Columns

The term “mental illness” causes most people to squirm. We think of people medicated into a stupor or committed to a hard-to-access floor of the hospital. But mental illness covers a broad variety of problems from anxiety to schizophrenia; from bi-polar disorder to various phobias.

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:

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).

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.

Christians are commanded to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16), be instant to always preach the Gospel (2 Tim. 4:2), continually work to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and pursue peace and holiness (Heb. 12:4). Far from being a calling to laziness, the Christian is called by Christ to continually be at work towards holiness. In fact, the command to pursue holiness is exactly like the command to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). It is a command for active obedience in the life of the Christian.

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.

Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman discuss the recent publication of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Dr. Butterfield, a former Lesbian professor, came to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of an unassuming Reformed pastor and his family.  Not only so, but she has come all the way from radical professor to home-schooling pastor’s wife in an exclusive psalm singing denomination.

 

Hosts Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt discuss the evangelical fascination with being cool.  The problem with being cool is that it is the overarching culture or zeitgeist that determines what is cool and what is not. Christians are called to be conformed to the image of the Son and this implies some very uncool ramifications which come in for consideration during this interesting conversation.

 

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.

McCheyne blog
"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb. 10:12)
This chapter stands at the beginning of the central theological argument of Hebrews: that Jesus is the great high priest who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him. In this chapter, the writer to the Hebrews wants to persuade us that Jesus is a superior priest because "he always lives to make intercession" for his people (7:25).

There is nothing more central to the Christian message than the cross of Christ. It is there in the shadows of the Old Testament. It explodes to the fore in the New, dominating the landscape of the Gospel records. And from the very first sermon preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost it becomes the hallmark of authentic apostolic ministry.

Memorial Day 2018. I stood in Union Square, New York City, attached to a personal voice amplification system. I was nervous. I opened my Bible and stepped forward, lifted my voice and began to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Strangers passed by. Some stopped to listen. A few hecklers showed up. A few even drew closer to seek out a personal conversation about the message.

If you look behind some pulpits, you will find the words, "Sir, we would see Jesus." These words spoken by the Greeks, as they sought Jesus so many years ago, continue to be the cry of the people of God. They are put behind pulpits to remind preachers of the congregation's burning desire to see Jesus.

Entering deeply into the documents of the history as well as the theology of the period, Oliver contributed to a profound and comprehensively integrated vision of Baptist identity. He engaged the historical documents critically and defended his judgment that some viewpoints transgressed the parameters of historic Baptist theology and others accelerated their demise.

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.

Rebecca Protten and the First Black Protestant Church in the Americas

 

            When seven-year-old Rebecca Protten was kidnapped from her family home in Antigua, she couldn’t possibly imagine that her new life in the island of St. Thomas, a Danish sugar colony in the West Indies, would become a catalyst for the conversion of many slaves and the foundation of what has been considered the first Black Protestant Church in the Americas.

Helene Kottanner – A Medieval Thriller

Helene Kottanner had been a loyal friend and adviser to Queen Elisabeth of Hungary. But when the queen asked her to steal the royal crown, her devotion was severely tested.

In ages past, Christian leaders wrote treatises with titles like On Dying Well or The Art of Dying fairly often. Life was short and people died at home, surrounded by family, so everyone witnessed death. And since medicine had few cures, people knew they could die any time. Many wanted to die well.

     One December, a week or two before Christmas, the worship leader announced the hymn "Joy to the World" and a woman nearby groaned, "Oh no, not 'Joy to the World' again." I understand her point; she wanted a new Christmas song, but still, how can we grow tired of joy to the world. Psalm 96 begins "Oh sing a new song to the Lord," so the desire for something new is legitimate. Still, we need to hear ourselves, since we can get tired of good news. We can forget the material advantages of living in the West. We can take loving family for granted.

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.

Back in 1959 a short book appeared under the title The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. It was the fictional account of a troubled teenager who took up running to deal with his inner troubles and it was later turned into a movie under the same title. I have often wondered if there might be mileage for book for those in ministry under a similar  title: The Loneliness of a lifetime Pastor. There are many aspects of a pastor’s calling that he and he alone must carry. Issues he has to face that few other people can grasp or enter into.

Church was never intended to be the spiritual equivalent of a spectator sport. Yet, somehow, this is how it has come to be treated, not only by many Christians; but by their pastors as well. Those who serve as ministers of Christ can easily approach their calling as though it is their job to please their people. While those who are under their care can hear them in such a way as to think it is indeed their job to do just that. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that congregations expand and shrink on the basis of perceived performance ratings.

Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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Think and Act Biblically

“In the Last Days of Narnia, far up to the west.” This is how C.S. Lewis begins the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. I reread this book last year, right in the middle of the pandemic lock-downs, and since doing so I’ve found myself more and more referring to the book to help find the language which describes so much of the cultural confusion we see around us.

Author Jim Belcher illustrates his chapter, “The Struggle Within,”[1] with a compelling psychoanalysis of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.[2] 

Evangelism Around the World

Jonathan and James have the privilege of speaking with Anthony Curto, professor of Missions and Apologetics at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Anthony also has extensive experience serving as a pastor, church planter, and missionary worldwide, all of which qualifies him as the ideal guest for today’s conversation. 

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.