Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

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.”

 

The Institutes almost demand multiple readings. Not only because the work is so rich in doctrinal perspective, but also because it is, in fact, full of striking "one-liners."  Such surely include these words: "the chief part of self-denial ...  looks to God" (III. 7.8).

Calvin begins a new section here comprising five chapters given over to the nature of the Christian life.  It knew a separate existence from the Institutes published as a booklet in its right. Referring to his love of brevity (yes!), Calvin begins by outlining his plan and method. Christians must have a "love for righteousness."  We are to be holy because God is holy, "it is highly unfitting that the sanctuary in which he dwells should like a stable be crammed with filth." More specifically, the motivation for holiness is the imitation of Christ.

As we come the the end of 2018, the Alliance wants to thank you for another year of faithful readership and continued support of the Christward Collective. We look forward to 2019 and the ways in which the Lord will continue to work through us to help provide resources for the building up of His people. To that end, here are the top ten posts of this past year:

Doctrinal Pride

In Scotland there is a blasphemy law on the books. It has been around for hundreds of year. However, the last person to get brought up on blasphemy charges was a couple hundred years ago. Right now there is a debate in the larger society (and it has made its way into the government) as to whether this law should still be part of the Scottish law code.

God is slandered daily. Satan, who is a liar and the father of lies, makes sure of it. One of his favorite lies to spread about God is that he doesn’t love us, that he wants nothing more than for us to suffer and die. Satan wants us to think that God is more like the elder brother than the father of the parable of the prodigal son. As Thomas Manton said,

“It is the grand design of Satan to lessen our opinion of God’s goodness… He seeks to hide God’s goodness, and to represent him as a God that delights in our destruction and damnation, rather than in our salvation.”

Dear Timothy,

The Puritans show us the importance of catechizing your own church people and your neighbors. Like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis—the instruction in the doctrines of Scripture using catechisms.

Puritan catechizing was important in many ways. Here are five:

1. The Basics

This week’s conversation brings in a New Englander, and--mind you--a Grove City College alum! Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She’s a pastor’s daughter, a mom, an editor, and the author of A Place to Belong - Learning to Love the Local Church.

Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!

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.

When the great Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers was converted, even though he had been a minister for several years, it led to a seismic shift in his preaching. Gone were the days filled with mathematical and scientific studies, with but an hour or two on a Saturday evening given to sermon preparation.
Leadership is a vital issue for the Church. 

Appointing the right leaders, with the right qualifications (think godliness as well as giftedness, as per 3:1-7 and 4:12-16), is a top priority. The wrong kind of leaders can wreak havoc in the life of the church (as per 1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-5). That said, even when the right leaders are appointed, Paul still feels the need to give counsel on the way in which these leaders ought to be viewed.

The question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter. This is true about consumption. How often should we eat and drink? Most of us partake three times per day. Some prefer smaller quantities more often, while others gorge themselves at every meal. Still others diet to their peril, malnourished in their self-denial. Our bodies need food and drink to survive, the right amount to thrive. 

A few years ago, after writing the nth article on the benefits of learning church history, I decided never to touch this subject again. Editors kept asking me to write more, but I thought I had said all there was to say about it. Until now, when recent events have brought the study (or ignorance) of history in the limelight, providing inescapable object lessons on the dangers of dismissing, over-simplifying, or distorting historical facts.

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.

Although I do not know Rachel Green Miller personally and I am not on social media, I have been able to follow some of the debate surrounding her writing for a number of years. In my work for ACE, I have published her articles in the past, and have defended her in various ways both publicly and privately, while also voicing what I hope were fair and constructive criticisms. Miller's recent book, Beyond Authority and Submission, published by our friends at P&R, was endorsed by some close personal friends of mine, people whose expertise and acumen I greatly admire.

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:

i. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

ii. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
vii. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

Johannes Bugenhagen – Sharing the Gospel and Caring for the Poor

Known mostly as pastor and church planter during the Protestant Reformation (he has been called “the Apostle to the North”), Johannes Bugenhagen was also an important model in the tradition of Christian love and compassion.

A Wittenberg Man

The Familiar Case of Benjamin Dutton

Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.

        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

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

     A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.

About two weeks ago, I had the privilege of co-chairing an Alliance conference, the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.  Our main speakers were Alistair Begg and Ian Hamilton, and the topic was God’s providence.  What a wonderful topic  for reflection!

On the Friday of the conference, I also hosted Alistair Begg at Cairn, and conducted an interview with him. You may be interested in the video of the interview:

Omnipotent is one of the many words which appear in the older versions of the English Bible, but not in the more modern ones.  It is also part of the vocabulary of our hymns, but is rarely employed in more modern choruses and Christian songs.  It is a word which can only be applied to God Himself.  When used of God, it refers to fact that He is all-powerful, that He is unconstrained by any outside force; He can do anything consistent with His character.

We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?

In almost every doctrine in Scripture there is a simplicity that belies its profundity. They can be summarised and defined in a single sentence of a catechism answer and yet be the theme of substantial books. They can be explained by children and yet preoccupy the minds of the greatest theologians. So, whatever the particular truth in view, we ought to approach it with a deep sense of there being more to it than may at first meet the eye.

Our English term sanctification derives from two Latin terms sanctus and facio. When brought together they mean “to make holy.” If we are to understand how the term sanctification is used in Scripture, we must understand the Scriptural use of the term holy.

When Freud arrived in America to give five lectures at Clark University he is said to have quipped, “We are bringing them the plague.”  He knew of what he was speaking.  He wrote to a colleague referring to his invitation to Clark University saying, “By the way, we could soon be ‘up [expletive] creek’ the minute they come upon the sexual underpinnings of our psychology.”[1]  Writing to another of his colleagues he said that when the sexual implications of our psychology are understood “they will drop us.”  Today

Pastors and Polemics

 Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?  

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.