Columns

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

After discussing what the biblical doctrine of repentance is, Calvin moves to show how medieval theologians failed to understand repentance correctly. He structures the section around the medieval division of repentance into three parts: contrition (3.4.1-3), confession (3.4.4-24), and satisfaction (3.4.25-3.5.10). And in each part, he demonstrates the pastoral failure of the medieval approach to these issues.

Repentance is "a singular gift of God," Calvin notes (3.3.21). Such makes the problem of apostasy, sham repentance, and continued hypocrisy explainable. Those who wander away from the faith, who despise the Gospel, and resist the truth until their deaths were those who never received the gift of repentance from God, even as they may have heard the Gospel, known the "common operations" of the Spirit, and sojourned with the church for a time.

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

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:

This is the final post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654).

With Todd hopelessly delayed by an extended hair styling appointment, Carl alone sits down to chat with our special guest. At the table is Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian Ethics and Apologetics, associate dean of the School of Theology, and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, all at Southern Baptist Seminary. Andrew’s also an editor and writer for several publications.

Life is full of tragedy, sadness, and suffering. Scripture is replete with such stories from Genesis to Revelation. Why is there suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is there any hope to be found in the midst of suffering?

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.

In the first six verses of this chapter, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to fix our attention on Jesus--to keep him in our eye and to hold and cling to him. One reason why we should "consider Jesus," why we should fix our attention on him is because of his character displayed in his office. He is both apostle and high priest of our confession: he is the "sent one" who declares God's Word to us and he is the "mediator" who stands before God for us. As both prophet and priest, he does God's work on our behalf. 
"O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption."-Psalm 130:7
   
What is "plentiful redemption"?  This is a rich and full expression, and one used nowhere else in Scripture. As the climax of a penitential prayer, the phrase sums up the teaching of the entire psalm. 
  
Verses 1- 2  bring to mind the desperation of the awakened sinner. "Out of the depths" is the cry of a person drowning in sin and guilt.
The Latin phrase semper reformanda--usually translated "always reforming"--is the widely known slogan of the Reformed tradition. It has become quite popular. Authors conjure it. Theologians cite it. Trendsetters love it. But I have become suspicious. And my suspicions stem from seeing the phrase appear at all too convenient times for a person's point or agenda. My fear is that it is now regularly used as an excuse for novelty and innovation.

It is common to think that the history of the Church between the apostles and the Reformation is irrelevant or at best good late night reading. Some have even gone so far as to distort Church history altogether in works of outrageous fiction. And so how do we combat complacency on the one hand and fictional conspiracy on the other? We should consider the lives and ministry of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome - ministers in the generation after the time of the apostles in the midst of persecution. How did they encourage the Church to stay faithful to Christ?

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

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

That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

I read John Webster’s The Culture of Theology a few weeks ago. There is much to discuss in this penetrating book of the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures he gave, but I thought I’d just share a small nugget and some reflection on it:

 

Now at ReformedResources.org: a companion packet to The Shepherd Leader!
 
In this packet, you will find three sample tools to consider as you implement your shepherding plan. Click here to download your free resources.

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:

iv. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but alsot he infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized. 

The fourth topic treated by the Westminster Confession's teaching on baptism pertains to its recipients. Who is to be baptized? The answer is unequivocal: believers and their children are to be baptized. Here we see a plain statement in favor of infant or (as I prefer to call it) covenant baptism.
ii. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

iii. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

Onesimos Nesib, Aster Ganno, and the Oromo Translating Team

 

In my last post, I wrote about Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo, and their efforts to bring the gospel to Ethiopia. Rufo worked with the German Johann Ludwig Krapf to translate portions of the Bible into the language of the Oromo, which at that time was the second most-common language in Africa. Besides being incomplete, Rufo’s translation, published in 1876, suffered from the fact that it was done by three different people.

 

Onesimos Nesib’s Conversion

Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo and the Early Missions to the Oromo

 

When we think of Ethiopia, we often think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its impressive buildings and its ancient, unique, and colorful traditions. The religious complex of Lalibela, for example, with its monolithic churches, has been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

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?

Christians are frequently reminded to “remember the reason for Christmas,” meaning, of course, that we should turn our attention away from the cultural trappings and to the fact that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem.  But this Christmas, perhaps we should fix our attention a little more closely, not just on the details of Jesus’ birth, but on the miracle of the incarnation.  In so doing, we join a great cloud of Christian witnesses, who have reflected deeply on this glorious mystery.

This week on Theology on the Go, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Dr. Liam Goligher, pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia, PA. As pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, Dr. Goligher has done much thinking and teaching on the topic of missions, and how Christians are to reach the lost. This installment of Theology on the Go gives a glimpse of some of that teaching as Dr. Goligher chats with Jonathan about the doctrine of missions.

Looking for the Lost

There is a well-known nursery rhyme that generations of British children grew up with which begins with the words,

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them;

Leave them alone and they will come home, wagging their tails behind them.

It would be tempting to think that yet another article on suffering at this time is nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon of the current situation; but that is not altogether the case. Yes, we are facing a crisis of global proportions that is full of uncertainty; but it is neither the first, nor (to date) the worst of its kind. What it does represent, however, is yet another of those many examples in world history of God’s using a megaphone (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ imagery) to get our attention.

The following is taken from the introduction to Entering God's Rest by Ken Golden, a thorough-yet-accessible discussion of the Sabbath and its relevence for us today.

Summer is the perfect time to kick back and enjoy a nice book. Or two. Or twelve.

To boost your reading list, the Alliance is pleased to announce their Bagain Book Sale. Products are available while supplies last, so be sure to grab 'em before they're gone! Click the button below to start shopping!

We all know combinations that just don’t go well together, don’t we? We even have a saying for them—they go together like oil and water. Some people think this about God’s Law and love. Others perhaps agree that God’s Law and love are compatible, but wouldn’t do well in explaining how they harmonize. Yet, they do. It is not possible for there to be discord or incompatibility, at least in an ultimate sense, between God’s Law and love, because they are God’s. But affirming that they harmonize is not the same as expressing how or why they do.

What Metaphor?

The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five brings to mind images of an orchard. It’s a serene and beautiful scene.  However, the more I look at the text of Galatians I start to think that the orchard metaphor may be a more pleasing one but not entirely consistent with what we find in the letter. But if not that then what image is appropriate?  What about a prison metaphor?

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.