Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

A few years ago, at the start of a new school year, I announced to the kids that we would be memorizing the book of James.

“The whole book?” one son asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“That’s the goal,” I responded.

“Impossible!” he declared.

Up to that point, my children had memorized single verses and short passages of Scripture. I thought it was time to take on something bigger.

Memorizing God’s Word

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB, 1977)

These are the words of Matthew immediately after he wrote, “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying” (Matt. 1:22). The “prophet” here refers to Isaiah. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew references aspects of Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, and 9:6. Those texts read as follows:

In light of Matt Foreman's insightful article, it seems appropriate to look at some practical advice from The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson.[1]. Here's what Watson had to say about becoming a peacemaker:


How shall we attain to peaceableness?

This week’s conversation brings in a New Englander, and--mind you--a Grove City College alum! Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She’s a pastor’s daughter, a mom, an editor, and the author of A Place to Belong - Learning to Love the Local Church.

Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!

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.

"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 question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter. This is true about consumption. How often should we eat and drink? Most of us partake three times per day. Some prefer smaller quantities more often, while others gorge themselves at every meal. Still others diet to their peril, malnourished in their self-denial. Our bodies need food and drink to survive, the right amount to thrive. 

A few years ago, after writing the nth article on the benefits of learning church history, I decided never to touch this subject again. Editors kept asking me to write more, but I thought I had said all there was to say about it. Until now, when recent events have brought the study (or ignorance) of history in the limelight, providing inescapable object lessons on the dangers of dismissing, over-simplifying, or distorting historical facts.

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.

I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
 

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.

i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.
i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace... Which sacrament is, by Christ's appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

Johannes Bugenhagen – Sharing the Gospel and Caring for the Poor

Known mostly as pastor and church planter during the Protestant Reformation (he has been called “the Apostle to the North”), Johannes Bugenhagen was also an important model in the tradition of Christian love and compassion.

A Wittenberg Man

The Familiar Case of Benjamin Dutton

Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.

        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

We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?

In almost every doctrine in Scripture there is a simplicity that belies its profundity. They can be summarised and defined in a single sentence of a catechism answer and yet be the theme of substantial books. They can be explained by children and yet preoccupy the minds of the greatest theologians. So, whatever the particular truth in view, we ought to approach it with a deep sense of there being more to it than may at first meet the eye.

Our English term sanctification derives from two Latin terms sanctus and facio. When brought together they mean “to make holy.” If we are to understand how the term sanctification is used in Scripture, we must understand the Scriptural use of the term holy.

When Freud arrived in America to give five lectures at Clark University he is said to have quipped, “We are bringing them the plague.”  He knew of what he was speaking.  He wrote to a colleague referring to his invitation to Clark University saying, “By the way, we could soon be ‘up [expletive] creek’ the minute they come upon the sexual underpinnings of our psychology.”[1]  Writing to another of his colleagues he said that when the sexual implications of our psychology are understood “they will drop us.”  Today

Pastors and Polemics

 Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?  

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.