Category Archives: Sanctification

What is sin? Where did it come from? How is it transmitted?

(Note: This is a practice exam response and is sketchy in some places)

Scripture presents the history of how humanity is separated from God because of their sin, and how God orchestrates a plan in order to remedy humankind’s state. But what is sin, and how has it come to us today?

1. A definition of sin

In Western culture, it is common to talk about certain socially harmful activities as sins – smoking, overeating and so on. However, biblical sin must be understood primarily in reference to God, not to personal or community standards. Therefore, Grudem summarises biblical sin as: “Any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature.” This definition covers not only things we do which go against what God requires of us, such as lying, stealing or committing adultery (Ex 20:2-17), but extends to sinful thoughts such as anger (Mt 5:22) or lust (Mt 5:28), and even our very essence (Eph 2:3, Rom 5:8).

The Bible describes sin using many different words and pictures. The most common term for sin in the Bible (OT: חתא; NT: ἁμαρτια) carries the meaning of missing the mark, or falling short of something. While the idea of sin as falling short is most well-known, it is by no means the only one in the Bible. Since sin is our disposition before a Holy God, it can variously stated and described, depending on which aspect of God a writer is presenting. For example:
– If God is King, sin is rebellion (OT: פשׁע)
– If God is Husband, sin is adultery (e.g. Hosea 1:2, Ezekiel 16)
– If God is Judge, sin is lawbreaking (NT: ανομια, παραβασις)
– If God is Glory, sin is idolatry (e.g. Romans 1:23)
– If God is Wisdom, sin is foolishness (e.g. Proverbs)
– If God is Holy, sin is impurity or uncleanness (e.g. Leviticus, Isaiah 6)
The variegated images of sin in the Bible underscores both its ubiquitous nature, but also the limits of employing a single definition.

Despite sin’s variegated nature, there are three core characteristics of sin: a distrust of God’s Word (Gen 3:1), a misplaced desire (Gen 3:6a), and consequently a disobedience of God’s Word (Gen 3:6b). The prototype transgressions of Adam and Eve is seen time and time again throughout the biblical narrative – in the lives and actions of the patriarchs, arrogant judges, adulterous kings, disobedient Israel and bloodthirsty nations, and through to the moral depravity of our own generation. Behind every sin is a desire to displace God with something else that absorbs our heart and affections more – whether ourselves (i.e. pride) or something else (i.e. idoltary). Romans 1:18-32 offers an anatomy of sin, where the worship of the Creator is replaced with the worship of creation, resulting in a corrupt state that is beyond our own ability to remedy.

2. The origin of sin

Where did sin come from? To affirm the good and just character of God (Deut 32:4) we must clearly affirm that God Himself is not responsible for sin. Rather, each person is “tempted when, by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14) Yet we should not say either that sin is some kind of eternal power equal to God (i.e. dualism). If we assume the truthfulness of the historical fall of Adam and Eve (3:1-16, see also 2 Cor 11:3), then sin originated with them – firstly with the distrust, covetousness and disobedience of our first parents, yet also inside every subsequent human heart (Mk 7:20-23). Yet by assigning the responsibility to humanity, we are not then placing sin outside the foreknowledge or providence of God (who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Eph 1:11). While God is not the author of sin, He has permitted sin in His world with a predetermination to overcome it at great cost to Himself, through the cross of Jesus Christ.

3. The transmission of sin

There are a number of ways in which the sin of the first humans described in the Bible (Gen 3:1-16) affects us today. The first is that, because of Adam’s sin, all humans inherit a sinful nature (depravity). Oliver Crisp calls this “the morally vitiated condition from which all subsequent human beings suffer.” The Bible presents this inherited sinful nature as a matter of fact. For example, David, while confessing his sin, mentions in Psalm 51:5 that “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” The Apostle Paul notes that prior to our salvation by grace, we were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:3). Because of God’s kindness and restraint through civil laws, societal norms and our own consciences, this “inherited tendency” to sin does not mean that every human being is as bad as they could be. Yet without the work of Christ, every person is “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Eph 4:18)

The second way which Adam’s sin affects us today is that all humans share in Adam’s guilt – though Christians differ on their views regarding the nature of our relationship with Adam’s sin. Some argue that we inherit both Adam’s sinful nature and his guilt (Federal View). The clearest passage outlining that we inherit his guilt is Romans 5:12-21. While comparing Jesus with Adam, Paul states that “Just as the result of [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men…” (Rom 5:18a), and that “just as through the disobedience of the man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19) Paul’s point is that Adam served as our legal representative before God, and we are counted culpable before him (just as in Christ we can be counted righteous through faith in Him).

Some disagree that Adam serves as our federal head – often because of a moral or legal objection to the idea that Adam’s sin is imputed directly to the rest of humanity who were not there to “sin with him”. Instead, some argue that Adam’s guilt was transmitted to us because we were united to him in a real sense – we were actually in Adam when he sinned (Realist View). In this view, we are either literal chips off the block of Adam (the individualised nature argument), or were pre-existentially united to him (the fission / “Interstellar” argument), or share in his nature directly as members of the human race (the participation argument). Still others would argue that Adam’s guilt was not shared with us, but only his morally deficient nature (the Zwinglian view).

The overriding concern from those who reject the Federal View seems to be a sense of legal injustice – how can I be held guilty for Adam’s sin? This objection fails to recognise that we are also guilty before God in a real sense because we have sinned ourselves: “For there is no difference: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23) The charge of unfairness could also apply to Christ serving as our righteous representative – how is that fair either? So an appeal to our limited sense of fairness cannot be the only criteria for assessing this point. The Bible itself does not speculate extensively on whether this sin is mediately or immediately imputed to us, but simply acknowledges that humanity shares in both Adam’s sinful nature (Rom 5:12, 17) and his guilt (Rom 5:16, 18). How marvellous it is then for God to orchestrate the reversal of sin’s penalty and effects “through the one man, Jesus Christ”! (Rom 5:17)


(Time: 2 hours… too long!)

Sources and helpful links

  • Adams, Mark. “Doctrine of Sin.” NT601 The Knowledge of God (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • Grudem, Wayne. “Sin.” Pages 490-514 of Systematic Theology. Leiceister: IVP, 1994.
  • Crisp, Oliver. “Sin.” Pages 194-215 of Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

What are the key elements of justification in Paul’s letters?

[Note: this is a practice essay response, and is therefore sketchy in places]

How does a Holy God forgive guilty sinners? How is one justified, or made right before God? This question lies at the heart of the entire Bible, and is answered in full by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, the NT author who writes most about the doctrine of justification, teaches that there are three main elements to justification: a removal of God’s wrath against our unrighteousness, a crediting of Jesus’s righteousness to us, and that it is received by grace through faith in Christ.

1. Justification is the removal of God’s ANGER

The first element of justification is that it is the removal of God’s settled opposition to human sin – His wrath. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by reminding them that “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:17, quoting Habbakuk 2:4). The reason that faith is the basis for righteousness is given in the very next verse: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…” (Rom 1:18) These transgressions are not merely horizontal in nature (e.g. Gentile-Jew relationships), but a self-centred rejection of God Himself (Rom 1:21) and is evidenced in all kinds of ways. Paul’s argument over Romans 1-3 culminates in the summary that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10).

It is inconsistent with God’s character and actions over history to “justify the wicked” (Ex 23:7, Prov 17:15). As a result, the fair response from God “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth” must be “wrath and anger” (Rom 2:8). Given this state of affairs, in order for God to clear the guilty and “declare righteous the ungodly” (Rom 4:5), some kind of action to turn away this wrath is required.

Paul repeatedly teaches that Christ’s death solves this dilemma; in His death, he bears God’s wrath for sin in our place. Romans 3:24-25 states that sinners have been justified (δικαιούμενοι) freely by God’s grace through Christ, of whom God presents as a propitiation (or atoning sacrifice) for our sins. This language of Christ taking our penalty as a substitute is also evident in other passages such as Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”) and 2 Cor 5:19 (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”) So to understand what it means to be justified, we first recognise that it involves the removal of God’s wrath against our unrighteousness.

2. Justification is a righteousness TRANSFER

Justification is not merely the removal of guilt; a mnemonic like “Just as if I never sinned” actually falls short of fully covering what occurs. According to Paul, the second element of justification is that God in Christ credits, or imputes His genuine righteousness to us. Paul summarises chapter three by stating that one is “justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” (Rom 3:28) Then, in Romans 4:2-6, citing Abraham’s response to God, Paul uses a new term, λογίζεται (reckoned, credited), to illustrate a close connection with justification. culminating in the use of both terms his summary in Romans 4:6:

“just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works

The last clause (underlined) mirrors the syntax of Romans 3:28, except that Paul swaps the term “justified” with “reckons righteousness”. This language of crediting helps us to visualise that justification is also a transfer of Christ’s righteousness. In Romans 5:18-19, Paul states that “through the obedience of the One many will be appointed righteous” – he does this to emphasise that when sinners are justified, Christ’s obedience is genuinely transferred to our account.

Therefore, justification does not only mean “just as if I’ve never sinned”, but also “just as if I’ve always obeyed” – because the righteousness of Christ’s perfect life has really been transferred to us.

3. The MEANS of justification is “by grace through faith”

How is the removal of God’s wrath and the crediting of Christ’s righteousness appropriated to us? Paul uses the terms “by grace” and “through faith” repeatedly throughout his writings to emphasise the only means of being made right before God (e.g. Rom 3:24, 4:16, 5:17, Tit 3:7, Eph 2:8). The distinction between the two is that God’s grace is the source of our justification, while our faith is the means by which we receive this justification.

For example, while explaining how Abraham was justified by faith not works, Paul explains that justification is received by “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). Other passages in Paul’s writings clearly portray faith as the instrument for receiving a righteousness from God (e.g. Rom 3:22-30, 4:6, 5:1, Phil 3:9). This faith is also in view when Paul states in Romans 10:10 that “for with the heart one believes, [resulting] in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, [resulting] in salvation.” The appropriate response therefore, is to “declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

In conclusion, Paul’s teaching on justification is that firstly, it is a removal of God’s wrath against sin, it is a crediting of Christ’s righteousness, and that this “great exchange” is obtained through a personal response of faith in what Jesus has done on our behalf.


[60 minutes]

Sources and helpful links:

  • Thompson, Alan. “Righteousness and Justification in Paul.” NT635 Romans and Pauline Theology (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • Thompson, Alan. “Greek Exegesis: Romans 1-6.” NT635 Romans and Pauline Theology (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • PSALLOS, Romans album.

2017 Year in Review: discovering Sydney trains, discovering ourselves

It was one of those glorious late summer mornings in Sydney – clear enough to go exploring under a brilliant blue sky, and enough cloud cover to fend off oven temperatures. We set off with the aim of exploring some part of our new home city. A friend suggested we try some desserts at Lakemba, so off we went.

Waiting at the train platform with anticipation, one of our girls piped up: “Hey, we should go visit every train station in Sydney!”

A simple request kickstarted a family project that, 68 stations later, still brings beautiful sights, culinary delights, and God-given insights about communities, journeying together, and living life as people “passing through”.

Station #15: Circular Quay

Sydney is beautiful. But it’s a beauty that goes beyond the postcard-quality harbour views at Circular Quay and Milson’s Point Stations, or the picturesque entrance into the Blue Mountains at Emu Plains. There’s also a raw, unscripted beauty in seeing crowds hustle between platforms at Central Station, the early-morning market shoppers at Flemington Station, and the swirl of grunge and rainbow hairstyles at Newtown Station. There’s also the quiet serenity of sailing towards the Blue Mountains in the quiet carriage, the suburban station that’s synecdoche for home (Croydon), and the experience of walking through a city of gravestones pondering the brevity of life (Lidcombe).

Station #14: Central

Culinary delights – yes! Travelling between Sydney suburbs can seem like sliding between alternate universes. At one stop you’re enjoying hipster brews with yuppies and power-parents (Dulwich Hill), at the next you’re scarfing down dumplings (Ashfield). Try some Indian curry (Harris Park) or Bangladeshi desserts (Lakemba). Slurp some Vietnamese Phở (Cabramatta) or Taiwanese beef noodles (Eastwood). Can’t decide between Asian or Middle Eastern for lunch? Then fill up with both Laotian and Iraqi cuisine either side of Fairfield Station.

Station #51: Cabramatta

Of course, a city is more than its food. Travelling on trains (bikes, buses, ferries too) allows the kind of personal interactions that we often zoom past in our automobile-induced amnesia. After all, it’s only by travelling slowly that you meet complete strangers, hear their stories, and even share Christ with them. In our train station hunt, we’ve met humans of Sydney from all walks of life: people sleeping rough, retired grandparents, fellow parents, tourists, business-people, and other thrill-seeking children. It’s their individual stories that stay in the memory: the grandfather fretting about his grandchildren’s future, or the refugee who’s found job-seeking a racially-discriminatory disappointment, or the man who simply wants the dignity of buying a meal this day.

Station #60: Wentworth Falls

Train networks also serve as etched evidence of our innate inclination to settle in homogenous communities. There are unmistakable trends in who lives where. Upper-middle class families in North Sydney and the Hills, working-class people in the West and Southwest, Koreans in Strathfield, Nepalis in Granville, Lebanese in Punchbowl, Italians in Leichhart. Residents of Sydney who coalesce into ethnic, religious and socioeconomic tribes. Godly unity brings strength. Sinful unity foments mistrust and race riots. In this I’m reminded that Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility by creating in his death on the cross one new man in place of two, so making peace (Eph 2:14-16). In God’s Kingdom there won’t be segregated communities to train through. And even if train lines carve divisions (they talk about the Chinese side and the Korean side of Eastwood, for example), true gospel communities can bridge those divides through the shed blood of Christ.

Station #9: Homebush

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul shares this well-known line:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Phil 3:20)

Paul is convinced that standing firm in our heavenly citizenship empowers us to press on towards knowing Christ more.

I think this truth is more vivid this year for us, living life in transition. When you know you’re just passing through somewhere, you’re motivated to make the most of your time: to take photos, try what we can, and come away enriched and grateful. Just as we visit most train stations wondering if we’ll ever come back, we’re making friends, pursuing gospel opportunities, reading and studying, knowing that our season is temporary.

Perhaps here God gives us a parable for the Christian life: if this life isn’t our final destination, if we are just passing through this station, then we should live differently. Spend differently. Read differently. Relate differently. Try things more spontaneously. Share Christ more courageously. Love our fellow sojourners more fervently. Our citizenship in heaven affects our choices on earth.

Station #20: Belmore

Hours separate us from the dawning of 2018. This year has been like no other for the Chongs. We’ve ached for friends departed, and welcomed new ones. Our first year at SMBC has pulled at our minds and hearts. Our marriage and parenting has been a fishbowl experience, filled with God’s mercy amidst our failures.

Only the LORD knows all the joys and struggles next year will bring. But one thing’s certain: there’s two more years to go and 110 more stations to visit. I’m not sure if we’ll get to them all. But by God’s grace, our family is certainly richer for the journey.

God of my fathers
Strangers in this country
Pilgrims on these dusty roads
Across the great plains
In the bellies of the steel trains
To stake a new claim in that wilderness of hope

And like my fathers I am looking for a home
I’m looking for a home beyond the sea
So be my God and guide me till I lie beneath these hills
And let the great God of my fathers
Be the great God of my children still

God of My Fathers, Ben Shive

Station #61: Emu Plains


Appendix: Our #sydneytrainhunt journal, Year 1

(The only rules we followed: we needed to visit the actual station and not just pass through, and we needed to take a photo with the station name on it for it to count.)

  1. Arncliffe – Explored this cliffside station while waiting for an airport pickup. Bought a 7-up with label in Arabic. Tasted like normal 7-up.
  2. Ashfield – Ian runs a lovely cafe across the street that does cheap, tasty Malaysian food.
  3. Auburn – H and I enjoyed a “babycino” and some baklava. Street signs a fusion of Lebanese, English and Chinese.
  4. Bankstown – A lovely afternoon catching up with the McMahans.
  5. Belmore – Met George, a lapsed Greek Orthodox who’s lived here for years. Takes the train to Liverpool for work each day.
  6. Blacktown – This was a busy, crowded toilet stop for one of our kids. The $1 slushie was nice.
  7. Bondi Junction – Busy waiting for a bus to Bondi Beach. Could the train not have extended to the seaside?
  8. Burwood – Our starting point for many adventures. The BBQ lamb shop across the road always seems like its on fire with all the smoke coming out.
  9. Cabramatta – Come here and find a special gate, interesting fruits and yummy food. No longer the infamous heroin capital it used to be.
  10. Campsie – Albee’s Kitchen is here. Where else can you get Kuching laksa this good?
  11. Canley Vale – Bought some pork buns for the girls enroute to Cabra-vale Park.
  12. Canterbury – A small square-shaped station we can get to by bike (and bike trailer)
  13. Carlingford – We came here to attend Michael Abel’s memorial service.
  14. Central – The grand concourse with its high dome and giant Victorian-era clock feels like a scene from the movies.
  15. Chatswood – Met Amelia and the twins here! The largest shopping mall complex we’ve ever seen.
  16. Circular Quay – Postcard views of the Sydney Harbour. Tourists galore. Lunch on the Opera House steps is great.
  17. Clyde – We walked here from Granville Memorial Park once and the girls had fun hiding inside a pole.
  18. Concord West – Took H here and cycled around Olympic Park reserve. Easier to access the Brick Pit Ring Walk from this station.
  19. Croydon – We went for a walk from home one day and 20 minutes later we reached our closest station.
  20. Denistone – Walked past a house auction – $2 million for a full-section 4-bedroom house.
  21. Dulwich Hill – Came here for some fish and chips. Plenty of fancy food places here.
  22. Eastwood – Went to the Taiwan Night Market for dinner.
  23. Emu Plains – Got off to view the Blue Mountains from Sydney’s vantage point. Nearly got fined for forgetting to tap on again!
  24. Epping – We got off here on the way to Carlingford once. Big screen TV ad hangs over the pedestrian bridge.
  25. Erskineville – H and W walked here from Macdonaldtown Station. A few bikes passed us on the way.
  26. Fairfield – Went to the massive adventure park, and had Laotian crispy fried rice for lunch.
  27. Flemington – The Sydney Markets are here. Rows and rows of stalls, people selling anything and everything: flowers, fruit + veg, garage sale-type stuff.
  28. Gordon – The cafe across the road does Nitro Coffee (cold brew). Wow!
  29. Granville – We found a park with trees that had monkey apples. Nirwan and his mum played with us at the Memorial Playground.
  30. Green Square – Caught up with Greg Cooper for lunch and a yak about church music.
  31. Harris Park – The day they extended the Inner West Line to Paramatta. We got off here and bought some Turkish delight and κεφαλητυρι (head cheese?)
  32. Homebush – E and W found a Russian Saturday school and ate some пирожки (piroshki).
  33. Hurlstone Park – Got off the bus here once enroute to see Jared and Kristy in Marrickville.
  34. Kings Cross – Stopped here to have morning tea on the way to Bondi. Famous Coke sign has been upgraded.
  35. Kogarah – Cycled to Brighton le Sands with E and went home via this station.
  36. Lakemba – A suburb that’s 59% Muslim based on the 2016 census. Bangladeshi sweets were nice, Jasmin’s Lebanese even better. No Christmas tree on the street corner.
  37. Lewisham – This is our stop every Sunday morning to get to church.
  38. Lidcombe – We walked to Rookwood Necropolis from here. One grave was for a child who died at 11 months.
  39. Lindfield – W handed out flyers here while on East Lindfield college mission.
  40. Macdonaldtown – Closest stop to Moore College. Lots of “sleeping trains” here.
  41. Marrickville – Saw a big cargo train roll past here. Met up with Jared and Kristy for lunch in the park.
  42. Martin Place – Brought Ashleigh and Jayana here to go visit the Hyde Park Barracks.
  43. Mascot – Visited Samuel and Sherry in their last week in Oz
  44. Meadowbank – Took the ferry from here to Circular Quay along the Parramatta River.
  45. Milsons Point – Walked across the Harbour Bridge with CJ and Dave
  46. Museum – An old-style underground train station with vintage ads on the walls
  47. Newtown – Burgerfuel here! Also lots of rainbow flags and a very alternative bookstore.
  48. North Strathfield – Komart here has a great range of Korean snacks.
  49. North Sydney – W cycled here one morning. Crossed the Harbour Bridge at dawn.
  50. Olympic Park – Brought Christian here. There was a big fountain where E got very wet!
  51. Parramatta – Wandered around the town square and visited St Johns Cathedral (parish of Samuel Marsden, the “apostle” to Aotearoa New Zealand).
  52. Petersham – Two Fat Greeks does a delicious souvlaki. Also can’t beat Gelato Republic.
  53. Punchbowl – W cycled here one morning. Station looks unwelcoming, Lebanese shopkeeper was the opposite.
  54. Redfern – E and W did a Food Ride with some other cyclists. Had to carry bike and trailer up the stairs.
  55. Rhodes – IKEA is here.
  56. Rydalmere – W cycled to here one morning, went along the southern bank of the Parramatta River.
  57. St James – Came here after exploring Hyde Park with Christian. Has an old-style food bar inside.
  58. St Peters – Came with H to explore Sydney Park on the bike.
  59. Stanmore – School of Theology with Prof Guy Waters at Stanmore Baptist. House prices too high for church members to live here.
  60. Strathfield – The square has a lovely fountain, Jacob makes a great coffee, and lots of people have time to take a tract or talk about Jesus here.
  61. Summer Hill – A trendy place to live. Lots of dogs as pets here. The IGA has a cheese room.
  62. Tempe – W cycles through whenever he takes the Cooks River to Airport route
  63. Town Hall – Came here to attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Cenopath
  64. Waverton – E and W cycled here one morning, via Harbour Bridge.
  65. Wentworth Falls – We met some Taiwanese grandparents and walked to the Falls together. (This is technically outside Sydney…)
  66. West Ryde – Koorong is here!
  67. Wiley Park – Found a community veggie garden. South Asian women with their children in the playground.
  68. Wynyard – Another stop where people are happy to sit and read about Jesus, if you offer a tract to them. John Dunmore Lang’s statue is here.

Year 1 of our #sydneytrainhunt

 

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

We’ve just finished our first semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College, where I’m studying towards a Masters of Divinity.

It’s been exhausting on some fronts – adjusting to life in Australia with a young family, scrambling to build new friendships and relationships, grieving as NZ friends move on with their lives. I don’t think we’ve ever been as sick with colds and flus as this past 6 months.

It’s been enriching on many fronts – drinking from multiple fire hoses gushing with theology, observing examples of godliness, and catching the passion to bring Christ to all the nations – literally. What a special place this is to be prepared for a lifetime of gospel ministry in NZ.

I’ve noted down for posterity what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than all my ephemeral InstaFaceTweets combined. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of them are helpful to you.


Church History: Early Church to 476

“If learning church history doesn’t contribute to your godliness and discipleship, then it hasn’t done its job.” – Stuart Coulton

“The Crusades. Nazi Germany. How could ‘Christians’ do such evil things? They were Christians who failed to critique the values of the world around them.” – S.C.

“We carpet bomb a city to save democracy [Dresden]. Should we kill a man for denying the Trinity [cf. Calvin and Servetus]? Church history gives us provocation and tools to wrestle with these propositions.” – S.C.

“What and where it happened is not as important as why it happened.” – S.C.

“Early Christianity stood out by its holiness. Is our church today known for its quality of life? What difference has Christ made to me?” – S.C.

“You work out what the error is by the way the truth is articulated.” – S.C.

“The difference between an ascetic and and aesthetic comes down to chocolate. The ascetic says no. The aesthetic says, ‘Only Lindt will do.'” – S.C.

“The church sometimes stops at bishops and creeds, but pays lip service to Scripture.” – S.C.

“The church has a need for many things, but what it really needs is good doctrine. We live in a world where pragmatism is the most popular authority. So assume nothing. Go back to Scripture and ask: is this truth biblical?” – S.C.

“Christians in the West treat Revelation in ways that John would be horrified. Does reading Revelation move you to pray for the persecuted church? If not perhaps we’ve missed John’s purpose for the letter.” – Rachel Ciano, Persecution and Apologists

“Fast growth in the early church meant nominal Christians with shallow roots. Christians lived in a time of peace, so were unprepared; many gave themselves up. May it be a lesson to us not to be caught unprepared.” – R.C. on the Edict of 250 AD requiring Christians worship the Roman Emperor.

“‘For the church to be marginalised is not a bad thing. It has better eyes to see from the edges.'” – R.C. paraphrasing Miroslav Volf

“If you’ve found something new that no one has ever thought of before, be careful. People have been thinking about things longer than you.” – R.C.

“One of the greatest things about church history is that you’ll never hero worship anyone. You see their black spots; everyone has feet of clay.” – S.C.

“Don’t write these guys off [early monastics]. Otherwise we’ll have nothing to learn. These monks asked: what does it look like to seriously follow Jesus? Part of me is provoked… How much am I prepared to follow Jesus?” – S.C.

“FF Bruce suggests that the Reformation is all about Augustine’s doctrine of the church colliding with his doctrine of salvation.” – S.C.

“If you find yourself separated from the majority of the church, then show some humility.” – S.C. summarising Augustine’s argument about the church

 

Church History: Middle Ages to Pre-Reformation

“Augustine’s view is that we are dead in our transgressions. Pelagius’s view is that we are not dead in our trangressions. The Bible teaches that you’re a prince [in Christ] and a worm. You’re totally depraved and you’re touched by grace.” – S.C.

“Herulean Oduvacar is the perfect name to drop into a dinner party conversation. He was the first non-Roman to sit on the throne. You think Donald Trump is shocking!” – S.C.

“In the Middle Ages, nobody believed in the separation of church and state. The issue at this time is which side is in charge.” – S.C.

“Don’t defend the Crusades. They are a complete blot on the Christian church.” – S.C.

“We are tempted to promote the cause of Christ using instruments of the world. But Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that it’s ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.'” – S.C.

“The real outrage with Luther was not that he had beer, but that he got married.” – S.C.

“The priesthood of all believers has politically explosive implications.” – S.C.

“One of the temptations for us is to lack confidence in the power of God’s Word. ‘You need topical. You need something else.’ No – it is the means by which salvation is accomplished.” – S.C.

“Lutheranism today is different to Lutheranism 500 years ago. Calvinism remains influential over the years, perhaps because it left a more systematised doctrine.” – S.C.

“Luther is all about stuffing the ark – ‘get them in’. Calvin wants to transform the ark – ‘sanctify them'”. – R.C., on the difference between Luther and Calvin

“One reason laments have lost their place in today’s worship is that we have a problem with saying ‘God, you did it.’ Withhold nothing from the sovereignty of God.” – R.C.

“Your church building says a lot about your theology.” – R.C. on church architecture

“Most of South America is Roman Catholic because of the Jesuits. While Protestants were infighting, they became a worldwide RCC. Parochialism is the enemy of the gospel. Don’t debate each other at the expense of gospel proclamation.” – R.C. on the Catholic counter-reformation

 

 

Pastoral Theology

“To pray for God to be glorified in your life is a dangerous prayer.” – Stuart Coulton, Pastoral Theology

“Beware the disjunct between the handling of God’s word for others, and practising God’s word for yourself.” – S.C.

“Small talk is addressing the 95% of a person’s life. If you are disinterested in 95% of a person’s life, then continue to hate small talk.” – S.C.

“What God does in you will shape what He does through you.” – S.C.

“[I] didn’t realise how dangerous Stuart’s prayer was until later in the year.” – student in the valley.

 

Biblical Theology

“In my class, the answer is usually Jesus, or context.” – Alan Thompson

“Here’s four approaches to the Bible:
1. Exegesis – what’s in the line?
2. Biblical Theology – what’s the timeline?
3. Systematic Theology – what’s the bottom line?
4. Historical Theology – what’s the church’s line?”

– adapted from A.T. explaining the role of biblical theology

New Testament Greek

“Learning Greek shouldn’t make you proud, but make you humble.” – Janet Riley

“Learning Greek is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You need to hold on to that word and say: ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!'” – Rob Plummer on dailydoseofgreek.com

 

 

 

Old Testament Foundations

“We’re going to look at some of the greatest literature ever written.” – Kit Barker

“In time you’ll learn to use dictionaries, commentaries and journals. But nothing replaces a careful, repeated reflection of the text. Keep asking: what is God doing with this text then and now?” – K.B.

“The Pentateuch is meant to persuade you to obey – it’s not to be held at arm’s length. It’s meant to shape us, transform us into better men and women than we were.” – Geoff Harper

“Genesis records history, but it also critiques our own hearts. It’s less about what the sun is made of, but why it is there.” – G.H.

“There’s a diversity of views out there [on Genesis 1-2], but we are Christian. It’s very unwise to die on this hill. We need to love people who are different.” – G.H.

“To help us understand the literary artistry in the Tower of Babel story, let’s read The Gruffalo and see if you can spot any artistic devices.” – G.H.

“[In the Joseph story] Judah’s repentance is real. He’s willing to be Benjamin’s substitute, to be a slave so Benjamin can go free. We see the necessity for repentance to precede forgiveness. If we repent, we’ll get reconciliation.” – G.H.

“As Christians we need to be careful not to have an Islamic [i.e. dictated] view of Scripture. It’s OK if divine inspiration is more complex than we thought. We have a God who stands behind it.” – G.H.

“Let me make some bold statements: Leviticus is not just a relic of Israel’s history; it’s your history. It’s not redundant, but essential. You can’t understand Jesus unless you understand what’s in Leviticus: atonement, forgiveness, care for the foreigner, blood, sacrifice, holiness. So study Levicitus to understand Christ better.” – G.H.

“Leviticus is a wonderful evangelistic text. Lots of people are terrified about being unclean before a Holy God. Jesus is the one who makes us clean. Leviticus pushes us to talk about this.” – G.H.

“To remove wrath from the cross is foolishness. What then did he die for? Then there’s no sense in which God demonstrates his love.” – K.B.

“[The wrath of God] is not just an Old Testament problem. In fact, the NT is far more violent — in both the crucifixion [of Jesus] and in the unleashing of God’s fury on all who reject him.” – K.B.

“The more we understand and accept God’s wrath against rebellion, the more we appreciate the love of God and what Christ suffered.” – K.B.

“One generation is all it takes to lose the nation – to be worse than the culture you’re in. So we must pass on the life-giving words to the next generation.” – K.B. on Judges

 

Preaching Class, Principal’s Hour, Student Chapels

“The goal of preaching is not just to make smarter sinners. That’s what’s called dump truck preaching. The goal of preaching is to give God’s Word, to point people to their saviour, and live for his glory.” – Malcolm Gill

“It’s easy to do dump truck preaching. It’s much harder to be simple.” – M.G.

“‘My son’s birthday party’ – could be kids with party hats, or as it turns out, an adult son released from prison. Find out who you’re speaking to!” – M.G. on evaluating your audience

“In preaching you bring a meal out from the kitchen. You don’t take them into the kitchen and show them all the ingredients.” – M.G.

“If you’ve come to bible college, there probably is a Messiah complex about you. But our effectiveness in ministry is solely by God’s grace. The gospel gives us both confidence and humility in gospel ministry.” – Mark Adams, on 1 Cor 15

“Genesis 38 pictures a man in the midst of rebellion, confronted with his deception, then immediately acknowledging this wrongdoing, who becomes a new person. God transforms the hardest of hearts.” – Kit Barker

“People have a right to see in us a radical reflection of Jesus.” – S.C., on Matthew 5

“Jesus had nothing to add to the commandments except one thing: he kept them.” – S.C. quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Old Testament is the gospel in bud; the New Testament is the gospel in flower.” – S.C. quoting JC Ryle

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘You’re going to have to serve somebody.’ The question is, who? Who will you give your heart to?” – S.C., Matt 6:19-34

“There is a difference between having strong convictions and lacking respect for others with whom we disagree.” – S.C., on Matt 7:1-6

“One of the dangers of college is that our skillset outstrips our character. So begin with a command like this: don’t judge.” – S.C.

“Some advice for bible college graduates – don’t whine, don’t shine, and don’t recline.” – from an OT lecturer at Moore College

 

Other quotables

“Competence without character in Christian service is not just unattractive, but incredibly dangerous.” – S.C.

“Ministry Matters [hearing from missionaries every week] will help us lift our eyes away from parochialism and our tendency to only look locally.” – S.C.

“Some cultures don’t even have a word for guilt in their language. How do you explain Romans 3 to them?” – Richard Hibbert, on cross-cultural communication

“[Why are we missionaries in an unsafe country?] Safe is relative. You could be in Australia and get hit by a car. Is Christ worthy for West Asians to praise? If so then it is worth being here for the sake of the gospel.” – X+X, missionary family with young children

 

 

Interview: David talks about memorising scripture

Scripture memory doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of intentionally memorising the Bible is a habit of grace that is worth cultivating for God’s glory, and the good of His people.

To encourage myself and others with this, I’ve interviewed a few people that I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with the spiritual discipline of scripture memory.

“I have stored up your Word in my heart
That I might not sin against You.”
– Psalm 119:11

Previously:


One of the things that came to mind when I first met David Chang was: “Wow! Check out that hair!” But crazy hair aside, Cheryl and I have really appreciated getting to know him as a friend over the years. David is currently a member of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in Hamilton, and works for the Waikato DHB as a Speech Language Therapist. So he thinks about words and speech all day long!

David kindly took some time out of his schedule to chat about the blessings of scripture memory.


1. Share with us a Bible passage you’ve memorised.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and holy lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

2. What are some passages that youve committed to memory?

  • Romans 8:1-17
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • Titus
  • Ephesians 1-2
  • 1 John 1-2
  • A few of the Psalms!

 

3. What convinced you to start memorising Scripture?

My first extended passage that I memorised (Romans 8) was because it was such a critical chapter of Christian living. I was really strengthened and encouraged by it and wanted to commit it to heart.

The first book I memorised (Philippians) was because The Resurgence (Christian blog site) posted a challenge in December 2010 to memorise the book of Philippians by Easter 2011. A friend then started a Facebook page to encourage a bunch of friends to take up the challenge.

Since Philippians, I have just sporadically decided to commit texts to memory, both individually and with friends.

4. How do you choose which passages to memorise?

I have not been particularly systematic in selecting passages to memorise. However, here are some reasons that have contributed to picking a text:

  • Passages that are currently being preached through at church.
  • Passages that have been a great reminder/encouragement to me during a season of life.
  • Passages that friends have wanted to memorise together.

And so far, all of the above also meet the vague criteria of not being overly long (e.g. Not the whole Gospel of Matthew/Mark/Luke/John) to memorise.

5. Do you suggest memorising whole books of the Bible or selected verses? What are the pros/cons?

There is a place for both:

Whole Books

+ You revisit the same books over and over and over again, that you become very familiar with the text – the flow of the arguments, the themes, the emphases. At times I have found that I am so familiar with the text that I can identify with the thoughts and emotions of the author as he writes to the point that the way he thinks and his priorities start rubbing off on me.

+ You understand passages in their correct context, and start using/applying them in appropriate situations. 

– Some books are just too big to commit to memory – they will take a very long time.

Selected Verses

+ You can bring verses to mind that cover a range of topics – from verses that address different aspects of theology, to verses/promises to cling to in different circumstances.

– It is easy to accidentally strip these verses of their context.

6. What are some of the blessings youve experienced in committing Scripture to memory?

I have found that while I am memorising a particular text, the text will often very naturally come to mind as I go about my day and I’ve come to see how particular texts are relevant to different situations – even in situations that you have never thought of.

For example, while I was memorising Philippians, Phil 4:6-9 was a great reminder to me when I wrestled with something that made me anxious and stressed. People often think of Phil 4:6 in those situations, but the fact that I had vs. 8 + 9 also committed to memory reminded me that, a lot of what made me stressed/anxious were actually uncertainty of the future or things that “could happen” and helped me to redirect my thoughts to things that were “true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise”.

Also, I’ve grown in my love for some of the ‘less-famous’ passages of the Bible, simply because you see how these texts can be as edifying as the “famous” passages.

Also, during times of memorising scripture, the text that I’m memorising can often just roll off my tongue in my interactions.

 

7. OK – walk us through your step-by-step method of memorising Scripture.

My method has evolved through the years, but if I was to pick a new text to memorise tomorrow, this is what I would do:

  1. Read through the passage twice a day for two weeks. This helps significantly in becoming familiar with the text, the argument and how the author/translators phrase things. While this may initially feel like a waste of time because you want to just get stuck in, I have found doing this helped make the memorising easier and quicker.
  2. Start at the beginning. Cover the text and try and recite as much as I can – if I completed step 1, I am always surprised with how much is already committed to memory.
  3. Uncover and check whether you were correct. If so, repeat again. If not, repeat again.
  4. Once I correctly recite the passage 2-3 times in a row, I add the next sentence to the end and try and recite the whole text from the beginning (Repeat 2-4).
  5. If it is a long passage, I do some chunking. When I reach a natural break (e.g. end of a chapter), I stop adding to the end of what I have already memorised (as in step 4), and just start afresh from the next section.
  6. Once I’ve memorised each “chunk” I try to tie them together by reciting the whole passage.

“… We are often in the habit of filling in these “empty” times with social media, but it can surprise you how much you can achieve in these times.”

8. What are some practical tips you can share that can help us be more successful with Scripture memory?

  • Keep track of verses by counting with your fingers – this avoids awkwardly adding of numbers as you recite passages which can disrupt the flow of the text. While this may not be as helpful (compared to saying the numbers out loud as you recite) when people ask you to immediately recite a specific verse, it is surprising how effective it is. It also helps with recognising if you’ve missed a verse while you’re reciting.
  • Step 1 in the above question – reading through the passage quite a bit before you start is surprisingly effective.
  • Recite together! Find 1-2 other people and do it together once a week. It can take just 30min. I did this before church with two other guys once, and it was very enjoyable.
  • Try and recite in your “empty” times. The good thing about reciting Scripture is you don’t actually have to use your eyes or hands that much – so you can do it when you’re stuck in traffic, waiting at the bus stop, riding the bus, sitting on the toilet, when your eyes are tired and don’t want to look at anything, showering, walking, etc. We are often in a habit of filling in these “empty” times with social media, but it can surprise you how much you can achieve in these times.

 

9. Any other words of encouragement for those of us having a go?

  • Pray, pray, pray. Our God is Sovereign and in control of all things, including our brains. Ask for his help.
  • Just get started – the idea is more daunting and seem more impressive than it actually is. If you commit to it and do it regularly, it is probably not as hard as you think.
  • Take your time – some people are better at memorising than others – but everyone can do it!

 

Resources and helps: