Columns

In the most recent episode of Mortification of Spin, we address the current retrieval of Classical Theism going on among Evangelicals. It’s a fascinating subject and one that merits careful consideration. If you are an armchair theologian or aspire to be and would like to learn more about this important topic, the following are some excellent resources:

 

Let the reader understand: This list would almost certainly be longer if I had read every book I had planned on reading in 2019. There are some notable books still on my desk which I have not yet begun but which I am quite sure are excellent. Nevertheless, among the many wonderful books I read that were published in 2019 these are my top picks...

Happy birthday, John Calvin!  It is my privilege to post the Institutes blog on this glad occasion, giving thanks to God for the enduring legacy of this great Christian. 

In these sections, Calvin is clearly wearied by the ceaseless attacks on justification through faith alone, although he manly perseveres: "come, let us keep beating them back!" he exhorts.  In his responses, we encounter a series of classic and very helpful statements of what the Reformed position believes concerning faith and works.  A truly classic statement appears in paragraph 1: "Justification is withdrawn from works, not that no good works may be done, or that what is done may be denied to be good, but that we may not rely upon them, glory in them, or ascribe salvation to th

When I was fourteen, I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play. I functionally sacrificed my high school education on the altar of seeking to impress girls with my supposed singing/songwriting abilities. I took a guitar to just about every party or gathering to which I went. I could tune it by ear, so that I could perform on the spot. For Christmas in 1995, My dad bought me a beautiful new Martin.

One of my son’s favorite Bible stories is that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to visit the site where that event took place. As we stood on Mount Carmel and looked across the Jezreel Valley, it was surreal to think of the great altar where God’s people tried over and over to get their false god to respond to their cries.

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

The professor, the megachurch pastor, and the housewife theologian (AKA professional potato peeler) gather for a casual chat about a topic that it keeps on giving. 

Following up last week’s discussion on church discipline, Carl and Aimee bring up the closely related topic of the Lord’s Supper. What does church discipline tell us about the importance of church membership and the Lord’s Supper?

While Aimee was off not doing stairs and trying to become a female Bond villain, on Tuesday the rest of Team Spin was refreshing the parts ot the theological world which other, more transformational, evangelical organizations cannot reach. 

Todd and I are spending much of this week attending a private Church Leadership and Growth seminar at Yale Divinity School, organized by my old postgraduate friend, Bruce Gordon, the Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History and co-editor with me of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Calvinism.

"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)

...which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. (Eph. 1:8-10 NKJV)

'What makes a preacher choose any book or passage of the Bible to preach on?'

That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question I tend to ask myself on not a few occasions and feel I have to answer to my congregation (usually when I'm beginning a new series). I suppose there is a degree of similarity in that to the mountaineer's question and answer: 'Why climb that mountain? - Because it's there!'

The rather measured and restrained work by John Livingston Nevius (1829-1893), Demon Possession and Allied Themes; Being an Inductive Study of Phenomena of Our Own Times, delivers exactly what the title promises, though what it promises is rather unusual by the author's own admission.

Lois Lowry tells a story about how a utopian state required that all of the community's memories going back through the generations be committed to a single person, a receiver. The elders engineered a society where no one but the receiver had to feel or remember. Life was safe and comfortable. The citizens were spared the pain of knowing, of emoting. And they could always call on the receiver when faced with a decision that exceeded their self-imposed limited experience.

That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

I read John Webster’s The Culture of Theology a few weeks ago. There is much to discuss in this penetrating book of the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures he gave, but I thought I’d just share a small nugget and some reflection on it:

 

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.

It was 1543. North of the Alps, Protestant reformers were busy publishing books. In Rome, the papacy was busy banning them. Still, the publishers in Venice, a proudly independent republic with a reputation of opposition to the pope, were persistent. That year’s best-seller was an Italian essay by a characteristically long name: Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Cristo crocifisso verso i cristiani (Most useful treatise on the benefit of Jesus Christ crucified for Christians).

            On June 28, 1586, the Slovenian Reformer Primož Trubar died in Derendingen, in the Holy Roman Empire. Almost unknown in the US, he is a national hero in Slovenia. His portrait has appeared on banknotes, coins, and postage stamps, and his life has been told and retold in books, articles, and even a TV series.

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.

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.

There is much more to grace than meets the eye. Indeed, to borrow and slightly tweak the title of a song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1955, ‘Grace is a many splendored thing’. Although we instinctively link it to the idea of God’s demerited favour towards sinners in salvation, when we begin to trace its contours throughout the Scriptures, we see facets that only make us appreciate its beauty and blessing more deeply. This kaleidoscope of beauty is worth exploring in its major component parts and my hope is to do this through a series of articles designed to unpack it.

There is a certain view of church that regards it (especially as expressed in the local congregation) as a ‘voluntary association’. The idea has been notably prevalent among Christians in the United States, but has been embraced more widely in other parts of the world. Interestingly this perception of church only began to increase in popularity in post-colonial America with the growth of Non-Conformist churches.

Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!

"What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God's words, his submission to Christ's Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else." — Derek Thomas

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons opens with Linus and lucy staring out the window.  Rain is pouring down outside.

After rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and being enthroned at God’s right hand, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. The significance of this event cannot be exaggerated. It is the culmination of Christ’s exaltation short of his second coming. It is here that every benefit obtained in his suffering and subsequent glory is transferred to us. In his sermon at Pentecost, the Apostle Peter describes the Holy Spirit as “the promise”, referring to the promise to Abraham of a blessing for all nations (Acts 2:33,39; Gal 3:14).

Our dynamic duo brings up a topic that is usually difficult, and—many times—hard to swallow in the local church. Church leaders and congregants alike can also often misunderstand its procedure and purposes.  

What is church discipline, and what does Scripture teach about it? What’s the purpose of church discipline, and what does it represent to the body of Christ? Jonathan and James answer those questions, and explain what ecclesiastical discipline is meant to protect as well. 

God Without Passions

What do we mean when we say that God is without passion…that He’s indifferent to His creation? Is God moved by anyone or anything? How should we handle the difficult Bible passages that seem to contradict the doctrine of impassibility? 

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.