Columns

The National Partnership is gearing up for the PCA’s General Assembly (June 29-July 2). If you are unfamiliar with the National Partnership, it is a confidential, dare I say secretive organization of PCA elders who, to use Bryan Chapell’s word, represents the more “progressive” wing of the PCA.

It appears we have a pretty intense food fight developing over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Lots of accusations are being thrown about. But that seems to be nearly unavoidable when disagreement arises over such an emotionally charged issue as race and how best to address the tensions that exist between us.

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).

There are essentially three approaches to life and ministry. The first is a life of robust theological study divorced from a pursuit of conformity to the image of Christ. The second is a quest for practical and purposeful living void of theological substance—and driven by a self-centered desire for performance. The third is a theology-driven life. It is only as we come to realize the third approach in our lives that we will avoid falling into either of the first two pits.

Three Approaches 

Books are a preacher’s whiskey--or so the saying goes. It doesn't take much to convince me that I need to add one more volume to my already full shelves. I remember, years ago, taking a doctoral seminar on Calvin with Sinclair Ferguson at Westminster Theological Seminary. At the end of a gloriously long day of lectures, I found myself in the old WTS bookstore. Dr. Ferguson made his way there, too. As if I was his padawan learner, he allowed me to follow him around and observe a seasoned master of book-perusal. He was quick and knowledgeable.

Thomas Watson (ca. 1620-1686) was a great Presbyterian Puritan preacher who wrote much and whose books are still read today. Watson’s most famous work, A Body of Practical Divinity, published posthumously in 1692, consisted of 176 sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Watson was a clear writer, adept at providing memorable phrases and illustrations. He joined theological understanding with warm spirituality and piety. When he died suddenly, he was engaged in private prayer.

The following letter comes from The Works of the Rev. John Newton (London, 1808) pp. 346–353. Reader beware: Newton's portraits are both humorous and piercing.


Whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, — think on these Things. – Phil. 4:8.

Dear Sir, 

This week, the gang flips through the pages of Daniel Block's book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. The team concurs: Block's ideas on today's fundamental elements of worship, such as singing and prayer, are thought-provoking and worth a read. The gang discusses what true worship is - does Old Testament ritual practice have a place in worship or are we just spinning our wheels?

This week the gang's in deep water discussing the holy sacrament of baptism - How should we treat it? Who should administer it? Why does it even matter? They reveal key exegetical defenses, share helpful resources for those on the fence, and tell what convinced them to hang up their own credobaptist views for paedobaptist ones. Come on down to the river... the water’s fine! 

 

Note: The following is adapted from a letter sent in response to a gracious correspondent who was concerned about Dr. Trueman’s representation of the words of Rev. Greg Johnson. It is published here rather than First Things due to the intramural nature of the matter involved.


Dear Friend,

Some years ago, I took a Nazirite vow never to write on race in America.  Yet, persuaded by the editorial team at First Things, I broke that vow.  Now it is time to offer a brief reflection on some of the responses.

"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)

Preachers love pulpits. We dream of Calvin’s crowned pulpit with the spiral staircase, Spurgeon’s rail pulpit in London, Palmer’s marble pulpit in Columbia, or the “high pulpit” of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah. But my favorite is the pulpit I have the privilege to fill each Lord’s Day. It’s made of hand-carved, quartersawn oak. Once the furniture makers’ lumber of choice, quartersawn boards are milled perpendicular to the tree’s growth rings, like hands on a clock.

When I told a friend in Italy that I was not familiar with the name Patrick Zaki, he was surprised. Zaki’s name has appeared frequently in the Italian news ever since his arrest in Cairo, Egypt, about nineteen months ago. And the news media continue to follow as his trial is repeatedly postponed.

Zaki has particularly caught the attention of Italians because he has studied there, at the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the western world. And his name has filled the news because his arrest appears to be as unjust as the discrimination he denounced.

Dane C. Ortlund. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages, hardback. $21.99.

Dane C. Ortlund is the author of the widely-acclaimed book Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners & Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), which has won awards, drawn the ire of certain readers, and was given away for free to every church who wanted it. 

Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2021). 368 pp. $50.00.

I recently returned from a speaking engagement in the desert, otherwise known as Tuscon, Arizona. While there I was captivated with the Lord’s handiwork of cacti and mountains, the sunrise and sunset. Even more so, as I taught God’s word, I was captivated with the Lord’s faithfulness to His people and the greatness of our God. As I left to return home my heart was singing!

           It had been a long, hot summer. The heat wave outside seemed to match the heat wave in my own heart of anger, chaos, disappointment, fear, grief, insecurity, loneliness, and physical pain. One night things seemed particularly bad. I was overwhelmed with the different needs of each of my four children, then ranging from age ten to a baby. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, Psalm 60 steadied my soul. I had a banner to run to in my fear. The Word of God would anchor my soul. It would give me the right answers.

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:

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.

John Bulmer – Lessons Learned in Bringing Christ to Australia

 

The name John Bulmer may not be familiar in the history of missions, especially outside of Australia, but he is a good representative of the sentiments and efforts of many Christians who witnessed, denounced, and tried to counteract the abuses, dispossession, marginalization and massacres of the Aborigines by white colonialists.

 

From Cabinet-Maker to Missionary          

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington

 

            “And what if you save (under God) but one soul?”[1]

            This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.

 

Selina’s Early Life

This blog is adapted from Dan Doriani’s book, published in July, Work That Makes Difference.

At this moment, two contradictory ideas about work compete for our attention. On one hand, economists say the desire to work is waning. People aren’t rushing to return to work after the disruptions of Covid. Specifically, employers can’t obtain laborers for entry level jobs. People would rather be unemployed than accept a job with low pay, poor benefits, and no prospects. Meanwhile, the church, and especially the faith and work movement, enthusiastically promotes the dignity and value of all labor. We cite Paul, who says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col.

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.

The much-loved hymn, ‘I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art’ – included in the Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 and attributed to John Calvin – contains the lines,

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,

No harshness hast Thou, and no bitterness

These words have often drawn comment, or been quoted because they point to a divine attribute we can easily overlook.

How little we appreciate the privilege and blessing of prayer. That we, sinful mortals as we are, should have access to God beggars belief. That he should even consider us, let alone countenance our requests is astounding. Yet he calls us to pray, he has opened the way of access in Christ for us to approach him in prayer. He has even given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pray, stirring the desire and giving us words. Jesus even gives us a model prayer that helps us shape the kind of prayers we know God delights to hear.

Mark Daniels is back with an update of what's happening at the Alliance this month.

“Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.”  - Cambridge Declaration

Dr. Wayne Spear writes, “The collection for the relief of famine suffered in Jerusalem occupied Paul’s attention and organizing skills for several years during his third missionary journey.  Since the apostle, with his great zeal for evangelism, gave his time and energy to an international and intercultural ministry of mercy, the church today ought to follow his example.”[1] The Lord Jesus through His apostles ordained deacons to ensure that we do. 

Looking to the scripture we see God’s magnificent hand at work in all that occurs on Earth. However, our God does not merely involve himself in the grandest events: celestial formation, solar activity, cosmic phenomena, etc. But, he intimately involves himself in the minutiae of everyday life. God shows himself time and time again, to be sincerely and personally concerned with the finer points of the lives of individuals. In fact, all that Jesus has done on the grand scale in creation was for the benefit of those he would later make peace with through his own blood (Colossians 1:15-22).

Gary Schnittjer returns this week to continue the fascinating and vital conversation about his book Old Testament Use of Old Testament. Released just a few weeks ago, it has already proven to be an essential tool in the hands of Bible scholars, pastors, and students of theology.

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.