Posts by John Hartley

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“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...
Sanctification for the Roman Catholic is more danger than joy. You can kill off Christ’s holiness in you, a danger vastly exceeding the hardships of cross-bearing. This danger means hell remains a possibility for the justified.
If I could preach only one sermon, I would preach my one allotted message to the visible church. I would preach with the weighty concern that the baptized are on an irreversible course toward eternity. And the baptized, those well-ordered around the outward expressions of the covenant, are most...
Soft idols speak to soft fears. Today fear of man is less about avoiding physical injury – being invaded – and more about avoiding social illegitimacy – being mocked. The soft gods offer a soft security: “We will validate you. We will confirm your legitimacy before the people of this age. Listen up...
In a 1986 speech President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I'm here to help.’” A lot of Americans appreciated Reagan’s humorous point because sometimes government does more to harm than to help. Many Americans, however,...
In the late 1990s, my wife and I persuaded a widowed neighbor to join us one Sunday at the faithful Presbyterian church downtown. A standout preacher of the Reformed faith was filling the pulpit. Our neighbor, a serious believer, liked the preaching well enough. It was the recitation of the Apostle...
I am not sure where I first heard this wisdom, but I have heard it several times: a pastor does not need an office, he needs a study. Spot on. The bulk of pastoral work is not management behind a door labeled “office,” it is bookish work behind a door labeled “study” – reading, research, writing,...
Every spiritual benefit we believers receive – justification, adoption, and sanctification – flow to us out of the person of Jesus Christ. These benefits do not exist alone, each standing off in its silo waiting to be rewarded to the elect if they rap the secret knock upon each door. On the...
The work of biblical interpretation must begin with a commitment to the humble yet courageous task of exegesis, matched with an equally daring rejection of eisegesis.
“You probably won’t have much to say until you are forty.” The words passed easily enough over the breakfast table into my ears. Then they went deeper. Their sanctifying force was acute and penetrating. They have haunted me, in the best possible way, for twenty years now.
Natural theology, to be contrasted with Revealed Theology, is that human response to divine revelation where truths about God, or arguments for his existence, are discerned from the created order without aid of special revelation.
A valuable lesson for 21st century Christians is found in the writings of three 2nd century Romans: Pliny the Younger, an imperial governor; Tacitus, both senator and historian; and Suetonius, a prolific biographer of Caesars, poets, orators, historians, grammarians and rhetoricians.
What would happen if all the churches of Jesus Christ woke up this Sunday with no access to electricity? Suppose we all suddenly lived in a world where the federal government rationed electricity for the next ten years. For the good of the country. Sunday officially became low-kilowatt day. Just...
That holiness of life which the Christian has from God and before God and for God is not sourced nor drawn from even the best doctrinal formulations – as essential as they are to our faith. Nor is holiness of life sourced or drawn from moral transformation – as essential as it is to living out our...
The third person of the Holy Trinity is no less zealous in applying redemption to us than was the second person in accomplishing it for us. Like our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is perfectly ambitious toward the children of God. Once the Spirit applies the redemption of Christ – effectually calling...
At the risk of sounding cheeky, Michael Reeves’ book, Delighting in the Trinity (IVPress, 2012) is delightful. It is the kind of book that should be reviewed annually, as if it had just been published. It is that fresh; already carrying about it the air of a classic.
The 17th century minister and Scotsman, Alexander Nisbet said, “the most dangerous heretics have many followers; every error they introduce turns out to be a friend to some lust in the heart of man.” Case in point: Several years ago, a friend of mine discovered his pastor had committed adultery...
It is possible to make disciples that are just too new. Case in point. In his book, The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), Carl Trueman relays the story of a pastor who regularly declared his devotion to Scripture by dismissing creeds and confessions. With the Bible held high before his church,...
For Burgess preaching is not enough. Of course, preaching is prescribed and essential to all good in the life of God’s people. The Church cannot live without preaching. Yet preaching cannot live without prayer. God alone possesses the key of all men’s hearts, says Burgess. Not the preacher. Not the...
A great blind spot which afflicts anyone who limits their reading of Calvin to The Institutes is how thoroughly engrossed the Reformer was in missions work across Europe.
Eight years-ago this month a friend gave me a copy of N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP, 2009). The handwritten note inside the cover said: “To John, A provocative and edifying read.”...
In commenting on the Samaritans our beloved brother, John Calvin, made a penetrating observation about the nature of religious pride. His comments are a particular help in answering the question, How now shall the church live when boundaries of public life, at a time more pluralistically welcoming...
The 17th century minister and Scotsman, Alexander Nisbet said, “the most dangerous heretics have many followers; every error they introduce turns out to be a friend to some lust in the heart of man.” Case in point: Several years ago, a friend of mine discovered his pastor had committed adultery...
How do you explain to yourself why you are a Christian? Why do you think your life is a Christian life and not some other kind of life? Do you tell yourself you have a Christian life mostly for social reasons? It’s good for the children. Your parents raised you in a Christian church. Your...
A month before our son was born my wife came home from the baby shower with a gift even a father could love: two over-sized plush boxing gloves in the shape and color of Hulk’s famous fists. Smash those green fists just right and your opponent hears a threatening audio track in Hulk’s voice: “You...
Why don’t we immediately see God the Holy Trinity jumping from the pages of Old Testament scripture? It is a sincere question a Muslim, a Jew and even a newer Christian all may ask. Reading the Old Testament by its own light, not by the light of the New, may push us to regard God as an...
To study the doctrine you must be prepared to welcome an expansion of your theological vocabulary. Every time I read or listen to something on simplicity I frequently pause and consult a theological dictionary. I recommend Richard A. Muller’s, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, which...
A minister of the gospel in service to Jesus Christ will necessarily have an interest in children. All servants who hear their Master say, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” will share his great interest in the spiritual needs of little ones.
It is probably fair to say most of us enjoy reading polemics far more than writing them. Studying a careful and robust dismantling of an errant theological system delights defenders of biblical orthodoxy. Cheers rise from the stands. But who has the courage to step on the field? Who has the skill...
It is safe to assume whether you sit in a pew or stand in a pulpit, philosophical trends are trickling into minds all around you. They drip, drip, drip into the intellectual habits of those you worship with, those who teach your children, and those who will eat turkey with you in November. No one...
In his classic book, The City of God, fourth century bishop, Aurelius Augustine, discusses a notable abuse of scripture in his day. He speaks of contemporaries who "allegorize all that concerns Paradise itself," who teach "as if there could not be a real terrestrial Paradise!" (COG, 13.21).
Overlooking the biblical doctrine of union with Christ is one surefire way to lose sight of Christ while allegedly maintaining a rigorous orthodoxy in matters of doctrine and worship. If we labor in orthodoxy - either as worshipers or ministers - while blind to our union with Christ, it will not be...