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.

 

My how time flies, we like to say.  But, reading Calvin, we realize that while time flies, challenges to the gospel seldom change.  Chapter 16 of Book 3 takes up challenges and accusations to the doctrine of justification through faith alone.  These arguments never seem to die (in part because they are kept alive by their original source, the Roman Catholic Church).  The good news is that heresy is always the source of many excellent writings by orthodox Christians.  Thus the doctrinal and pastoral value of these four paragraphs in Calvin's Institutes is very high,

Reading Calvin is always instructive not merely for what he says about the topic at hand, but also for the way he approaches the discussion.  In his rebukes against those who say that works give us merit before God, Calvin explores their misuse of Scripture, seeing the errors of his own day as a result of sloppy handling of the subject in prior ages.  Also, Calvin understood that those who will not submit themselves to Scripture will always seek to impose their views onto the Bible.  So it is with works and merit.  The fact that the Bible speaks of certain actions pleasi

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.

This is the first post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654), an influential leader at the Westminster Assembly. Each post will focus on a particular question:

1. What is a covenant of works? 
2. Did God make a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden?
3. In what sense is the covenant of works still in effect? 
4. How does knowing about the covenant of works affect my life?

"With troubled heart and trembling hand I write.
     The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met
     When I on fading things my hopes have set." [1]

Carl and Todd welcome a returning guest: Ismael Hernandez. He’s the executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute and author of Not Tragically Colored. Ismael joins in to discuss the current state of racial tension and politics in America. His experience growing up with Marxist ideals, and--later in life—joining a religious Marxist group gives Hernandez special insight into the topic.
 

It’s been a banner year for great books, and the Spin Crew has chosen yet another winner! This time, Carl and Todd sit down with Eric Jacobsen, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WI, and author of Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens. What are the pieces of glass Eric refers to, and how have they changed our world? 

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.

"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)

Death and darkness dominate America's Halloween celebrations. Children dress as ghosts and ghouls, and October is the season for horror films. Many Americans, both Christian and non-Christian, think that this fascination with the macabre must be anti-Christian. They may be then surprised to learn that Halloween is actually a Christian holiday.[1]

On August 19, 2020, Netflix released the film Cuties, billing it as a coming-of-age story that deals with the pressing cultural issue of how social media affects young girls. The director, Maïmouna Doucouré, says that the film comes with “an activist message: we must all together figure out what is best for all children.” The main character in the film is a young girl growing up in a Muslim family with traditional mores, who is exposed to a new world through social media and a friendship with a group of young dancers.

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.

Maria Fearing and the Mission to the Congo

If you think you are too old for something you wish to do, Maria Fearing can prove you wrong. She learned to read when she was 33 and became a missionary at 56. She would have continued until her death if the Presbyterian mission board hadn’t stopped her when she was 77. Far from being done, she continued to teach Sunday School for another 16 years.

From House Servant to Primary School Teacher

Georgi Vins and the Christian Resistance to Soviet Religious Persecution

On April 26, 1979, 50-year-old Georgi Petrovich Vins was woken up in his cell in the labor camp where he had been serving sentence for four years. He was asked to change into his own clothes, flown to Moscow, then told that he would lose his Russian citizenship and be sent to America.

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?

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

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.

In our last post we considered Paul’s warning to believers in the Galatian churches, ‘If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another’ (Ga 5.15). And we noted that, sadly, this warning needs to be repeated to every church in every generation. The family of God through the ages has been torn apart by divisions between its members. However, we also noted in the very last sentence of the article that, because of the gospel, division need not have the last word. The reason being that the gospel holds out the promise of reconciliation.

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.

Two streams have formed Evangelicals—the ecumenical creeds from early church councils and the Protestant reformation.

Events, Reformed resources, and more. Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Sign up for Reformation Sunday

When we study one of the Lord’s attributes we focus on a characteristic that is attributed to His essence or being to tell us what He is like and Who He is.  Some attributes are exclusive to God and so referred to as incommunicable.[1]  But God shares other of His characteristics with His redeemed people—these we call His communicable attributes—and when we study them we also learn about how we are to be more like Him.

"May you live in interesting times" is an English expression that purports to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse.

Green Pastures

Ryan Davidson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA, and the author of Green Pastures, A Primer on the Ordinary Means of Grace. Ryan starts the discussion by defining means of grace, then drills down to explain the ordinary means of grace. 

What does the word ordinary really mean in this context? Ryan identifies the fruit and the effects of the ordinary means of grace as they are biblically applied in the life of a congregation.  

“Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless.”
― Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts

I came across this little book by Richard Baxter when my fiancée and I, along with some friends, decided to go through the Tim Challies 2019 reading challenge.

Though short, it has been a wellspring of encouragement as I dwell on life, death, and days to come.

In 1996 I attended a reformed conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That year was my first as a seminarian and my second as a Calvinist. If I remember correctly it was the first reformed conference I’d ever attended. Although it has been over twenty years ago, I still remember the opening night.  The speaker’s contagious laugh lightened the room. He was fun and having fun.  I still remember him saying, “Pittsburgh is the only city in the world whose fight song for their football team is a polka!”  And then he laughed and so did everyone else.