Category Archives: Systematic Theology
Dr. Todd Miles wrote a guest post for Matt Mikalatos’ blog answering the question, “What about those who die never having heard the Gospel?” Go read his response here.
The following video captures Dr. Gary Tuck, the Academic Coordinator and Professor of Biblical Studies at Western Seminary-San Jose, addressing the confusion surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity:
Our ThM students have provided free access to many of the papers they have written over the last few years. If you haven’t had a chance to browse through those let us direct your attention here.
By Jeff Louie
When a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, there were some who claimed that this catastrophe, which took over 200,000 lives, was an act of divine judgment. It was thought as a retaliation upon the Haitians for their deal with Satan to gain their political liberty from the French so many years ago. Such an understanding was based upon the Old Testament concept of the judgment of God visiting the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9).
On a personal level, this kind of thought seems to be the default mode of thinking as well. So when it comes to one’s own suffering and tragedy, we often ask ourselves “What did I do wrong?” Or, “How is God correcting me?” But this common conception is limited and does not take into account the clearer understanding of suffering in light of the teaching and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel causes us to have a transformational understanding of suffering.
First, rather than the concept that God is picking off the really bad people at this time through divine judgment, there is a greater emphasis on the universal sinfulness of all people, This is not to say that sin to no longer tied suffering (James 5:14), but the situation is much graver than unexpected tragedy and illness. And it is this gravity that we must focus upon and proclaim.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
From the Gospel perspective, the issue isn’t “Wow, look at that tragedy, you or someone in your family must have really sinned!” Such an understanding is limiting and dangerous, because it lulls the individual who has not experienced tragedy into thinking that they are not that bad off. It is not the accident your neighbor just experienced; we all have a terminal virus. We are all tragic.
But the Gospel gives us more than an understanding of the clarity of mankind’s universal fallen state, it also gives us an ability to see a triumphant purpose in suffering. Whether it be in the narrative of the person born blind whose purpose was to glorify God (John 9:1-3), or the strengthening grace that Paul speaks of in the midst of the non-removal of his chronic situation (2 Corinthians 12:9), or the general exhortations to see suffering as joy because it refines faith (James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6), suffering has a new purpose in Christ. So, the Gospel has improved on Job. No longer is suffering remedied by a trust in the unknowable power of God in creation. Suffering is now remedied through the knowable Christ in salvation, which allows for our deliverance by him, or a sustaining grace from him, or by a development of faith in him. Suffering is now Christocentric, and it is can be positive as it can draw us into a greater spiritual maturity.
A third aspect of suffering in light of the Gospel is that it can no longer be seen as a “Him against Me” affair. Christ now suffers on our behalf. The believer in Christ needs to realize that he suffered more for us than we will ever suffer in our lifetime. And only this, he suffers for us while we were undeserving (Romans 5:8). Now our suffering is real but is also “temporal.” But Christ’s suffering for us is real and “eternal.” The former is about quality of life and death. The latter is of hell.
There is also greater sense of worship and praise for the Son of God through his suffering on our behalf. Jesus is not praised for only his attributes, or worshipped for his miraculous triumphant works. But it is the Lamb who was slain, the depiction in Revelation 5, which causes the redeemed multitude to give unceasing accolade. Then two chapter latter in Revelation 7:16, 17:
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The Lamb who suffered for us, will remove all our suffering from us.
Finally, the good news of Christ changes our tone and response to tragedy. When viewing the tragedy of others, our “You must of sinned bad” attitude, it is replaced by the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, who upon seeing the beaten dying man, comes to his aid without question and without limit. Then when we are victims of suffering at the hands of others, is not retaliation; our first response is to return evil with good (Romans 12:21). Grace received is now grace reflected.
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have eternal life in the age to come. But through this same victory, we have a triumphant understanding of my own suffering and that of others. We can mirror Christ’s sacrificial care to people in need. And we can be spiritually revived, as the Christ who guarantees our eternity through with his work on the cross, sustains us in this life as well. He will uphold and love me whether the suffering circumstances are removed, or whether they remain with me till my last day, for the victory has been secured by a lamb who was slain; slain for me when I didn’t deserve it. We will never deserve it. We cannot lose, because Christ is our Champion.
Written by Jeff Louie on March 15, 2010 (Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary; Stakeholder in The Gospel Coalition)
Our professor of theology at our San Jose campus, Dr. Jeff Louie, was asked to explain the Holy Spirit to the folks at the Gospel Coalition. Here is his answer:
This is Gerry’s fourth book with Mark Driscoll including Vintage Jesus, Vintage Church, Death by Love, and now, Doctrine, What Christians Should Believe.
The Table of Contents lists 13 chapters:
1. Trinity: God Is
2. Revelation: God Speaks
3. Creation: God Makes
4. Image: God loves
5. Fall: God Judges
6. Covenant: God Pursues
7. Incarnation: God Comes
8. Cross: God Dies
9. Resurrection: God Saves
10. Church: God Sends
11. Worship: God Transforms
12. Stewardship: God Gives
13. Kingdom: God Reigns
I love the titles and what they say about God! This is theology with a practical bent.
The book has endorsements by Wayne Grudem, Randy Alcorn, Western grad Dan Jarrell, former colleague Gregg Allison, John Frame, and many other Christian leaders whose names you will recognize.
What Christians Should Believe includes a section on Small Group Resources prepared by Brad House, Community Groups Pastor at Mars Hill Church. A general index and Scripture index are also provided.
Congratulations, Gerry (and Mark), on providing another great resource for your students and other Christian readers. We pray that this book be widely distributed and make a significant impact on the minds are hearts of those searching for God’s truth.
Order the book from Amazon.com here.
How do we approach teaching theology here at Western Seminary? Watch this video where Dr. Gerry Breshears, our Chair of the Division of Biblical and Theological Studies, explains:
This summer we have two guest professors teaching at our Portland campus. The first is Dr. Bruce Ware, the Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who will be teaching as class titled “The Universal Reign on the Triune God” from July 19th to the 23rd. This class will delve into the doctrine of the Trinity with an evangelical scholar who has been writing and speaking on this subject for many years.
The second is Dr. Ray Lubeck from neighboring Multnomah University who will be teaching a class titled “Exposition of the Psalms” from July 12th to the 16th. Lubeck teaches the Old Testament with an approach many liken to John Sailhamer. Either one of these professors (or both) will be worth spending a week hearing.
If you are interested in taking one of these courses please contact us at 503.517.1800.
by Todd Miles with Brian LePort
I asked Dr. Todd Miles, one of our assistant professors of theology, and the author of the forthcoming book A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and Theology of Religions, what books he would recommend to someone interested in engaging a “theology of religions”. A theology of religions is not comparative religious studies. Rather, it is the question of how should Christians view the role of other religions in the world. If this is a subject that interest you here is the response I received from Dr. Miles:
The world has shrunk! The rise of the global village, the increase in travel and communications technology, and the elevation of pluralism as the prevailing philosophy of the day have all led to not only the recognition of “religious others” around us, but also the idea that such is the way things ought to be. Christians have to grapple with issues surrounding the possibility of truth and salvation in other religions – for the good of the church and her mission. The Church needs a Theology of Religions.
A Theology of Religions seeks, in a coherent manner, to answer questions concerning the relationships among world religions, revelation, and salvation. A Christian Theology of Religions seeks to answer those questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. A Theology of Religions is not to be confused with, say, a comparative study of religions which compares the doctrines of various religions. Nor is a Theology of Religions a specific evangelistic or apologetic strategy tailored to any particular non-Christian religion. A Theology of Religions is foundational to each of those very important tasks. The following are a few books that I have found to be the most helpful.
- Okholm, D. L. and T. R. Phillips, eds., Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).
Multiple views books are often a mixed bag; some essays are always better (or worse) than others. On the plus side, each writer is explaining and defending his or her own position, so there is little to no danger of strawmen arguments. In this volume, the essay on pluralism by John Hick and the essay on inclusivism by Clark Pinnock are worth the price of the book alone. You may not agree with the authors, but you will be able to understand them.
- Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
Kärkkäinen traces the history of the Church’s approach to Theology of Religions from the Bible through to the present day. The strengths of the book include his coverage of the Patristics’ and the Roman Catholic Church’s grappling with the concept of religious others, as well as the different philosophical and theological approaches in contemporary thought. The weaknesses include his overview of the biblical perspectives in the first four chapters (too minimal, even for an introduction) and his explanations of exclusivism (he labels them under “ecclesiocentrism” which is not entirely accurate). As an introduction to the topic, however, this book is hard to beat.
- Netland, Harold, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001).
Netland’s book is probably the best treatment of pluralism available. The former student of John Hick understands Hick’s arguments for religious and philosophical pluralism and brings a decisive but fair critique. Netland also served as a long-time missionary in Japan so he brings ample experience to the discussion of the gospel and religious others. The high points are Netland’s chronicle of the history of religious pluralism in Christianity and his evaluation of the religious pluralism of John Hick.
- C. W. Morgan, C. W. and R. A. Peterson, eds., Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
This edited volume is an exclusivist response to inclusivism. Each essay is solid and biblical. Particularly valuable are Daniel Strange’s essay on the sufficiency of general revelation, Eckhard Schnabel’s essay on the salvific potential of other religions, Walt Kaiser’s explanation of “holy pagans” (men of faith in the Old Testament who are often cited by inclusivists as proof that salvation is possible apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ), and Stephen Wellum’s treatment of the essence of saving faith. This is an excellent volume that tackles the hard issues often associated with exclusivism, providing answers that are biblically faithful, compassionate, and intellectually credible.
- Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).
Tennent brings that essential and wonderful combination of missiologist and theologian to bear upon the issue of interreligious dialogue. Tennent’s work, grounded in biblical fidelity and saturated with real experience provides theological convictions and dialogical example as he urges the Christian to engage religious others with the gospel. It is the best treatment of dialogue with religious others available.
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Carson’s treatment of religious pluralism, although a bit dated, is still the standard in bringing a biblical theological critique if pluralism and inclusivism. His explanation of the story of Scripture and how it speaks to contemporary issues is timeless and should be read by every thinking disciple of Jesus.