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A friend told me recently that he liked the book of Romans because it was “wholly dogmatic.” Another friend has told me that Romans is the closest we have to systematic theology within the New Testament. I’d agree with the latter but debate the former. 

Romans 16 is the main reason for my debate. In Romans 16 we read Paul referring to a woman as an apostle (Romans 16:7). We also get the powerful: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20). But besides that it is at first glance boring, let’s be honest.

Here’s a selection:

Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.

Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test

(Romans 16:8-10). 

Awkward names and an absence of instantaneous inspiration, it has many of the marks of the often skipped Old Testament genealogies. So I understand why my friend who referred to Romans as “wholly dogmatic” later confessed, “I never read that last chapter. I stop at 15.”

But Romans 16 shows us that it is not “wholly dogmatic” but actually “wholly pastoral.”  Romans is written to people desiring to grow in their relationship with Christ. Romans is written by Paul who is seeking to pastor them towards growth in Christ. Without Romans 16 it is easy to forget that it is not a textbook for seminary student, but a letter from a pastor. 

I remember Bruce Hindmarsh, a seminary professor of mine saying “letters are always occasional.” What he meant was that we always write letters for an occasion, something provokes them. They exist in time. If we ignore this our interpretation of the New Testament letters will always be stunted and perhaps wrong.

Donald Bloesch, and many before him, have noted that the Bible like Jesus Christ, is completely human and completely divine. Is the Bible affected by its historical context: yes. Is the Bible completely inspired: yes. Like so much in the life of following Christ the error lies in escaping the tension. 

Ways to Grow in Your Biblical Understanding

  1. Go Beyond your Study Bible: Study Bibles are great but if you want to get your heart and mind around a book of the Bible you may have to go beyond the small amount of notes your Bible offers. Look at the Bible Speaks Today series from IVP. They are classic mainstream evangelical, don’t skimp on scholarship but easy to read. Also buy How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth, it’s worth the purchase and the read.
  2. Read the Bible aloud: When we read the Bible aloud we notice things we would not have otherwise noticed. We pick up on certain phrases. We are less passive in our reading, more engaged. Also, this is how they were originally received. Not quietly read but heard aloud.
  3. Read large sections of the Bible at once: Recently I sat down and read all of Romans. I’ve done this with many of other books of the Bible as well. It’s good to pick a smaller piece of the text but when we read an entire book at once it’s easier to trace out the the development of the argument or the pulse of the narrative. You might want to grab some coffee before starting a large book. 

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People of a Movement

For a while now I’ve been interested in movements—how a history-shaping-ideologically-unified thing grows and expands. What follows is a quick look at a movement known to historians as “The Great Awakening” and the people God used to bring the movement into being.


The Great Awakening was a movement of profound renewal among churches stretching from Georgia to New York and Ireland to Southern England. But it was not concocted in a boardroom, neither was it manufactured at a processing plant, rather it came into being as God empowered a pastor in rural New England, and some college students at Oxford.

While there are no ‘fail-safe recipes’ for renewal I think we can learn a lot from a brief look at the personality types God used to help lead this movement.

John Wesley: The Organizer

Strengths: Organizer, Planner, Strategic Visionary, Willing to sacrifice

Weaknesses: Perhaps too driven, occasionally overbearing

"Catch on fire and others will love to come watch you burn." John Wesley

Charles Wesley: The Creative

Strengths: Poet, Meditative, Creative

Weaknesses: reclusive, timid

“My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth, and followed thee.” Charles Wesley

Jonathan Edwards: The Scholar

Strengths: Incredibly intelligent, Thoughtful, Rational

Weaknesses: Detached, Occasionally cold, Inflexible

"God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion." Jonathan Edwards

George Whitefield: The Communicator

Strengths: Inspiring, Compelling, Dynamic Speaker

Weaknesses: Occasionally prideful, known for making brash decisions

“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” George Whitefield

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on learning from “the great cloud”

i have heard good folks bag on a.w. tozer because he enjoyed reading pre-reformation writers. i have heard other folks weary of gary thomas because he quotes people like theresa of avila. many good folk have the impression that God wasn’t working from constantine to luther.

it’s sad and wrong. 

bruce hindmarsh (prof/spiritual theology/regent college) helps us here with the image of a library. imagine jonathan edwards library. in his library is henry scougal’s life of God in the soul of man. scougal himself was heavily influenced by the pre-reformation spiritual author thomas a kempis. 

return to jonathan edward’s library. now let’s pick up calvin’s institutes. guess who calvin quotes more than any one else? augustine. obvious? he quotes the pre-reformation mystic bernard of clairvaux second. 

the chain goes back, and back… we aren’t protected isolated from influences, we are, rather, exposed to a host influences… known and unknown. 

how to learn from “the great cloud”:

  1. lose your pride. you cannot receive if you are prideful. how to lose your pride? realize your limitations and stare at the cross. 
  2. become discerning. not everything with page numbers and a publisher is worth reading. ask older and wiser people for their recommendations. 
  3. spread it out & be focused. rick warren has recently recommended that 25% of our reading be from the first 1500 years of the church. 25% be from the reformation to the beginning of the 20th century. 25% be from the last 100 years and 25% from the last 10 years. he also recommends dedicating yourself to focusing on one great theologian/thinker/etc. (calvin, barth, wesley, edwards) a year. it’s all good advice so i’m adopting it. 

therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. hebrews 12/1

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