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.

     One December, a week or two before Christmas, the worship leader announced the hymn "Joy to the World" and a woman nearby groaned, "Oh no, not 'Joy to the World' again." I understand her point; she wanted a new Christmas song, but still, how can we grow tired of joy to the world. Psalm 96 begins "Oh sing a new song to the Lord," so the desire for something new is legitimate. Still, we need to hear ourselves, since we can get tired of good news. We can forget the material advantages of living in the West. We can take loving family for granted.

Guns in Church

     When I was a pastor, ten years ago, I learned that a married couple, both FBI agents, joined my church. We already had two police officers in attendance, but I welcomed the news in a day when church shootings, like school shootings, were in the news. "It makes me feel safer," one person noted, even if she didn't know how rare church shootings really are (See: StatisticsImadeupbutmustbetrue.com):

     Chance of being wounded by a bullet, in a church: 1 in 100 million

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 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.

Divine Knowledge

Jonathan and James share an informal conversation about the knowledge of God. 

What are we really saying when we claim that God knows all things? What’s the scope of God’s knowledge? Is God continuously learning everything at the moment it happens? 

James affirms that God is “uneducated”—what does he mean by that? Join us for another mind-expanding episode of Theology on the Go!

 

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Michael Morales, professor of Biblical Studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, joins us on the podcast to discuss his latest work, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Who is able to approach God’s presence? This investigative study examines the book of Leviticus and the Regulative Principle of Worship, with a focus on Psalm 15 and Psalm 24.

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.