“Can Christians and churches be catholic and Reformed?”

That may well be your first question after reading the title of this book. Thankfully, it’s also the opening lines of the book.written by RTS Orlando theology profs Michael Allen and Scott Swain. Along with Puritan William Perkins, Allen and Swain suggest that “to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity” (4). And to do this, one must engage in retrieval of “elements, practices, and texts from earlier Christian churches” (4).

Allen and Swain are not along in calling for this. In their introduction, they note several movements along the same lines:

  • Nouvelle Theologie
  • Karl Barth’s revival of dogmatic theology
  • The reception history of the Bible movement
  • Donald Bloesch and “Consensual Christianity”
  • Thomas Oden’s “Paleo-Orthodoxy”
  • Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Christianity
  • The Modern Hymns Movement
  • Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson’s Evangelical Catholicism
  • The Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement
  • Radical Orthodoxy
  • Evangelical Ressourcement
  • The Emerging or Emergent Church(es)
  • Ressourcement Thomism

And that’s probably not even a comprehensive list. As Allen and Swain go on to explain, “Reformed catholicity is a theological sensibility, not a system” (12). As such, the present book is a manifesto rather than a “full-blown theological methodology.” The ultimate thesis of the manifesto is that “there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval” (13). Allen and Swain suggest that “we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal” (13).

The chapters that follow present “exploratory excursions into some of the major theological places where we have found examples and principles of Reformed theology that might commend an embrace of Christian tradition (both catholic and Protestant)” (13). Chapter 1 explains how the church is the proper context for doing theology. The next two chapters explain what sola Scriptura really means. The former looks at classic formulations and the latter shows how sola Scriptura actually supports rather than excludes looking for wisdom in church tradition. Chapter 4 examines how authoritative texts (confessions, creeds, etc.) facilitate biblical interpretation by giving rise to “ruled readings” of Scripture. The final chapter, an earlier version of which was an article in JETS, offers a defense of the proper use of proof-texting. The afterword of the book, by J. Todd Billings, is also a revised version of a journal article (which is a revised version of a lecture) and is a fitting encapsulation of the book’s plea.

My favorite chapter was probably the last. I remember seeing the article in JETS, but didn’t take the time to read it when it first became available. Now I kind of wish I had. If you’re not familiar, “proof texting” is not exactly the cool thing to do when doing theology. Three charges are typically brought against the practice:

  • Proof texting fails to honor the specific contexts of biblical texts (119)
  • Proof texting too easily suggests that doctrinal language is the biblical language with no sensitivity for the horizon of the interpreter or the hermeneutical task involved in working with the biblical language (120)
  • Proof texting interacts with ecclesiastical history rather than biblical history (122)

Before offering a model to aid in recovering the practice of using “parenthetical references or footnotes/endnote references to biblical passages that undergirded some doctrinal claim made” (118, i.e. proof texting), Allen and Swain note that “all of the charges brought against proof texting in Christian theology could be lodged against the Bible’s own use of the Bible” (128, italics in original). This is simply to point out that “the use of Scripture by Scripture cannot be understood on the basis of citation techniques alone” (129). Allen and Swain then conclude, “we must not confuse citation techniques (e.g., proof texting) with hermeneutical method, whether we are considering Scripture’s use of Scripture or theology’s use of Scripture” (129-130). Ultimately, we should “extend to theology’s use of Scripture the same patient and charitable attempt to understand that we extend to Scripture’s use of Scripture’s proofs” (130).

In practice, this means that “systematic theologians must be aware of the burden of proof upon them to show that they are using the Bible well in their theological construction” (137). Allen and Swain suggest this could be done through the writing of more theological commentary as well as dogmatic arguments that are enriched with more exegetical excurses. Likewise, “biblical scholars should expect rigorous exegesis to lie behind such proof texting and should engage it conversationally and not cynically” (139). Further, “biblical scholars will do well to familiarize themselves with the history of biblical interpretation” (141). With systematic theologians and biblical scholars working along both of these fronts, “proof texts could be a literary signal of a disciplinary symbiosis and of Reformed catholicity” (141).

This book is a short read, but is worth taking some time with if you’re like me. That is to say, you are someone who considers yourself in the Reformed tradition doctrinally and want to retrieve insights from earlier theological eras to better face the theological challenges of the day. It is also to say you are someone interested in theological interpretation of Scripture and reading Scripture in the church for the church. Also, if you’re like me, you would read this in a weekend, and then wish there were either a) more footnotes for the movements listed in the introduction, or b) that there was a section for suggested further reading. But, that wouldn’t spoil the book for you and you’d still heartily recommend the book on your blog or something like that.


Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical InterpretationGrand Rapids: Baker Academic January 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


Tony Lane is professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. He is a world-class Calvin scholar and author of several books, most recently Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christian Should Believe. The book is part of the Exploring Topics in Christianity series (includes one other volume at the present) which complements the Exploring The Bible series also published by IVP Academic.

Like the other volumes, this one is very accessible. It is essentially a brief systematic theology in terms of topics covered, but far from typical in the way the material is presented. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. In any case, I was surprised at how some of the contents had shifted from what I consider a standard ordering.

Lane first section (A), Method, is comprised of three chapters. The first is about knowing God, the second is about the Bible, and the third is about language about God. So far, pretty typical. Bonus points for having an actual prolegomena section in such a short systematic.

Then contents take an interesting turn and go to three chapters (the B section) on creation, angels, and humanity respectively. This is followed by a section (C) on sin and evil. Here Lane provides chapters on sin, the fall and original sin, God’s providence, and a brief theodicy (evil and suffering). The latter is a useful inclusion in a format like this.

What you might notice is that we skipped the doctrine of God. To get to it, we begin the first (D) of three sections focused on redemption, which is exploring God and his work. This is the longest section so far and begins with a chapter on the law and the Old Testament. From here, Lane presents a chapter on the work of Christ followed by one on the person of Christ. He then offers a chapter on the uniqueness of Christ (tackling religious pluralism) before a chapter on the Holy Spirit. It is at this point we have the chapters that usually come after prolegomena, discussing first God as Trinity, and then a chapter on the attributes.

From here on out, the flow is more typical, but still somewhat unique. There is a second section (E) on redemption, this time focusing on the personal aspects. In it, we have chapters on becoming a Christian, baptism, justification and assurance, sanctification, and perseverance. Then the final redemption section (F) contains chapters on grace and election, the church (times 2), and communion. The final section of the book (G) is on eschatology and contains chapters on the end times, hell, and future hope.

While I haven’t fully field tested this book, it seems particularly well suited to the classroom. Because it is a relatively small scale systematic, the options for covering material are either broad but not super deep or somewhat narrow but with added depth. Lane has opted for the former and covers an impressive range of topics in 29 relatively short chapters. Within each of these chapters, there are several small sections of material (1):

  • Aims of the chapter (the questions the chapter answers)
  • What do you think? (a question to consider during the reading, which Lane answers later)
  • Sceptic’s corner (a common objection that Lane then answers)
  • Credal statement(s) (selections from a creed or confessional statement)
  • Error(s) to avoid (typical ways the doctrine could be misunderstood)
  • Tension to hold (perhaps the most important section)
  • Speculation (something that is a tentative position)
  • Worship (an extract from a hymn)
  • Prayer (from a historical source)

Further, you might have noticed the broad structure of the material follows a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation trajectory. This helps explain the unusual ordering of the material following the Method section. Lane further explains his approach in the book:

Getting the framework right is very important, just as the foundations are important for a house. In that sense this is an orderly, structured account. On the other hand, I am opposed to the ‘big idea’ approach, the idea that there is a single ‘central dogma’ or ‘controlling principle’ for theology. For example, (some) Lutherans see the doctrine of justification by faith in this way; (some) Calvinists see doctrine of the sovereignty of God similarly; Karl Barth explicitly made Christology the controlling principle for his theology; some today try to fit all doctrine into the category of ‘relationships’ or of ‘narrative.’ These different perspectives all shed light on theology. For example, much of the Bible is in the form of narrative and interpreting it from that perspective can be helpful – but does not, however, have much light to shed on the book of Proverbs. When one particular doctrine of approach or principle set up as the key to the whole of the Bible or to the whole of Christian doctrine it always ends up bringing distortion (3-4).

If you have read that quote within the book, you would notice an * next to Karl Barth’s name, which would lead you to (hopefully if you need to) look up the dictionary entry in Lane’s A Concise History of Christian Thought. Terms that might be confusing can be found in the glossary. After the end notes in each chapter there is a list of further resources to explore. All of this is hopefully working together to meet Lane’s objectives in writing (1):

  • To provide a basic account of Christian beliefs – the primary objective
  • To give, as appropriate, a very brief account of the history of particular doctrines, showing how doctrines have developed historically and need to be understood contextually
  • To illustrate particular doctrines with key historical texts, especially credal statements
  • To show how different groups differ over particular doctrines
  • To point to the interconnections between different doctrines, such as the person and work of Christ
  • To show how particular doctrines relate to the contemporary scene – both Church and culture

I would say Lane accomplishes his objectives well, though the end result is not very readable as a sit down Saturday morning read. By that I mean it has so many sidebars which break up the text it doesn’t every really get a flow. Also, the text is laid out in columns, further enhancing the starts and stops in the writing. If you’re using this as an in-class resource, it probably isn’t a huge problem. But if you’re looking for a theology book to sit down and read through, the aesthetics are not in your favor.

Layout aside, I like the breadth of topics Lane tackles and I think that these, coupled with the mini-sections covered in each chapter, make it ideal for a teaching resource. If that’s what you’re into, you should probably give the book a perusal. If you’re looking for the next book on your theology reading list, you might not want to prioritize this one. But then again, you might just be curious about what Tony Lane speculates about when it comes to theology and it’s not often you can find a semi-systematic theology book with comics in every chapter. He might not give Michael Bird a run for his money, but it’s certainly I trend I’d like to see to continue!


Tony Lane, Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christian Should Believe. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February, 2014. 308 pp. Hardcover, $30.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

I mentioned on Monday that I had withdrawn from Ph.D studies at SBTS. It wasn’t actually official until today when I received the e-mail from the registrar, but everything on my end was done back at the beginning of December. Rather than fully explain what I’m planning to do long term when it comes to Ph.D studies, I thought I’d explain more about what I’m doing now short term.

Ever since I was at Dallas, Ph.D work has been the plan, but in a kind of abstract sense. I’ve had general aspirations, but no actual plans until my final year at Dallas when I first started an application to SBTS. When that remained unfinished, Ph.D work became a kind of “sometime, someday” sort of thing.

This of course all changed last fall when I re-applied to SBTS, took the entrance exams, and got accepted. Because of how quickly that process came together, I didn’t have time to really reflect on what I was getting into until this past summer. I think part of the outcome of doing that was realizing I ultimately wanted to do a theology Ph.D, and I explained last post where that led.

Because actually doing Ph.D work was now on my radar, I started doing some reading about it to look for guidance. Very helpfully, I was able to get several of the books that entering Ph.D students at SBTS are required to read:

The take-away from the first one is that you need to have set time to write in your schedule, which is part of what I’m doing right now. I’m still working through the second but am finding it very helpful and possibly something to use in a critical-thinking/creative problem solving class I’m helping put together. As for the latter, it’s just a good general overview that I had originally read at Dallas. I re-scanned the newest edition and you can read my thoughts on it here.

In addition, I am hoping to read the following two titles soon, which would also be required reading if I were starting SBTS

The former I skimmed at Dallas. It is helpful as far as providing a framework for organizing your research in a paper format. The latter I’ve only heard good things about. I imagine that is similar to the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. The chapters are a bit on the long side, but the insights into clear grammar and style are worth it.

Though not required at SBTS, I recently read this trio of books:

The first has some good general advice for submitting papers to journals but is mainly helpful if you’re writing psychology articles. The second is a good overview of the dissertation process, though I’m not sure how applicable it is for humanities Ph.D’s. The advice on choosing an adviser and topic I found particularly helpful.

The last book was particularly informative, even if it is geared more toward students looking to do a Ph.D in biblical studies rather than theology. A point that Witherington made that was helpful for me personally is that teaching the Bible really requires you to be a generalist while getting a Ph.D requires choosing a specialty. I latently realized that my dissertation topic doesn’t pin me down to a certain specialty for the rest of my teaching career. But it was helpful to have Witherington expound on it and explain that I didn’t have to lose my love for generality in order to pursue a career in teaching. In fact, I’ll probably need it if I want to teach theology well.

I have some titles that I’ll be working through, but I’ve found that generally, I’m looking at titles about researching and writing better since that’s the bulk of the dissertation. In addition, I’m looking at titles that give an overview of the process and then I’m putting together a general reading plan to nail down potential topics. I’ll have more to say about that Friday.

If you have any advice on this, I’d love to hear it. Anybody else preparing for Ph.D work or even in the middle of it? What did you find helpful?

We were at Epcot on Sunday and the old Norway ride with the cool trolls was closed because it’s being turned into a Frozen ride. Kinda lame, and the Norwegians aren’t stoked about it. Reminded me though about these videos, which make Norway rather enticing.



And then there’s this:

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Roughly a year ago, I announced my intention to pursue Ph.D studies at SBTS. At the end of February, I took the entrance exams, and then mid-April, received an acceptance letter.

Since then, I haven’t said much about it, and so depending on how attentive you are to my blogging and Twitter feed, you might be curious how things are going.

The rest of the story, that I haven’t blogged on so far, is that over the summer I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of starting Ph.D studies in the fall. I prayed about it, sought wisdom, and eventually realized for logistical reasons with my teaching job, I needed to defer to January. This seemed to relieve much of the anxiety, and so I set about planning out my fall with the expectation that it would be my last for quite a while without assigned reading.

Had that plan stuck, I would be in Louisville right now for my first two seminars getting acclimated to Ph.D studies (and hopefully meeting Michael Bird). Instead, I am still in (moderately) warm sunny Florida (see picture for general idea). Back maybe late October, early November, the anxiety about starting in January crept back in, and since this time deferment wasn’t an option, I had some sorting out to do.

On the one hand, if you don’t have anxiety before embarking on a seminary degree, especially Ph.D work, you probably haven’t really counted the cost. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really a lack of peace with the decision at hand. So, as is my custom, I decided to withdraw, but then did nothing about it. Having made the decision to take a definite course of action, I wanted to see how it sat in my soul for a month before actually doing anything about it.

As Thanksgiving approached, it was pretty clear that this was the right decision. From a logistic point of view, waiting to start until a later time seemed to make the most sense. We had originally planned on Ali starting a different job that would last the duration of the program and I would only need to work enough to pay for school. That opportunity fell through shortly after I was accepted, but I kept thinking that something else would come together. Something else in fact did, but it was my private music studio growing rather exponentially over the fall. In order to start, I would have to turn down work, but then also take out loans to pay for school. Coupled with the SBC discount no longer applying, the whole enterprise began to lack financial sense for the time being.

From a subjective point of view, I had a clear peace about it. All things being equal, if this were the only reason against starting Ph.D studies now, I still would have withdrawn. It was the primary reason, but it in conjunction with the financial logistics, it was pretty clear that now wasn’t the time. While I could look back and feel like I was misled last fall, I think it was actually part of clarifying the future rather than being a dead end. By actually applying to SBTS and going through the whole process, I was able to know that I was academically “Ph.D material” so to speak. SBTS has an excellent program and I was honored to be considered capable of entering it.

While I have only admiration for the program there, I don’t think I’ll ultimately be coming back when the time is right. As I was doing my “pleasure” reading over the fall, I realized I was ultimately more interested in theology than philosophy. This would mean a change of program if I were to still pursue Ph.D studies at SBTS. Not only that, it would be a change to a program that is not offered in modular format, and so would require re-location to Louisville. Because of family ties here in Florida, a growing music studio, and a job teaching the Bible, re-location for Ph.D studies doesn’t really make sense. True, two of those things are potentially transferable to Louisville. But right now, we want to stay here in central Florida long term.

Another factor lurking in the background is my dislike of classes. Even at Dallas, I generally made good use of the 3-4 skips I was allowed in each class. One particular class, with the late great Harold Hoehner, did not have an attendance policy. When I realized class consisted of working through an extensive outline step by step, I decided to not return until the final. I probably missed some good discussion along the way, but I also got a 90 in a class I never went to because I can study an outline faster on my own time.

Now, from the Ph.D seminar I did take, I realize they are not structured the same way. But, from what I understand, the Ph.D classes are aimed at developing a general competency in the field and narrowing down a dissertation topic. Also, if you have a good idea going into it what you want to write on, you can use papers in your seminars to build up research for your dissertation.

This is all well and good, but it doesn’t really mesh with my learning style and if there’s another way to go about it, I’d like to explore that instead. Thankfully there is. So, over the next several posts, I’m going to talk about it and what I’m doing instead of pursuing Ph.D studies at SBTS. Hopefully my thinking out loud will prove useful if you’re considering Ph.D studies in particular, or even seminary in general. While I’m not technically starting any formal program this year, I am starting to be more intentional with my scholarly goals and I’d love to share that with you as it unfolds.

Here they are as separate videos:



It’s probably no secret that I’m a fan of systematic theology. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm, but luckily, part of my job is to figure out how to pass on the excitement. One of the roadblocks that crowds the path is how inaccessible many systematic theologies are. Especially if they are multi-volume works.

Usually, you are stuck picking two from the following list:

  • Covers the material well
  • Enjoyable/interesting to read
  • Concise/accessible

Fortunately, thanks to the faculty at Dallas Seminary and Bethany House we are currently two thirds of the way toward a small multi-volume exploration of systematic theology that covers all of three of these bases. In addition, it covers all three additional bases:

  • Biblically rooted
  • Historically sensible
  • Practically applicable

Usually you find systematics that major in one, or at best two of these, but rarely all three (while also nailing the above trio as well).

I am speaking of course about Exploring Christian Theology, a three volume work edited by two of my former professors, Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel. I actually never took a Holsteen class, but he read my thesis and didn’t make me re-write a bunch of stuff, so that still counts. With Dr. Svigel, I actually took the Sanctification/Ecclesiology class with him, and that is the first part of this volume in the series.

The series is divided into six parts:

  • Revelation/Scripture
  • The Triune God
  • Creation/Fall
  • Salvation
  • Church/Spiritual Growth
  • End Times

Each volume is composed of two parts. The last was published first, and that’s what I’m reviewing right now. The first has also been published, and the middle two are coming later this spring. If you happen to go to Dallas Seminary, you will take a 3 credit class on each of these topics. If you want a preview of what that’s like, you should read these books.

As Holsteen and Svigel explain their mission in the introduction:

Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key orthodox, protestant, evangelical tenets without belaboring details or boiling up debates. The three ECT volumes, compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starting for the very doctrine it’s too long avoided (9).

They go on to say that “Exploring Christian Theology differs from other mini-theologies in that it strives to present a broad consensus, not a condensed systematic model of one evangelical teacher or protestant tradition. Though I don’t think it is specifically stated, there is a lot of inspiration from Thomas Oden and his idea of “paleo-orthodoxy.” That is to say, you’re getting a lot of old school doctrinal meat without the added carbs 1

In terms of what this actually looks like book to book, each part of each volume follows the same general format:

  • High-Altitude Survey (3-4 page general overview of the topic)
  • Passages to Master (key Scriptures with concise exegesis)
  • Retrospect (brief historical survey of the doctrine)
  • Facts to Never Forget (general doctrinal statements)
  • Dangers to Avoid (ways one can get off track doctrinally)
  • Principles to Put Into Practice (Practical implications)
  • Voices from the Past and Present (money quotes from church history)
  • Shelf Space: Recommendations for Your Library
  • Glossary of Terms (at the end of the entire volume)

This particular volume contains the part on Church/Spiritual Growth (written by Holsteen) and End Times (written by Svigel). In future volumes, some of the parts are actually team written, but Holsteen and Svigel serve as the general editors for the whole project.

Having said quite a bit about the structure and focus of the project, I’ll keep my comments about the actual content of this volume fairly brief. Actually, I’m just going to focus on the one question I think many readers may have about a systematic theology put together by faculty of Dallas Seminary: “How hardcore dispensational is it?”

The answer in part depends on how you define “dispensational.” But, to answer indirectly, consider the section of the book on the End Times. The Passages to Master would be applicable regardless of your eschatological orientation. That is to say, it isn’t just a list of dispensational prooftexts. And, in the course of the 40 or so pages this section takes up, all the various positions on the rapture, kingdom, and return of Christ are briefly explained in a way that people who hold the positions would recognize.

When it comes to the Facts to Never Forget, they transcend eschatological divides and should be readily affirmed by premillennial and amillennial thinkers alike. The same kind of spirit is true of the Dangers to Avoid and Principles to Put Into Practice section. All of which is to say the focus is on broadly evangelical agreement when it comes to the End Times while also acknowledging there are different positions on the structuring of the timeline.

From what I can tell, this holds true for the series as a whole. I’ve read two of the volumes and imagine the third to be published (but second in sequence) will continue the trend. My only complaints at this point are logistical and aesthetic. To the former, I think it hurt the series as a whole for the third volume to be published first. While that won’t matter once they are all in circulation, I think this particular volume flew under the radar, as did the next to be published. To the latter, I’m never a fan of end notes, and even less end notes that are in two columns and in the middle of the book. Because each volume is two separate stand alone parts, the end notes for the first part are in the middle, so are not even really end notes. And they are split into columns, which to me, makes them less readable and slightly more annoying.

Now, neither of my issues are content related, and in the end, that’s the most important part of the book. This volume, in conjunction with the other two in the series, would work great as Sunday School textbooks, small group studies, high school curriculum, or just readable systematics you could give to someone who wouldn’t tackle a big volume. I’m looking forward to integrating the approach outlined above into my 11th grade Bible class over the course of this year and next. This would also be the books I would recommend to someone just wanting to get their feet wet in theology. I would then use the Shelf Space recommendations at the end of section would allow for further exploration now that the individual has their bearings from reading these volumes. In short, if you want to explore Christian theology in a very accessible and fruitful way, these are the volumes for you!

Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel, eds., Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and The End TimesGrand Rapids: Bethany House, January 2014. 256 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy!



  1. Note: Paleo orthodoxy really refers to what the earliest church agreed on doctrinally. For a more exhaustive systematic exploring this, see Oden’s Classic Christianity. It is though in some ways similar to the “paleo” diet in that the “carbs” of doctrine (which are good and enjoyable but somewhat vary by ecclesiastical and traditional “taste”) are stripped away to focus on essentials that pretty much any serious Christian who treats the Bible as an apostolic and authoritative word of God can agree upon.


Earlier this fall, Tim Challies went through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, one of three works collected together in Overcoming Sin & Temptation recently updated and published by Crossway. If you missed out, here’s his list of posts:

You Must Put Sin to Death

Owen says that Christians—the choicest Christians—hate sin and pursue it to its death. Could there be a conclusion that is farther from the world around us? The world, the flesh, and the devil tell us to pursue our sin, to enjoy our sin, to go deeper and deeper into our sin, to identify ourselves by our sin, to become our sin. God’s Word tells us to identify our sin, to hate our sin, to destroy our sin. And by God’s grace we can do that very thing. He can give us a revulsion toward our sin, and then empower us to kill it. Praise God!

Christian, Do You Make It Your Daily Work?

Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.

You Need The Power of The Holy Spirit

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

6 Evil Effects of Sin

In chapter four of his book, Owen wants the reader to think about this: A God-honoring life is one in which we constantly wage war against sin. He says it like this: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depend much upon our mortification of sin.” I take life to be the existence of spiritual life, vigor to be the extent of it, and comfort to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of its existence. All of these are imperiled by the existence of sin. He will give six consequences of sin in our lives, but first he has a couple of foundational points to make.

5 Ways to Lose The Battle Against Sin

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.

What To Expect When Battling Sin

Owen says that putting sin to death consists of “a habitual weakening of sin,” and I take this to mean that over time and through our habits we chip away at our sin bit-by-bit and day-by-day. Rather than expecting sin to be destroyed in a moment, we expect that it will take time and focused effort. In this way putting sin to death is relative to our maturity as Christians and to the amount of time we have dedicated to battling a particular sin.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers

So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

A Deeper and Wider Obedience

It is an experience every Christian knows. You become aware of a sin and come to fear and hate it. You focus all kinds of attention on that sin and on putting it to death. You ask friends to pray for you, and you cry out to God for deliverance. Well and good, right? Well, not necessarily. John Owen has something to say to you: You will not be delivered from this sin until you pursue a much deeper and wider obedience.

7 Marks of a Deeply Deadly Sin

In chapter 9 of his work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen wants you to think about that besetting sin in your life to consider if it is an “ordinary” sin, or if it is one that is particularly deadly and that, therefore, requires something more than the usual pattern of putting sin to death. The deadliness of a sin is not related so much to the category of that sin, but to how deeply-rooted it is in your life, and to how you have responded to God as he has revealed it to you.

3 Things to Consider Before That Next Big Sin

Sin promises so much but delivers so little. Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its cost. Sin always aims at the uttermost, always nudging toward utter death and destruction. And yet we love our sin, and secretly harbor it, and grieve to turn aside from it.

John Owen has a challenge for you. Before that next big sin you are pondering, he wants you to simply consider three things.

9 Steps to Putting Sin to Death

All throughout the New Testament we are told to put our sin to death. For example, in Colossians 3 Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do you do that? How do you stop a sin, and how do you stop an especially stubborn and deep-rooted sin? Is there any hope? I want to track with John Owen here (via his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation) and give a list of 9 things you need to do to overcome sin. Consider that sin that is prevalent in your life and then consider each of these 9 steps.

A Debate I Would Watch

I would pay good money to watch a debate between John Owen and Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t you? I have read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation many times now, and have benefited with every reading. It just never gets old and it just never stops sounding so counter-cultural, countering both the wider culture and even the going Christian culture.

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

True Peace With God Comes on God’s Terms

We all long for peace. We all want to be at peace with God and men. The problem is that we usually want that peace to be on our terms. So we strive against men and battle against God until we feel that we have achieved what feels to us like peace.

John Owen knows this temptation and in his great book Overcoming Sin and Temptation he includes an entire chapter on the theme. He gives his reader this charge: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.”

The Theory, The Practice

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

A resource that will prove helpful if you’d like to apply some of the wisdom from Owen’s work to your life is this Battle Plan chart.