Columns

When I was a boy, my parents often took my sister and me on trips to various parts of the country. I well remember my mom having a roadmap opened on her lap, meticulously tracing the intersection of the nearby highways and neighborhood roads. Whether or not we would make it to our destination was dependent on how carefully my mom read the intricate details of the map. On one occasion, we were making our way through the winding roads of the Pocono Mountains. We had missed our turn somewhere along the way.

With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Simonetta Carr joins Jonathan and James today. She opens up about very difficult times in her life, during which she dealt with schizophrenia in her family, which would ultimately claim her son.

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.