Really Practical Theology

Pastors, teachers, parents, and employers are daily deluged with people’s problems. Oftentimes we resort to simplistic and formulaic practical counsel that has short-term benefits at best. Other times we are tempted to ignore the problems, to deny them, to run from them, or sometimes just to give up. Our advice is spurned, our help is rejected, our prayers go unanswered, and situations go from bad to worse. We try one counseling strategy after another, we turn from one step-by-step guide to another, from one disciplinary measure to another, and we end up going round and round in circles.

Stop and study the attributes of God.

“What? The last thing I need at the moment is systematic theology. I need solutions and I need them fast. Be practical, man.”

Actually, God’s attributes are the first thing you need, and they are eminently practical for both sinners and sufferers alike. Consider the practical value of God’s attributes for those you are trying to help.

God’s Sovereignty
Let’s plant our feet on this rock-solid foundation before we offer a word of counsel or advice to anyone. God is in sole and purposeful control of all past, present, and future events, both on a macro- and on a micro-scale, at the inter-planetary level and on the our-little-life level. God is the ultimate ruler of time and space. He has a plan that is being worked out perfectly from day to day, and from year to year.  It’s a plan that extends from creation to consummation. It includes all the good things and all the bad things, the pleasant things and the painful things.

Belief in the sovereignty of God changes the way we look at the world, at people, and at their problems. What looks like a mess is actually part of a meticulous divine plan that is being worked out for the good of those who love God.

God’s Holiness
God’s holiness is our model and motivation in counseling others. It is our model in that the aim of counseling is to bring people into conformity with the perfectly beautiful image of God in character and conduct, especially that holy image as manifested in Jesus Christ.

It is our motivation because we learn from this attribute how much God hates sin, opposes it, fights against it and will punish it. Thus we do not treat sin lightly, we do not cover it up, and we do not excuse it; rather, we seek to have it confessed, forgiven, and forsaken.

God’s Wisdom
The all-wise God has all the answers, and all the ones we need He has revealed directly or indirectly in His Word and in His world. The answers in God’s Word may take the form of a verse, a doctrine, or a deduction from a passage. It may be a story, a commandment, a promise, a proverb, a psalm, or a summary of truth from various places. Sometimes the answer may be very direct and obvious, sometimes indirect and yielded only to study.

However, God also communicates His wisdom to us through His World. Although God has placed all we need to know for salvation and sanctification in His Word, He has also placed much helpful wisdom in the world, which we locate, read, and interpret through the lens of His Word.

God’s Power
As we look at the brokenness and complexity of people’s personalities, bodies, minds, hearts, relationships, etc., we collapse in impotent helplessness. But looking up from there, we then see God’s infinite power, and His infinite willingness to help the helpless, toughen the tried, and empower the powerless via His Almighty Spirit.

God’s Love
The love of God is why we counsel and what we counsel. The love of Christ compels us to counsel, and the love of Christ is the content of our counsel. We are not in the business of condemning people but of pointing them to salvation and the Savior. The love of God in Christ is at the center of every counseling session – whether it is extending forgiveness through Christ’s blood or sympathy through Christ’s sufferings.

God’s Justice
God’s justice? Is that not a rather threatening attribute? Well it may be. And maybe it ought to be. We are dealing with souls who are heading to judgment and an eternal destiny of blessing or cursing. We will be called to account for how we direct such souls. And we should remind those we are trying to help that they too will be called to account for how they respond to God’s guidance through us.

But I included this attribute primarily as a comfort! So many of the injustices we face will not be resolved here. It is such a wonderful hope that Christ will return put everything right. He will perfect His people, deliver them from all their oppressors, and punish all who have wronged them. The Judge of all the earth will do right. He will renew His people and this world, and make everything new. He has promised. And He will keep that promise.

Unless we start with the attributes of God, we will never get started.

This article first appeared in Tabletalk. You can try it free for three months here.

I’m also looking forward to Brad Hambrick’s booklet, God’s Attributes: Rest for life’s struggles,  which takes a more in-depth look at the role of the attributes of God in counseling.

Check out

T4G De-brief: Where were all the African Americans?
Thabiti Anyabwile with a helpful response to my question. Worth reading some of the comments on Thabiti’s post too.

God’s Attributes: Rest for life’s struggles
Keep your eye open for this. Looks good.

The Trayvon Martin Case: A moment for Evangelical Reflection
Marlena Graves says: “The tragedy underscores how far white churches have come on race relations—and how much farther we have to go.”

American Girls, Dangers and Delights
Really liked this idea. Emily Whitten interviews her young daughter about the American Girls series.

God in our midst
Danny Hyde’s new book on the Tabernacle is well worth a read. You can read some sample chapters at Ligonier’s website.

5 reasons why I will not see the Hunger Games
Not many reviews like this around.

Let the dummies give the answer

Dear very wise pastor/parent/elder/co-worker,

You’ve been blessed with the rare gift of wisdom. Insight, discernment, vision, understanding, answers, solutions come to you as easily as buttering your toast. You see things in a way that most of us never will. We, the not-so-very-wise, are deeply grateful for your intellectual, creative, and far-seeing abilities. Your sage counsel has saved us from lots of foolish choices and damaging decisions.

Now, I know it’s a long way down, but could you bend your ear just for a moment to receive a tip from a lesser mortal? Well, here goes anyway.

Sometimes –  it doesn’t have to be lots of times, just sometimes - let the dummies give the answer.

You don’t need to hold back your wisdom on the BIG questions, the MEGA decisions, but if the opportunity arises on a really small, insignificant, tiny matter (like the time of a meeting, or where to put the trash cans, or the paint-color for the cupboard, etc) why not ask Mr Know-nothing his opinion (he’s probably stopped offering his pathetic views many meetings ago).

Now, of course, it’s never going to be anywhere near as good a proposal as yours. But, if you can do it without choking, why not say, “Mr Know-nothing, that’s a great idea…let’s do it that way!” Don’t tweak it, edit it, “balance” it, or improve it. Just accept it.

You may need to administer CPR the first couple of times you do this but, of course, you know how to do that really well anyway. You’ll still come out looking good.

You can still score the touchdowns, but the team might get more wins if you encouraged the defense, the reserves, and replacements from time to time.

Your pupil,

Mr Lots-to-learn.

Check out

Getting healthy: My hardest year
Joe Thorn begins to bare his soul, for the benefit of many.

3 Ways to Control your Inner Control Freak
“Hi. My name is Nathan and I’m a ‘control freak.’ I haven’t tried to assume autonomous control of every aspect of my life for at least the past 30 minutes.”

The State of the Bible 2012
“There are probably five Bibles on every shelf in American homes. Americans buy the Bibles, they debate the Bible, they love the Bible… they just don’t read the Bible.”

Do Seminary Grads burn out quickly?
I always suspected these statistics were off.

Phone data shows “romance driven by women”
This headline is almost in “The Pope is a catholic” territory. But the article should start a few “discussions.” A para for the women: “Men call their spouse most often for the first seven years of their relationship. They then shift their focus to other friends.” And one for the men: “Romantic relationships are driven by women…it’s they who make the decision and once they have made their mind up, they just go for the poor bloke until he keels over and gives in!”

The Gospel under the Northern Lights
Bill Boekestein reviews Wes Bradenhof’s missionary memoir of his time spent as a missionary to the First Nation community at Fort Babine in central British Columbia. You’ll love the book trailer that Bill’s kids put together.

The new superheroes of the web

Who are they?

Content curators.

What are they?

In The New Superheroes of the Web, Steven Rosenbaum calls them the “web’s secret power…individuals with a passion for a content area [who] find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what’s interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view–providing a reliable context for the content that they discover and organize.”

And in our information-flooded world, do our boggled minds need these superheroes! Into the data-Tsunami step these superheroes, shielding us from the overwhelming waves, listening to the digital noise, identifying precious nuggets, important news, and fresh voices, then organizing it for us, their grateful readers.

Thankfully there are a number of Christians among these superheroes. And if you want to keep your head above the water, you desperately need them. Here are the ones I depend upon, split into two categories – Blog curators and Twitter curators.

Blog curators
Tim Challies: The most consistent Christian curator out there. Via his A la carte posts, Tim provides 5-6 links, six days a week, with a wide mix of theology, culture, technology, books, controversy, photography, etc. If you have to choose one, he’s the one.

Justin Taylor: Posts excerpts and links 3-20 times a day! Bit more highbrow/academic emphasis than Tim, with interest in philosophy, culture, and biblical theology. Leans slightly Baptist, New Calvinist, Crossway-authors in his choices – which is understandable. If you’re trying to keep in touch with theological and cultural trends, Justin is your man.

The Gospel Coalition: On the top right corner of their web page, you’ll find the “Right Now” section, which daily refreshes with new links to theological and cultural pieces. At times tends towards New Calvinist/Crossway in their picks, with the same names tending to appear as on Justin Taylor’s site.

Trevin Wax: Like Tim Challies, Trevin is a great writer of original content. But most days he also highlights links in his “Worth a Look” or “Trevin’s Seven” posts. He’s a Southern Baptist, which obviously influences his choices, but he also has a knack of picking up fascinating content in politics, sport, culture, etc.

Bob Kellemen: Either at his own blog or at the Biblical Counseling Coalition, you can pick up Bob’s “Five to live by.” Only once a week (usually Thursday or Friday), but I usually click on all five of these carefully selected counseling and Christian living posts.

Blogging Theologically: Aaron Armstrong selects 3-5 posts most days in his “Likes I like.” Operates in the same general territory as Tim Challies, with special interests in Christian books. His book reviews are also always worth reading.

Everyday Theology: Marc Cortez, a Professor at Western Seminary, will connect you with both serious and humorous content, but I especially value his links to helpful education content for teachers/professors, etc. He’s a sort of mixture of Tim Challies and Justin Taylor.

UPDATE: Here’s one I forgot but I’d also definitely recommend for Seminary students and pastors. Bible Exposition links to lots of helpful resources for exegesis and hermeneutics.

Twitter Curators
Michael Hyatt: Carefully selected links to articles on leadership, writing, and publishing.

Nathan Bingham: Cutting edge blogger and Tweeter who’ll keep you right up-to-date with the latest in technology and design, as well as links to the best Christian content that most other people have missed.

Matt Perman: Wasn’t sure whether to include Matt in Bloggers or Tweeters, but I think he posts most links on Twitter. If you follow him, you’ll get lots of great quotes on work, vocation, productivity, but you’ll also get links to Christian and non-Christian posts on the same subjects. Matt fills a large hole that few Christians are doing much blogging/tweeting in. His blog (and soon-to-be book) is called What’s Best Next.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey: At last, a woman! Sarah is online editor of Christianity Today as well as a contributor to Get Religion (a superb blog that analyzes how religion, especially Christianity, is reported in the media). If you follow Sarah, you’ll get connected to current news in the evangelical world.

Anthony Bradley: Sparky Tweeter with much-needed perspective on African American issues. It would take me days to find the links that he regularly Tweets.

Superhero Vacancies
So, do you want to be a superhero? Well, don’t try to copy what someone else is already doing well. Find an area, a niche, that’s presently not being covered. There are five vacancies that come to my mind (feel free to suggest some more):

  • I think there’s room for a female Tim Challies or Justin Taylor. If you’re out there, let me know and I’ll add you to the list.
  • Old Testament: OK, that’s totally selfish on my part, but I’d love for someone else to do some of the heavy lifting here.
  • What about Practical Theology. A lot of blogs are heavy on theology but quite a bit lighter on Christian living.
  • And where are the Presbyterians and the Historic Reformed curators? Got nothing to offer the New Calvnists? Gentle Reformation has maybe a once-a-week digest of links, but we’re looking for more, lads (and ladies).
  • African American/Hispanic issues. I’d love if there was one site that I could go to every day and read 3-4 articles on the kinds of issues affecting these communities. It would be a huge service to the church if this was also combined with Christian commentary/analysis.

Are you ready to step up, then? If so, let me close with a caution from Steven Rosenbaum’s post on Superhero Curators:

It’s real work, and requires a tireless commitment to being engaged and ready to rebroadcast timely material. While there may be an economic benefit for being a “thought leader” and “trusted curator,” it’s not going to happen overnight. Which is to say, being a superhero is often a thankless job.