The long-awaited, much-anticipated systematic theology by John MacArthur is finally here. Though there are several areas where I disagree with MacArthur theologically, he is a sound Bible teacher and pastor who has remained faithful to the Word of God through the many years of his ministry.
However, as I tried to read this theology book I found myself getting frustrated with the tone and manner in which it is written. The view of the author is put forth as the correct view, matter-of-factly, as if no other view has any validity. Contrary to Grudem’s theology book, which gives the different views within orthodox Christianity, MacArthur’s theology comes across as being the only correct view. I have noticed in past messages by MacArthur that he does not fairly represent opposing views but often uses straw-man arguments. It may well be that he doesn’t understand the opposing view or really thinks that is their view. But his arguments fall flat because he is not accurately teaching what the opposing view actually believes, only a caricature of what he thinks they believe.
I could not continue reading this book with him only giving his view and teaching it as if it is the only way to read and understand the Bible. Many well-respected scholars and theologians down through the centuries would not agree with MacArthur’s interpretations. His view is not the only correct, biblical view. When it comes to salvation and the doctrines that matter (primary issues), we would agree. But on secondary issues, he comes across as his way being correct without any alternative views being allowed for. While I don’t think he actually feels that way, as he has partnered with others such as Sproul, it smacks that way in his book.
For those who hold similar views to MacArthur in secondary issues, you will likely love this book. It is written in an easy-to-read and normal MacArthur manner. But if you believe differently on some of these issues (such as covenant theology, amillenialism, etc.), you may have a hard time stomaching what he writes. Perhaps I may go back and try to finish it in the future, but with so many books out there that I want to read, the rest of this one is going to remain unread for now.
*I received a copy of this book free from the publisher Crossway in exchange for my review.
The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New by Marty Machowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a beautifully illustrated book for children that explains to them the key points of theology, including Who God is, Who Jesus is, and the way of salvation. Written in an easy to understand manner, the doctrines are presented in short chapters with extra Scripture verses for further investigation. At the back of the book are further questions for each chapter to dive a little deeper for older children. While I don’t have children of my own, I babysit a lot and see this as an excellent resource to read with children, introducing them to the study of God and understanding sin and the need for a Savior.
There is also a CD called “The Ology” by Sovereign Grace Music that can be used to teach some of the key doctrines through fun songs. In the section on salvation, Calvinism is taught in that God is the One Who saves us as we are completely dead and helpless in our sin. There is also a section on the end times, basically on Jesus coming back to judge the world and then the New Heavens and Earth.
This is a wonderful book to use with kids in helping to teach them the doctrines of God, salvation, the Bible, and more. The book is also beautiful and appealing with its drawings. I highly recommend using this book, particularly for elementary aged children, to help them in learning theology and being established in what the Bible teaches. It can easily be used as a family devotional.
*I received a copy of this book free from the publisher New Growth Press in exchange for my review.
One of the things I see a lot of in arguments for a particular view is the strawman fallacy. This is when one misrepresents the other person’s view, making it easier to refute. For example, Arminians may characterize the Calvinist view as saying that people are robots, or that we (yes, I’m a Calvinist) don’t think missions and evangelism is important. However, that is misrepresenting what Calvinists (at least most of them) actually believe and teach. Calvinists hold to a view of God’s divine sovereignty and man’s human responsibility working together in a way that we don’t understand but see confirmed in Scripture. People are not robots. Also, evangelism and missions are the means God uses to reach His elect. Since we don’t know who the elect are, we need to evangelize and spread the gospel. Calvinists may also misrepresent the Arminian view, saying that they downplay God’s sovereignty. We need to be careful that when we are arguing against a view, we are actually representing what that view is saying accurately and not misrepresenting it.
Another one that I see often: Dispensationalists tend to misrepresent covenant theology’s view and call it “replacement theology”, saying that covenant theologians replace Israel with the church in how God is working today. This is a strawman fallacy, a misrepresentation of what covenant theologians actually believe and teach. We (yes, I’m a covenant theologian, at least not a dispensationalist) do not think that the church replaces Israel. Rather, that the church has been made one with Israel, those who are believers, and are all one body in Christ, no longer separated as Jews and Gentiles (this is made quite clear in Ephesians 2). Rather than the church replacing Israel, we are now all part of true Israel, God’s people. God all along had a plan for a people of His own that came from every nation. We are all one in Christ.
Now this one may step on some toes. One of the views that I see misrepresented all the time is Old Earth Creationism (OEC) by those who are Young Earth Creationists (YEC). It seems that a lot of YEC proponents lump OEC in with Theistic Evolution, which says that God used evolutionary processes to create the world. Theistic Evolution doesn’t necessarily hold to a historical Adam (maybe some do, I don’t want to misrepresent their view). So when YEC argues for their view, they consider OEC proponents not to take the Bible seriously (at least the first 2 chapters of Genesis) and not to believe in historical Adam, and consider them the same as Theistic Evolutionists. This is not at all what OEC holds to! Old Earth Creationists believe that God did create the world out of nothing by speaking it into existence and by creating a literal Adam and Eve out of the ground and Adam’s rib. He did not use evolution to guide the process but created the world as it says in Genesis 1 and 2. They may view the language of Genesis 1 as poetic and not necessarily meaning 6 literal days, but they still hold to God creating the world out of nothing and that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. They just interpret Genesis 1 differently. Though some Old Earth Creationists would say that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, others would say that the 6 days were literal, but there were gaps in between the days. But the bottom line is that in spite of what some YEC proponents state, OEC do believe in God creating the world (not using evolution) and that there is a real, historical Adam and Eve.
Whether we agree with the view is irrelevant, we need to make sure we are accurately portraying the opposing view and not misrepresenting what they are actually teaching.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Holiness isn’t talked about much these days. Yet it is what Christians are called to be holy because God is holy. Great book for reminding and reflecting on the holiness of God and how that should change our lives.
“Anyone can be a noncomformist for noncomformity’s sake. Again I want to emphasize that this is a cheap piety. What we are ultimately called to is more than nonconformity; we are called to transformation.”
“The prefix trans means ‘across’ or ‘beyond.’ When we are called to be transformed, it means that we are to rise above the forms and the structures of this world. We are not to follow the world’s lead but to cut across it and rise above it to a higher calling and style. This is a call to transcendent excellence, not a call to sloppy ‘out-of-it-ness.'”
“The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the ‘renewal of the mind.’ This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.
True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. What we are after ultimately is to be conformed to the image of Christ. We are to be like Jesus, though not in the sense that we can ever gain deity. We are not god-men. But our humanity it to mirror and reflect the perfect humanity of Jesus.”
“We are not to be like the rest of the world, content to live our lives with a superficial understanding of God. We are to grow dissatisfied with spiritual milk and hunger after spiritual meat.”
“Yet as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain a deeper love for His purity and sense a deeper dependence on His grace. We learn that He is altogether worthy of our adoration. The fruit of our growing love for Him is the increase of reverence for His name. We love Him now because we see His loveliness. We adore Him now because we see His majesty. We obey Him now because His Holy Spirit dwells within us.”
So this year I set out to read through Calvin’s Institutes, using a reading plan that takes you through the Institutes in the course of a year (50 weeks). I wasn’t sure how it would go, but found that it really was just a few pages a day and not that daunting after all. The reading wasn’t too difficult but I’m not sure how much of it I really grasped. I’m not sure I could even do a book review on it now that I’ve finished reading the Institutes. I’m glad that I read it and Calvin really laid into some people with their errant views, which made for some humorous reading, but I doubt it is something that I would read again. Especially with as many books out there and particularly theology books that I still want to read. I have Louis Berkhof’s to tackle, as well as Millard Erickson’s, Michael Horton’s, Charles Hodge, Norman Geisler, etc. And next year Master’s Seminary and John MacArthur will be publishing a systematic theology. So many out there to digest.
One of my passions and desires is to study the Bible and to teach other women how to study the Bible for themselves and to learn the Bible together in community. My interest in Bible study and theology has grown over the years as I have read and learned. Now my hope is to encourage other women to develop this interest and passion in their own life, to the end that we grow in our Christian walk to become more like Christ. I have to guard myself against the tendency of having it all be head knowledge and not living out what I am learning. Knowing theology and doctrine is important, but only insofar as it causes us to change and grow, being transformed in our lives.
The Internet and social media has made it possible to connect with other like-minded women, those who also have a passion and desire to learn the Bible and theology and to grow in holiness. Sometimes it can be hard to find these relationships in our local community, depending on where we live. While online relationships can’t make up for the physical, face-to-face ones, they can help challenge and equip us in our daily growth. Sometimes it can be as simple as seeing someone else with similar interests as you.
I enjoy reading theology books and am hoping to even delve into some of the more “classic” works such as Millard Erickson, Charles Hodge and perhaps even Louis Berkhof. But there doesn’t seem to be any systematic theology books out there written by a woman or women. Though sometimes hard to find, I know there are plenty of women out there who like theology and study it. Perhaps some of us should join together and write a systematic theology from a woman’s perspective. Not that theology changes whether it’s done by a man or woman, but sometimes there are nuances that are different between a male or female author. Perhaps having a woman/women write a systematic theology would offer some interesting nuance in the whole field of theological study. Who’s with me? Let’s do this!
It seems many Christians these days are not interested in theology, feeling it is too “academic” for them. Theology is the study of God and learning who He is. We all have beliefs in who we think God is. Theology is studying to understand better the truth of who He is, correcting any faulty views we may have. We all have a theology, whether we realize it or not. The importance of theology is making sure what we believe lines up with what Scripture teaches so that we have an accurate view of God.
This past week was a challenging one, and having a theology of God based on Scripture made a difference in handling the mini-crisis that we encountered. Our cat Mocha had a traumatic experience at the vet on Monday night and wasn’t eating. She acted like she was sick and we were concerned whether we might lose her. Believing that God is sovereign and is in control was comforting, knowing that we could trust Him with whatever the outcome would be. Our theology gave us something to hold on to while unsure of what would happen. That didn’t necessarily mean that Mocha would recover. God could choose to take her. But we also believe that she belongs to Him and He has the right to do with her as He chooses. Yet He works all things for His glory, so whatever happened it was that He would get the honor and glory from it. Our theology mattered in the day-to-day routine of taking care of Mocha and trusting that God would give us wisdom for what to do.
Mocha is now back to her normal self and is eating fine. Yet this was also a reminder that all that we have is God’s, for Him to do with as He so desires. She belongs to Him whether healthy or sick.
Through Pinterest, I found out about a blog that is hosting a read-through in 2013 of Calvin’s Institutes. You can find out the details here. Jono and I have signed up to be part of this. We already have the book(s) and it’s been on our to-be-read list anyway. It may be easier to read it with a group than trying to read through it on our own.
One thing I’ve noticed though, is that in the Facebook group that will be doing this, out of over 70 members, there are less than 10 women. Where are all the women theologians? I often feel as a woman that I am in a minority when it comes to interest in theological studies. Most of the theology blogs out there are by men. Most books for Christian women seem to be much lighter fare than discussing theological issues and doctrinal studies. Why is that? Are most women just not interested in these things? Why not?
Knowing what we believe is important. Knowing why we believe it is even more important. How can we defend what we believe if we don’t understand or know why we believe it? Doctrine and theology form the basis of our beliefs. They determine our worldview and how we behave in our world. What we believe about God will determine how we live our lives. Knowing who God is, what the Bible teaches about His character, will affect our day-to-day living. Or does the thought of God even enter our thoughts as we go about our day?
I know there are women out there for whom this matter is important. I’ve been able to connect with some of them through social media. But we seem to be a minority. Christian women, we need to make theology a priority, knowing our Bibles an important part of our lives. So, ladies, who wants to join us in a reading through Calvin’s Institutes during 2013? The readings aren’t long, about 15-20 minutes a day. Come join us! You can contact the host to sign up here.
“It’s not about what you know, it’s about love. Theology/knowledge doesn’t matter, we are to love others.”
I agree that love is important – the greatest commandment is to love God and others. But without knowledge of how to love and Who we love, how can a relationship grow? If you love someone, you want to know more about them. What they like, don’t like, etc. You cannot love someone properly or fully without knowing them.
Knowledge of God develops through studying His Word and learning what He has to say to us. Theology is the study of God. Without knowing God, we cannot truly love Him. Yet without loving Him, we won’t have the desire to know more about Him. Theology is dry and boring without being accompanied by love. Love of God gives us the desire to know Him more and study Who He is and what He has to say.
Theology, studying about God for the sake of knowledge alone is not enough. Our motivation should be out of love and wanting to know Him more. But without knowledge, our love cannot grow and a relationship cannot develop and grow deeper.