Our Psalm of the Month at Providence Church
I was in a theology class on September 11, 2001. A frantic young lady rushed into the room and informed the classroom that something terrible had happened in New York City. We sat there speechless. Our professor, a godly man, led us in prayer for protection. We did not know what had happened and how what happened would affect us. That uncertainty followed us for the next hour until lunchtime when we entered the cafeteria and watched that dreadful scene again and again and again on TV. Something powerful had happened; powerful enough to shake a nation and push our emotions to places it had not gone before.
In a very tangible way, evil showed up with all its might and fury. In a very objective way, evil was incarnated in devilish men. So much has transpired since that day, but we memorialize that ill-famed day as a day when the corporate reality of a nation shook at its very core; when we awoke from our slumber to see that the opposite of the good was alive and well. We mourn and remember. That’s what we are created to do. We mourn and remember because we are ritualized beings. Let us never forget. Let us never cease to be amazed at the ways of evil men. Let us never stop to pray for their ultimate destruction! Arise, O Lord, defend us! Arise, O Lord, and we will be saved!
Bad theology has severe consequences in our culture. The statistics tell the truth: young men and women are leaving the Church after they leave home. They have been fed a steady diet of pizza and party theology. In his 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith writes:
The majority of teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their faith, religious beliefs and practices, and its place in their lives. The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what they call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’: A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth; God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions; the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself; God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem; and good people go to heaven when they die.
This description doesn’t simply lead to bad theology, but to disastrous personal and corporate consequences. The worldview described is informed by the latest trends, and not by the text. Their authority is not the voice of Yahweh (Psalm 29), but the voice of man-made reason.
In order to avoid this, parents and parishioners need not think of theology as a scary word, rather we need to embrace our role as theologians and seek to think more deeply and consistently about the world God made and our responsibilities in it.
One Agenda of Theology
Where do we begin to do the important task of theology? If you pursue a seminary education, you may be overwhelmed by the many types of theologies available to study. There are departments of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Pastoral Theology, Liturgical Theology, Sacramental Theology, and so on. The list continues to increase because the Bible is so vast and God’s revelation is so glorious that there will be always new areas to pursue as an academic.
But for our purposes, since most of you will not pursue the pastorate or the goal of being a seminary professor, we want to consider theology at its most basic level. And I say basic not because it is easy, but because we are dealing with the fundamentals of our faith.
There are levels of importance when it comes to discussing theology. One writer summarized it best:
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
In other words, there are things that are of primary importance. These are issues worth fighting and even dying for in our day. They are essentials: The Trinity, the death, burial, and physical resurrection of Jesus, and other matters contained in our great creeds are essential issues. But there are also issues of secondary importance. And because they are secondary does not mean we should not discuss them and have vigorous debates over them, but it does mean that we should allow a certain amount of liberty on these topics. A classic example of this is the debated topic of eschatology. Do you subscribe to a dispensational view of the end of the world or a covenantal view? There is no doubt that these issues will have an effect on how you think about the world and the future, but these are not salvific issues. No one will be saved because of his belief in postmillennialism unless he is also trusting in Christ alone for his salvation.
You shared with me that your college boyfriend is pressuring you to have sex. He doesn’t do so explicitly, but his questions and tone leave no doubt in your mind. He is constantly looking for opportunities to be alone with you in his dorm room. You know this is wrong, but you “like him too much to end your relationship with him.” It’s likely you will not be persuaded by me or anyone else at this point that you ought to leave him for someone who actually wants your well-being. But you know what is true. Sex is good and right, but when you remove it from the marital bed it’s deceiving and fleeting.
Let’s assume for a moment that you love Jesus, but at the same time, a multitude of counselors are saying “Stay away! Stay away!” But you succumb to the temptation and have sex with him. As a Spirit-indwelt person, you will wake up the next morning with something called shame or guilt. It’s the way redeemed humanity function when they act against their Lord, and even more so when it comes to the sin of giving your body to someone who is not your spouse. At that point, you have two options: either to wake up from your slumber and come back home to the affection of your parents and friends (there is still redemption; in fact, lots of people have come back home when things seemed impossible. Prodigals still come back home, but not all prodigals do) or you dig deeper into your sin and one night of sex becomes lots of nights. If you choose the latter, the more you give yourself away the less likely you are to find refuge in Jesus; the more you will look for refuge look-alikes.
And there is more: if you don’t listen to the wise voices around you, you will be imprisoned to the only voice who tells you what you want to hear and that voice is from the man who has already used you, which means he will not speak truth into your life. Furthermore, if he was able to persuade you to violate the sacredness of your body, then he will persuade you to forsake what you know to be true, good, and beautiful.
In sum, if he wants your body now, he will want your soul and your feelings and your desires and everything else.
I beg you: Come home! Let’s talk and meet and think through a better way. Jesus is greater than your fears and more lovely than the man you think loves you.
Pastor Uriesou Brito
We cannot exhaust the beauties of the Gospel, but we can provide a bigger picture of the Gospel than what is typically presented in the Church today. The hope is that we would grow ever more grateful for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the Gospel?
First, the Gospel is about Christ. The clearest Bible passage is found in I Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul says, “The Gospel, which he preached, is about Christ and his death and resurrection.” In Romans 1, Paul says he declares a Gospel about the Son, who was descended from David. Later in Romans, Paul makes a powerful connection between the Gospel and Christ’s incarnation. The Gospel must be about Christ. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ embodies the Gospel in his life, death, and resurrection. Everything that makes the Gospel beautiful is beautiful because of Christ. So when we think about the Gospel, one fundamental facet of it, perhaps the most central of them all, is that the Gospel is about Christ.
Let’s unpack that a bit more.
The word “Gospel” is not just a word we use in the Christian world. In fact, the word was used in the ancient world for various reasons. For example, the word Gospel was used when Caesar would have a Son, or if he won a great military victory, or a new Caesar ascended the throne – the proclamation of that news was called gospel, and his heralds would announce the gospel in all the empire.
The Christian community adopted this language to proclaim a different message; not a message about Caesar, but a message about Christ. The Gospel is about Christ because Jesus Christ is King. The most basic confession of faith is Jesus is Lord. The Gospel is good news because it announces what God has done in Christ.
Secondly, the Gospel is about History. One pastor put it this way: “The Gospel was planned in eternity, and executed in history.” The passage we read today from I Corinthians 15 says that the Gospel is a historical event. The late Christopher Hitchens was once interviewed by a liberal pastor. The pastor asked him, “Christopher, why do you keep debating these radical Christians? “What do you mean by radical?” the famed atheist inquired. The liberal pastor said, “Well, I mean those Christians who believe the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. I am a mainline pastor. I don’t believe that Jesus rose literally as the Bible says.” This is where I think Hitchens shined. He told this liberal pastor: “The reason I debate these so-called radicals is because they actually believe in the historical claims of Christianity unlike you.”
If you do not accept that the Gospel is what God has done in history, then you might as well pack your liberal suitcase, close the church doors, and never again refer to yourself as a Gospel minister. Every time you come to Church on Sundays and confess the Nicene Creed you are making historical claims. What does the Creed say? “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” Now, Pilate was not a high-ranking political figure. He was a mid-level bureaucrat. The Creed and the Bible mention him because it’s a way of anchoring the Christian Gospel in history.
Thirdly, the Gospel is about the Church. In our definitions of the Gospel, this is one area where I am convinced many simply overlook or miss altogether, which means they are proclaiming an incomplete Gospel.
You see, the Gospel is never just Jesus and “me,” it’s Jesus and “we.” The Gospel creates a new community. The Gospel gives us a new way of being human. And the way we can be most human is by proclaiming the institutional Church as integral to the Gospel from beginning to end.
Far too many Gospel presentations leave the church out altogether. The Gospel becomes only about “How do I get saved’” So let me phrase this provocatively to make my point. It’s not, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” but “God has a wonderful plan for his Church.” If you want to be a part of that wonderful plan, then be a part of the Church. The Gospel is most clearly seen within the gates of Zion where we meet together as a people. It is in her that we hear the word and taste of the Gospel in bread and wine.
Therefore, when we talk about the Gospel, we are talking about a lot more than simply how I was saved or where I am going to go when I die, but we are talking about the Person and Work of Christ; we are talking about the historical realities of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and we are talking about the Church.
What we are trying to communicate as a Church is a powerful Gospel that encompasses so much more. We are teaching a Gospel that transcends the claims of Nero or Pilate. We are proclaiming a Gospel from another world; a Gospel that came down in human flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate and gave himself for the Church. A Gospel that says less than these things is still the Gospel, but it is a weak Gospel. Most of the problems we have with the Gospel today is that we have found our pet doctrine, and we tell the world, “Unless you believe that the Gospel is only about this, then you are forsaking the Gospel.” But the breadth and depth of the Bible teach us that the Gospel is more than one mere idea. The Gospel is the promise that our Lord and King, Jesus, is calling us to participate in something greater than ourselves. And this is good news! Believe this and rejoice!
We can talk about the Father, we can speak of the Son, but the Spirit is often left out of the equation as a mystical presence reserved for special occasions when we are feeling extra emotional. At that point, we say, “Yes, the Spirit is in this place.” One famous scholar observed humorously, “The Catholics have the Father, the Presbyterians have the Son, and the Charismatics have the Spirit, and none are letting go of their God.” Well, thankfully the Triune Godhead is not bound to denominational labels.
We need to liberate the Spirit from self-imposed denominational boundaries. The reason Reformed theology is not regarded as a tradition that is Spirit-filled is that we fear that if we talk about the Spirit, we will suddenly start speaking in tongues or forsake the Christo-centric nature of our theology. But the Reformation never operated under such assumptions.
The Reformed writings of John Calvin would probably shock many Calvinists. Arminian writer, Roger Olsen concluded:
Calvin was no charismatic, but he was closer to it than some Reformed people readily admit.
Calvin was known as the theologian of the Spirit. He spoke clearly of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church, in the means of grace and His indwelling power in each believer. Let me urge you not to allow abuses to dictate how the Spirit operates. Let God be God. Let the Spirit be Spirit. Believe in Him, trust in him, pray in his name, commit your labors to him, depend on him, lean on him, be satisfied in him and let him be your guide to heaven this morning for Christ is only known by the power of the Spirit.
Fatherhood functions best when it is served in Trinitarian style.
Our Father in heaven is the great Maestro, guiding the world with compassion; earthly fathers are called to lead their children with a compassionate spirit; to musicalize the home by tuning their children to the tune of heaven.
But earthly fathers also need the sacrificial life of Jesus. Healthy and honorable fathers sacrifice for their own; they give of themselves when there is little left to give; they cherish a life of faith when no one around them is seeking the welfare of the city. Fatherhood is Christocentric. It gives and gives and gives.
Finally, earthly fathers function best when they are abiding; being present in the life of those around them. Fathers who imitate the Spirit are more concerned about intentional being, than just being. Our presence, men, must daily reflect the presence of the Spirit in our lives who is unchanging. When our children say, “We’re never here,” it’s an indictment on our Un-Trinitarian ways.
Be like the Trinity, Fathers! Orchestrate, sacrifice, and abide.
You asked me about how to talk to your child about the death of a loved one. I have given this some thought. Here are a few ways to approach the subject of the death of a loved one with your little children:
First, make this a family affair. Gather the children as soon as possible to explain that a loved one has died. Conversations of such magnitude need to take place in a safe environment. If a child hears about the death from someone else it might lead to confusion and even anger.
Second, death is a horrible human reality. One of the consequences of the Adamic sin is death (Rom 5:12). We will all die, and likely we will see and witness many friends and family members die before we do. It is helpful to explain that death is an ugly thing and that as Christians we hate death. Taking our little ones to that familiar story of death in the Garden is a healthy way to contextualize the news to them. Death is first and foremost a theological issue, even if explained in the language of a three or four year old.
Third, do not be afraid to use the word death. If you say that such a person has “passed away” or “gone to sleep forever” this may cause confusion or fear in the child. A child might go to sleep at night fearful that he will never wake up. Clarity is fundamental. Tell the child that death means we will never see grandpa or grandma again in this life.
Fourth, do not be afraid to weep with them. Sometimes children do not understand mom or dad’s feelings after the death of someone. Feel free to explain your feelings to your children. “I am crying because grandma died. I am going to miss her.” If they begin to cry, join them in their tears and comfort them.
Fifth, when children discover that a loved one has died, they may assume that you will die also. They may ask questions like: “Are you going to die too, mommy?” At this point, it is important to let the child know that most people die when they are really old or very sick. And then let them know–if it is the case–that mommy or daddy are not sick and are still full of youth. If someone close died of a very young age, let them know that it is not very common, and then point out the young people around him that are alive.
Finally–and I am aware that much more could be said–inevitably, little children will ask questions about what will happen to grandpa or grandma, or mom and dad after they die. As Christians, we need to stress that Jesus overcame death at the cross and resurrection. He died and was raised so that we might live forever. This is a wonderful time to remind them of the promises of Jesus. “Grandma is now in heaven with Jesus. She is at peace. One day when we die we will join her in heaven. Jesus says that when we go to heaven we will never die again; we will live forever.”
Our children do not need a fairy-tale narrative about death. They need a compassionate, biblical approach that is sensitive to their thinking as little ones and faithful to the narrative of the Bible.
There is a lot to navigate here, but I think this question is an important one.
Sometimes it is easy to go back to our early days in the Christian faith. Back then everything was so simple. We believed in Jesus, everyone believed in Jesus, and life was simple. Of course, we then grow up and we learn more about the Scriptures, and we discover that Jesus is one with the Father, that He sends the Spirit, and then we hear the language of the Trinity. It’s in our confessions, our creeds, and in every Systematic theology. And then we learn that if we do not embrace the Trinity, we are not true Christians. But why can’t we just believe in Jesus, after all, He is the answer to every question we can’t answer?
It’s good to grow up; it’s hard to grow, but it is ultimately our goal. And part of growing up means we become more mature in the language of the Bible. We come to know that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. The Jews and the Muslims criticize the doctrine of the Trinity by saying that any doctrine that cannot be reconciled logically is not true. How can there be Three Persons and One God? Thomas Jefferson expressed the frustrations of many when he said that the doctrine of the Trinity should be abandoned altogether:
“When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three…when in short, we shall have unlearned everything, which has been taught since His day, and get back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”
Thomas Jefferson, of course, is part right and part wrong. “He was correct in the sense that Christians needs to focus on Jesus more,” but he was sadly mistaken that this would bring us back to simple doctrines and away from the Trinity. The reality is that at the precise moment we begin to focus on Jesus we are led directly to the doctrine of the Trinity. It was precisely through Jesus that the disciples knew the Trinity; it was precisely through Jesus that they learned that all authority has been given to Him! By Whom? The Father. Through Jesus they learned that the paraclete, the Spirit, would be sent after His ascension, and through Jesus they learned that the baptism of the nations, young and old, must be done not only in Jesus’ name, but into the Name, notice, not NAMES, but into the NAME=One God, Father, the Son, and the Spirit= Three Persons. God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.
 Quoted in Darrel Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity, pg. 12-13