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. 

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.

I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.

John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.  

John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace

John 10:30 was a critical verse for the early church. As believers wrestled with the documents of the New Testament in terms of their teaching about our Lord’s identity, and in relation to the Old Testament, various views began to be propagated. Some taught that our Lord was not eternal God by nature, but rather a mere creature (though the first and greatest of creatures). In other words, there was a time when he was not. Others taught that God is one in nature and one in person, revealing himself in three distinct modes at different times.

On Mortification of Spin, Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman talk about the necessity of dressing up in order to attend church on Sunday and how that standard must be maintained at all costs. However, both aim to avoid conflict but understand that only through conflict will the church be around in 53 years. Listen right now to this episode of Mortification of Spin and Carl will tell you the correct way to pronounce controversy.
 

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)

Did you know the that top 1% own over 50% of the world’s wealth? Maybe you did, and think that disparity is grossly unfair. After all, there's a high chance—99% chance, to be precise—that you are not part of that 1%. Are not all human beings equal? Are we not all made in the image of God? Do we not all equally deserve a high quality of life? How can you look at a statistic like the one above, and not believe that’s a problem, and not the way an ideal society should look?

Every spy movie has one scene that’s my favorite: the moment the hero’s support team equips him for the climactic conflict. You probably recognize it. In a private room, whether it be in a cave accessed only by an elevator that drops 10 stories underground, or a luxury penthouse suite in Dubai, the team of technological geniuses briefs our hero about all the gadgets and weapons they have custom built for him, something sounding like this:

Michael T. Jahosky, The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth (Wipf & Stock, 2020), 238 pp. 

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.

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.

To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs.  Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

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

Advent season has begun. Pastors all around the world are desperately looking for texts and angles on the theme that will enable them to bring fresh light on the light of the ancient story that I known so well, yet which can so easily lose its lustre.

Asaph, reflecting on some of his deepest struggles in the life of faith, concludes one ohis psalms by saying, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73.28). David says something similar in the most memorable of his penitential psalms with the words, ‘Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’ (Ps 51.11). God’s people often only begin to appreciate the importance of knowing God’s presence when they are deprived of it through their own spiritual wanderings. How, then, can we safeguard the nearness of God?

"The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God, it is all for his glory." —James Boice

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals delivers the truths of the doctrines of grace to the Church around the globe through in-person training and live-streaming events, broadcasting, and publishing. 

About one year ago while lying in bed I whispered to God in desperation: I am so afraid.”  It was the most heightened sense of dread I had ever experienced (and I and my household had already made it through some pretty horrific times over the last half decade).

Then the voices of children from a Psalm CD we often listen to came to me: When I am afraid, I will trust in you God.”  Singing these words lifted me out of bed to do what had to be done. 

I Have Confidence In…

Because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we experience trouble. We are sinners, and so we sin. Others are sinners, and so we are sinned against. We live in a fallen world, and so we suffer. In such a world, where should we place our confidence? Where should we turn in troubled times?

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I vividly recall a time of extreme discouragement. I don’t remember the particulars, but I remember feeling downcast. The Lord brought to my attention Psalm 42 and 43 - not for the first time, but in a troubled time.

“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.