Posts by Aaron Denlinger

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My wife and I were watching a program on Netflix the other night (I won't say what it was; it's too embarrassing). I was struck by my own reaction, while watching the program, to the interaction between characters on the screen. I flinched every time two characters shook hands, or brushed shoulders...
"Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." So says God to Abraham in the opening verse of Genesis 15. In his commentary, Calvin admits that, at first glance, God's encouragement to Abraham "to be of good courage" seems strange if not "superfluous." Abraham has just waged a...
Noah's first deed upon exiting the ark -- at least as recorded in Scripture -- was to build an altar and offer unto God sacrifices. He did this from the "clean" animals and birds which had accompanied him and his family on his recent water-based adventures. God, for his part, smelled Noah's...
Much that passes for Christian decision making in modern Evangelicalism strikes me as a mixture of lazy moral reasoning and illegitimate efforts to discern those "secret things" (Deut. 29:29) that God has never promised to reveal to us. Scripture has much to say about the way we approach important...
On the surface, Paul's observation in Philippians 1:14 that "most of the brothers" in Rome--where Paul was chained to a member of the imperial guard awaiting the outcome of his judicial appeal to the emperor Nero--had become "more confident in the Lord" and "more bold to speak the word without fear...
The problem (so to speak) with Christianity is that it places creaturely identity in the hands of the Creator rather than the creature. In other words, it holds that the identity of every human being--and, for that matter, every created thing--is fundamentally established by God, not constructed by...
As everyone in the Reformed world surely knows by now, 2019 marks 400 years since the Synod of Dort wrapped up proceedings and bequeathed to the Protestant Reformed family of churches that glorious statement of Reformed doctrine known as the Canons of Dort. Commemoration and celebration of Dort and...
I was a junior in high school when the Roseanne episode featuring a lesbian kiss aired on network television, and I can remember well the controversy that surrounded that episode. Recent conversations surrounding the presence of a nine-year-old character named Mark on the Roseanne reboot -- a boy...
For several weeks I've been intermittently reading Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach to my kids, while dabbling (as is my wont) in the news (typically the BBC), which, true to form, has generally born witness by one headline or another to the fallen estate in which we human beings find...
"The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But...the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a...
Last month, I participated in a Protestant & Roman Catholic dialogue about the Reformation at a nearby Christian university . The experience has left me reflecting on the fundamental issues that continue to divide Protestants and Roman Catholics, one of which is the authority of Scripture vis-à...
Luther expressed his appreciation for history and historians on numerous occasions. History, he believed, provides fodder for both fear and praise since God is sovereign over the course of human events. History records and reminds us how God "upholds, rules, obstructs, prospers, punishes, and...
"This light momentary affliction," Paul writes, "is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul's use of the singular noun "affliction" in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn't say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life...
Last week the Barna Group informed us that a whopping ten percent of America's population " love Jesus but not the church ." Lack of "love" for the church, for Barna's purposes, is essentially measured by lack of attendance at religious services. Few of those self-identifying with this group would...
A few weeks ago, I participated in a conference which explored the promise that careful attention to Protestantism's past holds for Protestantism's future. It was exciting to see scholars, students, and interested laypersons gathered around a common concern for the future of our various Reformation...
"The things related in Scripture are not always proper to be imitated." So notes Calvin midway through his commentary on the story of Isaac and Rebekah's engagement and marriage--a story that, rather unpromisingly to modern ears, begins not with star-cross'd lovers flung forth from the fatal loins...
I've been preparing a talk on Luther and education for a conference this summer, and so have been reviewing Luther's 1524 " To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools ." In examining this work, I've been especially struck by Luther's plea for a...
"The work of creation is, God's making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good." Thus the Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the Christian doctrine of creation (WSC 9). What response should this doctrine elicit from us? Too often, I think,...
We all wrestle with feeling worthless at some time or another. The world imputes value to individuals, whether it admits such or not, on the basis of gender, race, age, physical appearance, profession, possessions, income, intelligence, accomplishments, character traits, ability to make others...
Talk of God's attributes that is not tethered to concrete stories of God's dealings with his people in history tends toward abstraction (and so away from doxology, where all talk of God should end). The same is true, of course, of talk about any person's attributes. It's one thing for you to tell...
Few things bring out the hysteria in all of us like a presidential election. Perhaps only the close of a millennium (anyone remember Y2K?) can compete for catapulting Americans into a posture of fear and anxiety about their nation's collective future (or lack thereof). Don't get me wrong. I like to...
Any theological system worth its salt affirms that faith is a gift from God rather than the exercise of some innate power of the human soul. But that affirmation can be misleading, particularly so if one's notion of "gift" is determined by the culture of gift-giving and gift-receiving we currently...
Upon the surface, Genesis 23 seems rather curious in its choice of emphases. In the terse space of a single verse it records Sarah's death and Abraham's mourning (Gen. 23.2). The remaining twenty-odd verses (Gen. 23.3-20) of the chapter summarize Abraham's efforts -- admittedly intriguing but...
The last year or so has witnessed some controversy about the meaning and value of the term complementarianism (not to be confused with complimentarianism, which is belief in people who pay me compliments) to describe men and women's respective identities and roles in family and church. That...
Several weeks ago I re-read J. Gresham Machen's pivotal, early twentieth-century work Christianity and Liberalism in preparation for giving the final lectures of a seminary course on modern church history. Having originally read the work more than a decade ago, I had forgotten how much political...
The Protestant Reformers, following Scripture's lead, roundly rejected the notion that believers might be justified in part or in whole by their own good works. Sinners, they maintained, are justified wholly on the basis of Christ's perfect righteousness imputed to them, a righteousness...
"This chapter contains a most memorable narrative." Thus Calvin introduces his readers to Gen. 22, that text which records God's instruction to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the long-awaited fulfillment of God's promise and source of Abraham's profound joy. Calvin's subsequent comments on...
Ref21 readers who are familiar with the British theologian John Webster will, I'm sure, already know that he passed away late last month. I'm equally sure that many readers of this site will not have heard of Webster, or will at least be hard pressed to place him. That's an unfortunate truth...
Several days ago I was distracted from my mid-afternoon, back-porched task of grading college research papers by the presence of a pair of cardinals flitting around our yard. As I watched them doing what cardinals do, I began wondering whence precisely cardinals derived their peculiar name. My...
The details of Luther's mid-1520s tussle with Erasmus over the issue of sin's impact on human freedom are generally well known. Luther responded to Erasmus's 1524 De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio with his own 1525 De servo arbitrio [ On the Bondage of the Will ]. Erasmus, deeply offended...
In 1524 Desiderius Erasmus, who until then had proven reluctant to challenge Martin Luther publically, finally caved to pressure from Rome to employ his literary talent against the impudent German Reformer who had caused, and was still causing, the institutional church of his day such problems...
The persecution of Protestants in Scotland, at least if measured in martyrdoms, peaked in 1539, shortly after Cardinal David Beaton, a zealous opponent of reform, was appointed primate of the country. Glasgow witnessed the execution of two individuals that year: Jerome Russell, a Dominican friar...
Calvin discovers in Gen. 21, with its record of Isaac's birth and Ishmael's banishment from Abraham's house, a contrast between two kinds of laughter, one "holy and lawful," the other "canine and profane." Holy laughter -- not (of course) to be confused with the phenomenon of inexplicable giggling...
Of the twelve affirmations that constitute the Apostles' Creed -- perhaps the most regularly recited statement of basic Christian doctrine in the western Church of the last 1500 years -- none has caused greater uncertainty and debate over the centuries than that declaring that Jesus Christ "...
"One thing," Martin Luther writes in the Freedom of a Christian (1520), "and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is _______." Knowing Luther to be the author, we're quick to assume that "faith" belongs in the blank. And not without reason...
Advocates of "family-integrated worship" -- a fancy term for keeping kids of every age in church services rather than shuffling them off to the nursery/crèche, Sunday School (UK), or Children's Church (US) -- generally claim their practice as the historical one up until rather recent times. "What...
Calvin apparently lived with a profound awareness of the potential for death that constantly accompanies us as human beings. In 1.17.10 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion , the Reformer provided a rather sobering catalog of the "innumerable ... deaths that threaten" us in our day to day...
W. Bradford Littlejohn, Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work . Cascade Books: Eugene, OR, 2015. $24.99 Littlejohn takes seriously the role defined for his book by its sub-titular label as a "companion" to the life and work of the sixteenth-century English divine Richard Hooker. He aims...
In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation of 1520, Luther takes aim at the Roman Church's "flimsy and worthless" claim to possess the exclusive authority and ability (by virtue of some unique spiritual gift) to interpret Scripture. "It is a wickedly invented fable," the Reformer...
John Craig might hold first place among unjustly forgotten figures of the Scottish Reformation. Craig merits attention not only for the noteworthy contribution he made to the progress of Protestantism in his native country following its official embrace of reform in 1560, but also for his rather...
As is generally known, the Reformation entailed a recovery of preaching as a central feature of worship, a recovery which was rooted in the recognition that Scripture names proclamation of God's law and gospel as the means of creating and sustaining faith in those divinely ordered to eternal life...
Sodom. Arguably the most notorious city in Scripture. We cannot read or hear its name without our thoughts running to certain sins (most likely sexual in kind) that famously found a home there. Given John Calvin's reputation for a certain moral rigidity and/or prudishness, we might expect him to...
By his own admission, Luther put on a few extra pounds in his later years. During a business trip (of sorts) to Eisleben (his place of birth) several days before his death, he joked to friends that he would shortly return to Wittenberg and "give the worms a fat doctor to feast on." In actual fact...
Ever the reformer, Luther couldn't resist using his last will and testament to take a final stab at perceived corruption and advance his vision for a better way. The final target of his reforming efforts, however, was not the contemporary church and her doctrine or ways, but contemporary law in his...
Use of the "five solas" -- sola scriptura , sola gratia , sola fide , solo Christo , and soli Deo gloria -- to collectively summarize Reformation theology is apparently a twentieth-century thing. The reformers, to be sure, used these phrases (or very similar ones) to communicate distinct truths...
Christian catechisms of the question and answer variety came into their own in the sixteenth century. The German Reformer Johannes Brenz developed a Q. & A. catechism for propagating the (revised) Christian faith as early as 1527. Luther followed suit two years later with his Large and Short...
Somewhat curiously, Calvin judged "the great number of inns" populating the landscape of his day to be rather obvious "evidence of our depravity" -- the "our" in question being, in the first instance, early modern Europeans. What prompted such disapproval of something as seemingly innocuous, if not...
In my experience, one of the principal delights of growing older -- more than adequate compensation for hair loss, aches and pains, and other unpleasantries associated with the art -- is seeing one's family increase through the addition of children (and, presumably, grandchildren, though I'm far...
Scripture's account of God's command to Abraham to "circumcise the flesh of [his] foreskin" (Gen. 17.11; KJV) affords Calvin ample opportunity to reflect on the reality and nature of sacramental signs. Thus he is keen, in his comments on this and surrounding verses, to emphasize the close...
A recent baptismal service in our church made a profound impression on our four year old daughter Kaitrin. Much to our joy, she began asking questions about baptism on the way home from morning worship, and has brought the subject up more than once since then, giving us ample opportunity both to...