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:

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.

Last week, I entitled my column, “How to Wreck a Church.”  In my mind, the false teachers in Jude had (and have) the potential to do just that.  They come in secretly; they flatter; they are immoral and follow their own desires; ultimately, they will be destroyed by God.  But when we step back and look at Jude’s letter as a whole, we see that everything in the letter – including the description of the church-wreckers – is written in the service of one major theme.  It all fa

As I look back on my days at seminary, I can see some courses which were more helpful than others.  This is probably due to a combination of factors: my own interests and aptitude; the strength of the teacher; the subject matter itself.  Most classes were valuable, but a few classes were forgettable.

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.

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.