Columns

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.

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.

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.

“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.

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof….neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation” (WCF, 19.5) Obviously, the Westminster Divines were not claiming that one’s obedience merits anything before God.  They knew their Bible. The Jews had sought to establish their own righteousness on the basis of their law keeping and failed.

Christians Heresies 101

Today’s conversation might “trigger” you with some pretty big words…but there’s nothing to worry about. Jonathan and James are willing to break them down and carefully explain what they mean.

What are “heresies?” The duo discusses the historical definition of the word, and gives us an introduction to some of the most famous heresies in church history.

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.