Columns

Let the reader understand: This list would almost certainly be longer if I had read every book I had planned on reading in 2019. There are some notable books still on my desk which I have not yet begun but which I am quite sure are excellent. Nevertheless, among the many wonderful books I read that were published in 2019 these are my top picks...

 

I was priviledged to write a response to the question, "If God is love, why won't everyone be saved?" for the December edition of the excellent online journal CREDO.

 

Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind.  But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God.  This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.

No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind,  and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).

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.

​Satan shows us the happiness and comfort that flagrant sinners seem to enjoy.

The law/gospel distinction is a well-known and an important theological distinction in Protestant and Reformed circles. Unfortunately, a lot of confusion exists surrounding it, in part because further distinctions are not always properly made. And these further distinctions are necessary because the terms “law” and “gospel” are used in more than one sense both in Scripture and in theology. Law can refer to the Mosaic Covenant, any divine command, the covenant of works, the rule of life, and the covenant of grace in the Old Testament.

Due to popular interest, and the large number of allegations emerging across the country, the team continues to address the topics of emotional and spiritual abuse.

A broken bone may be evidence in a case of physical abuse, but emotional/spiritual abuse can go undetected, and the victim may be unsure of what he or she is experiencing. What are some indicators of emotional/spiritual abuse, and what may be the characteristics of a manipulator? 

Christ’s incarnation is not solely a topic for discussion at Christmas. So today, the crew explores this great and amazing mystery of Scripture. 

Were the disciples and others seeing God when they looked at Jesus? The answer to this question reveals much about how one apprehends the doctrine of incarnation, and there is little wonder why so many heresies have sprung from its misunderstanding throughout history.

While the end of Hebrews 4 points us to our great high priest Jesus, we learn in the first ten verses of Hebrews 5 that the greatness of Jesus is that he was a priest who cried out. And he cried out not simply because of the pain of his suffering; he cried out because of the problem of his people: our sin. That is the fundamental problem we all face, the source of our entire struggle, all the brokenness of our world, all the breaking down of our bodies.
Most Protestants are not used to thinking about priests and especially about what makes a good or superior priest. And yet, the language of priesthood is all through this letter to the Hebrews to this point (1:3; 2:17-18; 3:1) and will dominate chapters 7-9. The reason we need a priest before God is found in 4:12-13: God's Word and God's eye will search us, will hold us accountable, will test the intention of our hearts. Our professions will not fool God; in the last day, he will look at our hearts.

The coronavirus is another stark reminder that we are mortal. We are all going to die, one way or another, but in moments like these we are forced to consider the reality of our own death. For the vast majority of us, there is a good chance that this virus will not claim our lives... but you never know. 

This is the situation Paul found himself in when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was in prison awaiting his trial before Caesar. He would either be acquitted and set free, or condemned and executed. He would either live, or die.

I recently saw a funny post on Pinterest entitled "Response to Coronavirus Threat by Enneagram Number." Apparently a Four “broods over indignity of possibility of getting the same illness as everyone else,” while an Eight is “annoyed by CDC updates. Washes hands less in defiance.”

Funny as they are, these entries are good reminders that people with different personalities respond differently, whether in a crisis or in any other situation. People are wired differently, and that is part of the joy of diversity that God has instilled in the world and in His Church.

Rowan Williams. Christ the Heart of Creation. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018. Hardback. 304 pp. $42.99.

Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics Could Save Your Life

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity (Vol. 1), John Bolt, ed. et al. Baker Academic, 2019. HC, 608 pp.

I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
 
That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

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:

i. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.(1)
iii. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

Hilary of Poitiers and the Wonder of the Triune God

            “He Who upholds the universe, within Whom and through Whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth; He at Whose voice Archangels and Angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing. The Invisible and Incomprehensible, whom sight and feeling and touch cannot gauge, was wrapped in a cradle.”[1]

“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.

To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs.  Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).

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.

Perhaps the greatest risk surrounding the doctrine of grace in the Bible is that we allow it to become a cliché. We talk about it, sing about it, take great care to define it, but through it all fail to feel its weight. So, as we continue our reflections on the many-sided beauty of God’s grace revealed in Scripture, I want to focus in this article on its immensity in salvation.

There is much more to grace than meets the eye. Indeed, to borrow and slightly tweak the title of a song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1955, ‘Grace is a many splendored thing’. Although we instinctively link it to the idea of God’s demerited favour towards sinners in salvation, when we begin to trace its contours throughout the Scriptures, we see facets that only make us appreciate its beauty and blessing more deeply. This kaleidoscope of beauty is worth exploring in its major component parts and my hope is to do this through a series of articles designed to unpack it.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!

If we shared our testimonies with one another, we would find that they are as individual as we are. We were saved at different times in our lives and in very different circumstances, but there is one thing we all have in common. Unbeknownst to us, the Holy Spirit was at work. We were dead to the things of God, and then suddenly he made us spiritually alive. Upon hearing the gospel message, we became aware that we were sinners and needed a savior. And then the empty hand of faith, a gift in itself from God, reached out to Christ, trusting in what he has done to save us.

John Calvin called justification as “the main hinge on which religion turns” and said we must devote great attention to it (Institutes, III.xi.1). When we consider justification’s role in the order of salvation it plays a crucial role in distinction from other element but not in separation from them. As Calvin writes, “For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God” (Institutes, III.xi.1).

Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 

 Jonathan and James are joined by Alan Strange. Alan is professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The question is posed: How important is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ? The resulting conversation deals not only with the biblical text, but with the historical aspect of the doctrine as well.

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

What do evangelicals need to retrieve, and why? Gavin Ortlund is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California.  He joins James and Jonathan to talk about his book--Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals--and to answer these questions, and others.

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.