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.

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.

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

Lydia Mackenzie Falconer Miller – An Inquisitive Woman

Some time ago, I wrote an article about Hugh Miller, a Scottish geologist and author who was greatly esteemed by both scientists and common readers during the perplexing times of the Scottish religious Disruption and of Darwin’s new scientific proposals.[1]

            His wife, Lydia Miller, deserves an article of her own.

A Love Story

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.

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

Although the Lord’s Prayer is without question the best-known prayer the world has ever known, because it is the Lord’s Prayer we shouldn’t be surprised that it will continue to fill us with surprises until we see him face to face.

It is a very human trait, one from which even theologians are not immune: the tendency to make ourselves the default reference point for everything. We do it without realising it, because it is built into our subconscious. But it happens nonetheless.

One particular locus of theology where this becomes repeatedly obvious is in our understanding of the church. Christians generally and ministers/theologians in particular can unwittingly emphasise their own particular church polity over against the larger ecclesiology from it which by definition it must be drawn.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” - Romans 13:8

Solos are easy. To perform a good solo, a musician or singer can simply lock themselves in a room and practice until the cows come home. They work on hitting the right notes, making sure their intonation is correct, and ensuring they follow the proper dynamics. I’ve played musical instruments and have sung my entire life, and the rules for performing a good solo are fairly straightforward. Harmony, on the other hand, is difficult.

Original Sin: Born This Way

James and Jonathan tackle a foundational theological topic this week. The doctrine of original sin is integral to our grasp of many other biblical doctrines. How should we define original sin, and how is it different from the sins we commit daily?

Exuberant over an experience, an oh-so-sweet manifestation of divine providence, you delightedly seek to give God praise in telling your story. “It was such a ‘God thing’,” you proclaim. As you see it, God wove together an otherwise inexplicable combination of events to deliver a wonderful—even stunning—outcome. The story nearly tells itself, and the words gush with geyser force. In such times, it is good to credit the Lord for his work. That is what God’s people do.

God has a Grand Plan

Larger than life itself, Paul’s God is a big God. The God of the prophets and apostles, in fact, created life. Creator and Redeemer, he becomes the awesome Benefactor of new life. Words fall short of the splendor. To say God is great is to call Niagara Falls a quaint and serene stream.

Small and stunned by God’s grace, the apostle inhales the air of grace and not surprisingly pens his letter on his face. Praise is befitting of the upright (cf. Psalm 33:1). Theology airs best from our knees.