Preparation for Proclamation

By Adam Bailie

In his first inspired letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)

Fellow preachers, I propose to you that the best preaching ends up with people who are meeting with God and who are amazed with the power of God through the message delivered to them, more than they’re amazed at a messenger or deliverer. I am convinced that applicational expository sermon preparation is essential to the aims that Paul embodied with the Corinthians. The sermon we must prepare can then be defined as “public, biblical proclamation that derives its message exclusively from the intent of the author and conveys implications specifically for the life of the hearer.” In order to help us toward that end of applicational expository preaching, I want to encourage you with five sermon evaluation questions that will directly inform your preparation for the next sermon you are entrusted to deliver. I will then give you ten steps to better prepare to preach.

1. Is the sermon accurate?

Was what I preached accurate? Did I get the text right? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it is the right one because we are heralds of the King’s words. Exegesis and hermeneutics are not the disciplines of the ivory tower, but are the constant tools in the herald’s hands in every sermon preparation engagement.

2. Is the sermon authentic?

Did the text get me right? Did I deliver this, having been moved by the Spirit with the meaning of the text and its direct impact on my life? Or did I merely deliver a lecture or disperse content detached and disengaged from the Spirit-intended implications on life? As Mike Bullmore has often reminded me, God intended to say something and get something done with every text we preach.

3. Is the sermon articulate?

Did I make the meaning and implication of the text clear? Simple and clear do not necessarily mean simplistic or dumbed down. Nor do complex and complicated necessarily mean deep or sophisticated. Clarity is an often-overlooked aspect of preparation. Think deeply, connect dots relentlessly, and tie the knots of logic and reason as tightly as possible so that the hearer has every opportunity to understand and be affected by the Word of God.

4. Is the sermon accessible?

Did I make the text contextually attainable? Did I know my audience? While preaching, did I assess and adjust to the hearers' non-verbal communication from the pews? The preacher who merely delivers a speech is far less concerned with accessibility than the shepherd who is feeding the flock, the discipler who is discipling the hearers, and the evangelist who is evangelizing the crowd. If accessibility is prioritized the most underdeveloped listener can grab the truth of the text, and the most mature will be shaped further by the text they have perhaps encountered on various occasions. Illustrations, humor, applications, and even delivery style will be the watermarks of accessible sermons.

5. Is the sermon applicable?

Did I connect the dots from learning to living? Having been trained in a deeply exegetical and explanation-weighted preaching context, I’m terrified of Christians erroneously thinking that they’re growing merely because they know more about the Bible. Knowledge without love (application) ends up pumping pride (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-3). Be sure to actually bring the text to bear on the lifestyle of the hearer.

With those evaluation questions weighing in on your preparation, now we begin the step-by-step process:

1. Prepare your heart.

Start with prayer and permeate your preparation, guys. Preparing a sermon should be a rich and powerful aspect of your walk with Christ. You’re with him, and the Spirit is with you. If you’ll engage that way, he is as much involved in the prep as he is in the proclamation.

2. Examine the text.

Exegesis is the observation and examination of the text. Find and record all that you see in the grammatical, logical, theological, and contextual connection points in the passage. See John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (chapter 6) and learn to query the text thoroughly.

3. Compile the truth.

Sketch out the formation of the argument and the elements. Determine the primary truth or the big idea of the text. You can ask, “What is lost if this portion of the Bible is removed from the Bible?” So the implication of that text ends up becoming central to the big idea.

4. Organize the structure.

You have an exegetical outline by examining the text. You have an explanatory outline—what the text is saying—by compiling the truth. Now move into an applicational expository outline by connecting this text to the life of your hearers. That’s organizing the sermon structure from What? to So what? to Now what?—which personalizes it.

5. Inspect the framework.

This is the first time in preparation where commentaries should be used. Technical commentaries help answer technical questions. Expository commentaries help answer explanatory questions. Applicational commentaries help answer applicational questions. Devotional commentaries help answer the devotional questions of what you’re supposed to feel and believe and what’s supposed to happen. Inspect with commentaries; don’t plagiarize them.

6. Confirm the sermon.

Take the sermon to a meeting to get feedback about how best to bring it home in the context where you will preach it. One voice should talk about the connections in the text. One voice should talk about the verbiage and what is said and how words are used. One voice should talk about applicational elements in the text and how it can come home to hearers. Do not come to that meeting hoping to get a sermon. Come with a sermon that the meeting is going to help make better.

7. Color the sermon.

Add to the sermon sharp hooks and tight buttons. Sharp hooks are introductions that create the need to listen. Tight buttons are conclusions that close loops and send hearers toward response and life. Illustrations, commercial breaks to discuss a pertinent topic, humor, and quotations can all be used to further color the sermon.

8. Construct the notes.

I’m not going to tell you how I do my notes. Work and rework notes until you figure out how your brain works so that your notes serve you. You are not a servant of your notes. Your notes are a servant of your brain. They’re there to help your brain.

9. Consecrate the sermon.

Pray it hot. Linger with the Lord for boldness, for tenderness. Consecrate that sermon to the King and His agenda. Devote it to him. Pray through the big idea with him. Pray that you would love the people listening. Pray for boldness that comes from a vertical engagement in your preparation with the Word of the living God.

10. Proclaim the sermon.

Proclaim it. Preach it. No biblical preaching is devoid of teaching, but there’s plenty of teaching that is devoid of preaching. Preaching is a heralding ministry that finds its heritage in the prophets. So preach. We are not having a talk, and we’re not having a conversation. We’re not welcoming everybody into a conversation. We actually are spokesmen for the King. Manage post-sermon interactions and sensations carefully. You are not as good as your highest praise, and you are not as bad as your harshest critic. Just don’t believe either one too much.

Finally, I’ve got some resources that have shaped my life as a preacher and might do the same for you:

Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson is the most influential.
Preaching by John MacArthur
Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I love, love, love that book.
Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
Preach the Word by Ryken and Wilson
Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hayes
Between Two Worlds by John Stott
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper
Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson

Adam is Senior Lead Pastor at Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. He planted Christ Church in December 2012. He earned his M.Div. from The Master's Seminary and previously served on the pastoral staff of churches in California and Texas. Before training with Harvest Bible Fellowship and coming to Phoenix, he planted and was the lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, CA. He and his wife Renee live in Chandler with their two daughters and a son. They are thrilled to be in the East Valley for the sake of Christ's fame.

Why the Puritans Canceled Christmas

By Nathan Tarr, PhD

In 1659, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony canceled Christmas. The purpose of this brief essay is to explore why they did so and what we—rightly looking forward to enjoying our Christmas traditions—can learn from their decision. We can work toward a helpful understanding of Puritan opposition to Christmas by reminding ourselves who the Puritans were, what they were like, and what was happening at the Christmas revelries to which they were opposed.

The term “Puritan” covered a motley crew of men and women, in both England and America, from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. It was perhaps not quite as broad as a term like “evangelical” is today, but it often carried a similar (and ironical) imprecision. Some Puritans, for example, focused almost entirely on political debates of the day. Others took church government as their primary area of concern. Still others were known for their intentional pursuit of piety. To say that “the Puritans” did any one thing—including canceling Christmas—is a bit like squaring the circle. It is hard to find a formula where everybody fits. We are focusing in this essay on the theological reservations that animated the Puritan discouragement of Christmas celebrations.

Some of us may not see a need to ask why the Puritans would take the step of canceling Christmas. Christmas is bright, and colorful, and filled with joy. Puritans being Puritans, of course, they opposed it for just these reasons. Were they not the well-known antagonists of delight, festivity, and fun? In a word, the answer is no. Scholars like Bruce Daniels, Leland Ryken and, more recently, Michael Reeves have done important work rehabilitating our imagination where the character of the Puritans is concerned. And more work is needed! The Puritans, in actual fact, took robust delight in colorful clothing, food and drink, art and instruments (if not in church), natural beauty, sport (though not on the Lord’s day), and marital sex. Their enjoyment of these and other of God’s good gifts resounds from their journals, letters, sermons, and even the accusations of their enemies. What was it, then, that they found so onerous about Christmas?

We begin to get an idea of their concern when, already in 1621, Governor William Bradford censured newcomers to the Plymouth Colony for taking Christmas day off from work. Nevertheless, Bradford wrote in his log, “If they made the keeping of [Christmas] a matter of devotion, then let them keep [it in] their houses, but there should be no gambling or reveling in the streets.” Taking Bradford at his word here, he is admitting a legitimate way to celebrate Christmas—in our homes, as a matter of religious devotion. He is also identifying the issue at the root of his resistance to the holiday, namely, a spiritually crass and socially disruptive celebration disconnected from the reason for the season.

Perhaps you are beginning to wonder at this point whether “Christmas” was something altogether different in 17th-century England (and New England) than it is in our experience today. That question comes from a good instinct! We should get the past clear before we critique it. So, if Puritans were not canceling carols, ginger bread houses, hot chocolate, and puppies, what kind of celebration did Puritan leaders believe we would be better without? We should imagine a scene less like setting up a manger and more like Mardi Gras. Known as "Foolstide," cross-dressing, heavy-drinking crowds would parade the streets singing bawdy songs and demanding entrance to upper-class residences. Those houses not sufficiently quick to open the door and provide the meat and drink demanded would be vandalized before the crowd moved on. Presided over by a Lord of Misrule, the street festival often took special delight in interrupting church services. It was a night neither silent nor holy. As Hugh Latimer wrote in the early half of the 16th century, “men dishonor Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas than in all the twelve months besides.”

Here was the heart of the Puritan aversion to Christmas as it was celebrated in their time. The social order was disrupted. Townspeople reveled in an excuse to “do what they lust and follow what vanity they will.” The devotion of true religion was ignored or antagonized outright. As a political minority, the Puritans resisted these expectations for decades, but to little cultural effect. Their convictions did not change when they found themselves in a position to influence policy. And so, in the colonies of the New World as in Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the Puritans exercised their political power to cancel or curtail the irreligious celebration of Christmas.

In his The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum has argued that the traditions marking our holiday season are relatively new and thus very different from those combatted by Governor Bradford’s prohibition on “reveling in the streets.” Even so, there is a caution in the Puritan stance that is worthy of our consideration. The most basic service that the Puritan example can perform is to (re)call our attention to the dual nature of our Christmas celebration. We enjoy this month both a cultural and a religious holiday. They happen at the same time, and are called by many of the same names, but they are very different. The cultural holiday is full of parties and candy, presents and decorations on everything from clothing to cookies. The religious holiday revolves around the myriad ways we consider afresh the news that God has come as our humble Savior and will soon return as our victorious King. The first celebration awakens the ache of acquisition. The second awakens the ache of advent.

Keeping these two holidays distinct in our hearts and minds is not easy, especially with mangers in front of malls and advent wreaths arriving from Amazon. But the Puritans thought it a safer course to cancel Christmas altogether than to risk confusing the holy truth of our Savior’s birth with self-focused, God-less frivolity. So how can we take steps to give both Christmases—the cultural and the spiritual—their proper emphasis in our lives? We should drink our eggnog, decorate our houses, and buy our presents, yes. But what would it look like in our families, and in our churches, to celebrate in a manner that makes it clear that Christmas, ultimately, is a “matter of devotion”? How does the way we engage the public holiday reflect the tempering of Advent’s truth? Each of us will, no doubt, answer these questions of priority and emphasis a bit differently from one another. The Puritans, as is often the case with examples from church history, do not give us the answer. But they do raise the question of Christian devotion. And being prompted to wrestle with such an important question is itself a gift.

Nathan Tarr (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology & the Doctor of Ministry Program Director at Phoenix Seminary. He has enjoyed many years of pastoral experience, first as the founding pastor of Christ Church in Knoxville, Tenn. (2005-2018), and then as the associate pastor of discipleship and missions at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. (2018-2020).

A Model for Church Leadership Development

It’s a powerful thing when God’s people see their leaders growing—and it’s good for the church!

This is the dynamic behind Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 4:15: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

At Camelback Bible Church, we are committed to leadership development as a church, and that includes our pastors and elders. Elders must meet the biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 before they are appointed to that role, of course. But like all believers, we want our elders to continue to grow as they serve.

We devote our second elder meeting each month to our development. We developed a four-year curriculum to help our elders grow personally and as a leadership team. Our elder terms are four years in length so a man will go through the full sequence during his time on the board.

This requires discipline. We jealously guard these meetings! There is always church business we could do when we gather, and business would soon fill that entire meeting. Growth is one of those Quadrant 2 activities: important but not urgent. We say “No” to other good things so we can say “Yes” to growth. We see how important it is, so we make it a priority.

We focus on the following topics: Word ministry, personal spiritual life, systematic theology, and leadership.

Year One: Handling God’s Word

Elders must be able to teach (1 Tim 3:2). The purpose of this year is to sharpen our ability to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). We want to help our elders grow as men of the Word who know the Scriptures and can use it competently, not only to teach but also to make ministry decisions, evaluate doctrine, and lead the church.

We use the First Principles video series from the Charles Simeon Trust (CST) to work on Word ministry together. Each man prepares an expositional worksheet on an assigned text before we gather. After we watch the video, a couple guys present their worksheets and receive feedback from the group.

We are essentially replicating the content and format of a CST Preaching Workshop. Our pastors attend a CST workshop every year to sharpen their skills; this gives our elders the same opportunity for growth.

Year Two: Personal Spiritual Disciplines

This year focuses on the elder’s inner life as a follower of Christ.  Elders need to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). Modeling spiritual maturity is also a core component of an elder’s role. We also recognize the grave spiritual harm done to the church when leaders fall. We want to help our men stand strong.

There are a number of good resources for this. We have used Bob Thune’s Gospel Eldership and Kent Hughes’ Disciplines of a Godly Man.

Year Three: Systematic Theology

The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:16), and elders are tasked with guarding sound doctrine for God’s people. They must be able to teach the truth accurately, recognize heterodoxy, and think theologically about new questions that arise.

Phoenix Seminary is a great partner here.  We asked Dr. Steve Duby to teach a 10-month overview of systematic theology for this third year of growth. The men had assigned reading for each session to prepare for Dr Duby’s teaching. And of course, we provided him with an honorarium.

Year Four: Leadership Development

This year focuses on growing as leaders. For the good of God’s people, we want our elders to grow consistently in our personal leadership ability, interpersonal skills, effectiveness as a team, etc. As Moses discovered in Exodus 18, leading God’s people requires planning, strategy, delegation, and sound administration—along with godliness.

We are currently in this fourth year of our curriculum and are working with a church leadership coaching organization, mostly via Zoom. They are leading us through process to sharpen and implement Camelback’s vision.


Growing together with my brother elders through this curriculum has been a great blessing to me as a pastor. Our friendships have gone deeper through these second meetings of the month. We have aligned our vision for ministry. We’ve sharpened each other in the Scriptures. And we’ve set a tone of continuing development as a team.

My prayer is that our people would continue to “see our progress.” It’s a powerful thing when God’s people see their leaders growing, and it’s good for the church.

Dr. Jim Johnston is the Senior Pastor of Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley, AZ. Dr. Johnston attended Wheaton College (1988) and went on to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for an M.Div. and eventually a Ph.D. in New Testament. His family spent a year at Tyndale House, Cambridge, where he worked on his dissertation. He has been a pastor for over 30 years.

He and his wife Lisa met when he was the Singles Pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL and have been married since 1996. God has blessed them with four wonderful children: Claire, Julia, Sarah, and Andrew.

He loves hiking, reading, long road trips, and National Parks. But most of all, he loves the church.

The Golden Age of the Church

As Westerners in the year 2022, we perhaps live in a golden age of studying church history. It seems every few weeks one publisher or another releases a new translation, reprint, or edition of a classic work. It is hard to imagine a time in the past when Christians had more access to the godly, life-giving books from those that came before them. We should learn from them—those so astoundingly devoted to taking every thought captive to the Word of God. Yet, we have to think about church history biblically.

The History of the Church Is Invaluable

Understanding church history brings about many benefits, four of which I will note. Firstly, church history reminds us that Christ’s church has prevailed since His life, death, and resurrection; and she will prevail until His return (Matthew 16:18). Second, learning from church history is an immense source of wisdom, clarity, and encouragement. We can turn again to the great books that have shaped the course of the church for centuries. We can still find comfort for our souls in the gospel insights of writers who remain mostly unmatched. Third, understanding church history provides an incredible ballast against the waves of fads and fashions in the life of the church. Fourth, church history can inculcate humility in us. 

The late David McCullough, one of the most influential historians of the past century, said in his book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For: “We’ve got to teach history and nurture history and encourage history because it’s an antidote to the hubris of the present—the idea that everything we have and everything we do and everything we think is the ultimate, the best.” This applies to the studying of church history as well. Few questions today have not already been addressed in some way by the church over the last two millennia. 

There have been periods throughout the history of the church that stand as faithful correctives to our own day. Consider the Puritans’ diligent, intentional, and patient focus on the ordinary means of grace in corporate worship. They focused on the Bible as the typical means by which God draws sinners to himself and conform us into the image of His Son. Contrast that with the revivalism reemerging in much of the church today. The Reformers themselves, to call the wayward church back to purity of doctrine and practice, looked at both the Bible and past theologians who faithfully taught the Bible. 

Church history is truly an invaluable source of encouragement. In the writings of those who have long been in the grave, we can find pastoral mentors. How did John Calvin think through and address a pastoral issue? How did Herman Bavinck understand the role of the people of God in the political realm? We can find great motivation to remain faithful and trust in God’s promises by reading George Mueller’s autobiography. We can learn from the godly pattern of rejoicing in the tender-care of Christ through the Letters of Samuel Rutherford

The History of the Church Is Imperfect

Nevertheless, in our right and godly quest to humbly understand and learn from church history, there is a simple pit-fall we must always avoid: We ought not think that there was some past "golden age of the church." The most Christ-like pastors, the most faithful evangelists, the purest churches—all these still bore the marks of indwelling sin. Godly pastors, even on their best days, are still imperfect shadows of the Great Shepherd to whom they point. The healthiest church is a faint glimmer of the purified Bride. It is imperative that we hold these truths together: the greatest figures and the most sanctified churches in history were flawed, and we can learn from them despite their insufficiencies and even their moral failings.

God’s Word itself recounts history in a way that reminds God’s people of past generations' faithlessness, to encourage faithfulness in the next generation. Moses, in Deuteronomy, reiterates the covenant and provides covenant motivations for ongoing faithfulness. He encouraged covenant faithfulness by reminding the Israelites of their forefathers’ faithlessness and failure (Deuteronomy 1:26–30). His pointing back to sinful distrust from the past stirred up greater present trust in God’s promise to give His people the land. 

No, the golden age of the church is not behind us, nor do we live in it now. Jesus implied as much in Matthew 18:15–20, when He instituted the practice of church discipline (binding and loosing). Jesus himself assumed that the local church would include those whose lives at times denied their gospel confession. Additionally, reflect on how many letters in the New Testament were written to address theological and pastoral issues. The apostles themselves did not live in an idealized era of the church.  

Pastor, if Jesus assumes an imperfect church and the apostle Paul ministered to churches who approved of a wicked sexual relationship (1 Cor. 5), seasons of frustration and hardship in your church should not surprise you. 

Augustine grumbled about distracted or noisy audience members who interrupted his sermons. Luther wrote the Smaller Catechism because of “the deplorable, miserable condition” of Lutheran churches he had visited. Many of the Puritans bemoaned the occasional faithlessness and hard-heartedness of their people. Examples like these abound throughout church history, and they remind us that the church has never been perfect. 

Don’t allow your heart to yearn for a fictionalized version of the church’s past. Instead, protect your expectations for what the church is and should be. You have been called to be a steward of your flock—not a flock in 1550s Geneva, 1600s Oxfordshire, or 1880s London. 

Yes, learn from the past. Grow as a shepherd. Learn from the scores of faithful shepherds who watched over Christ’s church before you—those men who “held firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). And yet, remind yourself that perfection has never been the mark of a faithful pastor or a healthy church. Walking in repentance and faith, seeking to grow in greater godliness and joy in Christ, and making clear who Christ is by our words and deeds—this is what we are called to.

The Golden Age to Come

Take heart, though: the golden age of the church is coming soon. The Lord’s return will usher in an eternal age wherein, as the classic hymn “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” observes: 

…congregations never break up and sabbaths have no end

For now, our Sunday gatherings are messy. Our victories, flawed foretastes of eternal joy. Imperfect shepherds will someday give way to reality. Then, Christ’s church will be presented to Him perfect and blameless—no longer merely declared righteous, but made righteous to enjoy Him forevermore.

Forrest Strickland (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is an Adjunct Professor of Church History at Boyce College and a member of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

Is Work Good? Exploring Creation and Economics

There are a few questions related to work and economics that I field regularly. They all center around whether work, money, and economics in general are inherently good, neutral, or necessary evils in our post-fall world. Faithful followers of Christ want to know, how should I think about my relationship to God and my work? Is money just for funding missions and ministry? Is my workplace merely a field for evangelism and discipleship, or is there any inherent value in my work?

We cannot answer all of these in this short space, but we can explore key elements of a biblical vision of work and economics that can serve as a foundation for an answer to these important questions. Although there are resources throughout the Scriptures, this short article will focus on what the account of creation can teach us about work and economics.

Clues from Creation

In the early Genesis narrative, we often skip over details in order to focus on humanity’s creation. However, in those details we find some subtle, but really interesting perspectives on creation, work, and economics. The description of the land in Gen 2:10–14 indicates that some locations had gold, bdellium, and onyx, which means there were also places where these natural resources did not occur. Additionally, the note that the gold in Havilah was good, implies there were places that had gold of a lesser quality. These textual details suggest to the reader that variations of resources occurred intentionally and were not post-fall in origin. We learn that even without the presence of sin, creation’s design included economic diversity.

We can press further and see the roots of economic activity in this diversity. If, before the fall, humanity had obeyed the command of Gen 1:28 and moved to fill the whole of the earth, different communities and individuals would have had radically different resources. One community would have had quality timber, while another good stone. Thus trade, the most basic form of economic activity, would have been necessary. Trade would have been required to meet the needs of each and every community.

Additionally, individuals would likely have developed unique strengths working with the resources that were most abundant in their local communities. This would have naturally led to the various skilled trades and crafts. What this teaches us is that work, specialized vocations, and other economic activities like trade were part of the inherent goodness of creation.

Beyond this general glimpse of how the creation might have unfolded before the fall, we see Adam engaged in work, carrying out the divine mandate to tend the garden. Three key components of his work are helpful as we seek to address the question of whether work has any inherent value. First, we see that Adam’s work is imitative of God’s work. His first task, naming the animals, has him ordering his world by speaking. The divine work of chapter one was done through God’s speech. Part of Adam’s expression of being made in the image of God is his creative work. Second, we can see that in naming the animals, Adam is obedient to the Lord’s creation schemes. He correctly concludes that none of the animals were suitable for him. Work can be a place where we live out our obedience to the Lord. Third, careful attention to the narrative details of Adam’s work reveals that Moses intended us to see his garden work as worship. As I recently wrote elsewhere:

Intentional word choices in the text indicate that we should understand Adam’s work as worship. Adam was placed, literally ‘caused to rest’, by God in the garden in order to work and keep it. Rest points forward literarily to Noah and the deliverance from the flood, and to the rest Israel would have from their enemies in the land. The terms ‘work’ . . . and ‘keep’ . . . are understood literally in the garden, but later they will be used to describe temple service and the people’s relationship to God’s revelation. Adam’s work is his intentional, reverential response to God’s provision and a pointer forward to later work and worship.

The account of creation teaches us that work is part of God’s good design of the world and that vocations, specialized trades, and economic activity in general are not a result of the fall. Rather, they are part of God’s intent for humanity to live communally and cooperatively, supplying one another with goods and services. This is all founded in  creation’s inherent diversity of resources. Further, our work, as modeled by Adam, can be a worshipful, obedient, and reverently imitative response to God’s great acts. Our work is one sphere in which we can live out our creation in his image. From the perspective of creation, work has inherent value and worth despite the challenges we face working in a fallen world.

Other Clues

If we had more time, we could explore the impact of sin on work and the ways in which God countered those effects among his people. We could consider his granting of wealth and the ability to make wealth to Israel (Deut 8:18). We could ponder the repeated assertion that the ability to enjoy work and its fruit is a gift of God (Eccl 3:3; 5:19). We could study the presence of the righteous poor and the righteous wealthy in the wisdom literature. We could wrestle with the tremendous impact of oppression and the misuse of wealth and power in the wisdom literature and prophets. Finally we could venture on into the New Testament and delve into Jesus’ teaching about economics. Economic realities are not outside the kingdom. They are the very things the Lord knows we need. As we seek his kingdom, economic concerns—food, shelter, clothing—are not omitted, they are what will be added (Matt 6:33). We could ask about Paul’s thoughts on work as he deftly moved between times as a missionary supported by donors and as a worker plying his trade while also planting churches. And these suggestions barely scratch the surface.


So how do we move forward? First, I think we acknowledge that like the rest of life, work and economics have been massively impacted by the presence of sin. This means the toil of our jobs, the sinful economic acts we witness, and the question of how to integrate work into our lives as followers of Christ, are legitimate concerns that should not be brushed aside. We can seek to confront sin in ourselves, our workplaces, and our communities as we understand the condemnation of economic oppression found in the proverbs and the prophets. Yet, despite the taint of sin, we can confidently pursue the good of work in light of the way God designed the world and humanity. We can, like Adam, seek to be creative, obedient, and worshipful in our work. And we can learn to acknowledge that work and the ability to enjoy it is a gift from God.

For further reading:

Human Flourishing: Economic Wisdom for a Fruitful Christian Vision of the Good Life by Greg Foster and Anthony Cross

The Bible and Money: Issues of Economy and Socioeconomic Ethics in the Bible by Markus Zehnder and Hallvard Hegalia

Business for the Common Good by Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae

Dr.  J. Michael Thigpen earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an M.Div. from Columbia Biblical Seminary, and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Judaic, Hebraic, and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College. He is the author of Divine Motive in the Hebrew Bible: A Comprehensive Survey and Analysis. In addition to his academic background, Dr. Thigpen has extensive pastoral and executive leadership experience. He has served churches in South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, and California.  For more than a decade, Dr. Thigpen was the Executive Director of the Evangelical Theological Society.  Prior to beginning his academic career he served as an eBusiness senior project manager and call center director for US Bank.


The Simple Gift of Being Present

My wife and I love to open our home to friends and neighbors. We know that our world can be isolating and lonely, so we want our hospitality to open the door for community and conversation. One of the results of our hospitality (and certainly being a pastor) is that friends will ask us for advice when they are going through a tough season.

We always start with one question: “are you involved with a church?” A few years ago, this would not have been as big of an issue. But the pandemic truly impacted the simple grace of being together in a church family. Christian friends who know that they are out of the habit of gathering at a church need the gentle nudge—and sometimes stern push—to gather with their church every week.

We begin our counsel with being a part of a church because Christians who are isolated are outside of God’s good design. And then they are left to face trials and troubles without the help that God ordained in his church. Truly, the first thing a Christian needs to do is show up in a church. And there are three reasons to trust in the grace of gathering with God’s people.


God’s Command

Hebrews 10:22–25 invites believers into the grace of being a part of God’s church. The phrase “let us” gives the blessings we encounter in community. The invitation also comes with a command to “not [neglect] to meet together.” Neglecting the gathering means that believers miss out on the good gifts that the community comes together to celebrate. When occasionally skipping the service becomes a habit, Christians become isolated from the teaching of our confession of hope, they miss out on encouragement, and they end up discipled by the world instead of the church. We gather because God has invited us into the goodness of the community of faith.


God’s Purpose

Showing up matters because God’s command has a purpose; we encourage and build one another up when we gather. Hebrews 10:24 says that we “stir one another up to love and good works.” The blessing of gathering with the church is far more than what we get out of it, and includes what we give to our brothers and sisters as well. When we meet, we stir one another up. When we pray together, we intercede for the needs in our community. And when we sing praises to God, we also sing to one another the truth about God. Ephesians 5:19 tells us that we are not singing to God alone, we sing to one another. When we sing “Great is thy Faithfulness” we are proclaiming the glory and faithfulness of God. But we are also reminding our brother, who did not think that God was all that faithful this week, that he can trust God despite changing circumstances .


Christ’s Nature

Perhaps the strongest reason for showing up is the truth that the church is the body of Christ. And we know that Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus was born and grew up; he ate and drank; he met with and taught people. Jesus did these things because he is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If Jesus came in a physical body, then the church, as the body of Christ, should come together physically, too. If a part of a human body is missing, it alters life significantly. Take out the wrong body part and it will end a life.

In the age of sermon podcasts and live-streamed worship, we can get some of the good that comes from a service but still miss out on all that God provided for us in the gathered church. It may seem like a small thing, but showing up is a way of living out the nature of the church as the body of Christ. He showed up more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and we show up each Lord’s Day to experience the grace of the gathered church.


So, when you feel strung out or tired, come to church. When your kids won’t listen and can’t get ready on time, come to church. When people are visiting from out of town, come to church. When you have been every week for years and feel burnt out, come to church. When your marriage is in a rough spot, come to church. When your career is going sideways, come to church.

You don’t need to have your life in order. You don’t need to wear your Sunday best. You don’t need the church bumper sticker on your car. You don’t have to feel in the mood. The simple gift of being present will bring you encouragement and community (while doing the same for your brothers and sisters) because that is how God designed his church to work.

Andy Shurson is a church planter and pastor of Desert Ridge Church in Phoenix. He is a graduate of Belmont University and Dallas Theological Seminary. Andy has served in the local church for years as a lead pastor, youth pastor, and in many other volunteer roles. He is also a writer who has written resources and curriculum for churches across the country.

Three Reasons We Should Sing Sound Theology

I still remember (with terror) the first time I led worship anywhere. 

I was 19 and I had just moved across the country to do an internship at a church. We were headed to a nearby college campus to do a student’s meeting when suddenly the worship leader for the meeting said he couldn’t make it. I halfheartedly volunteered to lead worship since I played guitar and piano and played on my worship team back home. To my surprise someone handed me a guitar case and a stack of songs and chord charts. And before I knew it, I was in the backseat of the college pastor’s car trying to figure out what songs to put into my setlist. 

I had played worship music for years. I knew chords and tabs. I understood the basics of how to arrange a band. But I realized then that I needed more than a series of chords and lyrics strung together. 

Even at 19, I loved reading theology and studying my Bible. I was passionate to see people hold on to sound theology. But I realized, suddenly, that I hadn’t paid nearly enough attention to how singing and sound theology come together. How should the theology in my backpack affect the stack of songs on my desk? It’s a question that shapes us far more than we know. 

Our Singing Reveals Our Theology

When I was growing up our church sang these lyrics: They rush on the city / They run on the wall / Great is the army that carries out his word.

As a kid I loved the song because I loved pretty much any song that talked about marching and armies. But years later I discovered that the Scriptural reference to those lyrics was Joel 2 which describes Judah being invaded. God’s people weren’t marching on walls to conquer, they were being conquered. Inadvertently our church had been singing about the destruction of Jerusalem with great joy. 

What we sing reveals our theology. In that case it perhaps revealed that our church, born from the Jesus Movement in the early 80s, needed more solid Scriptural understanding. We needed a better Old Testament theology to help us understand how New Testament Christians relate to things like the invasion of Israel. We needed a better theology of the cross to help us see that Christians do indeed conquer, but they do so through the cross. 

But lest we chuckle too loudly, let’s examine our own songs. What do they reveal about us? And I’m not thinking here of outright heresy (though that’s out there!), but something more subtle: What’s always emphasized? What’s never sung about? Sometimes we can be rigorous in our theological textbooks but lax in our worship playlists—which often reveals that we are, perhaps, not quite as rigorous as we think. 

One of the most important tests is whether our worship songs are fundamentally pointed upward or inward. When I first began playing on our church worship team years ago, one of our worship leaders was a veteran of those early Jesus Movement days named Danny. Danny gave me a simple rule of thumb: these songs should not most fundamentally be about us, but about the Lord. 

Psalm 115:1 sums this up well: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” The Psalms are full of David pouring out his heart and circumstances before the Lord, but on the most fundamental level, the Psalms are about God. They are not just about how wonderful it is that David is rescued, or that he will be vindicated before his enemies, or that his heart is happy. They are about the God who rescues (Ps 136), God who brings justice (Ps 35:27), and God who delights our hearts (Psalm 42:1). The emphasis makes all the difference. 

Danny gave me a rule of thumb I still use: Do the lyrics contain more “I”s than “He”s? That is, Am I singing more about myself, my circumstances, and my feelings? Or am I singing more about the Lord and his character and actions? The better lyrics will point me to God’s character and actions as the basis of my hope and help and joy. 

So, if you were to flip through your church’s songbook what theology would you find? If you opened your favorite worship playlist what theology would you hear? What do your songs say about your theology? 

Our Singing Shapes Our Theology

But the reverse is also true: our theology is often formed and shaped by the songs we sing. 

As I talk to Christians today and ask for their favorite worship music, they often describe music they love because of “the feels.” Some prefer soaring stadium rock, others a touch of gospel and soul, others an uplifting pop hook, still others the nostalgic sound of an old hymn they grew up singing. But too often, we fail to see that we can't separate “the feels” from the lyrics. Music moves us emotionally in a powerful and profound way. Why else would Saul have wanted David to play music to soothe his mind and heart (1 Sam 16:23)? The question though, is where the music is moving us. 

Often, I remember worship song lyrics more easily than Scripture. This sometimes surprises me because I work at memorizing Scripture. I never try to memorize a worship song—I just find that suddenly it’s in my mind. I hum it as I make my coffee. So, when the songs we listen to carry solid theology, they are a beautiful gift to our souls. But when they carry unsound or even anemic theology, we’re fooling ourselves if we think they won’t pull our spiritual life in that direction. 

Think of the way that the book of Psalms has functioned in the life of God’s people for centuries. Psalms would have been sung while walking to Jerusalem, in worship, in times of distress—and everything in between. Some Psalms remind the reader of God’s kingly rule and power (Ps 2). Other Psalms remind the reader of God’s character (Ps 23). Songs of ascent carry key truths about God and His people and the precious bond between them (Ps 122:9 for example). 

Take Psalm 73 as an example. The Psalmist begins by acknowledging God’s goodness but moves quickly into confessing how he nearly slipped into unbelief. We walk with him as he struggles from seeing the wicked apparently prospering. But ultimately, he comes into God’s sanctuary (73:17) and gains new perspective. Then he rejoices in great joy: 

Whom have I in heaven but you? 

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, 

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever 

(Ps 73:25–26, ESV).

Notice how this Psalm encourages God’s people: it encourages them with sound theology, with truth about God. The Psalmist doesn’t feel better because the music moved him emotionally—that fades quickly. He feels better because he apprehended who God is, and that changes everything about how he views his circumstances. 

My friend Jon, our Deacon for Worship, has another rule of thumb: He wants our church to sing songs that we can sing around a hospital bed in 50 years. That’s shorthand for saying that the lyrics of our songs should carry theology that will still be true in 50 years—and that our theology should be sturdy enough to lean on even in times of great trouble. 

Years after Danny helped me learn the basics of church singing, he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it for years, but in his 50s, we found ourselves at the hospital with him about to pass into glory. Jon sang worship songs around his bedside for hours with our worship team. As church members and his non-Christian coworkers came to say goodbye, they were overwhelmed by the songs. Without us even realizing it, the songs had given us the theology we most needed in that moment: that God was in control, that God was good, that eternity is a joy and not a terror for the Christian, that we can rejoice in the face of death because we follow a resurrected savior. 

Are your songs sturdy enough to sing around a hospital bed in 50 years? 

Our Singing Doxologizes Our Theology 

Lastly, theology should be doxology. Theology should result in praise. 

The first Systematic Theology textbook I ever read was Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I loved its readability and clarity but kept finding something puzzling at the end of each chapter: a hymn. At first, I thought it was just one chapter only to discover that every single chapter had one. When I finally read the first chapter (I had somehow missed it before) I found this simple explanation: 

The study of theology is not merely a theoretical exercise of the intellect. It is a study of the living God and of the wonders of all his works in creation and redemption. We cannot study this subject dispassionately! We must love all that God is, all that he says and all that he does. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5). Our response to the study of the theology of Scripture should be that of the psalmist who said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” (Ps. 139:17). 

We might find ourselves fighting to tread water through the theological depths of Romans 9–11 and the mysteries of divine providence, but the theology there is not merely meant to be endured or survived. Instead, Paul emerges on the other side of the deep end of the theological pool singing aloud in praise. 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36, ESV) 

The theology of Romans 9–11 becomes doxologized: it gets turned into an outpouring of praise. 

At our church, we sing a song of response after the preached Word. The response song often turns the truth of the text to praise. For example, when we preached on the judgment throne at the end of all things (Revelation 20), we asked the question, “Who can stand before this judgment?” We found the answer throughout Scripture, in Revelation 7:13, and in Romans 8:33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (ESV). Then immediately after that we sang this: 

Before the throne of God above 

I have a strong and perfect plea 

A great High Priest whose name is love 

Who ever lives and pleads for me 

My name is graven on His hands 

My name is written on His heart 

I know that while in heaven He stands 

No tongue can bid me thence depart

This is theology doxologized: the truth of who God is and what Jesus has done for us moved us to worship, and the lyrics and music helped us express those feelings. And through helping us express how the theology moved us, in turn, the music began to shape what we thought and felt. 

Good Theologians Sing

Much to the great relief of my congregation, I no longer lead times of singing at church. 

But I still think it is vitally important to understand what we sing and why. What we sing reveals what we believe, and what we believe should inspire us to sing. And that makes all the difference for both the songs we sing at church, the songs I sing before bed with my kids, and the songs I sing on walks around my neighborhood. 

So go sing, fellow theologians. 

Ricky Alcantar serves as the lead pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso TX. Beyond his local context Ricky serves on the Sovereign Grace Churches Church Planting Group and has written for publications like Vox, Boundless, and the Rio Grande Review. He is also a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and Sovereign Grace Pastors College and is pursuing further seminary work at Phoenix Seminary. He loves his wife Jenn, his three sons, his city, and thinking about writing instead of actually writing.

Pastoring in a Post-Roe World

On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court—by overturning Roe v. Wade—righted a wrong that has had decades of tragic consequences, leading to the loss of millions of lives. Despite the temptation to ease up and take a victory lap, the fight to ensure unborn children have the right to live is, in many ways, still an uphill battle. The following is an interview about the cultural significance of this decision with Dr. Wayne Grudem and Dr. Andrew Walker hosted by Jason Dees during a recent virtual meeting with pastors from across the country. We hope this Q&A is helpful as you determine the best ways for your church to live missionally in this new chapter of the pro-life movement.

Jason Dees: I think the best question to start with is kind of a technical question: How did this happen? How did the Dobbs case overturn the decisions of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which had been on the books for many years?

Wayne Grudem: A lot of factors came into play. For starters, both Presidents Bush and more recently President Trump appointed justices who hold to a textualist view of the Constitution—the view that the Constitution means what a normal, ordinary reader would attribute to it at the time it was written. In the majority decision, Justice Alito went to great lengths explaining that the Roe and subsequent Casey decisions were wrong in trying to find a right to abortion in the Constitution. It's a major victory for the pro-life cause, but it's also, in a broader sense, very significant it has the potential to set a textualist tone for what will be acceptable in the legal world in the United States for decades to come.

Andrew Walker: Effectively what Dobbs did was to chip away at the central holdings of Roe and Casey. The Roe decision created this artificial construct in a “viability test,” suggesting that the state only has a compelling interest in protecting life once life is eligible to be living outside of the womb. Then in Casey, the plurality constructed an “undue burden” test. Justice Scalia, who Justice Alito cited, called that a standard-less standard. Who defines what undue burden means? That’s not for the court to decide. It ought to be defined by legislatures. Alito's opinion isn't actually all that shocking or original. It’s really more like an omnibus collection of pro-life arguments over the last five decades put together in one document. But while it’s not an original argument, it effectively dismantled the tests of Roe and Casey. The Supreme Court removed the subjective test of “viability,” and inserted a more objective standard: life itself as something within the legitimate purview of state interest and passing a rational basis review for a law to take effect. The Constitution now gives the presumption of protecting life at all stages, rather than carving it up with arbitrary divisions based on development. Now it will be shot back to the states, with that presumption underlying legislation on the right to protect life.

JD: That’s so helpful, thank you. So my next question is this: What will the continued efforts of pro-life organizations look like now that the laws they propose are not consistently undermined by Roe, and will any pro-life legislation passed under Roe be in peril now that the fight has been pushed back to the state level?

WG: One obvious result is that state level politics will become much more important. Not only in abortion legislation, but in other legislation. The 14th Amendment says, "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." It doesn't say anything about abortion, but that’s where they found a right to abortion. Now, laws about abortion revert to the states, which means that Christians have a great opportunity to influence the laws in their state. Romans 13:4 says civil authority is God's servant for your good, and we should seek to have government fulfill that purpose—to do good for its people. As an example, the Center for Arizona Policy is an evangelical Christian group aimed at influencing the politics of the state. Other states have similar organizations, and I think it would be excellent if pastors sought out those pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-religious freedom organizations. Remember that when a state legislator receives a call from a pastor in his district, he's very likely to take it; he knows the pastor influences a lot of people, and that provides an opportunity for Christians to have influence for good in their individual states.

AW: Kentucky is a good example of how the state battle matters. In 2018, Kentucky passed a trigger ban that basically said after a situation where Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion is effectively outlawed immediately in Kentucky. The Attorney General basically certified that on June 24. Abortions are currently stopped right now in Kentucky. But that doesn't mean that the fight's over. Because we have activist organizations like Planned Parenthood filing suit against the trigger ban. Their argument is that even if the federal Constitution grants no right to abortion, Kentucky's constitution does grant it. And so in Kentucky, a pro-life organization has done the work to have an amendment ready for ratification in November. Kentuckians will vote to explicitly say whether or not they agree that the constitution ought not to codify a right to abortion. Now the obverse of that is a place like California, where there is a ballot initiative to effectively ratify a constitutional amendment to guarantee a right to abortion in their state. So let me just say this—the fight is not over at all. Now we’ll need to fight this at the state Supreme Court level. We have 50 Supreme Courts, so we’ll likely see a hodgepodge of rulings at the state level about abortion. For righteousness to see the light of day, it's going to require active attention on the part of our local churches. And so pastors will need to bring these types of issues to the attention of their congregants.

JD: My next question is about the psychological effect of the law. Things that are legal tend to be deemed as moral. Do you think that overturning Roe will help to slow down the sexual revolution? WIll this change the way we see human life and its value?

WG: I think we have to agree that laws have a teaching function. Many people reason that something like abortion is legal, therefore it must be morally permissible, as if society, through law, has made it morally permissible. But now with many states enacting restrictions on abortion, the general public—not everybody, but many people—will tend to think differently: it's illegal, therefore it's morally objectionable. So that’s positive. The degree to which it's positive and to what effect it's a positive consequence, we don't know. But there's some definite teaching function that laws have.

AW: I agree with Dr. Grudem. Law inevitably shapes belief, belief shapes behavior, behavior over time shapes custom. Which is why now, in the aftermath of this decision, those who disagree are responding as though they've had an aspect of their personhood taken from them. This ruling has demonstrated how deeply etched into the mindset of Americans expressive individualism really is. For many it seems unthinkable that there is moral significance to the use of one's body, or that public policy would dare to say that there are ways that you ought not to use your body, duties that stem from how you use your body, and consequences to how you use your body.

JD: Thank you for that. OK, let’s pivot back to the church’s response. How do we respond with compassion and humility when people accuse Christians of imposing our beliefs on the world, or creating situations where women will be unsafe or the poor will be oppressed?

WG: If someone says the pro-life movement is Christians trying to implement a religion or impose a theocracy, that's foolish. All laws are based on a moral conviction. For example most major religions teach that stealing is wrong. That doesn't mean if you have a law against stealing that you're imposing a religion on the nation. The same with laws against murder. Our desire to protect an unborn child doesn't mean that we're imposing a religious view on them. 

And as to accusations of harming women or the poor, we have a great opportunity to give even more support to pro-life organizations—volunteer at pregnancy counseling centers, provide support for women who don't have the financial means to earn a living and care for a baby. Christians should be giving care and compassion to those who are pregnant and helping them in every way possible. Many organizations already do this, but more could be done. And it is a great time for pastors to commit to doing what they can to support these organizations.

AW: I also think we should dispute the assumption that the church hasn't already been doing this for five decades. If you go and look at the social science and polling data, it's church-attending Christians who are most likely to volunteer their time and give money and resources to these ends. I've heard some people use the phrase, "well, now the pro-life movement really begins." I understand the sentiment behind that, but that assumes that 50 years of scholarship, political organization, and pregnancy crisis center work has been playing second fiddle to post-Roe opportunities. 

Now, as far as responding to the idea that we are implementing some type of theocracy, the simplest way to dispute that is to point out that abortion laws are homicide laws applied to unborn life. If we agree life is sacred outside the womb, then life is sacred inside the womb. This issue is not about implementing a theocracy, or about Christian domination in the culture, or white Christian nationalism. This is about justice and the common good. It's about restoring a more expansive understanding of human dignity. We don’t want to draw narrower distinctions and narrower scopes around who earns the concept of dignity and rights. To do so is really dangerous. 

JD: So, that brings us to my next question. Some suggestions for public policy that could address the expected influx of children include things like publicly funded daycare or healthcare services. Are there any proposed solutions that you think Christians should be concerned about?

AW: I would say, first and foremost, we'll have to remember that Christians could have good faith disagreements on all of the entailments of how public policy would address these issues. There's always trade-offs from public policy. A program like universal daycare sounds nice, on the one hand. I understand it. It also encourages separating children from their parents, so that's the negative trade-off. We'll have to consider that. There are real, tangible ways that public policy could address this. 

Senator Romney proposed a new tax system that's intentionally designed to give preference to the family, including monthly subsidies for children in the house. It may not cover every cost of raising a child, but it is a symbolic way to communicate that policy does care about the wellbeing of children. And a Christian could disagree with that proposal. I would caution against the idea that a pro-life response requires full scale adoption of socialism. I think the free market does have a role to play. Public policy has a role to play as well. We would be mistaken to think that policy has no role to play in protecting and furthering a culture of life.

In all these situations you have to determine your political priorities. I call myself a family-first social conservative. For me, protecting the family is my number one priority. Limited government is number two. And then probably fiscal issues are number three. And I still consider myself a fiscal conservative. But I'm willing to allow my views on economics to yield and bend to my prioritization of the family. We need to be clear about the principles guiding our thinking so we can have these discussions What we should focus on is a right motive and a right conclusion: to love our neighbor and see our neighbor protected in law. There are just going to be some determinations and differences on how to do that.

JD: So, what advice would you give to business leaders as they navigate these waters?

WG: Well, I'm not sure I know all the answers to this. I'm sure I don't know all the answers, Jason. But I think the Christian business owner probably should not give moral approval to something that the Bible doesn't approve of. I imagine Christian business owners face that challenge regularly, with Pride Month, and now they surely will with abortion.

AW: I think we want to establish some baseline principles. I think Christian business owners need to be attentive in not participating in any direct or indirect cooperation with their employees obtaining abortions. Pastors will be on the front line of this, counseling business leaders in your church that we shouldn't be facilitating access to abortion. That's just a basic moral principle. So, for example, there’s some debate about whether or not you would discipline someone in your church who is running a payday loan company, because that preys on the poor. We need to determine if we are business leaders first or a Christians first. Which speaks to the issue of the difficulties Christians will face in corporate life. As local churches, we’ll need to think through ideas like benevolence funds for Christians in corporate workspaces that can't persist in their jobs. What are you going to do when a member of your church loses their job over a cultural issue that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, go along with? We're going to have to prepare for more burden sharing. We've got to be thinking forward about that.

JD: Well, and that certainly wouldn’t be the first time the church has faced situations like that. Let’s end with your succinct responses to two common slogans you’ll likely hear. First is “my body, my choice.” What’s the Christian response to that?

WG: What about the body of the child within you? Do you have the right to take the life of another?

JD: That’s pretty succinct! You both already touched on this one to some extent, but the next one is “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have an abortion.” Which sort of implies the imposition of your beliefs on someone else. Your response?

AW: I would simply say that a pro-life law is no more of an imposition on anyone than a homicide law

WG: Yeah.

JD: Well, thank you both for your time. It's been such a helpful conversation. I just really want to thank both of you—and not just for this conversation, but for your larger body of work.  

Dr. Wayne Grudem serves as distinguished professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. He is the author of over 20 books, including Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Crossway, 2018), and he served as the general editor for the ESV Study Bible. Dr. Grudem is a graduate of Harvard University (BA) and Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv), and he received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge.



Dr. Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an Associate Dean in the School of Theology and the Executive Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement at Southern Seminary. He is a Fellow in the Evangelical in Civics Life Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and serves as the Managing Editor of WORLD Opinions.

What Do Mormons Really Believe?

The term Mormonism denotes a religious group currently headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, who call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But since the foundation of Mormonism, there have been at least 400 splinter groups of the LDS church that began with the founder, Joseph Smith. Mormons believe that God, through Joseph Smith, restored the teachings of the church after hundreds of years of apostasy.

If you speak with a Mormon about their religion, it is very likely they will try to focus on the similarities between their theology and our own. They will say things like “Jesus died on the cross for our sins,” and may even say “we are saved by grace.” They have an entire vocabulary that sounds nearly identical to our own.

It isn’t until you dig a bit deeper into how they define their terms that the dissimilarities become more apparent. They call their deity God, but he's as different from the one true God of Christianity as your mother is from my own, despite the fact we may each call ours Mom. 

So that brings us to the ultimate question, what are these “restored” truths that make the Mormon church distinct from—and thus ultimately not just a subsection of—orthodox Christian teaching?

Polytheism vs. Trinitarianism

When we consider the Mormon view of God and the traditional Christian view of God, Mormonism seems a bit more like Hinduism, or maybe even Greco-Roman paganism. They have more gods than we would even count in Hinduism, with an infinite array of gods going back eternally and, presumably, forward eternally as well. Additionally, their understanding of these gods is not unlike the anthropomorphic deities—with hands and fingernails and toes and eyeballs—of the Romans and the Greeks. Both these ideas are incompatible with the God of the Bible.

Although a full unpacking of the doctrine of the trinity is beyond the scope of this post, it is enough to say that the traditional Christian view of God excludes the possibility of any other gods. That we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should not be seen as polytheism because we know that the three persons of God exist eternally, equally, as one God. In Mormonism, not only are Father, Son, and Spirit not a single being, they aren’t really equal beings, either.

As it turns out, the Mormon concept of God is essentially an exalted and perfected version of a human. They believe that God began as a man and, like all gods had done before him, became a god. Even before he was man, he was a preexistent spirit in some preexistent world, the offspring of an older god and his celestial wives. Mormon doctrine holds that, after he became a god, he and a heavenly mother had spirit children that include you, me, Jesus, and even Lucifer. God, according to Mormons, wasn’t always God; his deity was the result of living an exceptionally holy life.

And this brings us to the next doctrinal issue that separates Mormonism from orthodox Christian teaching.

Eternal Progression vs Creator/Creation Distinction

In the Mormon church, there was an apostle named Lorenzo Snow. He was a contemporary of Joseph Smith and became Mormon in 1836, six years after the publishing of the Book of Mormon. Lorenzo Snow coined a phrase: “As man is, God once was; As God is, man may be.” This is what Mormons call the law of eternal progression. 

This doctrine teaches that humans have a destiny to follow in the same footsteps as God, and as God did for his god, and his grandfather god, and great-grandfather god, and so forth. However, there is a bit of a rift in the Mormon church over the question of how this progression can be rectified with the idea of God’s power. Does God continually progress forever, gaining bits and pieces of knowledge along the way in a never-ending existence that puts him closer and closer to omniscience? Or did God somehow, at the exact moment he became a god, gain the full knowledge of all things? The Mormon prophets have actually castigated one another, each calling the opposite view dangerous and false. In this respect, Christians agree with both sides, because either way, this doctrine is dangerous and false!

The Mormon church will pull out Bible verses, especially 2 Peter 1:3-4 to support this idea, claiming that even the Bible teaches that humans can become gods. But that verse, when taken in context and in light of the entire narrative of Scripture, is talking about how we participate together in our relationship with God. It’s called divinization or theosis, and it’s not the same as the Mormon teaching that we become gods, real divine beings. 

For Mormons, the range from humans to angels to God is a matter of degree, with each falling at a different stage of glory along the same spectrum of existence. Mormons would assert that humans, angels, and gods are all the same beings, but with different degrees of glory. No monotheistic religions—not Islam, not Judaism, and certainly not Christianity—have ever taught this. Christian doctrine teaches that God is God, and He created angels, humans, and everything else. 

Thus, for Mormons, the entire distinction between who is Creator and who are creatures is erased. According to Mormon theology, each of us, prior to earthly conception, existed as a spirit child and literal sibling of Jesus. This teaching denies that Jesus is the creator that John 1:3 declares Him to be. So even though a Mormon might speak about God being eternal, their view of him is no more eternal than their view of you or me.

As you can imagine, this idea has serious implications on the doctrine of salvation, which is another significant deviation to be aware of.

Salvation by Works vs Salvation by Grace Through Faith

Growing up in the Mormon faith, I believed a little saying: “Try, try your best, and God will make up the rest.” There was no urgency; God sent a Savior, and you would be just fine as long as you were a relatively good person. But at the same time, the book of Mormon seemed to teach mission impossible; you’ve got to reach perfection in this lifetime, or else. So I struggled as a young boy. 

I was taught that baptism in the Mormon church creates a blank slate. I asked, “Well, what if I sin after this?” The understanding was that I’d get marks on my slate again. That worried me greatly! I knew that no unclean thing could enter celestial glory with Heavenly Father, so I figured I would beat the system by waiting until I was 88 years old, rather than 8—the traditional age—to get baptized. 

But then I lived in fear for the next year, haunted by thoughts like what if I got hit by a semi-truck having failed to do what I knew I should have done? So I capitulated and got baptized. All that to say, Mormonism teaches a works-based salvation—grace plus works. I was never told just how many works.

In fact, it reminds me a little of Catholicism right before the Reformation. Martin Luther would go to his confessor, von Staupitz, at all hours of the night with his sin. He did so reasoning that to get to heaven, I need to repent and confess, but to repent and confess, I need to remember my sin—if I wait, I might forget. This burden continued until he came to the realization that Scripture taught differently: “the righteous shall live by faith.

In Mormonism, it’s similar. Part of what’s required for salvation is faith, but part is also repentance. And once you get into understanding what repentance means to them—going to the point of no return without having the thought, urge, or desire to sin again, according to one of their prophets—you realize that you have to repent all the time!

However, just like in other discrepancies, a well-studied Mormon will try to assert that their view isn’t really any different. They will look to Wesleyans or Methodists—those who take an Arminian perspective and may believe that you can lose your salvation—to say that their view does align with orthodoxy, but it really doesn’t. Scripture makes it clear in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are saved so that we can do good, not saved by the amount of good we do. Grace isn’t a safety net in case you fall short, it’s the solution to the fact that we all do.


If we consider just these essentials of our faith regarding who God is, who man is, and how man is saved, all of which find their answer in the person and work of Christ, we do well. And the only conclusion we can draw is that Mormonism isn’t a denomination of Christianity, but a complete diversion from Christianity.

Dr. Corey Miller is the President/CEO of Ratio Christi (2015-Present). While he grew up in Utah as a seventh-generation Mormon, he came to Christ in 1988. He has served on pastoral staff at four churches and has taught nearly 100 college courses in philosophy, theology, rhetoric, and comparative religions. He is also author or co-author of Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed their Minds (2017), Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric (2014), In Search of the Good Life: Through the Eyes of Aristotle, Maimonides, and Aquinas (2019), and Engaging with Mormons: Understanding their World, Sharing Good News (2020).

3 Dangers to Avoid as a Christian at a Secular University

Perhaps more than ever, today’s Christian students face a significant question: How do I maintain my faith, and even grow spiritually, at a secular university?

This is a topic I explore in my new book, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (Crossway, 2021). In many ways, the book is a personal letter to my three children, especially my oldest daughter, Emma, who started as a freshman at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, in 2019, and is now a junior.

The book focuses on a particular demographic within Christianity—students who are struggling—but it’s really for everybody. It will benefit any believer who is asking key questions about why they believe what they believe, and who is trying to survive a secular environment with their faith intact. You don’t have to be 21 to feel that. You can be in your late 20s in the business world. You can be in your 40s and in the peak of family life. At some point, we all ask these hard questions, and as Christians, we need to know how to answer our questions biblically, rather than letting the world dictate the answers to us.

As we discuss the dangers inherent to a Christian student entering a secular university, let me briefly say a word about the book’s title, because I think it plays into the discussion. The word “surviving” prompted much discussion between my publisher and me. Some thought the word was too modest, perhaps even passive. They asked, “Don’t we want to encourage people to do more than just survive?”

It’s a legitimate question. But I think the word captures the reality for a lot of Christian students in college. They feel like they’re sinking below the waves and fighting for their life. And honestly, the whole college experience is one of spiritual survival. The first step is not to conquer the world; it’s simply to take the next step and make it through with your faith intact. For many young believers, the immediate issue is to stay in the game. Don’t retreat. Don’t fall away. Then, as you survive and grow, you’ll get to the next stage of the Christian life.

Not a New Problem

Struggling with faith in college is not a new thing. A man named Philip Wentworth once published an article in The Atlantic entitled “What College Did to My Religion.” He begins the article as follows:

To say that college does something to the average student's religion is to state a truth which will be conceded by anyone who has given the matter a moment's thought. Nine young men and women out of ten who will receive their degrees this June would probably admit, if they were called to testify, that education has acted as a poison to their faith. In many instances the virus generated by the reasoning processes induces only mild distemper of skepticism, but in others it works like an acid, eating its way into the bump of credulity until in the end this estimable organ is completely corroded. Devout parents and clergymen have frequently observed this phenomenon and deplored it. When they discuss it, however, as they often do, they betray a common failure to understand the intellectual chemistry which has produced this wholesale apostasy of the younger generation.

Wentworth went on to share how four years at Harvard turned him from evangelical Christianity to secularism. His article was published in June 1932.

It’s clear that struggling with secularism at university is not new. However, the problem has not improved. Today, things are moving quickly in a post-Christian direction, both in the academic environment and in society in general. In prior generations, a Christian student could take some solace in knowing he or she wasn’t the only believer on a secular campus. But today’s students very much feel like the minority, and it’s only becoming harder for them.

Many Christians struggle in college because they can’t get past the statistical anomaly that all the smartest people in their little world don’t believe the Bible—and that they are seemingly the only ones who do. When they look around at their campus, they see all these people with PhDs who think the Bible is crazy. And they think to themselves, What’s the statistical likelihood that I’m right and all of them are wrong?

This is the key issue. But we need to consider how people form their beliefs, why they believe what they believe, and the role of worldviews. College professors are not neutral. No one is. You can’t just count noses to figure out what to believe, because people don’t form their beliefs exclusively on evidence. They do it on many other factors as well. Beliefs are formed based on earlier, more foundational beliefs, that someone already has. Understanding this will help set the tone for the whole college experience.

A 2007 study entitled “The Social and Political Views of American Professors” revealed that only 9.2 percent of respondents categorized themselves as conservative, compared to 46.6 percent as moderates, and 44.1 percent as liberals. Since then, it has only gotten more polarized.

Such statistics reveal that universities are more lacing in diversity than we might realize. Our culture talks about diversity mainly in terms of ethnicities, race, and gender. While those are indeed important issues to discuss, universities are supposed to look at a diversity of ideas. This is what they were originally founded to do—getting all the ideas on the table so they can be discussed and debated.

Unfortunately, in the last several decades—maybe even 50 years—universities have become more ideologically driven, and they’re not interested in all the ideas. College professors, and therefore classrooms, have become intellectually homogenous. People who are intellectually homogenous tend to hire others who think just like they do. These days, it’s very difficult to get hired at a secular university while professing evangelical Christian ideas.

Three Dangers to Avoid

These issues of homogeneity and competing worldviews present great challenges that our culture is going to have to face sooner or later. But college students—and their parents—need help today. As Christian students enter the collegiate fray, here are three dangers to avoid:

The first is naïve overconfidence. This is the first of two extremes I’ve noticed among Christian students at secular universities. Here’s the line of thinking: I grew up in a Christian home. I was raised in a good church. I’m impervious to spiritual challenges. I don’t have to put up my guard. I can handle anything thrown my way.

Sorry to burst your bubble but skipping lightly through the halls of academia just doesn’t work. You’ve got to be ready. It’s spiritually challenging out there, and you need to take it seriously.

Christian parents, therefore, need to be thinking carefully about how their child is being prepared for the university environment. This doesn’t mean we have to create little Ph.D. students, but it does mean we need to give students the basic categories and tools to know how to deal with non-Christian beliefs.

Generally speaking, I think most parents and churches struggle in this area. We tend to think our kids are best served by protecting them from any exposure to non-Christian thinking. Some worry that if they have certain conversations, they’ll upset their child’s nascent faith.

But I think this mentality can be counterproductive. It’s not all that different than parents who overprotect their children from germs. Germaphobe parents who wipe down every counter with disinfectant and make sure their kids wash their hands 30 times a day might think they’re being helpful. But if a child doesn’t get exposed to certain germs early on, their immune system can stall. They actually need some exposure to germs for healthy immunity.

The second extreme is unbridled suspicion. While some students have naïve overconfidence, other students can enter the university context with a type of paranoia, and perhaps even a martyr’s complex. They think everyone is out to get them, and that their professors are like Darth Vader.   

But this simply isn’t the case. Most professors, even if they don’t have a Christian worldview, are not trying to destroy people’s faith. They are not intentionally trying to target evangelicals.

Moreover, this attitude can prove to be very counterproductive. It makes a Christian student defensive, overly sensitive, and unwilling to listen to other people’s viewpoints. That sort of posture will make university life very, very difficult.

Finally, there’s the danger of what I call the horror-movie mistake. If you’ve ever watched a scary movie—I happen to love scary movies—you know the protagonist always makes the same mistake. They go off alone… in the dark. Even though it defies common sense, and even though the audience is yelling, “Don’t do it!”, they make the same mistake every time.

The same lesson is true spiritually. If you are struggling with what you believe, don’t make the horror movie mistake. Don’t wander off into the dark alone. Stay in a group and stay in the light.

How do you do that? You find a good church. You find good Christian fellowship. You tackle your questions and doubts in community. You work through them in groups, in the light, with people who love Jesus.

Dr. Michael Kruger serves as president of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Charlotte, North Carolina, campus, as well as the Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. Dr. Kruger is the author of several books, including Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (IVP Academic, 2018), Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012), and Surviving Religion 101 (Crossway, 2021).