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. 

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

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.

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?

"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)

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

 
Last week I had the pleasure of reading New Testament Scholar, Paula Gooder’s responsible work of historical imagination, Phoebe: A Story. In this historical fiction, Romans 16 comes alive. It begins with the last words of the letter to the Romans, “…to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!
I am a member of an OPC church. When I tell people that, sometimes I feel the need to offer an apologetic, “It’s not like the image you have in your head of the fuddy-duddy, frozen chosens. We are a lively, hospitable community of believers.” It’s a healthy, thriving church with good doctrine, godly leadership, and a great body of brothers and sisters in the faith. So much so, that we attract Christians from different denominations into the OPC for the first time.
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:

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.

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

     “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).

     Suppose that several young couples decide to live in community. Questions arise. Shall we try to live near each other? If so, where? In the city or the suburbs? What is our view of child safety? Is the goal to remove risks or to teach children to assess risks? May they walk several blocks to each other's homes? Will children wear helmets on bicycles?

Editor’s note: Place for Truth is pleased to post an excerpt from Dan Doriani’s forthcoming commentary on Romans, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series from P&R Publishing (Late Fall 2021).

Propitiation

     It is vital to revisit and reaffirm essential doctrines, especially society questions or even attacks them. Propitiation is just such a topic, for it represents a vital aspect of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.

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

How easy it is for us to become frustrated over our carelessness in prayer and, indeed, the way it all too often ends up with prayerlessness and damages our walk with God. Like Jesus’ disciples, again and again we need to say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’ That is, not merely that we need to learn repeatedly what to pray and how to pray, but also the place of prayer as a sine qua non of the life of faith.

There are more than a few places in the Bible – frequently in the Old Testament, but also in the New – where we find long lists of names, sometimes bound up with numbers. And, when we find ourselves in such territory, we often wonder why they are in the sacred record and what are we supposed to make of them.

Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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Think and Act Biblically

It is said that when Martin Luther heard of his father’s death he took his Psalter and retreated to his room and was not seen the rest of the day. This news came to the great German while he was at the Castle Coburg during the Diet of Augsburg. We may wonder what such a great man did in the seclusion of his room with his heart full of emotion. And yet, we may know several things by way of the man’s habit and history.

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together, (Col. 1:17-18).

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. 

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.