Bible Study Resources

Open Bible

A while ago, I received a request to provide a list of some trustworthy online Bible study resources.  The background to this is Reformed people venturing out into cyberspace to research passages, only to be led off the track by resources that are not faithful.  I replied to this request and thought it worth sharing here as well.  The list below does not imply my endorsement of everything published on each of these sites.  While all of these resources come from a Reformed orientation (all of them are managed by confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian believers) they still need to be used with discernment.  We ought always to have the spirit of the Bereans, testing everything against the Scriptures to see whether these things are really so (Acts 17:11).  Here’s the list:

  • http://theseed.info/ — presently has 1384 Reformed sermons on a wide variety of Scripture passages and Lord’s Days from the Heidelberg Catechism.  This resource should get more attention as a Bible Study aid.
  • http://www.ligonier.org/ — the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul.  
  •  http://thirdmill.org/ — has heaps of resources, both regarding Scripture and theology.  Some are at a seminary level, but I think a lot of it will be accessible to regular folk.
  • https://www.monergism.com/ — a comprehensive collection of older Reformed writings, including commentaries.
  •  https://reformedbooksonline.com/ — includes links to dozens of online commentaries.  Run by a couple of my acquaintances from the US, both solid men.    

I know there are only five links there, but in those five links are thousands of pages of biblical exposition and other study aids.  Enjoy!


The Glorious Gospel of Imputation

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I love Starr Meade’s book of family devotions based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  To catechize our children during family worship, we’ve been using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds for many years.  In fact, we’re on our second copy of it — the first one just fell apart after some years of heavy daily use.

Tonight at our church catechism class, I have the joy of teaching Lord’s Day 23 again.  Lord’s Day 23 deals with justification, God’s declaration that we are right with him on account of Christ’s righteousness.  Included in justification is the crucial notion of imputation.  Our sins are imputed or accounted to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed or accounted to us.  This goes to the basis of our justification.  Starr Meade has an excellent illustration that explains the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, his obedience to the law and his suffering obedience.  I plan to use this illustration tonight with my catechism students:

Imagine that you need a great deal of money for something important.  However, not only do you not have a great deal of money; you are deeply in debt.  Along comes your friend who has worked hard for years to build a big savings account in the bank.  He feels sorry for you and offers to pay your bills.  Now you are no longer in debt.  This is something like Jesus paying for our sin by his death on the cross.  Now we no longer owe God anything for all our sins against him.

However, just because your friend paid your debt does not mean that you have solved your problem.  You still need a great deal of money and you have absolutely none.  So now your friend does something else for you.  He has your name added to his bank account so that now you can use all his money.  This is something like Jesus living a life of perfect obedience to God in our place.  He is the One who is righteous.  He is the One who did the obeying, but all his righteousness is credited to us.  God counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, 111-112)

To put it another way, through Christ we don’t merely have our slates wiped clean of all our sins.  We also have our slates filled with all of his God-pleasing obedience in our place.  This, and this alone, makes us acceptable in God’s sight.


Predestination in Mission

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For Reformed people who care about sharing the gospel (which should be all of us!), it is probably a given that election/predestination is not something we incorporate into our gospel message.  We do not go around telling unbelievers about the doctrine of unconditional election.  Instead, we generally recognize that this doctrine is revealed in Scripture for the comfort and edification of believers.  The common way of thinking is that this doctrine is for those already in the church, not for those we are trying to draw into the church.

That way of thinking can be partially credited to 1.14 of the Canons of Dort.  The Canons of Dort say that the doctrine of divine election “should be taught in the church of God, for which it was particularly intended, in its proper time and place…”  For a long time, I have understood this to mean that election/predestination would never have a real place in our missionary message.  By “missionary message,” I mean everything connected to the good news as we communicate it to the unregenerated.

My thinking on this has been upended by Tim Keller.  In his book Center Church, he stirs up a lot of thought in the area of contextualization (see here for some of my work in this area).  This has to do with the communication of the gospel in cross-cultural ministry.  In chapter 10, he discusses “active contextualization”:  entering the culture, challenging the culture, and then appealing to the listeners.

When it comes to challenging and confronting the culture, Keller relates a discussion he once had with a Presbyterian missionary to Korea.  This missionary was working amongst Korean prostitutes and was not connecting with them.  He spoke of God’s grace to them, about the forgiveness available through Christ, and about God’s love for sinners.  Nothing he said engaged them.  He decided to try something radically different.  He would begin with the doctrine of predestination.  Keller rightly notes that this doctrine is a challenging one for Western hearts and minds.  Westerners value democratic and egalitarian notions.  Many in the West do not want to hear about a sovereign God who chooses some and passes by others.  But what is true for Westerners is not necessarily true for Asian prostitutes in the mid-twentieth century.  Keller writes:

So he told the prostitutes about a God who is a King.  Kings, he said, have a sovereign right to act as they saw fit.  They rule — that’s just what kings do.  And this great divine King chooses to select people out of the human race to serve him, simply because it is his sovereign will to do so.  Therefore, his people are saved because of his royal will, not because of the quality of their lives or anything they have done.

This made sense to the women.  They had no problem with the idea of authority figures acting in this way — it seemed natural and right to them.  But this also meant that when people were saved, it was not because of pedigree or effort, but because of the will of God (cf. John 1:13).  Their acceptance of this belief opened up the possibility of understanding and accepting the belief in salvation by grace.  They asked my missionary friend a question that a non-Christian in the West would never ask:  “How can I know if I am chosen?”  He answered that if as they heard the gospel they wanted to accept and believe it, this was a sign that the Holy Spirit was working on their hearts and that God was seeking them.  And some of them responded. (Center Church, 126)

So there are times, places, and cultures where it might be effective to use the doctrine of predestination as a missionary starting point.  It’s not that this doctrine is the complete message.  Rather, it’s a starting point to bring unbelievers onward to the full gospel of salvation in Christ.

But then what about the Canons of Dort?  Does this approach contradict 1.14?  No, it doesn’t, because 1.14 doesn’t say that this doctrine should only be taught in the church and that it may never be used elsewhere.  There’s indeed room in the Canons for a wise and creative adaptation of this doctrine to the missionary calling of the church.  Because of the pervasive influence of Western culture, perhaps the contexts where this could be done are increasingly few and far between, but missionaries should definitely be open-minded to the possibility that this Presbyterian missionary’s approach could work elsewhere.


RCN Report: Open All Offices to Women

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This past Tuesday, the deputies appointed to study women in office in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN) released their final report to the 2017 Synod.  If you can read Dutch, the 75 page report is here.  The news is not encouraging.  The deputies are recommending that the 2017 Synod decide to open all the offices of the church to women.

Some 11 pages of the report is taken up with considering advice from sister-churches.  The report notes the objections/warnings of the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia, but does not mention the Reformed Church in the United States (see here), perhaps because the RCUS Synod letter did not arrive in time to be considered.   The report notes that two foreign sister churches currently admit women to church offices:  the Reformed Church in Japan (all offices) and the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA — these churches only admit women to the office of deacon and on the understanding that this office is not one of authority).  This is in addition to a sister church federation in the Netherlands:  Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken.  That section concludes by noting that, from the survey of sister churches, there is “room for diversity in how women in office is handled, appropriate to the time and culture in a particular region.”  The deputies also recognize that moving in the direction of women in office is going to have consequences in some of their ecumenical relationships.  They do not mention that this direction will also likely impact the membership of the RCN in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  Several member churches of the ICRC were involved with removing the Christian Reformed Church of North America from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council over the issue of women in office.  I suspect that they will not look the other way when it comes to the RCN and membership in the ICRC.

While we pray otherwise, the recommendations of this report will quite likely be adopted.  As has been mentioned here previously, the horses are already well out of the gate in the RCN on this issue.  Local churches are already opening the offices to women, regardless of this report and whatever the synod decides.  A synod decision will just be essentially rubber-stamping what’s already going on and giving it official status.  Should a synod decide otherwise, would one really think that these local churches would revert back to the way it was before?  It seems a sad, foregone conclusion that even if permitting women in office is not the official position in the RCN, it will be tolerated.


Uber Evangelism

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I’m always on the look out for creative ways to share the gospel.  This past weekend I was in Singapore speaking at a Reformation Day Conference.  This conference was organized by the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore.  One of the elders of the church was driving me back to my accommodations on Sunday evening and we were chatting about all kinds of different things.  As we pulled up to the housing complex, this retired man casually mentioned something he does with his time during the week:  he’s an Uber driver.  If you’re not familiar with it, Uber is a popular ride-sharing service.  Uber offers an app that connects people who want rides with people who can provide rides.  This brother uses Uber as an opportunity to share the gospel with strangers.  He keeps a supply of evangelistic tracts in his car and hands them out to whoever it is that he picks up.  While he’s driving, he often engages in conversations with his passengers and sometimes those conversations lead to the gospel.  He’ll also be listening to sermons or Christian music as he drives.  This is a great example of using the opportunities God gives to spread the good news of Christ!