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For Whom The Bell Toils . . .

Rob Bell is back, and the critiques of his latest work are coming in.  I’ve not yet had the opportunity to read What We Talk About When We Talk About God, but I’m starting to peruse the reviews.  Having read and taught concerning his previous work, I know that Bell’s claims about Christianity must be taken seriously and answered seriously.  It is precisely that fact which causes me to cringe a bit regarding the reviews of his most recent work.  So far, they seem to follow the typical pattern of analysis and refutation, which is well and good.  But, similar to the last batch of critiques, they contain an element which subtly but substantially undermines the otherwise helpful work within them.  

Maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere…

In preparing this Sunday night’s lesson on the reformation doctrine of preaching, I came across this very helpful article by Cornelis Venema, professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. In it, he traces the doctrine of preaching through the various reformed confessions to show a distinct and uniform teaching that is often missing from many evangelical and even reformed churches. Perhaps most helpful is his following summary of the problem:

Calvin’s Counsel on Gentle Reformation

While studying for a recent sermon series on the Lord’s Supper, I read an interesting passage in John Calvin’s 1540 treatise on that sacrament. Toward the end of his treatise (in the extract quoted below), Calvin discusses the controversy between Luther and Zwingli over the nature of the eucharist. As he reviews the unfortunate conflict between these great reformers, Calvin counsels his readers to pursue such matters of doctrinal reformation in a spirit of gentleness. He urges us to “hav[e] the patience to listen to each other in order to follow the truth without passion.”

It sounds like Calvin saw remarkable similarity in the sacramental theology of Zwingli and Luther. According to Calvin, much of the controversy that subsequently overshadowed their positions was due to poorly chosen words, fiery reactions, and a refusal to listen to what opponents actually intended once trenches had been dug. There is much wisdom in Calvin’s assessment of this historic debate. Perhaps if he were alive today, Calvin might himself contribute a post to a blog called “Gentle Reformation” with words like these for us to learn from. 

The New You …

Were you you when you were converted to Christianity?  Or, asking about the same idea from a different angle:  Are you you subsequent to your conversion?  Every Christian should answer with a resolute “Yes!” and “No!”  That’s the Bible’s answer.  As such, it is an ancient, unequivocal answer bearing not one iota of influence from postmodern sentiments about truth.  So what does this answer mean?  How does it make sense?  Let’s take our cue from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17. 

Sermonic Echoes

During my seminary days attending Covenant Fellowship Church in Pittsburgh, I was blessed to sit under the preaching of Pastor Ken Smith.    We witnessed people being converted, growing disciples, and joyful singing filling the sanctuary.  One of the means the Lord used to produce this spiritual vitality was, with much prayer assistance, Ken’s Biblically-sound, Spirit-filled, covenant-revealing preaching.  At times he would become so animated that a powerful point, followed by a dramatic pause, would echo in the sanctuary as well as reverberate in our  hearts.  I remember that conversations about the messages would follow after the service and throughout the week.

Here Come the Presbyopians!

Presbyopia is a “medical condition where the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects with age.” That sounds like a horrible condition, of course, but this is not the presbyopia of which I am speaking. I want us to have a spiritual presbyopia, diminishing our focus on small things and looking toward the Kingdom of Christ advancing throughout the nations. The word presbyopia is made up of two Greek words, “presby” comes from the word meaning elder, and “opia” comes from the Greek word for vision. So for a spiritual definition of presbyopia- we are talking about having a spiritual vision for the increase of the church, a vision which should be shared by the elders of the church, a vision of growth, multiplication, discipleship, and church planting.

Cultivating a Holy Brotherhood

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert tops Crown and Covenant Publication’s best-seller list this year. This story of Dr. Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christ and journey into the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) has captivated many. Dr. Michael LeFebvre edited and is the primary author of the church’s second best-seller of the year, The Gospel and Sexual Orientation. God is blessing the RPCNA, and many others beyond it, profoundly through these two saints. Their journeys into the RPCNA have a fascinating common element that might make some people a little uncomfortable. Their exposure to the denomination in the 1990s came through two pastors who were warmly engaged with other Christian groups. These same para-church ministries were being criticized in the church at the time. Though I was in high school and college at the time, I shared some of the criticisms. How should we evaluate this history? Ministry is messy, and this essay may be too, but we need to think about what God has done.

Sins of Cyber-Speech

Does the following sentence make sense to you?  “I found a BFF on FB with my Droid App; his blog made me LOL so hard I had to Tweet.”[1]  If so, you are plugged into the lingo of our digital era.  The philosophical trends and technological advances in our day combine to make our words both abbreviated and multiplied.  Acronyms abound as many millions of people broadcast terse bits of social or self-referential commentary; at the same time, online journals provide limitless space for linguistic catharsis.  The ability to share information with so many people can be used in wonderful ways, but there are also significant dangers associated with ever-expanding mass media.

God’s Presence

Too few churchgoers are aware of the significance of entering into the sanctuary with the people of God.  If only they recognized God’s presence is there, not because of the building but in the people assembled, how different things would be!

When Solomon dedicated the temple, the Lord gave a special manifestation of His presence as the offerings were made.  “It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (I Kings 8:10-11 NASB).  Not only is this account historical, in that it reminds us that the temple in Jerusalem was to be the place where God dwelt among His people.  This manifestation of God’s glory was also prophetical.  In the priests being driven out because of the presence of the overwhelming glory of the Lord, the Spirit is indicating a time was coming when the Levitical priesthood would no longer be necessary in light of the glory that was to be manifested.  As the Lord promised, “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the […]

Honor Such Men: Rich Johnston’s Thirty Years of Youth Ministry

Next week, the Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery of the RPCNA will hold its annual spring meeting. The nominating committee will submit a slate of candidates for various committees and offices for the coming year. For the first time in some thirty years, Rich Johnston will not be nominated for youth secretary. The vote will probably be quiet and ordinary, but it will formally conclude a most-extraordinary three decades of ministry to the young people of this presbytery.