Columns

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Satan tempts us to think that God is so indulgent that we need not fear punishment for our sins. Few of Satan's lies are more widespread and more dangerous today,

"God is a God of love. He does not punish. He never judges. God expects people to sin and simply overlooks our sin, much as would a lenient and permissive grandfather. So don't get too alarmed about sin."