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. 

In contesting Rome's claim to universal authority over the entire Christian Church, Calvin pits the sober record of history against the fraudulent records of the papacy.  It had long been the besetting sin of Rome, Calvin asserts, to desire hegemony over all bishops, and while this is reflected in genuine writings of many Roman pontiffs, as well as in many forged documents, this was vigorously contested by all in the ancient church.

As Calvin continues his refutation of papal claims to supremacy, he shows the great value of detailed learning.  Reading 4.7.5-10, one may soak in the volume of facts marshaled by Calvin, but we should appreciate his vast reading in the early church fathers and councils and the value of this learning to his ministry.  Our unlearned generation is greatly rebuked by Calvin's casual recitation of facts, and we are exhorted to put in the hard reading and the mental effort needed to attain to the mastery of fields in which we are called to serve.

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.

Satan encourages spiritual ignorance.

Unbiblical thinking frequently results in unbiblical living. "Gross errors make the heart foolish, and render the life loose," writes Thomas Brooks. “Error spreads and frets like a gangrene, and renders the soul a leper in the sight of God." We are more likely to indulge our desires when the enemy has obscured God's truths and filled and our minds with wrong ideas. The Holy Spirit transforms believers by renewing their minds (Romans 12:2); the devil employs his craftiness to lead minds astray (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

In any organisation, a worthy goal is not sufficient to ensure success; there must also be an agreed means to get there. The Puritans were no different, and they held up biblical love as the fundamental means in reaching their shared goal of God’s glory. In their view, such love had to flow out from the marriage that lay at the heart of the family. This is made abundantly clear in Ephesians 5:22-33:

Carl and Todd are virtually visiting the beautiful state of Georgia, sipping some peach sweet tea with Rev. David Hall. David is the senior pastor at Midway Presbyterian Church in the Atlanta area, the hot spot for a yearly conference on reformed worship emphasizing the simplicity of worship and the centrality of preaching. Due to changes in state guidelines, this year’s event was canceled, so David chats instead with our heroes about the newest social phenomenon: Puritanical perfectionism.

The emperor of California has granted Joel Kim a temporary release to join Carl and Todd for a short conversation. The gathering happens at the usual spot—in front of an Ann Taylor boutique—so that the wives may have a good time as the men whine and opine! 

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.


"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..." (Heb 12:1)
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1)
We are of "those who have faith" (Heb. 10:39).  

Did you know the that top 1% own over 50% of the world’s wealth? Maybe you did, and think that disparity is grossly unfair. After all, there's a high chance—99% chance, to be precise—that you are not part of that 1%. Are not all human beings equal? Are we not all made in the image of God? Do we not all equally deserve a high quality of life? How can you look at a statistic like the one above, and not believe that’s a problem, and not the way an ideal society should look?

Every spy movie has one scene that’s my favorite: the moment the hero’s support team equips him for the climactic conflict. You probably recognize it. In a private room, whether it be in a cave accessed only by an elevator that drops 10 stories underground, or a luxury penthouse suite in Dubai, the team of technological geniuses briefs our hero about all the gadgets and weapons they have custom built for him, something sounding like this:

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Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2014. x + 289pp. $21.99
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J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015. $14.99/£11.99

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.

Ann Griffiths and Her Sea of Wonders

            “O to spend my life in a sea of wonders!”[1] Ann wrote in one of her poems. And her life, spent in a Welsh farm in the small village of Dolwar-Fach, was lived in the constant and exciting discovery of God’s revelation.

A Short and Intense Life

Scipione Lentolo – A Firm Hand in Unstable Times

 

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

Advent season has begun. Pastors all around the world are desperately looking for texts and angles on the theme that will enable them to bring fresh light on the light of the ancient story that I known so well, yet which can so easily lose its lustre.

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?

"The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God, it is all for his glory." —James Boice

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals delivers the truths of the doctrines of grace to the Church around the globe through in-person training and live-streaming events, broadcasting, and publishing. 

The transcendentals – goodness, beauty, and truth – they’re called the transcendentals because they are ubiquitous; they’re not merely parts and aspects of our reality, they are the moral-fabric that make up all of reality. Being as they are communicable attributes of our Creator God it stands to reason that they will be found, in greater or lesser degrees, in every part of God’s creation. Peter Kreeft makes the astute point that “everything that exists is in some way good, and in some way true, and in some way beautiful.”[1]

One of the communicable attributes of God is his attribute of righteousness. Righteousness is the character of God where he does what is right, true, and just. To be righteous to act and judge things as they are. God is righteous and therefore has a standard for what it right and what is wrong. God’s standard is intrinsic to himself: his righteousness is an outworking of his holiness.

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.