Columns

Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind.  But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God.  This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.

No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind,  and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

In John 4:24, the Lord Jesus declares, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” New Covenant worship is not about holy places such as the temple in Jerusalem, but about holy hearts worshiping the Triune God. The multitude of Old Covenant ceremonies are replaced with the simplicity of spirit and truth (Heb. 9:9–10).[1] The Puritans recognized that the essence of worship is inward and spiritual.[2] Burroughs said that if we would please God in worship we must bring God His own, both in the matter and the manner of our worship.

One of the first people that I hope to meet in heaven is the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston. I admire the man for the depth of his theology; Jonathan Edwards said that Boston's work on the covenants distinguished him as a "truly great divine." I also admire for the breadth of his writing: twelve thick volumes on almost every doctrine of the Christian faith, taught from every book of the Bible.

The Spinners are quarantined in the underground bunker and take a break from all the pandemic talk to address a listener question: What should a church be looking for when searching for a new pastor, and how might they go about it?

This is a special pandemic edition of The Spin, as Carl, Todd, and Aimee record—not just 6 feet away, but—100 miles distant from one another, just to be on the safe side. COVID-19 times can be challenging, and they’ve afforded Todd a new opportunity to complement his pastoral calling. The megachurch minister is now a gifted “Mental Toughness Expert,” and he’s making his services available when churches are unable to meet, due to mandatory isolation.

"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)

A few weeks ago, due to the present coronavirus pandemic, our Session decided to postpone face-to-face assemblies of worship at the church building electing (for a time) to serve Christ and our covenanted saints through online Lord’s Day webcasts.[1] This decision was not unanimous but we moved forward with it in hearty unity.

What Augustine Can Teach Us About Biblical Interpretation

It is no secret that Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine influenced biblical interpretation for centuries to come. He influenced, for example, Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic, and William Whitaker, a Protestant who influenced the formulation of Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9.[1] If we want to understand why Christians have interpreted the Bible in the past the way they did, we must recognize and understand the influence of Augustine.

Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.

Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent, Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). 201pp. Hardcover.

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:

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.

John Chrysostom and Olympias – Finding Comfort in Troubled Times

Kassia – A Bold and Sensitive Byzantine Poet

 Around the year 830, in Constantinople, that Byzantine Empress Euphroshyne organized a bride-show to find a wife for her newly-crowned sixteen-year old son Theophilos. This was a common match-making system of her times.

In ages past, Christian leaders wrote treatises with titles like On Dying Well or The Art of Dying fairly often. Life was short and people died at home, surrounded by family, so everyone witnessed death. And since medicine had few cures, people knew they could die any time. Many wanted to die well.

     One December, a week or two before Christmas, the worship leader announced the hymn "Joy to the World" and a woman nearby groaned, "Oh no, not 'Joy to the World' again." I understand her point; she wanted a new Christmas song, but still, how can we grow tired of joy to the world. Psalm 96 begins "Oh sing a new song to the Lord," so the desire for something new is legitimate. Still, we need to hear ourselves, since we can get tired of good news. We can forget the material advantages of living in the West. We can take loving family for granted.

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.

Arguably one of the greatest errors we can fall into when it comes to understanding grace is that ‘It’s all about me and all about now’. This attitude has reached epidemic proportions in Western churches and may well explain our relative lack of resilience and usefulness compared to other parts of the world. Such a view of grace is, however, not only far-removed from what has been true in the church through most of its history, but from the Bible itself.

The more we have explored the theme of grace as it unfolds in different ways throughout Scripture, the more we have discovered its variegated beauty and its far-reaching implications for our lives as Christians. It is more pervasive than we often imagine and, as we have noted in an earlier post, this is because grace is not a commodity, but is embodied in the incarnate Christ and is ours through our union and communion with him. There is therefore nothing static about grace, it is as living and vibrant and dynamic as is Christ himself.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

The familiar words of Isaiah 40:1-2 call to mind the sonorous strains of Handel’s Messiah: “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,’ saith your God. ‘Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her … that her iniquity is pardoned.’” They are also suggestive of the preaching task. In fact, the famous hymn writer, John Newton, preached a series of sermons on the texts of the Messiah to his London parish while Handel’s oratorio was being performed across town. Newton was taking up the charge of Isaiah’s God. As Dr. J. I.

You may be familiar with the famous American pastor who loved chocolate and flying spiders, but did you know that Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation? Edwards was not only a theologian but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. His interest led him to undertake a new method of inoculation for smallpox. This technique was also called variolation and was a precursor to the development of the first vaccine. His risk proved fatal. On March 22, 1758, Edwards died from complications related to the inoculation.

Foundations of Covenant Theology

 Jonathan and James are very excited to introduce Lane Tipton. He’s fellow of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Reformed Forum, and pastor of Trinity OPC church in Easton, PA.

Lane has assembled an outstanding video series for the Forum titled Foundations of Covenant Theology, which he passionately calls “the history of heaven”.

Doctrine of God and Church Discipline - Q&A

 Jonathan and James answer a few listener’s questions as a follow-up to a prior episode. Our hosts address the question of how one can know if Scripture is speaking of God metaphorically or literally. How should one understand Scripture when it talks about God having body parts and emotions, such as passions and feelings? James uses the term “God’s absolute sourcehood” to establish the standard of judgment on such matters.

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.