Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

Calvin continues his diatribe against false sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, wrapping up his denial of the sacrament of final unction.  In paragraphs 19-21, he levels two criticisms: the proof text (James 5:14) does not pertain to the church today but only to the apostolic age with its now-ceased gift of healing; and what the Roman priests actually do in final unction bears little resemblance to what James calls for.  We see in final unction an example of a problem that often shows up in Protestant and Evangelical circles as well: a flimsy appeal to a proof text that does

Calvin continues his critique of Catholicism by applying a biblical definition of "sacrament" to the Roman rite of penance.  He begins with a clear and careful distinction between public repentance, as it was practiced in the early church, and the private absolution offered through the so-called sacrament of penance. 

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

Late in 1664 it was apparent the bubonic plague was making one of its unwelcome visitations of Europe by registering in London for an extended stay checking out early in 1666. It varied in the number of victims from month to month, but it survived through all four seasons. Over 80,000 people died of the pestilence at a time when the city population was about 450,000. Its visitation was recorded by diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn who both provide eyewitness accounts of its devastation.

Dear Timothy,

The Puritans show us the need to be praying men of God. They were truly “men of the closet.” In their closets—their special, private place dedicated to prayer, be it in the bedroom, the attic, or the open field—they would lift up their voices and cry aloud to the God of heaven for divine benediction upon themselves and their ministries, their families, churches, and nations.

The state of California has gathered its pitchforks and torches and they’re coming after Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened doors to all kinds of government regulations, including—to no one’s surprise—restrictions on worship gatherings.

The feud between Grace Community Church and the state of California rages on, and our dynamic duo is focusing on the fine line between obedience to Scripture and obedience to the limited, God-given power of the civil magistrate.

Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt discuss the value of leisure reading and suggest a few outstanding titles. Todd’s dramatic reading at the conclusion of the podcast is worth the price of admission! Perhaps we should put it another way…

You’ll enjoy reading A Christian Guide to the Classics, by Leland Ryken. Enter to win a copy!

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.

When the great Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers was converted, even though he had been a minister for several years, it led to a seismic shift in his preaching. Gone were the days filled with mathematical and scientific studies, with but an hour or two on a Saturday evening given to sermon preparation.
Leadership is a vital issue for the Church. 

Appointing the right leaders, with the right qualifications (think godliness as well as giftedness, as per 3:1-7 and 4:12-16), is a top priority. The wrong kind of leaders can wreak havoc in the life of the church (as per 1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-5). That said, even when the right leaders are appointed, Paul still feels the need to give counsel on the way in which these leaders ought to be viewed.

Genesis 1:28 records God’s first command to the first human couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  Since God first gave this command (sometimes called the “cultural mandate” by theologians) the earth’s population has blossomed from one couple to billions of people around the globe.   The vast majority of this growth has taken place in the last two centuries alone, a fact which has

In our last post, we discussed bread as a source of comfort; now we’ll consider its liquid counterpart.

Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in August of 2005.


Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004)

In case you've not already noticed the massive problem of internet pornography, consider one small statistic: In 2019, the internet’s largest porn site (Pornhub) received 42 billion visits. That’s billion with a “b,” and all the trends suggest that this number will only grow.

That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

I read John Webster’s The Culture of Theology a few weeks ago. There is much to discuss in this penetrating book of the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures he gave, but I thought I’d just share a small nugget and some reflection on it:

 

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.

Matilde Calandrini – Fighting for Education and Religious Freedom

 

            In 1831, 37-year old Matilde Calandrini moved from Geneva to Pisa for health reasons. Tuscany, the enchanting Italian region where Pisa was located, had been the home of her ancestors at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They had lived in Lucca, just twelve miles north of Pisa, the same city where the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli preached and founded his school for the promotion of biblical knowledge.

Joshua Janavel and the Plight of the Waldensians

When the troops of the Duke of Savoy asked the Waldensians to give them hospitality, Joshua Janavel was not convinced. The Waldensians had survived through a long history of persecutions, starting in the 12th century. Their official adherence to the Protestant Reformation in 1532 (at the synod of Chanforan) only managed to exacerbate their friction with the Roman Catholic authorities of their lands.

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

Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’

We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?

How can the believer reconcile the suffering, trials, and persecution they are guaranteed with the astounding assurance in Psalm 121 that the Lord will keep them from all evil? Some might misinterpret this passage and claim a false gospel of health and wealth. Others may question God’s wisdom when they look at the tragedies befalling Christians throughout the world. Often we simply view this psalm as a platitude. We turn to it when we feel uneasy or anxious, but stop short of the solace it offers once our fears are momentarily assuaged.

Now here is a Psalm that will keep your soul from getting pummeled by conspiracy theories, media melees, cancel culture, soft totalitarianism, and fifty other social causes of depression.
 
Psalm 73 is medicine. Like many prescriptions, it targets a specific problem, envy: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (73:3).

COVID Repentance

 Peter VanDoodewaard is the pastor of Covenant Community Church in Taylors, SC. He’s in-house today to chat about an article he’s written for Reformation21.org titled Covid-19 Repentance. Peter's piece combines a reflection on the Old Testament minor prophets with the unprecedented sequence of events that followed the first COVID-19 lockdown in March. At issue: the speed at which the Church Global ceased to meet for worship by government order.

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.