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. 

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

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.

I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.

John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.  

John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace

John 10:30 was a critical verse for the early church. As believers wrestled with the documents of the New Testament in terms of their teaching about our Lord’s identity, and in relation to the Old Testament, various views began to be propagated. Some taught that our Lord was not eternal God by nature, but rather a mere creature (though the first and greatest of creatures). In other words, there was a time when he was not. Others taught that God is one in nature and one in person, revealing himself in three distinct modes at different times.

The dispute between our hosts about which denomination is the greatest in the kingdom of God—the OPC or the PCA—might never end. Aiming to minimize any controversy and tension within the denomination, we bring in a sound-minded PCA southern gentleman to share some good news.

Brad Isbel is a ruling elder in his church, one of the hosts of the podcast Presbycast (where he’s AKA “Chortles Weakly”), and the director of MORE in the PCA, which is the topic of the day.

Our guest is Greg Lanier, associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus, and a minister of the Gospel. Lanier’s new book tackles crucial questions about our Lord, including: Did Jesus ever claim to be God? What did Paul and the earliest Christians believe about the deity of Jesus, and do the same beliefs remain today among Christians? What does it mean when the book of Philippians says that He was “in the form of God”?

The last few years have seen a significant – and most welcome – revival of interest in the Christian doctrine of God among Reformed and evangelical writers.  Scholars working in patristic, medieval, and Reformation periods have enriched our knowledge of the creedal and confessional heritage of the church; and, as our knowledge of what the creeds and confessions meant has deepened, many of us have become acutely aware of the (unintentionally) heterodox and even heretical nature of many of our own previous beliefs on these matters.

"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)

Did you know the that top 1% own over 50% of the world’s wealth? Maybe you did, and think that disparity is grossly unfair. After all, there's a high chance—99% chance, to be precise—that you are not part of that 1%. Are not all human beings equal? Are we not all made in the image of God? Do we not all equally deserve a high quality of life? How can you look at a statistic like the one above, and not believe that’s a problem, and not the way an ideal society should look?

Every spy movie has one scene that’s my favorite: the moment the hero’s support team equips him for the climactic conflict. You probably recognize it. In a private room, whether it be in a cave accessed only by an elevator that drops 10 stories underground, or a luxury penthouse suite in Dubai, the team of technological geniuses briefs our hero about all the gadgets and weapons they have custom built for him, something sounding like this:

Michael T. Jahosky, The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth (Wipf & Stock, 2020), 238 pp. 

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.

Ann Griffiths and Her Sea of Wonders

            “O to spend my life in a sea of wonders!”[1] Ann wrote in one of her poems. And her life, spent in a Welsh farm in the small village of Dolwar-Fach, was lived in the constant and exciting discovery of God’s revelation.

A Short and Intense Life

Scipione Lentolo – A Firm Hand in Unstable Times

 

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.

     In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.

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

Advent season has begun. Pastors all around the world are desperately looking for texts and angles on the theme that will enable them to bring fresh light on the light of the ancient story that I known so well, yet which can so easily lose its lustre.

Asaph, reflecting on some of his deepest struggles in the life of faith, concludes one ohis psalms by saying, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73.28). David says something similar in the most memorable of his penitential psalms with the words, ‘Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’ (Ps 51.11). God’s people often only begin to appreciate the importance of knowing God’s presence when they are deprived of it through their own spiritual wanderings. How, then, can we safeguard the nearness of God?

"The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God, it is all for his glory." —James Boice

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals delivers the truths of the doctrines of grace to the Church around the globe through in-person training and live-streaming events, broadcasting, and publishing. 

In a world full of uncertainty and confusion, each of us longs for the ability to navigate our circumstances well, to make a right judgment or take the right action. Sometimes we are presented with a plethora of options and we are left trying to pick the right one. In other instances, perhaps we are presented with a situation that only has two choices, but one seems like the proverbial “rock” and the other is the proverbial “hard place.” Sometimes the decision is easy, and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes there is nothing on the line, and sometimes our very well-being may be at stake.

Among professing Christians in America, there is perhaps no word, and the reality to which it refers, more used and abused than grace. Space only allows us to glance at the subject, but understand this: There is an application of God’s grace that actually saves the people whom he chooses to save. If he didn’t make the choice to save some, we would all get his justice and be damned. Only God by his mercy and grace saves, and no person has a claim upon God, otherwise there would be neither mercy nor grace. Let us focus upon God’s grace. 

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.