Columns

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.

The Puritans show us how to live from a two-world point of view. Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Rest is a magnificent demonstration of the power that the hope of heaven should have for the directing, controlling, and energizing of your life here on earth. Despite being 800+ pages, this classic became household reading in Puritan homes, exceeded only by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which, by the way, is an allegorical proof of my point.

Samuel Sewall lived with his family in Puritan America between 1652 and 1730, and he suffered in ways unimaginable to us today.

The latest Barna Research Institute survey was recently released, and the Magnificent Three break down the results. Although the Barna definition of a “Bible-believing Christian” is a bit broader than ours, the poll results are still quite compelling. It appears the number of believers in fundamental Christian truths has significantly decreased in the past few decades, so the team considers the implications of that change and what factors may have contributed to it. 
 

As many states' governments are talking about a “phased” reopening from the COVID-19 lockdown, our quarantined trio –bound in three different states—is asking some important questions concerning going back to church. When might Christians be able to congregate in person? How will we “do church” as social distancing concerns remain? And, what might we discover when we finally gather? 

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

Just over a decade ago, the big surprise in American evangelicalism was the sudden popularity of Calvinistic theology captured by Collin Hansen’s memorable phrase, ‘young, restless, and Reformed.’   More recently, another unexpected trend has emerged – an interest in classical theism, Nicene Trinitarianism, and Chalcedonian Christology.   Both movements connect to significant correctives within the field of historical theology, epitomized in the early modern period by the work of Richard Muller, in Patristics by Lewis Ayres and Khaled Anatolios, a

"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)

Historically, after Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the church enters a long period known as “Ordinary Time” — stretching from the day of Pentecost (or, in the Anglican Church, Trinity Sunday) to the start of Advent — about half of the liturgical year. As foreign as it might seem to some Protestants, this division of the year is still adopted by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans. I stumbled upon this discovery only recently, and was intrigued by it.

I've been trying to wrap my mind around what is happening in our country. When I saw the video of George Floyd, with policeman Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck, I thought: “Unless I'm missing something, I can't see how that could be justified." Of course, I was not there, the video had been apparently edited, and I had at that time next to no information about either Floyd or Chauvin.

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.

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.

iv. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but alsot he infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized. 

The fourth topic treated by the Westminster Confession's teaching on baptism pertains to its recipients. Who is to be baptized? The answer is unequivocal: believers and their children are to be baptized. Here we see a plain statement in favor of infant or (as I prefer to call it) covenant baptism.
ii. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

iii. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

Theodore Sedgwick Wright – A Voice for the Slaves

            Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the first African American graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, returned to his Alma Mater in 1836 to attend the annual commencement ceremony. He didn’t know, as he entered the hall, what a measure of self-control he would need to exercise.

Anne Ross Cundell Cousin – A Compassionate Friend

            The name of Anne Cousin is largely unknown today. It might sound familiar only to people to take the time to read the names of the authors of the hymns they sing. To most of them, Anne Cousin is known for one of her hymns: “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.”

Anne’s 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

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.

Looking for the Lost

There is a well-known nursery rhyme that generations of British children grew up with which begins with the words,

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them;

Leave them alone and they will come home, wagging their tails behind them.

I am a pastor in Pennsylvania.  And I appreciate my brothers who are laboring hard to understand how to handle the governor’s guidelines.  As an aside, guidelines are almost a euphemism for dictatorial power.  On March 6th Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency and placed himself in charge of Pennsylvania’s response to Covid-19. Apparently he is the only one with the power to relinquish that declaration…even according to the state supreme court.  Pennsylvania has a dictator.[1]

In the times in which we live, fear and uncertainty abound.  Governments are shutting down businesses.  Some states have mandated that people “shelter in place”.  Economic dominoes are toppling.  Hospitals are beginning to be strained. 

How are God’s people to respond?  We remind each other:

  1. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.[i]

or that:

The Doctrine of Angels

 Jonathan and James tackle a topic somewhat underemphasized in Reformed circles, and—perhaps—overemphasized elsewhere. Should we give more attention to angels? What are the benefits of studying the few verses in Scriptures that address these holy and glorious creatures?

With All Your Heart

 Dr. Craig Troxel is professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and James’ former pastor.  Craig visits the podcast to discuss his recently written book, With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will toward Christ. 

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.