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:

Alcuin of York – More Than a Scholar

            In 781, a Saxon monk named Alcuin had an encounter that changed his life and became the catalyst of the dynamic but short-lived Carolingian Renaissance. The man he met was the Frankish King Charles (later known as Charlemagne). As many others him, Charles was struck by Alcuin’s intellect and abilities, and invited him to join a group of scholars at his court.

Hrotsvit of Gandersheim and Her Christian Plays

            Anyone who is familiar with the works of the Roman playwright Terence (185-159 BC) knows that they are an interesting depiction of the realities of his day. They are comedies, and generally end with a marriage or reconciliation. They could easily find their way into our movie theaters, if some of their ethics didn’t rub against the grain of most viewers – even in our permissive society.

My first exposures to Protestant-Catholic conversation were more like shouting matches than dialogues. Speakers took a confrontational approach and charges flew on both sides. In my mind, they sound roughly like this

      Protestants charge, "You…"                                

Preach salvation by works                             

Take Scripture from the people                      

Create rites, saints, and false means grace     

Rob Christ of glory and give it to Mary        

On January 1 1519, Ulrich Zwingli became the pastor of the principal church of Zurich, Switzerland. When he preached through the New Testament from the Greek, the Reformation began in that city. Zwingli taught salvation by grace and justification by faith; he also compared what he saw in his church to what he read in Scripture. Four years later, church folk heard Zwingli say fasting during Lent had no biblical basis, and decided to force the issue by publicly eating sausage at the start of Lent.

Paul’s last known letter – called 2 Timothy in our Bibles – contains a startling warning to a pastors and churchmen.  In 2 Timothy 3:1-4 Paul lists out characteristics of the last days – the days in which the church lives.  People, Paul says, will be selfish, greedy, arrogant, malicious, and reckless; they will hate all that is good; they will love pleasure more than God.  It is not an encouraging picture, although, to us, it may be a familiar one.

There are good reasons to rejoice over the publication of this new online magazine. It may or not make a splash, but it will provide an opportunity. This opportunity could be described in many ways, but I think it’s best described as a chance to stop and think – to think theologically, to think in terms of our Protestant confessional tradition, to think about the ways and means of engaging in gospel ministry today.

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.

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.

“Love yourself.” This modern psychological mantra, we are told, is the cure that heals all ailments. Have a negative self-image? Just love yourself. Are you being treated poorly? Don’t let them define who you are – just love yourself. Is society, or certain aspects of it, abusing you and keeping you down? Just remember that you are special – love yourself. Remember that you are a lion and let others hear your roar. Do you feel like you just don’t fit in or there is something about you that’s not quite normal? Just remember you were born this way – love yourself.

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.