Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Systematic Theologies

The Bible contains many different types of writing, including history, poetry, law, proverbs and letters. And these were written by many different sorts of people over a period of perhaps 2000 years or so. It can be difficult to track down what it teaches about a given subject. However, there are quite a few books that aim to present what the Bible teaches in a thematic and ordered way. These are generally called systematic theologies.

Wayne Grudem helpfully defines systematic theology as

... any study that answers the question, "What does the whole Bible teach us today?" about any given topic. This definition indicates that systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.

As long as we don't put these books at a higher level than the King of Books they can be extremely useful.

The following are recommended. Thanks again to Luke Jenner for the initial list.

First some general volumes:

Ultimate RealitiesRobert M HornIVP
Summary of Christian DoctrineLouis BerkhoffBanner of Truth
A Faith to Live ByDonald MacLeodMentor
Systematic TheologyWayne GrudemIVP
Bible DoctrineWayne GrudemIVP
Foundations of the Christian FaithJames M BoiceIVP

Other books deal with particular aspects of the Bible's message. The following authors are also recommended. I've mentioned one each of their books, but their other titles are also worth exploring.

J I PackerKnowing GodHodder & Stoughton
John MurrayRedemption Accomplished and AppliedBanner of Truth
John StottThe Cross of ChristIVP
Stuart OlyottThe Three Are One: What the Bible Teaches About the TrinityEvangelical Press
A W PinkThe Sovereignty of God Banner of Truth
J Gresham MachenWhat is Faith?Banner of Truth
A W TozerThe Knowledge of the HolyAuthentic Lifestyle
John PiperThe Pleasures of GodChristian Focus Publications
Edward DonnellyHeaven and HellBanner of Truth

See also: Bible Introduction and Overview, Bible Commentaries, Contemporary Issues, Biography and History, Devotional

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Creation in Schools

Another petition for you to sign.

There are various moves afoot to prevent creation being taught in UK schools on the spurious grounds that it is not science. Some of this hostility has been prompted by the recent (September 2006) distribution to secondary schools—by Truth in Science—of a resource pack that disparages the theory of evolution. One manifestation of this opposition is a petition calling on the government to abolish all faith schools and prohibit the teaching of creationism and "other religious mythology" in all UK schools. (Science Questions and Answers explores some of the reasons why trying to drive a wedge between creationism and science is misleading.)

In response, another petition has been started to request support for "faith schools" (horrible term!) and the teaching of creation alongside other views about origins. Please sign up. It's very simple and takes only a minute or so.

The full text is below. I'm not sure that I agree with all the sentiments expressed and would have preferred it if the two issues had been separated. However, the overall aims are laudable.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to continue the support for faith schools and to ensure that in all schools the teaching of traditional 'faith' views of origins is included alongside the more recent scientific 'theories' which many scientists 'believe'. Faith schools help to ensure that children develop mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and morally. As such faith schools ensure children are well placed to choose their own religious, philosophical and ethical beliefs. Schools should be places where children are given a full education, not centres where the spiritual and moral is excluded. Evolution and other scientific theories should not be taught as fact but instead along side other 'faith' views of origins. Supporting faith schools will provide children with a fuller education, parents with the choice of such for their children and help to promote a fully multi-cultural and peaceful society.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Christian Union Petition

Christian Unions in British universities and colleges often face opposition of one kind or another. Recently, Exeter CU was suspended from the list of official student societies, its student union bank account was frozen, and it was banned from using Student Guild premises for meetings. All this because the Guild claimed the CU's constitution and activities did not conform to its equal opportunities policies; that is, it objected to the CU requiring its leaders to sign a declaration of Christian faith. (See, for example, this Guardian report.)

Other CUs are also facing similar opposition (see this Times article). For example, Edinburgh CU was banned from running a course teaching the orthodox Christian view of sex and relationships because of opposition from homosexuals. Birmingham CU has been suspended because it refuses to allow its meetings to be led by anyone who refuses to sign up to its statement of beliefs and because it refused to alter its constitution to pander to the homosexual lobby.

A petition on the Downing Street web site asks for some sanity to be restored:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to defend the right of Christian Unions to control who may come into leadership of them. Just as one would not expect a left wing political party to welcome people of a right wing persuasion into their leadership a Christian Union should be able to expect leaders to share the declared beliefs of that CU and that the CU has the right to control who may be admitted into leadership; this right should not exclude CUs' access to premises in universities, colleges, schools etc. on a par with other societies in those establishments.

Please sign it.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Am I an Atheist?

There are several web sites that give you the opportunity of taking a quiz to find out if you are an atheist. They have questions along the lines of, "Do you believe in Christ?", "Do you believe in Krishna?", "Do you believe in Allah?", etc. Of course, if you are a religious person, you will probably answer "Yes" to one ore more of these, and "No" to several others. "Ah ha!", the site says when you've finished, "You're 83% [or whatever] an atheist!"

A similar argument was made to me recently during a discussion about the Bible over at ID in the UK: "An atheist only disbelieves in the sacred books of one more (out of many) religions than you do. How is his disbelief more unreasonable than yours?"

The falsity of this approach can be demonstrated with a simple story.

Suppose you had a terrible illness. 10 doctors come to you—each with a medicine that they claim will heal you. You investigate thoroughly and come to realise that 9 of them are charlatans. In fact, you discover that—far from doing you good—their medicine would kill you.

The other one is clearly a man of integrity; he is able to show you evidence that he has several medical degrees; he is able to point to a lifetime studying the disease you have and helping people with it; and he can produce many testimonies from people who have taken his medicine—all of whom claim that it has done them good. In fact, you interview a few of these and find that they back the doctor up. They are enthusiastic about his cure. So you take the medicine and immediately start to feel its beneficial effects.

Now suppose someone comes to you with a questionnaire. "Do you think medicine 1 is effective?", "Do you think medicine 2 is effective?", etc. Of course, you will answer "No" to 9 of these. "Ah ha!", they proclaim, "You are 90% against medicine". No, all you are saying is that you are 100% against false medicine.

In the same way, when I answer one of these quizzes, I am not saying I'm 90% against religion, I'm saying I'm 100% against false man-made religions that don't stand up to careful scrutiny and are, in the end, worthless.

But here is Jesus Christ. He is someone even his enemies could find no fault with. He has demonstrated—by his life, by his words, by the miracles he did and, especially, by his resurrection—that he is the Son of God. His teaching is helpful and loving. More than that, there are many people who can testify that faith in him has transformed their lives. He is able to take the worst sinners and make them fit for heaven.

So don't be taken in by these false arguments. Weigh up the considerable claims of Christ for yourself. By all means throw out the hogwash associated with man-made religions, but don't reject Christ in the same breath.