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:

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:

This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.

What if you told your wife you only planned to take her on a dinner date once a year during your anniversary so as to make the expression of your marriage relationship extra special? And for that matter, you would also plan to have all other meals separately until that time, so as to enhance the enjoyment of your annual reunion across the dining establishment table of her choice? She would probably ask for marriage counseling to protect against the unnecessary straining of your relationship by an unreasonably forced lack of regular, deliberate, and intimate fellowship.

With the PCA General Assembly approaching soon, Todd needs to decompress…so, Carl meets him at our mythical “local pub” to act as his therapist. Of course, Professor Trueman doesn’t miss the chance to snub his old friend, and “rub in” the fact that Todd belongs to a boring and uncontroversial denomination (as if!).

Our precocious pair shares a discussion of “Pride Month,” when big corporations, the media, and others strive to display their unwavering support for the LGBTQ+ movement. Carl and Todd take on everything from cartoons, to advertisements, to countless other means employed by “gender activists” to indoctrinate society and shape our children at a very early age.

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 recent years, painful examples of abuse have come to light both in our culture at large and in the church in particular.  Perhaps just as troubling as the abuse itself has been the way that those in power – including those with ecclesiastical power – have at times responded to that abuse.  Sometimes people wonder if the existence of abuse in the church (or the examples of abuse being overlooked by church leaders) means that the Bible itself excuses abuse.

Debates are rarely won on the battlefield of terminology, but they are frequently lost there. This is certainly the case in today’s debates over sexuality. Virtually all of the key terms are so freighted with ideological ordnance that entire regiments of exegetical and philosophical argument can be wiped out at a moment’s notice by a careless choice of words.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020), 256 pp., hardcover, $27.00

Samuel Renihan, Crux, Mors, Inferi: A Primer and Reader on Christ's Descent (Independently published, 2021), 230pp., Paperback/Hardcover/Kindle. 

Samuel Renihan has recently published an excellent book on the doctrine of the descent of Christ into hell. His thesis—that Christ descended to hell on the Sabbath, as stated in the ancient creeds—is one with which I was in agreement prior to reading it. What surprised me was how helpful it was devotionally.

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.

Solan Gidada – An Ethiopian Christian Hero

            His family name, Gidada, meant “one who weeps for his people.” But when Solan Gidada became blind at age five as a result of smallpox, his parents wept for him. But he was alive. Seven of his siblings had died from the same illness during an epidemic that swept through Ethiopia.

            None of the traditional remedies restored Solan’s sight. He seemed doomed to become a beggar for life.

John Hus’s Company of Women

John Hus, the Bohemian Reformer who was condemned as heretic at the Council of Constance, was supported by a large number of women. This was, in some ways, unusual. The same couldn’t be said, for example, in the case of John Wycliffe, in England. One possible reason was that John Hus valued the active role of women in the church more than most medieval theologians.

     “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).

     Suppose that several young couples decide to live in community. Questions arise. Shall we try to live near each other? If so, where? In the city or the suburbs? What is our view of child safety? Is the goal to remove risks or to teach children to assess risks? May they walk several blocks to each other's homes? Will children wear helmets on bicycles?

Editor’s note: Place for Truth is pleased to post an excerpt from Dan Doriani’s forthcoming commentary on Romans, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series from P&R Publishing (Late Fall 2021).

Propitiation

     It is vital to revisit and reaffirm essential doctrines, especially society questions or even attacks them. Propitiation is just such a topic, for it represents a vital aspect of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.

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 book of Ezra is notoriously difficult to read, let alone preach; but it is there in the canon of Holy Scripture to edify and equip the saints (2Ti 3.16). Whereas, at one level, it provides a crucial link in the chain of God’s redemptive dealings with Israel, it is ultimately vital to our understanding of salvation history for the world. It does this in more ways than we might at first realise.

How easy it is for us to become frustrated over our carelessness in prayer and, indeed, the way it all too often ends up with prayerlessness and damages our walk with God. Like Jesus’ disciples, again and again we need to say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’ That is, not merely that we need to learn repeatedly what to pray and how to pray, but also the place of prayer as a sine qua non of the life of faith.

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

We have everyday encounters with rejection in job searches, auditions, and relationships, and yet it never seems to get any easier. Rejection undercuts our deep desire to belong, and too often we settle for the shallow approval of the world rather than the eternal embrace of the Father. Our culture peddles self-love and inclusion, but it’s standard of acceptance is a moving target. It waxes and wanes based on what we have to offer, and how well we conform to their ideals. Despite our misplaced desire for approval, God's response to us is counterintuitive to what we might expect.

To understand anger and its peaceful Biblical therapies, we make use of the Puritan John Downame’s book, The Cure of Unjust Anger.[1]  Downame focuses on Ephesians 4:26 to frame his discussion:  Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Vital Churches

Wendell McBurney is our special guest. He’s been dean of research at Indiana University and has done a lot of writing in academic circles. Dr. McBurney has also been a valuable member of the RPCNA—the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America for many decades. Today’s topic is his recent book related to his work as a churchman. 

R.C. Sproul, A Life 

Reformation Bible College President Stephen Nichols joins Jonathan and James. Their old friend stops by to discuss the biography he’s written about pastor, teacher, and theologian R.C. Sproul. Nichols talks about his working and personal relationship with Sproul, and the wonderful experience it was to finally compile his memories and “napkin notes” into this lively book.

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.