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.

Thomas Watson (ca. 1620-1686) was a great Presbyterian Puritan preacher who wrote much and whose books are still read today. Watson’s most famous work, A Body of Practical Divinity, published posthumously in 1692, consisted of 176 sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Watson was a clear writer, adept at providing memorable phrases and illustrations. He joined theological understanding with warm spirituality and piety. When he died suddenly, he was engaged in private prayer.

The following letter comes from The Works of the Rev. John Newton (London, 1808) pp. 346–353. Reader beware: Newton's portraits are both humorous and piercing.


Whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, — think on these Things. – Phil. 4:8.

Dear Sir, 

Todd is thrilled to fly solo today as Carl dons his bathing attire (BMP) to soak up some much-needed sun at the Jersey shore. It’s just as well; Dr. Trueman doesn’t really get along with cheerful guests! Todd is delighted to share a fun conversation with Lisa Updike, the decidedly cheerful director of Children’s Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian Church (where Todd also serves). Lisa works closely with the discipleship ministry of the PCA and is the author of three wonderful children’s books.

Anthony Selvaggio joins Carl and Todd today. He’s the pastor of Rochester Christian Reformed Church in NY, as well as a conference speaker and author. Considering Job: Reconciling Sovereignty and Suffering is the title of Anthony’s most recent book, and the topic of our conversation.

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?

While the end of Hebrews 4 points us to our great high priest Jesus, we learn in the first ten verses of Hebrews 5 that the greatness of Jesus is that he was a priest who cried out. And he cried out not simply because of the pain of his suffering; he cried out because of the problem of his people: our sin. That is the fundamental problem we all face, the source of our entire struggle, all the brokenness of our world, all the breaking down of our bodies.
Most Protestants are not used to thinking about priests and especially about what makes a good or superior priest. And yet, the language of priesthood is all through this letter to the Hebrews to this point (1:3; 2:17-18; 3:1) and will dominate chapters 7-9. The reason we need a priest before God is found in 4:12-13: God's Word and God's eye will search us, will hold us accountable, will test the intention of our hearts. Our professions will not fool God; in the last day, he will look at our hearts.

The church membership vows in my own denomination (the PCA) include this passage where we “promise to study [the] purity and peace” of the church. One of the premier ways we can do that as Christians is to reflect deeply and well upon the unity of the church, especially when it comes to what is meant to unite us.

In anticipation of the 48th stated meeting of the PCA General Assembly in St.

Samuel Renihan, Crux, Mors, Inferi: A Primer and Reader on Christ's Descent (Independently published, 2021), 230pp., Paperback/Hardcover/Kindle. 

Samuel Renihan has recently published an excellent book on the doctrine of the descent of Christ into hell. His thesis—that Christ descended to hell on the Sabbath, as stated in the ancient creeds—is one with which I was in agreement prior to reading it. What surprised me was how helpful it was devotionally.

Preston Sprinkle, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Zondervan, 2015. 160 pp, paperback, $16.99

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.

Janani Luwum – A Ugandan Martyr

In 1977, the assassination of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum shocked the world. Since his military coup in 1971, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had been sowing terror around the country. A Muslim, he allowed Christianity in his country only in three forms: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican, and only as long as he could keep them under his control. Dissenting voices were quickly and violently silenced. Luwum had been one of the dissenters.

A Quick Rise to an Influential Position

John Bertram Phillips – A Bruised Reed Firmly Planted

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.

     In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.

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

Nothing tears at the inner fabric of our humanity more than ruptured relationships. Whether it be the heart of a family ripped apart through divorce, or rebellious children, a church fellowship shredded by conflict, or all the other levels and layers of human relationships that are the perpetual casualties of Adam’s fall. It is often only in the midst of division that we fondly wish for the sweet unity we once knew.

We may not always realise it, but the Bible has a theology of conflict. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, we are literally no further than 57 verses into Genesis before we find ourselves in the conflict zone that changed the course of history. And the conflict that emerges there in the opening section of Genesis 3, culminating in the fall, very quickly proves itself to be the fountainhead of every other form of conflict this world has ever witnessed.

Two streams have formed Evangelicals—the ecumenical creeds from early church councils and the Protestant reformation.

Events, Reformed resources, and more. Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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The answer to Hamlet’s famous question “To be or not to be?” is simple for God. God can only “be.” He is “I am,” meaning He exists infinitely and independent of anything, without beginning or end, as the source and sustainer of all things. There has never been a time where God has not existed in and of Himself. This is known as the aseity of God.

            It is presupposed in the very act of God creating. It is affirmed in God’s promises of future fulfillment of his promises. It is stated explicitly by Jesus prior to his ascension, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). It is the basis of the eternal security of all who trust Jesus for their salvation (Rom. 8:31-39). It is the absolute, unqualified, insurmountable sovereignty of God. It identifies God as God.

R.C. Sproul, A Life 

Reformation Bible College President Stephen Nichols joins Jonathan and James. Their old friend stops by to discuss the biography he’s written about pastor, teacher, and theologian R.C. Sproul. Nichols talks about his working and personal relationship with Sproul, and the wonderful experience it was to finally compile his memories and “napkin notes” into this lively book.

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. 

“Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless.”
― Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts

I came across this little book by Richard Baxter when my fiancée and I, along with some friends, decided to go through the Tim Challies 2019 reading challenge.

Though short, it has been a wellspring of encouragement as I dwell on life, death, and days to come.

The first Psalm sets the stage for the entire Psalter. Its attention on the covenant God and covenant blessing and cursing, as well as its preoccupation with God’s Word as the source for our understanding, focus the entire Psalter. In fact, as scholars like O. Palmer Robertson have contended, Psalms 1 and 2 serve as the “pillar or gates” to the whole edifice of the Psalter.[1] They are the great building blocks that support the whole.