Columns

In these days, I find myself drawn more than usual to those passages of Scripture which help me to lament. I gravitate particularly to the Psalms which give language for lament and grief and even complaint. The Psalms are not embarrassed by our moans of sorrow and protest. Indeed, John Calvin wrote that when we enter a time a crisis, “we are all too apt at such times to shut up our affliction in our breast – a circumstance which can only aggravate the trouble and embitter the mind against God.”

 

As Carl Trueman observes:

Romans 11:33-36

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the most complete single explanation of the gospel in the Bible. By the time we reach the end of chapter 11 we have read about the comprehensive nature and consequences of sin, the gospel as the vindication of God’s righteousness, the imputation of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, God’s sovereign election, the necessity of conversion, and sanctification. After writing such a wealth of glorious doctrine Paul ends chapter 11 with a doxology:

If we are justified by faith alone apart from works, how are we to understand the Scriptural (including Pauline) teaching that we are judged and rewarded according to deeds?
 
It's important to note at the outset that Calvin believes (rightly in my view) that these passages are referring to eternal life (not some extra heavenly rewards), and that they describe what will happen to believers (they are not hypothetical or applied only to unbelievers).
 

As Rick noted at the close of last week, it is amazing how relevant Calvin's arguments remain today. Unfortunately, the same errors that he addressed continue in our time. Hence we may profitably learn from Calvin as we seek to contend for the apostolic faith.

I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:

This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.

Editor's Note: Find previous entries in this series at the end of this article. 


The law/gospel hermeneutic wrongly separates the Bible's indicatives from its imperatives. That's the first problem that we addressed in our last article. But there's a second problem with this hermeneutic: It tends to denigrate the role of the law in the life of the Christian. 

Satan shows us the disappointments and difficulties that godly men face.

Following the Lord Jesus Christ means that you will share (to some measure) in Christ's experience of hardship and difficulty. God's people are not immune to affliction. Some godly men are financially distressed, others are in poor health, and still others suffer persecution. God's Word tells us quite plainly that it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of Heaven (Acts 14:22).

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.

The Spin Team gathers once again to answer some of the great questions they’ve received from listeners. The first query concerns must-read classic books from authors long gone. Next, the intrepid trio considers just how many doctrinal differences a congregant should bear in a church before he or she knows that it’s time to move on.

One of our favorite family movies was "Up," the wonderful Pixar film that came out a couple of years ago. One of the key moments in the movie came early: after the child Carl meets Ellie, she comes to his room with her adventure book. She made him swear not to tell another person about it: "Cross your heart! Do it!" We smile because we know what this is about. Our promises are confirmed by an oath that invites the other person confidence to trust our word.

I would not describe myself as someone prone to anxiety or worry. I’ve never had a panic attack, and I prefer to insulate myself from trending news and media. However, in the past couple of weeks I have found myself (to use a phrase which is waxing tiresome) in unprecedented territory. There are moments when I have felt waves of near-paralyzing anxiety. What is going on?

I want to offer two practical suggestions for Christians, which I offer only because these are the things I most need to hear and practice.

1. Stop idolizing nonchalance.

My wife and I were watching a program on Netflix the other night (I won't say what it was; it's too embarrassing). I was struck by my own reaction, while watching the program, to the interaction between characters on the screen. I flinched every time two characters shook hands, or brushed shoulders, or stood in close proximity to one another.

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

Roman Catholics and Protestants alike often appeal to the massive body of works penned by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. The thinking behind the Reformation was seeded by the ad fontes principle of the Renaissance, and for theologians those sources were often the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine. For example, the Battles edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin includes an extensive list of citations to Augustine in its index. Likewise, Luther was an Augustinian who often made use of his order’s namesake’s works in his writings.

I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
 
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?
 

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.

Paul Gerhardt and His Songs of Confident Hope

            In 1943, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his lonely prison cell, “I’ve lately learnt for the first time to appreciate the hymn, ‘Beside thy cradle here I stand.’ Up to now I hadn't made much of it; I suppose one has to be alone for a long time, and meditate on it, to be able to take it in properly.”[1]

“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.

To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs.  Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).

Escapism seems to be everywhere.  If you have internet access, try typing “escape” or “escapism” into a search engine.  You might not want to visit all the sites that come up in such a search, but what you will see – if you need proof – is that many people seek to escape.  Or think about the commercials on TV.  Almost every commercial for an airline will talk about escaping.  Restaurants promise that we can “escape to the unexpected.”  Day spas are big business, and they promise a few hours of escape.  And of course there are illicit types of escape.  With the rise of the internet, pornogra

Let me start with a personal testimony.  David Wells’ first book in what might roughly be called this series is entitled No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?  Say what you will about that volume (and it has its critics), but for me it was transformative.  When I try to remember exactly why it hit me as it did, I conclude that it certainly had a great deal to do with my own personal confusion, questions, and dissatisfactions with the evangelical church culture

Perhaps the greatest risk surrounding the doctrine of grace in the Bible is that we allow it to become a cliché. We talk about it, sing about it, take great care to define it, but through it all fail to feel its weight. So, as we continue our reflections on the many-sided beauty of God’s grace revealed in Scripture, I want to focus in this article on its immensity in salvation.

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.

"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)

Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!

Every year a late night talk show host encourages parents to prank their kids with a faux profession that they devoured all their little pumpkins’ Halloween candy.[1]  The show features videos sent in of children throwing monstrous fits of rage and heartache until the parents reveal they are “just joking!”  Pathetic, baffled little faces look back at their caretakers sometimes possessed with ghoulish expressions of hatred for the hoax. 

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification,” (1 Th 4:3)[1] St. Paul writes to a group of mostly non-Jewish Christians in Thessalonica who had formerly worshiped idols and casually participated in a culture steeped in sexual promiscuity. Sanctus is the Latin word for “holy”. The English word “sanctification” uses the verbal form “sanctify”, adding the suffix “-ation”. So, sanctification refers to “being made holy”. Because God is holy, people God brings into relationship with himself must be made holy.

Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 

 Jonathan and James are joined by Alan Strange. Alan is professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The question is posed: How important is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ? The resulting conversation deals not only with the biblical text, but with the historical aspect of the doctrine as well.

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

What do evangelicals need to retrieve, and why? Gavin Ortlund is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California.  He joins James and Jonathan to talk about his book--Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals--and to answer these questions, and others.

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.