Columns

I read a lot of good books this year. There are also some books published this year that I have heard great things about which I have not yet read. But the following are the ones that rose to the top for me.

 

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you have probably read my previous piece on the Revoice conference. Revoice has been the source of great division in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the denomination in which I serve. That is because although Nate Collins, the conference organizer is a Southern Baptist, the church which hosted the conference belongs to the PCA and several of the speakers are office holders in the PCA.

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).

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

Richard Vines was a member of the Westminster Assembly and was considered one of the Assembly’s finest preachers. He preached a sermon on Ephesians 4:14-15 before the Mayor and court of Aldermen of London in 1644 entitled “The Impostures of Seducing Teachers Discovered.” Apparently not everyone was pleased with his sermon, but that did not bother him too much; he would rejoice “to offend any man for his good, and be afraid to please him for his hurt.” In this article, I will highlight a few points that Vines made in his sermon.

Great questions keep coming from our listeners, and the Spin Team speaks ex cathedra, putting to rest once and for all a few queries related to this topic. 

Is there a true tension between being missional and being confessional? What does it mean to be missional in the current context? The crew addresses a few schools of thought related to the use of the term missional, some of the dangers of its misuse, and the real mission of the church, according to Matthew 28.

The college professor, the housewife theologian from “Mary-land,” and the PCA pastor/conspiracy theorist invite David White to join them in the bunker for a superb conversation about God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery. David is a pastor, author of several books, and has served in several capacities at Harvest USA for 19 years. David shares what he believes is missing from other books on Christian sexuality.

The recent New York Times interview with Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, is one for the ages.   Indeed, critique is almost pointless as the interview itself begs not so much questions as gasps of amazement at the breathtaking combination of leaps of logic, misrepresentations of the Christian tradition, and the deployment of emotive buzzwords with

"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)

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, most of us have 'celebrity pastors,' or at least people to whom we offer a measure of unqualified and uncritical appreciation (or even adulation). We go beyond that properly Berean spirit which "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17.11).

In 1754, Benjamin Franklin published a cartoon called “Join or Die.” It pictured a snake cut into eights representing the British colonies in the New World. Franklin argued that unless the colonies formed one body, they would never be able to resist the powerful threat of the French and their Indian allies.

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.

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?
 

I read John Webster’s The Culture of Theology a few weeks ago. There is much to discuss in this penetrating book of the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures he gave, but I thought I’d just share a small nugget and some reflection on it:

 

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.

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) and her Sovereign God

Anne Steele and Her Weighty Questions

Anne Steele is remembered as one of the first British women hymn-writers, and one of the best appreciated during her time and the following century. The introspective, searching notes of her hymns, uttered with uncommon honesty, made them particularly cherished by the majority of Christians, who found in them a way to express their own feelings.

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

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.

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 are many occasions when what seem like throwaway remarks from Jesus say far more than we may realise. One in particular is heard in our Lord’s exchange with the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15.21-28), where he tells her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

In the Northern Hemisphere, December is the darkest month of the year – a fact that gives added poignancy to the message of the incarnation and its centrality to the gospel. Intentionally or otherwise, when the church chose to adopt 25th December as the date on which to mark the birth of Christ, it happened to be in the darkest depths of Winter. In that context, perhaps more so than any other time of the year, the words of John about Christ’s being ‘the Light’ literally shine most brilliantly as the metaphor speaks into reality.

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

"What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God's words, his submission to Christ's Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else." — Derek Thomas

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons opens with Linus and lucy staring out the window.  Rain is pouring down outside.

After rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and being enthroned at God’s right hand, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. The significance of this event cannot be exaggerated. It is the culmination of Christ’s exaltation short of his second coming. It is here that every benefit obtained in his suffering and subsequent glory is transferred to us. In his sermon at Pentecost, the Apostle Peter describes the Holy Spirit as “the promise”, referring to the promise to Abraham of a blessing for all nations (Acts 2:33,39; Gal 3:14).

Ministering With a Clear Conscience

 Why does Paul emphasize clearness of conscience in regard to one’s ministry? James defines “conscience”, expands on its dual function, and talks about how it often speaks against our will.

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.