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. 

In this section of the Institutes, Calvin addresses too issues that demonstrate the prevalence of corruption in the church. First is the issue of clerical celibacy. The insistence that priests remain unmarried has, says Calvin, 'no only deprived the church of fit and honest pastors, but has introduced a fearful sink of iniquity, and plunged many souls into the gulf of despair'.

Calvin is here dealing with the subject of church power and discipline, and resumes his consideration of the subject of fasting. He has a marvellous three-point directive to ensure that fasting does not degenerate into religious superstition.

The season leading to Christmas is a wonderful time to draw attention some of the all-too-familiar lyrics of some Christmas carols. Some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross. Jesus did not come to be a sweet child but as the Word made flesh, the bruised and broken sacrifice, the conqueror of death by death, and the ascended Lord at the right hand of the Father.

In this age, the Church is perennially confronted with the challenge of maintaining a kingdom identity in the midst of a fallen world. How do we live as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) while remaining in our culture so that we can bear witness to the gospel? How do we “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Php. 2:15) without being corrupted by a pagan society? The fundamental answer of Scripture, seen in these passages and elsewhere, is a firm call to Christian ethics. We must live by the Holy Ghost, not the zeitgeist.

Satan encourages spiritual ignorance.

Unbiblical thinking frequently results in unbiblical living. "Gross errors make the heart foolish, and render the life loose," writes Thomas Brooks. “Error spreads and frets like a gangrene, and renders the soul a leper in the sight of God." We are more likely to indulge our desires when the enemy has obscured God's truths and filled and our minds with wrong ideas. The Holy Spirit transforms believers by renewing their minds (Romans 12:2); the devil employs his craftiness to lead minds astray (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

In any organisation, a worthy goal is not sufficient to ensure success; there must also be an agreed means to get there. The Puritans were no different, and they held up biblical love as the fundamental means in reaching their shared goal of God’s glory. In their view, such love had to flow out from the marriage that lay at the heart of the family. This is made abundantly clear in Ephesians 5:22-33:

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.

I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
 

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.

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

Every Christian can readily acknowledge, ‘I’m not what I used to be; but I am not yet what I will be!’ We are all very much a work in progress. This is reinforced by the verb tenses the Bible uses to refer to different aspects of salvation: we ‘have been saved’ (Eph 2.8), ‘…are being saved’ (1Co 15.2) and, ‘…shall be saved’ (Ro 5.9-10). The ‘already’ of our experience of redemption will always be nuanced by the ‘not yet’ of where it ultimately leads in the world to come.

Perhaps the greatest risk surrounding the doctrine of grace in the Bible is that we allow it to become a cliché. We talk about it, sing about it, take great care to define it, but through it all fail to feel its weight. So, as we continue our reflections on the many-sided beauty of God’s grace revealed in Scripture, I want to focus in this article on its immensity in salvation.

"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

 

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.