Archives For Doctrine

Commenting on the second question of the New City Catechism, D.A. Carson answers the question, “What is God?” and issues a caution of what we must not do.

What is God?

God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies

Chris —  December 13, 2014

Yesterday, I posted a summary of the doctrine of the trinity in anticipation of tomorrow’s sermon. Here is an alternative way to be reminded that using analogies to understand this doctrine always ends in heresy.

Making Merry About the Trinity

Chris —  December 12, 2014

Can you precisely and concisely summarize the doctrine of the Trinity? Do you know which doctrinal errors to avoid?

Sunday we will continue our Making Merry at Christmas series at the Red Brick Church. Our children will be singing  – – which always brings great joy – – but I will also be showing how if we properly understand and meditate on the doctrine of the Trinity it will give way to joy and celebration.

You will have to come to church (or listen online) to the sermon to see how I connect the dots. But it’s always a good thing to review the doctrine of the Trinity and be reminded of its basic parameters. Bernard Ramm is right when he shows how the doctrine of the Trinity is of incredible help.

. . . once a doctrine has been clarified in this manner, it has a wonderful way of explaining Scripture when turned back upon the Scripture. We wonder why we did not see it so clearly before! Yet this is the nature of progress in theology. Only by pushes and pulls, by rushes to one flank and a counter-rush to another flank, does the ‘obvious’ in Scripture become ‘obvious.’” Bernard Ramm, The Witness of the Spirit, 29.

Packer is also helpful in reminding us that the goal of the doctrine of the Trinity is not to give us comprehensive understanding of the Trinity.

“The historic formulation of the Trinity seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is true.” J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, 40.

The statements in the below table summarize the doctrine of the Trinity. (1) God is 3 persons. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is one God. For more, see Justin Taylor’s post, Trinity 101. See also this important post on the Nicene Creed.

Table 1. Summary of the Doctrine of the Trinity: “One What, Three Who’s”

  Biblical Truth Select Scripture References Heresy or Error if Denied
1 God is three persons. F & S: Jn 1:1-2 show distinctions, 1 Jn 2:1. Each must be a person for these to happen. Modalism: One God that goes by 3 different names.
HS: Coordinate relationships (Mt 28:19, Greek grammar, personal activities assigned to HS: teaching (Jn 14:26), speaking (Acts 8:29, 13:2) and other personal activities.
2 Each person is fully God. F: Gn 1:1; Mt 6:9 Arianism: The Son or the Spirit not fully God. Subordinationism: Son not equal to Father even though eternal. Adoptionism: Jesus ordinary until his baptism.
S: Jn 1:1-18; Heb 1:1-4
HS: Ps 139:7-8; Acts 5:3-4
3 There is one God. Deut 6:4; Isa 45:22 Tritheism: three different gods.


What is Systematic Theology?

Chris —  April 29, 2014

Christians should be able to define systematic theology. Sunday (D.V.) I will begin a new preaching unit on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This will be a study in systematic theology – – though it will build on exposition of Scripture. Below is an overview of what is meant by “systematic theology.”

We first need to understand the definition of systematic theology (ST) and it’s relationship to other theological disciplines. Stated succinctly, though not with complete thoroughness or precision, ST considers the overall and systematic teaching of Scripture on particular points of doctrine.

Comprehensive textbooks on systematic theology run thousands of pages (see “How some recent evangelical theologians have organized systematic theology,” below). From its beginning, the Church recognized the necessity of confessional or creedal statements. Some portions of Scripture itself are even thought to quote ancient statements or hymns. See for instance, Colossians 1:15-20 or Philippians 2.

A church doctrinal statement identifies to distill only the most essential points of doctrine. Hence, there is a deliberate attempt to keep it brief.

The most ancient widely accepted statement of faith is the Apostles Creed. See below in this document. The Apostles Creed has remained largely unchanged since 700 A.D. and probably as early as the second century.

Having said that, the Apostles Creed is not Scripture. So the Church has scrutinized it for thousands of year and most now accept the change of not saying explicitly that Christ descended to Hades. (For more on this point see Grudem’s Systematic Theology). So it goes with ST – – the church is always reforming (semper reformanda).

The Relationship of Systematic Theology to other Theological Disciplines

Relationship of Theological DisciplinesThe willingness to consider changes to even the Apostles Creed offers a transition to discuss the relationship of ST to other disciplines is illustrated below. Notice the other disciplines which uphold systematic theology or are foundational to it.

Much could be said about each of the disciplines under and above ST in the above diagram. One thing to notice for our discussion is the place of historical theology. No orthodox church sets out to build a doctrinal statement from “scratch.” Instead, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. None of us would be qualified to make major revisions in systematic theology, nor would any single theologian. No local church can reproduce in 10 years or even 150 years what it has taken the church thousands of years to achieve. Doctrines such as the Trinity or the substitutionary atonement were formulated only after hundreds of years of study and reflection.

In addition to the Apostles Creed, other important theological statements include the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Westminster Standards, and the Heidelberg Catechism.

The Organization of Systematic Theology

The overall study of ST is generally organized in the following way. “Orthodoxy” refers to those points that must be upheld, to deny a point of orthodoxy is tantamount to a denial of the Christian faith. The doctrine of revelation or of how we know God is sometimes considered first. Likewise, the doctrine of humanity is sometimes considered third.

Area of Doctrine Description Major points of orthodoxy
God Doctrine of God Creator of all that existsAttributes: holiness etcTrinity 


Revelation / Bibliology Doctrine of how God reveals Himself Books that make up the Bible (Canonicity)InspirationInerrancy
Christology Doctrine of Christ 100 % Deity and 100% humanity of ChristThat the Christ of the Bible is the historical Jesus – hence reference to Pontius PilateWork of Christ which includes sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection. 
Pneumatology Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Personhood of the SpiritRole in salvation and indwelling
Anthropology / Hamartiology Doctrine of humanity and sin Historicity of AdamImageOriginal sin 

Total lostness/depravity

Soteriology Doctrine of Salvation Faith / repentance – the need to receive the gift of eternal life.Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification, glorificationSubstitutionary atonement
Ecclesiology Doctrine of the Church Marks: Ordinances/sacraments: baptism and communion, disciplineMission
Angelology / Satanology Doctrine of Angels and Satan Reality of Satan and powers of darkness.
Eschatology Doctrine of the final redemptive work of Christ and eternal state Return of Christ / Judgment / ResurrectionEternal states

How Some Recent Evangelical Theologians have Organized Systematic Theology

It is useful to notice how recent evangelical theologians have chosen to organize systematic theology. It is also instructive to see the number of pages that have been written. Here is just a sample from some of the books on doctrine in my library.

Wayne Grudem (Zondervan, 1264 pages) organizes his larger systematic theology as follows: (1)Word of God (2) Doctrine of God (3) Doctrine of Man (4) Christology and Pneumatology (5) Soteriology (6) Ecclesiology (7) Eschatology.

Millard Erickson (Baker, 1302 pages) organizes his systematic theology into: (1)Prolegomena (2) Revelation/Scripture (3) God (4) Works of God (5) Doctrine of Man (6) Sin / Hamartiology (7) Christology (8) Work of Christ (9) Holy Spirit/Pneumatology (10) Soteriology (11) Ecclesiology (12) Eschatology

Robert Reymond (Thomas Nelson, 1302 pages) (1) Revelation/Scripture and Pneumatology (2) God and Man (3) Soteriology and Christology (4) Ecclesiology (5) Eschatology

Michael Horton (Zondervan, 1052 pages): (1) Knowing God/Revelation/Scripture (2) God (3) Works of God which include both creation and providence, doctrine of Man (4) Soteriology, the God who rescues (5) Soteriology and Ecclesiology (6) Eschatology. Horton gives these six sections the following wonderful headings:

1. Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology
2. God Who Lives
3. God Who Creates
4. God Who Rescues
5. God Who Reigns in Grace
6. God Who Reigns in Glory

The Apostles Creed – One of the First Systematic Theology Statements

The Apostles Creed shows how from very early days the church saw the need to confess important doctrines in creedal statements. For our purposes, notice how the Apostles Creed begins, “I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth. . .”

The Apostles Creed concludes with an emphasis on life everlasting.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,**
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended to the dead*
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God
the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick
and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy ***universal Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

*This change suggested by Cranfield, Apostles Creed: A Faith to Live By, Grand Rapids (Eerdmans, 1993), page 3. It was first suggested by the International Consultation on English Texts and published in 1970.
** “Spirit” for “Ghost”
*** “universal” for “catholic.


In The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul reminds us of God’s pattern for sending missionaries. The prophet Isaiah was “shattered” in the presence of God. When Isaiah encountered the holiness of God he cried out:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!.” Isaiah 6:5

Yet, when God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I, send me (Isaiah 6:6-9).”

Sproul comments:

Two important things must be noted in Isaiah’s reply. The first is that he was not Humpty-Dumpty. In the nursery rhyme the fall of Mr. Dumpty is tragic because no one in the entire kingdom had the power to put him together again. Yet he was no more fragile than Isaiah. Isaiah was shattered into as many pieces as a fallen egg. But God put him together again. God was able to take a shattered man and send him into the ministry. he took a sinful man and made him a prophet. He took a man with a dirty mouth and made him into God’s spokesman.

Earlier in the same section, Sproul writes:

There is a pattern here, a pattern repeated in history. God appears, people quake in terror, God forgives and heals, God sends. From brokenness to mission is the human pattern.

Screenshot 2014-02-04 14.13.18One of our goals as churches and families must be to equip our people to know important theological terms. A little girl in our church (see the above pic) recently took the time to make me a list of key terms. I especially liked the first one on her list. This year our church will  focus on  terms for Easter.

2014_02_04_14_05_08_001As a pastor, one of my greatest privileges is to have a relationship with the children of our church – – and thankfully we have a LOT of them.  I so enjoy their pictures.

I was especially thrilled a couple of weeks ago with a  set of notes Harleigh made for me.  She went through the Bible and identified key terms to know. You can see a picture of all four pages to the right.

Harleigh’s list of terms is a good one.  “Gosple” [sic] is first  that is a good place to begin. If you don’t know what “gospel” means then read this post – – which also features a picture of Harleigh!

In anticipation of Easter this year at the Red Brick Church, I will be publishing an Easter primer with a list of terms, places, and people that are essential for understanding Good Friday. My goal for the terms is that will be simple enough for children like Harleigh to understand  – – yet, comprehensive and deep enough to challenge our adults.

2014_02_04_14_05_08_002The Red Brick Church values equipping the next generationIf you don’t have a church home – – then be our guest at the Red Brick Church. Last week, we began a Life Group for parents of young children, and it is off to a wonderful start — you can read more here.

But wherever you are at, be sure you know the meaning of terms like “amen”, “charity”, “faith.”

See also:

What does the little word “amen” express?

This week’s word: justification

What do Christians mean when they reference the gospel or good news?



Can We Know the Unknowable? Yes!

Chris —  January 30, 2014

Now then, little man, for a short while fly from your business; hide yourself for a moment from your turbulent thoughts.  Break off now your troublesome cares, and think less of your laborious occupations.  Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in him. Anselm of Canterbury

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Charles Spurgeon

God’s essence is knowable. Yet God is incomprehensible. The more we know about God, the more we realize how little we know. Hence, theologians stress that God is at once knowable and incomprehensible.

The Knowability and Incomprehensibility of GodJohn Frame points to an illustration used by Norman Shepherd to teach God’s incomprehensibility and knowability. Picture a circle:

  • The area of the circle represents the knowledge of God.
  • The circumference of the circle represents our exposure to the mystery of God.

As we truly grow in our knowledge of God, we will have an increasing exposure to the mystery of God.

God is not an unknowable haze which of which we can view only the outer edges. God has revealed attributes about his character such that we can see qualities at the center of his being. God is “holy” and “love” through and through.

Contemplating the vastness of God is not merely an intellectual exercise.

  • Meditating on God rebukes our pride and self-sufficiency. As I pointed out in Unpacking Forgiveness, 2 ants looking up at Mt. Everest don’t argue about which ant is taller.
  • At the same time, meditating on God encourages our hearts that God has freely chosen to reveal himself so that we can confidently know our Creator.
  • Meditating on the vastness of God encourages us that eternity will not be boring. We will grow in exiting ways in our knowledge of God for all of eternity, yet be no closer to knowing God exhaustively.
  • A contemplating of God’s greatness encourages us that his wisdom is reliable and causes us to give thanks that God’s Word makes wise the sin.
  • It causes us to tremble at his holiness and our sinfulness.

Hence, we exclaim with Paul:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

            “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

                        or who has been his counselor?”

            “Or who has given a gift to him

                        that he might be repaid?”

            For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36.

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 2002), 200–207.

Heidelberg Question 129. What does that little word “Amen express”?

Answer: Amen means,

This is to be sure!

It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for.

What is God?

Chris —  April 26, 2013

From the New City Catechism:

Q2: What is God?

God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

From the New City Catechism:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

 A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.


NCC Q1: What is our only hope in life and death? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

See also What is Thy Only Comfort in Life and Death?