Columns

As far as I know none of the books on my list have much to say about global pandemics. But they do have much to say about the goodness and sovereignty of God, anxiety, and our eternal hope.

 

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

Dear Timothy,

The Puritans show us the importance of catechizing your own church people and your neighbors. Like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis—the instruction in the doctrines of Scripture using catechisms.

Puritan catechizing was important in many ways. Here are five:

1. The Basics

Fear. It’s an emotion we all know well, and in recent weeks, it’s one that has asserted itself in our minds and hearts. We fear both ourselves and loved ones catching the virus. We fear what will happen to our finances because of lost wages. We fear how long our life will be put on hold. We fear all the unknowns that lie ahead. And all these fears are exacerbated every time we turn on the news or scroll through social media. Fear, it seems, has spread as far and wide as the virus itself.

We’re living in a time of many, simultaneous world crises. Are these global challenges in some way related? Seeking perspective and clarity, our hosts discuss one of Carl’s recent articles at First Things, where he ponders why the British seem more concerned with incidents of police brutality in the US than with China’s aggressive plan to diminish Hong Kong’s democracy as Britain’s former colony. 

How may identity politics and social media be shaping this behavior, and what does it say about us as a society? Carl’s one-word answer: Belonging!

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary debuted on “The Spin” in 2019 in the person of Michael Morales, the seminary’s professor of Biblical Studies. Who Shall Ascend the Mount of the Lord? is Michael’s latest work on the book of Leviticus, and part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by IVP. Don’t dismiss this outstanding book merely on the subject matter! Leviticus is not “the most boring book in the bible,” and you’re about to learn why!

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jam. 1:27).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)

Editor's Note: This post is was originally published on the author's blog, and is intended as a response to this article by Jim Denison.


One of the questions prompted by any crisis is whether God is inactive. Is he stepping aside and allowing calamitous evil to befall his creation and people? Is the crisis something beyond God’s power? Or, perhaps most frighteningly, is the catastrophe something that is being orchestrated by God?

You know what scares me the most? Boredom. And I have a sneaking suspicion you feel the same way, especially if you’re under thirty. I’ve been working with teenagers for the past ten years, and people consistently ask: "What do you think is the biggest challenge teenagers are facing today?" The short answer is “Smartphones”; maybe the expanded version would be “loss of boredom.”

Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.

Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent, Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). 201pp. Hardcover.

When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.

These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.

I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

Paul Gerhardt and His Songs of Confident Hope

            In 1943, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his lonely prison cell, “I’ve lately learnt for the first time to appreciate the hymn, ‘Beside thy cradle here I stand.’ Up to now I hadn't made much of it; I suppose one has to be alone for a long time, and meditate on it, to be able to take it in properly.”[1]

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

     A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.

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.

In almost every doctrine in Scripture there is a simplicity that belies its profundity. They can be summarised and defined in a single sentence of a catechism answer and yet be the theme of substantial books. They can be explained by children and yet preoccupy the minds of the greatest theologians. So, whatever the particular truth in view, we ought to approach it with a deep sense of there being more to it than may at first meet the eye.

Looking for the Lost

There is a well-known nursery rhyme that generations of British children grew up with which begins with the words,

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them;

Leave them alone and they will come home, wagging their tails behind them.

I am a pastor in Pennsylvania.  And I appreciate my brothers who are laboring hard to understand how to handle the governor’s guidelines.  As an aside, guidelines are almost a euphemism for dictatorial power.  On March 6th Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency and placed himself in charge of Pennsylvania’s response to Covid-19. Apparently he is the only one with the power to relinquish that declaration…even according to the state supreme court.  Pennsylvania has a dictator.[1]

In the times in which we live, fear and uncertainty abound.  Governments are shutting down businesses.  Some states have mandated that people “shelter in place”.  Economic dominoes are toppling.  Hospitals are beginning to be strained. 

How are God’s people to respond?  We remind each other:

  1. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.[i]

or that:

The Doctrine of Angels

 Jonathan and James tackle a topic somewhat underemphasized in Reformed circles, and—perhaps—overemphasized elsewhere. Should we give more attention to angels? What are the benefits of studying the few verses in Scriptures that address these holy and glorious creatures?

With All Your Heart

 Dr. Craig Troxel is professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and James’ former pastor.  Craig visits the podcast to discuss his recently written book, With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will toward Christ. 

We probably all have bank accounts with savings, and maybe investments and 401(k)s. Wisdom would suggest that while we trust God we also should be good stewards and save. You want to have in inheritance—at the end of the road of your work life, you want to have a nest egg. This doesn’t make you greedy, in most cases it means you were prudent. But all of this should make us ask, where is my real inheritance? What is the real price? Where, or better, in whom is my true retirement.

What season did we recently enter?  Spring. What comes next? Summer. Then what? Fall. Then what? Winter. And then?  Spring.  And so on until Christ’s Second Coming.  The year’s seasons are cyclical—and somewhat predictable.  So the seasons of our years should not surprise us but rather inspire our adaptability, acceptance, and appreciation.