting topics which would be good for further study, including:

  • The Scottish Covenanters and the history of the different sub-groups
  • Good and necessary consequences
  • Christian Liberty
  • The roles of systematic theology and biblical theology (redemptive historical) and the value of both

I’m still listening to the “The Richness of our Theological Heritage” series, and find these lectures another great educational resource, for “seminary-type” teaching beyond the layperson / general audience level.  The full collection, from all past conferences, is available here.

Thoughts on Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology, the Doctrine of God, and the Trinitarian Debate

April 26, 2019 11 comments

Lately I’ve been considering the issues of systematic theology, confessionalism, and the Doctrine of God and the Trinitarian Debate.  Over at the Mortification of Spin podcast, Carl Trueman has several recent posts in a series, Some Thoughts on Systematic Theology as Poor Relation:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

This is a recurring topic in recent years, one I often come back to, from frequent interacting with the errors from non-confessional Calvinist Baptists: minimalist doctrinal approach, overemphasis on biblical theology (and absence of any type of systematic theology) and the related anti-confessional New Covenant Theology.  For reference, see these previous posts such as these about Confessionalism (article 1, also this article, and this one).

In the above posts, Trueman is coming from the opposite perspective, of confessionally Reformed churches where people are redefining the words of the confessions to mean different things today than the 17th century Reformers understanding.  His points, though, are just as applicable to the anti-confessional group, as the basic issue of present-day evangelicalism (after pointing out the merits of biblical theology):

even with all of these important contributions, we need to remember that a narrow focus on the storyline of scripture has its limits.  If the danger with Systematic Theology is that it can so emphasize conceptual unities that it misses the particularities of the biblical text, then the danger with Biblical Theology is that it so emphasizes the particularities that it misses those underlying unities. The answer to missing the trees for the wood is not to miss the wood for the trees.

The importance of systematic theology relates to the more specific issue of the doctrine of God, including the controversies of recent years – the impassibility of God, and the “Trinity Debate” (Eternal Submission of the Son error) of 2016.  For further reading on the 2016 Trinity Debate, see this web page from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, with links to the many blog posts back and forth during summer 2016.

From browsing the Alliance’s collection here are some helpful sermon series from Liam Golligher (the current Senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia) —  three sets of messages (the “Trinity” set in response to the 2016 Trinity Debate) from the early chapters of the book of Hebrews:  Trinity: The Eternally Divine Son (8 messages), Trinity: The Two Natures of Christ (8 messages), and Trinity: Christ the Mediator (6 messages).  I’m in the second half of the second set now, so more to report later.

From the content I’ve listened to so far, these messages emphasize the transcendence of God, the reality of a God that is different from and above us, the eternal God who does not change, the Creator/Creature distinction, and the big picture view of God’s dealings with His people throughout history.  The doctrine of God, and the Trinity, are things that our finite minds will never completely grasp, yet the Christian creeds and confessions set forth the truths that we affirm.

From the first set, one message specifically addresses the Old Testament theophanies as part of God’s plan to familiarize His people with their God.  Another message, ‘Mary, did you know?’ references the words in the Mark Lowry song along with many scripture references.  A later message in the first series mentions a not-so-well-known history fact:  hymn writer Isaac Watts’ later writings indicate that he was a Unitarian and viewed Jesus as a created being, as the archangel Michael.  Googling on the topic indicates that a lot of people question this (is it really so?), and provides further historical details regarding Watts and the New England slide from Puritanism to Unitarianism.  Certainly Watts, who disliked creeds, did not articulate Trinitarianism and left himself open to the charge of Unitarianism, leaving us the question ‘will we see Isaac Watts in heaven?’  For further reference, here are a few interesting articles about Isaac Watts’ Unitarianism:

The above posts and sermon series are very helpful for a good overview of the whole issue of the doctrine of God and proper, orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  The link between the historic creeds and confessions, and orthodox Christian belief, especially comes out when studying the doctrine of God, a topic/study that is not as easy from the human viewpoint.  It is all too easy for us finite humans, as creatures, to think of God as somehow an extension of ourselves, someone greater than us but like us (in ways beyond the “communicable attributes”).  In this modern anti-creedal age, a time of “no creed but the Bible,” some doctrines are still easier to ‘get’, such as the doctrine of scripture, of the authority and importance of God’s word; but taking the same anti-confessional approach to the doctrine of God, more often than not, leads to error and even heresy.  As stated in the above article (Implications from Isaac Watts’s Trinitarian Controversy):

Furthermore, claiming to have no creed but the Bible may sound noble and pious, but it is a fact of history that when individuals or groups completely reject confessional language, even with noble desires for Christian unity or biblical authority, they almost always end up with significant theological problems. And this is exactly the case with the Nonconformists in England following Watts: those who, like Watts, claimed to accept no human creed ended up fully denying the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and even the sufficient atonement of Christ.

1689 Confession Study: Practical Errors in Sanctification

January 26, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, the final lesson in chapter 13 (Sanctification) considers five practical errors regarding sanctification – five doctrinal points which believers may conflate with an unrelated idea.  These are fairly common ones among evangelicals, ideas which we may even acquire subconsciously (perhaps due to imbalanced teaching).  Hodgins acknowledged his own past experience, of sometimes thinking in these incorrect ways.

  1. Equating a wisdom-call (application) with the moral law of God (there are many different applications of the moral law to particular situations)
  2. Equating gifts with graces (even King Saul and Baalam were gifted, and even prophesied, yet were lost men)
  3. Equating struggle with hypocrisy
  4. Equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline
  5. Equating our sin-tainted works with God-rejected works.

Some of these I was familiar with, ideas generally mentioned in church from time to time (#4), or from my reading on the subject of sanctification over the last several years—especially #5, my (incorrect) way of thinking after several years of over-emphasis on God-rejected works at a Calvinist Baptist church.  One of the points brought out here, is that the well-known reference in Isaiah 64:6 (“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”) is in reference to the unconverted; this truth has its place in preaching the gospel and evangelism, telling sinners about the need for justification, that our salvation is completely in Christ and we do nothing to merit our salvation; but as believers our relationship is now that of children of God.  I recall learning (or perhaps being reminded again after so many years) the comforting truth of the correct teaching on this point, in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago (see this blog post from 2010)

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well pleased.

I observe that the examples and detail given in this lesson reference various points of the moral law (Ten Commandments), an approach I’ve only recently begun to notice, through study of the 1689 Confession along with Tom Chantry’s series on the Ten Commandments—as contrasted with the standard fare at the New Calvinist / “Sovereign Grace” NCT church which ignores teaching on the moral law, only dealing with Christian living as it is referenced in the New Testament epistles.

For #5 above, the lesson cites some of the same scripture texts from the above J.C. Ryle quote, and the fifth commandment.  Examples of people falling into certain wrong ideas are presented from the perspective of believers who have been taught sanctification in terms of the moral law / Ten Commandments summary–those who thus at least think in these terms in reference to their Christian walk. So with #1 above, examples include a person making a specific “rule” to help him follow the tenth commandment (do not covet) or his own application of law regarding whether or not to go to the beach (in reference to the seventh commandment)—and then equating that particular application with the moral law itself and thus imposed on everyone else (the basic issue of externalism and a problem commonly associated with “fundamentalism”).

Item #3 (one I had not considered before) is the idea that, if at this moment I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible, then if I do so anyway (“force myself to do so”) I must be a hypocrite–so I’ll just be transparent and honest instead. The biblical response to this one is No – doing the right thing, even when our heart isn’t into it, is called mortification of sin, putting to death the sinful desires. Yes we must deal with our own heart, but it is better to deal with it there, in our own thoughts, rather than bring others into the sphere of our problems by behaving poorly to others.

I especially appreciate the teaching on point 4 (equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline), which included the lyrics of a John Newton hymn — one I had never heard before, but which apparently is in some hymnals, including at the church doing this 1689 Confession study. See this blog post (from the Gospel Coalition blog) for the full lyrics, which Hodgins read aloud in this lesson.  (Hodgins disliked the tune in their hymnal.  From googling, here is a Youtube rendition of the hymn in the familiar tune of another hymn, Psalm 42 As the Hart Longs.)  These excellent words from John Newton describe the Christian’s prayer to God, asking to grow in faith, and love, and every grace — and the result, how the Lord answers that prayer by bringing affliction —

I asked the Lord that I might grow  / In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,  / And seek, more earnestly, His face.

. . .

“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, / I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, / From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, / That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

Study: The 1689 London Baptist Confession as Systematic Theology

January 2, 2015 1 comment

Lately I have begun studying the 1689 London Baptist Confession: as a good summary of Christian doctrine, as compatible with historic premillennialism (and the actual view of many of the writers of the 17th century confessions) , and the confession that Charles Spurgeon used for his church,  complete with his own catechism.

The following Sermon Audio lecture series (by Arden Hodgins at Trinity Reformed Baptist in California) was recommended to me –  not yet complete but quite in-depth, with 230 messages so far over the course of several years, done as a systematic theology covering the many topics in the 1689 confession.

So far I have listened to several messages: the introduction plus the first topic (chapter 1 of the confession), regarding the Bible itself: revelation, inspiration, cessation (five lectures on this specific topic), illumination, interpretation and translation.  At least some of this overall topic I recognize from other systematic theologies, such as this one from S. Lewis Johnson I listened to (in part) a few years ago. The section on illumination addresses three aspects of scripture’s authority: its sphere, the basis of its authority, and recognition of this authority. Here I notice the Baptist covenantal perspective, which (unlike the 20th century systematic theology of classic/revised dispensationalism) understands and presents Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics, pointing out the problem with the “Josh McDowell style” evidential apologetics, along with several good references to Van Til, including the following great quote:

The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms etc. directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and His work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity, it gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instructions of the Bible from what it says for example about the physical universe.

I look forward to further listening to these lectures related to the various topics from the 1689 Confession, including a few lectures affirming biblical young-earth creation with analysis of various compromise views: one on “debunking Evolution,” plus a full lecture on the gap theory and another on the day-age and framework ideas.

While in one area I, as a Spurgeon-style historic premillennialist, disagree with this particular teacher’s view (amillennialism), there is much here to learn in overall study of many other doctrines. The 1689 confession itself limits its statements on eschatology to “allow for” any millennial view (except, as noted in the first linked article above, the later-developed pre-trib view which splits the timing of the Second Coming). In the 230 messages so far, Ardin Hodges presents only two lectures in “overview” of millennial views, for a more neutral perspective than found in Sam Waldron’s “Modern Exposition of 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith” (1989 edition)  (note Amazon reviews here).

Common Grace and Efficacious (Irresistible) Grace: S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology Series

July 19, 2013 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology series, soteriology section, a summary of several good points concerning common grace and Irresistible/Efficacious Grace.

From these messages (Believers Chapel MP3 #43 and lesson 44, transcripts #83 and #84):

Common Grace operates in three categories:

1.  General blessings to all creatures, even animals

2.  General operations of the Spirit by which He, without renewing the heart, exercises moral influence through His revelation.  He curbs sin.  He promotes order.  He promotes civil righteousness.

3.   Operations of the Spirit by which He influences men toward redemption, even though He does not secure their redemption.  Here reference Dr. Johnson’s message from John 16:7-8 (this previous post) , and 1 Corinthians 7:14 (about the unbelieving husband and children being sanctified by the believing wife).  As S. Lewis Johnson here notes, you can be sanctified (set apart, experiencing the influence of God in that family) before you’re saved, if one or both of your parents are saved.

The means of Common Grace:

1.  Creation: Romans 1:18-23.  His eternal power and deity can be known from the Creation.  In the religious sphere we do not have evolution but devolution. So man has the light of the creation, and through the creation by God’s common grace, he is able to see his eternal power and divinity but he has turned from it. 

2.  Light of conscience

3. Restraint of human government

4.  Public opinion, which is formed by the above three things.

The Fruits of Common Grace:

1. God’s wrath is postponed

2. Sin is restrained

3. Human possession of the sense of morality and spirituality.   Paul noted to the men of Athens, that they were very religious.

4. The performance of civil righteousness and outward good.

Differences Between Common Grace and Efficacious Grace (aka Irresistible Grace, the Grace that brings us to salvation)

1.  The Subjects:  all are subjects of common grace.  The elect alone are the subject of efficacious grace.

2.  In their nature: common grace mediated through truth (of creation, the word of God).  Efficacious grace is immediate, directly given, by the Spirit.   2 Thess. 2:13 God has from the beginning chosen you, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth.  1 Peter 1:1-2

3.  In their effects:  Common grace gives superficial knowledge of God, and superficial restraint of God.  Yet this is only restraint, not removal, and transient.  Here I recall 1 Kings 21 (from recent Bible reading), the temporary repentance shown by Ahab after Elijah confronted him about his sin against Naboth. Yet within three years, when the next chapter tells of Ahab’s end, Ahab is back to his old wicked self.  Efficacious grace is deep and permanent; it brings possession of life, and we have that life forever.

Christ’s Sufferings In Type: Christology, S. Lewis Johnson

April 29, 2013 2 comments

S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology series, Christology section, again brings great lessons regarding biblical typology, with “Christ: His Sufferings in Type” (this audio message; transcript here).

As noted from previous S. Lewis Johnson typology lessons (also reference these posts, typology in reference to Joseph and David), a type is not some special technical term reserved only for the “types” explicitly called types in the New Testament.  Rather, a type is just another word for “illustration” or “example,” one that has specific characteristics, including historicity and pattern, with spiritual correspondences between people, things (or institutions), or events within historical revelation – that is, within the Bible.  Typology is a form of prophecy: prophecy conveyed through history.  A type prefigures. A prophecy foretells.  The word type is not a technical term.  that Greek word is a word that does not have any special significance.  It means simply, example. 

Yet the idea of a special classification of only explicitly-named types is not unique to our day (reference this post), for S. Lewis Johnson responded to such a notion in this, the early 1970s Systematic Theology lesson, noting the following:

1)     The New Testament never says that Joseph is a type of Christ.  But there is not a clearer OT example of Jesus Christ than Joseph.  The NT does explicitly call Adam a type of Christ, in Romans 5.   Yet Adam is a type in only one particular point (a representative man), and is actually more to be contrasted with Christ in every other aspect.

2)    Jesus describes Himself as the reality of several Old Testament types, none of which are explicitly called types in the New Testament: as for instance the Temple, Jacob’s ladder, the manna in the wilderness, the brazen serpent, the smitten rock, the pillar of fire.

Also from this lesson: why is typology valid? God controls all of history, and so we observe that Old Testament events were designed by God to express aspects of the ministry of our Lord Jesus.

Now to some actual types of Christ’s sufferings:

In Typical Persons:

  1. Joseph: a man of dreams, dungeons and diadems.  Parallels to Christ in His suffering:
  • the object of the desire and heart of his father’s love.
  • Received a commission from his father to his brethren.
  • Rejected by his brethren, into captivity.
  • lived a life of humiliation (prison)
  • exalted to be a ruler in Egypt (Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father.)
  • acquired a bride in his exaltation; Jesus is acquiring a bride (the church).
  • used to bring about the restoration of his brethren.  Jesus at His second coming shall be used to bring about the restoration of Israel.

2. Moses.  New Testament reference typology: Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.  Moses was rejected by his people, same as Jesus is now rejected by His people Israel.

3. David.

  • Rejected, hunted by Saul, and persecuted. Lived in rejection, and gathered a group of troubled, depressed people to himself. Likewise Christ is now gathering a peculiar people to Himself.
  • Anointed king, then slew Goliath; then rejection. Christ at the cross slew Goliath; then was rejected.
  • David later came into his kingdom, as Christ will at His Second Coming.

In Typical Events:

  • Coats of skins in Eden, Genesis 3.
  • The Passover.  Exodus 12
  • The Smitten Rock — Exodus 17.  The rod that had turned the water of Egypt into blood.

In Typical Institutions:

  • The Tabernacle
  • The brazen altar, the mercy seat
  • The Priesthood:  ordination of the priests.
  • The Offerings: the day of atonement; the offerings in Leviticus 1-4; the offering for the cleansing of a leper

Angelology: S. Lewis Johnson’s ‘Systematic Theology’ Series

April 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Going through S. Lewis Johnson’s “Systematic Theology” series, I’ve completed the first year of the course, material originally covered in weeknight lessons during one fall and spring class year.  The last several messages in that section looked at Angelology.  The following are some interesting points brought out in those lessons.

Demon Possession in the Old Testament. From this lesson (message 26 in the Believers Chapel list): while the New Testament has many examples of actual demon possession, the Old Testament is generally silent, though with a few hints and references.  1 Kings 18:28 describes Baal worshippers slashing themselves, something believed to be demonic activity.  Another hint comes in David’s behavior before Achish in 1 Samuel 21:13-15, acting like a madman.  Interestingly, both David and Achish were familiar with such behavior, as in Achish’s comment to his men, “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow.”

As to why we see in the gospel accounts such a great outbreak of demonic activity:  One of the reasons  for Christ’s coming was to destroy the works of the devil.  The spirit world was especially disturbed at His arrival.

Demonic Possession in Modern Times: Here we note that some restraint exists over the demons’ activity, outwardly, in Christian lands: reference 2 Thessalonians 2:7, the restraint of sin today.  Some demonic possession and demonic activity does occur, among occultic and spiritualistic peoples; but as we all realize, in Christian lands, Satan sees it better to disguise himself as an angel of light.  Thus, demonic activity exists, but of a different kind.  As SLJ notes in lesson 28 (this transcript) :

 you must not for one moment think that the dangerous man to Christianity is the man who attacks it. … The man who is dangerous is the man who claims to be a Christian and who stands in the Christian pulpit and claims even to believe the Bible but who does not really believe it and who does not really proclaim the truths that are contained within it and particularly the essential doctrines that concern the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Guardian Angels?  (lesson 27 / Transcript message 51) Scripture does teach that the angels minister to the saints, collectively, and come to our aid as needed.  I’ve read a few other Bible teachers who completely disregard the idea of an individual guardian angel assigned to each person. One objection I’ve heard is that, after all, we humans are mortal, and if we each have a guardian angel assigned to us, what does that angel do before and after our lifetime?  As I think about it, that objection doesn’t necessarily negate the idea, since it could be a “one to many” relationship, one guardian angel with many individuals throughout the course of history.  S. Lewis Johnson here sticks to the known (scriptures), noting the incident in Acts 12, especially verse 15 – “and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” (singular reference). So, whether the idea is true or not, the early church at least believed in the idea of a guardian angel.

The Restraint of Satan.  From lesson 28 (transcript PDF here): This last message in the Angelology course also deals with eschatology, Satan’s future.  From this message especially come several good quotes and observations.

1) The type of restraint of Satan, quite different from when our Lord was in the tomb:

how different the restraint of Satan is from the restraint of our Lord Jesus. You’ll remember that they set a seal upon the sepulchre. But He tore the bars away on the third day and came forth from the grave.  Satan is in the abyss with a seal upon it for a thousand years, and he would still be there, were it not for the fact that he really is to be released, in the future, in order that he might have a little season of further rebellion.

2)  The Divine Irony in Revelation 20:1-3:

“And ‘an’ angel laid hold of Satan and bound him and put him in the bottomless pit.” Now, doesn’t that strike you as strange?  Well, it should, you know why? Because Satan was ‘big fellow, master too much’ who bossed the angels in ages past, remember. He was the anointed cherub that covereth. He was the chief of the angelic host. And this is the irony of God: that an angel, just one little angel, is enough now to lay hold of the dragon and bind him in the bottomless pit. I think there’s a great deal of drama and divine irony in that little word ‘an.’

3) Regarding Our Human Sinful Nature, the reason behind why Satan “must” be released after 1000 years:

The world can never be unified except once. (I could say twice if we said, under Jesus Christ.) But only once, for you see, the one thing that we all have in common, in which we are completely united, is the one thing that prevents us from ever being united; and that is our sin. That’s why Marx could never get along with his friends. That’s why Lenin could never get along with his friends. There can be no unity in the human race, except finally in the unity of all directed against the Lamb of God.

The Trail of the Serpent: Seven Attempts of Satan to Thwart God’s Divine Purpose

March 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Returning to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Systematic Theology” series, I’m now in the section dealing with angelology and anthropology.  In “The Trail of the Serpent in the Old Testament,” S. Lewis Johnson highlights the original protevangelium (first preaching of the gospel) in Genesis 3:15.

Then he lists the seven times when Satan attempted to thwart God’s purpose of the coming Redeemer.

1)  The murder of Abel by Cain (Genesis 4:1-7)

2)  The unnatural union between men and demons, the demonic intervention in the human race (Genesis 6:1-9)

3)  The attempt in Pharaoh’s time (Exodus 1)

4)  The attempt in Jehoram’s time (2 Chronicles 21), when Jehoram killed all his brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, followed by the divine judgment against Jehoram himself, that only one of his sons was left to him.

5)  The attempt in Athaliah’s time (2 Chronicles 22:10-12), when for six years Athaliah reigned instead of a king from the line of David.

6)  The attempt done through Haman in the book of Esther  (Esther 3 and following)

7)  The attempt in Herod’s time, at Christ’s birth (Matthew 2, note especially verses 4 and 7)

I like how SLJ described these as “attempts … in the time of (so-and-so)”, highlighting the fact that these were really Satanic attempts, not merely the actions of particular men.  The New Testament scriptures add additional information regarding some of the above attempts, as for instance 1 John 3:12 tells us that Cain was of the evil one.  Several other scriptures tell us of the unnatural relations between humans and angelic beings: Genesis 19 (where the men of Sodom desired to “know” the two angelic men in Lot’s house); reference also 1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:4-5, and Jude 6-7.

In the very next message, SLJ lists seven attempts of Satan in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  (Note here an overlap, that #7 above is also the first in this next list.)

1) The Birth of Christ (Matthew 2)

2) The Temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11)

3) Through the Controversies of the Religious Leaders with Christ (Reference John 8:33-45)

4)  Through the Controversy of Christ with His disciples  (Matthew 16:21-23), Christ’s response to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!”

5)  On the verge of the Cross (John 14:30-31):  The prince of this world comes…

6) Satan, Judas and Christ (John 13:2, 27)

7) Satan and the Cross (Hebrews 2:14-15; Col. 2:15; 1 John 3:8)

S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology Series

July 17, 2012 8 comments

A little at a time, I’m listening to the first messages in S. Lewis Johnson’s long, well-known Systematic Theology series: the only such audio series of such length and depth that I know of, with 126 messages covering many topics of systematic theology.  This series comes from SLJ’s early years at Believers Chapel, beginning in 1968 and ending sometime in 1972.  For these lectures SLJ mentioned two Systematic Theology textbooks for the students, ones from Louis Berkhof and Lewis Sperry Chafer, but the content so far stands on its own, without direct reference to topics only found in the textbooks and not explained by him.

The first two messages (what I’ve listened to so far) include an introduction to Systematic Theology and an overall “classical apologetics” approach to the question of the existence of God.  Having never taken any “theology” classes or read such books, the Systematic Theology introduction was interesting, with overview of the types of theology:

  • Exegetical theology: background of OT and NT, study of Greek and Hebrew
  • Historical theology: history of the doctrines of the church; start with the doctrine of Christ and what the Church has believed about it throughout the centuries
  • Systematic theology
  • Practical theology:  how to conduct a wedding ceremony, funeral service, other practical outworkings

The limitations of Systematic Theology are also well noted:

  • the finiteness of the human mind
  • the blindness of sin
  • the silences of scripture  (ref. Deuteronomy 29:29)
  • the imperfect state of science: God’s revelation in nature
  • the incompleteness of our knowledge of scripture
  • inadequacy of human language
  • illumination of the Spirit  (the Spirit has not revealed everything to us, and not all at once)

The second message takes more of a classical apologetics approach, though without specific mention of the terms, again as part of an introduction to Systematic Theology and discussion of the existence of God.  From the discussion here, as well as from googling through the S. Lewis Johnson transcripts, I observe that SLJ was probably only familiar with classical apologetics, since his only references to the topic appear to be referring to that type, along with references to earlier apologists including J. Gresham Machen and no mention of Van Til (at least as far as the transcript search indicates) or later presuppositional apologists.  At any rate, from my early Christian years of reading C.S. Lewis, I was familiar with the general (non-biblical) arguments for the existence of God (though I don’t recall that C. S. Lewis named the theological terms, but rather focused on the concepts themselves).  S. Lewis Johnson named and defined the precise terms here: the cosmological, teleological, moral and ontological arguments.

As shown in the full listing of the Systematic Theology series, later messages cover many topics including Theology Proper, prayer, angelology, anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, and Pneumatology.  I look forward to going through these topics in future sessions.