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In the previous post, we began to consider the gospel content of some Christmas carols. Again, it is important to remember that some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross.

When church staff are being properly shepherded and led, when they know the expectations that the leaders have of them, when they have a clear sense of their purpose and significance within the greater body of the church, when they are appreciated and given adequate feedback, and when they are being equipped to carry out their tasks with greater competency and faith, leading and managing staff can be one of the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry.

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.

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.

Escapism seems to be everywhere.  If you have internet access, try typing “escape” or “escapism” into a search engine.  You might not want to visit all the sites that come up in such a search, but what you will see – if you need proof – is that many people seek to escape.  Or think about the commercials on TV.  Almost every commercial for an airline will talk about escaping.  Restaurants promise that we can “escape to the unexpected.”  Day spas are big business, and they promise a few hours of escape.  And of course there are illicit types of escape.  With the rise of the internet, pornogra

Let me start with a personal testimony.  David Wells’ first book in what might roughly be called this series is entitled No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?  Say what you will about that volume (and it has its critics), but for me it was transformative.  When I try to remember exactly why it hit me as it did, I conclude that it certainly had a great deal to do with my own personal confusion, questions, and dissatisfactions with the evangelical church culture

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.

“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.

In his first epistle, Peter has been talking about believers living in a world hostile to the faith. In chapter 3 of verse 13, we read this question, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” You can imagine the looks that must have floated around the room when this was read, can’t you? There must have been at least one person thinking, “Is this guy serious? Uh, I can name a few who not only can harm us but that have…starting with Emperor Nero!”

There are three basic approaches or schools of what is called “apologetics.”  This word comes directly from the Greek, which has to do with the idea of giving a defense.  So what is being talked about is how one goes about trying to defend the truth of the Christian faith.  That there are three approaches, however, does not mean that everyone fits neatly into one of them.  People do borrow from each; and while a person might prefer one school over another, it is not uncommon for such a person to grant the value, and even, at times, the necessity, of the others.

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.