Everyone’s A Theologian by Everyone’s Theologian

A terrible confession: I’ve never read a Systematic Theology book cover to cover.

It gets worse. I’ve never read more than three consecutive chapters in a Systematic Theology tome.

Sure, I’ve read many chapters in many Systematic Theologies when researching for sermons or lectures, but I’ve never successfully read any volume from start to finish. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried and tried again. But I just can’t do it.

Why?

Are you ready for this?

It’s a really dark secret.

You really want to know?

OK, here goes. They’re usually way too long, way too complex, way too technical, and way too….boring.

There. I said it. Yes, theology can be boring. I know, I know, no one is meant to admit this. But if you asked most unread systematic theologies on most shelves (and, yes, most of them are unread), they would reluctantly agree: “It’s not fair, I’m the biggest cleverest book in the library, and that guy never takes me on a date. Sure he picks me up for a functional chat ever few weeks, but he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t spend time with me, he doesn’t caress me the way he touches these skimpy little paperbacks. If only my creator had made me a bit thinner, a bit more enjoyable, a bit more attractive, a bit more accessible. If only he’d given me a personality; instead, he made me a big, fat, ugly robot.”

Everyone's A TheologianEnter R.C. Sproul with Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, a book you’re going to want to date…again and again…maybe even marry!

I’m reading chapter after chapter, and I can’t stop. I’m not finished yet, and I’m not sure I want to either. It’s classic Sproul and will, I believe, become another Sproul classic. It covers all the bases of Systematic Theology  in a brief, simple, and enjoyable way. Yes, enjoyable!

Although the chapters are short (five pages on average), I’ve learned something in every one of them. I’ve also enjoyed re-learning what I had learned before, though this time with intoxicating pleasure rather than with tedious drudgery. Sproul has that rare knack of challenging the reader enough to stimulate the intellect without overwhelming it and shutting it down.

As we watch a good and godly man enter his latter days, we have the privilege of hearing his much-loved “voice” once again in the pages of this book. I almost felt his grandfatherly arm around my shoulder as he shepherded me into a deeper knowledge and love of the truth. Everyone’s theologian is still laboring to make everyone a (better) theologian.

Everyone’s a Theologian from Ligonier or Amazon.


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Why Every Politician Should Be a Calvinist

In A President Blinded by Righteousness, Ron Fournier argues that Barack Obama’s basic flaw is that he has too much faith in human nature. He does not seem able to conceive that people will frequently choose what is wrong, what is against their interests, or what is destructive to society as a whole.

Ukraine is illustrative of a flaw in Obama’s worldview that consistently undermines his agenda, both foreign and domestic. He thinks being right is good enough. From fights with Congress over the federal budget and his nominations, to gun control, immigration reform, health care, and Syria, the president displays tunnel-vision conviction, an almost blinding righteousness. I’m right. They’re wrong. Why isn’t that enough?

The President’s policies and legislation always assume the best in human nature (unless he’s talking about rich Republicans who are just to the right of the Antichrist), that people are always reasonable, rational, and logical.

If given a choice between working or not working, people will surely work. If given the choice of a healthy lifestyle or a self-destructive lifestyle, they will surely choose the former. If given the choice between living in helpless poverty or taking the opportunity to better themselves, well, of course they’ll roll up their sleeves. And when it comes to nations, surely they will know what’s in their best interests and always pursue that. They will like us if we like them more. They’ll prefer talking to us to bombing us.

Calvinism produces more realism
The President could do with a good old-fashioned dose of old Calvinism to help him understand that we are so morally and spiritually depraved that we often have no idea what is in our interests, and even when we do we may still choose the wrong, the false, the destructive, and the insane.

But it’s not just Democrats who could do with more theology, so could the Republicans. True, they seem to apply total depravity to the poor – they assume the worst there. But they seem to think that the richer you get, the less depraved you become. Deregulation is the answer – the less laws that affect the wealthy, the more law-abiding they will become.

Both sets of politicians reveal an astonishing naïveté about human nature resulting in naïve policies and legislation.

Calvinism produces more prayer
But Calvinist theology would not only produce more realistic policies; it would also produce more prayerful politicians. They would have much less confidence in themselves and in the branches and bigness of government to effect personal, societal and national transformation. They would see their and our desperate need for the Holy Spirit to restrain evil, prompt civil good, increase common grace, and save souls; producing earnest prayer for God’s blessing.

Calvinism produces more bi-partisanship
One thing I’ve noticed about myself as Calvinism works its way deeper and wider into my soul is that I’m less dogmatic than I used to be. I’m not talking about being washy-washy when it comes to Christian doctrine or morals; I’m talking about areas of wisdom, decision-making, discernment, application of Scripture, and so on.

The more I come to see my own depravity and corruption, the less I trust myself and the more I want to consult with others and hear others’ ideas about the best way forward. We could do with so much more of that spirit in our politicians instead of this ex cathedra certainty about everything they propose and the instant denigration of everything from the other side of the aisle.

Calvinism produces more hope
While Calvinism puts less faith in faulty frail human nature, it puts much faith in the great grace of God. While the imagined goodness of human nature gives us no confidence whatsoever, the immeasurable goodness of God makes us incredibly hopeful. That’s a “hope and change” that’s based on real hope and can produce lasting change.


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The American Dream and the European Nightmare

Looks like President Obama and the Democratic Party have decided that the best way to win, or at least minimize the damage, in the upcoming elections is to incite anger and resentment against those who allegedly “earn too much money.”

If they succeed, the great American experiment will have failed, and the Europeanization of America will have triumphed.

A large part of the “American dream” has been based upon three ideas:

  1. Success is the result of hard work.
  2. Success for one person brings good times to many more.
  3. If he succeeds, then I can too.

The European mindset has been much more suspicious of individual success, often attributing it to luck, “who you know,” family wealth, or even the government. Europeans view success with much more of a “zero-sum” mindset (i.e. more for one person means less for me). In The Downside of Inciting Envy, Arthur Brooks wrote:

The 2006 World Values Survey, for example, found that Americans are only a third as likely as British or French people to feel strongly that “hard work doesn’t generally bring success; it’s more a matter of luck and connections.” This faith that success flows from effort has built America’s reputation as a remarkably unenvious society.

Happy Americans
It’s also why Americans are happier than Europeans. The media likes to attribute American cheerfulness to superficiality and artificiality, but it’s much more deeply rooted in the three optimistic strands of the American dream outlined above. Consider the corrosive effects of the European nightmare:

Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick

A 2008 Gallup poll found that the least envious people were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. And that was true across the board, regardless of income, education, religion, and politics.

Rare Contentment
But that happy contentment is becoming a rarer commodity. The General Social Survey found that the number of people who believe that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. Early this year 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.”

But we can’t just blame the Democrats for this. Research has found a direct correlation between a sense of declining opportunity and increased envy. As Arthur Brooks says:

Just 30 percent of people who believe that everyone has the opportunity to succeed describe income inequality as “a serious problem.” But among people who feel that “only some” Americans have a shot at success, fully 70 percent say inequality is a major concern.

According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.

Republican Insensitivity
The Republican Party just doesn’t seem to get this change. Perhaps most Republican politicians are just so used to all the breaks and opportunities that come with their status and wealth that they and their children have never felt disenfranchised or disadvantaged in their entire lives. That’s the impression they give. It still seems like the same great land of opportunity to them. But for many others, the system feels increasingly rigged against them.

Republicans desperately need to find leaders who will feel and articulate this, who will fight to restore a sense of a level playing field, who will give people confidence that we’re all playing the same game, and that the final score has not been fixed beforehand. It needs leaders who can give people hope that through hard work they can make the team, score the clutch, and win the game. It needs leaders who will unite everyone on the same team, a team that doesn’t envy and penalize it’s star players, but really wants everyone to win.

But it also needs leaders who can persuade (not coerce) the star players to pass the ball more often, to show more care and concern for the injured and less-talented, to coach and mentor the discouraged, and to generously invest in expanding the team.

The Root of Envy
Above all, we need the Christian faith that alone can extract both the love of money and the root of envy, and help us all to learn “in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11). If that seems impossible to you, read a couple of verses down: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13).

Given the link between envy and sadness, joy and contentment, it’s no surprise that these verses appear in what is often called the Epistle of Joy.


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