Columns

Here are some of the most enjoyable and/or important books that I am currently reading. This does not mean I stand by everything the authors write (do I even have to state that?). Some of these I purchased, others were provided by the kindness of the publisher:

By now many of you have heard of the Genevan Commons Facebook group. The Genevan Commons (GC) group was apparently formed several years ago to provide a forum for discussion of Reformed theology. All well and good. But more recently some of the group members began attacking Aimee Byrd, Rachel Miller, and us (Carl and Todd). At times the banter degenerated into sinful mocking and slander. Unbecoming to say the least. 

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.

On September 16, 1620, the crew of the Mayflower weighed anchor to leave Plymouth, England. The Pilgrims gathered on board were anticipating a new homeland, better economic opportunities, and freedom to follow God’s commands without interference. The ship held thirty-seven Pilgrims, sixty-five other colonists, thirty crew members, some small-breed livestock, and a few dogs.

In his classic book, The Doctrine of Repentance, Thomas Watson outlined six ingredients for true repentance:

It’s been a banner year for great books, and the Spin Crew has chosen yet another winner! This time, Carl and Todd sit down with Eric Jacobsen, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WI, and author of Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens. What are the pieces of glass Eric refers to, and how have they changed our world? 

This week, we reach “across the pond” for insight on the much-anticipated critical biography of Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck. James Eglinton, the Meldrum Senior Lecturer in Reformed Theology at New College, the University of Edinburgh, wrote the bio. Eglinton is acknowledged for his pivotal role in extending Bavinck’s popularity outside the Dutch-speaking world. 

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?

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

"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)

Editor's Note: This article has been adapted from the preface of Biblical Patterns and Government.


Too many believers take a short-term view and become frustrated or retreat altogether from the public square when setbacks occur. Improvements in government may require generations. Along the way, however, regular means of growth—such as weekly worship—may bring steady, albeit slow, reform.

As with so many aspects of the Christian life, the question of contraception requires wisdom.

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:

They came from California, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New York City, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Georgia. Why did they come? They came because they are all leaders of large churches and wanted to consider best practices for shepherding large numbers of people. The consultation had been in the planning for 4 years. After visiting First Presbyterian in Augusta, Georgia, First Pres. Executive Pastor John Barrett and I began to imagine a consultation of large church leaders to talk about shepherding their flocks.

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

William Twisse – a 17th-century Polemicist

            To bow or not to bow? It was a key question for ministers in the Church of England, in relation to the Lord’s table. Many believed that bowing or kneeling before the table was a mark of idolatry, pointing to the adoration of the elements.

Katherine Parr and Her Role in the English Reformation          

            Katherine Parr (1512-1548) is often remembered as the only wife of King Henry VIII who survived the marriage (the previous five were either beheaded or divorced). But she was much more than that. She was an important writer and a major player in the English Reformation.

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

The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to the Bible.

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

 

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Recently I had been thinking about how to minister to several members of our congregation because of what God is calling them to go through again which will surely tax their energy and emotions.  I had also been pondering what we are all going through in the present state of pandemic uncertainty.  So many seem so restless.  So anxious.  And so many Christians just seem so very agitated. 

The answer to Hamlet’s famous question “To be or not to be?” is simple for God. God can only “be.” He is “I am,” meaning He exists infinitely and independent of anything, without beginning or end, as the source and sustainer of all things. There has never been a time where God has not existed in and of Himself. This is known as the aseity of God.

Pastors and Polemics

 Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?  

This is the second article in a series entitled, "Truth and Idolatry." Read part 1, "I Am Not an Idol Worshiper."

Idolatry by Degree?

Idolatry lacks nuance. It knows no degrees, and before a jealous God, delivers no passable excuses, no matter how sophisticated they may sound. No one is sort-of guilty of idolatry; no one is guilty of sort-of idolatry.

Idolatry Reconsidered

As believers in the one true God, we know that idolatry is wrong. We know God hates it. We know first two of the Ten Commandments explicitly demand exclusive worship of the one true God. We even know that idolatry is not merely worshiping a false god, but even worshiping the true God by our own methods. Some of us have prudently made the connection between the first two commandments and the tenth—we know that coveting is a form of idolatry.