Columns

Here are some of the most enjoyable and/or important books that I am currently reading. This does not mean I stand by everything the authors write (do I even have to state that?). Some of these I purchased, others were provided by the kindness of the publisher:

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.

Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) was one of the most influential pastors in Boston during his life. He received his theological training at Harvard and served as pastor of First Church for nearly 60 years. He wrote numerous pamphlets between 1762-1771 against the British proposal to impose a Bishop in America. This sermon preached in 1747, addressed to rulers (the Governor, the council, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives), called them to be just and frequently to recall their subordination to God. Original punctuation has been preserved.

Satan persuades us to cultivate close friendships with ungodly peers. 

After revealing some details of their personal lives, Carl and Todd get down to business. Seems a disturbing phenomenon is plaguing churches all over the country. Since the lockdown, many Christians have become too comfortable with worshipping from home over a screen…dressed in their jammies, eating donuts, and—quite possibly—not really worshipping at all. 

Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution hasn’t even been released, and—already—it’s the best-selling book of 2020! It is, at least, according to the hosts of this program. Yes, the author feels he’s found a pot of gold, and is buying that dream villa in Venice with the royalties. At the same time, co-host Todd feels privileged as he possesses an advanced copy of this treasure and believes he’ll be enjoying a free stay at his friend's Mediterranean estate. 

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)

Every so often, a friend and I indulge a favorite argument. The debate is over what matters more when it comes to leadership: Character, or competence? While we both have similar worldviews, I have contended that character matters more, while my friend argues for the greater worth of competence.

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

Greg Lanier, Is Jesus Truly God? How the Bible Teaches the Divinity of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). Pp. 144. $16.99, paper.

Prolegomena: A Defense of the Scholastic Method, by Jordan Cooper, The Weidner Institute, 2020, 332 Pages, $21.60.

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.

i. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.(1)
iii. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

Francis James Grimké – Through a Pandemic and Social Unrest

We are not the first generation who must deal with a pandemic and racial unrest at the same time. The Spanish flu of 1918 hit America at a time when racial segregation and lynching of blacks were commonplace and largely ignored by the majority of Americans. Francis James Grimké led his congregation through both challenges, while defending human rights in his speeches and writings.

From Slave to Pastor

Matilde Calandrini – Fighting for Education and Religious Freedom

 

            In 1831, 37-year old Matilde Calandrini moved from Geneva to Pisa for health reasons. Tuscany, the enchanting Italian region where Pisa was located, had been the home of her ancestors at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They had lived in Lucca, just twelve miles north of Pisa, the same city where the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli preached and founded his school for the promotion of biblical knowledge.

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

Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’

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?

Recently I had been thinking about how to minister to several members of our congregation because of what God is calling them to go through again which will surely tax their energy and emotions.  I had also been pondering what we are all going through in the present state of pandemic uncertainty.  So many seem so restless.  So anxious.  And so many Christians just seem so very agitated. 

The answer to Hamlet’s famous question “To be or not to be?” is simple for God. God can only “be.” He is “I am,” meaning He exists infinitely and independent of anything, without beginning or end, as the source and sustainer of all things. There has never been a time where God has not existed in and of Himself. This is known as the aseity of God.

The Cure for Unjust Anger

 Jonathan and James welcome Brian Hedges to the podcast. Brian is the lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Niles, MI and is responsible for breathing new life into one of the works of John Downame, a 16th century Puritan who was known as a “physician of souls.”

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.