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“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas). That statement has often been attributed to St. Augustine who almost certainly did not say it. It seems to have its origins in the 17th century either from Roman Catholic or moderate Lutherans in Germany. Whatever the case, the saying stuck. It has found its way into the common vernacular of many churches and denominations. I once served in a non-denominational church where it was repeated copiously.

The 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was held in St. Louis last week (June 29-July 1) and so far, the dust has not yet settled. Having missed a year because of the COVID crisis many of us were eager to address issues which had been causing controversy in our denomination since the first Revoice conference in the summer of 2018 (hosted by Memorial PCA in St. Louis).

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).

I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:

This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.

“There is a great deal of comfort in skepticism,” writes Gordon H. Clark.  “If truth is impossible of attainment, then one need not suffer the pains of searching for it… Skepticism dispenses with all effort… Skepticism is the position that nothing can be demonstrated.”[1]

Note: Read more on John Bunyan's pastoral heart here. 


The life of John Bunyan proves, perhaps more than any other, that God indeed does not call the equipped, but rather equips the called. Bunyan understood the great grace he had been gifted in Christ, and he was eager to use every moment and every ounce of strength to preach this same gospel to others. 

Learning to Love the Communion of the Saints

Our favorite spin slayers believe that Christians and non-Christians alike should care about religious liberty. So, Carl and Todd choose to revisit a prominent First Amendment case and note other offenses that are popping up all around.

A very old and common problem in the pastoral world has recently returned to the headlines with allegations of sermon plagiarism lodged against the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why is sermon plagiarism such a big deal? Does it reach beyond the simple theft of intellectual property? What are the advantages and blessings of sermon preparation for the pastor and his congregation? Join Carl and Todd for an instructive conversation!

Last week, I offered some preliminary thoughts on the relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology.  This week, I want to consider why it is that theology demands more than just harvesting the immediate results of the exegesis of biblical texts. 

 

"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)

Does the Bible offer us any insight into whether we should take the COVID vaccine? I think it does when we think through the implications of the early chapters of Genesis.

Right before God made the first human beings, he declared why he was making them:

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26).

Several months ago the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus provoked the ire of many with their controversial song, “We’ll Convert Your Children.”

“You think that we’ll corrupt your kids,
if our agenda goes unchecked.
Funny, just this once, you’re correct.”

The song continues,

“We’ll convert your children.
Happens bit by bit.
Quietly and subtly.
And you will barely notice it…

We’ll convert your children.
We’ll make them tolerant and fair…

Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2021). 368 pp. $50.00.

Gerald Bray, The Attributes of God: An Introduction (Crossway, 2021), 160 pp., Paperback, $15.99.

Orientation to the Book

Several years ago I missed a turn for one of my speaking events. It didn’t take me long to realize I was on the wrong road, but I didn’t know how to find my way without help. So I pulled into a gas station and asked the locals for directions. Thankfully, they were kind and helpful, and before long I was on my way again on the right road.

When was the last time you wandered in the desert wastes of addiction or anger, dissensions or divisions, enmity or envy, idolatry or impurity, sensuality or strife, finding no way to fulfill the hole in your heart, but desperately trying to anyway? When have you faced betrayal or blame, cancer or chronic pain, depression or disillusionment? When was the last occasion you felt burdened or burned out, fainthearted or fearful, homesick or hopeless, weary or worried, as you served the Lord in the places He has called you?

Tiyo Soga – The First Ordained Black South African

 

Rebecca Protten and the First Black Protestant Church in the Americas

 

            When seven-year-old Rebecca Protten was kidnapped from her family home in Antigua, she couldn’t possibly imagine that her new life in the island of St. Thomas, a Danish sugar colony in the West Indies, would become a catalyst for the conversion of many slaves and the foundation of what has been considered the first Black Protestant Church in the Americas.

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?

How little we appreciate the privilege and blessing of prayer. That we, sinful mortals as we are, should have access to God beggars belief. That he should even consider us, let alone countenance our requests is astounding. Yet he calls us to pray, he has opened the way of access in Christ for us to approach him in prayer. He has even given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pray, stirring the desire and giving us words. Jesus even gives us a model prayer that helps us shape the kind of prayers we know God delights to hear.

Back in 1959 a short book appeared under the title The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. It was the fictional account of a troubled teenager who took up running to deal with his inner troubles and it was later turned into a movie under the same title. I have often wondered if there might be mileage for book for those in ministry under a similar  title: The Loneliness of a lifetime Pastor. There are many aspects of a pastor’s calling that he and he alone must carry. Issues he has to face that few other people can grasp or enter into.

In 381 the Council of Constantinople wrote the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. In that creed we find the attributes of the Church.  The famous line says that the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” However, in the days of the Reformation disputes arose. The Roman Catholics contested the Protestant claim to catholicity.  How could Protestants who were at best found in patches of Europe be universal?  Protestants answered that question but they did more.

“In the Last Days of Narnia, far up to the west.” This is how C.S. Lewis begins the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. I reread this book last year, right in the middle of the pandemic lock-downs, and since doing so I’ve found myself more and more referring to the book to help find the language which describes so much of the cultural confusion we see around us.

Why Should You Be Acquainted with John Owen?

Jonathan and James are pleased to be talking with Crawford Gribben today. He’s the professor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University in Belfast. Gribben has written An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life, and today he shares with us why it is worth getting to know Owen. 

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.