Monday, July 30, 2012

What do we believe?

I have been reading 'The 39 Articles' (I know I need a hobby).

In this article by J C Ryle he observes that most people sitting in pews in church have little idea what it is they actually believe. I must confess, until I embarked on ordination, I had not the slightest clue what the C of E did or did not believe apart from knowing it was all contained in the Book of Common Prayer. The truth is there are also 39 'articles' fleshing out the key doctrines of the C of E. As Bishop J C Ryle interestingly observes, most people couldn't tell you what they believe 'if life depended on it' and it surely does (John 1:12 and Romans 10:4).

'It is not enough to say that everybody who goes to church is a true Churchman. That reply, I think, will content nobody. There are scores of people occupying our pews and benches every Sunday, who know nothing whatever about religion. They could not tell you, if life depended on it, what they believe or don't believe, hold or don't hold, think or don't think, about any doctrine of Christianity. They are totally in the dark about the whole subject. Politics they know, and business they know, and science perhaps they know, and possibly they know something about the amusements of this world. But as to the composition of a true churchman's creed, they can tell you nothing whatever. They go to church on Sundays; and that is all. Surely this will never do! Ignorance, complete ignorance, can never be the qualification of a true Churchman.'

It seems to me that according to Cranmer and Ridley, if you are an Anglican one of the many doctrines you hold to is that of 'Election' which is among the most brain-chewing, grace-inducing and interesting of theological truths. Now if the idea of election doesn't start you on a road to grappling with doctrine I'm not sure what else will. Interestingly, a pal I spent last week with listening to Chan said that one of the impacts of his teaching was the awareness that his understanding of his faith and his doctrine was, to use his words, 'a little thin'. Chan has a phrase he used over and over again:

'When I started reading the Bible for myself and seeing what it actually said.....

My friend, prompted by Chan, asked me if I could recommend anything for him to read to better understand doctrine. I recommended he start with 'Knowing God'. It's a life-changing read.

I have been pondering Article XXVII and its implications as I often do:

PREDESTINATION to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feeling in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God 

Piper says we must 'Be careful how we talk about the doctrine of election' and it's worth a watch.

You might also like to listen to this Tim Keller sermon entitled 'Predestination'.

Here's the thing. Theologian's are ordinary people (my friend is one and he used to be a butcher!) who start to read the Bible and other theological books by insightful dead men and women and then practice thinking deeply about the big questions of life, God and how we should live and respond to him. You might be one of those people and have just never have realised it and it starts with braving reading a few thicker than average books. 

-Doctrine by Wayne Grudem or his longer Systematic Theology 
-The Institutes by Calvin
-Christ plays in ten thousand places by Peterson
-Early Christian Mission by Schnabel
-God's Empowering Presence by Fee
-The Layman's Parallel Bible
-Early essays and other short pieces by C S Lewis
-Christian Theology: An Introduction by McGrath
-The Essential Jonathan Edwards Collection
-The Way in is the Way on by Wimber
-Doctrine by Driscoll
-International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by Bromiley
-The Puritans: their origins and successors by Lloyd Jones
-Introducing the New Testament by Drane
-An introduction to the New Testament by Moo and Carson
-The Cross of Christ by Stott
-New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
-Dictionary of Paul and his Letters
-Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
-The Sermon on the Mount by Lloyd Jones

It really isn't as scary as you think I promise and you never know what may come of it once you read a bit and pray. You could as an alternative buy some Logos Bible Software which comes with more thick books in digital form than you could read in a life time.

You may also like to enrol yourself on this Saturday morning adventure from September which a friend has just done. 


Steve Martin said...

I love theology.

My favorite theologian is Gerhard Forde (the late Gerhard Forde)

He wrote some wonderful books on theology.

A real 'theology of the cross' guy.


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