Why I wrote Devotional Doctrine

So the other day, I finally got to hold a copy of my new book, Devotional Doctrine. I can’t fully explain how excited I am about this project, which is probably one of my favorite books to have written so far. You’ve read the platitudes before about writing, and how it’s something you have to live, and all that kind of stuff, so I’m going to spare you some of that. But even so, I want to explain why I wrote this book.

See, I discovered a love for theology very naturally—through reading my Bible, and then discovering really great books. But not long after becoming a Christian, and discovering my own love for theology, I began to realize that there were many folks who didn’t feel the same way. Fellow church members, coworkers, and friends who saw it as unnecessary, or divisive. Something that took away from a joyful and fruitful Christian life. And then I saw others who felt the same way I did about theology, but from an almost theoretical standpoint. They loved to wax eloquently and use many big words, but didn’t seem to be experiencing the joy and fruit they could write papers and blog posts on.

Maybe you’re familiar with both of these types of believers. Maybe you’ve been both. And this book is written for both of them. It’s a reminder to those of us who can live in our heads too much that our theology expresses itself in our lives, as we live as gospel witnesses. And it’s an encouragement for those who are skeptical about theology’s value to challenge their own assumptions and see how doctrine leads to delight; or to say it another way, how doctrine shapes our devotion.

That’s why I wrote this book. And if you’re at T4G in Louisville and MLK50 in Memphis, I’m looking forward to putting a copy in your hand personally. I hope you like it.

Four books I’m excited about right now

Shelves of books

We’ve entered another season of new releases, with my desk at work becoming cluttered and the occasional book finding its way into my mailbox too. Here’s a look at four books I’m particularly excited about reading:

Growing Down by Michael Kelley. I love when Michael Kelley writes books. He writes like someone who means what he’s writing, which sound strange but isn’t. His new book is intended to remind us what it means to be a mature believer—which counterintuitively means shedding our tendencies toward self-reliance and independence and growing in our dependence upon Christ.

How to Ruin Your Life by Eric Geiger. This one is going to be solid, that much I am sure of. I’ve heard Eric speak on the concepts in this book before, and they hit that sweet spot of challenging, but hope-filled. I’ll share more as I dig in.

Cornerstones by Brian Dembowczyk. This one’s going to be a great resource to assist parents in discipling their kids. The parent guide is hefty, but looks accessible.

Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin Wax. Trevin has confirmed that this is not a book about the end times. Instead, he wants to help us grow our understanding of “eschatological” beyond questions of millennial views and who is/isn’t being left behind in order to embrace a broader view which shapes how we make disciples right now. Should be a fun one.


So those are a few that I’m excited for right now. What’ve you got on your plate that you’re looking forward to reading?

A Holy God Is the Only Worthy Kind of God

Sunrise

There are many ways that we can describe God, but one of the most important is this: He is holy. This word refers to His uniqueness and “set apart”-ness from all He has created. He is separate from all He has made in that He was not made and exists outside of creation. But it also refers to His moral character. Holy, in this sense, refers to His moral purity. In a word, He is perfect:

  • He is perfectly faithful. He will always keep His word and fulfill His promises, notably His promise to rescue and redeem those who trust in Jesus (1 Thess. 5:24).
  • His judgments are always right, uncompromised, and in accordance with His righteous standards (Ps. 119:137). 39
  • He is trustworthy because in Him there is no falsehood (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and He is the embodiment of truth, being the source of truth (John 14:6).
  • His love is a reflection of His very essence, the perfect love that resides and resonates within the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit (John 5:20; 2 Cor. 13:13).
  • His grace and mercy are perfect, rooted in His holiness. God delights in giving unmerited favor (grace) and showing compassion to undeserving people like you and me (Eph. 2:8-9), withholding punishment for sin and providing forgiveness for our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If God were not holy, we couldn’t have any kind of confidence in who He is, what He does, and His ability to rescue us from sin. We could only live in fear. And that’s not the kind of God that’s worthy of praise. Only a holy God is worthy.


Adapted from Devotional Doctrine: Delighting in God, His Word, and His World (38-39)

Seven books by R.C. Sproul (almost) every Christians should read

R.C. Sproul

Few modern theologians have been as influential to so many Christians as R.C. Sproul. He was was a master at communicating complex subjects to the average person accessibly, and consistently wrote faithfully and charitably on a variety of theological and cultural issues (something we all could learn to emulate). Although I could list dozens of books worthy of consideration, here are seven I have found very helpful and would encourage any Christian to read.[1. Regardless of theological persuasian.]


The Holiness of God. This is, without question, his best known book, and (arguably) his best. In The Holiness of God, Sproul helps believers gain a better grasp of this all-too-often neglected attribute of God.

Knowing Scripture. If I want a new believer to understand how to study the Scriptures, this is the book I recommend. (I’d also recommend it for any maturing believer who wants to brush up on this.) It’s a clear and accessible exploration of the basic principles of biblical interpretation.

The Lightlings. An Armstrong family favorite, this book weaves an allegorical tale that touches on the entire story of redemption—from creation to new creation—focusing specifically on the incarnation. A wonderful book to begin encouraging your children with biblical truths.

The Invisible Hand. This one’s a bit heady, but, man, is it powerful stuff. The doctrine of providence is one we struggle to understand, but it’s one we need to cling to if we’re going to have any hope and confidence in this world.

Everyone’s a Theologian. This is a great starting point for people interested in dipping their toes into systematic theology, and you don’t have to be a Presbyterian to appreciate it.

The Consequence of Ideas. Sproul was as much a philosopher as he was a theologian, and this book will give you a great set of tools to start thinking about the concept of worldview—the underlying philosophy through which we interpret our experiences.

The Priest with Dirty Clothes. Another of Sproul’s children’s books, this one shares a story inspired by Zechariah 3:15 that allows families to explore the doctrine of justification in a way kids can understand. I would highly recommend it.


These are just a few of the books by Sproul I’d recommend every Christian read. If you’ve benefitted from his ministry, what would you add to the list?


Image © Ligonier Ministries.

Five important truths I learned from R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul

Yesterday, R.C. Sproul died at the age of 78. Few theologians have had as much influence on my thinking as him. His books, lectures, and sermons have been a gift to me throughout the last 10 years, and I know will continue to be for years to come. Today, I want to share five simple, but important, truths I learned from him:

The Bible doesn’t require a decoder ring. We are not part of an esoteric religion, one that limits knowledge and insight to a select few.[1. We aren’t gnostics, after all.] The basic message of the Bible can be understood by just about anyone because God wants us to know him.

Simplicity isn’t the enemy of depth. Sproul’s greatest strength was his ability to make complex theological concepts accessible. He didn’t talk down to his hearers, nor did he fall prey to oversimplification. Children can understand complex truths, just as easily as adults (maybe more). This is something I strive to emulate (though I don’t always succeed).

Theology is for everyone. Similarly, theology isn’t just for one sphere of people—it’s for everyone. Everyone is a theologian; we all make theological statements every single day. What we need to know is what kind of theologians we are: are we good ones, who tell the truth about God, or are we bad ones, who don’t?

You don’t need to explain mysteries. Specifically, you don’t need to do complex theological gymnastics to answer the paradoxes—the mysteries that aren’t contradictions—of the Christian faith. When dealing with God and his nature as one God in three persons, or the deity and humanity of Jesus, sometimes the best answer you can give is “yes.”

God’s truth is true, even if no one believes it. One of the most important things I remember Sproul saying was a challenge to the old clichĂ©, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” His challenge was to the central clause, because God’s truth is still true, even if no one believes it.

Image © Ligonier Ministries

Three men who taught me to love theology

An open Bible being read

One of the first Christian books I read as a new believer was GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’m still not entirely certain what motivated me to pick this book up—I could have chosen any number of other titles—but this was the one. I devoured it, leaving nary a page unmarked. My mind was on fire as I read each sentence. I didn’t understand most of what I read (Chesterton tends to not make it easy for his readers), but I didn’t care. Whatever else you could say about what he wrote, he was excited. Passionate. He believed what he wrote, and I wanted more.

A friend told me I needed to read this book, that it would change my life. Knowing God by J.I. Packer. It took me months to read, each page a rich meal. The words of a man who knew much about God and also knew God intimately. Who wanted his readers to know that “the width of our knowledge about [God] is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of Him.”

Mere Christianity was in my hands, a book I didn’t know existed. CS Lewis, in my mind, was the author of a wonderful children’s book I read as an eight year old. But this was no fairytale. It was the work of a man whose delight was found in working his way “through a tough bit of theology.” A man captivated by big questions and even bigger ideas and a God simply too glorious for him to fully comprehend.

Chesterton, Packer, and Lewis. These men didn’t teach me what to think, necessarily. They didn’t teach me what I was supposed to believe. Instead, these are the men who are to blame for creating in me a hunger for something I never knew I wanted. A wonderful gift that has sustained me throughout some of the most difficult times of my adult life. A deep love of theology. One I am forever grateful for.

The one and many-ness of the church

An open Bible being read

One of the things I love is the Bible’s descriptions of the church. The language used to describe the people of God is pretty incredible. Think about it:

  • The church is the body of Christ, living as Christ’s representatives here on earth, under His authority as the head of the body (Col. 1:18), and dependent upon one another as we grow in grace and live on mission (1 Cor. 12).
  • The church is the bride of Christ, joyfully bound in a lasting covenant with Christ our redeemer, longing for the day of His return, when the bride and groom are united forever (Revelation 8; 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).
  • The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, indwelt individually and corporately, empowered for mission, and bearing the fruit that can only be the result of the Spirit’s presence in our lives (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 12:11, 13; Gal. 5:22-23).
  • The church is a priesthood of believers, free to approach God with boldness because we have been redeemed by Christ (Rom. 5:1-5; Heb. 4:14-16).

A body. A bride. A temple. A priesthood. Through each of these metaphors, two themes emerges: unity and diversity. We’re united to one another, dependent upon each other in the body, and on Christ as the head of the Body. We’re united with Christ, just as a husband and wife are united in marriage (Eph. 5:22-23). We’re united with God and one another as the Spirit dwells within us, all of us having the same Spirit (2 Cor. 4:13). We are united in our calling as a “royal priesthood,” and in our access to the Father through the Son (1 Pet. 2:9). But in our unity, we also see an embracement of diversity:

  • We are the body, but every part of the body plays a different part.
  • We are the bride, but the bride is distinct from the bridegroom (but we’ll talk about that in a few pages).
  • We all have the same Spirit, but the gifts He gives to each of us are unique to His purposes for us.
  • We are one priesthood and share the same access, but we don’t approach the throne in the same way.

And this dual reality—that we are diverse people united as one people in Christ—is what allows the church’s mission to flourish, the mission to make disciples. All of us are equally empowered for the task. All of us share the same Spirit’s inexhaustible power. All of us have the same gospel to proclaim. But we are all called to do so in different contexts, with different gifts to meet the needs of the time and place in which God has called us to make disciples.

11 resources you should read about the Reformation

Luther Statue

As you no doubt are aware, it’s Reformation season! Every year, this time of year is like Christmas for theological nerds, but this time it’s really special because, 500 years ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, and accidentally changed the world.

If you’re like me, the chances are pretty good you’ve been looking to do some reading about the Reformation, some of its more notable figures, and their theological writings. Today, I want to share with you a selection of resources I would highly encourage engaging with as you seek to better understand this movement that changed the course of history:

  1. Echoes of the Reformation by Brandon D. Smith. This is a group study produced in partnership between LifeWay Christian Resources and The Gospel Coalition that explores the Five Solas of the Reformation. Regardless of the time of year, this is a study that is worth engaging in your small group.
  2. A Simple Way to Pray by Martin Luther. This book contains some of the most helpful advice I’ve ever read on prayer: using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed to focus and guide our prayers.
  3. Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. Admittedly, I’m biased since I wrote it. But this is a very accessible introduction to the man who kickstarted the Reformation in earnest. (There’s also a nifty book version available here, too).
  4. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. This biography is essential reading for those wanting to dig into the background of the German Reformer.
  5. Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Carl Trueman. Based on a series of lectures, Trueman addresses why the Reformation continues to captivate and frustrate so many even to this day, and why its theology endures. This is a super-accessible book, one that I’d highly recommend for anyone interested in this era but not sure where to start.
  6. Institutes of the Christian Religion by the Theologian Who Shall Not Be Named™. Regardless of your opinions of said unnamed theologian’s views, The Institutes is one you should read to gain a better sense of the theology that shaped much of the west.
  7. Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is one of the two books I’d encourage reading to give you greater context on why the Reformation happened at all. The fires were burning long before Luther came on the scene
  8. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham. For a more extensive—but readable—treatment of church history, this is a great series to invest in.
  9. The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves. This is another book that offers a solid introduction to the major players and ideas of the Reformation. (Stephen Nichols’ The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is another great primer in the same vein.)
  10. Martin Luther’s Table Talk. If you’ve ever wondered what a dinner conversation with Luther would have been like, this is the book for you. Covering a plethora of theological and social issues of the day, this is one of the places where we see Luther at his most pastoral.
  11. Luther’s 95 Theses by Martin Luther. You can find them online and in different volumes, but regardless, you’ll do yourself a disservice if you don’t read the document that actually set the world on fire.

Don’t be ashamed of the one of the strangest things we believe

An open Bible being read

Let’s just be honest: the Christian faith is weird. We believe some strange stuff, guys. Among all the oddities, Christians believe:

  • There is a perfectly good and holy God who is One but also Three;
  • This God created everything;
  • He reveals himself to us through a book; and
  • He controls everything but also gives us the ability to act out of our own will, and has been working out a plan throughout all history to rescue the world from the mess our choices have made.

But there’s one belief that is especially unique—one that has been at the center of just about every controversy about Jesus over the last 2000 years: who—or rather, what—he is.

The Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is just a human being, and it doesn’t teach that He is only a divine being. The Scriptures teach that He is both fully human and fully divine—one person with two natures.

And if that wasn’t strange enough, there’s also the story of how he was born.

The impossible thing that actually happened

There was a young woman named Mary, who was visited by an angel. This angel told her that an ancient prophecy was about to be fulfilled; she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, and that her child would be the Rescuer of God’s people (Isa. 7; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). Although confused and undoubtedly frightened—after all, to be pregnant and unmarried in her culture could mean being ostracized from her entire community—she trusted that God’s will would be done.

Nine months later, gave birth to a child with no human father, Jesus, who would grow in wisdom and favor with God and His people (Luke 2:52). A child who was not merely a child, but was God the Son, who humbled himself by taking on human flesh (Rom. 8:3; Phil 2:6-7). The glorious One left his glorious state to become like us so that he might rescue us, eventually experiencing  the greatest humiliation of all, death on a cross, becoming “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Whose humiliation would be turned to exaltation by his resurrection from the dead in defeat of sin and death, and return to his glorious state at the right hand of his Father.

Embrace the strangeness of Jesus’ nature

This is what I’m talking about when I say the Christian faith is weird. How two natures can exist in one person doesn’t seem possible to natural thinking. For a baby to be conceived without two people being involved in some capacity seems ridiculous. Certainly, it didn’t make sense to me before I believed it!

It’s easier to think that Jesus’ deity was a bit of mythologizing. To believe the whole story was borrowed from pagan religions. To declare the story of the virgin birth was an elaborate cover-up, that Mary was assaulted or unfaithful. To deny that Jesus was both God and man.

But easier doesn’t mean honest. And that’s what the world needs from us: honesty. Our faith is strange to those who do not believe. It is hard to understand. It is frustrating in so many ways. But the strangest thing we believe is good news for all who would believe. The Jesus we believe in is God. The Jesus we believe in is a man. And the Jesus we believe in is the only one who can rescue any of us.

Our cause for extraordinary hope

Sunrise

It’s not unusual for us to wonder about whether or not God really is at work in the world. When we experience trial and difficulty personally, and when we see terrible and tragic events unfold around us, it’s only natural for us do so.

But the good news is, whenever we ask this question, there is an answer. And that answer grounds us in an extraordinary hope. God is working miraculously to glorify Himself, and He is working providentially to glorify Himself. He is actively engaged at every single moment, using His flawed and sinful creations to “work all things work together for the good of those who love” Him (Rom. 8:28). He is moving history toward its intended conclusion: a new creation where we will enjoy His presence forevermore. He is giving new life to people like you and me through people like you and me as we share the gospel those God puts in our path. And because God is at work, we have all the reason in the world for hope. We know what is coming, and we know that nothing can stop it.


Note: this post is part of an informal, periodic series exploring different theological concepts for another project I’m working on. As such, application is going to be limited. Hopefully the knowledge will be helpful.