Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

A new title has recently been published and has arrived at the PRC Seminary library and bookstore – Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God (Zondervan, 2016; 160 pp., paper). This unique book is the fruit of the combined labors of pastor/author Tim Challies and graphic designer Josh Byers.

Below is part of a post Challies recently had on his blog about the new title and its purpose. Since then, he has had additional posts on the book and how to use it.

Be sure to visit the site where many of these visuals may be seen and purchased too. I downloaded a free one on the five solas of the Reformation a few months ago and had it printed and framed. It now hangs on the west wall of our assembly room at Seminary.

We live in a visual culture. Today, people increasingly rely upon visuals to help them understand new and difficult concepts. The rise and popularity of the Internet infographic has given us a new way to convey data, concepts, and ideas.

But the visual portrayal of truth is not a novel idea. God himself used visuals to teach truth to his people. If you have ever considered the different elements within the Old Testament tabernacle or temple you know that each element was a visual representation of a greater truth. The sacrificial system and later the cross were also meant to be visual—visual theology.

And this is where Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God comes in. This book is the result of a collaboration between me, a writer, and Josh Byers, a graphic designer. We worked together to create a book that brings together two great media—words and infographics. Combining the power of each of them, we created a book that both describes and illustrates the truth about God and man.

Our purpose in creating Visual Theology is to provide a guide to the joy and privilege of Christian living, a systematic look at living in this world for the glory of God. We teach that living for God’s glory is a matter of Growing Close to Christ, Understanding the Work of Christ, Becoming Like Christ, and Living for Christ—the four major sections that comprise the book. As you progress through these four sections you will learn the centrality of the gospel in all of life, you will come to understand both the doctrine and the drama of the Bible, you will see the importance of putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness, and you will come to see how the Christian faith transforms vocation, relationships, and stewardship. All the while you will see these truths illustrated through beautiful visuals.

Visual Theology is a work meant to celebrate and combine two complementary media—words and pictures. It is meant to combine them in a way that teaches and disciples Christians to better know, love, and serve the Lord. It is a book to read on your own, a book to enjoy with your family, a book to read with people you are discipling. It is a book to read, too look at, and to enjoy.

Order It: Visual Theology is available at all major book distributors, including: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christian Book Distributors.

Source: Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

Christianity and Islam: Theologies Compared and Contrasted – J.D. Greear

TT-April-2016Yesterday I finished reading the main articles in this month’s issue of Tabletalk, including those on the theme of Islam. Both of the last two on this subject were excellent, including this one by Dr. J.D. Greear, author of Breaking the Islam Code (the other article  is “Sharing the Gospel with Muslims” by Dr. Bassam M. Chedid).

In his article – as the title indicates – Greear compares and contrasts the teachings of Christianity with those of Islam. After addressing a few misconceptions, he focuses on what he believes is the central difference – the doctrine of salvation. He calls Islam “the ultimate religion of works” and lays out plainly why this teaching is false and why Christianity has the only answer for man’s need of salvation.

This is what he says by way of introduction to this matter:

The biggest difference between Christianity and Islam is our view of salvation. Islam stands as a paragon of works-righteousness. Christianity alone stands as a religion of grace.

The Qur’an gives a long and detailed list of how to act, dress, think, and behave. If you follow carefully these instructions, Allah will approve of you, and you are more likely to be accepted into eternal bliss. Islam is the ultimate religion of works. From top to bottom, it exemplifies the principle “I obey; therefore, I am accepted.”

From here, Greear lays out three (3) reasons why this religion of works never works. Here is the first:

(1) Works-righteousness fails to address the “root” idolatries that drive our sin.

The root of sin is esteeming something to be a more satisfying object of worship than God. Works-righteousness religions, including Islam, fail to address that issue. They simply give a prescribed set of practices to avoid judgment or inherit blessings.

Islam, for example, warns Muslims of the terrors of hell and uses that to motivate Muslims to obey. It promises them sensual luxuries in heaven if they live righteously. Many Muslims pursue these things without caring for God at all. They are using God. For them, God’s favor is a means to an end. But any end other than God is idolatry.

The starkest New Testament example of this kind of attitude is Judas Iscariot. Many New Testament scholars believe that Judas betrayed Jesus because he was disappointed with him. Judas wanted a Messiah who would reward “the righteous” (himself included) with power and money. Jesus taught that He Himself was the reward. Judas never accepted this. For him, Jesus was always a means to something else, and never the end itself.

Love for God is genuine only when God is a means to nothing else but God. Righteous acts are righteous only when they are done out of a love for righteousness and not as a means to anything else.

The Qur’an is not an adoring, worshiping love letter about God. It is a guide for what behavior will increase your chances of avoiding hell. Merit, threat, and reward form the entire foundation on which Islam is built. And this never addresses the root of man’s sin—our desire to substitute God with something else.

To finish reading the other two reasons, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Theologies Compared and Contrasted by J.D. Greear

Instruct One Another – Brian Cosby

TT-March-2016As we have been seeing, the March issue of Tabletalk addresses the believer’s important calling to live in the communion of saints and carry out the Bible’s “one another” duties toward his fellow believers.

Yesterday I read two more articles pointing out these duties we owe one another in the church of Christ. One is the article linked below by Dr. Brian Cosby (PCA pastor), titled “Instruct One Another.”

Also this article is profitable, as it points to a calling we often overlook or leave to the officebearers. Cosby directs us to three (3) concrete ways in which we can “instruct one another.” Here are two of them; find the third and the rest of the article at the Ligonier link below.

The several Greek words that scholars have translated as “instruct” in our English versions of the New Testament can mean “teach,” “admonish,” “counsel,” “prove,” or even “warn.” The principle of “instruction” is rather broad. Even though the context of each specific passage determines the meaning, the idea of “instruction” includes a variety of God-honoring, truth-seeking, and humility-infused words and actions.

Consider the following three ways in which all believers are called to instruct one another: First, we are called to show our brother or sister the “speck” in his or her eye—after, of course, we first recognize the log in our own. This takes shape when we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) or admonish others by humbly pointing out areas of inconsistency in their walk with Christ and warning them of potential dangers.

Second, we can teach others to know and love sound doctrine. In our day, many in the church are running from a robust study of doctrine to embrace more pragmatic methods of Christian growth. This is not the biblical pattern. Paul exhorted Timothy to be “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). If you are a small-group leader, you must move beyond mere facilitating to be able to explain and defend such important doctrines as justification and sanctification. This means that we need to set aside time to learn and meditate on the truths of Scripture so that we will be adequately equipped to teach others. Seeking out resources from knowledgeable pastors can prove to be a great help to this end.

Source: Instruct One Another by Brian Cosby | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Note to Self: Love

Note-to-self-Thorn     You must love God and your neighbor, but only one can give birth to the other. Do you recall that the command to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength was the command that drove Martin Luther to hate God?  It was a command that he could not meet, and the righteous standard of God nearly drove him mad. You are like Luther. Love is something beyond your ability as well, yet the command remains.

The reality is that you only love God because he loved you first. He loved you before you were born and chose you for himself. His love for you secured your salvation, and because you have experienced his life-redeeming love you love him in return.

But for love to continue and grow, and for you to love the unlovable, it is important that you meditate on the gospel. Get this – you only know what love really is by looking to your Savior. And we learn it from him continually, not just once. You must daily go to the cross and see your Savior’s love for the unlovable (that means you).

You must learn, relearn, and remember your Savior’s love and sacrifice for the wicked, the rebellious, the black-hearted – for people like you. And when you see the Holy One’s sacrificial love for you, you not only see what love looks like, but also you find strength and power to love like him.

Taken from “Part One: The Gospel and God” in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), p.36.

What Makes a Cult a Cult? 5 Major Characteristics

Whats-the-Difference-RidenourAs we have pointed out here before, for our Sunday night discussion groups this year at Faith PRC we are studying the various major religions and cults of the world, using as a guide Fritz Ridenour’s book So What’s the Difference (Bethany House, 2001). Tomorrow night our group will be looking at two of the major cults – Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.

At the beginning of the section of the book that treats the cults, Ridenour has an introductory chapter titled “Where Did the Cults Come From?” Part of that section defines five major characteristics that make a cult a cult – a group that claims to be genuinely Christian but that holds doctrines “contradictory to orthodox Christianity” (to quote the late Walter Martin).

Here are those five characteristics. I believe you will readily agree that these are what makes such groups unorthodox.

  1. “The first is that they reject the Trinity; that is, they disbelieve in Jesus Christ as God. Cults may say good things about Jesus and assign Him a certain position of importance, but they almost always attack or undermine the true biblical deity of Jesus Christ, either by lowering Him to the level of man or raising man to His level.”
  2. “Second, cultists usually believe that all Christian churches are wrong and that their group has the only real truth about God.”
  3. “Third, they claim to believe the Bible but they distort its teachings to suit their own peculiar view of mankind, God, the Holy Spirit, heaven and hell, salvation and many other doctrines. They usually find the source of these peculiar beliefs in their leaders, who claim to have new interpretations of the Bible or even valuable additions to it.”
  4. “A fourth point is that all cults deny that people can be saved by faith in Christ alone. They teach their members that they can make themselves right with God through good works and through obedience to the doctrines and requirements the cult has set down as ‘God’s will’ for their lives.”
  5. “Fifth, cults are skillful at using Christian terminology, but they are not talking the same language as biblical Christians. Beware of the semantics barrier. Commonly understood words like ‘God,’ ‘Christ,’ ‘faith,’ ‘sin,’ salvation,’ etc., mean entirely different things to a cultist and a Christian. The first task, then, when sharing your faith with someone who seems to have different ideas, is to define terms” (pp.111-112).

A little later the author adds these important words:

     As you learn about these various groups, be aware that your first line of defense against their lure and attractiveness is to know God’s Word and be able to ‘test all things’ with biblical truth (see 1 Thess.5:21,22; 2 Tim.2:4-16). Only by knowing the real difference between what you believe and what certain cultists believe can you reach out to them with the all-fulfilling truth and power of the gospel (p.113).

Awakened by True Conversion – Steven Lawson

TT-Feb-2016As we have pointed out earlier, this month’s issue of Tabletalk is devoted to the theme of “Awakening”, which includes personal regeneration/conversion, family renewal, and church revival. In his introductory editorial, “True Reformation,” Burk Parsons writes this:

Awakening is at the very heart of the Christian faith, and it is the reason we are Christians. Awakening is the powerful work of our sovereign and gracious God. When He awakens us, He doesn’t simply awaken us from sleep, but from death. Awakening is the glorious work of regeneration, revival, and reformation. When God awakens us, He regenerates our hearts, gives us the gift of new birth, and makes us alive. He says to us, “Live!” (Ezek. 16:6). The Holy Spirit invades, conquers, and persuades us. He rips out our stubborn, self-trusting hearts of stone and replaces our dead hearts with new, living hearts—hearts that are made willing and able to believe; hearts that are soft and pliable in the hands of our Father, united and lovingly enslaved to Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

When God awakens, He always brings revival, whether it is the revival of a single soul, the revival of a family, the revival of a community, or the revival of a nation. When God brings revival, He always brings deep and convicting repentance that leads to a life of faith, repentance, and obedience. When God awakens, He always brings true and lasting reformation—reformation of hearts, lives, homes, and churches.

Dr. Steven Lawson has written the first main featured article on this theme – “True Conversion” – and has this to say at the outset:

What does the word conversion mean? In the biblical sense, conversion means a turning—a spiritual turning away from sin in repentance and to Christ in faith. It is a dramatic turning away from one path in order to pursue an entirely new one. It involves turning one’s back to the system of the world and its anti-God values. It involves a turning away from dead religion and self-righteousness. It involves a complete pivot, an about-face, in order to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.

Conversion also involves the idea of changing direction. A true spiritual conversion radically alters the direction of one’s life. It is not a partial change wherein one is able to straddle the fence between two worlds. It is not a superficial turning, a mere rearranging of the outward facade of a person’s life. Conversion is not a gradual change that occurs over a period of time, like sanctification. Instead, a genuine conversion occurs much deeper within the soul of a person. It is a decisive break with old patterns of sin and the world and the embracing of new life in Christ by faith.

This spiritual conversion is so profound that it involves many changes in a person. It involves a change of mind, which is an intellectual change; and a change of view, a new recognition of God, self, sin, and Christ. It involves a change of affections, which is an emotional change, a change of feeling, a sorrow for sin committed against a holy and just God. It involves a change of will, which is a volitional change, an intentional turning away from sin and a turning to God through Christ to seek forgiveness. The entire person—mind, affections, and will—is radically, completely, and fully changed in conversion.

To read more on these important subjects, use the links provided here.

Source: True Conversion by Steven Lawson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Book Alert! Restored & Revived PRC Documents

Rock-Hewn-HH-HD-2015On this PRC archive/history day, we can bring to your attention a significant new publication from the RFPA (Reformed Free Publishing Association) – a personal copy of which I received Sunday in my church mailbox as a book club member and two copies of which I received for the Seminary library (and cataloged yesterday).

The 530 page book is titled The Rock Whence We Are Hewn: God, Grace, and Covenant, authored by early PRC fathers Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema and edited by David J. Engelsma. The work consists of nine pamphlets published early in the history of the PRC and her controversy with the CRC over the doctrine of common grace (as well as over covenant theology), and has important historical significance therefore. While all of these pamphlets were previously published, some were not readily or widely available in English, and some not in English at all until now.

In his foreword, Engelsma writes:

     The various writings included in The Rock Whence We Are Hewn are all pamphlets or booklets written very early in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches – between 1919 and 1940. The authors are two men whom God used in forming these churches – Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof. All the writings explain and defend the great doctrines of the Reformed faith that were fundamental to the founding of the Protestant Reformed Churches – covenant, predestination, particular grace, and antithesis. These writings therefore were used to establish these churches in the very beginning of their history. The contents of the book are their foundational writings.

He also explains the title and the purpose of the book in these words:

     The title of the book is taken from Isaiah 51:1: ‘Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.’ In this figurative way the prophet called the people of Israel to look to their origins. This title calls the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, including the ministers and officebearers, and especially the younger generation, to find in the book the doctrinal truths that are of fundamental importance to the Protestant Reformed Churches still today. By the work of the Spirit these doctrines, confessed, defended, and explained in the writings in this book, are the source of the churches – the rock whence they were hewn.

Below are the contents of The Rock:
1. “The Idea of the Covenant of Grace” – H.Danhof, Transl. from the Dutch by D.Engelsma
2. “On the Theory of Common Grace” – H.Hoeksema
3. “Not Anabaptist but Reformed” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by D.Holstege
4. “Along Pure Paths” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by M.Kamps
5. “For the Sake of Justice and Truth” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by M.Kamps
6. “Calvin, Berkhof, and H.J. Kuiper: A Comparison” – H.Hoeksema
7. “A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth: A Critical Treatise on the Three Points Adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924”
8. “The Reunion of the Christian Reformed Church and Protestant Reformed Churches: Is It Demanded, Possible, Desirable?” – H.Hoeksema, Transl. by H.Veldman
9. “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel” – H.Hoeksema, Transl. by C.Hanko

The book is enhanced by the editor’s historical introductions for each document, to his applicatory “afterword,” and to a helpful “appendix of names” giving “biographical sketches of the main combatants in the common grace controversy.”

The Rock reveals significant history and vital Reformed/biblical doctrines, but also something else – heroism. Engelsma explains in his “Afterword”:

Finally, The Rock bespeaks heroism – the most courageous doctrinal and churchly bravery. To be willing to give up everything that is dear to a minister of the gospel – name, position, and office – and to be willing to suffer reproach, shame, and even church discipline for the sake of the purity of the gospel and the glory of the name of God, this is heroism at the highest level. And this leaves out of sight, as Danhof and Hoeksema did, financial support for one’s family. This is heroism in the cause of God in the world. This is heroism in the most important and hottest warfare, the warfare of Jesus Christ on earth (p.498).

For information on ordering the book – or becoming a book club member – visit the RFPA website.

Christian Apologetics: Defending the Resurrection – Guy Waters

TT-Jan-2016To wrap up the featured articles on apologetics in the January 2016 issue of Tabletalk, Dr.Guy P. Waters addresses the vital subject of the resurrection (cf. link to full article below).

To show the Christian defense of this doctrine, he takes us to Paul’s defense of it in Athens on Mar’s Hill as recorded in the Scripture in Acts 17.

This is how Waters ends his treatment of Paul’s defense of the resurrection of the dead, with the calling for the church to continue to do so:

Thus far, Paul has reasoned with the Athenians based upon what they know of God and of themselves from the creation. He then turns to a particular fact of history—God raised a man from the dead (v. 31). That God has lifted the sentence of death from Jesus and publicly vindicated Him means that Jesus was a righteous man. That is to say, He is unlike any other person who walked the face of the earth. This righteous Jesus had claimed on earth that He would judge all people (see John 5:19–29). The resurrection vindicated this claim. In raising Jesus from the dead, God publicly affirmed Jesus’ claim to judge the world at the end of the age. Because this judgment is certain and imminent, Paul pleads with his hearers to “repent” (Acts 17:30), to turn from the service of idols to the worship of the triune God. The resurrection and the worldwide preaching of the gospel has brought to an end the “times of ignorance,” during which God was pleased to withhold final judgment (v. 30). The days of comparative but culpable Gentile blindness have come to an end. Only the gospel can dispel the ongoing ignorance and blindness in which unrenewed humanity finds itself.

Paul’s mention of the resurrection yields two very different results. Some mock and sneer—the very idea that one’s body would have immortal existence was laughable to the Greek mind (v. 32a). Others, however, want to hear more and, trusting in Christ, follow Paul (vv. 32b–34).

Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus did not, on this occasion, win Paul the accolades of the Athenian intelligentsia. Neither did it yield a visibly impressive host of converts in Athens. But Paul did not preach the resurrection because it was popular. He preached it because it was true. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the coming judgment but also secured blessing for the undeserving. However God is pleased to use this truth in the lives of unbelievers, the church’s task remains the same—to tell others that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Source: The Resurrection by Guy Waters | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Defending the Truth Concerning God by K. Scott Oliphint & Training Pastors by I.Martin

TT-Jan-2016As we have mentioned here before this month, the January issue of Tabletalk has the theme of “Apologetics: Giving an Answer for Our Hope.”

As Christians, we are called by our Lord to defend our faith and practice. And because that faith and practice centers on our Triune God, the central truth we are called to defend is that concerning our God Himself.

The second featured article on the theme in this month’s issue treats that very doctrine. Dr. K.Scott Oliphint in “God” tells us why and what we are to defend our faith as far as the true God is concerned. He does so by directing us to Exodus 3 and God’s special revelation to Moses at the burning bush.

This is how he ends his article:

In Exodus 3, therefore, God identifies Himself in two ways. He tells Moses that He is the covenant God, who is with His people, and that He is the self-existing God, who needs nothing in order to be who He is and to do what He purposes to do.

This brings us to the burning bush. The purpose of that miracle was not simply that Moses might be amazed; it was to display God’s own twofold character that He had announced to Moses. The burning bush illustrates what theologians call God’s trascendence and immanence. The revelation of the burning bush was a revelation that the “I Am” is and always will be utterly independent and self-suffiicient. He is fully and completely God even as He promises and plans to “come down” (Ex. 3:8) to be with His people and to redeem them. The burning bush points us to that climactic revelation of the One who is fully and completely the self-existing God, who comes down to redeem a people, and who is Immanuel (God with us). It points us to Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 1:2328:20).

The revelation of God’s twofold character in Exodus 3 is essential to grasp for all who seek to engage in the biblical task of apologetics. No other religion on the face of the earth recognizes this kind of God. The faith we defend is wholly unique. It begins and ends with the revelation of this majestic mystery of God’s character given to us in Holy Scripture.

To read the rest of Oliphint’s article on this subject, visit this link: Source: God by K. Scott Oliphint | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Another fine article in this issue appears under the rubric “For the Church.” Rev. Iver Martin writes about “Training Pastors,” and has this to say about the church’s work through her seminaries:

A truly healthy church is one in which its members are theologians, coming to church each Sunday with a readiness to think and learn, with an insatiable appetite for more. A good pulpit ministry will richly edify God’s people. It is fatal to underestimate the perceptiveness of our congregations. As people discover what it means to follow Jesus, the intellect often comes to life and the gospel produces a hunger for knowledge that a pastor should be well equipped to satisfy.

To suggest that today’s pastors do not need rigorous seminary training because the disciples did not have it is a spurious argument. Their time with Jesus was a three-year intensive course, complete with internship and testing, and in which they discovered the Scriptures as never before. If the church in the twenty-first century is to thrive, it will depend on high-quality pulpit ministry and well-equipped pastoral skill. If training for the ministry comes at a high price, it is worth it. The church cannot afford otherwise.

To read the rest of Martin’s thoughts on this subject, follow the link given above.

J. I. Packer’s Rare Puritan Library Now Digitized

Last week we did a post on the books that have impacted J.I. Packer in his life and work. For those interested in the Puritan part of his personal library – and reading it online! – check out this wonderful news release (see link below).

I was not aware of this digital library before, but I plan to save the link to it now! Maybe you wish to as well.

Justin Taylor (The Gospel Coalition) introduces it this way:

The John Richard Allison Library in Vancouver—which hosts the joint collections of Regent College and Carey Theological College—has now made available their entire rare Puritan collection to be read online for free. What a gift of modern technology to help us recover these gifts from the church of the past.

There are currently 80 Puritan authors in their collection, many of whose works were digitized from J. I. Packer’s private library.

I also love the picture he has with his post:

Puritan scholar J. I. Packer strolling the stacks at the John Allen Library in Vancouver.

To access the library, visit the link provided above or below.

Source: J. I. Packer’s Rare Puritan Library Now Digitized to Be Read Online for Free | TGC

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