Columns

A few years ago, at the start of a new school year, I announced to the kids that we would be memorizing the book of James.

“The whole book?” one son asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“That’s the goal,” I responded.

“Impossible!” he declared.

Up to that point, my children had memorized single verses and short passages of Scripture. I thought it was time to take on something bigger.

Memorizing God’s Word

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB, 1977)

These are the words of Matthew immediately after he wrote, “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying” (Matt. 1:22). The “prophet” here refers to Isaiah. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew references aspects of Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, and 9:6. Those texts read as follows:

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.

     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.

      Pastors, elders, and godly parents rightly take interest in the education and nurture of their children, and as a result action-minded Christians start schools. Christian schools represent a natural or spontaneous result of faith, and the Lord is pleased with such loving motives and acts. Nevertheless, when a church attempts to govern the school it has created the results are often mixed. Theology can explain why.

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.

The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries; but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for those who are already Christians to so gravitate towards the blessing of that day for ourselves, that we do not stop to consider and shudder at what it will mean for those who are outside of Christ.

Like nearly all the Christian Festivals (however many or few our particular churches may celebrate) the events marked by Easter can easily loom large on our horizons momentarily, only to be forgotten until the following year. If we allow ourselves to lapse into this pattern we can easily lose sight of the year-round, lifelong and eternal significance of what is marked by these seasons in the church calendar – all of which chart the redemptive work of our Lord. Indeed, with Easter especially, the institution of the Christian Sabbath and the Lord’s Supper forbid us from doing so.

“As long as he believes in something, that is what’s important.”

With those words the man in front 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.

Theoretical-Practical Theology Vol. II

17th-century Reformed theologian Petrus Van Mastricht wrote a comprehensive treatment of theoretical-practical theology. This extensive collection is gradually being made available in English by Todd Rester, lead translator of this massive work. The second volume, Faith in the Triune God, was released this year. Todd is an associate professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. 

All Things for Good

 James and Jonathan remove the dust from the cover of a classic book that’s played a big role in their lives. All Things for Good, formerly known as A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson was originally published in 1663, and it reads as a series of sermons or expositions of Romans 8:28. Throughout the book, Watson offers reflections on the two greatest difficulties he faced in pastoral ministry: To make the wicked sad and the godly joyful.

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.