Tim Challies – 10 Strengths (and 10 Dangers) of Systematic Theology

Systematic theology is the discipline of looking to the entire Bible to determine what God says about a given topic. It answers the question “What does the whole Bible say about __________ [fill in the blank]?” It is a logical, systematic way of organizing truth. To be skillful, accurate theologians, we need systematic theology, but we must also be aware that its strengths are closely related to its weaknesses. Fire is valuable for producing heat and energy, yet fire’s heat and energy is exactly what makes it dangerous. The problem is not fire, but allowing fire to get out of control. This is also the case with systematic theology.

In his book How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology, Andy Naselli explains 10 strengths (and 10 corresponding dangers) of systematic theology. I’ve condensed and at times quoted it with his permission. I’ve also included a list of our personal recommendations for the best systematic theology books.

1. It can enrich your understanding of a text (but also distort it).

Carefully reading a text to analyze what its author intended to communicate tends to focus on the details while systematic theology tends to focus on the big picture. The first sees the trees while the second sees the forest. You are never a neutral, objective investigator of a text because when you read, study, and interpret it you already have a systematic, theological grid through which you see it. A good reason to study systematic theology is to improve the theological grid through which you see the text. If your systematic theology is sound, then it can enrich how you interpret a particular text. But if your systematic theology is too weak, too simple, or too speculative it can actually distort how you interpret a particular text.

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Tim Challies – 8 Sins You Commit Whenever You Look at Porn

We know that pornography is an ugly and harmful sin. We know that those who indulge in porn have committed the sin of lust, but there is so much more to it than that. When you open your browser and begin to look at those images and videos, you are sinning in ways that go far beyond lust. Here are 8 sins you commit when you look at porn.

You commit the sin of idolatry. All sin is idolatry, an attempt to find joy and satisfaction not in God himself but in what God forbids (Exodus 20:3-6). Matt Papa says it well: “An idol, simply put, is anything that is more important to you than God. It is anything that has outweighed God in your life—anything that you love, trust, or obey more than God—anything that has replaced God as essential to your happiness.” In the moment you begin to look at porn, you have allowed it to replace God as essential to your happiness. You’ve committed the sin of idolatry.

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Tim Challies – 10 Ugly Numbers Describing Pornography Use in 2017

We all know that the world has become pornified, that the internet has made available to all of us an entire universe of pornographic content. Yet many of the statistics we rely on and commonly quote have become outdated. As technology changes and as new generations grow up, the pornographic landscape inevitably changes. I went looking for updated numbers and want to present some of them to you today. All of these are based on credible studies carried out in 2016 or 2017.

4.6 Billion

In 2016, people watched 4.6 billion hours of pornography at just one website (the biggest porn site in the world). That’s 524,000 years of porn or, if you will, around 17,000 complete lifetimes. In that same time people watched 92 billion videos (or an average of 12.5 for every person on earth). Significance: So many people are using so much porn today that it is really impossible to tabulate. But understanding how much is consumed at just one site can at least help us see that this problem is nothing less than epidemic.

11

At age 11, the average child has already been exposed to explicit pornographic content through the internet. 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to internet-based pornography during their adolescent years and 22% of the vast quantities of porn consumed by people aged under 18 is consumed by those aged less than 10. Significance: Parents are nothing short of negligent if they take no steps to protect their children from being exposed to pornography.

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Tim Challies – The Particular Temptations of Young Men

Young men have it tough. In so many ways, this world seems to have been custom-crafted to take advantage of their weaknesses, their flaws, their immaturities. Solomon lamented this in his day, telling of the seductresses and prostitutes who laid in wait for young men. He told as well of the immaturity and ungodliness of young men that made them especially prone to sadly blunder or joyfully sprint into the traps and snares laid for them. Today he might write about ever-present amusements, the proliferation of porn, the rise of sexting, the sense of meaninglessness that so often pervades the minds and spirits of young men.

I love to spend time with young men, to counsel them, and to assure them that this time in their lives has great significance. As we speak, I find a number of common temptations they face while passing through their teens and twenties.

Purposelessness. Purposelessness may be the foremost struggle for young men, the one that feeds so many other vices. I don’t think we, as older Christians, have done well in communicating the purpose of these years. I don’t think we have helped young men see their importance in laying a solid or shaky foundation for the years to come. In the years of youth it may be difficult for young men to know their purpose, to know how best to fill their time. Enthusiasm often outstrips opportunity and ability. They have not yet proven themselves worthy and capable of accepting significant responsibility, so we give them little to do, we entrust to them only the simplest and least significant tasks. We fail to teach them that even today they are building the house they will have to live in for the rest of their lives. With little sense of purpose, they wile away the years instead of embracing them. They squander the years instead of making the most of them.

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Tim Challies – How Jesus Called Out False Teachers and Deadly Doctrine

It’s a good time to be a false teacher and to espouse deadly doctrine. It seems that today’s most brazen heretic will be granted a hearing and, in all likelihood, a book deal. Novelty is appealing, orthodoxy boring. It’s the ones who sound the warning and issue the challenge that bear the risk—the risk of being labelled “haters.” There’s more patience for those who smilingly subvert the truth than for those who boldly defend it. Conviction is a sign of arrogance, while humility is expressed in uncertainty. Love, it seems, requires us to bear patiently with any amount of error. And this kind of love, we are told, is modeled after Jesus. Jesus did not judge, Jesus welcomed all opinions, Jesus would have accepted different kinds of teachings — so long as those teachings contained love and hints of truth.

A quick scan of the gospels, however, shows that this impression is a far cry from the Jesus of the Bible. It shows that society has reimagined Jesus through the relativism of our day. When Jesus interacted with people who were seeking, wandering, or misguided, he was invariably compassionate. He answered them with patience and gentleness. But when Jesus engaged with religious hypocrites and false teachers, he responded with righteous fury and bold conviction.

Today, those who love the truth must learn how to show such bold conviction through the old discipline of polemics—the practice of engaging in public debate and dispute. The purpose of polemics is not to score points or flex theological muscle, but to rebuke peddlers of error and to express concern for those caught up in their lies. Like the ancient heretics of Crete, today’s false teachers “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). As we do this well, we imitate Jesus Christ who was a skilled polemicist.

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Tim Challies – 5 Ways Porn Lies To You

There’s a lot of porn in the world. When I first began to write the articles that would become Sexual Detox, this sin was still lurking in the shadows. Few people knew just how deep and deadly it was. Nearly a decade later, we get it. We know now that nearly every boy and a great many girls will be exposed to it, struggle with it, and even become addicted to it. So every now and again I like to return to the topic, hoping to offer hope. Today I find myself considering porn’s ugly lies.

It’s Not That Big a Deal

One of the foremost lies you may be tempted to believe when it comes to porn is this: It’s not that big a deal. If everyone else is doing it, it can’t be too serious a sin, right?

The Bible begs to differ. Writing on behalf of God, Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality. … For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” The Christian life is inseparable from sexual purity. He goes on to say something alarming: “Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” When you look at porn, you are actively sinning against the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He is telling you not to sin and you are defying him.

As a Christian, you have professed faith in Christ and have the Holy Spirit living within. This Spirit is telling you not to sin, assuring you he can help you do what is right. And still you sin. This is a very serious matter. Any time you choose to sin in this way, you are sinning against the active presence of God. It’s a big deal.

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Tim Challies – Deadly Doctrines: Facing Evil Like Snakes and Doves

Since its earliest days, the church has been plagued by false teachers and deadly doctrine. Never has there been a period of rest, a time when Christians could relax their guard. Satan has opposed the church since the day of its founding, and he will continue to oppose her until the day of his destruction.

Naturally, then, Paul was seriously concerned about false teachers and deadly doctrine, warning of them in almost every one of his letters. As he comes to the end of his letter to the Romans, he reminds the church to be on guard, since false teachers are skilled at using flattery and smooth words to deceive even believers. Paul loves this church and wants them to be aware of the challenges they will face from predatory teachers. But his solution may strike us as surprising. He tells these Christians “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b).

Paul seems to be echoing Jesus here. In the book of Matthew, we read of Jesus sending out his disciples and warning them of impending persecution from enemies of the gospel. He tells them how to behave in the midst of such trials: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus and Paul both call for wisdom and innocence. Let’s see how these two passages instruct us on protecting ourselves and our churches from false teachers and their deadly doctrine.

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Tim Challies – Deadly Doctrines: The Pattern and Protection

We have learned that the church of every age is plagued by false teachers and their deadly doctrine. We have met seven of those false teachers and seen the devastation they bring. We have identified five tests we can apply to any doctrine to determine whether it is false or true. But this leaves us with some important questions: How does a church come to reject sound doctrine? How do we guard ourselves against false teachers and their deadly doctrines? How do we protect ourselves, our families, and our churches from their seductive lies? Thankfully, God has given us clear guidance in his Word, showing us how churches descend into deadly doctrine and how we may protect ourselves against it.

The Pattern of Deadly Doctrine

Most biblical scholars agree that 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter. He has nearly come to the end of his life, so he picks up his pen to write once more to his young friend. In his last words to Timothy, Paul makes sure to warn him about the danger of false teachers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In these verses he gazes into the future and describes a church being undermined and destroyed. This is not a prophecy of the death of a single congregation, but a general description of the death of a thousand. He outlines four steps that can progressively lead any congregation from health to death.

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Tim Challies – False Teachers and Deadly Doctrines

For the past few years, lists of Christian bestsellers have been topped by a book claiming fresh revelation from Jesus Christ. Before that, they were overrun by books describing people’s purported visits to heaven. And before the heaven tourism fad, there was the best-selling novel that reframed the doctrine of the Trinity. Meanwhile, the largest church in America is led by a man whose platitudes are indistinguishable from fortune cookies. But it’s not just authors and church leaders who are swerving away from the truth. Theologians and laypersons alike are abandoning traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, of marriage and sexuality. Never has it been more important for Christians to commit themselves to rejecting false doctrine and pursuing sound doctrine, to ensure they are following teachers of truth, not peddlers of error.

In a new series of articles, we will consider false doctrine, sound doctrine, and how to train ourselves to distinguish between them. We will see how God calls us to respond to false and sound doctrine, as well as false and sound teachers. In this opening article, we will briefly define the term “doctrine,” examine the two different kinds of doctrine, and then suggest eight terrible consequences of false doctrine.

Defining Doctrine

Doctrine simply means “teaching.” Doctrine describes what Christians believe based on the entirety of the Bible. Because God has given us a completed revelation of himself in the Scriptures, we can search this revelation and arrive at confident conclusions about his nature and works.

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Tim Challies – God Hates Evil Thoughts

We are more than our thoughts and more than our desires, but we are certainly not less. What fills our minds and forms our dreams tells us who we really are, what we really long for, whom we really serve. Evil thoughts and evil desires reveal a deep captivity to sin and evil. This should concern us, for God assures us he has a deep loathing for evil thoughts. He has a deep loathing for those who think evil thoughts. We have already seen that God hates idolatry, sexual immorality, injustice, hypocrisy, deceit, and pride. Today we will look at God’s hatred for evil thoughts.

God Hates Evil Thoughts

In humanity’s earliest days, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The heart is the spiritual nerve-center, the seat of desire and reason, the source of action. As sinful human beings, we love to empty our hearts of what is good and fill our hearts with what is evil. God’s judgment fell on humanity because their evil hearts were filled with evil desires and evil intentions which soon became evil actions. It is not surprising, then, to learn that God hates “a heart that devises wicked plans” (Proverbs 6:18).

There is a close connection between the heart and the mind, so we expect to find that “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 15:26a). The thoughts of the wicked are not just fleeting temptations that pass quickly through the mind and are gone. They are plans and meditations, dreams and desires. God hates the evil plans that brew within evil minds.

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