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:
By now many of you have heard of the Genevan Commons Facebook group. The Genevan Commons (GC) group was apparently formed several years ago to provide a forum for discussion of Reformed theology. All well and good. But more recently some of the group members began attacking Aimee Byrd, Rachel Miller, and us (Carl and Todd). At times the banter degenerated into sinful mocking and slander. Unbecoming to say the least.
Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind. But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God. This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.
No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind, and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).
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.
It is becoming a more common practice in some PCA churches for sessions to make the intentional decision not to ordain the deacons of the church. I could spell out in more detail my understanding of why that is, but instead I’d like to do something more focused. I’d like to explore the idea of ordination and ask the question: what does ordination do? Why would someone want to be ordained? Why not just serve the church without being ordained? What are we missing out on as a church if we have officers functionally serving without the church actually ordaining them?
Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution hasn’t even been released, and—already—it’s the best-selling book of 2020! It is, at least, according to the hosts of this program. Yes, the author feels he’s found a pot of gold, and is buying that dream villa in Venice with the royalties. At the same time, co-host Todd feels privileged as he possesses an advanced copy of this treasure and believes he’ll be enjoying a free stay at his friend's Mediterranean estate.
The state of California has gathered its pitchforks and torches and they’re coming after Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened doors to all kinds of government regulations, including—to no one’s surprise—restrictions on worship gatherings.
The feud between Grace Community Church and the state of California rages on, and our dynamic duo is focusing on the fine line between obedience to Scripture and obedience to the limited, God-given power of the civil magistrate.
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).
Roman Catholics and Protestants alike often appeal to the massive body of works penned by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. The thinking behind the Reformation was seeded by the ad fontes principle of the Renaissance, and for theologians those sources were often the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine. For example, the Battles edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin includes an extensive list of citations to Augustine in its index. Likewise, Luther was an Augustinian who often made use of his order’s namesake’s works in his writings.
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:
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.
Liang Fa – The First Chinese Ordained Pastor
In 1804, fifteen-year-old Liang Fa moved to the big city of Guangzhou (then known as “Canton”) to find work, first as a brush-maker, then as an apprentice printer. His parents had provided a good classical Chinese education as long as their means had allowed, but poverty had forced them to stop.
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.
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?
John Calvin, the great French Reformer who devoted most of his ministry to the church in Geneva, ranks amongst the most influential theologians of all time. His legacy to the church – and, indeed to the world – goes far beyond what many realise. But out of the many aspects of his legacy there is one that stands out more than others that has probably been given less attention than it deserves and that is his emphasis on piety.
Studies on nonverbal communication have shown that the feet reveal our intentions often more than our faces or words do. If you are in a conversation with a friend and they are smiling at you but their feet are pointed towards the door, chances are that they are subconsciously planning their exit. A coworker may appear cool as a cucumber before giving a presentation, but their tapping foot might betray their nerves. Rarely are we surprised by where we find our feet planted, for the orientation of our feet demonstrates the position of our hearts.
I doubt that many readers will have any difficulty accepting the premise that we live in tumultuous times. Consider the contradictory claims surrounding the recent election:
“There was no Fraud!”
“Stop the Steal!”
How about claims related to COVID 19?
“Masks do not do any good.”
“Mask demonstrably reduce the spread of the virus.”
“Wearing a mask is a sign that you are “living in fear”.
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.