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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me again today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also continuing to take a short break from our series on systematic theology. This week I want to talk about how to think biblically.

It is important for Christians to think biblically at all times, but it is especially important in difficult times like these. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[1]

We are not free to think whatever we want to think. Jesus Christ is Lord of everything, including our thinking. It dishonors God and therefore displeases him when we think improperly. So, for example, if we think that the coronavirus pandemic is somehow outside of his control, we dishonor him. To think that way is to disparage his sovereignty and power.

Now someone may think that by believing God is not in control of this pandemic he is defending God from being charged with not being good or loving, but that is a completely unbiblical way to think. We discussed God’s providence in some detail in Sessions 88 through 93, but for now let me just note that if God is not in control of every detail of every single event in the universe, then we can’t trust any of his promises.

Also, the Bible clearly tells us that God is in control of everything, so to say otherwise is unbiblical. I won’t go back through all that we covered before, Session 89 provides a number of Scripture references in support of this statement, but let me just give three examples for today.

First, in Proverbs 16:33 we are told that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Now casting a lot was the Old Testament equivalent of rolling the dice, so this proverb is explicitly telling us that God is in control even of things that people tend to think of as random events.

Second, in Psalm 139:16 King David was praying to God and said that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This shows us that God is also in control of our lives. In fact, we are told elsewhere that he knits us together in our mother’s wombs (Ps 139:13), he ordains when, where and to whom we are born (e.g., Ps 139:13, Is 45:13, Acts 17:26). He elects us unto salvation or passes us by and leaves us to be justly punished for our sins (e.g., Rom 9:13). He has ordained the exact moment and cause of our death (e.g., 1 Sam 28:19, Ps 139:16). And all of this was done before the creation of the world (e.g., Eph 1:4).

Third, in the New Testament we read, in Matthew 10:29, that Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Which makes it clear that even seemingly unimportant events in this world are under God’s control.

And we also can’t restrict God’s sovereignty by saying that he isn’t in control of disasters and sinful acts as well. With regard to so-called natural disasters, God has established the fixed laws of heaven and earth as we read in Jeremiah 33:25, which certainly include the physical laws governing weather, earthquakes and so on. But God is still in control of these things. For example, Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee by simply commanding the wind and the waves to be still as we read in Mark 4:39. And with regard to sin, God does not directly cause sin, but he is in complete control of it. If he so chooses, he can stop anyone from doing any particular sinful act. And yet, we must admit the obvious fact that there are very many natural disasters and wicked sinful things that happen in this world. So, it is clear that God allows them to happen, and he does so for a purpose. He is not capricious.

It is sometimes argued, although incorrectly, that the existence of evil in this world proves that God is either not completely good, or not completely sovereign. We answered that charge in Session 74 and so all I’m going to say now is that the statement is the result of a faulty assumption; namely, that God’s purpose is to make our lives here on earth as pleasant as possible, which simply is not true, that isn’t his purpose.

In order to think biblically, in other words correctly, about anything that happens in this life we must first have a biblical perspective on life, which includes understanding that God’s purpose is the manifestation of his own glory. The biblical perspective is also eternal. This life is short, but we are all made for an eternal existence, either in hell or in heaven. When you consider those two eternal realities, all of sudden you realize that the most important thing, in fact, we could say the only truly important thing in this life for everyone is determine to which of these two possible eternal homes you are headed.

All of human history is subservient to this ultimate purpose. God is creating a people for himself, which is variously called the church (e.g., 1 Tim 3:5), or the family of God (e.g., 1 Pet 4:17), or the bride of Christ (e.g., Eph 5:24-32), or God’s inheritance (e.g., 1 Sam 10:1), or God’s treasured possession (e.g., Ex 19:5). The one thing needful, as Christ said to Martha in Luke 10:42, is to make sure that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Savior, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” as we are told in Acts 4:12.

To think biblically means to view everything through the lens of Scripture. In other words, it is to have a biblical worldview. Phil Johnson, the late professor of law at the UC Berkeley Law School and author of a number of excellent books, wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[2]

The common idea that we can build our worldview from scratch by being entirely neutral observers of reality and then analyzing the data and determining what we think is right is completely false. There is no such thing as a neutral observer and everyone, the scientist no less than the artist, views everything through the lens of his own preexisting worldview. And he will work to incorporate everything he sees into this preexisting worldview.

Now, our worldview is a bit like an onion, it has layers to it. On the outer layers we have opinions that are things we think are probably true, but we are perfectly able and willing to change those views if we find them to be inconsistent with the world we observe. So there certainly is a sense in which we can correct and build our worldview. But as you peel off the layers and get deeper and deeper into your worldview, you get into things that you believe far more strongly. Views that it would be incredibly difficult to convince you to change. And when you get to the very core of your worldview, you come to your most dearly held personal commitments, and the most important of these by far is whether or not you believe the God of the Bible exists and whether or not you believe the Bible to be his infallible Word. Every single human being alive either believes these statements are true, or not true. There are no exceptions. To think that you haven’t decided yet, is to have decided in the negative.

And these two statements are really inseparable since the Bible is the only place we receive objective revelation of the true and living God and his way of salvation. Now, we can learn many things about God from the world around us and from our own nature, but that revelation doesn’t provide sufficient information to be saved and to properly love and serve God; it is only sufficient to leave us without excuse when we stand before God.

Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” In other words, this revelation, which is called general revelation, is sufficient for obligating every single human being to seek to know the true and living God, but no one does so. Paul wrote in Romans 3:11 that “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

So, all people in their natural state have a fundamental, core belief, or presupposition, that the God of the Bible does not exist and the Bible is not his infallible Word. In one sense everyone knows better but, as Paul wrote, they suppress this truth. And because of this fundamental presupposition at the core of his worldview, the unbeliever thinks differently than a born-again Christian will think. Paul wrote, in Romans 1:21, immediately after the verses I read a minute ago, that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” He also wrote, in Ephesians 4:17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” An unbeliever’s thinking is futile because it will never arrive at the right answer about God.

It isn’t that unbelievers can’t design cell phones and GPS systems, build cars and bridges and so on. They can do all of those things. But whenever it comes to thinking about God, they will get the wrong answer. And God is the only reality that truly matters in the end. Because where you spend eternity, whether in heaven or in hell, depends on your answer to one simple question, which Christ posed to his disciples in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?”

Unbelievers will give a range of answers to this question. Some may simply say that Jesus Christ is a fictional character and never really existed at all. Some will say that he is a real, historical figure, but that he was just a normal man who was put to death by the Romans in 1st-century Palestine and that was the end of him. His disciples then told people he had been raised from the dead and started what we call Christianity. Some unbelievers will concede that Christ was a great moral teacher, but nothing more.

Some unbelievers will even say that Jesus Christ is God and will call themselves Christians, but they have made up a different Jesus in their minds rather than believing in the Jesus who is revealed to us in his Word, the Bible. And this is nothing new. In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul was rebuking them for not remaining true to the gospel and he wrote, in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” But a different Jesus is of no use, in fact a different Jesus, a different gospel, will damn you. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:21 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That statement is terrifying. Jesus goes on to say that many will come to him this way and he will tell them to depart from him. In other words, he will send them to hell.

Only a true, born-again Christian will give the right answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”. A true believer will say that Jesus Christ is the second person of the eternal, almighty triune God, the Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Redeemer of all mankind. This eternal second person of the holy Trinity became incarnate when the Holy Spirit caused the virgin Mary to conceive. She then gave birth and Jesus grew up, lived a perfect sinless life, and willingly gave his life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of all those who put their faith in him.

This radical difference in worldviews between a believer and an unbeliever leads to a radical difference in thinking. But there are two important points to make about this difference. First, you cannot change your own worldview in this radical way. You must be born again. You must cry out for God to do a mighty work and give you a new heart and a new spirit so that you can repent and believe on Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in John Chapter 6, Verses 44 and 65, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” and “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

And the second important point, and what I want to spend the rest of our time on today, is that if you have been born again, you still need to work in order to develop proper biblical thinking. A born-again person has the right presupposition at the core of his worldview, and he has the Spirit to enable him to understand God’s Word and apply it, but he also still has his old sinful nature to fight against and he needs to study the Word seriously, put it into practice, mortify his sin and walk in holiness in order to grow in faith and knowledge. We can’t just assume that if we have been born again, or regenerated, we suddenly know how to properly live the Christian life.

That is why the New Testament epistles always contain both indicatives and imperatives. The indicatives are there to instruct us about certain facts and the imperatives are there to command us how we are to live in the light of those facts. And we are given pastors and teachers to help us understand and apply the Word properly. We read in Ephesians 4:11-16 that it was Christ himself who, “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Without proper teaching and study, you can be born again and yet remain an infant in Christ, being “tossed back and forth by the waves” of this life. Waves like the coronavirus pandemic. And you can be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching”, like the false preachers who will tell you that if you have enough faith God will certainly heal you and keep your finances from failing. Now, to be clear, the Bible says that God is able to heal you and keep your finances from failing, and it is proper for you to pray for that. But the Bible is equally clear that God does not promise to do so. He will do whatever is best for you and will give him the greatest glory.

For example, even the apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh to humble him. He prayed three times for God to remove it, in fact we are told he pleaded with God to remove it, and yet God said “No.” We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God’s answer was to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It would obviously be silly to say that Paul’s faith was not sufficient, so the false teachers who say things like this are wicked charlatans on their way to hell and they want to bring you along with them. Don’t listen to them! Read the Word of God. Study it. Know what it says. Be guided by pious and learned men. If you study the Word yourself and pray, you can tell the difference. Go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and request your free copy of Good News for All People by the Rev. P.G. Mathew. If you read it prayerfully and then continue to study the Word, you will find it is written by a pious and learned man and that it properly expounds the Word of God, which is able to save you and equip you for difficult times, which the Bible says we will all go through. Times like we are in right now.

In our session last week, I mentioned that we must all make our calling and election sure because if we are not God’s children, then his promises are not for us and we have no real hope. The way you make your calling and election sure is by prayerfully studying God’s Word and then examining your life in the light of the many tests given to us in that Word. I will speak more about that next week, but for today let me just say that if you have been born again, if the love of God is in you, then you can take great solace in his promises.

You may die from Covid-19, or your spouse may die from it, or you may lose your job and much of your savings, these are all possible even for God’s children. But you have eternal life and God has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. You can rejoice as I noted last week even as you go through these trials. In fact, let me close with one of God’s great promises to his children. In Philippians 4:6-7 God commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, what a glorious promise this is! The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, can be ours even as we go through trials. Do not be anxious. Go to God with thanksgiving and praise and, yes, even with your requests for worldly things. He may not grant all of your worldly requests, but he does promise to give you his peace. And he promises, in Roman 8:28, that in all things, even this pandemic, he works for the good of those who love him.

So, may God bless you with his peace. And I hope that you will join with me in praying that God will use this pandemic to draw many people to himself, that we would see a mighty revival.

And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] In the Foreword to Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of the Word of God, which is the Bible. Dr. Spencer, last time you discussed general and special revelation and then briefly defined four characteristics of Scripture, which can be remembered by the acrostic SNAC; sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity.

But, before we begin today, I think it would be good to suggest some reading material for those listeners who want to follow along in our study in a little more depth.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea. The first, and by far most important, book I recommend is the Bible itself. Every Christian should be reading the Word of God every day. Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [1] The Word of God is food for a Christian. And you should read all of it, not just your favorite Psalms and stories. I strongly recommend having a good reading list and going through the entire Bible every year. It isn’t like a novel, which you usually read only once. The Bible should be read over and over again throughout the Christian life. Just like we need to eat real, physical food regularly, so we also need a regular diet of the Word of God. The reading list we use in our church, which I think is a good one, is available online as a pdf file that you can download, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[2] In addition, I would recommend that you use a good study Bible, like the ESV Reformation Study Bible. The notes are a big help, especially for a Christian who is not yet extremely familiar with the Bible. Just remember that the notes are not inspired.

Marc Roby: I wholeheartedly agree that daily reading of the Word of God is a necessary discipline for a Christian to be able to have what the Puritans used to call an overcoming life. In other words, a life that overcomes sin, the world and the devil. What books do you recommend in addition to the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with theology books. If you have never read much theology before, I suggest beginning with James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith.[3] It is an excellent book, very readable, not too long, readily available and not very expensive. You will also find it valuable even if you are already familiar with theology. If you want something a bit longer and more detailed, I would suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[4] If you want to go even further, I would suggest Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology[5] and, of course, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[6] Finally, in addition to the Bible and systematic theology, I would also suggest reading commentaries to help you with specific books of the Bible. Pastor Matthew’s commentaries, available at graceandglory.pub, are all outstanding.[7] Also, the classic Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the complete Bible is wonderful and is available both online and in book form.[8] The detailed references for all of these are in the transcript.

Marc Roby: That list should keep people busy for a while. What do you want to begin with today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start fleshing out the characteristics we mentioned last time; sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we going to look at them in that order?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at the first two in order, yes. So, let’s go ahead and begin with sufficiency.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said last time that the Bible provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. What else do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I want to do is contrast the Bible with general revelation. Remember that by general revelation we mean all of creation, including our own conscience, our sense of right and wrong, and our intuitive sense that there is more to a person than just their physical body. As we noted last time, that revelation is sufficient to leave people without excuse before God. We read in Psalm 19:1-4 that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Just as Paul declared in Romans 1, which we quoted last session, general revelation is sufficient for every person to realize that God exists, and it should cause us all to give thanks to him for this life and to seek to know him. But, that knowledge is not sufficient for salvation, or to tell us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will bother some people, because they wonder about the fairness of someone who has never heard the gospel being sent to hell.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly understand that objection. It was one that I had before I was saved. But the answer given to us in Romans 1 is that all people have sufficient information to leave them without that excuse. They know that God exists, but they refuse to give him thanks and truly seek him. That is why they are condemned. God tells us in Deuteronomy 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The problem is that no one does that until and unless God himself draws us, as we are told in John 6:44.

Marc Roby: The fact that our salvation is based on a gracious work of God is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is not deserved. We all deserve hell. What is surprising is that God chooses to save some. And he does that through his word, the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Also, in James 1:18, the Lord’s brother wrote that God the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:23, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” All three of these Scriptures show us that God uses his Word, the Bible, to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But, as you shared from 1 Corinthians 2:14 last session, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When we say that the Word of God is sufficient for salvation, we mean that it reveals all of the information necessary to be saved, but we need more than just information. The devil has all of the information, and he also knows it’s all true. But intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible will not save us, which is why in James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” To be saved, we must first be born again. Without that, we will never repent and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Remember last session I quoted from James Boice’s book, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He said that “special revelation has three stages. First, … redemption in history. … Second, … revelation in writing.” And third, “the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit.” [9] That application by the Holy Spirit begins with new birth, or regeneration. Without regeneration, knowledge of the Bible simply adds to our guilt.

Marc Roby: So, when we talk about the sufficiency of the Bible, we are not saying it is sufficient for salvation all by itself.

Dr. Spencer: Right. It contains all of the information necessary, but the Holy Spirit must do a work in us to allow us to receive that information with faith.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we now know what it means to say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, what about the fact that we also said it is sufficient to guide us in living the Christian life?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we can again contrast special and general revelation. God has given every human being a conscience. And even in people who have not been born again the conscience mediates against many of our most wicked impulses. For example, most people are not going to murder someone just because they get angry at the person. Nor are most people willing to mug someone and take his money because they want it. But, we all know that there are many exceptions to this rule. Our conscience can be a good guide, but if we repeatedly violate it the Bible tells us it can stop working properly. In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul writes about “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” For example, if you keep lying over and over, you reach a point where your conscience no longer objects. It has ceased to function properly.

Marc Roby:  At that point I think you’re eligible to become a politician.

Dr. Spencer:  You might be right about that. But in addition to becoming seared, our conscience can also be corrupted. People can, for example, use their reason to convince themselves that something is alright when, in fact, it is clearly not alright. A good example of this might be sex before marriage. People may argue that since God made sex it is good and natural and that waiting for marriage is just an old-fashioned idea that was part of the culture at the time of the Bible, but is not true anymore, especially since we have birth control now. But, if we examine the Bible carefully, we see that sex outside of marriage is clearly a sin and will always be sin. The point is that we need to train our conscience using the Word of God, in other words, using special revelation.

God is the one who defines what is sin and what is not sin. And God is the one who tells us what we are to do to live a life pleasing to him. The only objective place we can turn for that kind of moral guidance is the Bible. And the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we need to know to please God. In Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses had told the people God’s commands and then said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The Bible tells us in many places that we will be blessed if we obey the commands of God, which are given to us in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:2 we are told that “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God”, and this statement is then followed by a lengthy listing of the many blessings of God. The same message is in the New Testament. For example, in John 13:17, Jesus tells us, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the commands given to us in the Bible are sufficient for the purpose of living in a way that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 1, where we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a classic passage to make this point and, of course, in that passage, when he talks about the ‘law’ of the Lord, he’s talking about the whole of the Bible. Or we can look in Matthew 7:24-25 where Jesus tells us that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This parable is again telling us that if you put Jesus’ words into practice you will be blessed.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that the Bible, when heard or read by someone who has been born again, is sufficient for salvation and to direct us in how to live. Is there anything else to say about this characteristic of the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. The sufficiency of the Bible makes clear that we don’t need any new revelation from God, either for salvation or for life. This speaks powerfully against the Roman Catholic church’s view of tradition. The Roman Catholic church places the traditions of the church on an equal footing with Scripture. Which, in practice, really means that they trump scripture. But, even if they didn’t, there is a clear problem. If any of the teachings of the church were necessary for life or doctrine, what can we say about the people who lived prior to the time the church came up with that teaching? The Bible would not have been sufficient for those people.

This also speaks against the Mormon cult. I had some Mormons come to my door one day who said that Mormonism was just like the reformation. Their claim was that just as Martin Luther and the other reformers corrected the abuses that had developed over time in the Roman Catholic church, so Joseph Smith corrected abuses that had developed since the time of the reformation. But that is complete nonsense. The reformation did not introduce any new revelation from God, it went back to the Word of God itself, which had been there the whole time. The existing errors were errors in interpretation and application of the existing revelation. Whereas Joseph Smith introduced a whole new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible at many points. Knowing that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and life guards against our being deceived by any new so-called revelation.

Marc Roby: The Bible itself tells us in many places to not add to the words of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the people “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And similar warnings are given in Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Marc Roby: That raises and interesting question though. How do we reconcile these statements with progressive revelation? If we consider the statement I quoted from Moses, I can imagine someone might object and say that if Moses told the people not to add to his commands, what are we to say about the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which were revealed after the time of Moses?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem talks about this in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, which is on the sufficiency of the Bible. He points out that to say that man can’t add to the Scripture is not the same thing as saying that God can’t add to it. Now, of course, the Mormon’s for example, would say that God did add to it with the Book of Mormon. But, I think that view is impossible to accept for two reasons. One, the Book of Mormon contains so many counterfactual elements and, two, there is no need for further revelation. Let me quote Grudem on this second point because I think he says it very well, and his explanation tells us both why there was more revelation after the time of Moses, and why there hasn’t been more after the time of Christ. He wrote that “At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history”[10]. “After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (…) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.”[11]

Marc Roby: That certainly is a powerful argument that we have no need for further revelation. And I think that is a good place to stop for today. I again want to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See http://gracevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/ReadScheduleNonLpYr.pdf

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 (3-volume set)

[6] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson, 2008

[7] https://graceandglory.pub/

[8] E.g., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, New Modern Edition in six volumes, Hendrickson, 1991 and https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/

[9] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

[10] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 130

[11] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by beginning a study of systematic theology. Dr. Spencer, I think it would be a good idea to define what systematic theology is.

Dr. Spencer: That would certainly be a good place to start. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (θεός), which means God, and logos (λόγος), which can mean word, or statement, or reasoning.[1] It is the origin of our English word logic, for example. But it is also the root of a suffix in many words, like anthropology or archaeology, where it has come to mean the study of something. So, theology is the study of God.

There are different kinds of theology and the modifiers aren’t always used in a consistent way. In our podcast introductions we have been saying that we are studying “biblical theology”, by which we mean theology according to the Bible. But, according to the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge, biblical theology would, strictly speaking, be a compilation of the facts presented in the Bible.[2] In contrast, systematic theology looks for the relations between these facts and seeks to draw conclusions from them. He uses geology as an illustration. You can simply compile a list of facts; for example, the locations, size shape and so on of different rivers. Or you can study the causes and relations between different geological facts, which is, in general, more useful.

Overall, I like the definition given by Wayne Grudem the best. In his book Systematic Theology, he writes that “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”[3]

Marc Roby: Now, I have to point out that that definition originally came from John Frame.

Dr. Spencer: OK, I knew you’d been itching to get a reference in to one of your favorite theologians. And you’re right, the definition comes from Frame and Grudem does gives him credit in a footnote.

Marc Roby: Just wanted to make sure the record was straight.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s straight. And it is a good definition. What we are interested in doing is seeing what the whole Bible teaches us, specifically about we are to believe, and how we are to live our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do we want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We want to begin, as Wayne Grudem and many others have done, with the Word of God itself.

Marc Roby: Perhaps I should remind our listeners that we have already covered this topic to some extent. In Session 4 we discussed the fact that the Bible itself claims to be the very Word of God and that it alone is the ultimate standard, or authority, for a Christian. Then, in Sessions 5 and 6, we discussed the Bible’s authority and its progressive revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior. So, what else do want to say about the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: I want, first, to stress the importance of the Word of God. Although it is not the only revelation we have from God, it is the only revelation we have that tells us what we must do to be saved. Theologians often speak of both general and special revelation. General revelation refers to creation itself, including man, our conscience, reasoning and entire being. While special revelation is often used to refer to the Bible, although we’ll see in a few minutes there is more to it.

General revelation is so named because it is available to everyone in general. We are told about it in Romans 1:20-21, which say that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”. [4] This is a very important point. General revelation is sufficient for the purpose of leaving men without excuse. We should know that there is a God, we should give him glory and thanks, and we should seek to know him and please him. But, in our natural state, we do none of those things.

Marc Roby: And, of course, because men reject God, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-19 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is where special revelation comes into the picture. It is called special revelation because it is not available to every single person. And it is only in special revelation that God reveals to us how we can be reconciled to him and have the sentence of his wrath removed from us.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, by being united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: Right. That’s the core of the gospel message. In his natural state, man is a sinner who has rejected God and is under his wrath. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, we’ll be saved.

It is the unique job of God’s special revelation to give us this gospel message.

Marc Roby: But it gives us a lot more than just the bare gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. It gives us everything we need for life and doctrine. In other words, it tells us everything we must believe and everything we must do. Not only to be saved, but to live a life pleasing to God. And not only does it tell us these things, it is our only infallible, objective guide for salvation and the Christian life. Remember in Sessions 2 and 3 we examined the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That is the same as saying it teaches us doctrine and life.

Marc Roby: Now I can hear some Christians objecting at this point, because they will say that God reveals to them directly, by his Holy Spirit, what they are to do.

Dr. Spencer: I believe that God does reveal things to his people by his Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible, and God cannot lie, and he cannot change or contradict himself. So, the subjective revelation that a Christian may get from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. And we need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or to thinking the Holy Spirit is speaking when, in fact, it is either our own sinful nature welling up, or a suggestion even of the devil. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes”. In the Greek, the word the NIV translates here as “schemes”, and which the ESV and other versions translate as “devices” is noama (νόημα), and the root meaning is really “thoughts”. So, the verse could perhaps be better translated as “we are not unaware of Satan’s thoughts.” In other words, Satan puts thoughts into our minds. And we need some objective standard for distinguishing between our own sinful thoughts, the thoughts of Satan, and the thoughts the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is that objective standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, which is why we have said a number of times in these podcasts that the Bible must be the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because they can simply be wrong. And there is no way for anyone else to help me if my subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Suppose, for example, I tell you that God has spoken to me and told me that I should do something, if my subjective experience is the ultimate standard, then you can’t say much at that point. Who are you to contradict God? So, if you think I’m wrong, your only options would be to leave it alone or call me a liar. But, if I tell you that I think God spoke and told me to do something, you can speak to me if what I think God wants me to do is unbiblical. You can, and should, say to me, “Richard, I don’t think that is the Holy Spirit speaking. Let’s look at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scripture.”

Marc Roby: And I think we all need that kind of correction from time to time.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. Which is why being a member of good church and having good Christian fellowship is so important.

Marc Roby: It reminds me of the apostle Paul rebuking and correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example. We aren’t told the entire conversation, but I’m confident that if Peter didn’t immediately recognize he was wrong and repent, Paul would have argued from the Scriptures to show him that he was wrong.

Marc Roby: Of course, the apostles had the advantage of having heard Jesus himself speak.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly was a great privilege. But, I think that in many ways we are far more privileged today.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Because God has provided us with a written record of all the words and deeds of Jesus that it is important for us to know about. We don’t have to rely on our memories.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a good thing, especially as we get older!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. My memory is sometimes pretty bad. But, we have an even greater advantage because not only do we have the written record, we have nearly 2,000 years of scholarship and exhortations from godly men and women to help us understand and apply the Word of God, and to encourage us to hold firmly to the faith.

Marc Roby: That is a tremendous benefit indeed. And it is sometimes astounding, as well as humbling and edifying, to read the insights of some of the great saints of the past.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. But, I also want to point out that the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless and until that person is born again. What I mean by “properly understood” here is that the message is received and responded to with saving faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That is so true.

Dr. Spencer: The fact that the Bible cannot be properly understood without the Holy Spirit working in us is why I said there was more to special revelation than just the Bible itself. Since the whole point of the term “special revelation” is to talk about what is needed for salvation and living the Christian life, we need to keep in mind this necessary work of the Holy Spirit even if we say that special revelation is the Bible, as is frequently done.

I think James Boice makes a good point in his wonderful book called Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “special revelation has three stages. First, there is redemption in history. This centers in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in the place of sinners and rose as proof of their divine justification. Second, there is a revelation in writing. This is the Bible. God has provided interpretive records of what he has done for our redemption. Finally, there is the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit. As a result the individual is born again, receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and is enabled to follow him faithfully until life’s end.”[5]

Marc Roby: It is clear from my own experience that we need the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives.

Dr. Spencer: My experience is the same. Not only must we be born again, we must also be walking in humble obedience and be filled with the Spirit or our reading of the Bible will not be as useful as it could be. God refuses to speak to someone who is sinning and refusing to repent. But, when we are right with God, his Holy Spirit causes the Bible to come alive. When we read it we see ourselves, and it brings us to repentance, greater faith, a deeper understanding of God, and a clearer understanding of what he wants us to do.

Marc Roby: I find it amazing how you can read a passage you’ve read many times before and yet, because of your different situation, God shows you something completely new and different in the passage.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve had the exact same experience. But, as I’ve been saying, this standard is an objective standard. And one of the things that means is that I’m not free to run off and go crazy with my subjective interpretations of what the Word of God says. That is part of the reason it is so important that this revelation be in written form. If I have misinterpreted it, I need to be able to sit down with someone and have him show me where I went wrong.

Marc Roby: That, of course, requires that we agree on how to read the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must agree on how to properly read and understand the Word. The science of properly interpreting the Word of God is called Hermeneutics, and we will get into that in a later session. For now, I want to move on to mention four key characteristics of special revelation.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: They are sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity.

Marc Roby: I’m sure at least some of our listeners are not familiar with the word perspicuity.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right. Perspicuity means clarity. So, perhaps, we could say that the word perspicuity is not particularly perspicuous.

Marc Roby: Maybe it would be better not to have said that.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, perhaps you’re right. In any event, I thought it was important to at least introduce the term since it is used in theology and since the acronym you will sometimes hear for these four characteristics is SNAP, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity. But, if you like, we can change the acronym to SNAC, standing for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Why are these terms so important?

Dr. Spencer: They are important because they tell us some very important things about the Word of God given to us in the Bible. First, it is sufficient, which of course begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” And the short answer is, that it provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. The Bible is also necessary, which again begs the same question, “Necessary for what?” And the short answer is also the same, it is necessary for salvation and a proper Christian life. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But, the only place we learn who Christ is, what he did, and how we can be saved is the Bible. So, either a person has to read it for himself, or he has to be told what it says by someone sent to preach the gospel to him. Thirdly, the Bible is authoritative, which again begs the question, “Authoritative for what?” This time the answer is more comprehensive. The Bible is authoritative for everything it speaks about. As we have pointed out several times, it is a Christian’s ultimate authority. And, finally, we come to clarity, or using the old term, perspicuity. What this means is that the Bible is clear about those things for which it is necessary and sufficient. In other words, the basic message of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to God is clear. You don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to be exceptionally bright in order to understand the basic message of the Bible. A child is able to understand it sufficiently to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there is so much more there as well. Even a very intelligent and learned person can spend a lifetime studying the Word of God and never fully plumb the depths.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true. There is always more that we can learn about from the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I look forward to exploring the Word of God further, but we are out of time for today. I want to close by reminding and encouraging our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] E.g., see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pp. 477-478

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 1-2

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 21

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

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