Columns

The term “mental illness” causes most people to squirm. We think of people medicated into a stupor or committed to a hard-to-access floor of the hospital. But mental illness covers a broad variety of problems from anxiety to schizophrenia; from bi-polar disorder to various phobias.

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:

Calvin continues his diatribe against false sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, wrapping up his denial of the sacrament of final unction.  In paragraphs 19-21, he levels two criticisms: the proof text (James 5:14) does not pertain to the church today but only to the apostolic age with its now-ceased gift of healing; and what the Roman priests actually do in final unction bears little resemblance to what James calls for.  We see in final unction an example of a problem that often shows up in Protestant and Evangelical circles as well: a flimsy appeal to a proof text that does

Calvin continues his critique of Catholicism by applying a biblical definition of "sacrament" to the Roman rite of penance.  He begins with a clear and careful distinction between public repentance, as it was practiced in the early church, and the private absolution offered through the so-called sacrament of penance. 

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.

As a young man in a fundamentalist Bible college I was exposed to a practice that perhaps can best be described as “hit-and-run evangelism.” The idea was to secure a profession of faith anyway you could.

The technique did not require you to know anything about the person you were talking to. All you needed was the Romans Road or the Four Spiritual Laws or the Wordless Book of Colors and a truckload of self-confidence that broke all the rules of human communication.

Charles Spurgeon once said "Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister, indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer."[1] In 2 Timothy 4:5, the Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to not only preach the Word, but to do the work of an evangelist in order to fulfill his ministry. Evangelism and soul-winning ought to occupy the mind and heart of every minister of the gospel.

He can no longer blend into the background. Carl Trueman is now officially an influencer; he’s a fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C. and a clear and present danger to the unorthodox and “progressive” in this country. 

Todd Pruitt proves to be a good and supportive friend as he endures Carl’s insufferable bragging for being “canceled” by Instagram and YouTube. What’s more, Dr. Trueman informs that he was labeled as “distinguished” on the pages of The Wall Street Journal! All as our “nutty professor” continues to resist the notion of becoming a patriotic American citizen. 

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.

In the first six verses of this chapter, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to fix our attention on Jesus--to keep him in our eye and to hold and cling to him. One reason why we should "consider Jesus," why we should fix our attention on him is because of his character displayed in his office. He is both apostle and high priest of our confession: he is the "sent one" who declares God's Word to us and he is the "mediator" who stands before God for us. As both prophet and priest, he does God's work on our behalf. 
"O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption."-Psalm 130:7
   
What is "plentiful redemption"?  This is a rich and full expression, and one used nowhere else in Scripture. As the climax of a penitential prayer, the phrase sums up the teaching of the entire psalm. 
  
Verses 1- 2  bring to mind the desperation of the awakened sinner. "Out of the depths" is the cry of a person drowning in sin and guilt.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve felt bombarded with major prayer requests. One day I hear news of sick and struggling family members, the next I hear a church friend report that she has cancer. A steady stream of WhatsApp messages report crushing trials for international ministry partners. Then I look at the news and hear of turmoil in Afghanistan, an earthquake in Haiti, and a growing darkness in our country—and this doesn't even account for the prayer concerns in my own extended family that I seldom seem to remember before the Lord.

Were the Jehovah’s Witnesses right? Among their central boasts is that they have revived the covenantal name of God, the Hebrew YHWH, sometimes pronounced Yahweh and sometimes Jehovah, that Jesus came to restore. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels so the precise pronunciation may never be known. Given the growing practice among Evangelicals of referring in sermons and lectures to Yahweh, one would think that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right. What they have advocated since the 1870’s has finally caught on, though with the former rather than the latter pronunciation.

Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church. Edited by Ivan Mesa. The Gospel Coalition, 2021. 139 pp. Paperback. $16.99

Dane C. Ortlund. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages, hardback. $21.99.

Dane C. Ortlund is the author of the widely-acclaimed book Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners & Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), which has won awards, drawn the ire of certain readers, and was given away for free to every church who wanted it. 

           It had been a long, hot summer. The heat wave outside seemed to match the heat wave in my own heart of anger, chaos, disappointment, fear, grief, insecurity, loneliness, and physical pain. One night things seemed particularly bad. I was overwhelmed with the different needs of each of my four children, then ranging from age ten to a baby. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, Psalm 60 steadied my soul. I had a banner to run to in my fear. The Word of God would anchor my soul. It would give me the right answers.

Several years ago I missed a turn for one of my speaking events. It didn’t take me long to realize I was on the wrong road, but I didn’t know how to find my way without help. So I pulled into a gas station and asked the locals for directions. Thankfully, they were kind and helpful, and before long I was on my way again on the right road.

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. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
i. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.

ii. By this sin, they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington

 

            “And what if you save (under God) but one soul?”[1]

            This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.

 

Selina’s Early Life

Pablo Besson - For the Gospel and Religious Freedom

 

When Pablo (then Paul) Besson received a request from Mathieu Floris, a Belgian emigrant to Argentina, to help him find an evangelist to spread the gospel in that country, he did his best to promote the cause. When no one answered, he understood that the call was for him.

 

From an Inherited Religion to an Understanding of the Gospel

This blog is adapted from Dan Doriani’s book, published in July, Work That Makes Difference.

At this moment, two contradictory ideas about work compete for our attention. On one hand, economists say the desire to work is waning. People aren’t rushing to return to work after the disruptions of Covid. Specifically, employers can’t obtain laborers for entry level jobs. People would rather be unemployed than accept a job with low pay, poor benefits, and no prospects. Meanwhile, the church, and especially the faith and work movement, enthusiastically promotes the dignity and value of all labor. We cite Paul, who says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col.

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

The much-loved hymn, ‘I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art’ – included in the Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 and attributed to John Calvin – contains the lines,

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,

No harshness hast Thou, and no bitterness

These words have often drawn comment, or been quoted because they point to a divine attribute we can easily overlook.

How little we appreciate the privilege and blessing of prayer. That we, sinful mortals as we are, should have access to God beggars belief. That he should even consider us, let alone countenance our requests is astounding. Yet he calls us to pray, he has opened the way of access in Christ for us to approach him in prayer. He has even given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pray, stirring the desire and giving us words. Jesus even gives us a model prayer that helps us shape the kind of prayers we know God delights to hear.

“Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.”  - Cambridge Declaration

Executive Director Bob Brady is back with the Alliance Member Update for September.

The Alliance is the new home for the teaching ministry of Eric Alexander.  Visit ReformedResources.org to order new audio.

Two of some of the biggest questions that many Christians ask relate to prayer. On one hand, Christians want to know how they should pray. On the other hand, they want to know what they should be praying for. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WLC 178).

Gary Schnittjer returns this week to continue the fascinating and vital conversation about his book Old Testament Use of Old Testament. Released just a few weeks ago, it has already proven to be an essential tool in the hands of Bible scholars, pastors, and students of theology.

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.