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Entries in Derek Thomas (4)


The sense of gasp

In the introductory lecture in the series "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies," Derek Thomas first provided a list of distinctives of good theology. He narrows this discussion further by talking about what is Reformed theology.

Thomas recognizes that there are misunderstandings about what Reformed really means. There are people in my life who think Reformed means nothing other than infant baptism and particular redemption. Thomas lists the distinctives of Reformed theology:

  1. Authority of Scripture
  2. Sovereignty of God
  3. The Majesty of God
  4. Invincibility of Grace
  5. The Christian Life
  6. Third use of the Law
  7. Relationship Between Kingdom of God and Kingdom of the World
  8. The Church/Preaching

I won't take the time to provide details, but I do want to mention what he said in the context of The Majesty of God. When he defined it, he used words like awe, incomprehensible, answerable to no one. He also used a phrase: "a sense of gasp."

Imagine Isaiah in Isaiah 6, before the throne of God, watching the seraphim, hearing their cry: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory!"

Imagine him as the foundations of the thresholds shook and the voice called out amid the smoke. What is Isaiah's response? "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"

Do you think he might have gasped a little? 

This is why I love to hear theology expounded, and to read it myself: the sense of gasp.  The more I study theology, the more I study Scripture and see God revealed in its pages, and the more I amazed I am. I may not be given a view of God like Isaiah, but I have something he didn't have: the entire revelation of God. Do you ever put down your bible, or a book, or finish a sermon, and feel like Isaiah? Woe is me?

Thomas also quoted Herman Bavinck: "Mystery is the vital element of dogmatics."

This is not mystery that we must unravel, but mystery that is revealed to us. We won't understand everything, but he will reveal what we need to know of his majesty. God is not a pet to be domesticated. He's not a genie meant to serve our every whim. This majesty doesn't make him untouchable, for we have free access to him in Christ. But the majesty of God reminds us who he is and who we are not.


What is good theology?

I'm partaking of a series of lectures by Derek Thomas, through iTunesU. This series is called "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies," and is basically an introduction to Reformed Theology. I thoroughly enjoy Dr. Thomas's teaching. He is an extremely articulate and passionate teacher. You cannot listen to his speaking without seeing a man with a heart for the gospel and for Scripture.

In this lecture, he discusses the importance for good theology. At one point in the lecture, he mentions with disapproval the kind of student who thinks that theology is unnecessary. He believes -- and I agree -- that it is very important. To quote him: "Good theology molds Christian character."

Here are his seven characteritics of good theology:

  1. Accurate; sound; healthy
  2. God-centred - his sovereignty and majesty
  3. Doxological - gives utterance to praise
  4. Eschatological - looks forward
  5. Christological - Christ as prophet, priest, and king
  6. Ecclesiastical - Church-centred, "Ecclesiology matters"
  7. Motivational - Theology is never an end in itself

He also quotes the Puritan William Perkins: "theology is the science of living blessedly forever." William Cunningham, a Scottish theologian defines it as "the knowledge of God and divine things derived from the Scriptures." Notice the return to the Word. It's not theology based on what we think is important about God.

Dr. Thomas also says this, which I loved: theology begins with listening.

And whom to we listen to? God, as revealed in His word.

Theology is so exciting, because it turns our hearts away from ourselves to God.


Spiritually Minded

Derek Thomas talks about Romans 8:9-11 in the chapter entitled "Spiritually Minded:"

In the upper room, Jesus gave considerable attention to the redemptive connection between Himself and the Holy Spirit.  "It is to your advantage that I go away," Jesus told his disciples, "for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).  The disciples were understandably fearful of losing the Savior's presence and fellowship.  the truth was that they would come to know Jesus better after He had disappeared from this world.

Does the presence of the Spirit seem a poor substitute for the presence of Jesus in the flesh?  Perhaps this thought occurred to the disciples in the upper room.  But a moment's reflection dispels any such concern.  The Holy Spirit was present at the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35) and enabled Him to grow in wisdom, strength, and favor with God and with men (Luke 2:40, 52).  The Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism and thereafter ated as a principal strategist in Jesus' encounter with the powers of darkness (Luke 3:22; 4:1).  By the Holy Spirit Jesus offered His life on the cross as an atonement for sin (Heb. 9:14).  And, as Paul reminds us in this passage, by the Spirit Jesus rose from the dead (Rom. 8:11).  

To have the Spirit in our hearts is to have Him who has been intimately involved in every facet of Jesus' work - incarnation, obedience, sacrifice, and resurrection. 

Sometimes, we sit back and wonder what it was like to be with Jesus like the twelve were, to talk to him and be alongside him.  But we have the Spirit.  Would seeing Jesus in the flesh, as a bystander, as he walked through a crowd have been the same as knowing him now, in the Spirit?  


No Condemnation

One of the verses of the hymn "And Can It Be That I Should Gain" begins with the refrain:

"No condemnation now I dread."

That is the topic of the first chapter of Derek Thomas's book How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, a book which deals with the glorious chapter, Romans 8.  I won this book through a draw done by Reformation Trust Publications.  The chapter is called "Grace and Gratitutde."  It deals with the first four verses of Romans 8.  Thomas begins by stating why we are condemned and assuring that there is a way out of the condemnation.  We are condemned because we sin.  There are two ways to salvation, law and grace.  Because of our sinful nature, we are unable to be saved by the law, so we must be saved by grace.  Thomas says:  "The law cannot put us in a right standing with God.  It knows how to do only one thing:  condemn us."  It is not the law's fault; it is ours.

The way from condemnation to no condemnation comes from outside of us.  It comes from God the Father sending His son.  Our freedom from condemnation comes from what the Son did for us.  It is dependent upon Christ alone.  The way out of condemnation is through Jesus Christ and Him alone.

Thomas points out the reality of sin which remains in us despite our standing before God of no longer being condemned.  He refers to Paul's words previously in chapter 7; Paul is utterly frustrated at the reality that he longs to do what is right, but he cannot.  He utters the cry, "Who will deliver me?" in v. 24.  The opening phrase of Romans 8, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" should provide gratitude in our hearts.

Thomas asks the question:  "Does the presence of sin in my life mean that I am not a Christian?"  His answer is worth quoting:

It is at this point that I so easily revert to a wrong way of thinking.  I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I am saved from the penalty of sin.  There is no condemnation.  Bu then I sin again and I begin to think "I must be condemned again."  So I go to church, read my Bible, sing more enthusiastically, and engage in spiritual thoughts about Jesus.  Then I assume I have slipped back into a state of "no condemnation" again.  But tomorrow I sin again, and I slip back into a state of "condemnation."  The cycle repeats itself over and over... Rather the focus of our thinking must be, "Am I in Christ?"

Even as mature Christians we need to remind ourselves continually of the basis of our acceptance - it is entirely because of what Christ has done for us.  Thus, faith in Christ is not a one time event; we must live by faith each day.

No condemnation.  That is a powerful truth.  But it is a truth that should prompt gratitude and it should prompt a desire to live a holy life.