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.

I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.

John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.  

John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace

John 10:30 was a critical verse for the early church. As believers wrestled with the documents of the New Testament in terms of their teaching about our Lord’s identity, and in relation to the Old Testament, various views began to be propagated. Some taught that our Lord was not eternal God by nature, but rather a mere creature (though the first and greatest of creatures). In other words, there was a time when he was not. Others taught that God is one in nature and one in person, revealing himself in three distinct modes at different times.

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. 

The dynamic duo today becomes a trio, as a third pessimist—that is, a third realist—joins in.

Rod Dreher is an American writer and editor, culture critic, and the author of several books, including The Benedict Option and the freshly released Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Rod’s book is a wakeup call for Christians about ideas that have become prevalent in American society…notions already adopted in other countries that have proven to be a threat to civil liberties. 

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)

At some point in your schooling, you have probably come across the handy diagram that explains the various components of a strong, dramatic narrative. It’s a little line that begins steadily with the exposition, takes a vicious turn skyward with the conflict and rising action, reaches its peak with the climax, and then gently descends with the falling action and denouement. In the worship service, the blessing and sending are like the denouement. We are coming off the mountain of the Lord where we have fellowshipped with God Himself (Isa. 25:6; Hebrews 12:22).

The evangelization of the Roman Empire is one of the remarkable chapters in the history of the church.[1] Behind the story of Christianity’s transformation from an overlooked and misunderstood sect to the official religion of the Empire stands an important question: why did Christianity gain such prominence in the Roman Empire? It is inaccurate and simplistic to point to Constantine’s conversion and the Edict of Milan as the primary answer to this question.

Michael T. Jahosky, The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth (Wipf & Stock, 2020), 238 pp. 

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.

Kassia – A Bold and Sensitive Byzantine Poet

 Around the year 830, in Constantinople, that Byzantine Empress Euphroshyne organized a bride-show to find a wife for her newly-crowned sixteen-year old son Theophilos. This was a common match-making system of her times.

Christine de Pizan – Theologian and Mother

Christine de Pizan was the first professional woman writer in France, if not Europe. She is normally seen as an early feminist rather than as a theologian and a mother. But many of her writings are based on her study of Scriptures and the church fathers, and her questions about the role of women were triggered by her struggles as a single mother in a dangerous and cruel world.

Christine’s Early Life

      Pastors, elders, and godly parents rightly take interest in the education and nurture of their children, and as a result action-minded Christians start schools. Christian schools represent a natural or spontaneous result of faith, and the Lord is pleased with such loving motives and acts. Nevertheless, when a church attempts to govern the school it has created the results are often mixed. Theology can explain why.

It is a struggle to live out our faith. But we can see that in ways that owe more to secular trends than to Scripture and obscure the teaching that our lives can show the beauty of life in Christ and his gospel.

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

Asaph, reflecting on some of his deepest struggles in the life of faith, concludes one ohis psalms by saying, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73.28). David says something similar in the most memorable of his penitential psalms with the words, ‘Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’ (Ps 51.11). God’s people often only begin to appreciate the importance of knowing God’s presence when they are deprived of it through their own spiritual wanderings. How, then, can we safeguard the nearness of God?

In our last post we considered Paul’s warning to believers in the Galatian churches, ‘If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another’ (Ga 5.15). And we noted that, sadly, this warning needs to be repeated to every church in every generation. The family of God through the ages has been torn apart by divisions between its members. However, we also noted in the very last sentence of the article that, because of the gospel, division need not have the last word. The reason being that the gospel holds out the promise of reconciliation.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

In a world full of uncertainty and confusion, each of us longs for the ability to navigate our circumstances well, to make a right judgment or take the right action. Sometimes we are presented with a plethora of options and we are left trying to pick the right one. In other instances, perhaps we are presented with a situation that only has two choices, but one seems like the proverbial “rock” and the other is the proverbial “hard place.” Sometimes the decision is easy, and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes there is nothing on the line, and sometimes our very well-being may be at stake.

Among professing Christians in America, there is perhaps no word, and the reality to which it refers, more used and abused than grace. Space only allows us to glance at the subject, but understand this: There is an application of God’s grace that actually saves the people whom he chooses to save. If he didn’t make the choice to save some, we would all get his justice and be damned. Only God by his mercy and grace saves, and no person has a claim upon God, otherwise there would be neither mercy nor grace. Let us focus upon God’s grace. 

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

What do evangelicals need to retrieve, and why? Gavin Ortlund is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California.  He joins James and Jonathan to talk about his book--Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals--and to answer these questions, and others.

Ministering With a Clear Conscience

 Why does Paul emphasize clearness of conscience in regard to one’s ministry? James defines “conscience”, expands on its dual function, and talks about how it often speaks against our will.

We probably all have bank accounts with savings, and maybe investments and 401(k)s. Wisdom would suggest that while we trust God we also should be good stewards and save. You want to have in inheritance—at the end of the road of your work life, you want to have a nest egg. This doesn’t make you greedy, in most cases it means you were prudent. But all of this should make us ask, where is my real inheritance? What is the real price? Where, or better, in whom is my true retirement.

What season did we recently enter?  Spring. What comes next? Summer. Then what? Fall. Then what? Winter. And then?  Spring.  And so on until Christ’s Second Coming.  The year’s seasons are cyclical—and somewhat predictable.  So the seasons of our years should not surprise us but rather inspire our adaptability, acceptance, and appreciation.