Samuel Green’s Where to Start With Islam: A New Approach to Engaging with Muslim Friends (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2019) is a great resource for Christians wanting to share the gospel with followers of Islam. He proposes that Christians not only start with a better grasp of their own beliefs, but also with an understanding of common assumptions and misconceptions held by Muslims. The chapter titles give you an idea of the ground covered:
One of the endorsements is from J. Mack Stiles, a pastor in Iraq:
I have lived in the Middle East for 20 years. I don’t know of anyone who has done better work in understanding and answering the challenges of Islam than Samuel Green. Any Christian who wants to respond to Muslims with love and truth needs this book.
Whether you have Muslim friends with whom you might be able to share the gospel, or if you’re just interested in learning more about Islam, this one will be worth your while.
Theological distinctions matter. We need them for sound theology. That theology then goes on to inform how we think and live as Christians. Today I want to look at a key theological distinction that can have a significant impact on how we pray.
The name “Father” appears in relation to God numerous times in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. For many Reformed church members, basic Trinitarian theology has been drummed into us from childhood. We’re taught that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus conditioned, whenever we see the word “Father” in reference to God, we all too quickly conclude that this is speaking about the first person of the Trinity. This is true with the Old Testament, but also with some key passages in the New Testament.
One of those passages is the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ teaches us to begin our prayers by saying, “Our Father in heaven…” Many conclude that our Lord Jesus is teaching us to address the first person of the Trinity, even to the exclusion of the Son and the Holy Spirit. After all, it seems obvious: he uses the word “Father,” and we’ve been conditioned to see God the Father.
A child or someone immature in the faith can be forgiven for reaching such a conclusion. But for older and more mature disciples of Christ, familiar with a broader range of teaching in Scripture, this ought not to be. The reason is that, in the Old Testament context, “Father” is often used to describe God in his unity (Yahweh); it’s used to describe the one true God. It’s not being used in reference to God the Father as distinct from the Son or the Holy Spirit. The classic example of this is in Isaiah 9:6 where the child to be born is called, among other things, “Everlasting Father.” This is a prophecy about Christ’s incarnation. The second person of the Trinity is denominated “Everlasting Father” by virtue of his divinity. He can be called that because he is God.
There’s every reason to think that Christ was using the term “Father” in the same way in the Lord’s Prayer. He was teaching us to pray to God, the one true God, as our Father. That makes the most sense in that context where our Lord Jesus was speaking to Jews familiar with the Old Testament. You could think also of Malachi 2:10, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?”
To put it in theological terms, we have to distinguish between the uses of the word “Father” in Scripture. Sometimes it is used personally. In passages like John 17:2-3, the reference is clearly to the first person of the Trinity, God the Father as distinct from God the Son. At other times, “Father” is used essentially. In passages like Isaiah 9:6, the reference is to the Triune God together in his essence. To determine which is which in any given place requires careful consideration of context. Specifically, if the context includes references to the other persons of the Trinity, then it is likely the term “Father” is being used personally. For example, Matthew 28:19 mentions baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There “Father” clearly means the first person of the Trinity.
This is a well-accepted distinction in Reformed theology. According to Richard Muller (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics), you’ll find it used by John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, Amandus Polanus, Herman Witsius, and a host of Puritans. It’s important for us to be aware of it today too, especially since it can inform how we pray. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t teach us to pray to God the Father, but to God as Father. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t teach us to pray only to the person of God the Father to the exclusion of the Son and Holy Spirit. Our Saviour’s intent was never to tell us we can’t pray to him or to the Holy Spirit. Indeed, elsewhere in Scripture we do hear believers praying to Christ (e.g. Acts 7:59). When you understand this distinction, it frees you to do likewise.
Darby Strickland: “It’s hard to speak into a friend’s life when you’re uncertain about a situation. To complicate matters, domestic abuse often means there’s danger. The situations are challenging. Walking with these tender souls takes patience and gentle persistence.”
Franco Maggiotto was one of the most memorable men I’ve ever met. At one point in his life, he’d been a Roman Catholic priest in Italy. The papal hierarchy saw potential in Franco and he became involved with the Vatican. One day, Father Franco was saying mass at a basilica. In the process, he happened to read to the congregation from Hebrews 10:11-12:
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…”
When Franco read this, the Holy Spirit suddenly opened his eyes to the reality of the gospel. He told the congregation, “I’m fired! You should go home now. It’s all done. I’m fired. Jesus has done it all!”
That was a message Franco loved to preach from that day forward. He became a Reformed pastor, an exceptionally unusual figure in Italy. In 2003, Franco visited with us in Fort Babine, the tiny British Columbia village where I was serving as a missionary. As even Protestant pastors do in Italy, Franco was dressed in clerical garb, a black suit with a white tab collar. For the nominal Roman Catholics in our village, it appeared a Roman Catholic priest had come for a rare visit. That created some excitement and interest. We successfully invited some 20 villagers to come and listen to “Father” Franco.
With his charming Italian accent, Franco passionately preached the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He used the illustration of a man who takes his friends to a restaurant. Being a good friend, he pays for the meals of everyone. Would it then be right for the owner of the restaurant to demand that each diner pay for the meal all over again? Or even to ask the generous friend to pay again? No, he said, it’s been paid once and for all. The bill is no longer outstanding. So it is with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the payment for our sins. It was a fantastic gospel presentation for a largely Roman Catholic crowd.
Sadly, even some Protestants don’t seem to get this. There are some who teach that justification is a life-long process, something which has to be renewed daily. In this thinking, God’s declaration of righteousness (justification) is something which expires at the end of each day. Each day again the individual has to go to God as Judge and again plead for the verdict of “righteous” in Christ.
That’s an unbiblical way to think about justification. This is clear from several verses in Romans. Take Romans 5:1, for example: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here justification is described as a completed action which has addressed all our sins, past, present and future. The consequence is abiding peace with God through our Saviour.
Thus, a little further in the letter, Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If you are in Christ Jesus, if you are united to him and therefore accounted righteous (justified), there is no condemnation. The verdict has been rendered and it’s in your favour — permanently. If the Judge has spoken once, the matter is finished. There are no appeals and there’s no reopening of your case.
Christians can now relate every day to God as their Father. Through our justification once accomplished, we’re in a relationship of fellowship with God and nothing can change that. This isn’t to say that there’s no longer any place for repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness from God. But it is to say that these things now take place in the context of a living relationship where God is our Father and we’re his justified children through Christ.
Why would you want it to be otherwise? Why would you want to have the insecurity and discomfort of a tenuous relationship with God, one which always depends on daily renewal of your justification? Franco Maggiotto had it right. When it comes to the work of our salvation, when it’s done it’s done. That’s why we say the gospel is good news.
Thomas Purifoy Jr.: “…it is my strongest conviction as a Reformed Christian that 6-day creation is the only longterm viable option for Reformed theology. As D. Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “I have no gospel unless Genesis is history.””
Chris Gordon: “It has become rather en vogue in our time for churches to change their name from what once identified their denominational affiliation to that which has a more generic and independent church feel. We’ve moved from First Presbyterian Church to names like the Rock, the Movement, Energy Church, Fusion Church, etc. Changing a name is no little matter for a church.”
All “scientific” arguments for deep time begs the question!
Dr. Jason Lisle explains what is the scientific way to refute a competing view of history. We do it performing an internal critique. For example we can, for the sake of argument, show how the secular assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism would lead to logical inconsistencies.