Ligonier Ministries Blog

The official feed of Ligonier Ministries, founded by theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul in 1971 to help Christians know what they believe, why the believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.
Ligonier Ministries
  1. What went through Abraham’s mind when God called him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul considers how the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard saw in this crisis an illustration of the Christian’s life of faith. Today, watch the entire message for free. Transcript: In his book Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard tries to pierce the soul of Abraham and imagine the existential anguish that Abraham went through as he was contemplating this enormous, dreadful task that God had set before him. One of the key refrains that Kierkegaard works with in Fear and Trembling is related to the biblical description of that event, when we are told that after God gives this command to Abraham, the narrative says, “And Abraham rose up early in the morning.” Kierkegaard begins to contemplate on that phrase, and he asks the question, “Why did Abraham get up early in the morning? Was it because he was such a virtuous, sanctified man that he rose up early to be bright and alert, and about the business of obeying the command of God?” Well, Kierkegaard doesn’t think so. Kierkegaard thought that the reason why Abraham got up out of his bed in the morning is because Abraham couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned on his bed. He was caught in the throes of existential anxiety, of fear, and of trembling, because God had commanded him to do something that was absolutely unthinkable: to destroy his own son, who indeed was the child of promise. To do this, God was commanding Abraham to do something that the moral law, later as it is expressed in Moses, and already as expressed in the natural law written within us, completely forbade: the taking of a human life in such a manner. Child sacrifice was an abomination to Israel. And so, part of Abraham’s anguish was the anguish of asking himself, “Can this really be the voice of God?” This involved what Kierkegaard called the temporary suspension of the ethical. I don’t know what that phrase may mean to you, but the only thing I can relate it to in our day, in terms of simple illustration, is the experience you may have when you are driving through a city. Maybe the traffic lights are not adequately performing, or there is a traffic jam, and instead of going through the lights as they occur, there is a policeman on the corner. And if you have ever driven your car to an intersection where a policeman is directing traffic, and the light turned red, but the policeman motioned you to go ahead, you have the temporary suspension of the ethical. The law requires that you stop when the light is red, unless the personal embodiment of the law—the traffic officer—is present there to override it. Even then, you see people hesitating to go through a red light, even when the policeman in his uniform is motioning you to come through. Well, this is just a tiny taste of the thing that Abraham struggled with when God told him to go against the law. And so, how does Abraham respond to this existential crisis? He does it by taking a leap of faith and embracing the paradox of the moment. And now, what Kierkegaard does at this point is that he uses this illustration in the life of Abraham to illustrate the whole substance of a passionate Christian life, because the Christian faith is a pilgrimage that requires the existential leap. The time comes where you have nothing in front of you but darkness, and yet you have the command of God to move ahead, and you must leap by trusting that God will be out there in the darkness, and you must act, and you cannot simply be a spectator or sit around analyzing what is right and what is wrong if you know that God is calling you to something, even if you can’t see what’s on the other side of the street. Just like Abraham, you have to take the existential leap of faith.
  2. How should we discuss the subject of Reformed theology with our non-Reformed friends? From one of our live Ask Ligonier events, Steven Lawson encourages us to drive our theological conversations directly to the Scriptures. Get answers to your biblical and theological questions online as they arise at ask.Ligonier.org. Read the Transcript
  3. It’s time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week’s resources include such topics as John Knox, marriage, biblical studies, parenting, worship, and more. Plus, several bonus resources are also available for more than $5. These have been significantly discounted from their original price. This week’s bonus resources include: The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond, hardcover $16 $12.80 John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology by Burk Parsons, paperback, $14 $8 Scripture Alone by R.C. Sproul, paperback, $18 $10 The Bible: God’s Inerrant Word by Derek Thomas, paperback $8 $6 The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford, gift edition, $14 $10 The Intimate Marriage by R.C. Sproul, paperback, $12 $8 And More Sale runs through 12:01 a.m.–11:59 p.m. Friday ET.
  4. "A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The socalled “material” cause was the debate over sola fide (“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as a normative source of revelation. The “protest” of Protestantism went far beyond the issue of justification by faith alone, challenging many dogmas that emerged in Rome, especially during the Middle Ages. In a short time, the Reformation swept through Germany but did not stop there. Aided by the translation of the Bible in other nations, the reform spread to the Huguenots in France, to Scotland, England, Switzerland, Hungary, and Holland. Ulrich Zwingli led the Reformation movement in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, and John Calvin among the French Protestants. In 1534 Calvin delivered a speech calling the church to return to the pure Gospel of the New Testament. His speech was burned, and Calvin fled Paris to Geneva. Disguised as a vinedresser, he escaped the city in a basket. During the next year, some two dozen Protestants were burned alive in France. This provoked Calvin to write his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was addressed to the King of France. His thought contained in the Institutes developed into the dominant theology for the international expansion of the Reformation. The first edition of the Institutes was completed in 1536, the same year Calvin was persuaded by Farel to come to Switzerland to build Geneva into a model city of Reformation. In 1538 Farel and Calvin were forced to leave Geneva. He lived and ministered in Strasbourg for three years until he was recalled to Geneva in 1541. Calvin’s theology stressed the sovereignty of God in all of life. His chief passion was the reform of worship to a level of purity that would give no hint to or support of the human penchant for idolatry. Geneva attracted leaders from all over Europe who came there to observe the model and be instructed by Calvin himself. During this period turbulence spread to England when King Henry VIII resisted the authority of Rome. In 1534 Henry became the Supreme Head of the Anglican Church. He undertook the persecution of evangelicals, which escalated under “Bloody Mary,” causing many to flee to Geneva for refuge. The persecutions were suspended under “Good Queen Bess,” Elizabeth I, whose stance provoked a papal bull against her in 1570. The Reformation spread rapidly to Scotland, largely under the leadership of John Knox, who served 19 months as a galley slave before he went to England and then to Geneva. In 1560 the Scottish Parliament rejected papal authority. In 1561 the Scottish Reformed “Kirk” was reorganized. One interesting footnote to this is that the first man John Knox ordained into the ministry of the church was an obscure clergyman by the name of Robert Charles Sproul, of whom I am a direct descendant. In the early 17th century, the Reformation spread to the new world with the arrival of the Pilgrims and colonies of Puritans who brought Reformed theology and the Geneva Bible with them. Reformation theology dominated Protestant evangelicalism for decades but became diluted later under influences of Pietism and Finneyism. By the end of the 20th century, Reformation theology declined dramatically in the Western world, being assaulted by 19th-century liberal theology on the one hand, and the influence of Arminian theology on the other. This was especially true in America. In the present scene of American evangelicalism, Reformation theology is a minority report. The dominant strands of theology that reign in current evangelical circles are dispensationalism and neo-Pentecostal charismatic thought. The phenomenal spread and growth of dispensational theology in America is a fascinating chapter in church history. Having its roots in British Plymouth Brethren suppositions, dispensationalism spread rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fueled by the Bible School movement, prophecy conferences, and the preaching of men like D. L. Moody, dispensationalism gathered enormous popular support. The American version of dispensationalism got a great boost by the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. The Scofield Bible, with its study notes, served as a popular tool for the spread of dispensational theology. This theology was forged by men who had their roots predominately in Reformation thought. The themes of classical Reformed theology were modified significantly by this movement. The New Geneva Study Bible is the first distinctively Reformed study Bible in English to appear since the Geneva Bible in the 16th century. It seeks to recover the theology of the Reformation and provide a guide for the laity to understand its historically, doctrinally, and biblically rich system. Its importance to American Christianity is enormous. It is my hope that it will help guide English-speaking evangelicals back to their Reformation roots. More importantly, it is designed to call evangelicals back to the Bible itself and to their historic confessions of biblical theology. Beyond the borders of America, the New Geneva Study Bible may be used to expand the light of the Reformation to lands where the original Reformation never reached, especially to Russia and Eastern Europe. In our day we have seen a revival of interest in the Bible and a renewed commitment to the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. But the Reformation was more than a doctrine about the Bible. It was sparked by a deep and serious study of the Bible. It is not enough to extol the virtue of Scripture—we must hear the teaching of Scripture afresh. It is only by a serious and earnest recovery of biblical truth that we will be able to avoid falling into a new cesspool of heresy.
  5. We carry the world in our pocket. From international news agencies to social media platforms, we’re endlessly besieged with bytes of stories, political commentary, cultural opinion, conspiracies, blogs, and the ever-maddening notification ping of breaking news. A staggering 3.5 billion people on our planet have been identified as users and consumers of this assortment of media. In fact, most of us will spend an average of three hours every day engaging with this unrelenting barrage of information. Over the past several months, we’ve seen how quickly news and social media can elicit fear, provoke anger, and fuel movements. This information overload is sometimes more than we can bear and has sent believers and unbelievers alike spiraling into despair and hopelessness as we’re simply trying to discern what to believe. Throughout Scripture, believers are repeatedly cautioned to maintain a sharpened awareness of the difference between truth and error. Paul implored the Thessalonian church: “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21–22). Similarly, Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph 5:10–11). Therefore, spiritual discernment is not optional for the believer but is a clearly commanded necessity for proper Christian living. However, many believers have never been adequately instructed regarding how to develop truly biblical spiritual discernment. Such instruction is vital in the information surplus of our day. Desire Wisdom Our desire for spiritual discernment is directly related, at a deeper level, to our desire for wisdom. This type of wisdom is to be searched for, longed for, and pursued by every believer. In the opening sentence of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Calvin reminds us that to receive true wisdom, and therefore the spiritual ability to discern, begins with a right knowledge of our Creator. No doubt he would have had Proverbs 9:10 in mind: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The current inability to determine truth from error finds its origin in a fundamental lack of understanding of the holiness and glory of the triune God and the sinful depravity of man. Like a father speaking to his son, the writer of Proverbs implores, “If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3–5). Wisdom is more important than finding buried treasure and should be sought after with greater vehemence than all the fine jewels in the earth (Matt. 13:44–45). For at its heart is the treasure of God Himself and without Him we fail miserably at discerning the “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). Know Truth In an age of scrutinizing everything as “fake news,” truth seems a rare commodity. A second characteristic for one who desires proper spiritual discernment is to know the truth. In other words, everything we analyze must be viewed through the lens of truth––God’s Word. Paul instructed young Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20) and “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:13–14). Paul uses military language here to heighten the importance of what has been given to our charge. Every believer is called to know the truth of God’s Word to such a degree that we maintain a defensive position against everything that undermines His truth or seeks to violate it in any way. Any survey of believers makes it devastatingly obvious that many do not know the truth and therefore are defenseless against the increasing onslaught of error. One way to correct this deficiency is to examine our daily intake of Scripture. Are you filling your mind and heart with God’s Word to such a degree that it begins to spring to remembrance as you scroll through social media or turn on the news? Is your first reaction fear, dread, and hopelessness, or is your first reaction the calm reassurance of our Lord: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27)? Knowing the truth sets us free from the shackles of worldly virtues and unburdens us to enjoy the glorious guarantee that God is sovereign and controls all things. The truth that has been “entrusted” to us must be known, both in mind and heart, in order to be spiritually discerning in an age of error. Test Everything A third component in growing our spiritual discernment is to learn to test everything. Combating issues of falsehood and error within the church, John gives clear instruction to his readers in 1 John 4:1: “Test the spirits.” The word test is a fascinating word in the New Testament and comes from the word that means “the testing of the strength of metal.” In other words, this type of discernable testing requires fire––the fire of our knowledge of God and the knowledge of His Word. If we’re driven by a yearning for cultural acceptance or a comfortable go-along-to-get-along attitude, we will never be discerning people. Never subjugate your minds to the media of this age and blindly be led in paths laid for us by the enemy of our souls. John MacArthur aptly said, “Unless we are willing to examine all things carefully, we cannot hope to have any defense against reckless faith.” Only in careful scrutiny will we be able to discern light from darkness. Our growth in spiritual discernment depends on our desire for wisdom, knowledge of the truth, and a willingness to test absolutely everything through the lens of that wisdom and truth. So, the next time you begin to scroll through myriads of bits of information, your growth in discernment will determine if your hope is anchored in the solid rock of Christ or the shifting sand of this world.