How can a church be healthy with so many views?

“Long-held Christian beliefs about everything from the nature of God to morality have been reshaped and have become unimportant to many people.”[1]

Mark Dever’s statement is a sad testament to the reality of the church today. As we continue our discussion on the topic of the health of the church, we must consider the beliefs of the church. How can a church be healthy with so many views? If the church is to be healthy, the church must hold to biblical theology.

Now, I will admit that I am tempted to dive into the nerdy pool known as biblical theology with intensity. However, I want to balance that with a practical view of the church at large. With that in mind, I think it would be helpful to offer a definition. In his book, Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos defines biblical theology as, “deal[ing] with revelation as a divine activity.”[2] Revelation is a term that is used to God’s communication to humanity. There are two primary ways that God does this, through general and special revelation (both can be observed in Psalm 19).

We are focusing primarily on special revelation, in other words, the Bible. What we believe, both as individuals and as a church, must come from God’s revelation. This revelation is the result of divine activity, as we learn from Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (ESV). His counterpart, Peter, also teaches us this, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, ESV).

When we consider the health of the church, we must understand that God defines what a healthy church is, and He does so in His Word. Therefore, it is necessary that our churches look to His Word for her health.

Dever, connecting biblical theology to our lives, asks, “How relevant are your own beliefs to your daily life? When you last sat in church, how much did you examine the words of the prayers you heard? How much did you think about the words of the songs you sang? Or how about the words you heard from Scripture? Does it really matter to you if what you said or sang in church was true?”[3]

Think about those questions. When is the last time you asked yourself these questions? I hope that it becomes immediately apparent how our theology (i.e., what we believe) informs and affects our practice (i.e., how we act).

We need only examine the various churches today to see that biblical theology does not inform many churches. But our concern is with our church. How can we ensure our church adheres to biblical theology?

First, we must hold up the Scriptures as the Word of God. It is not just a book of collected wisdom. It is not just a book of morality. It is not just a book of God’s dealing with people throughout history. It is God’s Word, more necessary than bread for life (“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Matt. 4:4, ESV). The Scriptures, not tradition (though tradition has its place), nor political opinion, nor societies, should hold the place of primacy within the church.

Second, we must submit to the Scriptures for all faith and practice. In the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, we read this summary of the importance of the Scriptures, “The whole counsel of God…is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture…The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.”[4] I realize that is a lengthy quote, but I hope it illustrates the importance of God’s Word in our lives and practices in the church.

Third, we must spend time studying and understanding the Scriptures. The Baptist Confession, referring to the Scriptures, states, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding to them.”[5] Notice that phrase “in a due use of ordinary means.” That is, as we use our minds to read and understand the Scriptures, our knowledge grows. This is specific knowledge, as Peter reminds us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” (2 Pet. 1:3-4, ESV). All things for “life and godliness” are found in the “precious and very great promises” provided to us through “His divine power.” As such, we should spend time studying the Word of God, individually and corporately. We have no excuse not to study.

While much more could be written, I will close with Mark Dever’s words. He writes, “In the Bible we see God giving us His Word—His promises—and we respond to Him by trusting Him—just as Adam and Eve did not do in the Garden of Eden; just as Jesus did throughout His life and especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. And as we hear and believe God’s Word, we begin to have that relationship with Him that He made us for. This is the God whom we can trust and should trust, because His Word will not disappoint. This is what the Bible is all about.”[6] Will our church practice biblical theology? If we are to be a healthy church, we have no other choice.


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 58.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 2017), 5.

[3] Dever, 9 Marks, 58.

[4] LBCF, I:6, 10.

[5] LBCF, I:7.

[6] Dever, 9 Marks, 75.

Book Review: “Going Deeper with New Testament Greek”

Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek Revised Edition (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 562 pages, hardback.

Overview

This revised edition of Going Deeper is a blessing to Greek professors and students. It will, in my estimation, become a staple in intermediate Greek classes. These three men, all incredibly capable of authoring such a work, provide a unique resource. They note in the preface, “In Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, we have attempted to present the material in a way that is accessible, and even fun, knowing that most students will be reading the chapters sequentially.”[1] The work is accessible because the authors wrote it with both the teacher and student in mind. For the teacher, they organized the work into 15 chapters (as the authors note, it is the average length of a semester). They also provide access to “(1) weekly quizzes; (2) exams (midterm and final); (3) PowerPoint presentations for each chapter; (4) chapter summaries as a separate document; (5) chapter exercise sentences as a separate document; (6) answer keys for quizzes, exams, and chapter exercise sentences; and (7) automated Moodle quizzes based on the summary charts in each chapter.”[2] Another benefit, both to the student and the teacher, is the inclusion of practice sentences. The authors also provide “biblical examples.”[3] These are selected with a precise process that allows the teacher (and students) examples within Scripture, further developing the interest in New Testament Greek studies. They also include two vocabulary lists (one at the end of each chapter, except chapters 14 and 15, and the other as an appendix). Both the vocabulary and practice sentences remove the need to purchase additional workbooks or vocabulary guides.

The work is divided into the following major categories: introduction to Greek (1 chapter), nouns (3 chapters), articles/adjectives (1 chapter), verbs (4 chapters), verbals (2 chapters), pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs and particles (1 chapter), diagramming and discourse analysis (1 chapter), word studies (1 chapter), and continuing Greek (1 chapter). There are also two appendixes (one providing vocabulary and the other a “survey of 12 grammars”).[4]

Strengths

It should not be surprising that the differences between Going Deeper from other grammars are the strengths. To begin with, the intentionality of selecting Scripture passages that apply to the focused concept of the chapter under the previously mentioned guideline selections (see page 5) encourages students to continue pursuing their Greek studies. For example, chapter 2 begins with John 1:1, where Köstenberger discusses the syntax and implications, and notes, “Of course, Jesus’s deity does not rest on this one verse (see, e.g., John 20:28), but a sufficient knowledge of Greek syntax saves the reader from drawing the wrong conclusion.”[5] A similar example is provided by Köstenberger in chapter 5, too. In this way, they are meeting their stated goal where the authors write, “we hope to stir in you’re a passion, and to provide you with the necessary tools, to ‘go deeper’ in your pursuit of your mastery of NT Greek.”[6] The examples frequent the pages of this book.

Another strength, and point of departure from most grammars, is the “Reading the New Testament” sections.[7] As they noted in their preface, these reading selections focus on the “grammar or syntax discussed in the chapter,” “pastorally relevant, theologically foundational, or doctrinally debated,” and “around 10-12 verses in length.”[8] Chapter 8’s reading section serves as an excellent example. The passage is Acts 2:37-47. Scholars and individuals familiar with this passage will immediately think of Acts 2:38, and rightly so. While not overloading the student or teacher with the material, they present the exegetical information verse by verse (or, in the example of 44-45, two verses) and word by word (focusing on the most important). For the phrase ‘for the forgiveness of your sins,’ they offer this brief treatment, “The proposition εἰς is often used to communicate purpose (‘for’) but can also communicate grounds (‘on the basis of’).”[9] This theologically relevant passage is presented in this reading section with the pertinent grammatical and syntactical information. To the book’s strength, each chapter (except for chapters 14 and 15) has such a reading.

A third strength is chapter 13 “Sentences, Diagramming, & Discourse Analysis.”[10] Reminding the student (and teacher) of the importance of structure, Plummer remarks, “When we teach or preach a text such as Matthew 28:19-20, we need to ask not only if we are faithfully conveying the meaning/content of the original text, but also if we are emphasizing what the inspired author emphasized.”[11] Plummer presents the ways the student can competently do this. For sentences, he provides a paragraph (or, two) discussing the sentence, he breaks it down to words, phrases, and clauses.[12] Plummer also presents two forms of diagramming: line diagramming (457-460) and arcing (460-464). In both cases, Plummer provides the needed information to engage in these respective forms of diagramming as well as handsome examples.[13] Finally, Plummer treats discourse analysis. Always connecting the study of NT Greek to the practical realm, Plummer reminds students that “Practically speaking, properly noting discourse boundaries should influence what portion of text a preacher selects for a sermon—i.e., he should choose a length of text that respects the biblical author’s communicative structure.”[14]

In order not to overwhelm the reader, I want to highlight one major strength of this work. This strength lies in appendix 2 “Noun and Article Charts: A Survey of 12 Grammars.”[15] This survey is helpful for several reasons. First, it provides an overview treatment of significant grammars. It allows the intermediate student and seasoned professor a bird’s eye view of how grammars dissect the Greek language. Second, it provides only the necessary information. It only presents the names without discussing any examples. Third, it is organized well. One does not have to spend time examining a key for one can easily understand the tables. Fourth, it provides a library for students and professors who may need to research something in further depth. For example, if a student believes that a word in the Genitive case is something in particular he or she can cross-examine how other grammars denote it.[16]

Weaknesses

One issue is the binding of the book. Grammars are utilized, and the binding should be durable. Upon receiving Going Deeper I was surprised that the binding was not better. A Smyth sewn binding would be better than the glued binding. Thus, it may hinder longevity in usage.

Another “weakness,” which I would rather term a suggestion, is to supplement the material with additional appendixes. Staying true to their purpose of design, the work is geared for the teacher. However, with the importance and popularity of participles in NT Greek, I think it would help to provide further treatment of participles.

Who should read this book?

Every professor of NT Greek should own this work. Regardless of the stage of education (beginning, intermediate, or advanced), this work provides a wealth of information and organization that will aid both professors and students.

Every student of NT Greek (whether pastor or professor) should also possess this book. It is an excellent reference, providing up-to-date discussions on important syntax, grammar, and resource issues. Additionally, it can aid in the retention and usage of NT Greek. Many students forget their Greek after seminary. However, this work bridges the gap between the classroom and the chapel.


[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek Revised Edition (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 2.

[2] Ibid., 5-6.

[3] Ibid., 3-4.

[4] Ibid., 523.

[5] Ibid., 52.

[6] Ibid., 1.

[7] See pages 43-49, 113-120, 281-287 for a few representative examples.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 283.

[10] Ibid., 441-481.

[11] Ibid., 442.

[12] Ibid., 442-456

[13] See page 459 for line diagramming and pages 461-462 for arcing.

[14] Ibid., 465.

[15] Ibid., 523.

[16] 525-527.

What is sanctification?

While working on a sermon covering Philippians 2:12-13, I found question 38 of the Baptist Catechism quite helpful.

A Brief Word About Catechisms

First, catechisms were and are used regularly throughout church history. While to many the term catechism brings up the picture of the Catholic or Anglican church, protestant groups such as the presbyterians and reformed baptistic congregationalists have regularly used catechisms to disciple and educate believers. Typically, catechisms utilize the question and answer format. For example, question 38 of the Baptist Catechism has,

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

Second, catechisms offer a broad treatment of deep, biblical subjects. Entire books have been written on the topic of sanctification. Journals and scholarly articles increase the understanding and expand the debate on this doctrine. However, the Catechism summarizes the Scriptures’ teaching on sanctification with thirty-four words. In other words, it offers the bones of the doctrine, not a comprehensive treatment.

Third, and finally, catechisms are tools for aiding believers in understanding doctrines of the Bible. They are not the Bible, nor were they ever meant to replace the Bible. They are only effective and helpful as they rely on the Bible and its God-given authority. The moment catechisms loom over the Bible in an effort to wrest authority from God or His Word is the moment the catechisms are to be thrown into the fire. With that said, the Baptist Catechism does not seek to do this.

Baptist Catechism and Sanctification

I used question 38 as an example above, and I will offer it here again.

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

There are three parts to the answer that helped me in summarizing the complex doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification is the Work of God

First, let us note that the Catechism places the work of sanctification in God’s court. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace.” The Catechism cites 2 Thessalonians 2:13 which reads, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (ESV) In this passage, the Spirit is the means by which the “brothers beloved” were sanctified.

Sanctification has a goal: Godliness

The second part that helps us understand what sanctification is refers to the goal. We read in the Catechism, “whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God.” That is our goal: godliness. In sanctification we are made after the image of God. I found this phrase interesting in light of a brief comparison of Genesis 1:26, 5:3, and James 3:9.

Genesis 1:26Genesis 5:3James 3:9
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”“When Adam had lived 13 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”“With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
Man’s image prior to the fall centers on God’s image.Man’s image after the fall centers on man’s fallen image.Man’s image after the fall retains vestiges of God’s image.
All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version

Prior to the fall, man was created in the image of God. After the fall, man begat man in his own image, though this image retains aspects of the image of God. What ties this together with the doctrine of sanctification is the goal of sanctification: godliness. We see this presented in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Did you catch the reference to the image? Through sanctification (and two other key doctrines), believers are made into the image of his Son. That is the goal of sanctification.

Sanctification is a Progressive Work

The last part of sanctification upon which the Baptist Catechism touches is the progressiveness of it. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God…whereby we…are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

The progressive nature of sanctification is demonstrated by the Baptist Catechisms wording, “more and more.” That is, there will be a progression sanctification. Let me remind you that the Catechism is succinct; it is not meant to be an elaborate work of theology.

If we consulted the London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 13, “On Sanctification,” we would read in paragraph 2, “This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”

There is no doubt, on comparing the Confession and the Catechism, with accompanying Scripture, that the work of sanctification is a lifelong work.

Concluding Thoughts

There is much that could be written (and probably should) at this point. There are many applications that we could discern and utilize for our daily lives in the faith. However, that will have to wait until another day. For now, let the Baptist Catechism help us understand this wonderfully deep and delightfully sweet doctrine of sanctification.

Book Review: “Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Acts” L. Scott Kellum

L. Scott Kellum, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Acts (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 340 pages.

Introduction and Overview

For those unfamiliar with this series, the EGGNT is a series working through each book of the New Testament in Greek. This volume focuses on the book of Acts. In this work, Kellum goes verse by verse and word by word through the entire book of Acts. The series, and this book in particular, focuses on exegesis, and does so with respect to major scholarly works (eight commentaries and a few other works cited on pages 12-13).

The overall structure of the book is as follows. The “Introduction” provides a brief but detailed overview of the authorship, date of the book, provenance, purpose and audience, and general notes to the reader of the book. A brief discussion is offered surrounding the “so-called western text of Acts” (10). In addition, an outline of the book is provided at the beginning, allowing ease of reference and clear representation of the materials (3-12).

Following the outline, each section has a heading (e.g., “I. Foundations for the Church and Her Mission (1:1-2:47).”[1] After the main heading is offered with a brief comment, the exegesis focuses on words and phrases. For example, Acts 1:1-2 begins with an exegesis of Μἐν.[2] After each subsection is completed (in the example above, 1:1-2, a “For Further Study” section provides the reader with references to other significant works regarding the words, phrases, and theological subjects discussed in each section. In addition, “Homiletical Suggestions” are offered, giving the teacher and preacher additional thoughts to consider.[3] These general points provide the structure for the entire volume.

Strengths of this Work

There are many strengths in this work. To begin with, and perhaps the most important strength, is the exegesis. The work discusses every word of the book of Acts. While this may seem to be overwhelming, the work only contains 340 pages (which includes an exegetical outline, a grammar index, and a Scripture index). Thus, the work offers detailed exegesis without wordiness or unnecessary materials. It is to the point, offering information that is necessary to understand the passage. In addition to this, the exegesis is further enhanced by discussing points of division regarding certain words or phrases.

For example, most are familiar with the variety of opinions regarding Acts 2:38. The author provides a brief discussion (three paragraphs) which presents the two main views (i.e., baptismal salvation or baptism because of salvation).[4] This provides the reader with enough information to grasp the various opinions without overwhelming the reader with the enormous amount of literature available.

The fact that one does not have to know Greek to utilize this resource is another significant contribution to the study of Acts. Though I would not recommend someone who did not know Greek to use it, one could navigate the book of Acts and enhance their understanding of Luke’s history of the early church. For example, for Acts 8:29, Kellum writes, “The theme of supernatural leading continues with the Spirit’s direction to Philip. The instruction is in the form of a compound imp. Πρὀσλθε (2nd sg. aor. act. impv. Of προςἐρχομαι) and κολλἠθητι (2nd sg. aor. pass. impv. of κολλἀω, ‘be joined’).”[5] One can use the abbreviation helps on pages xxix-xxxviii to figure out the parts of speech. Kellum provides the definitions, and with the reference to Scripture one’s knowledge of how the Holy Spirit lead Philip.

The way Kellum compares the English translations also provides an addition help. On Acts 11:20, while discussing the word “Ησαν,” Kellum notes the RSV, NASB, and NET’s rendering. Further in the verse Kellum also discusses another word, “Ελαλουν,” where he cites the translations of the NASB, NET, TNIV, NLT, NIV, and CEB. This provides the reader with a slim, comparative study of the various ways in which translation teams render words and phrases.

Though there are many more, I would end with what I believe to be another asset of this work is the material presented. One could easily spend pages discussing the various issues present in the work. For example, in Acts 2 alone the following topics are present: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and large revival. Books have been written on these subjects. Kellum, however, sticks to the work of exegesis, only presenting what is necessary for understanding the text. This frees up space in the work and allows the student to seek other resources addressing the particularities of certain passages.

Weaknesses of this Work

I hesitate to offer any “weaknesses” because of how impressed I am with this work. Though I label these as “weaknesses,” I would rather use the phrase “suggestions to improve a great work.”

Though I mentioned this as a strength (see above), I believe the succinctness can, at times, limit the appropriate discussion. I cited the reference to Acts 2:38 as a strength because Kellum offers the two main views and briefly discusses them. However, I include this as an area for improvement because it is a significant verse. Many theological systems are built on the idea of baptismal regeneration, and this is one of the key texts used to defend said positions. Would it have hindered the flow of the work to include a more thorough discussion, focusing primarily on the exegetical? If the editors were attempting to “stay the course,” I think an appendix would have been a helpful alternative.

Another area that I would love to see bolstered is the theological implications distilled from the exegetical work. Again, this may be out of the scope of the publisher, but an important passage like Acts 13:48 needs more attention. Kellum provides the necessary exegesis, with citations from other works.[6] The verse, however, has enormous theological implications and one’s own theological views may hinder one’s interpretation. Kellum notes, “No word of a double-predestination is stated. Luke clearly saw no contradiction between human responsibility and divine sovereignty (Keener 2.2102).”[7] While that is true, it may be helpful to the church to discuss why this is the case.

Who would benefit from this Work?

According to the general editors, this work “aims to close the gap between the Greek text and the available tools.”[8] Later in the general introduction, Köstenberger and Yarbrough note this work would be profitable for students beginning Greek, intermediate students, and advanced students. I concur with their assessments, with the addition of those who are involved in the ministry of the Word. Whether they are preaching, teaching, or leading small groups, this work will yield many fruits. Though it would require additional preparation time, the individual seeking to truly know God’s Word will enjoy the benefits of hard work.

I also maintain that teachers involved with biblical or linguistical studies will benefit from this work. For the teacher working through the book of Acts specifically, or the works of Luke generally, this book will present a complete exegesis (including references to current scholarship) in aiding the progression of the class. This work could also serve graduate studies if the class focused on this book.

Considering the nature of the work, I would not recommend it to the average individual with no knowledge of Greek and little desire to study the Word of God on any deep level. The difficulty of working through a dense book like this may cause discouragement on behalf of the apathetic individual.

With that said, anyone who wants to know the book of Acts better should purchase this book. It may require intense effort and more hours than most, but in the end, the individual who perseveres will be rewarded with a deep understanding of the Greek New Testament.


[1] L. Scott Kellum, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Acts (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 15.

[2] Kellum, Acts, 16.

[3] Ibid., 19.

[4] Ibid., 42.

[5] Kellum, Acts, 105.

[6] Ibid., 166.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., xxv.

How do we become a healthy church? Start with the preaching.

(This post was originally posted to https://www.warriorcreek.org/pastor-s-blog, used with the author’s permission)

Last week we asked the question, “What is a healthy church?” We begin answering that question today. Inherent in this question are two truths. One truth is that a church can be unhealthy. That is, a church can exist in a state of illness. Not unlike human beings with sickness, the church can exist though hindered through ill health. The second truth is that a church can be healthy. That is, the church can do what is necessary to be healthy.

For a variety of reasons, churches are in poor health. We begin to address these issues with the matter of preaching. Preaching is defined as “The announcing of the good news of God by his servants through the faithful revelation of God’s will, the exposition of God’s word and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1] In this definition we have three aspects:

  • Announcing of the good news (i.e., the gospel)
  • Exposition (i.e., unfolding) of God’s Word
  • Proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

This definition also provides us with the various parts of preaching: vocal proclamation (“announcing”), focused on the discussion and application of the Word (“exposition”), and the Person of preaching (“of Jesus Christ”).

While we could easily devote an entire series to preaching (a goal that I eventually would love to undertake), we will focus our attention on the second aspect. We will deal with the first mark that Dever discusses in his book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.[2]

Dever writes, “The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow.”[3] In another book, one author offers this statement, “expository preaching focuses predominately on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s).”[4]

Expositional (exposition and expository can be used interchangeably) preaching, then, takes the text, discusses the text as originally written, and then applies the text to the hearers hearts. This idea should come as no surprise, for it was the practice of the early church in the book of Acts. “Actually, that is exactly what we see the non-prophet, non-apostle, non-Son-of-God preachers doig throughout the Bible; they preach the Scriptures, explaining them and applying them to their listeners.”[5]

According to this definition (and example in Scripture), preaching that does not develop from, expound upon, and apply to the listens from the Bible is not expositional preaching. We can all think of excellent story tellers, illustrators, and reference-connectors. These, however, are not demonstrations of expositional preaching.

A church that is healthy is a church that regularly feeds on the Word of God. Forgive me for this lengthy quote, but Dever helps us see why expositional preaching should be the norm of the church. He writes,

“Preaching should always (or almost always) be expositional because the Word of God should be at its center, directing it. In fact, churches should have the Word at their center, directing them. God has chosen to use His Word to bring life. That’s the pattern that we see in Scripture and in history. His Word is How own chosen instrument for bringing life.”[6]

Expositional (or, expository) preaching should be a mark of the church. Why? The importance of the Word of God is written so frequently throughout the Scriptures that it would be an enormous task to examine them all. However, one passage in particular comes to mind: Psalm 1.

We have looked at this psalm in a previous post, but this psalm presents a wonderful picture of the importance of the Word of God.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of the sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not whither. In all that he does, he prospers.

The Word of God has incredible (and eternal) benefits. Why would the church not want to hear it expounded? As we seek to develop into a healthy church, let us desire and require expositional preaching.


[1] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[2] Mark  Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 35-55.

[3] Dever, 9 Marks, 39.

[4] Richard L. Mayhue, “Rediscovering Expository Preaching,” in John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1992), 9.

[5] Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 40.

[6] Dever, 9 Marks, 42.

How can we handle depression physically?

The time has come to put our knowledge of what depression is and what contributes to it to good use. While depression is something that can (and often does) afflict all of us, some endure it more than others. What we have discovered is that depression is a feeling of hopelessness, like walking through the lightless room stumbling on in pain and numbness.

The causes that contribute to and increase depression range from physical to mental and to spiritual. The question before us now is, “What can we do about it?” For those experiencing depression, when hope seems to be as much a part of a fairy tale as giants and goblins, there seems to be nothing we can do.

However, this is where God and His Word provide a bounty of encouragement and hope. God is, after all, the God of hope (see Rom. 15:13). Hope begins with knowing the biblical truth that God does not leave us to despair.

Much of what I am going to write in the following section assumes one is a believer. I encourage you to check this video out if you have never considered what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

So, where do we go from here? To begin with the easiest treatable aspect of dealing with depression, check out your body. Now, I am not implying that you need to walk in front of a mirror and notice all that New Year Resolutions that you have failed to keep have resulted in a less-than-desirable physique. What I mean is, do a check-up of yourself.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night?
  • How is my diet, really?
  • Am I spending time exercising and enjoying the outdoors?
  • Is there an underlining medical issue that may contribute to depression?[1]

It is amazing how quickly we forget that our physical bodies are closely tied to our spiritual souls. We are, after all, physically embodied spirits (see Gen. 2:7). Thus, the physical will often affect the spiritual; the spiritual will often affect the physical.[2] Sometimes the best thing we can do to lift our spirits is to take a nap!

Along the same lines, what we eat affects our bodies, which in turn, affects our souls. Brian Borgman writes, “A change of diet might also prove helpful. Our fast-food culture is turning our bodies into toxic waste dumps, making us unhealthy…We are body-soul creatures, and how we treat the body can affect the soul.”[3] Adjusting our diets to exclude large amounts of carbohydrates and sugars can help balance our bodies out. This is an area in which you may need help, and there are a variety of places online and in communities that can provide assistance.

What about exercising and the outdoors? Paul, writing to the young preacher boy Timothy, warns “While bodily exercise is of some value…” (1 Tim. 4:8, ESV). He is comparing the spiritual development of godliness as being beneficial for this life and the life to come. However, he is in no way demeaning the value or benefits of physical exercise. Our lives are vastly different from the first century Church. They are vastly different than 100 years ago. We live sedentary lives, hardly moving, and it is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Of the many issues that develops as a result is depression.[4] Working with your doctor, develop an exercise routine that fits your schedule and lifestyle. It is amazing how exercise helps the body address depression.[5]

Outdoors can also help alleviate depression. Now, it is January, and it is cold! This affects when we go outdoors. But when we can, we need to get out of the house or the office and enjoy![6] God created nature to reflect His glory (Psalm 19:1-6), but it also a benefit for us (see Gen. 1:28-30).

These are all things that we can do now. These items may not eliminate depression, but they may help alleviate some of the struggles. So, get some sleep, eat better, exercise, and go outside (with appropriate social distancing and masks, of course!).


[1] I am not a doctor, nor is this medical advice. You need to visit your regular doctor and ask for a physical.

[2] For an interesting display of this in a counseling case, see Dan Wickert, “’Mary’ and Paralyzing Fear,” in Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds. Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), 120-123.

[3] Brian Borgman, Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 139. If you want a scholarly treatment of this, see Felice N. Jacka and Michael Berk, “Depression, diet and exercise,” The Medical Journal of Australia, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/199/6/depression-diet-and-exercise, 29 October 2013, accessed 8 January 2021.

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff, “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms,” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495, 27 September 2017, accessed 8 January 2021.

[5] See previous footnote. They offer several excellent, practical tips.

[6] Harvard Health Publishing, “Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature,” https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature, July 2018, accessed 8 January 2021.

What is a healthy church?

We enter this new year with a question of enormous importance, “What is a healthy church?” I find it interesting that we begin this year discussing the health of the church, considering the current pandemic afflicting the entire globe.

More than ever, human beings are concerned with health, and rightly so. Given the importance of a healthy life style, both for the present and the future, human beings should be concerned about their physical health. The Christian, more than others, knows that the Scriptures describe their bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV) In the context, Paul is addressing sexual immorality, but no doubt this temple-body motif embraces physical well-being.

The fitness, supplement, and general health industries are booming with business. In particular, as we are at the beginning of January, many individuals have made resolutions to do things differently. These resolutions are often tied to physical health.

“What does this have to do with the church?” you may ask. While physical health is important and should be protected (see Ex. 20:13 for God’s estimation of the value of life), we must not neglect the health of our churches.

Our churches need to be healthy. We should, as Christians, be concerned about the health and wellbeing of our church as much as (or more) our physical health. The question is, “What is a healthy church?” This implies that there are unhealthy churches. Perhaps a contrast will help provide a better context in which to discuss a healthy church.

An unhealthy church is a church that is not reflecting the image of the Savior. This can be observed in a variety of ways. Authoritarian leadership, careless members, unregenerate membership, failure to preach and teach the Scriptures, any abuse (sexual, physical, or spiritual), are all manifestations of unhealthy churches. We could list many more, unfortunately. One of the reasons churches are unhealthy, and perhaps the main reason, is due to the fact that the church is made up of sinners. We often forget this, but its true. However, another factor to consider, and one that will make up the majority of this series of posts, is that the church is unhealthy because she has largely neglected the Scriptures.

As scientists learn more about the human body and a healthy lifestyle, they are increasingly discovering that the basics are vitally important. These foundational aspects include a proper diet and exercise routine, 7-8 hours of sleep, and mental health. This provides us with a wonderful physical representation of a spiritual truth. There are basics to being a healthy church.

In the following posts, we will look at these basics of a health church, what has historically been referred to as “marks.”[1] Mark Dever, a historian and pastor, has written a book entitled 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.[2] This book will serve as our guide discussing what a healthy church looks like. If you are able to, I would encourage you to pick up a copy. While it may be deeper than some of you are familiar, I think it will help form a biblical view of the church. This will, then, enable us to be a healthier church, and this is all for the glory of God (see 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 1:3-14).


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church: New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 21-24.

[2] Ibid.

Book Review: “Counseling the Hard Cases,” edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert

Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds, Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), 318 pages.

Overview

In Counseling the Hard Cases one finds the sufficiency of Scripture displayed on almost every page. Whether directly addressed (as in chapter one), or indirectly displayed in the various case studies (a total of ten), there is no doubt in the respective authors’ or editors’ minds that God’s Word “is sufficient because Christ is sufficient, and God shows us in his Word how to encounter him in all of life’s complexities.” (13)

The first chapter seeks to provide an overview of the counseling debate within the church. This involves different worldviews as well as differences in one’s view of Scripture. The chapter is a helpful history of the development and extent of biblical counseling. Chapters 2-11 are written by individuals actively involved in biblical counseling. As the authors note, the cases may be actual individuals (whose names have been changed), or a conglomeration of individuals that, taken together, provide an overview of the issues and solutions. (xiii) These case studies follow a general structure:

  • An introduction to the individual(s) and their problems
  • A presentation of the help they have received from others
  • A reorientation of the problem from a biblical worldview
  • A discussion of the progress and changes throughout the counseling period
  • A summary of the help and growth in the counselee(s)
  • A concluding section discussing the strengths, weaknesses, and differences each counselor would take at the present

While these are not found in every chapter, they do provide a highlight into the general structure of the book.

The editors end the book summarizing the reasons why biblical counseling is the means by which God has equipped believers to address the complexities and problems of life within a biblical worldview.

Strengths

For a book on the topic of biblical counseling in general, and one that addresses complex issues such as bipolar disorder, addictions, dissociative identify disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, to name a few), I was shocked at the preciseness (the book is only 307 pages in length, with an accompanying contributor, name, and Scripture index adding 9 pages).

The book deals with a deep subject (counseling in general), but does so that the average Christian can pick it up with little difficulty. They define terms (see page 3 for example) in a way that individuals with little to no experience in counseling can grasp. The limit the case studies to pertinent topics, only including what is pertinent in that particular counseling setting (for example, “Jackie” in chapter 8 only brings in additional details that help the counseling sessions progress).

Another strength is the notable, consistent application of biblical counseling norms. Without being exhaustive, I found the following consistently represented:

Counseling Methods
Journaling41, 69, 72, 134, 150, 157, 243, 263
Reading Books39, 109 (in footnote), 131, 158, 179, 230, 249, 254, 262-263, 264, 279
Gathering Information69, 112, 125, 143, 176, 179, 207
The Gospel in Counseling73, 123, 126
Confession & Repentance74, 106, 128, 158, 272
Progressive Sanctification42-44, 74, 160
Scripture41, 75-76, 93, 101-102, 127, 214-215, 262, 265, 278
Gospel Indicatives & Imperatives77, 214, 218, 244, 253-254, 264
Accountability51, 80, 178, 196, 222, 265, 277
Hope67-69, 113, 146, 148, 207, 234-235, 243-246
Homework114, 139, 151, 223

 Again, one can see that this list is not exhaustive. However, it does provide an overview of the normal practices of biblical counselors. In many instances, additional examples could be provided. However, this strength demonstrates the didactic nature of the book without being purposeful. That is, you begin to learn the ins and outs of biblical counseling without being aware of it.

Another strength of this book is the rawness presented in the case studies. These are real people with significant problems (though their names have been changed). Consider the depth of this introduction to Mariana, “Mariana’s father, an alcoholic, molested her for the first time when she was four years old.” (26) “In her adolescent years Mariana started cutting, turned to anorexic and bulimic behaviors, and struggled with depression…She habitually stayed awake all night to avoid having nightmares in a room with others and avoided showering or dressing in anyone’s presence.” (26) These are heartbreaking issues, and they are found with each one of the counselees. It is graphic emotion and real pain. I see this as a strength because Christians too often separate life from life. That is, we deal with the pleasantries of Sunday morning church while ignoring the evilness of sin and the despair that afflicts many. When asked, “How are you?” we customarily reply, “Fine!” Though inside a war may be raging, though our marriages may be on the rocks, though our health may be bad.

A final strength is the way in which the authors present the sufficiency of Scripture in contrast with the methods and ideologies of modern, secular psychology and psychiatry. Though examples could be provided from each case study, I want to focus on Dan Wickert’s section. After presenting the background of his counselee, Mary, Dan offers a brief treatment of medication and counseling. Without dismissing medication completely, Dan balances the extremes with two carefully worded questions that, in my estimation, will greatly benefit any biblical counselor. He asks, “Why do you want to stop [i.e., taking medication]?” (120) Unfortunately, many churches, pastors, and Christians look down upon those who utilize medication for mental and physical issues. This question addresses the ease to which counselees can often give into the fear of man. The result, of course, is not only sinful fear but also a potential medical problem. Another question he asks is, “How are you handling life on the medication?” (121) This is such a helpful way to look at this delicate situation. He goes on to write, “Are they handling the normal problems of life in a biblical, God-honoring way while they are on the medication? If not, then taking them off the medication usually will not help the counselee to please God.” (121) In the rest of that section and the following section, Dan provides more insightful comments balancing a particularly tough topic.

Weaknesses

While I have elaborated on the strengths (though certainly not in any exhaustive way), I would like to discuss two weaknesses. Though not directly stated, I think the book can imply that any Christian can pick up the Bible and address the complex issues presented through these hard cases. While that statement is not necessarily false, I think it can give the impression that if one is a Christian and can read the Bible then they are equipped to counsel any situation. I know that the authors would deny this. They would encourage a deep study of the Scriptures as well as an active faith. However, some who read this book may do more damage than good if they are not watchful for their own lives and doctrines (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).

A second, though small, weakness is the failure to include an organize structure of the counseling process. While it is presented general (as evidenced by the table above), I think they book would be further strengthened if the authors provided a bullet-point summary of the counseling process. Obviously, this could be overwhelming to the reader, so discretion would need be applied. However, for many counselors this would prove to be an additional benefit.

Who should read it?

The book is written to a Christian audience, and I think it should be read primarily by Christians. I also think anyone involved with counseling (secular, integrationist, or biblical) would do well to read the book. For the secular counselor, this book may help present the foundational principles of biblical counseling in a language they speak. It also may alleviate any unnecessary objections to biblical counseling. The integrationist should read this work as well. Unfortunately, we often speak past one another in our discussions of counseling. This book serves to clear up some confusion on part of the biblical counseling movement. It also presents an often-distorted view of biblical counseling’s understanding of medication (see, for example, chapter 5). Finally, any biblical counseling (lay or professional) would benefit greatly from this work. It is written, as I have already mentioned, in clear and precise language. It provides insight into the process of biblical counseling. It also encourages the counselor that these hard cases, though certainly not easy, are within the realm of the sufficiency of God’s Word.