The Electrified Chain-Links of Reformed Systematic Theology

God is a God of order. Being made in His image, we also desire order.  By our very nature, we do not like questions left unanswered or apparent conflicts.

There are times, when we are forced to accept such inconsistencies and enigmatic ideas in life.  Surely, there will be questions in theology that we will never fully comprehend, such as the hypostatic union, the Trinity, or the writing of the inspired Scriptures through human authors.  But despite the limitations our our biological hardware, we are still given a rigorous and glorious revelation of God-centered theology in the Scriptures.  However, many in the modern church have gone through a theological down-grade.  In the theology of the modern, American church, many have been taught that a great part of what the Bible has to say is an unknowable mystery.  The purpose of this post is to purport that historical, Reformed Systematic Theology (as commonly read in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology) provides Christians not only with a systematic theology, but one grounded in an empowering knowledge of the centrality of God and His glory in all things.

I. WHEN THEOLOGY DOES NOT FIT

In our post-modern society, whose influences reaches far into the modern, American church, the idea of possessing objective Truth is often looked down upon as having an air of intolerance. Ravi Zacharias tells the story of going to a post-modern museum, where the interior was purposefully designed to show an absence of purpose.  There were staircases that led to nowhere, and all sorts of other random acts of architecture.  The tour guide touted the manifestation of the post-modern (everything is meaningless and subjective) view.  Ravi stopped him, and asked him if he would answer a question he had.  “Did they do that with the foundation too?”  Of course they could not.  The post-modern view cannot be lived out.  It must pull in values from a purposeful world-view.

The kissing cousin of this view is indirectly and unknowingly taught in many churches across the West.  Even though they teach that there is objective Truth, the “parts of the whole” in theology cannot be fully understood, and are often disconnected.  Church members are never asked to connect the doctrinal dots, because if they did, they would come to conclusions that their watered-down theology would not condone.  This is the equivalent of being theologically neutered.  It is hard to find comfort and power in the Scriptures during the rough seas of life, when meditation on their truths reminds one that their understanding of the doctrines of Scripture are not an anchor, but a mystery.  For these people, the Scriptures often “sound nice,” seeming idealistic, but when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, they are stairs that actually lead to  nowhere; a book that, more often than not, says things that just don’t seem to fit together.

II.  WHEN THEOLOGY IS SYSTEMATIZED  –  INCORRECTLY

Historical Reformed theology is not the only theology that has been systematized.  Others have taken teachings from the Bible and formed systematized theologies.  The question is, which is the correct one?  Which one is derived consistently from the biblical text?

The theological system that stands on the other side of the Protestant Reformation fence is the Arminian system.  There is no doubt that it is a system.  It provides answers for the tough questions.  The problem is that it does not take in the Scriptures as a whole, and is forced to twist the obvious meaning of certain passages (such as Romans 9, Ephesians 1 and John 6, etc) in order to fit its square systematic peg into the round theological hole.

John Piper has rightly called the Arminian gospel “a lesser gospel.”  A man-centered gospel, it struggles weakly to answer questions about the origin and presence of evil, God’s sovereignty, and a host of other theological questions.  Recently, a local youth minister was killed by a person he was trying to help.  Later the young man’s pastor said, “I don’t believe God ever wants suffering, pain or death…I believe they happen because of the chaos we live in.”  This is indicative of the mindset of the majority of the modern church.  Does God really not ever want us to experience pain?  Is suffering outside of God’s plan?  Is God really seeing his creation experience things that He, the all-powerful God, does not want it to?  In this mindset, chaos is king and God must accept it’s decrees.  The removal of the focus from God’s will to man’s will, has also shifted the power from God to man; and as we all know, man is a poor substitute for God.

III. WHEN THE SYSTEM FITS THE SCRIPTURES

Although philosophical and theological points have been debated for centuries and will continue to be, the primary question that must be answered is, “What do the Scriptures teach?”

It is not enough to have a system, but we must with open minds, test the veracity of that system against the entirety of the Scriptures.  The clearest and most straight-forward reading of the Scriptures in correct context, leads to what is called Reformed theology, but in actuality is simply biblical theology.  The Reformed perspective provides the most compelling evidence.  I have created a resource with Scriptural defense of that view here.

Reformed theology does more than just provide answers to ethereal questions.  Returning the focus of God’s universe from man back to God, also moves the power from man back to the almighty God of the Scriptures.  As the Scriptures are allowed to say what they mean, and mean what they say, many questions and mysteries begin to crumble and fall.  Garden hose theology is replaced with Niagara Falls theology.  Reformed theology is empowering and full of life.  It is more than just the chain links of a doctrinal system; the Scriptures teach of doctrines with power, God’s power.

IV. EXAMPLES OF THE EMPOWERING GOD-CENTEREDNESS OF REFORMED THEOLOGY

I will mention just a few examples here.  For a more thorough look at the empowering effects of Reformed theology, see John Piper’s comments on the section found at the bottom third of this web page.

An important idea to seeing God’s sovereignty over all things is what John Piper calls, “The Best of All Possible Worlds.”  Here is a description of this idea:

“…the best of all possible worlds, means that God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, His glory will be more fully displayed and His people more fully satisfied than would have been the case in any other world. If we look only at the way things are now in the present era of this fallen world, this is not the best-of-all-possible worlds. But if we look at the whole course of history, from creation to redemption to eternity and beyond, and see the entirety of God’s plan, it is the best-of-all-possible plans and leads to the best-of-all-possible eternities. And therefore this universe (and the events that happen in it from creation into eternity, taken as a whole) is the best-of-all-possible-worlds.” [source]

That in itself is empowering; to know that even looking out at the wickedness, evil and suffering currently present in this world, that this is the best way it could possibly be for God to glorify Himself the most.  To think that if there was less evil and human suffering, things would be better, is to focus on man.  But to realize that God is glorified in the demonstration of His justice, through the punishment of the wicked, and He is glorified when His saints trust solely in Him during times of trials, puts the focus on God.  I am empowered as a Christian in saying, “No, chaos, you do not have the upper hand on God.  For even in your rebellion you are unwittingly fanning the flames of God’s glory.”  To the evildoer we can say that even in his rebellion, he is committing, as Charles Spurgeon used to say, “a species of obedience.”

John Piper tells the story of counseling a young married couple.  The wife was still currently in an adulterous relationship, and unwilling to leave it.  Piper looked at the woman and told her plainly, “If you continue in your adultery, …you will go to hell.”

The modern church-goer might cock his head and lift an eyebrow at such a powerful remark.  How can he say that to her?  He can say that to her because of the biblical teaching known in Reformed theology as perseverance of the saints. Many of the statistics that say that “x” amount of Christians are leaving the church at a certain age, or are now denying the deity of Christ are seen with a Reformed eye.  We know that people are not stepping in and out of salvation, as if Christ’s finished work on the cross can be manipulated, but that they have gone out from us, because they were never of us.  Throngs of false-converts exist in the modern church, and will one day stand before the Judge of the universe and call Him Lord.  But He will tell them, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.”

Reformed theology allows one to stand secure in the knowledge of their salvation.  We know we could somehow merit the loss of our salvation, inasmuch as we merited the initiation of our salvation; namely, not at all.

When a Reformed person looks at the worst criminal element society has to offer, they are empowered with a sense of humility.  Reformed theology teaches the radical depravity of mankind.  I know that there is nothing inherently in them, that was not inherently in me.  It was simply the grace of God that my flesh was not allowed to more fully express its unimaginable evil.  It is not that I have somehow succeeded where they have failed, but instead I can say with meekness, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  To God alone be the glory.

Reformed theology does not struggle with the question of Jesus having paid for all sins, apparently except for the sin of unbelief of some.  For the Scriptures teach, that those for whom Jesus died – he paid for all, not some of their sins; making their salvation not just possible, but actual.  The is to the glory, not of man, but of God’s grace alone.  “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

These are but a few examples.  In a general sense, Reformed theology brings us to a place of humility.  We humbly bow with a extreme sense of gratefulness, knowing our salvation is not because of anything in us.  We humbly and gratefully bow at the feet of the sovereign God, for whom all things will work for His glory.   We do it all in joy.  He is our joy, and we will glorify and enjoy Him forever.

Advertisements
Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 11:59 am  Comments (3)  
Tags:

Multiple Intelligences and How We Can Use It to Raise Our Children Up in the Fear and Admonition of the Lord

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ~Proverbs 22:6

Surely we all agree on the ends, but how are we to discover the means of fulfilling this biblical command?  How do we train up our children?  Is there a sure-fire, cookie-cutter method we can use?  Or are differentiated methods based on talents, abilities and tendencies necessary to achieve the optimal outcomes in our children’s lives?

We are commanded by God through the Scriptures to train our children in such a way that when they are older they will not depart from God’s path.  The purpose of this post is to show that there is needed diversity and variety in the ways of raising our children.  We can best train them, by utilizing, not ignoring their internal hard-wiring.

I am not referring to utilizing their original sin nature; for we are to train them in the way that we hope for them to operate after having been regenerated by the Savior.  Matthew Henry says as such in his commentary:

Train children, not in the way they would go, that of their corrupt hearts, but in the way they should go; in which, if you love them, you would have them go. As soon as possible every child should be led to the knowledge of the Savior.

We should seek to train up our children in all sorts of ways; especially in ways that they learn best.  Deuteronomy 6:7 speaks in a proverbial way of coming at this task from all angles:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~Dueteronomy 6:7

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, and long-known in the educational realm, has profound relevance in the area of training our children in the way of the Lord. Multiple intelligences are not new, having existed as long as mankind; but our understanding of them has improved.

For an explanation of Multiple Intelligences, I would like to use Thomas Armstrong’s article on Multiple Intelligences.  Here are some appropriate excerpts:

“The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at
Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spacial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self-smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence.”

“For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing?”).”

Here are some charts that demonstrate multiple intelligences.  Two of the charts include a ninth category; that of Existential intelligence (“Deep-Thinking intelligence”):

Because our academic culture most prizes logical/mathematical and verbal/linguistic intelligence, many children have unnecessarily lowered self-esteem.  This is not to say that we should puff up children to believe they are something they aren’t, but we should allow our children to excel and take pride in their own type of intelligences.

With this knowledge, we have the ability to foster that which God has instilled intrinsically.  These intelligences are reflections of our humanity; having been made in the image of God.  We should allow our children to discover their gifts and then as parents we are to train them up in the way of the Lord, by fostering the redeemed qualities of their gifts.

In an unregenerate person, the gift of visual/spatial intelligence might be seen in forms such as illegal graffiti, graphic illustrations, or even refined degenerative art forms (see “ecce homo“, by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin).  However, the redeemed qualities of this intelligence creates things that bring glory to God.  It may be a montage of pictures of God’s gift of creation, a mosaic of a biblical scenes, or for those so gifted, refined redeemed art forms (see “ecce homo“, by Antonio Ciseri).  For verbal/linguistic intelligence – not Henley’s Invictus, but Longfellow’s Christmas Bells.  For existential intelligence – not the work of Richard Dawkins, but the work of Jonathan Edwards.  On and on it goes; we are to nurture the redemptive qualities of whatever intelligences our children possess, to the glory of God.  Nurturing the redemptive qualities of their particular intelligences is training them up, in their own abilities, in God’s way.  It is taking the gifts God has given to them, and using it (that which comes most natural) to guide them down the path of godliness.

All these intelligences are gifts from God, and come from God as a imperfect reflection of his own characteristics.  By training our children in the redeemed qualities of their gifts, we teach them of the One who gave the gifts, and of His ways.  We open their minds to the One who is the interpersonal Counselor; the God-man who became bodily incarnate, to whom we sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs; whose literary masterpiece is the Holy Scriptures, and who has numbered the hairs on our head and the stars in the sky; who created all of nature as His handiwork, day to day pouring out speech, and night to night revealing knowledge; who has painted the truest sunset and whose color palate overflows the boundaries of the visible spectrum; knowing all things – who can instruct Him?  For He was there when the foundations of the Earth were laid; the First and the Last, the I AM; who through Him, and to Him, and for Him are all things.

He has given our children His image.  And it is not a single gem, but a crown of jewels.  Let us polish them all, to reflect glory onto the Giver of all good gifts.

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 10:08 pm  Comments (8)