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.

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.

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.

Thomas Watson (ca. 1620-1686) was a great Presbyterian Puritan preacher who wrote much and whose books are still read today. Watson’s most famous work, A Body of Practical Divinity, published posthumously in 1692, consisted of 176 sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Watson was a clear writer, adept at providing memorable phrases and illustrations. He joined theological understanding with warm spirituality and piety. When he died suddenly, he was engaged in private prayer.

The following letter comes from The Works of the Rev. John Newton (London, 1808) pp. 346–353. Reader beware: Newton's portraits are both humorous and piercing.


Whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, — think on these Things. – Phil. 4:8.

Dear Sir, 

The evangelical world has been shaken once again by the news of yet another influential leader’s tattered reputation. Ravi Zacharias was a prominent Christian speaker, writer, and apologist for over 4 decades. He spoke from the platforms of renowned institutions and college campuses all around the world. Although there were early questions about Zacharias’s inflated qualifications, a different kind of scandal was confirmed after his death last year.

Our special guest today makes a return visit to the podcast, which can only mean that Carl and Todd have not ruined his reputation (well at least, not yet)! 

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?

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.

The church membership vows in my own denomination (the PCA) include this passage where we “promise to study [the] purity and peace” of the church. One of the premier ways we can do that as Christians is to reflect deeply and well upon the unity of the church, especially when it comes to what is meant to unite us.

In anticipation of the 48th stated meeting of the PCA General Assembly in St.

Samuel Renihan, Crux, Mors, Inferi: A Primer and Reader on Christ's Descent (Independently published, 2021), 230pp., Paperback/Hardcover/Kindle. 

Samuel Renihan has recently published an excellent book on the doctrine of the descent of Christ into hell. His thesis—that Christ descended to hell on the Sabbath, as stated in the ancient creeds—is one with which I was in agreement prior to reading it. What surprised me was how helpful it was devotionally.

Preston Sprinkle, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Zondervan, 2015. 160 pp, paperback, $16.99

Welcome The Shepherds’ Blog!

The purpose of this blog is to provide an opportunity for me to post material that will be helpful to pastors, elders, and other church leaders (and members) about the subject of pastoral ministry generally and shepherding the flock specifically. I would also encourage you to send questions to me at twitmer@wts.edu and I will do my best to answer them.

Five years ago, first time author and Westminster professor Dr. Tim Witmer awaited the release of a book that represented his heart for ministry: The Shepherd Leader. He did not expect the impact it would have. The book sold out within the first few days, and P&R Publishing rushed to fill demand.

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.

Ann Griffiths and Her Sea of Wonders

            “O to spend my life in a sea of wonders!”[1] Ann wrote in one of her poems. And her life, spent in a Welsh farm in the small village of Dolwar-Fach, was lived in the constant and exciting discovery of God’s revelation.

A Short and Intense Life

Scipione Lentolo – A Firm Hand in Unstable Times

 

        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

How easy it is for us to become frustrated over our carelessness in prayer and, indeed, the way it all too often ends up with prayerlessness and damages our walk with God. Like Jesus’ disciples, again and again we need to say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’ That is, not merely that we need to learn repeatedly what to pray and how to pray, but also the place of prayer as a sine qua non of the life of faith.

There are more than a few places in the Bible – frequently in the Old Testament, but also in the New – where we find long lists of names, sometimes bound up with numbers. And, when we find ourselves in such territory, we often wonder why they are in the sacred record and what are we supposed to make of them.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

“Sticks and stones make break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Be Hospitable!

In Romans 12:13, Paul says, “seek to show hospitality.” When we think of the “one-another” commands of Scripture, certainly the idea of hospitality comes to mind. The word itself comes from the Latin hospes, meaning guest, visitor, or stranger.

Sometimes talks and books on this topic give the impression that the speaker’s or writer’s practice of hospitality is THE method of applying this biblical principle. In looking at Scripture however, we see a wide variety of care for guests, visitors, and strangers.

At the outset of the Anglican baptismal liturgy, an eighteenth-century rector would say “Dearly beloved, for as much as all men are conceived and born in sin. . .I beseech you to call upon God.” Ask God, he urged, to show the infant mercy, and to make him part of the divine kingdom. Here the minister identified the fundamental problem with humanity, even with the seemingly innocent baby before him: all people were tainted with sin – original sin, the sin of Adam – which separated them from their Creator.[i]

This week’s Theology on the Go interview is with Bruce Gordon.  Dr. Gordon holds a chair in Ecclesiastical History at Yale.  He is an eminent historian with many interesting insights and experiences.  The topic of our conversation was simple: “Why Study Church History?”

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.