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).

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.

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.

Carl from his pulpit and Todd from his heavily armed bunker kick off a new Mortification of Spin series, The Bully Pulpit. In this first episode, in light of a recent hypersexualized musical performance,  Todd asks if the church has any credibility on sexual ethics and decency? Or does an unabashed desire for self promotion lie behind such public sexual escapades?

If you get heartburn over the mention of the word "liturgy," you may find some proverbial antacid in the thoughtful conversation between our hosts on this episode of The Mortification of Spin.

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)

Editor's Note: This post is was originally published on the author's blog, and is intended as a response to this article by Jim Denison.


One of the questions prompted by any crisis is whether God is inactive. Is he stepping aside and allowing calamitous evil to befall his creation and people? Is the crisis something beyond God’s power? Or, perhaps most frighteningly, is the catastrophe something that is being orchestrated by God?

You know what scares me the most? Boredom. And I have a sneaking suspicion you feel the same way, especially if you’re under thirty. I’ve been working with teenagers for the past ten years, and people consistently ask: "What do you think is the biggest challenge teenagers are facing today?" The short answer is “Smartphones”; maybe the expanded version would be “loss of boredom.”

Lois Lowry tells a story about how a utopian state required that all of the community's memories going back through the generations be committed to a single person, a receiver. The elders engineered a society where no one but the receiver had to feel or remember. Life was safe and comfortable. The citizens were spared the pain of knowing, of emoting. And they could always call on the receiver when faced with a decision that exceeded their self-imposed limited experience.

From its inception, preaching has held a prominent place within the life and advance of the church. A current revival of expository ministry is being cultivated throughout the evangelical world. However, such renewed awareness and commitment to an expositional pulpit ministry has been nurtured with a notable lack of historical awareness.

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.

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

        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

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. 

You may think this quasi strange, but I have an affinity for certain Latin words.  The fact is, you actually know and use many of them too. Have you ever felt like a persona non grata? Do you cheer for your alma mater or depend on a per diem for business travels? How great is it when lawyers agree to work pro bono? Do you invest in stocks sold by a man in his garage or do you prefer a bona fide company? Et cetera, et cetera