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." 

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

Satan encourages spiritual ignorance.

Unbiblical thinking frequently results in unbiblical living. "Gross errors make the heart foolish, and render the life loose," writes Thomas Brooks. “Error spreads and frets like a gangrene, and renders the soul a leper in the sight of God." We are more likely to indulge our desires when the enemy has obscured God's truths and filled and our minds with wrong ideas. The Holy Spirit transforms believers by renewing their minds (Romans 12:2); the devil employs his craftiness to lead minds astray (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

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:

Believe it or not, some Presbyterians do jump the fence and become Baptist! Such is the case of Gavin Ortlund. Gavin is a theologian and pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in California. 

As the idea of doctrinal and theological retrieval has risen in prominence, what then is theological retrieval? What exactly are we seeking to “retrieve”—and why? 

Todd Billings is professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI, and a minister in the Reformed Church in America. He’s the author of Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, but his most recent book—The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live—is today’s topic. 

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.

One of our favorite family movies was "Up," the wonderful Pixar film that came out a couple of years ago. One of the key moments in the movie came early: after the child Carl meets Ellie, she comes to his room with her adventure book. She made him swear not to tell another person about it: "Cross your heart! Do it!" We smile because we know what this is about. Our promises are confirmed by an oath that invites the other person confidence to trust our word.

Envy is often misunderstood. I suspect many of us today are apt to confuse it somewhat with Greed. Both, it seems, boil down to wanting more stuff, so that Envy would seem to designate merely the sub-set of cases in which someone else already has the stuff that you want (and perhaps their having it is what prompts your wanting it). 

At some point in your schooling, you have probably come across the handy diagram that explains the various components of a strong, dramatic narrative. It’s a little line that begins steadily with the exposition, takes a vicious turn skyward with the conflict and rising action, reaches its peak with the climax, and then gently descends with the falling action and denouement. In the worship service, the blessing and sending are like the denouement. We are coming off the mountain of the Lord where we have fellowshipped with God Himself (Isa. 25:6; Hebrews 12:22).

Rowan Williams. Christ the Heart of Creation. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018. Hardback. 304 pp. $42.99.

Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics Could Save Your Life

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity (Vol. 1), John Bolt, ed. et al. Baker Academic, 2019. HC, 608 pp.

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.

Scipione Lentolo – A Firm Hand in Unstable Times

 

Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia and the Birth of Christian Missions in the Hawaiian Islands

 

Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia lived only 26 years and is seldom known outside of the Hawaii. And yet, many believe that his love for the gospel changed the course of his islands forever.

 

A Troubled Childhood

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.

Asaph, reflecting on some of his deepest struggles in the life of faith, concludes one ohis psalms by saying, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73.28). David says something similar in the most memorable of his penitential psalms with the words, ‘Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’ (Ps 51.11). God’s people often only begin to appreciate the importance of knowing God’s presence when they are deprived of it through their own spiritual wanderings. How, then, can we safeguard the nearness of God?

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.

"The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God, it is all for his glory." —James Boice

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals delivers the truths of the doctrines of grace to the Church around the globe through in-person training and live-streaming events, broadcasting, and publishing. 

Bob Brady gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This information and more can be found on the November Member Update

The transcendentals – goodness, beauty, and truth – they’re called the transcendentals because they are ubiquitous; they’re not merely parts and aspects of our reality, they are the moral-fabric that make up all of reality. Being as they are communicable attributes of our Creator God it stands to reason that they will be found, in greater or lesser degrees, in every part of God’s creation. Peter Kreeft makes the astute point that “everything that exists is in some way good, and in some way true, and in some way beautiful.”[1]

One of the communicable attributes of God is his attribute of righteousness. Righteousness is the character of God where he does what is right, true, and just. To be righteous to act and judge things as they are. God is righteous and therefore has a standard for what it right and what is wrong. God’s standard is intrinsic to himself: his righteousness is an outworking of his holiness.

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.