Columns

As we bring this short series on the Whole Gospel in the Songs of Christmas (see part 1 and part 2) to an end, the following are a few more carols and songs with often overlooked verses or Gospel imagery.

Without doubt, the Minor Prophets are the books in the Bible that frighten us the most. So many visions, so many details, so many things seem so unclear. Many Christians never brave these books. This, however, is a great tragedy. The Minor Prophets--though in many places hard to understand--provide us with some of the richest glimpses of the Gospel in the Old Testament.

Mikael Agricola and the Reformation in Finland

            Like Primoz Trubar in Slovenia, Mikael Agricola was a Protestant reformer who had to develop a language before he could spread the gospel.

Robert Barnes – Early English Reformer

            The early 1500’s was an exciting time for young intellectuals. Scholars such as Desiderius Erasmus and Jacques Lefèvre and religious Reformers such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli fueled many stirring discussions in the European universities. The growing discontent with the church and its doctrines seemed to have reached its highest pitch and the increasing consensus provided hope for a change.

     In 2017-8, the long-simmering, long-suppressed scandal of sexual harassment of women in the workplace broke containment. It began when a handful of strong, brave entertainers credibly accused entertainment's worst offenders of sexual harassment. Men had objectified, harassed, demeaned, and groped them. Bosses had pressed for sexual favors, even forced them, and threatened reprisals if a woman refused to comply or spoke up after the fact. They decided they weren't going to take it anymore. Once a few stood up, dozens, then hundreds of others came forward.

My first exposures to Protestant-Catholic conversation were more like shouting matches than dialogues. Speakers took a confrontational approach and charges flew on both sides. In my mind, they sound roughly like this

      Protestants charge, "You…"                                

Preach salvation by works                             

Take Scripture from the people                      

Create rites, saints, and false means grace     

Rob Christ of glory and give it to Mary        

Micah 2:6-13

From the beginning, Israel was faced with the prospect of false prophets trying to pass themselves off as prophets of God.  Anyone coming in the name of another god was to be disregarded; those coming in the name of the LORD were to be tested.  Prophets were only to be obeyed if they truly spoke with the authority of God Himself. 

God says this explicitly in Deuteronomy 18:20-22

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.

As I was busy rushing from one place to another, I noticed a man looking at me with a big smile on his face. He had just stepped out of a work van and was doing some sort of job nearby. To be honest, I had a lot on my plate to get done that day, and was determined not to be slowed down. The next thing I knew, the man who had been grinning at me was now standing right in front of me.

I do not remember what I was thinking at that moment but, sadly, it was probably something like, "Oh great."

There’s something of a progression when one moves from the first commandment  – “You shall have no other gods before me” – to the second commandment forbidding the making and worship of idols. It’s a move delineating how the one true God is to be worshipped. And it tells us something about God. Namely, that the Creator God is a spirit, invisible, infinite, and holy. In other words, there’s an unholy absurdity in making a finite representation of an infinite and immense God.

The full commandment, promises and all, reads thus:

“As long as he believes in something, that is what’s important.”

With those words the man in front of me simultaneously dismissed the authority of God and justified a younger relative who had embraced an animistic system of belief. For the older gentlemen, it was the act of believing in something supernatural that mattered, not the object of that belief itself.

Theoretical-Practical Theology Vol. II

17th-century Reformed theologian Petrus Van Mastricht wrote a comprehensive treatment of theoretical-practical theology. This extensive collection is gradually being made available in English by Todd Rester, lead translator of this massive work. The second volume, Faith in the Triune God, was released this year. Todd is an associate professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. 

All Things for Good

 James and Jonathan remove the dust from the cover of a classic book that’s played a big role in their lives. All Things for Good, formerly known as A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson was originally published in 1663, and it reads as a series of sermons or expositions of Romans 8:28. Throughout the book, Watson offers reflections on the two greatest difficulties he faced in pastoral ministry: To make the wicked sad and the godly joyful.

Satan downplays the seriousness of sin so that we think it poses no danger to our soul. “But it's such a harmless sin," he tells us, 

A while back, I published a relatively critical review of Crawford Gribben’s biography on John Owen. Gribben’s Owen was initially jarring to me. In my previous assessment of his work, I noted that the book was a mixture of “scholarly brilliance and conjecture.” I also noted, “Gribben’s work makes a gripping and interesting narrative.” However, the impression of that review leaned more in the direction of highlighting perceived conjectures than scholarly brilliance.