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Theology Studies

When Theology Burns by Richard A. Ray
So here is the dare. An historical text unknown to you in the past lies within reach. You pick it up, begin to read it, plug it into your brain, and jolts from the literary lithium-ion battery begin to do some strange things within your mind and your social world. It is the gift of an electric intellectual arch. You walk beneath it into a different world. You complete your reading, begin again, and more curious possibilities come to your attention. One thing becomes completely clear in the process. Christianity has always been mesmerized by words. Winter 2018 Pg. 1, Theology Matters

Orthodoxy at Stake by Joseph D. Small
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and revealed to us ––we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion with us, and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1–4 “In general, the churches . . . bore for me the same relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola: they promoted thirst without quenching it.” John Updike, A Month of Sundays1

For over a century, a small gem has been embedded in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order: the “Great Ends of the Church.” Six great purposes of the church’s life––the life of every congregation and of the whole denomination––present Presbyterians with markers for the character of our life together, pointing to basic works of the church that are foundational to who the church is and what the church is called to do.

The Great Ends of the Church are:
• proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
• shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
• maintenance of divine worship;
• preservation of the truth;
• promotion of social righteousness;
• exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. Winter 2018 Pg. 5, Theology Matters

The Confessions of St. Augustine by Carl Trueman
Trueman summarizes one of the great themes of The Confessions: “Central to human psychology for Augustine is love. Love is the desire or will to become one with its object. ...It is not enough for human beings simply to exist or to maintain existence.... They strive for other things.  Augustine would say that they want to love and be loved.”

St. Augustine began his search for love in earthly objects that did not satisfy.  He sought love in social acceptance, fame, sexual relationships, philosophy and the quest for truth.  He found that these things merely turn individuals back to themselves.  Trueman explains,

[T]he desire for social acceptance was really a desire to reassure the ego that it was the center of the universe, a salve for insecurity.  Sexual pleasure was ultimately at root a selfish act, a desire for love which terminated in personal pleasure rather than true self-giving to another.  The quest for truth was actually more exciting than the discovery of truth because it allowed the individual thinking subject to remain the measure of all things rather than that which is itself measured.

St. Augustine came to realize that this search for love is right and good but becomes disordered because of our fallen sinful nature.  Trueman explains that instead of finding our true love in Christ, we settle for loving ourselves.

[Although] human beings, made in God’s image, are made to love... the drive to love, to find full meaning and satisfaction through love, remains; but now it is turned inward from loving God to loving self.  All roads of love ultimately lead back to the self and the self cannot provide a truly satisfying object of love. Thus, humans desperately try to find that fulfillment in finite objects ordered to the self.  But such is a fools’ errand, doomed to frustration.   Mar/Apr 2014 Theology Matters, p. 1

True-Life Confessions: The Precedent Setting Revelations of Augustine’s Restless Heart by Herbert Jacobsen, is a summary of some of the themes in The Confessions. Mar/Apr 2014 Theology Matters, p. 3

19-week study guide of The Confessions by Terry Schlossberg.   Mar/Apr 2014 Theology Matters, p. 6


Falling Short of the Solas by Rev. Carolyn Poteet 
Poteet examines the five solas: Sola Scriptura--Scripture alone, Solus Christus--Christ alone, Sola Gratia--Grace alone, Sola Fide--Faith alone and Soli Deo Gloria--to the Glory of God alone.  Poteet compares the impact these had on the message of the Reformers, how they are being rejected by liberalism and how we can restore their priority in the life of the church.  Jan/Feb 2013 Theology Matters, p. 1

Centers and Boundaries by Rev. Robert P. Mills
Some people assume that if the church talks about the center of our faith while ignoring the boundaries of our faith, there might be great unity and less contention in the church.  Mills shows that the center and boundaries are linked.  Therefore when the boundaries are not protected, the center soon fragments.  To demonstrate his point, Mills quotes Frederick Buechner, "The power of sin is centrifugal.  When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery.  Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left.  Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left."   Jan/Feb 2013 Theology Matters, p. 7

Why Do We Draw the Line?  by Dr. Carl Trueman
Trueman also makes the argument that we must be attentive to the boundaries of faith or we will soon lose the center.  Trueman writes, "Centers and boundaries are ultimately dependent upon each other--one cannot meaningfully talk of one without assuming the existence of the other."  Trueman observes that most Christian doctrine is actually boundary-forming and not center-focused. "For example, to say that God is infinite is to say something negative about God: He has no limits.  This formulation sets a boundary; there are lots of things I might be able to say about God, but if at some point I say He has limits, I cross a boundary into error."  Jan/Feb 2013 Theology Matters, p. 11

Identifying Boundaries by Rev. Susan Cyre
Cyre examines the role of doctrine in establishing boundaries and then gives specific examples of places where theological boundaries are being crossed.  She looks at the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, God is the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the fallenness of human beings.  Jan/Feb 2013 Theology Matters, p. 12

A Walk Through the Woods by Mary Holder Naegeli, Minister at Large in San Francisco Presbytery and adjunct instructor of Christian Formation and Discipleship and Missional Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary (Northern California and Seattle). 
Naegeli gives a brief teaching on biblical interpretation in relation to the Trinity. The Trinity is One God, so Jesus does not speak a different word today than the Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture. Naegeli posits that “The church reforms by returning (repenting) to its biblical roots after wandering down bunny trials of false belief or scandalous practice.” “Scripture as God’s Word written imparts God’s will upon the Church through instruction, information, and correction, and thereby holds the Church and its members accountable to the will of God (2 Tim 3:16).  May/Jun Theology Matters, p. 6.  Footnotes.  For a diagram that helps to understand the article, click here.

The Theology In the Liturgy, by Dr. Simon Chan, p.1--
Chan writes, "Worship is essentially the response to the revelation of the triune God; it cannot be constructed arbitrarily, but must be shaped by the giveness of revelation." Chan discusses how Trinitarian theology is reflected in the liturgy and how liturgy helps us understand the triune God.   
Sep/Oct 2008 Theology Matters p. 1

Guided by Our Confessions by Dr. Randall Otto
This is a study of the key tenets of the Reformed confessions for the purpose of training officers of the church.  There are 11 sections, making it ideal for an ongoing study at the beginning of monthly session or deacon meetings.  Alternatively, the entire study could be done in the course of a larger workshop on training officers.
Sep/Oct 2005 Theology Matters, p. 1

Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives: Discussion Questions by Bob Davis
These questions supplement the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives approved by the San Diego Presbytery and published in Theology Matters in Sep/Oct 2003.  
May/Jun 2004 Theology Matters  p. 1

Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives  approved by San Diego Presbytery
These Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives were written by members of the San Diego Presbytery and approved by the Presbytery on June 18, 2003 for use by the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) and the Committee on Ministry (COM) in evaluating and presenting candidates for Minister of Word and Sacrament.  These Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives may be used informally by helping clergy and elders formulate questions to ask candidates seeking admission to the presbytery.  They may be used by Pastoral Nominating Committees to evaluate the theology of pastors they are interviewing.  They may also be used as a teaching tool to train and equip church leaders. 
Sep/Oct 2003 Theology Matters  p. 1

Recovering a Theology of God's (Gracious) Law by John P. Burgess
Burgess explains the relationship between law and grace. He looks at: a Reformed view of the Law; Defining the Law and how Law and Grace Work Together. 
Jul/Aug 2002 Theology Matters p. 1

Addressed By The Word: Theology, Ethics and Abortion by Mark R. Patterson
"Theology and ethics are inextricably bound...ultimate conclusions in either theology or ethics profoundly determine the shape of the other."  Patterson explains how "enlightenment rationalism and postmodern subjectivism" have influenced our conclusions about abortion and homosexual behavior.  
May/Jun 2002 Theology Matters  p.1

Why Christology Is An Endangered Species by James R. Edwards
Edwards' argues "that we are witnessing a paradigm shift away from a theology of redemption to a theology of creation...we are witnessing a shift in theology from what God can and will do in the gospel to what God did once for all creation. Concomitant with the shift from Christology to creation is a shift away from the doctrines of sin and repentance, which according to the preaching of the cross are essential to the reception of new life in Christ.   The new theology argues that what is, is essentially good and right." 
Jan/Feb 2002 Theology Matters p. 1

More Than One Way? Affirming the Uniqueness of Christ's Person and Work in a Pluralistic Culture by Dennis Okholm
Okholm, who was a professor of religion at Wheaton College and is now at Azuza Pacific, posits the uniqueness of Christ against the claims of pluralism.  He addresses: why pluralism now; the practice of pluralism, defining pluralism, responding to pluralism, what's wrong with pluralism? and asserting the 'scandal of particularity'. 
Jan/Feb 2002 Theology Matters   p. 6

A Map for the Maze: Finding Your Way Through Contemporary Theology (A Guide for PNCs) by Randall Otto.  Dr. Otto is a PCUSA pastor with a Ph.D. in historical and theological studies.  Otto gives a map through the maze of contemporary theologies by contrasting them with the immanence and transcendence of God. "In his transcendence, God is eternally existent, self-sufficient and stands beyond creation. ... In his immanence, God graciously creates and upholds a world  with which to share his goodness and love..."  "Christian theology must always seek the proper balance between these tow poles or it will go astray."   Otto looks at, the revolt against immanence in Neo-Orthodoxy; the transcendence of the future--the theology of hope and political theology; transcendence with a story--Narrative Theology; immanence in experience of oppression--Liberation, Black and Feminist theologies; and the deepening of immanence--Process Theology and Openness Theology.  May/Jun 2001 Theology Matters p. 1

Engaging the World With Christ: Participating in the Royal Office of Christ by Scott R. A.  Starbuck, Ph.D.  Starbuck examines the three offices Christ was given: prophet, king and priest.  Starbuck continues, "once we receive the benefits of Christ's three-fold office, we directly become participants with Christ within his offices."   Starbuck then focuses primarily on exegeting and interpreting the participation of ordained officers in the royal office of Christ.  Jan/Feb 1998 Theology Matters p. 1

An Analysis of the First Catechism by Rev. Stephen Eyre. Eyre critiques the proposed First Catechism for use in teaching children the faith of the church. Eyre concludes, "The First Catechism articulates a biblically defective understanding of sin.  It makes no reference to Word of God as a guide to conduct, (or revelation for that matter).  There is no need for repentance unto life.  There is nothing about regeneration.  There is no need for a doctrine of adoption, or justification or sanctification."  Note: The First Catechism is not a part of our Book of Confessions.  It was approved by the 1998, 210th GA as a study document but never sent to the presbyteries for a vote.  It can be found on the PCUSA website. Jan/Feb 1998 Theology Matters p. 8

Created in the Image of God: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Imago Dei by Scott N. Morschauser, Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies.  Morschauser writes, "[I]t is now generally accepted that the phrase is derived from 'royal language' attested from Mesopotamia and Egypt, wherein a king or pharaoh is sometimes called the 'image of (a) god.'...such an observation readily lends itself to the idea that human beings function as the divine image through the exercise of 'dominion' and 'rule.'"  Morschauser looks at the Image in the Ancient Near East; the Immediate Biblical Context of Genesis 1:26-27; Another reading of Genesis 1:26-27; Wisdom and the Imago Dei and the Reclamation and the Repristination of the Imago Dei and finally, re-integrating  the Imago Dei. Nov/Dec 1997 Theology Matters  p. 1

The Image of God: Clarifying the Confusion by James R. Edwards, Professor of Religion at Whitworth College, Spokane, WA.  Edwards examines Genesis 1 and 2's account of God creating man and woman in his own image.  Edwards observes, "By virtue of his creation, the human is a citizen of two realms--the mundane and the celestial, the city of man and the city of God.  Genesis 1 signifies this difference by noting that all animal life is made 'according to its kind.' but the human is made 'in God's image.'"  Nov/Dec 1997 Theology Matters  p. 9

 A Ministry of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: A Reformed View of the Atonement of Christ, by Dr. Andrew Purves, Hugh Thomson Kerr Professor of Pastoral Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. "The priestly ministry of Jesus Christ is the heart of the doctrine of salvation.  It is also almost everywhere neglected.  It is the corner-stone that carries the christological (the doctrine of Christ), soteriological (the doctrine of salvation) and eschatological (the doctrine of the future hope) weight of the Gospel.  The center of Christian faith is found in the two-fold aspect of Christ's priesthood, in which through his incarnation he took on our human nature, and from within it healed it and made it holy in himself, and which he offers up to God in and through himself on our behalf.  As Son of God, Christ represents God to us.  He is the word of God, Emmanuel.  As Son of Man, Christ represents humankind to God. He is the appropriate response to God from the body of the flesh."  This is a superb teaching on the atonement in a very readable article. Jul/Aug 1997 Theology Matters p. 1

Violence, Abuse and the Reformed Understanding of the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, CA. Some radical feminists are rejecting the cross as child abuse since the Father sent the Son to die.  Mouw offers solid teaching on the meaning of the atonement that rejects the a charge of abuse.  Jul/Aug 1997 Theology Matters  p. 5

The Judgment of Grace by L. Gregory Jones, reprinted by permission from Pro Ecclessia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Vol 2, No.2.  Jones looks at Problems With Contemporary conceptions of Christian forgiveness; God's forgiveness that is the Judgment of Grace enabling us to live a new life as forgive and forgiving people; God's forgiveness enables Christians to engage in practices of forgiveness and reconciliation; and there may be times where 'loving enemies' is as far as we can move on the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jul/Aug 1997 Theology Matters   p. 8

Faithful Witness to the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ by Dr. Bryan D. Burton, PCUSA pastor and author.   Burton writes, "At the time when the Presbyterian Church (USA) is seeking to respond to the clarion call that 'theology matters,' one of the great tests of whether or not theology matters is the struggle to understand and bear witness to the church's creed  'Jesus is Lord' and its influence upon the church's life and ministry.  It is therefore not only a question as to whether theology matters, but also a question as to what kind of theology matters.  The challenge is to discover what it means to bear witness to Jesus Christ in an age of pluralism." Nov/Dec 1995 Theology Matters p. 1

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter VI, "Scripture is Needed as Guide and Teacher for Anyone Who Would Come to God the Creator."  Reprinted with permission from the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, edited by John T. McNeil (Library of Christan classic Series).  Calvin addresses, 1. God bestows the actual knowledge of himself upon us only in the Scriptures; The Word of God as Holy Scripture; 3. Without Scripture we fall into error; 4. Scripture can communicate to us what the Revelation in the creation cannot.   Book I, Chapter VII, "Scripture Must Be Confirmed By the Witness of the Spirit.  Thus May It's Authority Be Established As Certain; and It Is a Wicked Falsehood That its Credibility Depends On the Judgment of the Church".  Calvin looks at 1. Scripture has its authority from God, not from the church; 2. The church is itself grounded upon Scripture and 5. Scripture bears its own authentication.  Mar/Apr 1995 Theology Matters p. 6

Preparing for the Coming of Jesus Christ: Advent Daily Scripture Readings and Reflections from the Writings of John Calvin compiled and edited by Rev. Edwin Gray Hurley.  This article contains Daily Scripture Readings from the Common Christian Lectionary together with selections from the writings of John Calvin. "The Institutes, from which most of our Advent Reflections are drawn, is a superb comprehensive statement of classical orthodox Christianity"   Sep/Oct 2009 Theology Matters, p. 1