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.

Satan persuades us to cultivate close friendships with ungodly peers. 

It has long been popular to characterize Anglicanism as a distinctive middle way or via media between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Many today understand Anglicanism as a unique combination of the best features of the two traditions, which avoids the perceived errors of both Protestants and Catholics. Indeed, some view this via media as the definitive way to understand Anglicanism’s unique vocation as a religious tradition.

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? 

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?

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

"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)

Genesis 1:28 records God’s first command to the first human couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  Since God first gave this command (sometimes called the “cultural mandate” by theologians) the earth’s population has blossomed from one couple to billions of people around the globe.   The vast majority of this growth has taken place in the last two centuries alone, a fact which has

In our last post, we discussed bread as a source of comfort; now we’ll consider its liquid counterpart.

Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in August of 2005.


Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004)

In case you've not already noticed the massive problem of internet pornography, consider one small statistic: In 2019, the internet’s largest porn site (Pornhub) received 42 billion visits. That’s billion with a “b,” and all the trends suggest that this number will only grow.

Apparently, some who have read my last article have interpreted it as me saying that it’s okay for men to be effeminate. This interpretation is kind of proving my point about the secular categories and framework of thinking within the church. And it illustrates that we do not view humans as having soul/body composite identities.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been provoked by something on Twitter recently and tempted to respond with my own provocative tweet. I’m trying to do less of that. While there used to be lamentations that too many people can write whatever they want on a blog post and, besides, people aren’t reading enough books, I enjoyed writing and reading blogs as a sort of public journaling. This is now being replaced by tweets and tweet threads.

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.

Johann Heermann and the Comfort of the Cross

            In the spring of 1630, while the Thirty-Year War raged around Europe, pastor and poet Johann Heermann wrote a hymn to inspire his congregation to meditate on Christ’s suffering.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,

that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?

By foes derided, by thine own rejected,

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

        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

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

It would be tempting to think that yet another article on suffering at this time is nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon of the current situation; but that is not altogether the case. Yes, we are facing a crisis of global proportions that is full of uncertainty; but it is neither the first, nor (to date) the worst of its kind. What it does represent, however, is yet another of those many examples in world history of God’s using a megaphone (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ imagery) to get our attention.

The book of Job is one of the most enigmatic, yet most significant books of the Bible for a whole range of reasons. Among them is the attention it has been given by the likes of John Calvin (who preached 159 sermons on it in the space of 6 months 1558-59) and Joseph Caryl who preached a staggering 424 sermons on it over a 12-year period in 17th Century London. But readers often miss its point.

The Fifth Commandment is weighty.  The finger of God inscribed it this way, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” In the Westminster Larger Catechism, the commandments are typically explained by asking what the duties of a command are and what does that command forbid.  Sometimes there is a question that asks about the reasons annexed to a particular commandment. The fourth commandment even asks two additional questions for a total of six questions in all regarding that commandment.

 

When I see the Ten Commandments summarized artistically and framed for purchase to hang on the walls of a Christian home, I often wonder if the Fourth Commandment, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8), ought not to be chiseled out.

Christians will for the most part acknowledge the binding nature of all other nine commandments.  But the fourth is so often discarded, severing God’s Law right through the middle and cutting out its heart.

Doctrinal Introduction: Perseverance of the Saints

Jonathan and James have a chat about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The Christian race isn’t always easy, which sometimes may cause us to wonder whether we’ll finish well. What assurance do we have that our running is not in vain and that we’ll finish the course? What’s the role of grace in the perseverance of the saints, and is there any work to be done on our part?

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.