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.

In an oft-quoted passage, Charles Spurgeon reflects on the nature of his calling as a pastor: 

"I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways."
— Psalm 119:15 — 

Christian education is highly regarded among Reformed Christians, and for good reason. Teaching young believers the basics of the faith and helping the mature ones swim the deep waters of the catholicity of our creeds and confessions has been, for many years, a passion and mission of today’s guest.

Evil has plagued humanity since the Garden of Eden…and has obviously clouded Carl's judgement. In today’s conversation, the brash Brit attempts to pass as a native Texan, just because he’s been to a Willie Nelson concert at Billy Bob’s wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson. Take a moment to picture the hideous spectacle…

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)

What would a world without forgiveness look like?

Over the last few days, an opinion piece by Kyle J. Howard[1] has made its rounds on social media. It’s a critique of a common phrase many “Christian leaders” have apparently used in their reaction to Ravi Zacharias’s fall: “There, but for the grace of God go I” (or other versions of this saying).

Fashion Theology. Robert Covolo. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2020. 216 pp.  

Robert Covolo (PhD. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), a theologian specializing in cultural topics and Reformed studies, has written a book with an intriguing title. In this landmark study, Covolo investigates the history, theology, and cultural intersections between the church and the fashion world.

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

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.

Patrick and His Mission

Every year, we read articles about the “real” Saint Patrick – the one who didn’t drive out snakes and didn’t use a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His own account of his life, expressed in his Confessions, has become better known, but is still not commonly read. Yet, it holds much interesting information about this fervent missionary.

Early Life

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

It is a very human trait, one from which even theologians are not immune: the tendency to make ourselves the default reference point for everything. We do it without realising it, because it is built into our subconscious. But it happens nonetheless.

One particular locus of theology where this becomes repeatedly obvious is in our understanding of the church. Christians generally and ministers/theologians in particular can unwittingly emphasise their own particular church polity over against the larger ecclesiology from it which by definition it must be drawn.

It is one of those ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks’ type statements that crops up in the Bible from time to time. ‘Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (He 12.2). It is, of course, speaking of Christ and his sufferings on Calvary, but it is the strange inclusion of ‘joy’ in this statement that seems out of place.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy.” Joy, that ultimate of teleological pursuits. It is the reason we exist. What is the chief end of man? It is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.[1] More than mere happiness, though not less than, joy is the deep culmination and end of all we were created to know, believe in, and love. We were made to joyfully know, and believingly enjoy the God who is Eternal Joy Himself, Father, Son, and Spirit.

As I was sitting down to write this article initially, there were at that very moment, unbeknownst to me, a hoard of rioters breaking into the Capitol of the United States. In the days that have followed, people living in the US have been at one another’s throats. Every word, every action, seemingly every secret thought by every single person, from the president himself all the way down to the lowliest person making a Facebook post, has been scrutinized, judged, and found offensive to at least someone.

Exuberant over an experience, an oh-so-sweet manifestation of divine providence, you delightedly seek to give God praise in telling your story. “It was such a ‘God thing’,” you proclaim. As you see it, God wove together an otherwise inexplicable combination of events to deliver a wonderful—even stunning—outcome. The story nearly tells itself, and the words gush with geyser force. In such times, it is good to credit the Lord for his work. That is what God’s people do.

God has a Grand Plan

Larger than life itself, Paul’s God is a big God. The God of the prophets and apostles, in fact, created life. Creator and Redeemer, he becomes the awesome Benefactor of new life. Words fall short of the splendor. To say God is great is to call Niagara Falls a quaint and serene stream.

Small and stunned by God’s grace, the apostle inhales the air of grace and not surprisingly pens his letter on his face. Praise is befitting of the upright (cf. Psalm 33:1). Theology airs best from our knees.