Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

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. 

As we bring this short series on the Whole Gospel in the Songs of Christmas (see part 1 and part 2) to an end, the following are a few more carols and songs with often overlooked verses or Gospel imagery.

Without doubt, the Minor Prophets are the books in the Bible that frighten us the most. So many visions, so many details, so many things seem so unclear. Many Christians never brave these books. This, however, is a great tragedy. The Minor Prophets--though in many places hard to understand--provide us with some of the richest glimpses of the Gospel in the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654), an influential leader at the Westminster Assembly. Each post will focus on a particular question:

1. What is a covenant of works? 
2. Did God make a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden?
3. In what sense is the covenant of works still in effect? 
4. How does knowing about the covenant of works affect my life?

"With troubled heart and trembling hand I write.
     The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met
     When I on fading things my hopes have set." [1]

Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!

As the Covid-19 debate rages and protestors have taken to the streets, the US Supreme Court hands down an important ruling in a case, which—unfortunately—seems to have flown under the radar of the media: Bostock v. Clayton County.

It was a real pleasure to see Barry York’s very kind interaction with my recent DenDulk Lecture.   The lecture itself was, as I confessed, long on analysis of the manifold temptations to corruption and incompetence to which religious institutions are prone and rather shorter on solutions.  Barry’s response beautifully fills that

In our ongoing discussion of the doctrine of God, it is worth reflecting on the fact that a church needs two things to be confessionally healthy: a sound form of words (a creed or confession); and a form of government by which the content of this can be preserved from generation to generation.  Positively, that means an eldership which promotes sound preaching and teaching; negatively, an eldership which disciplines those who deviate from the same.

 

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.

Radicalism is on the rise. As noted by Senior Academic Fellow Jonathan Pugh of Newcastle University, the phrase “radical politics” [1] in our day describes activism that targets and subverts the root (Latin: radix) of reigning public distributions of power, wealth, and social standing.

Editor's Note: The following was originally published in October of 2014 on our sister site, Place for Truth. The author's argument remains a helpful contribution to an important (if often heated) discussion. For more perspectives on Baptism, be sure to check the "Related Links" section below.

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.

I remember when my fifth grade art teacher announced, much to my horror, that we were now too old to be drawing every picture with the sun (burst) in the upper left corner of the page.  What?  That was how I began every picture!  It was like the schoolgirl’s way of spreading happy onto whatever theme the rest of her p
Join me in learning more about God and examining whether our knowledge of Him is congruent with our thinking and everyday living.

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.

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.

The Familiar Case of Benjamin Dutton

Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.

George Herbert – Pastor and Poet

What would the English poet George Herbert have to say at the toppling of our monuments? Maybe something similar to what he said in 1633, while contemplating the monuments to the dead inside his church’s crypt. In the end, he concluded, the dust and earth to which our bodies return will “laugh at jet and marble put for signs.”

        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

We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?

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.

Motivation is what moves us to do something.  For some, the reason for being at the gym is the ten or twenty pounds they need to lose. Some study for grades. Some study to get beyond the poverty in which they grew up.  Motivation is the thing that moves us.  So let me ask you a question.  What motivates you to holiness?  We might be tempted to say any number of things.  I hate my sin and so the desire to put it off motivates me to holiness, one person might argue.  Another might claim that the glory of God motivates their holiness.

Puritan pastor Walter Marshall concludes his magisterial work on a believer’s sanctification, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, with the simple but profound dictum that “Sanctification in Christ is glorification begun as glorification is sanctification perfected.”[1]  What makes this statement work so well is, in fact, those two little words “in Christ.” Marshall understood that any benefit a believer has, he has because of union with Christ.

Pastors and Polemics

 Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?  

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.