Columns

 

I was priviledged to write a response to the question, "If God is love, why won't everyone be saved?" for the December edition of the excellent online journal CREDO.

 

Calvin borrows the idea of a just war from Augustine. Everything is to be tried in order to preserve the peace before war is declared, though waging war obviously means that reparations must be made, if necessary. A consideration of such reparations naturally leads Calvin to the question of taxation. Rulers are not to be extravagant. The people have not to be tax dodgers. Nothing much has changed, has it?

Calvin here shows two things - his concern about the dangers of tyrannical government, and also his apparently relaxed attitude regarding forms of political government. You may say that he derives the possible forms from the ancient world, but in fact as a matter of logic there are only thee - rule by a king, by a few, or by all. Calvin rules out rule by everyone.

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.

Dear Timothy,

You asked me in your last letter, “As you look back over 25 years of ministry, what was the most helpful, optional spiritual discipline that you maintained for your own spiritual life and for your preaching and pastoral ministry?” I answer without hesitation: Maintaining a steady diet of Puritan literature.

The sacraments have always been a point of contention in the church. Someone once said that the sacraments serve as a litmus test of the strength or weakness of a system of theology. This is because many aspects of what we believe, such as the doctrines of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, of Scripture, of the Church, and even of eschatology converge here and find practical outlets.

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?

Last week, I offered some preliminary thoughts on the relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology.  This week, I want to consider why it is that theology demands more than just harvesting the immediate results of the exegesis of biblical texts. 

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Paideia Center Conference in Orlando, focused this year on the catholic, creedal understanding of God.

"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)

In 1754, Benjamin Franklin published a cartoon called “Join or Die.” It pictured a snake cut into eights representing the British colonies in the New World. Franklin argued that unless the colonies formed one body, they would never be able to resist the powerful threat of the French and their Indian allies.

James MacKenzie Baird, Jr.
August 11, 1928 – January 31, 2020

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.

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) and her Sovereign God

Anne Steele and Her Weighty Questions

Anne Steele is remembered as one of the first British women hymn-writers, and one of the best appreciated during her time and the following century. The introspective, searching notes of her hymns, uttered with uncommon honesty, made them particularly cherished by the majority of Christians, who found in them a way to express their own feelings.

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.

I get to talk with pastors all the time.  It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do.  I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
 
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work.  If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

Christians have always been persecuted.  Peter reminded his readers of this in the earliest days of the church: “…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by the brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9b).  But it does seem as if the suffering of Christians – whether at the hands of Muslims, Hindus, or totalitarians of another stripe – has been in the news more lately.  The testimonies of our brothers and sisters in these places are sobering; but often they are also encouraging examples of grace-fueled perseverance.

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).

Ministering With a Clear Conscience

 Why does Paul emphasize clearness of conscience in regard to one’s ministry? James defines “conscience”, expands on its dual function, and talks about how it often speaks against our will.

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.