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.

 

Here Calvin turns to the issue of God's chastisement of his children as opposed to vengeance and punishment of his enemies, no easy subject to talk about let alone experience.  A couple of things may be worth emphasizing.  First is Calvin's setting God's chastisement in the context of God as father.  Calvin lands on the metaphor.  Fathers want to see their children flourish, and they recognize that certain behaviors and actions either contribute to that or hinder that.   The ones that hinder need to be dealt with.  Fathers also want to be quick to be merci

Among the list of things I missed by not growing up Catholic would be the discussion of venial and mortal sins.  Alas, all lost on me.  But one thing I do remember hearing while growing up is that sin is sin, that the heart is desperately wicked, and that, well, sinners sin a lot.  Calvin puts it this way, "For not a day passes when the most righteous of men does not fall time and again."  No amount of time in the confessional will make amends.  

 

In the previous post, we began to consider the gospel content of some Christmas carols. Again, it is important to remember that some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross.

When church staff are being properly shepherded and led, when they know the expectations that the leaders have of them, when they have a clear sense of their purpose and significance within the greater body of the church, when they are appreciated and given adequate feedback, and when they are being equipped to carry out their tasks with greater competency and faith, leading and managing staff can be one of the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry.

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:

This is the final post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654).

Carl calls it “the triumph of hope over experience,” as Michael Morales bravely returns for a sit-down with our dynamic duo. Morales discusses his new book, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption. Michael is professor of Biblical Studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister in the PCA.

The dispute between our hosts about which denomination is the greatest in the kingdom of God—the OPC or the PCA—might never end. Aiming to minimize any controversy and tension within the denomination, we bring in a sound-minded PCA southern gentleman to share some good news.

Brad Isbel is a ruling elder in his church, one of the hosts of the podcast Presbycast (where he’s AKA “Chortles Weakly”), and the director of MORE in the PCA, which is the topic of the day.

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?

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

"Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season: reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching"- II Timothy 4:2
    
Last Monday I got together with several other men with whom I went to seminary thirty years ago. It was an informal reunion built around the visit of  Peter, a Korean student in our class. I expected a laid-back evening of  reminiscing, but instead I was deeply moved by Peter's testimony.
We would do well to meditate on the truths and the tone of this chapter as we live and speak for Christ in the twenty first century world. Those in ministry, especially during the early years, would do well to return to this chapter again and again. 

The medieval church struggled to approach the Lord with confidence through the sacraments. When teaching my seminary class about this, the professor asked, “How can we live the Christian life without getting ulcers?” This is a good question. Maybe you have wondered about this when coming to the Lord’s Supper yourself.

One of the most acute and enduring struggles that I have experienced in my own life has been the struggle to be content with myself. The real problem, as I have discovered, is that deep down I don’t want to be the person God has made me to be. Deep down I want to be someone else instead.

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

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

One great consequence of the Trinity Debate of 2016, which started over the issue of CBMW leaders teaching an ontological, eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS/ERAS) and then applying that to men and women, is a resurgence of classical teaching on the Trinity and on the  importance of biblical theology over and against Biblicism. However, even as the overwhelming consensus was that those who teach ESS are not in line with confessional Nicene trinitarianism, there never was any retraction of the teaching from CBMW or the from leaders who taught it.
One of the fruits produced by the Trinity Debate of 2016 is renewed focus on the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century: Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Their theological works are pivotal in upholding an orthodox confession of the church, particularly in their work on the Trinity which led to the revised version of the Nicene Creed finalized at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
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.

We may not always realise it, but the Bible has a theology of conflict. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, we are literally no further than 57 verses into Genesis before we find ourselves in the conflict zone that changed the course of history. And the conflict that emerges there in the opening section of Genesis 3, culminating in the fall, very quickly proves itself to be the fountainhead of every other form of conflict this world has ever witnessed.

Constancy is something every human being craves. Knowing that, in the midst of all the upheaval and change that marks the course of life, there are anchor-points that provide stability along the way. But where can we find such certainty?    

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

What Metaphor?

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?

In the book of Judges the men of Ephraim provide the church a vivid lesson in the ugly sin of discord. Having loved themselves so much, they could not hate discord and so be like the Lord their God (Proverbs 6:19).

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.