Posts by Mark Johnston

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I recently found myself in conversation with a pastor’s wife who was describing some of the grief her husband had endured through a turbulent time in one of his churches. Her/their experience bore all the marks of similar stories I have listened to more often than I care to remember over the past...
The gospel is, without question, the most wonderful message this world has ever heard or will ever hear. If we are Christians we love to hear it and [should] never tire of reflecting on it. But the big question we face is how to communicate or proclaim it. How do we get it across to those who need...
A much loved and highly trusted friend spoke to me recently about ‘preacher’s tunnel vision’. He mentioned it in the context of a major preacher’s faux pas I had made in the pulpit the previous Sunday. I completely overlooked a significant detail in the text that was right there in the passage, but...
We may well complain that our generation ranks among the most immoral generations of history and that could well be true. But the more sinister issue is the reason that lies behind this tragedy. It is the fact that ours is probably the most amoral generation of history. It simply does not possess...
I love photography and, although I’m not a great photographer, I have learned some of the secrets of capturing a scene or portrait effectively: the most important being to choose angles that allow the details to stand out clearly.
It is an integral part of the passion narrative, but it too easily becomes incidental to the message of the gospel. All three synoptic Gospels include an account of Christ in Gethsemane in some detail, each one from a slightly different perspective. But it is easy to lose sight of the significance...
There are many dimensions bound up with what it means to be a Christian. Its roots stretch back into eternity past, its experience is bound up with our existential present and its horizons take us into eternity future. It changes what we are in ourselves as we are united to Christ and, because of...
It has been on my mind for quite a while to post an article on ‘sinner theologians’, but I hesitated because of its potential for being misconstrued. However, having just received the latest issue of the Westminster Theological Journal and having read a review article by Professor Donald Macleod, I...
No serious-minded Christian would argue with the truth of the Shorter Catechism’s assertion that ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. (It is nothing less than Jesus’ exhortation to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God…’ [Mt 6.33] in statement form.) However, since attitudes and...
This little trilogy of posts relates to godliness and the Christian ministry. It arises out of Paul’s counsel to his young ministerial protégé, Timothy, the then pastor of the church in Ephesus. As with many a young pastor, Timothy was discovering the downs as well as ups of the work of the...
During my years at seminary, in what now seems like a different lifetime, a little group of us first encountered Robert Murray McCheyne in the Banner of Truth reprint of his Memoir and Remains by Andrew Bonar. The story of his life immediately struck a chord with us. He was young and so were we. He...
How do you know if you are doing theology as it should be done? In one sense it could be by asking the obvious question as to whether or not it is orthodox. Is it in step with the historic creeds and confessions of the faith? That indeed must be requisite to all attempts to faithfully articulate...
The idea of the United Kingdom’s pre-Summer vote to leave the European Union, the upcoming vote in the United States to elect the next President and the English Reformation being lumped together in the same sentence may seem ludicrous in the extreme, but it is not without reason.
For all is quaintness, the opening question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is iconic. Despite the best attempts by its updaters to give it a more contemporary feel, none seem to resonate in the way the original wording still does. (‘What is our main purpose in life?’ just does not...
Some of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels stand out vividly, but their full force is somewhat vitiated because they are often only quoted partially. His statement in response to the Pharisees’ question, ‘Which is the greatest commandment?’ (Mt 22.36) is a significant case in point.
Those who take the Bible seriously believe that its message is coherent and consistent. It does not contradict itself. Although it is presented through the multiple voices of its human authors, those voices ultimately speak with one voice: that of God himself. So, when we come across statements in...
The book of Job is full of enigmas. The man who gives the book his name is an enigma. The book’s style is enigmatic. Its entire structure and drama raises all kinds of questions. And, of course, its central theme is the greatest enigma of all: theodicy – how do we relate a good and sovereign God to...
Too many churches never sing the psalms in public worship. Despite the fact the two direct injunctions that relate to singing in the New Testament place psalms at the head of the list of what Christians ought to sing as they ‘make music in [their] heart to the Lord’ (Eph 5.19; Col 3.16), these...
The task of theology is multi-layered and multifaceted. Behind its obvious component of exploring the Bible’s teaching on the major doctrinal loci there are many other factors that influence the task and its outcome. At the most basic level there is the issue of our presuppositions about Scripture...
The idea of ‘the means of grace’ has undergone an encouraging rehabilitation in the life and ministry of many Reformed churches in recent years. This has come as a healthy corrective to pressure from the wider church to embrace ideas and practices that seem more effective vehicles for church growth...
‘Grace’ could easily be seen as one of those doctrines every child from a Christian home ought to know from Kindergarten. Whether it be through the acronym God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense, or just the plain and often repeated ‘God’s unmerited favour’, it would be easy to check it off as ‘learnt’...
There is no shortage of handbooks on what it means to be an effective pastor; but none can begin to compare with actually meeting someone who is just that. To have such a man as your pastor, or to cultivate a friendship with someone who embodies the qualities needed for the task, is guaranteed to...
Out of all the things routinely misperceived about church, giving is among the most common. It is seen too often as an ecclesiastical stealth tax. Like an organisation that offers ‘free’ membership, but finds clever ways to raise revenue from those who join. But as we explore the Bible’s teaching...
Christians in the US and Europe are living in unusual times. Before our eyes we see laws enacted that directly oppose or subtly undermine the truths, values and principles the church has upheld for centuries. Despite their benefit to Western democracies, those democracies are destroying the very...
There is a popular notion that the church originated from a decision by a handful of followers of Jesus of Nazareth to start a movement. In the same way as other world religions started and grew through human determination and effort, it is often assumed that the Christian church is just a hugely...
For those who can remember as far back as the 1960’s and 70’s, there are two books that may well stand out in your memory. One is J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and the other, R.B. Kuiper’s God-Centred Evangelism. Both provide a theology of evangelism – especially in terms of...
Any church that includes questions to ministers-elect in their ordination or installation to service will, in some shape or form, ask a question about the candidate’s commitment to the pastoral care of his people. This is very much in keeping with the practice of caring for the needs of God’s...
If we are to believe many of the proponents and purveyors of mission and evangelism in today’s church, we simply have to get the ‘right’ message, packaged in the right way and conveyed to the right demographic to see people rushing through our doors, seeking salvation. To them, it is something...
Of all the Bible words that fall into the ‘used and abused’ category one ranks high among the most frequent casualties of them all. It is ‘fellowship’. The most glaring evidence of this is in the way churches – even the best ones – choose to identify the different rooms and halls in their premises.
It is tempting to think theology is about articulating Bible truths accurately. But, while this is very much at the heart of the theologian’s task, it cannot be divorced from the attitude with which God’s truth is presented.
The animal kingdom is full of ‘protected species’. From the Great Crested Newt to the Giant Panda, the White Rhino to the Western Lowland Gorilla, it is a criminal offence to interfere with them or kill them. Sadly there is no such protective status for the species minister gospelensis – minister...
Churches (as communities of professing Christians) are meant to be safe places. But all too often this has not been the case. Revelations of widespread abuse in many churches has seriously damaged the reputation and trustworthiness of the church as a whole before the watching world.
Heaven has been splashed all over the headlines of the secular press this past week. It was, of course, because of the unexpected death of David Bowie and the way he choreographed his own departure from this world.
Another year is almost over, a new one about to begin. All over the world party-goers and New Year revellers will mark the moment from the Sydney Opera House to the Paris Champs Elysees, from Trafalgar Square to Times Square. But how much thought will they give to the significance of ‘time’ itself?
In the midst of all the sermon and service preparations associated with the Christmas season we often fail to appreciate the role of the Holy Spirit in the events celebrated. While we are right to focus on the wonder of the eternal Son taking human flesh and entering our world, we can overlook the...
The first Letter of John, filed among the 'General Letters' section near the end of the New Testament is an enigmatic, but hugely significant part of the Bible. At first glance its message seems very straightforward; but on closer inspection (as I discovered recently to my chagrin when I started...
Yesterday I was with some fellow-ministers for our monthly fraternal. Our current focus for discussion is Tim Keller's book on preaching and we were looking at his chapter on 'Preaching the Word'.
It is the unavoidable certainty in life; but also the great taboo. In the midst of life it is never far away; but many are afraid to contemplate it. Yet we find it in Scripture: a dark thread running all the way through its message.
Thursday, October 21st was apparently 'Back to the Future' day - the day to which the characters played by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd were propelled forward in time in Back to the Future II exactly 30 years ago.
What are the marks of a true church?' is a question that has quite rightly occupied the minds of theologians through the centuries, because the history of the church is littered with many bodies that have claimed to be churches, but have so drifted from their moorings in Scripture that they are no...
If we were to ask the question, 'Which is the most significant prayer found in the Bible?' the answer would almost certainly be, 'the Lord's Prayer' and understandably so. This was the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in response to their request, 'Lord, teach us to pray' and it has become the...
There is a subterranean dimension to being a preacher that those who are not preachers often do not see and those who are often try to keep buried. It's the fact there is a dark side to ministering God's word and it has a profound impact on those whose calling it is to do so.
According to its introductory statement, Place for Truth is a forum for reflections on theology in its entire spectrum from biblical through to its practical expressions. In light of these parameters, I did wonder whether or not this particular reflection belongs here, or perhaps somewhere else...
Too often 'tradition' has become a red flag word to the ears of evangelical Protestants. Especially when it is used in relation to 'Scripture' in the same sentence. The reason for this, of course, is the way in which the Roman Catholic Church throughout its history has subordinated the authority of...
There is more to being a preacher than preachers often realise. Biblically speaking it is the primary means by which God's truth revealed in Scripture is to be propagated, not just to the church, but also throughout the world; but for it to be effective, we need to appreciate its twofold dynamic.
Almost from the very first time I read the Westminster Confession of Faith I remember being struck by its choice of words to describe the character of Bible translations. It says they should be in 'the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come' (WCF 1.8).
Given the frequency with which 'the fear of the LORD', or one of its variants, is mentioned in the Bible, it is more than a little unusual that so little seems to be said about it in the church today.