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).

A few years ago, at the start of a new school year, I announced to the kids that we would be memorizing the book of James.

“The whole book?” one son asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“That’s the goal,” I responded.

“Impossible!” he declared.

Up to that point, my children had memorized single verses and short passages of Scripture. I thought it was time to take on something bigger.

Memorizing God’s Word

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB, 1977)

These are the words of Matthew immediately after he wrote, “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying” (Matt. 1:22). The “prophet” here refers to Isaiah. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew references aspects of Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, and 9:6. Those texts read as follows:

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. 

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. 

The state of California has gathered its pitchforks and torches and they’re coming after Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened doors to all kinds of government regulations, including—to no one’s surprise—restrictions on worship gatherings.

The feud between Grace Community Church and the state of California rages on, and our dynamic duo is focusing on the fine line between obedience to Scripture and obedience to the limited, God-given power of the civil magistrate.

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.

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.

Patrick and His Mission

Every year, we read articles about the “real” Saint Patrick – the one who didn’t drive out snakes and didn’t use a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His own account of his life, expressed in his Confessions, has become better known, but is still not commonly read. Yet, it holds much interesting information about this fervent missionary.

Early Life

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 much more to grace than meets the eye. Indeed, to borrow and slightly tweak the title of a song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1955, ‘Grace is a many splendored thing’. Although we instinctively link it to the idea of God’s demerited favour towards sinners in salvation, when we begin to trace its contours throughout the Scriptures, we see facets that only make us appreciate its beauty and blessing more deeply. This kaleidoscope of beauty is worth exploring in its major component parts and my hope is to do this through a series of articles designed to unpack it.

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.

"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

 

The Alliance shares the Gospel and proclaims biblical doctrine that encourages and equips the Church. Member prayer and support makes this work possible. If you would like to support the Alliance please visit AllianceNet.org/Donate

 

About one year ago while lying in bed I whispered to God in desperation: I am so afraid.”  It was the most heightened sense of dread I had ever experienced (and I and my household had already made it through some pretty horrific times over the last half decade).

Then the voices of children from a Psalm CD we often listen to came to me: When I am afraid, I will trust in you God.”  Singing these words lifted me out of bed to do what had to be done. 

I Have Confidence In…

Because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we experience trouble. We are sinners, and so we sin. Others are sinners, and so we are sinned against. We live in a fallen world, and so we suffer. In such a world, where should we place our confidence? Where should we turn in troubled times?

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I vividly recall a time of extreme discouragement. I don’t remember the particulars, but I remember feeling downcast. The Lord brought to my attention Psalm 42 and 43 - not for the first time, but in a troubled time.

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?

Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 

 Jonathan and James are joined by Alan Strange. Alan is professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The question is posed: How important is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ? The resulting conversation deals not only with the biblical text, but with the historical aspect of the doctrine as well.

“Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless.”
― Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts

I came across this little book by Richard Baxter when my fiancée and I, along with some friends, decided to go through the Tim Challies 2019 reading challenge.

Though short, it has been a wellspring of encouragement as I dwell on life, death, and days to come.

The first Psalm sets the stage for the entire Psalter. Its attention on the covenant God and covenant blessing and cursing, as well as its preoccupation with God’s Word as the source for our understanding, focus the entire Psalter. In fact, as scholars like O. Palmer Robertson have contended, Psalms 1 and 2 serve as the “pillar or gates” to the whole edifice of the Psalter.[1] They are the great building blocks that support the whole.