Columns

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. 

One of the other debated issues in the Lord's Supper, in addition to the question of presence, is that of fencing the table. Who may participate?  What does it mean to eat and drink unworthily? Who is worthy? Who is unworthy? Calvin takes up these questions in 4.17.40 - 42. He also deals with the question of how it is to be administered in terms of the liturgy of the communion service (4.17.43). Finally, he tackles the question of frequency (4.17.44). All of these questions are worthy of book-length treatments in and of themselves.

Calvin continues his discussion of the errant Roman Catholic view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by prattling on about one of his favorite subjects to rail upon:  superstition and idolatry. The two, for Calvin, go together like ham and eggs. These practices, in this particular instance the piled on traditions of the adoration of "consecrated host," are repugnant to Calvin because they are extra-biblical (actually, he makes the case that they are anti-biblical) and injurious to the Christian life. How quickly the church can lose its way; how quickly we can lose our way.

When I was a boy, my parents often took my sister and me on trips to various parts of the country. I well remember my mom having a roadmap opened on her lap, meticulously tracing the intersection of the nearby highways and neighborhood roads. Whether or not we would make it to our destination was dependent on how carefully my mom read the intricate details of the map. On one occasion, we were making our way through the winding roads of the Pocono Mountains. We had missed our turn somewhere along the way.

With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Samuel Sewall lived with his family in Puritan America between 1652 and 1730, and he suffered in ways unimaginable to us today.

This is the second post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654). In the first post we asked "What is a covenant of works?" Now we'll look at whether God made such a covenant with Adam in the Garden. 

We’re living in a time of many, simultaneous world crises. Are these global challenges in some way related? Seeking perspective and clarity, our hosts discuss one of Carl’s recent articles at First Things, where he ponders why the British seem more concerned with incidents of police brutality in the US than with China’s aggressive plan to diminish Hong Kong’s democracy as Britain’s former colony. 

How may identity politics and social media be shaping this behavior, and what does it say about us as a society? Carl’s one-word answer: Belonging!

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary debuted on “The Spin” in 2019 in the person of Michael Morales, the seminary’s professor of Biblical Studies. Who Shall Ascend the Mount of the Lord? is Michael’s latest work on the book of Leviticus, and part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by IVP. Don’t dismiss this outstanding book merely on the subject matter! Leviticus is not “the most boring book in the bible,” and you’re about to learn why!

In our ongoing discussion of the doctrine of God, it is worth reflecting on the fact that a church needs two things to be confessionally healthy: a sound form of words (a creed or confession); and a form of government by which the content of this can be preserved from generation to generation.  Positively, that means an eldership which promotes sound preaching and teaching; negatively, an eldership which disciplines those who deviate from the same.

 

Given the positive response to our first two posts, and the fact that the doctrine of God is now emerging as a contested locus within our own denomination, we continue this ongoing series with some reflections on the type of questions that should be asked of candidates relative to the Christology of the Reformed confessions.

 

"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)

You know what scares me the most? Boredom. And I have a sneaking suspicion you feel the same way, especially if you’re under thirty. I’ve been working with teenagers for the past ten years, and people consistently ask: "What do you think is the biggest challenge teenagers are facing today?" The short answer is “Smartphones”; maybe the expanded version would be “loss of boredom.”

Ministers of the Gospel have many responsibilities as part of their calling. Among other things, we must stand, watch, preach, shepherd, and when the time comes, warn. Our responsibility is not that the hearer listens, but that we speak. Therefore, if we see calamity coming and do not blow the trumpet, blood is on our hands. Yet in our politically-charged age, how does a watchman warn? This brings us to the topic and task of polemics, something often necessary and always controversial.

Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.

Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent, Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). 201pp. Hardcover.

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.

Anne Ross Cundell Cousin – A Compassionate Friend

            The name of Anne Cousin is largely unknown today. It might sound familiar only to people to take the time to read the names of the authors of the hymns they sing. To most of them, Anne Cousin is known for one of her hymns: “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.”

Anne’s Early Life

Samuel Miller – Conscientious Pastor and Teacher

In 1813, Samuel Miller was offered a position as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at the newly established Princeton Theological Seminary. At that time, the Seminary had only one teacher, who was also its founder and president: Archibald Alexander. Miller accepted the offer after much prayer and consideration.

        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

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

     A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.

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

It would be tempting to think that yet another article on suffering at this time is nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon of the current situation; but that is not altogether the case. Yes, we are facing a crisis of global proportions that is full of uncertainty; but it is neither the first, nor (to date) the worst of its kind. What it does represent, however, is yet another of those many examples in world history of God’s using a megaphone (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ imagery) to get our attention.

The book of Job is one of the most enigmatic, yet most significant books of the Bible for a whole range of reasons. Among them is the attention it has been given by the likes of John Calvin (who preached 159 sermons on it in the space of 6 months 1558-59) and Joseph Caryl who preached a staggering 424 sermons on it over a 12-year period in 17th Century London. But readers often miss its point.

I am a pastor in Pennsylvania.  And I appreciate my brothers who are laboring hard to understand how to handle the governor’s guidelines.  As an aside, guidelines are almost a euphemism for dictatorial power.  On March 6th Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency and placed himself in charge of Pennsylvania’s response to Covid-19. Apparently he is the only one with the power to relinquish that declaration…even according to the state supreme court.  Pennsylvania has a dictator.[1]

In the times in which we live, fear and uncertainty abound.  Governments are shutting down businesses.  Some states have mandated that people “shelter in place”.  Economic dominoes are toppling.  Hospitals are beginning to be strained. 

How are God’s people to respond?  We remind each other:

  1. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.[i]

or that:

The Doctrine of Angels

 Jonathan and James tackle a topic somewhat underemphasized in Reformed circles, and—perhaps—overemphasized elsewhere. Should we give more attention to angels? What are the benefits of studying the few verses in Scriptures that address these holy and glorious creatures?

With All Your Heart

 Dr. Craig Troxel is professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and James’ former pastor.  Craig visits the podcast to discuss his recently written book, With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will toward Christ. 

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.