And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
This is one of the most memorable passages in all of the Institutes beginning with those words, "We are not our own..." For Calvin, self-denial and cross-bearing are the twin (negative) marks of our holiness. In this section Calvin is at his most eloquent. You can hear the preacher in him: "we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal."
Yet more on purgatory; Calvin really does not like this absurd doctrine and takes up a passage, the interpretation of which has bothered folk in our time in an entirely different manner. What did Paul mean by saying that some will be saved "but only as through fire" (1 Cor.3: 15)? Those who minimize sanctification as evidence of true conversion in our time have employed this text to suggest that we can take Jesus as Savior and be saved without submitting to the demands of his Lordship. Medieval Catholicism viewed it as evidence of purgatory.
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:
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.
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.
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?
"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).
Of the making of commitments there seems to be no end. Having formed any number of New Year’s Resolutions, we find ourselves bombarded by new pressures from within and without—and after nearly a month, perhaps we have already decided to call it quits.
But what if we take a moment to step back from our personal goals, hopes, and dreams for 2021, and consider a biblical resolution fit for the church in our day? That resolution would echo the familiar Edwardsian formula: “Resolved, that we will make disciples.”
“It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake.” — Westminster Confession of Faith XXIII.4
Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.
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:
Wang Mingdao – Against the Christless Christianity of the Authorized Church
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
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
I'm not sure why I have such a hard time resting and heeding the fourth commandment. Maybe I'm still trying to silence my grade school teachers, who constantly berated me for laziness (Actually, I was lazy). Or maybe I just follow the American way.
Last week, I entitled my column, “How to Wreck a Church.” In my mind, the false teachers in Jude had (and have) the potential to do just that. They come in secretly; they flatter; they are immoral and follow their own desires; ultimately, they will be destroyed by God. But when we step back and look at Jude’s letter as a whole, we see that everything in the letter – including the description of the church-wreckers – is written in the service of one major theme. It all fa
As I look back on my days at seminary, I can see some courses which were more helpful than others. This is probably due to a combination of factors: my own interests and aptitude; the strength of the teacher; the subject matter itself. Most classes were valuable, but a few classes were forgettable.
It is often the case that we only begin to appreciate what really matters in life when, for some reason, we have lost it. We say, ‘absence make the heart grow fonder’ when we are forced to be away from someone we love deeply. Or, ‘you don’t know what you have until you have lost it’ when we realise how much we have taken something for granted. The same is true in a much deeper sense when it comes to our appreciation of God and what it means to enjoy communion with him.
Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’
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.
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.