Columns

It appears we have a pretty intense food fight developing over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Lots of accusations are being thrown about. But that seems to be nearly unavoidable when disagreement arises over such an emotionally charged issue as race and how best to address the tensions that exist between us.

If you care to read the architects of Critical Theory—Benjamin, Horkheimer, Fromm, Adorno, Marcuse, etc.— you will find that their project was animated in large part by a desire to undermine Christianity and its moral and philosophical norms. They believed these norms inhibited the sexual and intellectual evolution of mankind. You will also find that many of these scholars coming out of the 1930s Frankfurt School considered Satan an important symbol of mankind’s empowerment and independence.

Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind.  But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God.  This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.

No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind,  and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

What if you told your wife you only planned to take her on a dinner date once a year during your anniversary so as to make the expression of your marriage relationship extra special? And for that matter, you would also plan to have all other meals separately until that time, so as to enhance the enjoyment of your annual reunion across the dining establishment table of her choice? She would probably ask for marriage counseling to protect against the unnecessary straining of your relationship by an unreasonably forced lack of regular, deliberate, and intimate fellowship.

The first meeting between Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo Buonarroti was the start of a long and deep friendship. It was also, in some ways, uncommon.

As a famed noblewoman, Vittoria was used to the company of artists, poets, and writers, but Michelangelo was one of a kind. His words were few and often blunt, far from the affectation and adulation that was prevalent in artists. At 62 years of age, he was already the equivalent of a millionaire in today’s terms and didn’t need to fake admiration in order to win a sponsor—not that he ever did anyhow.

The evangelical world has been shaken once again by the news of yet another influential leader’s tattered reputation. Ravi Zacharias was a prominent Christian speaker, writer, and apologist for over 4 decades. He spoke from the platforms of renowned institutions and college campuses all around the world. Although there were early questions about Zacharias’s inflated qualifications, a different kind of scandal was confirmed after his death last year.

Our special guest today makes a return visit to the podcast, which can only mean that Carl and Todd have not ruined his reputation (well at least, not yet)! 

Some years ago, I took a Nazirite vow never to write on race in America.  Yet, persuaded by the editorial team at First Things, I broke that vow.  Now it is time to offer a brief reflection on some of the responses.

Three events this week have given me pause both for thought, nostalgia, and hope. The first was the arrival of an email on Thursday containing the memoir manuscript of a well-known Welsh Baptist pastor who served only one congregation in his ministry, and that for over fifty years. He asked me to read it with a view to offering a commendation, though he couched the request with comments about how busy I must be, and how many more important books I no doubt have to read. Read it with a view to commendation?

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jam. 1:27).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)


Walk prudently when you go to the house of God;
and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools,
for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.

~ Ecclesiastes 5:1-2~

For the most part, Christians know that Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are a cult and have some strange beliefs. But when they begin to talk about God and his Son, Jesus; when they ask about faith and salvation; when they use what appears to be a normal Bible; when they speak the “Christian language,” many believers don’t know how to respond. How do you share the gospel with them? Do you even need to? How can you keep from being distracted by all their secondary beliefs and caught up in ‘dead-end’ arguments?

Gale, Stanley D. Re: velation: Seeing Jesus, Seeing Self, Standing Firm. Reformation Heritage Books, 2021. 152 pp.

Cory Griess, Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A 31-Day Family Devotional (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2020), 112 pp. 

Now at ReformedResources.org: a companion packet to The Shepherd Leader!
 
In this packet, you will find three sample tools to consider as you implement your shepherding plan. Click here to download your free resources.

When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.

These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.

I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:

i. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.(1)
iii. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

Diet Eman – Holding on to God’s Promises

For Dutch Christians like Diet (pronounced Deet) Eman and her family, the German invasion of the Netherlands generated new, urgent questions. Queen Wilhelmina had left for England, taking her whole government with her. What were the Dutch supposed to do? Stay loyal to her or obey the new German government?

Civil Disobedience

Johann Heermann and the Comfort of the Cross

            In the spring of 1630, while the Thirty-Year War raged around Europe, pastor and poet Johann Heermann wrote a hymn to inspire his congregation to meditate on Christ’s suffering.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,

that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?

By foes derided, by thine own rejected,

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

I get to talk with pastors all the time.  It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do.  I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
 
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work.  If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

We live in a time of loneliness.  It is not because we are isolated.  Most people live within a short drive of a city, and those who don’t can easily connect with others over the phone or the internet.  And yet there is a sense that our technological connection has made use less connected in other ways.  This is anecdotal, I know, but most of the people who approach me for counsel – whether in church or at the university where I teach – express some kind of longing for connection – someone to talk to, someone who understands, someone who cares.  All those who cry out for this have cell phon

As Easter approaches, many churches will mark its beginning with a Palm Sunday service. This is more than just a nod to the tradition of the church; it is an acknowledgement that each detail of the gospel record has vital place in our understanding of the redemption Christ secured. So, with the arrival of our Lord in Jerusalem at the beginning of Passion Week, it is worth looking more closely at how this is true of this also.

It is hard to overstate the impact the late Francis Schaeffer has had through his writings, ministry and work of L’Abri, the study centre he and his wife established in Switzerland. He was a man for his times who provided a Christian response to the cultural mega shift that began in the Sixties and which he tracked right through until his death in 1984. He provided a God-centred response to the blatantly man-centred culture that was emerging and which came of age during his life-time.

Registration is now open for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids. Find out more about the PCRT, The Bible Study Hour, and more as Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

In the summer of 1536, promising young author John Calvin was traveling to Strasbourg to pursue a quiet life in academics. He spent one night in Geneva on his journey, where he was approached with an offer from a local minister, William Farel. Farel persuaded Calvin—under threat of God’s cursing—to join him in the reformational efforts at the Genevan church.

I remember the first time I saw John Calvin’s personal seal—an outstretched hand holding a heart—in a hallway on the campus of Calvin College, now University, in Grand Rapids.

Green Pastures

Ryan Davidson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA, and the author of Green Pastures, A Primer on the Ordinary Means of Grace. Ryan starts the discussion by defining means of grace, then drills down to explain the ordinary means of grace. 

What does the word ordinary really mean in this context? Ryan identifies the fruit and the effects of the ordinary means of grace as they are biblically applied in the life of a congregation.  

The Cure for Unjust Anger

 Jonathan and James welcome Brian Hedges to the podcast. Brian is the lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Niles, MI and is responsible for breathing new life into one of the works of John Downame, a 16th century Puritan who was known as a “physician of souls.”

The Mandate of Thanksgiving
 
The Apostle Paul exhorts the church: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Ripped out of its theological context, such an appeal would clang like a hammer upon a steely heart. But Paul’s exhortation springs from the transcending power of the gospel. Appropriately grasped, this mandate to thanksgiving gently and super-naturally overflows in the heart of the redeemed.