Columns

In the most recent episode of Mortification of Spin, we address the current retrieval of Classical Theism going on among Evangelicals. It’s a fascinating subject and one that merits careful consideration. If you are an armchair theologian or aspire to be and would like to learn more about this important topic, the following are some excellent resources:

 

Let the reader understand: This list would almost certainly be longer if I had read every book I had planned on reading in 2019. There are some notable books still on my desk which I have not yet begun but which I am quite sure are excellent. Nevertheless, among the many wonderful books I read that were published in 2019 these are my top picks...

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 John 4:24, the Lord Jesus declares, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” New Covenant worship is not about holy places such as the temple in Jerusalem, but about holy hearts worshiping the Triune God. The multitude of Old Covenant ceremonies are replaced with the simplicity of spirit and truth (Heb. 9:9–10).[1] The Puritans recognized that the essence of worship is inward and spiritual.[2] Burroughs said that if we would please God in worship we must bring God His own, both in the matter and the manner of our worship.

One of the first people that I hope to meet in heaven is the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston. I admire the man for the depth of his theology; Jonathan Edwards said that Boston's work on the covenants distinguished him as a "truly great divine." I also admire for the breadth of his writing: twelve thick volumes on almost every doctrine of the Christian faith, taught from every book of the Bible.

The three amigos compiled a sizeable list of answers to that conditional statement—perhaps you have a few of your own! But why is this even a topic to be addressed? It seems that, even though the movement has been condemned by the NAPARC denominations over a decade ago, Federal Vision is still alive and well in Reformed circles. Some observers believe the “sympathizer’s club” may be growing! 

Following a discussion of various conspiracy theories, bad driving, and why the Spinners will never record episodes while in a car with Aimee at the wheel…the conversation turns to the topic of anxiety. To broach the subject, the crew welcomes Pierce Taylor Hibbs. He’s the associate director of the Center for Theological Writing at Westminster Theological Seminary, and author of Struck Down But Not Destroyed - Living Faithfully With Anxiety. 

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)

It is an open secret: Christian pastors struggle. Many are worn out and frequently fatigued. Many suffer from discouragement. Many desire more constructive feedback to help them channel their energies and properly discharge their calling.

Roman Catholics and Protestants alike often appeal to the massive body of works penned by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. The thinking behind the Reformation was seeded by the ad fontes principle of the Renaissance, and for theologians those sources were often the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine. For example, the Battles edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin includes an extensive list of citations to Augustine in its index. Likewise, Luther was an Augustinian who often made use of his order’s namesake’s works in his writings.

Rowan Williams. Christ the Heart of Creation. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018. Hardback. 304 pp. $42.99.

I stumbled upon something Gregory the Great wrote warning how vices often masquerade as virtues.* It made me pause and reflect. Here are some of his words:
 
Often, for instance, a niggard passes himself off as frugal, while one who is prodigal conceals his character when he calls himself openhanded. Often, inordinate laxity is believed to be kindness, and unbridled anger passes as the virtue of spiritual zeal. Precipitancy is frequently taken as efficient promptitude, and dilatoriness as grave deliberation.  
I kind of stumbled into becoming an author. I began as a reader and a thinker in the church, connecting a lot of dots in my reading that led to more convictions and questions. And I couldn’t find the next book I wanted to read. So, I wrote it.
 

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.

When you come right down to it, the heart of shepherding and success in shepherding for that matter, boils down to the importance of relationships. This is quite clear in the dynamic that Jesus established in John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me.” This remarkable statement acknowledges the blessing of knowing the Lord and being known by Him. Of course, this relationship comes to us at His initiative by grace through faith. The Lord has changed our hearts so that we have now “heard” Him and “follow Him” (John 10:27).

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.

Jan Laski – The Polish Reformer

            Jan Laski (also known as Johannes à Lasco) is normally remembered as the Reformer of Poland, but he had also a great influence in England and other parts of Europe and was an untiring opponent of the heresies of his time.

Mary Honywood and Her Flickering, Unquenchable Faith

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.

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.

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

There is a certain view of church that regards it (especially as expressed in the local congregation) as a ‘voluntary association’. The idea has been notably prevalent among Christians in the United States, but has been embraced more widely in other parts of the world. Interestingly this perception of church only began to increase in popularity in post-colonial America with the growth of Non-Conformist churches.

There are many occasions when what seem like throwaway remarks from Jesus say far more than we may realise. One in particular is heard in our Lord’s exchange with the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15.21-28), where he tells her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

"What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God's words, his submission to Christ's Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else." — Derek Thomas

 

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Some Bible passages are perplexing.  That may be an understatement. We wonder about some of them.  Like unruly children who cannot be harnessed and corralled these passages too are hard to handle.  When we have finished our daily chores and obligations we ponder them. Better than the illustration of unruly children we might think of them like a diamond we turn this way and that.  We study them to understand them.  But sometimes these passages leave us with more questions than answers…a lot more. John 14:12 is like that.

There is an interesting view that circulates around the church about the Holy Spirit.  It goes something like this. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit did not indwell anyone but only remained with people.  However, in the New Testament the Spirit literally dove into His work.  In other words, He indwelt the people of God. He made His home in them.

Foundations of Covenant Theology

 Jonathan and James are very excited to introduce Lane Tipton. He’s fellow of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Reformed Forum, and pastor of Trinity OPC church in Easton, PA.

Lane has assembled an outstanding video series for the Forum titled Foundations of Covenant Theology, which he passionately calls “the history of heaven”.

Doctrine of God and Church Discipline - Q&A

 Jonathan and James answer a few listener’s questions as a follow-up to a prior episode. Our hosts address the question of how one can know if Scripture is speaking of God metaphorically or literally. How should one understand Scripture when it talks about God having body parts and emotions, such as passions and feelings? James uses the term “God’s absolute sourcehood” to establish the standard of judgment on such matters.

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.