I still have not recovered from something my college student daughter TaraJane told me a few months back. She said that theology majors in college that she knew were the most cynical students around. By that, she went on to explain that they were critical, negative, and generally contrary in their views on church, the Bible, God, and life in general.
I think that theology students should be giddy most of the time. That is not because the study of theology is light and breezy, but because it exposes the heart and mind to an incredible array of richness concerning God, the Bible, the Kingdom of God, salvation, truth, mankind, and all of life.
I am, at best, only one who dabbles in theology. My training, college education, and main work experiences have not been in theology per se. I am a history teacher, a literature teacher, an administrator in a Christian school, and a book reviewer. But I have also been a pastor/teacher/elder for several decades. I have no formal theological training, but have played on the scrub teams for years by reading lots of books, listening to sermons and lectures, and acquiring a working familiarity with theology.
One of the too often used descriptions of theology is that the study is dry and dusty. Granted that is possible. All fields involve some archived information that is a labor to wade through. Some writers are technical and analytical in ways that prevent them from being readily readable. Often theologians, like scholars in all fields, write for an audience of peers and develop a language that the insiders are familiar with but that stumps the novice or newcomer to the studies. When you are reading and thinking, “I don’t know what this book is talking about,” you may simply not know enough of the background. Be slow to condemn, but don’t be ashamed to be baffled.
But is theology just an academic, scholarly, intellectual pursuit? Of course, it can be. The same can be said for the Battle of Gettysburg. At its best and in terms of its primary purpose, theology is designed not to equip brainy, intellectuals who are Christian with an outlet for their mental synapses. Rather, theology is to minister to, teach and instruct, comfort and confirm the Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday and working at the factory, elementary classroom, hospital, or home on the weekdays.
We are all theologians, as has been often said. That is, all people are invovled in the study of God, or if you prefer Dr. Roy Clouser’s term, a Divinity Belief. By that, everyone has something they embrace that gives definition, meaning, and direction to all they do (or don’t do). So the believer is a theologian and should be striving to be a better theologian. Theology, by definition, is the study of God, and the the newest convert and the youngest child in the congregation should be embracing theology. Think for a moment at how profound the song is that proclaims, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I want to call attention to two books I read over the past several months that are made up of incredibly rich theological discourses. The chapters in these books were given as sermons and talks. I find myself feeling dizzy at the thought of giving a talk on the high level of the contents of these books. Yes, there are some things hard to understand. No, these are not the works for a new and unread Christian to pick up. But everytime I think back on either of these works, I remember just how they were packed full of soul-nurturing, mind-pleasing, convincing and convicting truths.
These two books are pictured below. The first one is High KIng of Heaven: Theological and Practical Perspectives on the Person and Work of Jesus. It is edited by John MacArthur. Contributors include Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Michael Reeves, Mark Jones, Stephen Lawson, and many others. These men are some of the foremost preachers and teachers in the various branches of Reformed and Evangelical Christianity. Published by Moody Publishers and The Master’s Seminary, the book is hardbound and affordably priced.
The second book is Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting? Collected Sermons by John Murray. It is published by Westminster Seminary Press.
Let me begin the examination of these two books by discussing John Murray himself. Murray was a Scotsman and was primarily a teacher of systematic theology. He fits my favorite image of a true Scots Calvinist: He was stern, serious, somber, and searching. Add scholarly to that list. His major works are Redemption: Accomplished and Applied and Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics. He also wrote a powerful commentary on Romans, and his various writings were collected together by Banner of Truth into a four volume set of the Collected Writings of John Murraywhich is temporarily (we hope) out of stock.
On different occasions, Murray did do some pulpit supply. In the case of these sermons, which were preached to small congregations in Canada and the Scottish Highlands, Murray was filling pulpits during his summer breaks from seminary. Most of these sermons were transcribed from audio messages. As is noted in the editor’s comments, a sermon read does not contain the emphases and style and passion of the spoken message. Nevertheless, the the theological ground covered in this collection is vast.
The first seven sermons are from Romans. They might serve as a helpful overview of Murray’s commentary, and one would wish we had a collection of sermons covering all of Romans. Since Romans deals so intricately with salvation including justification, sanctification, election, and so on, Murray beautifully explains these doctrines. The next eight sermons are from various texts, mostly from the New Testament. The final selection is Murray’s charge to Edmund Clowney, who was taking on a theological chair at Westminster.
This book has been very beautifully crafted. See the pictures connected to the link above. It can be read in part or in whole, beginning with any one of the sermons. It is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and hope to read from again and again.
High King of Heaven can be classified under the topic of Christology. The various contributors, I believe, gave these messages at a conference. (I am wondering how it would be humanly possible to get all these men together and have this many fine messages.) The sections of this books are as follows:
Part 1: The Person of Christ
In this section, Michael Reeves begins with “The Eternal Word: God the Son in Eternity Past.” Paul Twiss follows with “Son of God and Son of Man.” Mark Jones, author of Knowing Christ, speaks on Isaiah 50 and the topic of “The Son’s Relation with the Father.” Subsequent chapters are the Virgin Birth, Christ as the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and Christ as head of the Church.
Part 2: The Work of Christ
Messages in this section are on the different phases of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascensioin, and second coming.
Part 3: The Word of Christ
This portion includes a discourse called “No Other Gospel: The True Gospel of Christ” and another on the completion of the New Testament Canon. Two subsequent portions cover the relation of Christ to the Old Testament.
Part 4: The Witness to Christ
Another look at Christ and in the Old Testament starts off this section. It deals with the account of the Road to Emmaus and Jesus’ teaching about Himself “beginning with Moses.” The message of Hebrews that Christ is better and is the final word is the subject of the second message here. Albert Mohler deals with the believer’s witness in an ungodly world, and Paul Washer addresses suffering for Christ. The 22nd message is “Around the Throne: the Heavenly Witness of the Redeemed in the Work of the Lamb.” The final chapter is by John MacArthur and is called “Do You Love Me? The Essential Response to the High King of Heaven.”
Twenty three messages, all focusing on different Bible passages, with little of no repetition, differences, or diversions–this book is a gem for theological study, devotion, or sermon preparation.