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 continues his diatribe against false sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, wrapping up his denial of the sacrament of final unction.  In paragraphs 19-21, he levels two criticisms: the proof text (James 5:14) does not pertain to the church today but only to the apostolic age with its now-ceased gift of healing; and what the Roman priests actually do in final unction bears little resemblance to what James calls for.  We see in final unction an example of a problem that often shows up in Protestant and Evangelical circles as well: a flimsy appeal to a proof text that does

Calvin continues his critique of Catholicism by applying a biblical definition of "sacrament" to the Roman rite of penance.  He begins with a clear and careful distinction between public repentance, as it was practiced in the early church, and the private absolution offered through the so-called sacrament of penance. 

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.

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”?

Clearly, we live in times of sexual identity chaos. Arguments that would have sounded unconscionable just a few decades ago are now plausible, and are defended, adopted, even pridefully celebrated. How did we get here? What seeds were planted that flourished into the modern thinking of sexuality as one’s primary or even sole identity?

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)

Envy is often misunderstood. I suspect many of us today are apt to confuse it somewhat with Greed. Both, it seems, boil down to wanting more stuff, so that Envy would seem to designate merely the sub-set of cases in which someone else already has the stuff that you want (and perhaps their having it is what prompts your wanting it). 

At some point in your schooling, you have probably come across the handy diagram that explains the various components of a strong, dramatic narrative. It’s a little line that begins steadily with the exposition, takes a vicious turn skyward with the conflict and rising action, reaches its peak with the climax, and then gently descends with the falling action and denouement. In the worship service, the blessing and sending are like the denouement. We are coming off the mountain of the Lord where we have fellowshipped with God Himself (Isa. 25:6; Hebrews 12:22).

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.

Anne Dutton and Her Reasons for Writing

            From the time of her youth in 17th-century Northampton, England, Anne was described as a lively and outspoken girl. Over the course of her life, she combined this zeal and candor with her natural clarity of thought and expression in order to provide Scriptural encouragement and advice.

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

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?

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

In the Northern Hemisphere, December is the darkest month of the year – a fact that gives added poignancy to the message of the incarnation and its centrality to the gospel. Intentionally or otherwise, when the church chose to adopt 25th December as the date on which to mark the birth of Christ, it happened to be in the darkest depths of Winter. In that context, perhaps more so than any other time of the year, the words of John about Christ’s being ‘the Light’ literally shine most brilliantly as the metaphor speaks into reality.

The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to the Bible.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

"May you live in interesting times" is an English expression that purports to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse.

“From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” This declaration of the eternal nature of our God ends one of the most notable opening verse couplets to any of the Psalms. Moses, in Psalm 90, declares the excellencies of the God of Israel, contrasting the eternal nature of God with the extremely fleeting and temporal nature of His creation.

Green Pastures

Ryan Davidson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA, and the author of Green Pastures, A Primer on the Ordinary Means of Grace. Ryan starts the discussion by defining means of grace, then drills down to explain the ordinary means of grace. 

What does the word ordinary really mean in this context? Ryan identifies the fruit and the effects of the ordinary means of grace as they are biblically applied in the life of a congregation.  

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.