Aquinas Is Not A Safe Guide For Protestants
Reading Aquinas with care and caution.

Written by Dewey Roberts | Sunday, October 16, 2016

In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas clearly stated his view that the sacraments perform their work through a virtue in themselves. He also stated unequivocally that the sacraments confer the new birth, justification, the grace of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, inward enlightenment, the washing away of guilt, and forgiveness of sins on every person who partakes of them.

From time to time, I come across articles by Reformed authors wherein they encourage the reading of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Their rationale is that Aquinas is an excellent guide for making fine distinctions on theological points. Au contraire. As one who spent several weeks at a nearby university library reading through the unabridged three volume set of the Summa Theologica while writing Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision, I must respectfully dissent from that position. Thomas Aquinas is no safe guide for Protestants. He might be the favorite Schoolman of many Reformed authors, but he should not be in my opinion.

Someone might ask why I was reading Aquinas in my research concerning the errors of the Federal Vision. For one thing, many of the Federal Vision authors (e.g., Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins, and Doug Wilson) refer to the help they received from Aquinas’ writings in developing their false system. I read the Summa Theologica to see what it was that inspired the Federal Vision authors. As one who has made the experiment myself, here is why I encourage you not to read Thomas Aquinas. Or, if you do read him, read with your eyes wide open and with a discerning and discriminating judgment. Certainly there are some good things in Aquinas’ writings, but there are also a lot of bad and erroneous things as well.

First, Aquinas did not believe in Sola Scriptura. The purpose Aquinas had in writing Summa Theologica was to combine the theology of the Scripture with the theological systems of the ancient Greek philosophers. There are times he begins his investigation of a theological issue with a quote of Scripture (though more rarely than one would like). More frequently, he will begin with a quote from Augustine. Yet, on other occasions he will start with a quote from one of the ancient philosophers. For one who believes in Sola Scriptura, it was very disconcerting to read such an approach to theological issues. The ancient philosophers are in no wise on the same ground as the inspired authors of Scripture.

Second, Aquinas is usually characterized as an Augustinian scholar, but I think that is a misrepresentation. It is true that Augustine had once made the same mistake as Aquinas of seeking to synthesize Scripture with the teaching of the ancient philosophers, but that was during his younger days. The mature Augustine, who stood like a bulwark against the heresy of Pelagianism, had arrived at a position that Scripture was the alone special revelation of God.

Augustine’s theological system was progressively developing until he reached a mature faith. Along the way he cast off his former errors- one of which was concerning salvation that was very close to the Pelagian heresy, which he so effectively combated for the good of the church. Pelagius, like Aquinas and the younger Augustine, also sought to synthesize Scripture with the systems of the ancient philosophers. Many of the heresies of the early church were from the writings of the philosophers, particularly concerning the false ideas on the will of man. Because Aquinas tried to synthesize Scripture (and Augustininaism) with the teachings of the philosophers (even as Pelagius had also tried to do), it is more appropriate to classify Thomism as Semi-pelagianism. In fact, a thorough reading of the Summa Theologica reveals how frequently Aquinas departs from the views of Augustine.

Third, the theological system of the Council of Trent is virtually the same as the conclusions of Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. For instance, Pope Leo XIII in 1879, made the following comment about Aquinas’ influence on the Council of Trent:

The Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.[1]

If you like the Council of Trent and Catholic theology, you will love Thomas Aquinas. In fact, you will be delighted with the Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul, as well.

Fourth, Aquinas clearly departed from Augustine on the depravity of mankind. Aquinas denied that human reason is fallen. In Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer puts his finger on the problem with Aquinas’ theology:

In Aquinas’ view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed all the subsequent difficulties. Man’s intellect became autonomous. In one realm man was now independent, autonomous.

This sphere of the autonomous in Aquinas takes on various forms. One result, for example, was the development of natural theology. In this view, natural theology is a theology that could be pursued independently from the Scriptures.

From the basis of this autonomous principle, philosophy also became free, and was separated from revelation. Therefore philosophy began to take wings, as it were, and fly off wherever it wished, without relationship to Scriptures. . . Aquinas had opened the way to an autonomous philosophy, and once the movement gained momentum, there was soon a flood.[2]

Fifth, Aquinas, along with the other Schoolmen, developed the views of the sacraments which became the hallmark of Catholic theology by the time of the Reformation. Philip Schaff describes the methodology of the Schoolmen in devising their sacramental theories:

In defining what a sacrament is—quid est sacramentum—the Schoolmen started with Augustine’s definition that a sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, but went beyond him in the degree of efficiency they ascribe to it. Beginning with Hugo, they assert in unmistakable language that the sacraments, or outward symbols, contain and confer grace—continere et conferre gratiam—the language afterwards used by the Council of Trent. They have a virtue in themselves.[3]

In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas clearly stated his view that the sacraments perform their work through a virtue in themselves. He also stated unequivocally that the sacraments confer the new birth, justification, the grace of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, inward enlightenment, the washing away of guilt, and forgiveness of sins on every person who partakes of them. If you like the Federal Vision system, you will love Aquinas.

Sixth, Aquinas has some good things to say about theology proper, but he is wrong on every single point of soteriology. That is, the problem with Aquinas is precisely the same problem that Protestants have with the Catholic Church. Too many Reformed scholars are mesmerized by Aquinas’ clear assertion of unconditional election, but they fail to realize that later in his Summa Theologica he teaches that election can be nullified by the unfaithfulness of the elect.

Like Catholicism, Aquinas held that justification is the infusion of grace which, thereby, confuses justification with sanctification. Aquinas denied the certain perseverance of the saints and, thus, also denied that believers could be assured of their salvation. The closest he would come to assurance was in calling it the ‘hope of a wayfarer.’ Aquinas held to a union with Christ that could be lost. He defined apostasy as something that could be committed by a Christian without completely falling away from faith. He denied that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers. Rather, he taught that our own good works become our righteousness. Thus, his writings represent a different gospel than the one taught in Scripture. Heed the warning of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8. The one who preaches any other gospel than the one taught in the Scripture is to be accursed.

For all these reasons and more, I would encourage people not to read Thomas Aquinas. If you do, read him the way you would read any other author whose system you knew contained poisonous, soul damning errors. There is value, perhaps, in scholars critically reading such works in order to warn others against their errors. Yet, most ministers and believers will profit more by reading the writings of safe guides such as the Reformers, the Puritans, and other great evangelical authors.


Dewey Roberts is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, Fla. He is the author of Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision.

[1] Aeterni Patris, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, “On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy”, accessed at: on June 26, 2015.

[2] Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1968), 11-13.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), 704.


Can Depression Be Cured? Latest Research
In May 2016, the Library of Congress and the John Kluge Center hosted a symposium on Can Depression be Cured?

Written by David Murray | Monday, October 17, 2016

Depression is a serious disorder that impacts the whole body, it is progressive, and it needs to be treated. 60% of people with depression in the United States remain untreated. The most effective way to treat depression at present is a combination of talking therapies and medication.

In May 2016, the Library of Congress and the John Kluge Center hosted a symposium on Can Depression be Cured? at which four of the top medical researchers into depression and its treatments presented their latest research findings. A full unedited transcript of the presentations can be found here and the video is here.

The first presentation was given by Dr. Philip Gold who has been a member of the Library of Congress’s Scholars Council since 2004. He received his undergraduate medical degrees at Duke University and his post-graduate medical training at the Harvard Medical School. He has been at the NIH Clinical Center since 1974 where he served as chief neuroendocrine research in the NIMH intramural research program. I’ve summarized his address below and over the coming days, I’ll try to do the same for the other addresses, before summing up with a reflection on the research.

The main findings in Dr. Gold’s research are really quite stunning and should result in a major re-evaluation of the understanding of depression. Here’s a simplified summary of the findings followed by a brief explanation of each one:

1. Depression is a disorder of the human stress response.

2. Depression is a disease which involves brain tissue loss and damage.

3. Anti-depressants work by increasing the growth of brain cells and the connections between them.

4. Depression causes serious damage to the rest of the body

5. The best treatment for depression at present is a mix of talking therapies and medication

Main Finding 1: Depression is a disorder (dysregulation) of the human stress response

The stress response is our reaction to stressors in our life (physical, psychological, spiritual, etc.). For example, if you are being chased by a bear the stress response should kick in to maximize chances of survival. The stress response includes:

Fear-related behaviors and anxiety.
A decreased capacity for pleasure (in order to focus attention on the threat).
Inflexible mood and cognition.
Stress hormone production (especially of cortisol and norepinephrine).
Redirection of fuel to the bloodstream and the brain through development of insulin resistance.
Increase of inflammation and coagulation (blood clotting), both priming the system to respond to possible injury.
Inhibition of neurovegetative program, meaning suspension of appetite, rest, sleep, sexual desire.
Increased neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form new neural connections) and neurogenesis (growth of brain cells).
In melancholic depression (which affects 35% of those with major depression), the stress response is disordered in that when triggered it does not terminate quickly enough or sufficiently enough. It gets stuck in the “on” position, resulting in:

Increased and prolonged fear-related behaviors and anxiety.
Inhibition of the capacity to anticipate or experience pleasure.
Inflexible mood and cognition (mood and thinking patterns are in a rut).
Increased and prolonged stress hormone production.
Increased insulin resistance in order to redirect fuel to bloodstream and brain.
Increased and prolonged inflammation and coagulation.
Increased and prolonged inhibition of neurovegetative programs (appetite, rest, sleep, sex).
Decreased neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.
Main Finding Two: Depression is a neurodegenerative systemic disorder rather than a chemical imbalance.

There is chemical imbalance in depression but the primary cause is a loss of brain tissue in key areas (and abnormal increase of brain tissue in one key area).

A number of areas in the brain are physically changed in this disorder of the stress response.

1. The subgenual prefrontal cortex is reduced in size by as much as 40% in patients with familial depression. The subgenual prefrontal cortex:

Regulates and restrains the brains fear system.
Plays a large role in self-assessment.
Estimates the likelihood of punishment or reward.
Modulates the pleasure and reward center.
Restrains cortisol secretion.
When the subgenual prefrontal cortex is decreased in size all of these functions are similarly decreased resulting in excessive anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, decreased pleasure, and increased production of stress hormone.

2. The amygdala increases in size and goes into overdrive in depression and this further restrains the working of the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

3. The ventral striatum is significantly reduced in size during depression. This area is the pleasure and motivational center.

4. The hippocampus serves multiple memory functions and is the main place where neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) occurs. Its size is significantly reduced in depression.

Summing up the loss of or damage to brain tissue, Dr. Gold said: “There’s more loss of tissue in depression than there is in Parkinson’s disease!” “Depression as a full-blown disease,” he warned, “a systemic full body disorder with neurodegenerative aspects and is a progressive disease, much more serious, I think, than we had previously appreciated.”

Main Finding Three: Anti-depressants work by improving neuroplasticity and neurogenesis

Almost all antidepressants significantly improve neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. There are few others if any compounds which actually increase neurogenesis and people are experimenting using antidepressants to try to treat disease of the retina, for instance, to get neurogenesis active there and other sites of the body. The challenge for the next generation of anti-depressants then is to develop compounds that promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Main Finding Four: Depression damages the rest of the body

The pathological losses or gains in tissue in specific sites set into motion pathologic changes outside of the brain:

They’re responsible for the premature onset of coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Increased cortisol (growth hormone) secretion affects every cell in the body.
Increased insulin resistance and cholesterol levels increases inflammation, produces bad lipids, and increases clotting.
Premenopausal women with major depression have much higher incidence of osteoporosis
Depression is really the tip of the iceberg. The syndrome is serious and systemically widespread.
Patients with untreated depressive illness lose approximately seven years of life, much as untreated hypertension predictably shortens a life.

Main Finding Five: The best treatment for depression at present is a mix of talking therapies and medication

Depression is a serious disorder that impacts the whole body, it is progressive, and it needs to be treated.

60% of people with depression in the United States remain untreated.

The most effective way to treat depression at present is a combination of talking therapies and medication.

Data shows that people who successfully respond to talking therapies have positive physical changes in the three key areas of the brain that are affected in depression: the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the ventral striatum.

As for the future, there are trials ongoing of new medications (like ketamine) which are producing rapid remission of depression (within 1-2 hours).

There are also psychosurgery trials involving the implanting and stimulating of electrodes in the subgenual prefrontal cortex which are producing immediate and sometimes lasting response.

Magnetic resonance treatments (MRI) are also being used to treat areas of depressed patients brains in a non-invasive way.

Training in resilience is also proving helpful:

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, trauma, threats, and even significant sources of threat.
Mild to moderate controllable stress early in life can have an inoculating effect. Such experience leads to increased neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, and increases the size of the subgenual prefrontal cortex.
An enriched, nurturing environment in early life with exposure to manageable novelty increases resilience later in life.

Positive emotion, optimism, loving caretakers, flexibility, the capacity to reframe adversity, and strong social support also increase resiliency.

Altruism, commitment to a valid cause, a capacity to extract meaning from adverse situations, and a tolerance for emotional pain and sadness promote resiliency as well.

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand.


Before You Sought Him (Bernard)

Bernard says it is important to realize that God seeks us before we seek him. If we don’t understand this, we’ll rob God of his glory

Written by Shane Lems | Monday, October 17, 2016

“‘I have sought,’ she says, ‘him whom my soul loves’ (Sg 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain.”

It’s not for nothing that in his Institutes John Calvin cited Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) more than a few times. The doctrines of grace were not absent in the Medieval era! One very bright spot of Bernard’s writings is “Sermon 84” on the Song of Songs. This sermon is on Songs 3:1: “On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves” (NASB). In it Bernard talks about seeking and finding the Lord. He starts like this:

“It is a great good to seek God; I think nothing comes before it among the good things the soul may enjoy. It is the first of its gifts and its ultimate goal.”

Bernard then explains that the soul seeking God finds unending joy in abundance. It’s not like joy and desire are gone once a person finds God. But there’s more to it.

“Now see why I have said this as a preliminary. It is so that every soul among you which is seeking God will know that He has gone before and sought you before you sought Him. Otherwise you may turn a great good into a great evil for yourself. For from great goods can arise evils no less great, when we treat as our own the good things God gives and act as though they were not gifts, not giving God the glory (Lk 17:18).”

In other words, Bernard says it is important to realize that God seeks us before we seek him. If we don’t understand this, we’ll rob God of his glory:

“If someone says, “Perish the thought, I know that it is by the grace of God that I am as I am” (1 Cor 15:10), yet is eager to take even the smallest credit for the grace he has received, surely he is a robber and a thief (Jn 10:1)? Let such a man hear this, “Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked servant” (Lk 19:22). What is more wicked than for a slave to usurp his master’s glory?”

Instead, Bernard wrote, ‘The soul seeks the Word, but she has first been sought by the Word.” And where does the soul get the will to seek? “From the visitation of the Word, who has already sought her.”

“That seeking has not been in vain, because it has made the will active, without which there can be no return [to God]. …’Seek your servant’ [the Psalmist] says [Ps. 119:176], so that he who has been given the will may also give the power to act…”

Here’s the heart of it – which sounds like Augustine (“I would not have sought You unless You had first sought me”).

“I have sought,” she says, “him whom my soul loves” (Sg 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to seek him whom your soul loves, for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.”

I know it’s a rich paragraph; you may have to read it again! Basically, Bernard is highlighting the divine initiative and priority of the sovereign grace of God. He loved and chose us before we loved and chose him. And no one can come to Christ unless God sovereignly draws him (John 6:44). But, as Bernard said (echoing Scripture’s teaching), “now that you are sought, you cannot fail to seek!”


The above quotes are found in Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. John Farina, trans. G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis.


You Are the Manure of the Earth
Jesus’ metaphor about salt was actually about fertilizer.
Anthony B. Bradley/ SEPTEMBER 23, 2016
My first job after graduating from Clemson University was as a quality control chemist at a small pharmaceutical company in Atlanta. It was a great job, but I was far too extroverted to enjoy a career in a lab. Initially, I had enrolled in college with the intention of becoming a physician, but after a spiritual awakening during my senior year, I made a decision to attend seminary instead of medical school. As a consequence, I learned the Bible with the sciences in mind—which has been a continual source of insight into my reading of Scripture.

For example, I was recently doing some research for a lecture on Luke 14:34–35. When I read Jesus’ words—“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”— I decided to look into what Jesus’ original audience might have understood about salt when Jesus taught them to be “the salt of the earth.” When I discovered that salt was used as a fertilizer in Palestine, it permanently changed how I viewed the command to love my neighbor. What previously had been a somewhat strange charge by Jesus to be “salty” became a source of inspiration for Christian life and mission.

You are ‘salt for the soil.’
According to specialists in environmental science and soil chemistry, salt has been a major method of fertilizing soil for centuries.

An old article in the journal Biblical Archaeology, “Salt, Soil, Savior,” stands the test of time. Eugene P. Deatrick, former head of the soils department at West Virginia University, argued that in Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50, and Luke 14:34–35, Jesus was speaking not primarily of salt’s household use but of its agricultural use. According to Deatrick, several kinds of salt are found in Palestine that are different from the kind we’re familiar with. There is rock salt, salt evaporated from Dead Sea water, salt pits (Zeph. 2:9), and more. Additionally, Deatrick writes that “agricultural literature abounds in references to the use of salt as a fertilizer.” In quoting another source, he noted that “the value of salt in small quantities appears to have been known in ancient times—Cato, Virgil (and others) record its power of improving herbage of pastures.”

As Deatrick mentioned, agriculturalists have long recognized the value of salt as a fertilizer. A prize-winning essay on the valuable properties of salt for agriculture written by Robert Faulk, a contemporary of Deatrick’s, recognizes the long lineage of the agricultural use of salt. He states that the “ancient Hebrews already applied it 2,000 years ago in Palestine,” citing 2 Kings 2:21 and Luke 14:34. It’s fascinating that this essay on the agricultural use of salt specifically refers to Luke 14:34 to make its case, indicating that Jesus is talking about an agricultural rather than a culinary phenomenon.

When Jesus spoke about salt in Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50, and Luke 14:34–35, he was referring to several varieties of salts used in the first century. These salts were unlike the modern table salt (sodium chloride) in our kitchens. The salts in Jesus’ day were mixtures of chlorides of sodium, magnesium, and potassium, with very small amounts of calcium sulfate (gypsum). Some of these would dissolve more quickly than others, while some were better able to withstand the elements. These hardier, “saltier” salts were generally more valuable in an agricultural context because that meant their benefits would last longer.

An election guide by the editors of Christianity Today.
When Jesus talked about salt losing its “saltiness” or “savor,” it refers to a process in which the compounds of salts naturally disintegrate over time. Disintegrated salt loses a small amount of gypsum, which changes its “saltiness.” This change in saltiness makes it a less effective fertilizing agent. So when Jesus talked to his followers about losing their saltiness, he was talking about losing their fertilizing properties, their ability to bring about life and growth.

If we are supposed to be salt in the agricultural sense, that means we are supposed to get messy and to go where nothing is growing right now.
If Jesus wasn’t talking about table salt but fertilizing salt, that means that his reference to “the salt of the earth” in Matthew 5:13 can just as easily be translated as “salt for the soil.” This makes better sense of Jesus’ words in Luke 14:34–35: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”

The reference to the manure pile has long been a source of confusion when viewing salt as seasoning in these passages. Jesus’ saying makes more sense when we realize that salt maintains the fertilizing properties of dung. It is common knowledge today that salt can be used to preserve food, but it’s been used as an agricultural preservative for fertilizer for centuries as well. A 19th- century agricultural reference volume notes that “Salt is applicable in all cases in which . . . fermented dung cannot be carted at once to land. Covering the heap with salt will be found a cheap and effective means of checking fermentation.” Salt keeps dunghills from rotting and becoming useless as fertilizer while enhancing the fertilizing properties of dung. This centuries-tested agricultural understanding of salt fits these passages and the ancient world much better than interpreting the salt as table salt—even if all this talk of fertilizer and manure makes us a bit squeamish.

In further research, I discovered that not only did the ancient Hebrews use salt in this way, but so did the Chinese and early Romans. Salt was used in arid places to help soil retain moisture, destroy weeds, make stubborn soils easier to till, and make sour grass sweeter and more appealing to cattle. In some soils, salt keeps rust from wheat, and blight from potatoes. When applied properly, salt will kill surface weeds while allowing more deeply rooted plants and grass to thrive. And when rain or irrigation allows salt to permeate soil, the salt chemically frees vital minerals and nutrients in the soil, allowing them to nourish plants.

Training and Support for Your Ministry
While this may be a foreign concept to us in the West, it is still well-known in other parts of the world. For example, the Philippine Coconut Authority recently released a technology guide sheet for farmers titled, “SALT (Sodium Chloride): An Effective and Cheap Fertilizer for High Coconut Productivity.” The guide notes that salt accelerates crop growth and development, increases crop yield, minimizes damage to plants, and promotes environmental sustainability. According to the guide, between 1991 and 1997, farmers who fertilized with salt had a yield increase of 125 percent over unfertilized coconuts.

The Power of Salt
What if we were to listen to the teaching of Christ like the coconut farmers in the Philippines—or the ancient people of Palestine—rather than as modern Westerners who only use salt to spice up their food? How might a distinctly agricultural viewpoint open up new vistas in Jesus’ teaching here?

Deatrick’s paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching demonstrates how this understanding makes the message much more powerful: “You are (like) the salt for the soil, a stimulant for growth. If you become like the savorless salt, no longer good for anything, how will the gospel of the kingdom be preached throughout the whole world?”

Christians are not here to merely season or preserve the world from decay. The followers of Jesus Christ are sent on a mission to stimulate growth in the parts of the world that are barren, and to be mixed into the manure piles of the world so that God can use that fertilizer to bring new, virtuous life. But if those same followers are not committed to the radically countercultural message of Jesus Christ, they lose their “saltiness,” which is the unique witness to the power of the gospel that brings the kingdom of God to the messes of the world, stimulating life and growth. If we lose our “saltiness,” we are “no longer good for anything” and cannot be the agents of change that Jesus intended for his followers to be (Matt. 5:13).

The call of the salty is the call to move toward the broken.
If the agricultural use of salt makes barren soil easier to till, facilitates the absorption of other vital nutrients by plants, and maintains and enhances the fertilizing capacity of manure, then Jesus is calling us to something extraordinary and countercultural. If we are truly supposed to be salt in the agricultural sense, that means we are supposed to get messy and go where nothing is growing right now. Instead of going where things are bright, new, and exciting, we have a call to explore opportunities that will probably not make sense in the eyes of “normal” people.

People may say things like, “She graduated from Harvard with a degree in history—why is she teaching seventh grade in rural West Virginia?” Or, “He was a varsity athlete with the talent to go pro; why did he choose to stay home and support his divorced mother and three siblings instead?” Or, “They both have promising careers; why do they spend so much time working with special needs adults in their community when they could be making a difference in the corporate world?”
In the face of these questions and criticisms, being salt and light for the good of the world sets us free to love our neighbors and not feel like we’re missing out or “not living up to our potential.” When we realize we are fertilizer, we measure our value by the growth of others, not by our comfort or vocational success. Moreover, we also recognize that we need to be scattered where the soil most needs fertilizing. We need to be in close relationships with people who do not know or believe the gospel so that new life in Christ might grow where there is now only barren soil.

An agricultural understanding of Jesus’ call for us to be the “salt of the earth” sheds light on some of the most important issues facing Christians today. Questions about evangelism, justice, cultural engagement, and social responsibility gain a surprising clarity when considered in terms of promoting the life and flourishing of others. This view of the “salt of the earth” encourages us to discern where God is leading us by considering how our gifts and interests intersect with the barren places and the manure piles of the world.

Manure piles are all around us—they come to us in the form of devastated lives. There are lifeless sections of soil in every small town, big city, and suburb in America. There are friends and family members whose lives are in a state of disaster. Financial problems, addictions, oppression, injustice, poor decision making, ignorance, or outright rejection of the gospel are all too common. A whole host of messy problems plague the lives of those we care about.

The call of the salty is the call to move toward the broken so that they may meet God and be set free to become who God wants them to be. As salt, we are intended to bring life and flourishing out of decaying manure piles and arid soil where nothing grows—spheres of society that are dead, barren, or rotting because Christians are not there. Wherever the world is not the way God in his goodness intended it to be, that is where Christians should be encouraging and training one another to go. The good news is that we don’t have to go that far to find opportunities to be salt.

No matter where God sprinkles us, grace gives us the means and love gives us the motive to live salty lives consistent with Jesus’ teaching for the benefit of others and the glory of God.


ANTHONY B. BRADLEY is associate professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City. His most recent book is Something Seems Strange: Critical Essays on Christianity, Public Policy, and Contemporary Culture (Wipf and Stock).


An Illustration of Repentance
FROM Benjamin Shaw ; LIGONIER MINISTRIES; Oct 17, 2016 
The Westminster Shorter Catechism has an excellent definition of repentance in Question 87: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

In the heat of the Christian life, however, that definition may seem more theoretical than practical, not particularly helpful when seeking to live a life of repentance (See the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.) We recognize that repentance is a grace. That is, it is a gift from God. It is not something we work up for ourselves. It is not turning over a new leaf. It is a turning away from sin and a turning to God that is fueled, as it were, by the Spirit of God at work within us.

We all recognize that the first act of repentance is only the beginning. We recognize that sins must be mortified. We recognize that there is the problem of indwelling sin in the life of the believer. But I suspect that we don’t often attach repentance to these things. In part, this may be because we do not have a sense of what repentance look like when God is working repentance in us.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Imagine repentance as a man walking in one direction who suddenly realizes that he is walking in the opposite direction from which he should be walking. He stops. He turns around. Then he begins walking in the new direction. It is a quick and simple process. He realizes. He stops. He turns. But imagine someone on a bicycle realizing he is going the wrong direction. In one sense, it is still obvious. He stops. He turns around. He begins bicycling in the new direction. But it is a longer process. He has to come to a stop. Depending on his speed, that may take some time. The turning around also takes longer. And it takes longer to get up to full speed in the new direction. The process is the same for a man in a car. But it takes longer than for the man on the bike, and it may require going somewhat out of his way before he gets back on the right track. The process is the same for a man in a speed boat. He has to slow down, enter the turn, and come back. But the time and distance required to do so is much longer than what was required for the man walking. Now imagine that the man is piloting a supertanker. It takes him miles to slow the ship down enough to even begin to make the turn. The turn itself is immense, taking him quite a distance from his intended course. Then again it also takes a large amount of time to get up to full speed in the new direction.

Now apply the images to repentance. Some sins are small and easy. We stop and walk the other way. Some sins, like the bicycle, are a little more difficult. In God’s work in the believer, He takes a little time to bring the believer to an awareness that his course is actually a sinful one. Then there is the process of coming to a stop, the process of the turn itself, and the process of getting up to speed in faithfulness. But some sins are enormous. We may not be aware that they really are sins. Or they may be so deeply ingrained in us that we are not willing, at first, to recognize them as sins. God works patiently with us, carefully slowing us down, as the captain does with the ship, so that He can bring us through the turn and into the new direction, where He can bring us up to full speed.

There are two things that I find helpful about this illustration. First is the fact that God does not work repentance in us instantaneously, but over time. So the awareness of sin and the desire to change come gradually. God brings us, as it were, to a full stop slowly and carefully. So there are going to be many slips and falls on the way to that stopping point. The second thing has to do with the turning itself. In the image of the ship turning, there is a long time when the ship is neither on the old course, nor on the new course but, as it were, dead in the water. So it may well be in the life of the Christian. The sin has been admitted. The slips and falls have gotten fewer. But there seems to be little progress. We seem to be dead in the water. At that point, we are in the turn. Speed will pick up. Godliness will grow. But it will do so slowly, as God patiently works with us.

So if you have prayed for repentance for some particular sin, and there has been no instantaneous change, keep praying. God has promised to work, and He will. And you will be glad in the end that He did it slowly and carefully.


Benjamin Shawn is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Originally published at GPTS Rabbi.


By Tim Cballies; INFORMING THE REFORMING;  October 17, 2016

Whatever else you know about the Bible, I’m sure you know this: It lays out a sexual ethic that displays God’s intent in creating sexuality and that challenges humanity to live in ways consistent with it. Yet today we are experiencing a sexual revolution that has seen society deliberately throwing off the Christian sexual ethic. Things that were once forbidden are now celebrated. Things that were once considered unthinkable are now deemed natural and good. Christians are increasingly seen as backward, living out an ancient, repressive, irrelevant morality.

But this is hardly the first time Christians have lived out a sexual ethic that clashed with the world around them. In fact, the church was birthed and the New Testament delivered into a world utterly opposed to Christian morality. Almost all of the New Testament texts dealing with sexuality were written to Christians living in predominantly Roman cities. This Christian ethic did not come to a society that needed only a slight realignment or a society eager to hear its message. No, the Christian ethic clashed harshly with Roman sexual morality. Matthew Rueger writes about this in his fascinating work Sexual Morality in a Christless World and, based on his work, I want to point out 3 ugly features of Roman sexuality, how the Bible addressed them, and how this challenges us today.

Roman sexuality was tied to ideas of masculinity, male domination, and the adoption of the Greek pursuit of beauty.

Romans did not think in terms of sexual orientation. Rather, sexuality was tied to ideas of masculinity, male domination, and the adoption of the Greek pursuit of beauty. “In the Roman mind, the strong took what they wanted to take. It was socially acceptable for a strong Roman male to have intercourse with men or women alike, provided he was the aggressor. It was looked down upon to play the female ‘receptive’ role in homosexual liaisons.”

A real man dominated in the bedroom as he did on the battlefield. He would have sex with his slaves whether they were male or female; he would visit prostitutes; he would have homosexual encounters even while married; he would engage in pederasty (see below); even rape was generally acceptable as long as he only raped people of a lower status. “He was strong, muscular, and hard in both body and spirit. Society looked down on him only when he appeared weak or soft.” So Romans did not think of people as being oriented toward homosexuality or heterosexuality. Rather, they understood that a respectable man would express his dominance by having sex—consensual or forced—with men, women, and even children.

The pursuit of beauty and the obsession with the masculine ideal led to the widespread practice of pederasty—a sexual relationship between an adult man and an adolescent boy. This had been a common feature of the Greek world and was adapted by the Romans who saw it as a natural expression of male privilege and domination. A Roman man would direct his sexual attention toward a slave boy or, at times, even a freeborn child, and would continue to do so until the boy reached puberty. These relationships were seen as an acceptable and even idealized form of love, the kind of love that expressed itself in poem, story, and song.

In the Roman world “a man’s wife was often seen as beneath him and less than him, but a sexual relationship with another male, boy or man, represented a higher form of intellectual love and engagement. It was a man joining with that which was his equal and who could therefore share experiences and ideas with him in a way he could not with a woman.” Pederasty—pedophilia—was understood to be good and acceptable.

Women were not generally held in high regard in Roman culture. “Women were often seen as weak physically and mentally. They were inferior to men and existed to serve the men as little more than slaves at times.” A woman’s value was largely in her ability to bear children and if she could not do so, she was quickly cast off. Because lifespans were short and infant mortality high, women were often married off in their young teens to maximize the number of children they could bear.

When it came to sexual mores, women were held to a very different standard than men. Where men were free to carry on homosexual affairs and to commit adultery with slaves, prostitutes, and concubines, a woman caught in adultery could be charged with a crime. “The legal penalty for adultery allowed the husband to rape the male offender and then, if he desired, to kill his wife.” Under Augustus it even became illegal for a man to forgive his wife—he was forced to divorce her. “It is not enough to suggest that women were under-appreciated in Roman culture. There are many instances where they were treated as second-class human beings, slightly more honored than slaves.”

Rome was a culture of extreme promiscuity and inequality.
It becomes clear that Rome was a culture of extreme promiscuity and inequality. Those who had power—male citizens—were able to express their sexuality by taking who and what they wanted. Their culture’s brand of sexual morality was exemplified in the Caesars who, one after the other, “were living icons of immorality and cruelty,” using sex as a means of domination and self-gratification.

Yet this system, evil as it looks to our eyes, was accepted and even celebrated by Rome. It was foundational to Roman culture. To be a good Roman citizen a man needed to participate in it, or at least not protest against it. To be loyal to Rome, one had to be loyal to the morality of Rome. To the Romans, the biblical view “would have been seen as disruptive to the social fabric and demeaning of the Roman ideal of masculinity.” What we consider odious and exploitive, they considered necessary and good.

Christianity condemned the Roman system in its every part. According to the Roman ethic, a man displayed his masculinity in battlefield and bedroom dominance. In the Christian ethic, a man displayed his masculinity in chastity, in self-sacrifice, in deference to others, in joyfully refraining from all sexual activity except with his wife. The Roman understanding of virtue and love depended upon pederasty—the systematic rape of young boys. But the Christian sexual ethic limited intercourse to a married man and his wife. It protected children and gave them dignity. A Roman woman was accustomed to being treated as second-class human being but “in Christendom, a woman found a culture of genuine love that saw her as equally important as any man in the eyes of God. She was sexually equal with the man in the marriage union and had equal recourse under the law of God to demand marital fidelity.”

Do you see it? Christianity did not simply represent an alternate system of morality but one that condemned the existing system—the system that was foundational to Roman identity and stability. Christians were outsiders. Christians were traitors. Christians were dangerous. Their brand of morality threatened to destabilize all of society. No wonder, then, that they were scorned and even persecuted.

We can’t help but see connections between first century Rome and our twenty-first century world. “Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them. The sexual morality they taught and practiced stood out as unnatural to the Roman world… Christian sexual ethics that limited intercourse to the marriage of a man and a woman were not merely different from Roman ethics; they were utterly against Roman ideals of virtue and love.” This is exactly why Christians faced so much hostility. Their morality threatened society’s stability by loving and protecting the marginalized and disenfranchised while condemning (or even converting) those who took advantage of them.

Isn’t this the very thing happening again today? Our society is throwing off the last vestiges of the Christian sexual ethic and as it does so, we are once again outsiders and traitors who threaten to destabilize the whole system. As we insist that sex is to be limited to the marriage of one man to one woman we threaten the stability of a society hell-bent on permitting and celebrating nearly everything except sex within marriage. As we insist that people flourish only within God-given sexual boundaries, we threaten the ideals of virtue and love that demand no greater commitment than consent. As we live our moral lives according to a higher ethic, we silently condemn those who reject the whisper within.

Rueger says, “The first Christians were men and women of great courage. Confessing Christian morality always requires that spirit of bravery.” Indeed, confessing and practicing Christian morality today requires bravery, the willingness to obey God rather than men, even in the face of persecution. May God continue to instill that spirit within us.


Do Not Add to the Offense of the Gospel
FROM R.C. Sproul; Oct 15, 2016 

Several years ago, I was involved in training the laity of a local church in the activity we call personal evangelism, and I did that over a period of sixteen weeks. Of that sixteen weeks, about three weeks required training in the content of the message we call the gospel. That was the easy part. The rest of the training was devoted to helping people learn how to communicate their faith in a way that was non-threatening and non-insulting to people.

People are extremely sensitive about how they’re approached on matters of religion. Many of us who are so excited about our faith in Christ want to share it with everyone we love, and our intentions are good. We care about our friends, and we want them to participate in the joy and discovery of this wonderful thing called salvation. But when we do that, so often we come across to these people as saying, in attitude if not in words, “I’m good and you’re not.” People are turned off by that, and rightly so.

Somebody said once that evangelism, true evangelism, is only this—one beggar telling another beggar how to find bread. There’s nothing that should make me boastful about my faith. I recognize that my faith is a result of the grace of God. And so we must understand that when we’re talking to people, we’re called to be gracious and kind. The fruit of the Spirit that the New Testament calls us to exhibit includes gentleness, meekness, patience, and love. That’s the spirit in which we are called to communicate to people.

Even though we are gracious, kind, patient, friendly, and sensitive to people’s dignity, we cannot remove altogether what the New Testament calls the offense of the gospel because the gospel does call people to repentance, and people are threatened by that. But it is important that we not add unnecessarily to the offense that is built into the message of sin and redemption. Sometimes people reject us and what we say because they’re rejecting Christ—and we suffer unjustly. But many more times people get angry not because they’re offended by Christ but because they’re offended by our insensitivity toward them as people.


”How can I tell others about Jesus in a manner that is nonthreatening but yet convincing?” and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section. To learn more about this topic download R.C. Sproul’s free Crucial Questions booklet What Is the Great Commission?.