It Never Gets Old

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the Ligonier National Conference. One of the great truths I was reminded of at the conference was the fact that it does not matter how many times you have read through the Bible or how many times you have heard a certain passage preached there is still so much to learn about Scripture and God. The pastor who made this point, mentioned how he loves to see 85 year-old saints who walk up to him with a big smile on their faces because they just learned something new about the Lord or had been reminded of something encouraging. We are never too old to learn something new. Nor can we ever hear the Bible preached enough. There is always something new to glean from Scripture. In fact, we will never know everything there is to know about God or the Scriptures. Therefore, we will always be learning.

It is so easy to come to a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to us and say, ‘I have already read that’ or ‘I have already heard that preached, so what could I possibly learn? I am just going to skip it.’ This is the complete opposite attitude that we are to have. Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” The more we learn the Bible the more we realize how little we know and how much more we need to learn. The Bible is full of wisdom and truth. It reveals to us who we are (sinners in need of a Savior), it reveals who that Savior is (Christ Jesus), and it guides us in how to live. It is sufficient for faith and practice.

There is much for us to learn still from the pages of Scripture and much to be reminded of. We can never know it enough. We are told that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is so profitable to us that we are to learn it and relearn it and know it well. One of the best ways to do that (in addition to your own personal reading) is in church where you can hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word on a regular basis.

Therefore, let us not forsake the assembling together’ but rather let us be eager to meet together to grow in our knowledge of God.

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Should You Believe in Miracles? Yes and No

Many people have asked me over the years if I believe God still works miracles today.  My answer has usually frustrated people because I always answer “Yes and No.”  Why do I do this?  Read how R.C. Sproul explains this below on a recent Ligonier blog:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it… It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” — Hebrews 2:1-4

I get this question all the time, “R.C., do you believe that miracles happen today?” If you want me to give the simple answer, the answer is no. Today, you can go into a pastor’s office and see a sign that says, “Expect a Miracle.” But if you expect a miracle—if miracles are expectable—there’s nothing miraculous about them. If they’re ordinary then they carry no certifiable weight. It’s by their extraordinary character that they have sign power: sign-ificance.

Now of course when people ask me, do I believe in miracles, they’re asking one question and I’m answering a different one. If they’re saying to me, “Do you believe that God is still working in the world supernaturally?” Of course I do. “Do you believe that God answers prayers?” Of course I do. “Do you believe that God heals people in response to prayer?” Of course I do. All miracles are supernatural, but not all supernatural acts are miracles. Theologians get real tight in their making of distinctions, and when I say I don’t believe in miracles today, I don’t believe in the tight kind of miracle in the very narrow sense where a miracle is defined as a work that occurs in the external perceivable world; an extraordinary work in the external perceivable world against the laws of nature, by the immediate power of God; a work that only God can do, such as bringing life out of death, such as, restoring a limb that has been cut off—by command—such as, walking on the water, such as, turning water into wine.

Why This Is Important

Even some of the marvelous signs in the New Testament wouldn’t qualify as a miracle in this tight definition. So why do we labor so hard for this tight definition? For this reason: if anybody can perform miracles, if a person who’s not an agent of divine revelation can perform a miracle, then obviously a miracle cannot certify an agent of revelation. Let me say it again. If a non-agent of revelation can perform a miracle, then a miracle cannot authenticate or certify a bona fide agent of revelation. Which would mean that the New Testament’s claim to be carrying the authority of God Himself, because God has certified Christ and the Apostles by miracles, would be a false claim and a false argument.

So what’s at stake here is the authority, the authenticity, and the truthfulness of the Bible itself. That’s why I have this tight definition, and why I don’t expect miracles, because I don’t expect to find Apostles running around today. So the narrow miracles, they stopped at the end of the Apostolic age.

God’s Still Alive and Working

Now God’s still alive, He’s still working; He’s still answering prayers in an amazing way. I’ve seen marvelous answers to prayers, I’ve seen people healed of so called terminal illnesses, I just have never seen anybody raised out of the cemetery, or an arm that is severed grow back, or a preacher walk on the water, or water turned into wine. But in any case, the Lord Jesus did these miracles not only in the broad sense, but also in the narrow sense. It’s the miracles of the New Testament that are so important to us, because they are God’s attestation of Jesus’ and of the Apostles, before whose authority we submit.

We Cannot Love God if We Do Not Love His Word

R.C. Sproul:

“It seems so much more exciting to live with a freewheeling openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than practicing the laborious discipline of mastering His Word. This is exceedingly dangerous ground. If we want to do the will of the Father, we need to study the Word of the Father—and leave the magic to the astrologers.”

Emil Brunner, the twentieth-century Swiss theologian and one of the fathers of neoorthodox theology, wrote a little book titled Truth as Encounter. His thesis was that when we study the things of God, we are not studying truth in the abstract. We want to understand theology not merely so that we can make an A on a theology exam. We want to understand the doctrine of God so that we can understand God, so that we can meet the living God in His Word and deepen our personal relationship with Him.

But we cannot deepen a relationship with someone if we do not know anything about him. So, the propositions of Scripture are not an end in themselves but a means to an end. However, they are a necessary means to the end. Thus, to say Christianity is not about propositions but about relationships is to establish an extremely dangerous false dichotomy. It is to insult the Spirit of truth, whose propositions they are. These propositions should be our very meat and drink, for they define the Christian life.

Recently I read some letters to the editor of a Christian magazine. One of them disparaged Christian scholars with advanced degrees. The letter writer charged that such men would enjoy digging into word studies of Christ’s teachings in the ancient languages in order to demonstrate that He did not really say what He seems to say in our English Bibles. Obviously there was a negative attitude toward any serious study of the Word of God. Of course, there are scholars who are like this, who study a word in six different languages and still end up missing its meaning, but that does not mean we must not engage in any serious study of the Word of God lest we end up like these ungodly scholars. Another letter writer expressed the view that people who engage in the study of doctrine are not concerned about the pain people experience in this world. In my experience, however, it is virtually impossible to experience pain and not ask questions about truth. We all want to know the truth about suffering, and specifically, where is God in our pain. That is a theological concern. The answer comes to us from the Scriptures, which reveal the mind of God Himself through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of truth. We cannot love God at all if we do not love His truth.

It is very sad to me that in today’s sophisticated Western culture, people are more familiar with the twelve signs of the Zodiac than with the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve Apostles. Our world likes to see itself as sophisticated and technological, but it remains filled with superstition. Christians are not immune to this. We, too, can succumb to the new-age desire for the power to manipulate our environment. We do not have to go as far as accepting the foolish idea that the courses of the stars determine our destinies, our prosperity, our achievements, and our successes. However, it is equally superstitious to equate our feelings and inclinations with the leading of the Holy Spirit. It seems so much more exciting to live with a freewheeling openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than practicing the laborious discipline of mastering His Word. This is exceedingly dangerous ground. If we want to do the will of the Father, we need to study the Word of the Father—and leave the magic to the astrologers.

R.C. Sproul’s Advice to a Young Pastor

Last week R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries hosted an hour-long live Q&A on Twitter.  Many questions were submitted and as soon as Ligonier compiles them all I’ll post them up here for you.  I submitted a question and I thought the answer was phenomenal, here it is for you.

My question: @rcsproul, what advice would you give to a young pastor?

R.C.’s answer: , Get in the Word. Get deep in the Word. Stay in the Word. And devote yourself to prayer.

The reason I love this answer to my question is that it doesn’t seek to give me “new insight” but reminds me of where true insight is found and where true ministry is built from: word and prayer.  Amen!

Happy Reformation Day!

LutherTo make much of Reformation Day 2014, I want to point you to a podcast I listen to very often.  It’s called “5 Minutes in Church History” by Dr. Stephen Nichols, and it’s one podcast I look forward to every week.  Click here to listen to today’s episode called, “Happy Reformation Day.”  Below is a manuscript of the 5 minutes conversation Dr. Nichols had with R.C. Sproul:

Stephen J. Nichols: October 31, 1517, is the day we mark as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, so every year we celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. To help us celebrate, we have a special guest joining us—Dr. R.C. Sproul. Welcome back, Dr. Sproul.

R.C. Sproul: Thank you, Dr. Nichols.

SN: Let’s start with the contemporary Bible study question. What does Reformation Day mean to you?

RC: The Scriptures make reference to what we could call a holy space or holy ground, but also sacred times—moments that define everything that would come after it. And when I think of Reformation Day, I think of that moment in history, and particularly in church history, when everything changed. This was the watershed movement—Luther’s writing the Ninety-Five Theses and tacking them up on the church door at the castle church in Wittenberg. And here we saw the recovery of the gospel.

I enjoy celebrations. I enjoy birthdays, I enjoy the Fourth of the July, and I enjoy Thanksgiving Day. But these days all pale in significance compared to that day in history when the gospel was brought out of darkness and into the light with the Reformation. And so, in terms of our heritage as Christians, this is a time to celebrate.

In terms of our heritage as Christians, this is a time to celebrate

SN: It really is. And these moments of celebration can help us remember what we’re celebrating and why we’re celebrating. And they can cause us sometimes, I think, in a healthy way, to look back to the past, and to understand a little bit better who we are and why those past events matter.

One of the things that I find interesting about Luther is that after he posted the Ninety-Five Theses, he lived another twenty-eight years. That’s a long time. He had a long life after Reformation Day. Is there any moment in that time period after Reformation Day that stands out to you as having significance in the life of Luther?

RC: The next five years were critical as a result of his posting those Ninety-Five Theses. The theses, as you know, were not designed as a public proclamation, but as an invitation issued to the faculty of the University of Wittenberg to discuss the doctrine of indulgences, among other things. And Karl Barth made the observation that Luther, when he posted the theses, was like a blind man who climbed the stairs in a bell tower, lost his footing and thus began to fall. He reached out to grab something to save his life. And what he reached and grabbed was the bell rope. But a floodgate was opened. Soon there were debates at Leipzig and Augsburg and other places, and then ultimately Luther was brought to Worms in 1521 for the imperial diet called by the emperor, Charles V.

At the Diet of Worms, of course, there was that moment when he was called to say revoco, “I recant.” The Hollywood version is that he stands up and gives his “here I stand” speech. The truth is that he stood there trembling, shaking, and he said, “Can I have another twenty-four hours?” Then he went back to his cell and penned one of the most moving prayers that I’ve ever read in my life. He was incredibly frightened, and he called out to God. But he only sensed the absence of God. And he said, “God where are you? Are you hiding? This cause is yours and I am yours; send help.” And then the next day, he came again before the diet. And when they said, “Do you recant?” he said, “I can’t say revoco. I can’t recant unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.” What a moment in church history that was.

SN: Well, we have two great moments—Reformation Day and the “here I stand” moment. Thank you, Dr. Sproul.

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R.C. Sproul – Informing the Mind, Enflaming the Heart

“Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him . . . To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.”

Dr. Robert Charles Sproul (born 1939 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is an American, Calvinist theologian, and pastor. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries (named after the Ligonier Valley just outside of Pittsburgh, where the ministry started as a study center for college and seminary students) and can be heard daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast in the United States and throughout 60 countries. Ligonier hosts several theological conferences each year, including the main conference held each year in Orlando, Florida, at which Sproul is one of the primary speakers. Sproul holds degrees from Westminster College, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Free University of Amsterdam, and Whitefield Theological Seminary, and he has taught at numerous colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale. Currently, he is Senior Minister of Preaching and Teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, where he began preaching in 1997. Sproul has been an ardent advocate of Calvinism in his many books and audio and video publications, and he is also known for his advocacy of the Thomistic approach to Christian apologetics and his rejection of both evidentialism and presuppositionalism.

R. C. Sproul was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Pittsburgh Presbytery (UPUSA) on July 18, 1965. From 1965 to 1966 he served as Instructor in Philosophy and Theology at Westminster College. From 1966 to 1968 he served as Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Gordon College. From 1968 to 1969 he served as Assistant Professor of Philosophical Theology at Conwell School of Theology. From 1969 to 1971 he served as Minister of Theology at College Hill United Presbyterian Church. From 1971 to 1981 he served at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary as Visiting Professor of Apologetics. Also, starting in 1971, he served as Director for The Coalition for Christian Outreach, Inc. until 1976. 1971 was also the year that Ligonier Ministries was founded, and he has served as Chairman of that ministry from that time through the present. Starting in 1977, he was an executive committee member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, until 1983. He also served as Director of Prison Fellowship, Inc. from 1979 through 1984 and Director of Evangelism Explosion III, International from 1980 through 1981. From 1980 to 1995 he served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. During this time at Reformed Theological Seminary, he held the John Dyer Trimble, Sr. Chair of Systematic Theology from 1987 to 1995. He also served as Director of the Foundation for Reformation from 1990 through 1999 and from 1982 through the present has served as Director of Serve International, Inc. From 1995 to 2004 he served as Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Knox Theological Seminary.

R. C. Sproul is married to Vesta Ann of Pittsburgh, PA. They have two grown children – a daughter, Sherrie Sproul Dick, and a son, R. C. Sproul, Jr. Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr., is a theologian and a strong supporter of homeschooling, traditional family roles, and limited government. He founded the Highlands Study Center in Meadowview, Virginia. R. C. Sproul, Sr. and his wife currently reside in Orlando, Florida. In addition to being an excellent Theologian and Author, Sproul also enjoys reading, golf, sketching and painting, music (piano and violin), and hunting. He has a keen interest in a modern Christian Reformation. May God grant that we would have such a Reformation.

Why has R.C. Sproul dear to my heart?  Simple, he has shown me that a love for doctrine does two things: informs the mind and enflames the heart.  Doctrine that only informs the mind is empty pride, and doctrine that only enflames the heart is shallow.  True Biblical doctrine has a monumental effect on both our hearts and our heads. R.C. Sproul, through his many books, and his podcast, has taught me such.

#AskRC Live Twitter Event: August 2014

sproul_podium_actionAnswering theological questions from his students has been a continual commitment throughout Dr. R.C. Sproul’s ministry. Originally called “gabfests” by his early students and later, “Ask R.C.,” these sessions continue to take place at our conferences, on Renewing Your Mind, and online.

For the first time, with the help of his staff, Dr. Sproul used Twitter to answer your questions. Thank you to everyone who participated in this unique event. You can follow the conversation by clicking here.

Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology

9781567693652mOn this Book recommendation Monday I want to point you toward a new book from R.C. Sproul.  It’s a good one.  Here is what it’s about.

WTSBooks:

Many people react negatively to the word theology, believing that it involves dry, fruitless arguments about minute points of doctrine. They prefer to focus on the basic truths of Scripture and may even declare, “No creed but Christ.”

But as Dr. R.C. Sproul argues, everyone is a theologian. This is because any time we think about a teaching of the Bible and strive to understand it, we are engaging in theology. Therefore, it is important that we put the Bible’s varied teachings together in a systematic fashion, using proper, time-tested methods of interpretation so as to arrive at a theology that is consistent and founded on truth.

That is precisely what Dr. Sproul does in Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. This book is anything but a dry discussion of minute points of doctrine. Instead, Dr. Sproul, again demonstrating his trademark ability to make complex subjects easily understood, surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith, reminding us once more of what God is like and of what He has done for His people in this world and the next.

About the Author:

Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry based near Orlando, Florida. He also serves as co-pastor at Saint Andrew’s Chapel, a Reformed congregation in Sanford, Florida, and as the president of Reformation Bible College. His teaching can be heard on the daily radio program Renewing Your Mind…. Dr. Sproul and his wife, Vesta, make their home in Longwood, Florida.

Endorsements:

“Have you ever wanted Christian theology made simple? R.C. Sproul has the gift of making things simple without dumbing them down. Like a father teaching his child to swim, he can bring us into waters too deep for us to touch bottom, but he wont’ let us drown. So I invite you to jump into this pool of the knowledge of God. Whether you want to learn more about what makes the Bible different, who God is, why Christ died, how the Holy Spirit works in a person’s soul, or what happens on judgment day, in these pages you will find clear answers from a wise teacher.”
– Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI

“R.C. Sproul is a consummate teacher, especially skilled at explaining difficult theological concepts in uncomplicated terms. Here, he tackles every major category of systematic theology in a succinct, lucid, evenhanded fashion. this is a tremendously valuable resource for everyone from the newest believer to the most seasoned pastor. It is quite true that we are all theologians. Dr. Sproul helps us all be better theologians.”
– John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church; President, The Master’s College and Seminary, Sun Valley, CA

“R.C. Sproul has written a brief, comprehensive summary of systematic theology that I intend to recommend to my classes for years to come. It is biblically faithful, solidly Reformed, grounded in the two-thousand-ear-old Christian tradition, and up to date on questions crucial to the minds of people in our secularized culture. He writes with his typical clarity and economy of words. As always, he hold the reader’s attention. For a long time I have recommended to students Berkhof’sSummary of Christian Doctrine as a reliable and succinct source of Reformed systematic theology. It is still very useful, but I suspect I shall now be recommending Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologianore than anything else in this category. Trinity, predestination, creation, sin, the extent of the atonement, justification, speaking in tongues, angels and demons, heaven and hell: all of these, and many another topic, are fairly and responsibly set forth in a way that honors the Word of God written, and will edify those who are open to its truth.”
– Douglas F. Kelly, Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC

Does God Change His Mind?

R.C. Sproul:

To “change one’s mind,” in the New Testament means to repent. When the Bible speaks of my repenting or your repenting, it means that we are called to change our minds or our dispositions with respect to sin—that we are to turn away from evil. Repent is loaded with these kinds of connotations, and when we talk about God’s repenting, it somehow suggests that God has to turn away from doing something wicked. But that’s not what is always meant when the Bible uses this word.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language. The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

What About Moses in Numbers 14?

There’s one sense in which it seems God is changing his mind, and there’s another sense in which the Bible says God never changes his mind because God is omniscient. He knows all things from the beginning, and he is immutable. He is unchanging. There’s no shadow of turning within him. For example, He knows what Moses is going to say to him in Numbers 14 before Moses even opens his mouth to plead for the people. Then after Moses has actually said it, does God suddenly changes his mind? He doesn’t have any more information than he had a moment before. Nothing has changed as far as God’s knowledge or his appraisal of the situation.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means. God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there. I think this is one of those instances. It was tacitly understood that God threatens judgment upon these people, but if somebody pleads for them in a priestly way, he will give grace rather than justice. I think that’s at the heart of that mystery.

Is God confused, stumbling through all the different options—Should I do this? Should I not do that? And does he decide upon one course of action and then think, Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea after all, and change his mind? Obviously God is omniscient; God is all wise. God is eternal in his perspective and in his full knowledge of everything. So we don’t change God’s mind. But prayer changes things. It changes us. And there are times in which God waits for us to ask for things because his plan is that we work with him in the glorious process of bringing his will to pass here on earth.