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.

 

During recent debates over justification, it has occasionally been said that a tendency to works righteousness is merely a local problem.  It was Luther's problem, and probably Augustine's too, and unfortunately the Reformation has assumed that it is everyone's problem and that our doctrine of justification should always address works righteousness.  Calvin's treatment of works and justification in 3:14 takes precisely the opposite position.  He regards works righteousness as endemic to the idolatrous, sinful human condition.  This is not merely a matter of dogmatics for

Calvin borrowed generously from earlier theologians (especially Augustine) in formulating his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Of one group, though, he was especially critical: "the Schoolmen," also known as "the Scholastics." 

I recently read Ezra 9 in my morning devotions and was struck by the character of Ezra’s sorrow over the sins of God’s people. His grief was intense; it was profound. His sorrow over the sins of God's people had tangible evidences to it and true effects on God’s people. There are lessons here for us to learn--lessons that will help us understand the nature of sin, the nature of repentance and confession, and the nature of God’s mercy and grace. Consider the following:

God's word is so rich and full, we will never be able to exhaust its wisdom, instruction, correction, comfort, encouragement and restorative power in this life. There is much in Scripture that we will never experientially appropriate into our lives until God has placed us in a particularly difficult situation in life. There are many Psalms that we neglect until we find ourselves in the difficult circumstances of life.

It has long been popular to characterize Anglicanism as a distinctive middle way or via media between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Many today understand Anglicanism as a unique combination of the best features of the two traditions, which avoids the perceived errors of both Protestants and Catholics. Indeed, some view this via media as the definitive way to understand Anglicanism’s unique vocation as a religious tradition.

Family life today is disintegrating, and by studying the Puritan family we have discovered some reasons why. First, many families do not share a worthy goal. In addition, they lack an exalted central principle that will direct them towards this worthy goal.

And yet, even with a worthy goal and an agreed means an organisation can fail unless each member knows what they are supposed to be doing.

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?

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).

"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)

In our last post, we saw how Tertullian clarified, expounded, and defended the doctrine of the Trinity. Now we turn to another figure in the western, Latin branch of the Church: Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300–367 AD).

What would a world without forgiveness look like?

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

 
Last week I had the pleasure of reading New Testament Scholar, Paula Gooder’s responsible work of historical imagination, Phoebe: A Story. In this historical fiction, Romans 16 comes alive. It begins with the last words of the letter to the Romans, “…to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!
I am a member of an OPC church. When I tell people that, sometimes I feel the need to offer an apologetic, “It’s not like the image you have in your head of the fuddy-duddy, frozen chosens. We are a lively, hospitable community of believers.” It’s a healthy, thriving church with good doctrine, godly leadership, and a great body of brothers and sisters in the faith. So much so, that we attract Christians from different denominations into the OPC for the first time.
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.

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.

It is hard to overstate the impact the late Francis Schaeffer has had through his writings, ministry and work of L’Abri, the study centre he and his wife established in Switzerland. He was a man for his times who provided a Christian response to the cultural mega shift that began in the Sixties and which he tracked right through until his death in 1984. He provided a God-centred response to the blatantly man-centred culture that was emerging and which came of age during his life-time.

Nothing tears at the inner fabric of our humanity more than ruptured relationships. Whether it be the heart of a family ripped apart through divorce, or rebellious children, a church fellowship shredded by conflict, or all the other levels and layers of human relationships that are the perpetual casualties of Adam’s fall. It is often only in the midst of division that we fondly wish for the sweet unity we once knew.

Registration is now open for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids. Find out more about the PCRT, The Bible Study Hour, and more as Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

I enjoy good children’s books, and not just to read to my children, but because they can be beautiful, fun, and moving. Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess is one of my favorites. It contains a page halfway through that is dedicated to the Waiting Place, drawn in dreary shades of grey, blue, and brown. Anyone who has felt stuck in life can relate to this page. Whether you were frozen by indecision, waylaid by illness, job loss, or some other crisis, or facing some other intractable scenario, what got you unstuck?

Many years ago my wife and I participated in a very large scavenger hunt. We had tremendous fun and wasted a lot of gas!  But imagine a humorous scenario.  Picture one of our colleagues finding a clue and instead of using it to press on to find the next clue he became enamored with the current clue. Perhaps he marveled at the style or the cleverness of the clue.  But all of his marveling did not move the game forward but instead frustrated his companions.  That is how we should imagine those in the story of John 4:46-54.

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.