Review of Greg Nichols’ Lectures in Systematic Theology, Vol. 2

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I love systematic theology. In fact, I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to systematic theology. Some of my favorites are De Doctrina Christiana by Augustine and Peter Lombard’s Sentences. I can hardly resist them. Aquinas, Barth, Bavinck, Berkhof, Brakel, Brown, Dabney, Dagg, Erickson, Frame, Gill, Hodge, Horton, Turretin, Reymond, Vos, Warfield, and the like fill my selves. And, with my love for systematic theology, I am excited to add Greg Nichols’ set to my collection.

With so many systematic theologies, one may wonder why there is a need for a new one. One could argue that Nichols has something unique to offer as a Reformed Baptist. This is true. Since Reformed Baptists have so few representatives in the systematic theology department, we can be thankful for the release of this new multi-volume set.

Yet, I would argue that there is something even more unique about Nichols’ systematic theology—it’s a systematic theology and a topical Bible in one. I don’t know of anything else like it.

Of all my systematic theologies, I love Calvin’s Institutes the most. However, moving forward in my day-to-day studies and sermon preparation I can see myself referencing Nichols’ Systematic Theology as much, if not more, than any of the others. The reason it will never be too far out of reach is because it provides an exhaustive catalog of verses that are systematically arranged.

The value of these Scriptural references are not merely that they are so easy accessible, for we have Nave’s Topical Bible for that. Rather, the value is that they show the reader that Scripture alone is the authority of systematic theology. Nichols subjugates every branch (loci) of theology to the full Biblical witness (and not just two or three isolated proof texts). What does the Bible say about the nature of God? What does the Bible say about creation, providence, and sin? We simply cannot answer these questions by going to a single chapter of a single book of the Bible. Rather, we must search Genesis to Revelation to uncover God’s complete answer to these questions. And Nichols has spent years doing just that, and, now, with the release of these books, we have all his vast research of the Scriptures at our finger tips. For instance, page 59, on The Scope of Divine Providence, Nichols neatly gathers the important verses on the meticulous government of God over every little detail of history:

Scripture stresses that God’s preservation of reality and government of history are meticulous. His providence includes even the minutest creature and even the most seemingly insignificant event in nature and in the lives of men. He personally counts the hairs on every head and controls the flight of every bird. Truly, such mental capacity and capability to accomplish things are incomprehensible. Consider a sample of the biblical witness to the scope of divine providence. I simply tabulate these ten passages in the order of their occurrence in Scripture:

  1. God governs every illness and death: Deut. 32:39: See now that I, even I, am he: And there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; And there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  2. God governs every rejection of good advice by lost men: 1 Sam. 2:24-25: Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: you make Jehovah’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, God shall judge him; but if a man sin against Jehovah, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding, they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them; 2 Sam. 17:14: And Absalom and all the men of Israel said: The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Jehovah had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Jehovah might bring evil upon Absalom.
  3. God governs chance, every random event: 1 Kings 22:28, 34: And Micaiah said, If you return at all in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you . . . And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness; Prov. 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah
  4. God governs every household event and childbirth: Ps. 127:1-3: Except Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain that build it: Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of toil; For so he gives unto his beloved sleep. Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
  5. God governs every romance and marriage: Prov. 19:14: House and riches are an inheritance from fathers; But a prudent wife is from Jehovah.
  6. God governs every war and conflict: Prov. 21:31: The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but victory is of Jehovah.
  7. God governs every race and competition: Eccles. 9:11: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
  8. God governs the appointment of every government official: Dan. 4:32: until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will.
  9. God governs every event in the inanimate universe: Matt. 5:45: that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
  10. God governs the salvation or damnation of every person: Rom. 9:16-19: So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that has mercy. For the scripture says unto Pharaoh: For this very purpose did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardens. You will say then unto me: Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?

But this is more than just a Scripture reference tool that is systematically arranged, it is a true systematic theology that is based on Biblical exegesis. It is vital that our theology be derived and governed by the exegesis of Scripture, and by the exegesis of Scripture alone. Sadly, some systematics are more influenced by Greek philosophy than by God’s Word. It is abundantly evident, however, that Nichols has no interest in syncretizing Athens with Jerusalem. In fact, according to Nichols, “We must subject every pronouncement of dogmatic theology to the scrutiny of Scripture…Scripture is the final judge of man’s dogma. The final question is always, ‘What say the Scriptures?’” (257). Natural and speculative theology do not lead man to the Trinitarian God of the Bible, nor even to a cohesive system of thought. Aristotle is of no help when it comes to understanding special revelation. We should interpret natural revelation through the lens of special revelation, and not the other way around. Thus, without the assistance of natural and speculative theology, Nichols shows how the truths contained within the canon of Scripture are sufficient in themselves to bring us to a cohesive system of thought and a full understanding of all the branches of theology. Like John Calvin, Nichols believes that divine revelation can by systematized without the help of natural theology.

For these reasons, not to mention how easy it is to use and to quickly reference, I highly treasure Nichols’ systematic theology.

But what I have said up to this point is true for every volume of Nichols’ systematic theology. In regards to volume two in particular, if you want to know what the Bible says about man, then I highly recommend you getting this volume—The Doctrine of Man. Volume two of Nichols’ systematic theology is as exhaustive and clear a treatment of this important question as you will find.

Nichols divides the doctrine of man into five subheadings: (1.) Formation of the Original Creation, (2.) Conservation of the Original Creation, (3.) Culmination of the Original Creation, (4.) Devastation of the Original Creation, (5.) Benevolence to the Ruined Original Creation.

What is unique is that Nichols treats creation and providence within this volume—and this makes sense, seeing that man is the culmination of creation and the special interest of divine providence. Within these subheadings, everything from marriage and earthly governments, to the Sabbath is given its due attention. It is fun opening a book that makes you excited about reading the first chapters while placing an equal eagerness on reading to the end.

My favorite section is Nichols’ treatment of Man’s Psychosomatic Constitution (pages 98-102). Nichols explains the four major positions, such as (1.) ontological dualism, (2.) trichotomy, (3.) holism, and (4.) duality in unity. He not only provides us with a chart to help distinguish the different views from each other, but he also explains the origin, basic beliefs, and ethical consequences of each view. Nichols concludes that duality in unity is the biblical view:

Scripture teaches that human nature displays diversity, cohesion, and unity. Man’s constitution is psychosomatic. It consists of two distinct entities, body and soul, which are separable in death. Yet it possesses organic unity, not radical dichotomy. I use, “duality in unity,” to express this diversity, cohesion, and unity. Thus, the other three views contain a mixture of truth and error. Greek dualism captures the truth that man’s constitution consists of two diverse elements, a material entity called body and non-material entity called soul or spirit. Trichotomy captures the truth that cohesive power unites these two elements. Holism captures the truth that man’s constitution is a unit, an organic whole. At creation God established an intricate bond that, in the absence of sin, would never have dissolved. Thus, if we reject any of these truths, or press one to an extreme at the expense of the others, we will fall from the razor’s edge of truth into error.

Though Nichols holds to a slightly different covenantal framework than me, I, nevertheless, profited from reading his position on the covenants and how they function in God’s plan of redemption. Nichols is wise in placing the doctrines of the covenants in his treatment of the doctrine of man, for it is impossible to understand the nature, purpose, and fall of man independently of God’s covenantal framework.

With this said, Nichols’ treatment of sin and the fall of man is also helpful. He does not shy away from addressing the difficult question on how man’s volitional freedom corresponds with God’s sovereignty (pages 277-281). Nichols does not seek to resolve the tension, but delicately upholds both truths without compromise:

When a sovereign God controls sinners, he controls, not wooden dummies, but free moral agents. Scripture asserts unambiguously the sovereignty of God over fallen men: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and he turns it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Free agency does not cancel God’s sovereignty. God predestines, controls, and determines everything that happens in this world, including everything that fallen men do: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Again, Isaiah is very bold: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger, the rod in whose hand is my indignation … Shall the axe boast itself against him that hews therewith? … Howbeit, he means not so, but it is in his heart to destroy and to cut off people not a few.” (Isa. 10:7). Therefore, God says that when he has purged the Israelites with him, he will judge him. God held him accountable for his actions even though he was the instrument of God’s chastening judgment. He did God’s purpose even though he wasn’t aware he was doing it. He’s not a puppet: “Howbeit he means not so.” Nevertheless, God accomplished his purposes through him: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger.” The only plausible meaning of this text is that sinful man is a free moral agent accountable to a sovereign God.

Here is one of the great mysteries of Scripture, a great stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the pride of fallen man. Somehow, an omnipotent God controls fallen men who ultimately act upon their own free moral choices.

Much more could be said about volume 2 of Nichols’ Systematic Theology, but I hope what little I have said will spur you to get your own copy. I am certain that you will be thankful that you did, as it has definitely been beneficial for me.

Christmas Poem by Tom Nettles

 

May we all stop and ponder for a moment about the story of the gospel as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. I am amazed that God Almighty would sendus such a wonderful gift while we were His enemies and deserving of His wrath.

 

My friend, Tom Nettles, sent me this poem, which prompted me to just that—stop and reflect on the true meaning and reason for Christmas.

 

A Christmas Greeting

And New Year’s Wish

Tom Nettles

A Baby down from heaven came,

Hiding rebels to reclaim.

Took our flesh,

Took our sin.

Jesus was his name.

From virgin mother, humble birth

Frightening all the kings of earth;

Shepherds quaked,

Magi bowed,

Angels sang with mirth.

Untouched by sin, he lived his life

Tested sore, and pressed by strife.

Wrath he bore,

Ours the blame;

Grace through him is rife.

So now he intercedes above

Lion of strength, yet mercy’s dove.

“Come to me.”

“Trust my blood.”

And know redemptive love.

May Christmas truth protect your year,

Quiet your soul, and dry your tear.

Guilt be Gone!

Death be still!

Life can have no fear.

Facebook Etiquette

Have you noticed that Facebook, especially the theological forums, can bring out the worst in us?

My first experience with a theological forum was about 20 years ago when I was in college. Being excited to throw in my two cents, I jumped into the theological discussion. So exciting to see something I had written on the world wide web. After hitting the submit button, however, the excitement quickly dissipated. I was like a naive lamb happily walking into the blucher shop. The next thing I know I was being lectured, criticized, belittled, and chastised for my ignorance, foolishness, and stupidity. Before getting butchered I was pounced on by a pack of lions. I had no chance of survival. One person in particular let me have it. According to him, I was stupid. After belittling me, however, he was gracious enough to offer to be my teacher. Needless to say, I had no desire to become this hateful and prideful man’s disciple, so I left the forum and returned to doing more happy things with my time.

I wish my initial experience with theological forums was an anomaly, but the online evidence seems to say otherwise. Currently I am a member of a few theological forums on Facebook. Most of them I enjoy. But it is not without reason that these forums have rules of engagement. What is even sadder is that these rules often have to be enforced. Some posts and threads must be deleted because of their uncharitable nature.

I understand that tone is hard to convey in brief statements. Text messages and Facebook posts tend to be more direct, which can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. I also believe that it is a good thing that public comments are subjected to public approval and criticism. Truth needs to be defended and error needs to be corrected. Moreover, when saying something publicly we need to realize that we are asking others to read and judge what we are saying. Others have the right, and in some cases, the responsibility to challenge us. It is not good or healthy for us to be so thin-skinned and easily offended that we cannot receive rebuke or correction. If we cannot defend our statements or receive correction, then we do not need to be commenting and posting at all. Because we all see through a glass darkly, discussion and disagreement are beneficial. In fact, this very blog post is a challenge, correction, and rebuke to Christians who display their pride, arrogance, and hatefulness in their Facebook posts. So I am not opposed to healthy debate.

Yet, here are a few things I think we need to seek to avoid when starting or entering into a conversation on Facebook:

Avoid Speaking the Truth without Love

Speaking the truth is not the only thing we must be concerned about. Not only do we need to speak the truth, but we need to be concerned about speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Too many seem to be only worried about the first thing “speaking the truth”. I am not saying love is more important than truth, but speaking the truth without love is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1). Hearing Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong gets on all of our nerves, yet the banging continues in so many Facebook threads. I have seen both sides of a debate drum so hard that no one seems to be listening all. Truth may be defended, but I don’t think Christ is being glorified in such cases. Should we not treat others with respect and kindness even when we disagree with them?

Avoid Treating a Person’s Profile as If They are Not a Real Person

Am I the only one who has noticed some Christians will say things on Facebook that they likely would never say in a personal conversation? Disagreements are typically more amiable and gracious in person than they are on Facebook. Yeah, I know there are some people who are uncharitable in any situation, but sadly Facebook brings a temptation to say things in a manner that we would never say to someone in person. I don’t know if typing on an impersonal device, like our computers or phones, emboldens us to become less personal, but we tend to loose some healthy restraint when we are not face to face with others. Can you imagine someone saying, “that’s stupid”, or “that’s bogus” to someone at the church potluck? Pick out some of these heated threads and imagine your elders in your church talking to one another in such a fashion. But why does Facebook give us the liberty to speak uncharitably? Should we not guard against the temptation to become impersonal and unloving? I would think that we shouldn’t say anything on Facebook that we wouldn’t say to someone who was visiting our church on Sunday.

The Bible instructs us on how we are to disagree with people. When we reprove those who oppose the truth, we are called to be gentle (2 Tim. 2:25). Yet, sometimes meekness is lacking when we communicate on Facebook. It is pride that just wants to win the argument and not the person. But I am convinced that the wisdom that comes from above is not only pure, it is also peaceable and gentle (James 3:17). Why would we purposefully want to say something inflammatory? Are we not to avoid slander and seek to be peaceable and considerate and gentle toward all people (Tit. 3:2)?

Much more could be said about things we should avoid, but these three things are enough for us to monitor ourselves. A list of do’s and dont’s is not what we necessarily need, but a spirit of love and humility. May God help tame our fingers and not just our tongues.

I am sure this article could have been more balanced, so I welcome friendly comments, corrections, and criticism.

 

Captive to the Word of God

Stuart Brogden has given us an excellent resource on what it means to be a Reformed Baptist in his book Captive to the Word of God: A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology.
This book has the perfect title. Though Baptists are not the only one’s who affirm Sola Scriptura, in my opinion, they are the most consistent in following out this principle when it comes to the liberty of conscience.
In fact, liberty of conscience is at the heart of what it means to be a Baptist. Liberty of conscience requires a separation between church and state, and this separation requires a distinct view of covenant theology. Historically, Baptists have rightly understood that the church, the Kingdom of God, and the covenant of grace consists of believers and believers alone. This understanding impacts their doctrine of the local church and its authority. That is, God has not subjected the government or the doctrine of the local church to any higher authority than the Word of God. These distinctives impact the membership and discipline of the local church. And, these distinctives, as Brogden explains, even impact the practice and worship of the local church.
Baptists do not simply have a few distinct and unrelated doctrinal beliefs that distinguish them from other denominational traditions, but rather their distinctives—that identity them as Baptists—are interconnected and flow from their belief in Sola Scriptura.
Brogden masterfully explains and builds a Scriptural case for these important distinctives. Along with several helpful appendixes, the book is divided into four sections: Section 1 explains what Baptists believe on the ordnances and the nature of the church. Section 2 explains what it means to be Reformed. Section 3 explains the distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. Section 4 concludes with how these Baptist distinctives influence the everyday life of the local church.
Though Brogden covers a lot of ground, he remains thorough. This book is not an overview or an introductory work. Each section is well argued and defended. In this book you will find a formidable defense of credobaptism, Baptist Covenant Theology, liberty of conscience, the five solas, and the purpose and use of confessions. These could have easily been stand alone books, but having them grouped together makes for a valuable resource.
After reading this book, I have become more grounded in my own beliefs and more grateful for our Baptist heritage. As I say in my endorsement, “In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students. In fact, everyone who wants to know what it means to be a Baptist should read this book. Since I love the historic Baptist faith, I love this book.”
You can order the book here.

Feelings and Faith

I now have a book to recommend in almost every counseling situation—Feelings and Faith by Brian S. Borgman. Emotions cannot be dismissed, avoided, or minimized when exhorting and counseling others. Emotions and feelings must be addressed when dealing with marriage problems, addictions, and every other sinful behavior. We cannot obey God without managing our emotions. In fact, emotion control is a vital part of godliness. Borgman has done well in rightly assessing the proper place of emotions in both theology and in our personal behavior. Our values and emotions cannot be separated, and thus to biblically realign our emotions we must realign our values in accordance to God’s glory. Thus, Borgman explains why we are accountable for our emotions and why we must submit every feeling to the Lordship of Christ. If you are depressed, anxious, fearful, and/or resentful, or seeking to counsel people with these emotional problems, then you would be greatly aided by this book.

A New Seminary

Grace Bible Church of Conway, Arkansas, where I am privileged to pastor, is starting a church based seminary called Grace Bible Institute of Pastoral Studies. See here.
This is truly amazing. Planting the church over fifteen years ago in my living room, I never thought this would be something God had in store for us. We are thanking God for this great opportunity.
In some ways, the seminary has been forced on us. With more and more young men joining our church with a desire to minister and preach the Word, our responsibility to train them became more and more evident. I have felt for some time now that it is the local church’s responsibility to equip the next generations of pastors. 2 Tim. 2:2 teaches us that pastors are responsible to train pastors. After starting a class that would meet once a month, more pastoral students have been sent to us by God. With such a reservoir of men, and with God supernaturally supplying the financial resources, it became clear to us that we needed to start a more robust training program.
Our objective is to equip, ordain, and send out the next generation of church leaders by providing faithful men with a doctrinal education and pastoral experience within the context, oversight, and accountability of our local church. We not only desire to offer a rigorous education in the classroom, but supply practical, real-life experience under the mentorship of our pastors.
So we created a degree program that is based on four avenues of study. First, we are offering four module courses a year where we will bring in some of the leading professors in America. Over an extended weekend, our students will be able to earn 3 credit hours in a classroom setting. Second, we will provide four residential classes a year that are taught by the elders of the church—including myself. Third, we will require six credit hours of self study a year that will be guided and overseen by the Institute’s staff. Fourth, preaching and counseling practicums will be required throughout the program.
If you want to view our course list, check here.
Dr. Bob Gonzales taught our first module on the Doctrine of the Word, and Dr. Tom Nettles is scheduled to come and teach Baptist Church History next week. For more information on this, see here.
We desire to train pastors who self-sacrificially care for God’s sheep.
Though we are not currently accredited, our goal is to become affiliated and then accredited with the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries.
If you would like to help us, we are seeking to build a robust theological library and would appreciate book donations. We are in the mist of the building construction of our new church and seminary facilities, and with limited wall space, we plan to build a 25 by 16 foot bookshelf with a spiral staircase and catwalk at the 8 foot mark. So, we need books.
Most importantly, we could use your prayers as our goal is not to make a great name for ourselves, but to help ordain and send out laborers into the harvest.

To Eat or Not to Eat?

I didn’t ever think I would read a book on the theology of food; but after reading “To Eat or Not to Eat?” by Curtis Knapp, I not only can say that I have, but I can say that I really enjoyed it. What I like best about the book is that the author is thoroughly Scriptural and balanced. If you are wanting to know more about this subject, or if you know someone who is easily swayed by those who wants to make whole foods the 13th spiritual discipline of the Christian faith, then I warmly recommend this book to you.
Here is the book’s description, and here is where you can order it.

In a day in which concerns about health and nutrition abound, various experts have emerged to offer us dietary prescriptions. Some use the Bible to reinforce their dietary “commandments,” but have they rightly interpreted God’s Word? The postion of this book is that they have not, and that their teaching – which the author calls “Nutritianity” – are dangerous.

Nutritianity is a “religion” of dietary laws that subtly encourages us to worship our bodies and promises purity, long life and “salvation” from disease through proper nutrition. Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion commanding us to worship the one true God and showing us how to have salvation and abundant life in Jesus Christ. The two religions are diametrically opposed, but both claim the Bible as a textbook.

What does the Bible really say about food? Are there certain foods God does not want me to eat? The author addresses these questions and more in the hopes of helping Christians enjoy the liberty God has given them.