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.

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

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.

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)

It is always tragic to hear of another unjust police shooting or unjust use of force by police officers. Anytime anyone in a position of authority abuses that authority, it is especially abhorrent in God’s sight, because God ordained authorities like the police to punish wrongdoers and reward those who do good:


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~

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.

Elizabeth Barrows Ussher – Caring for All During the Armenian Resistance

In 1915, the buildings belonging to the missionaries in Van, Turkey, turned into fortresses, refugee centers, and hospitals. “Reports come to us of the burning of village after village, with outrages upon the women and children, and the shooting of the men,” Elizabeth Ussher wrote in her diary.

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

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

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?

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

“Life will get worse.” What if that were one half of a ubiquitous Christian bumper sticker? “Follow me to Jesus. Life will get worse.” Maybe a little tacky, but it would be truth in advertising. To follow the Man of sorrows is to enter a life of sorrows.

It is this lesson Calvin works out his chapter, “Of Bearing the Cross – One Branch of Self-Denial.” Calvin exposits our Lord's own invitation to become a Christian: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt. 16:24).

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.

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.