Reliable: How We Got Our Bible - TGC 2023

You probably know that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, the most translated book of all time, and, it’s fair to say, one of the most influential books of all time. But how did we get the Bible? How well (or poorly) was its text preserved over millennia? Are modern-day English translations of the Bible better or worse than their predecessors? As a collection of books, how do we know it has the right books, especially since different branches of Christianity disagree? Does the fact that the Bible as a book has a history mean we should doubt its authority?

Such questions are perennial for Christian believers. Those who follow Jesus want to believe that we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. But those words have a history written in ink and blood. A better knowledge of that history promises more confidence and great appreciation for the remarkable history of the Bible. Join us at TGC to better appreciate the story of the Bible as we think together about the canon and text of Scripture.

Below is a sample of three articles that touch on the topics we’ll be covering at this year’s TGC23 conference in Indianapolis.

Advent: It begins with hope

Advent begins with hope. Hope is one of those words that Christians use a lot, but we seldom take time to consider the idea. It is, after all, a tricky thing. Hope believes in better things even when everything points to the contrary, and it does so without succumbing to naïve optimism. We might hope for more money and be bankrupt. We might hope for perfect health but find ourselves sick.

True, biblical hope is not like worldly hope. It is grounded in two realities.

First, God promised that things will be better someday. Second, this world cannot satisfy our desires. Or to say it another way, because this world cannot ultimately make me happy, I look forward to another world in which my greatest desires are finally realized. That’s hope.

Hope means that things aren’t like they should be. We do not hope for what we have. We hope for something yet to be true. Hope keeps us longing (Rom 8:20–25).

In his classic work Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis reflects on the theological virtue of hope. He reminds us that the purpose of hope is to look for things that ultimately satisfy—things of heaven, not of earth. God did not make this world to make all our dreams come true, especially in its fallen state. Hope anticipates what will come in heaven and makes our hearts yearn for the beauty, peace, holiness, joy, and satisfaction that will be ours. Lewis writes,

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Christmas hope is about the in-breaking of heaven, but it’s just a foretaste. It reminds us that this world is important, which is why God sent his Son to redeem us, but it also points to fulfillment when the Son will come again to take us home.

So this Christmas, in a time when it feels like so much is unraveling, I encourage you to lift your eyes to heaven. Jesus came once and he will come again.

This is our hope.

Dr. Brian Arnold serves as the fourth President of Phoenix Seminary. In this role he combines a love for the local church with a passion for serious, academic theology. He is convinced that seminaries are servants of the church, uniquely positioned to train men and women for mature, biblically-grounded ministry in a rapidly changing world.

Before joining the faculty of Phoenix Seminary in 2015, Dr. Arnold served as the Pastor of Smithland First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Dr. Arnold earned his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013 and has since authored two books, Justification in the Second Century (de Gruyter; Baylor University Press) and Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus), and a number of journal articles. He has been married to Lauren since 2007 and has two children, Jameson and Natalie.

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.

Three Medieval Theologians You Should Read

C .S. Lewis once wrote that we should read two old books for every new book. The reason for this is that old books are able to lead us towards different ways of thinking, to say nothing of providing us with different perspectives than the ones bombarding us every day. But surely this advice doesn’t include books that were written from a worldview in which there are obvious errors? Should we, for instance, read medieval texts? Some authors, after all, believed the earth was at the center of the universe. Their periodic table of the elements included earth, wind, fire and air. And as for medieval views on medicine, well, let’s not go there! True, there were some odd ideas floating around in the Middle Ages, but in his influential book, The Discarded Image, Lewis makes the persuasive case that no worldview is an infallible catalogue of ultimate realities just as none is mere fantasy. This is a stark reminder that even in our own day we have bought into and include certain fantasies in our thinking that we don’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Helping to raise our gaze beyond the horizon of contemporary culture are medieval authors such as Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury and Gregory the Great. At different times in history each of these has received equal measures of praise and disdain. Aquinas, for example, has found both admirers and detractors amongst evangelicals. Anselm is both beloved and eyed with suspicion by Christian readers. Gregory has been loved for his pastoral sensitivity and despised for being a pope. Truly, great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. What I find encouraging, however, is that there is a growing, healthy interest in medieval theology. There is a line of faithfulness to God’s Word that extends from us back through both the Reformation and the Middle Ages, and we ignore it to our detriment because of the riches deposited there by the Holy Spirit.

Now that you are excited and ready to get reading, where should you begin? Here are three short samples that will whet your appetite for more.

Gregory the GreatThe Pastoral Rule

Gregory the Great was the pope from 590–604 and well deserved the title, “Great.” Gregory overcame tremendous obstacles in a world that was crumbling politically and economically as the Roman Empire was in the latter stages of its collapse. He cared deeply about planting churches, training pastors and spreading the gospel. He may be most famous for sending a monk named Augustine (not the famous author of the Confessions) to England along with about 40 other people to help in the work of evangelizing pagans. The Venerable Bede records the essence of these men’s hearts by preserving the letters Augustine and Gregory wrote to one another as they grappled with the practical issues of church planting and discipling new converts.

Among the works for which Gregory is best known, at the top of the list is his work, The Pastoral Rule. If you are tired of the drumbeat, that seems to be growing incessantly louder these days, that propounds a version of pastoral ministry that glorifies personality, extroversion, magnetic charisma and enthusiasm, this will be a balm for your soul. Here Gregory speaks of Christ likeness, character, integrity in public relations as well as in private living, and piety that flows from the work of the Spirit.

I commend to you the translation published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007. For further reading on Gregory you could begin with R.A. Markus’ Gregory the Great and his World.

Anselm of CanterburyMeditation on Human Redemption

At the beginning of his life, no one would have guessed that Anselm would one day become the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Born to an upper middle class family in north Italy, Anselm seemed destined for anything but the ministry. After his mother’s untimely death and due to a deteriorating relationship with his father, Anselm struck out on his own and wandered Europe for three years. After that time, he settled down and pursued studies with the most famous teacher of his day who eventually convinced him to become a monk at Bec in northwest France. Anselm’s evident intelligence, administrative acuity and political savvy led to him climbing the ranks from monk to prior to abbot to archbishop. Even with the demands and distractions that come at the highest levels of leadership, Anselm continued to pastor and write.

Anselm is probably most famous for two works: his Proslogion in which he argues for God’s existence and his Cur Deus Homo in which he sets out a satisfaction model of the atonement that is a precursor to later expressions of substitutionary atonement. While I heartily recommend both of these, I have found his very short (8 pages) Meditation on Human Redemption to be very rewarding. Like so many of Anselm’s works, it is best read slowly and contemplatively. Consider, “O hidden strength: a man hangs on a cross and lifts the load of eternal death from the human race; a man nailed to the wood looses the bonds of everlasting death that hold fast the world.” (my emphasis) As friends of mine might say, “That’ll preach!”

I commend to you the translation published by Penguin Classics that, happily, not only contains the Meditation on Human Redemption, but also Anselm’s other prayers and meditations. For further reading on Anselm, Eileen Sweeney’s contribution is the most recent, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word.

Thomas AquinasThe Sermon Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed

On the one hand, Thomas Aquinas needs no introduction because, of all the figures in medieval Europe, Aquinas casts the longest shadow. On the other hand, while many have heard his name, their knowledge of who he was and why he matters is less clear. Much like Anselm, Aquinas was born into a well to do family in Italy who sent him away for an elite private school education. When political troubles erupted, Aquinas was forced to move and studied first at Naples and then at the University of Paris. In both places he outpaced his contemporaries, but because of his quiet, introverted demeanor, he was mocked by his fellow students as the “Dumb Ox” (he struggled with a weight problem). Eventually, when one of the greatest theologians in Europe overheard this mocking he upbraided the students telling them that one day the whole world would hear Aquinas’s voice. And so we have!

The text for which Aquinas is most famous is his systematic theology, the Summa Theologica. A similar work, but written with a more apologetic edge, is his Summa Contra Gentiles. Both of these are worth reading, but both of them are, well, about 1,500+ pages longer than the average tome. Among the myriad options of other works by Aquinas, it would be worth settling down with The Sermon Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed. As you would expect from the title, this is a collection of sermons Thomas preached on each line of the Apostles’ Creed. Here you will find a down to earth, street view of the great man’s theology in bite-sized morsels.

I commend to you the volume edited and introduced by Nicholas Ayo (for those of you eager to brush up on your Latin, this edition has the Latin text on the left page and the English translation on the right). For further reading on Thomas Aquinas a good place to start would be Denys Turner’s Thomas Aquinas: a Portrait.

Dr. David Hogg serves as professor of Church History and director of Library Services at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to joining Phoenix Seminary, Dr. Hogg taught at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and Beeson Divinity School in Alabama where he was also the Academic Dean. In addition to his academic pursuits, Dr. Hogg was an Associate Pastor and then Senior Pastor over an 11 year period. Dr. Hogg and his wife Sarah have three boys and, as a family, represent three different nationalities.

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.

Hope in the Face of Temptation

Temptation is a part of all our lives. The serpent’s appeal, so crafty and surgical, has been repeated by the enemy every day since the Garden. Like Eve, we hear the whispers, the lies, the subtle voice of the Enemy. He peddles the myth, that to sin—to yield to the voice of Satan and indulge our desires—is the essence of being human.

And yet we must not only see ourselves as Genesis 3 people, fallen, but as Genesis 1 people as well. Attempting to be like God is sin and makes us less than human. Eve should have resisted the serpent, but in her indulgence she didn’t become like God. She became like an animal instead. There is a reason that evil is depicted in the book of Revelation as a dragon. Temptation preys on animal instincts. It tells us we are nothing more than our desires.

So what can we do in the face of temptation? How can we resist the advances of the enemy? Corrupted by the fall, we can’t help but sin. Religion, in a way, has us back in fig leaves, using our own efforts to fix the messes we make. But we know that even on our best days we often say yes to sin. “Not today, Satan” is a myth. At least for you and me.

Our Source of Hope

But Jesus, the seed of the women who took on human flesh, was “tempted in every way, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” Jesus alone walked through a desert of temptation, assaulted with the same lies as Eve and yet emerged sinless, the perfect God man. 

Thankfully, Jesus offers more than just a good example of how to resist the devil. Paul writes in Colossians 2:15, that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.” Yes, Jesus said “no” to Satan, but then He went beyond that, to the cross. In his agony, He cried “It is finished.” 

So while we can’t go back to Eden, we also don’t walk through the desert of temptation alone. Jesus went before us. Jesus resisted Satan’s overtures. Jesus went to the cross then rose again. Jesus defeated sin, death and the grave. 

The Fate of Our Enemy

Satan still roams the earth seeking to devour, but he is on a leash. His status as prince and power of the air is temporary. And though we should not underestimate him, we also should not live in fear. 

Satan, Michael Heisler reminds us, “remains active in the world until the final judgement, blinding the minds of people to prevent them from joining the kingdom of Jesus, but he has no accusation to bring against those who belong to Christ. His rightful claim over their lives in the realm of the dead is nullified through the resurrection of Christ and the union with Christ for all who believe the gospel. In the final judgment, Satan’s domicile, the realm of the dead, is transformed into the place of his torment.[1]

Those who are in Christ can take comfort in the words the aging Apostle John wrote to a church beleaguered by persecution and despair: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).” The Bible tells us that Satan’s ultimate end is hell. He will be banished there forever when Jesus returns and tempt the nations no more (Revelation 20:3). 

Facing Temptation

Until then, we can rest in spiritual power, refusing to fight the devil on his terms or in our own strength. The Bible promises us that the Spirit of God empowers us to overcome temptation:

No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

That way of escape is not self-sufficiency or the ability to help ourselves, but the resources we have as citizens of God’s new kingdom. Escape comes through spiritual power. “ For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).” 

We fight sin. We resist temptation. We throw back the lies of the enemy with God’s full armor (Ephesians 6). Every battle may not be a victory—We will follow Eve’s example daily—but on this side of Calvary, we don’t have to sit in our sin, drawing instead upon God’s rich provision of mercy. There we find forgiveness and freedom (1 John 1:9). And the devil, whose name means “accuser” cannot claim our souls nor pin guilt on us because Christ has taken our guilt and shame (Revelation 12:10). 

Parting Thoughts

Satan is powerful. He’s a lion who roars. And yet we should not ascribe God-like characteristics to him. He’s not all powerful. Or all knowing. He cannot read our thoughts and does not know the future. He captains a horde of demons, but they are on the losing side. In the power of the Spirit of God, the devil can be resisted. 

The serpent has unleashed evil in God’s good creation, but we can say, with the reformer Martin Luther: “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, but lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”


[1] “Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness: Heiser, Michael S.: 9781683592891: Amazon.Com: Books,” 192–93, accessed July 21, 2021,

Daniel Darling is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Assistant Professor for Faith and Culture at Texas Baptist College. He is the author of several books, including The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, The Dignity Revolution, and A Way With Words. He has pastored churches in Illinois and Tennessee and currently lives with his wife and four children in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The article above is adapted from an excerpt of his new book The Characters of Creation.

Why Your Student Ministry Needs Theology Proper and Church History

If you take a look around most student ministry series, conferences, and curriculum you’ll see one word that consistently pops off the page—“apologetics.” The teen years are full of questions, debates, and crises of faith. So naturally the defense of the faith is a common subject. 

Apologetics are good and important; this is not meant to denigrate the field. But I think we’ve gotten the cart before the horse in student ministry. In our desire to answer every niche question we are missing opportunities to teach the big truths of our faith with clarity, which would filter down into the apologetic assurance we were seeking to begin with. 

In the age of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and relentless public assault against the Christian worldview, students can easily become overwhelmed with a litany of questions about creation, the Old Testament  law, gender, specific texts, moral failings of Christian leaders, and much more. We could conceivably spend every discipleship meeting and student gathering just addressing these questions. While this could be helpful to a point, we would really just be giving students a quick fix to problems that require much deeper thought. In student ministry, we must resist the temptation to defend the Christian faith with 1-minute soundbites. I think most student ministries would do better to focus on theology proper and church history, which would in turn produce students who know the faith they seek to defend. 

The Importance of Theology Proper

In my experience, GenZ has a harder time with the morality of God than determining whether or not there is one. How do we reach the student whose burning question is not “does God exist?” but rather “is God good?” The answer is through theology proper. Theology proper is just the study of who God is. When we spend more time teaching about the Trinity, God’s attributes, and His work in the world, students naturally develop the instincts needed to handle  other apologetic questions. 

But teaching students theology proper is difficult. Topics like the Trinity, aseity, and transcendence cannot be adequately covered in a couple of lessons. To understand such deep and complex topics usually requires exposure over the course of months and years. As students begin to understand these topics, they provide categories that actually aid apologetic efforts by grounding answers in God’s nature, instead of treating each question as a horizontal talking point. I’ve never seen a student caught up in the beauty of the Godhead suddenly abandon their faith over a niche intellectual argument. 

Now, many of my more apologetically minded youth workers may say this strategy is not a step away from apologetics, it’s a step from pop-apologetics to real, good apologetics. They may be right. Even so, I’d wager everyone could do with more meditation on God’s nature and work–while some could do with a bit less opportunity for conflict. Theology proper offers a win-win.

The Importance of Church History

Much like theology proper, church history may not seem like the most invigorating topic for student ministry. After all, debating the age of the earth or talking through the newest celebrity deconstruction story might make for much easier marketing to get students in the room (and that does matter). But church history is one of the few tools that forces our students to look beyond their cultural moment and see the bigger picture of what God has done and will do through His people.

Church history teaches students that the controversies today do not represent existential threats to the faith. The church has weathered wars, theological debates, cultural upheavals,  complete reformations, and consistent persecutions without collapsing or ceasing to exist. Knowing these stories helps students take what seem like world-changing conflicts and put them in proper perspective. The biggest issues facing the Church often change, shift, or even vanish. Knowing this helps students doubt their doubts and take more seriously their faith that has lasted throughout the ages. 

Teaching church history also allows us to be honest with students about the past. GenZ is keenly aware of the sins of past generations; They notice every time Christians sweep our own dirty past under the rug out of ignorance or fear. Being open about our failures and flaws yet still telling God’s story will tear down apologetic barriers and situate them in God’s big story.


Theology proper and church history aren’t easy to teach—and they certainly aren’t quick or flashy—but they are worth it. As it turns out, if you’re a youth worker and you’re tackling theology and church history well—you’ll actually be doing great apologetics.

If you don’t feel equipped yourself in these areas, then invest in good books like Church History in Plain Language or The Story of Christianity. Consider also systematic theologies like Wayne Grudem’s, John Frame’s, or Millard Erickson’s.  More than just reading, invest in solid seminary training. In fact, Phoenix Seminary has made all their Church History 1 and Old Testament 2 course lectures available free of charge.

Our students will face doubts and concerns regarding their faith. If we want them to defend the faith instead of walking away from it, we should ensure they really know what they’re trying to defend. Are you providing the easiest answers, or the right ones?

Will Standridge serves as the preteen and student pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He received his B.A. from Boyce College and M.Div. from SBTS. Will blogs frequently about student ministry philosophy. He is married to his high-school sweetheart, Kendyl.

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).

Born from Israel to Redeem the World

The stage was set. The world was waiting for a Savior. And Jesus entered in quietly, almost unnoticed, in a little stable in a little town. Christianity was born through a Jewish Savior. But he didn’t come right away. He didn’t come after Adam sinned or after God chose Abraham. He didn’t come after David killed Goliath or after Israel went into exile in Babylon. God waited, and waited, and waited. Christmas was a long time coming.

In two previous posts, we have been looking at Galatians 4:4’s declaration that God sent his Son in the fullness of time. And we’ve been asking what made it the right time. We have looked at Greece and Rome and what they contributed to the fullness of time, but now we must look at the most significant group of all—the Jewish people. God delights in doing big things through small people, which is why he chose Israel. But what did the Jews contribute that made it the right time for Jesus to come? The womb and the word.

1. The Womb

Galatians 4:4 tells us that Jesus was “born of a woman, under the [Jewish] law.” Jesus was born to a Jewish girl, and Christianity was birthed from Judaism. God had made a covenant promise to Abraham. He promised to bless the nations through his seed—Jesus (Gen. 12:1–3, 7; Gal. 3:16). God then went on to make several more covenants with Israel: the covenant law given through Moses, a covenant with David that his son would sit on the throne forever (2 Sam. 7), and finally the promise of a new covenant, one in which God’s Spirit would dwell with his people and our hearts of stone would be replaced with hearts of flesh (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). This was the Jewish hope as they waited for the Messiah to come, and Christianity is the fulfillment of these promises.

2. The Word

You see, at various times throughout the centuries, God had spoken to his people. God spoke. Did you catch that? Those two words are life-changing, and too often taken for granted. God does not owe us revelation, but he wants to be known and worshipped. At the very beginning, he spoke, and then later he had his prophets write down his perfect words so that we can have them forever.

Notably, God spoke to Israel. Even when his chosen people turned a deaf ear, he continued to call them and tell them in advance that his salvation was coming. God wanted his children to know about Christmas. Here is how the Apostle Peter tells it:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12)

The time was right. The kindling was set for the Light of the World to be born. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews had set the stage and allowed Christianity to plant, grow, and bear fruit throughout the ancient world.

When we gather to celebrate Christmas later this week, let’s remember all that God was up to when he sent his Son at “the fullness of time...born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4–5).

Merry Christmas!

Dr. Brian Arnold serves as the fourth President of Phoenix Seminary. In this role, he combines a love for the local church with a passion for serious, academic theology. He is convinced that seminaries are servants of the church, uniquely positioned to train men and women for mature, biblically-grounded ministry in a rapidly changing world.

Before joining the faculty of Phoenix Seminary in 2015, Dr. Arnold served as the Pastor of Smithland First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Prior to pastoring, he worked as a paramedic for nearly a decade. Dr. Arnold earned his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013 and has since authored two books, Justification in the Second Century (de Gruyter; Baylor University Press) and Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus), and a number of journal articles. He has been married to Lauren since 2007 and has two children, Jameson and Natalie.

Born into the Greco-Roman World

The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus was born at the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). In the last post, we looked at why Jesus was born at the right time theologically—God, in his providence, allowed sin to increase so that we would see our need for a Savior. But, historically speaking, God was up to a lot more than that.

Luke tells us that Jesus’s birth came about during the time of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (Luke 2). The truth is that the Savior’s birth coincided with many things in that ancient period that allowed the gospel to take root. For centuries, the Greeks and Romans were establishing a culture that would facilitate the spread of Christianity—through the cities and roads, through common languages, through philosophy. God was preparing the world, through global powers in a time of relative peace, for his Son to be born.

1. Cities and Roads

It is not accidental that we have expressions like, “All roads lead to Rome.” The Greeks established the first major cities in the ancient world. Then, under the united Roman empire highways were built to connect them. Cities like Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica facilitated the flourishing of early Christianity. And roadways allowed missionaries like Paul to spread the message of the gospel between them. Eventually, Christianity established a critical mass, built a Christian culture, and eventually turned society. Early Christians knew that if you win the city for Jesus, you will change the culture. The same is true today. One of the best ways for Christianity to take root again is to focus on cities. Think of what God could do in New York, Los Angeles, and yes, Phoenix!

2. Common Languages

Greek was the dominant language for centuries. Like English today, you could travel through most of the ancient world with a knowledge of Greek. The apostles wrote the New Testament in koine (or common) Greek because it would have been the most accessible language across the culture of their readers. Later, Latin became the language of the Western church. Some of the most important early church fathers—like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine—wrote in Latin. And Jerome’s Latin Bible—the Vulgate—eventually became the standard across the empire.

God wanted his Word known far and wide, and it took commonly spoken languages to make that possible. Jesus was born at the right time when a language like Greek was universal enough for the Gospel to spread. The Bible, in the languages of regular people, turned the world upside down.

3. Clarifying Philosophy

Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle forever rearranged our mental furniture. They changed how people think. And from its beginnings, the early church confessed that all truth is God’s truth. Early Christian apologists weren’t afraid to use language from Greek philosophy when it helped them to clarify doctrines such as how Jesus could be fully God and fully man. These Christians borrowed from Greek philosophy when needed, changed it where necessary, and abandoned it where it was unhelpful—all the while professing Christianity as the true and better philosophy.

Part of Jesus being born at the right time is that the Greeks and Romans gave the city and roads, the language, and the philosophy that would help Christianity spread fast and far. God was providentially working even amongst these pagan nations to make Christ’s birth happen in the fullness of time. But Jesus’s mission isn’t done. We must use the advantages of our contemporary cultures—the resources, technologies, and opportunities God has given us to make the name of Jesus famous across the globe. What part will you play in bringing the good news of Jesus to your city and to our world?

Dr. Brian Arnold serves as the fourth President of Phoenix Seminary. In this role, he combines a love for the local church with a passion for serious, academic theology. He is convinced that seminaries are servants of the church, uniquely positioned to train men and women for mature, biblically-grounded ministry in a rapidly changing world.

Before joining the faculty of Phoenix Seminary in 2015, Dr. Arnold served as the Pastor of Smithland First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Prior to pastoring, he worked as a paramedic for nearly a decade. Dr. Arnold earned his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013 and has since authored two books, Justification in the Second Century (de Gruyter; Baylor University Press) and Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus), and a number of journal articles. He has been married to Lauren since 2007 and has two children, Jameson and Natalie.