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.

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”?

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)

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.

i. God hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.

Theodore Sedgwick Wright – A Voice for the Slaves

            Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the first African American graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, returned to his Alma Mater in 1836 to attend the annual commencement ceremony. He didn’t know, as he entered the hall, what a measure of self-control he would need to exercise.

Anne Ross Cundell Cousin – A Compassionate Friend

            The name of Anne Cousin is largely unknown today. It might sound familiar only to people to take the time to read the names of the authors of the hymns they sing. To most of them, Anne Cousin is known for one of her hymns: “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.”

Anne’s Early Life

Guns in Church

     When I was a pastor, ten years ago, I learned that a married couple, both FBI agents, joined my church. We already had two police officers in attendance, but I welcomed the news in a day when church shootings, like school shootings, were in the news. "It makes me feel safer," one person noted, even if she didn't know how rare church shootings really are (See: StatisticsImadeupbutmustbetrue.com):

     Chance of being wounded by a bullet, in a church: 1 in 100 million

As we pass Labor Day and settle into the fall, I want to label a few of the most influential ideas about work in Western thought and invite you, my reader, to see which thoughts might be informing you and supplanting more biblical ideas about work. Without further ado

     Most Greeks thought work was a curse. They especially despised manual labor. Leaders tried to foist it on servants or slaves, so they would have time for philosophy and friendship. To this day, many follow the Greeks in thinking of work as an evil to avoid, if possible.

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?

Bob Brady gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This information and more can be found on the November Member Update

Two streams have formed Evangelicals—the ecumenical creeds from early church councils and the Protestant reformation.

When considering the communicable attributes of God - those attributes of his that he has graciously shared with his creatures – it’s not often that I think of His being Spirit. Usually I think of attributes like love, kindness, wisdom, grace, or goodness as less abstract than spirit. [1] However, it is true. God is Spirit and has communicated to us - his creatures - a spirit as well.

I remember hearing this question in a Bible study more than once, and this was the common answer: “Mercy is not getting what we deserve.” While it's short and pithy, is mercy as simplistic as that? Is it only the commutation of a sentence or stay of execution? Or is mercy much richer and deeper? To answer that question, “What is mercy?,” we need to go back to God and what his Word says about him.

The Doctrine of Angels

 Jonathan and James tackle a topic somewhat underemphasized in Reformed circles, and—perhaps—overemphasized elsewhere. Should we give more attention to angels? What are the benefits of studying the few verses in Scriptures that address these holy and glorious creatures?

“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.