Columns

In the previous post, we began to consider the gospel content of some Christmas carols. Again, it is important to remember that some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross.

When church staff are being properly shepherded and led, when they know the expectations that the leaders have of them, when they have a clear sense of their purpose and significance within the greater body of the church, when they are appreciated and given adequate feedback, and when they are being equipped to carry out their tasks with greater competency and faith, leading and managing staff can be one of the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry.

Michelangelo’s last sculpture is puzzling – two imprecise figures of Jesus and Mary melting into one, with a fragment of Jesus’s right arm detached from his body. It’s the Pietà Rondanini, the third and last pietà sculpted by the artist, very far from his first and meticulously detailed Vatican Pietà. Some attribute the change to his old age, which had weakened his arm and eyesight. Most critics see it as an expression of his spiritual search, which intensified with time.

His Early Life

The Jesuit Jean Pelletier, called by Duke Ercole II of Este to put a stop to the dangerous “Lutheran” practices of his wife Renée, was not impressed by his conversation with the duchess. “The poor woman has no education,” he wrote to his Father Superior, Ignatius of Loyola. “She only knows a few passages of Paul's letters in vernacular, which are misinterpreted, and a few babbles.”[1]

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.

     In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.

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 once was a time – within living memory for many of us – when you could go to a place of worship and have a reasonable sense of what to expect during a service and not be taken aback by something that seemed out of place. Those days are rapidly disappearing and it is increasingly the norm that there are no norms for a service of praise. This should give us pause for thought.

For those of us who are pastors, one of our regular responsibilities is to use scripture to minister to the specific needs of our people. This should never merely be spiritual equivalent of offering placebos to those who are struggling – a kind of psycho-spiritual pick-me-up to make them feel better about themselves. Quite the opposite, the verse or passage we may read to our members should be explained and applied in a way that shows them there is substance in the words offered to them.

This month, the Alliance is pleased to offer a free MP3 download of Discipleship from the Alliance Teaching Series. Curated from years of biblical teaching, Discipleship presents listeners with thirteen encouraging messages on sanctification, the Church, and the Christian life. Download your copy here! 

Our featured resource this month is The God of Creation – Truth and Gospel in Genesis 1 by Richard Phillips. We've discounted the price, so get your copy at Reformed Resources today!

For Christians, there are proverbial perennial questions that are, well, perennial.  Every May graduating Christians seek the will of God for where they will take further education.  Every college student wonders who God has for them on campus. And after boy meets girl and both graduate they labor to discover where God wants them to land. In short, believers ask, over and over, what is the will of God for my life.  

Since the rise of modern Biblical criticism, it is common in some circles to think that there are little to no predictions of a Messiah in the Old Testament. But this is not the view of the Scriptures. This is not what the New Testament explicitly teaches. Christ can be found in the Old Testament.

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.

When I began to study the doctrine of good works in the Reformed tradition many years ago, I was astounded by a view that many Puritans, following in the footsteps of John Calvin, promulgated. These Reformed stalwarts taught that God graciously rewards eternal life to his people who persevere in good works to the end.

Herman J Selderhuis, Calvinus Pastor Ecclesiae Papers of the Eleventh International Congress on Calvin Research, vol. 39, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016). 467pp. Hardcover. $150.00.