Posted by: Tim | April 29, 2008

Together for the Gospel – Ligon Duncan

Dr. Ligon Duncan preached the first message at T4G08. You can download the mp3 here.

Here is a picture of Ligon Duncan speaking, though not during the message described in this post. I think he was giving an introduction for either John MacArthur or Mark Dever on Wednesday morning.

Ligon Duncan is the pastor of a large Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and he is apparently on a number of significant boards as well. He is one of the four men who founded Together for the Gospel. He also has a cool sounding name: ‘Ligon Duncan’ – very dignified – not to mention that it shortens well to ‘Lig’ (pronounced ‘Leeg’). Now that I have these mostly important details out of the way – here’s some of my reflections on the message!

The T4G website has the title down as ‘Sound Doctrine’, but for some reason I wrote it down in my notes as ‘Doctrine Matters’. Duncan began with a series of passages that emphasize the importance of truth and sound doctrine.

– John 17:13-17, Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Timothy 1:3-5, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 1 Timothy 6:2-4, Titus 1:1

In discussing Matthew 28:18-20, he reminded us that Jesus wants us to teach people to obey everything that He commanded. Titus 1:1 teaches that truth is unto godliness, meaning that sound doctrine is closely tied to godliness.

Duncan’s first point was that Systematic Theology is under attack today. (I own a Christian golf book called Tee-ology – maybe that illustrates his point? I haven’t read it.)  He first quoted from a Jewish rabbi who had written an article (I think) that said that truth (false truth) can kill you (i.e. Hitler). Unfortunately my notes and my memory are a little shaky here, but I think the gist of it was to illustrate that some people reject systematic theology (i.e. trying to get the truth on a specific subject) because they think that ‘truth’ is dangerous.

He then referred to Scot McKnight and the view that the Bible is a ‘storied narrative’. Duncan wasn’t too impressed with this understanding and pointed out that the Bible is made up of 66 books, written in 3 languages, written through a period of over 1000 years, etc…The way you get the story is through systematic theology. I thought Duncan made a very a good point here. I have read/heard people talk about the Bible being a story, not just a set of propositions. I always feel like the people saying this are forgetting about Romans or the rest of the epistles, or even Jesus’ many extended teaching sections in the gospels. Certainly the Bible has an overarching story but it is composed of many different parts that are filled with stories and propositions, often mixed in together.

Duncan also made reference to Bruce Waltke (whose highly respected commentary on Proverbs I recently purchased) and while I think I recall that he expressed appreciation for Waltke, he also expressed concern in his view regarding Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology. (For what that view is, you’ll have to listen to Duncan’s mp3, or read Waltke, as I didn’t write it down!).

Duncan’s second point was that you cannot avoid Systematic Theology in the New Testament. He gave Luke 24:27, Acts 18:27-28, and Acts 17:2-3 and he also referred to Romans in general, to Hebrews 1 & Hebrews 11, as examples of systematic theology in Scripture. At some point he made the practical and accurate observation that people in our churches ask us all the time “What does the Bible say about ______?” (where ______ is whatever subject they want to better understand). In other words, pastors are constantly being asked to do Systematic Theology. We can’t avoid it, nor should we!

Duncan’s third point was to show what doctrine is important for. I have three things down in my notes, but I I am wondering if he may have shared more than three. Anyway, here they are:

1 Joy – Romans 11:32-35

2 Assurance – John 15:15-16

3 Marriage – Ephesians 5:22ff, esp v25

Overall I thought this was a good message to open up the conference, and I found it very helpful in providing grounding in the importance of Sound Doctrine and Systematic Theology.

Final note: Duncan’s 2006 T4G message was also very strong, about the importance of preaching the Old Testament. It played a part in encouraging me to preach through Judges in 2007. You can download my messages and sermon notes here. If you start with the first one, don’t be discouraged as I found it dragged out a bit, but was necessary introduction (In retrospect I would have structured that message differently!)


  1. […] say at this year’s Together For the Gospel conference about preaching systematic theology – See here for my post about it and here for the MP3 […]

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