Fifty Years of Theology for the Church, to the Glory of God – August 2021 Tabletalk

The August 2021 issue of Tabletalk Magazine is a special one. It commemorates 50 years of Ligonier ministry’s existence and mission – to teach the holiness of God to as many people as possible. This was R.C. Sproul’s stated purpose from the outset. Burk Parsons points this out in this introduction to the issue titled “Helping People Know God”:

“In 1971, God used R.C. and Vesta Sproul to establish the Ligonier Valley Study Center. What began as a small study center in the countryside of western Pennsylvania fifty years ago has become, by God’s amazing grace, a discipleship teaching ministry reaching millions of people around the world. When I first encountered Ligonier Ministries more than twenty-five years ago, what amazed me most was that Ligonier was unlike any other ministry that I knew of. I immediately recognized that Dr. Sproul not only was concerned with reaching unbelievers with the gospel but that he was also passionate about reaching professing Christians with the gospel. But he didn’t stop there. His concern was to help believers be thoughtful and articulate Christians who know not only the gospel but also the whole counsel of God, the theology of God’s Word, the history of that theology, and how to defend the entirety of their faith. Dr. Sproul’s driving passion was to help the world know God and to help the church know God—not the God of our own making but the one and only sovereign, gracious, loving, and holy God of Scripture.”

Yes, that means that at the heart of what Sproul and Ligonier did was teach theology – involve people in the study of God. Sproul was fond of saying that everyone is a theologian; you are either a good one (meaning you know the true God) or you are bad one (meaning you don’t know the true God). And that is what this special issue notes in every featured article. All are worth reading, but the last one by Dr. Steven Lawson points to the ultimate purpose of good theology: the glory of God. Here is how Lawson open his article on this theme (“Theology for the Glory of God.”):

“The study of theology must never become an end in itself. The goal of sound doctrine is never to produce people who have full heads but empty hearts and barren lives. The purpose of Reformed theology is never to produce the “frozen chosen.” Instead, the knowledge of God and His truth is intended to lead us to know and worship Him. The teaching of Scripture is given to ignite our hearts with devotion for God and to propel us to live for Him. In short, robust theology must produce vibrant doxology.

“We study theology not to be educated for the sake of appearances. Theology is merely a means to the highest end. We study the truth about God to know Him better and to mature us. Theology renews our minds. It ignites our hearts. It elevates our worship. It directs our prayers. It humbles our souls. It enlightens our path. It energizes our walk. It sanctifies our lives. It strengthens our faith. It deepens our passion. It sharpens our ministries. It fortifies our witness. Theology does all this—and much more. Every aspect of this life pursuit brings glory to God.

“We are to glorify God in everything we do. Paul writes, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). This charge to honor God includes even the study of theology. The Apostle warns, “Knowledge makes arrogant” (8:1, NASB) if it does not lead to loving God and others. We must study “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) ultimately for “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). This truth, in turn, will prompt us to give Him the glory due His name.”

Follow the links here to read more in this profitable issue. If you wish to learn more about the history of Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul, check out Dr. Stephen Nichols’ article “The History of Ligonier Ministries.”

Published in: on August 30, 2021 at 9:32 PM  Leave a Comment  

“…life is a very deep mystery, and… finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it.”

“‘On Sundays you talk about the Good Lord, how He does one thing and another.’

“‘Yes, I do.’ And he blushed. It was as if he expected that question, too, and was surprised again that the thing he expected for no reason was actually happening. He said, ‘I know that I am not — adequate to the subject. You have to forgive me.’

“She nodded. ‘That’s all you going to say?’

“‘No. No, it isn’t. I think you are asking me these questions because of some hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.’ He said, ‘You can probably tell I’ve said these same words too many times. But they’re true, I believe.’ He shrugged, and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.”

Paperback Lila : A Novel Book

Part of an early conversation between an Iowa church pastor (widower John Ames in the fictional town of Gilead) and Lila, a poor homeless drifter who visited the church to get out of the rain and gradually opened up to him, pouring out her difficult past. In the story, Lila ends up marrying this pastor and together they struggle to deal with her past in the light of the Christian faith and worldview. The book is titled Lila and the author is Marilynne Robinson. If you have never read her novel Gilead, you ought to before reading this one. Her characters are rich and her stories complex, and all written within a Christian context, with Calvinism lurking (sometimes critically) in the background. This is one of two end-of-summer novels I am reading – a good, thought-provoking “lighter” read.

Published in: on August 28, 2021 at 9:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

The “But” of God’s Gracious Gospel

but God (Ephesians 2:1-10) — Gateway Church Downtown

“Often maligned and under suspicion, “but” can fall on hard times. Some of it justified. Heretics use “but” to obscure error. We use it to excuse sin. And both practices are due to sin against the first “but”—“But thou shalt not eat of the tree” (Gen. 2:17). The fact is, “but” is essential to the Word of God, which came not by the will of man, but by the Holy Ghost (II Pet. 1:21). And without “but,” there is no gospel antithesis between God and man, sin and grace, law and gospel, truth and lie, salvation and damnation, heaven and hell, or life and death.

“But God. Men make idols, but God made the heavens (Ps. 96:5). Idols are dead, but God lives (Hab. 2:20). With men salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). Not many wise men are called, but God has chosen the foolish (I Cor. 1:26-27). Men plant, but God gives the increase (I Cor. 3:6). Men thought evil, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). Men slew Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:29-30). We were dead in sin, but God has quickened us with Christ (Eph. 2:1-5). We are tempted, but God is faithful (I Cor. 10:13). So faith confesses: We die like sheep, but God will redeem me from the grave; my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart and portion forever (Ps. 49:15; 73:26).

“But Jesus. He said: I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; I came not to send peace, but a sword; I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 20:28; 10:34; 5:17); I came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 9:56; 5:32); you have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you; he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life; and no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me (John 15:16; 8:12; 14:6). Jesus taught: We live not by bread, but by the Word of God (Matt. 4:4); many are called, but few are chosen (Matt. 20:16); the harvest is plenteous, but laborers are few (Matt. 9:37); the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).

“The gospel but. God said, “I will destroy man, but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Faith is counted for righteousness to him that works not, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Salvation is not of him that wills nor runs, but of God that showeth mercy (Rom. 9:16). He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Tit. 3:5). God saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (II Tim. 1:9). There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1). You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). You are born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible seed by the living Word (I Pet. 1:23). Reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11). Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). For you were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (I Pet. 2:25).”

Taken from Rev. W. Langerak’s word study “But,” published in the August 2021 issue of the Standard Bearer and on the blog of the publisher, the RFPA.

Published in: on August 25, 2021 at 9:51 PM  Leave a Comment  

Suffering Through Grace – H. Hoeksema

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.
Philippians 1 :29

“…Now in order to understand how Scripture can speak of this suffering as a gift of grace, we must note that it is voluntary. It is a form of suffering which under certain conditions believers deliberately choose. This is not true of the suffering of this present time in general. When sickness attacks your frame, or when sorrow and death enter your home, you have no choice. This kind of suffering is simply inflicted upon you without your will. You cannot avoid or escape it. But in regard to the suffering in the behalf of Christ this is different. You are placed before an alternative, and you must make a choice. The alternative is always suffering with Christ, or freedom from that suffering with Belial; the reproach of Christ, or the pleasures of the world; fellowship with Christ in His death, or fellowship with the world in its life. And he who suffers in the behalf of Christ makes a decision. He considers the alternatives and evaluates them in order to determine what is preferable. And he reaches the conclusion that the reproach of Christ is to be esteemed far greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, that it is far preferable to die with Christ than to live with Belial. And having reached this conclusion, he follows it up to the very end: he deliberately chooses to suffer with Christ, and without hesitation he rejects the proffered deliverance that is presented to him on condition that he will deny Christ and walk in the way of the world.

“It is thus that the prophets and apostles and all the Bible saints suffered. They were “tortured, not accepting deliverance.” (Hebrews 11: 3 5) It was thus that the martyrs of the early church chose to suffer with Christ. They were placed before the alternative of being dumped alive into a seething caldron of boiling oil, or making a bow as a sign of worship to Caesar. And it was often made extremely easy for them, so easy that in our day we would probably discover a thousand reasons why we would be allowed to choose the latter. They were permitted to maintain their confession that Christ is Lord, if only by a slight bow to the image of Caesar they would admit that the Roman emperor was also Lord. But in the behalf of Christ they deliberately chose the awful dcath of the seething caldron, not accepting deliverance, insisting that Christ is the Lord alone! It is thus that the martyrs of the Reformation preferred the repro: of Christ. The instruments of horrible torture to which they were subjected by the Spanish Inquisition may still be seen in some parts of the old world, where they have been preserved as a silent testimony of the faith of these faithful witnesses. They were stretched on the rack, and placed before the choice of renouncing their faith or being torn apart limb by limb. But they preferred the latter, not accepting deliverance. And so, the saints have been cast into dungeons, have been killed by the sword, burned at the stake, thrown before the wild beasts, and become the offscouring of the world because of the witness of God and the faith of the gospel.

“And how about us? This form of persecution does not exist in our land, though in other lands thousands have suffered and do suffer for Christ’s sake even today. But even though the laws of our own country do not permit such cruel forms of persecution, is therefore the Word of the Lord Jesus no longer true, that they shall hate us even as they hated Him? Must not also today the faithful, who do not hide their light and who refuse to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness and to put on another yoke with the unbeliever, suffer reproach, mockery, and shame? Are we, too, not frequently confronted with the alternative of suffering the loss of position and name, of a job and our business, unless we will deny our faith and become amalgamated with the ungodly world? And what is our choice? Listen! The choice of him who lives by grace is to suffer in the behalf of Christ! To choose the world, its name and glory, its treasures and pleasures, our job and position, even our life, is, to say the least, not to live by grace. For it is given you of grace, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake!

“Yes, indeed, only through the power of God’s marvelous grace in Christ Jesus, that redeemed us from sin, that delivered us from the dominion of corruption, that translated us out of darkness into His marvelous light, and that is still working within us to will and to do of His good pleasure, can this choice be made. By nature we will always choose the world, our present life, our name and job and earthly prosperity. The natural man cannot possibly understand that the reproach of Christ must be esteemed greater riches than the treasures of the world. How could he? He is without God in the world, and with this world all his life is bound up. For, first of all, by grace it is given us to believe in Christ. And believing in Him, by that faith we live out of Him, and He lives in us. And living out of Him, we are new creatures. We have a radically new way of judging and evaluating things, so that we consider that the statutes of the Lord are more to be desired than much fine gold, and consider all things but dross for the excellency of Christ Jesus our Lord. In that light we do, indeed, discern that it is far better to lose the whole world than to be unfaithful to our Lord. But, secondly, through that grace we also look forward to a better resurrection and know that if here we suffer with Christ, we shall also be glorified with Him.

“To suffer with Christ is a great blessing. For, first of all, the very consciousness that we are deemed worthy, together with all the saints, to suffer in His behalf and for righteousness’ sake, affords us unspeakable joy and profound peace. Secondly, there is a present fruit which is reaped in the way of this suffering: for tribulation worketh patience, and patience the approved state, and the approved state hope: and hope maketh not ashamed! (Romans 5:3-5) Finally, there is at the end of this road of suffering for Christ’s sake – and mark you well: at the end of no other road – the crown of life, the glory with Christ! And the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with that glory.

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven!”

Quoted from chapter 12, “Suffering Through Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.102-105.

Published in: on August 22, 2021 at 7:27 AM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives Feature – PRYP’s Convention Picture: Redlands, CA, 1969 (Updated!)

Displays in hallway leading to PRC archives room.

It’s Thursday here at the PRC Seminary where the PRC archives are held. And that prompts me to do a PRC history/archives post once again.

Do you recognize these treasures?

A reader and friend sent me a “new” PR Young Peoples’ Convention photo he had obtained and asked what year it was and where it was held. I did find it in our collection and also went back into the Beacon Lights archives to find more information – and a few more pictures! – of this event.

But I will make it a mystery photo item today and see if we can get YOU to guess where it is and when it was held. There are distinctive hints in the picture that may make the location easier to guess (not the last time the PRYP’s Convention was held here), but the year may be tougher – although there are hints for this too!

So, see how you go – and I have more details to follow once we have these answers nailed down.

The 1969 convention booklet – thanks to Dan VU for the picture!

UPDATE: By now, if you have read the comments, you know that the photo is of the 1969 PRYP’s Convention held in Redlands, CA and hosted by Hope PRC. Thanks to those who helped identify the location and year.

As promised, I now give you a few more pictures taken from the pre- and post- convention issues of the Beacon Lights.

Published in: on August 19, 2021 at 10:43 AM  Comments (13)  

Rediscovering Church (Yes, You Need Her!)

“And so, again and again, the church needs to be rediscovered. This is because we’re all prone to forget what God wants for us. The apostle Paul told the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In this he pointed to the example of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:3–4, 6–7). Jesus humbled himself to die on the cross so that he could be exalted by God. If we want loving unity in the church, then we must follow the same path of self-denial. No other route will reach the summit, where we find God’s approval: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).

“I (Collin) know a pastor who often says that no one gets the church they want. But everyone gets the church they need. We all need churches that call us to something greater than ourselves. We need churches that call us finally to God. When we follow the example of Jesus, we get the church we need.

“We’re all trained today to leverage institutions such as family, work, and school to achieve our personal goals of attention and acceptance. Once we get what we want, or the institution asks us for something we don’t want to give, we can discard it and move on to another target. Get a new job. Get a new family. Get a new school.

“But personal growth doesn’t usually work that way. Generally relationships don’t change you for the better if they don’t challenge you at your worst. Consider: Who are the most important people in your life? Do they only affirm you and every decision you make? Or do you trust that they will love you no matter what, and love you enough to tell you the truth? Relationships with family members and friends are forged through thick and thin. They will stand behind you at your best, stand next to you at your worst, and stand in front of you at your most vulnerable.

“That’s the kind of church we must rediscover. The church isn’t just another institution we use to build a résumé and enhance our self-identity. The church forms us into men and women of God. We grow stronger together. At the same time, we learn more about who God intended us to be as individuals—our unique abilities and passions. The church doesn’t erase our personalities. It enhances them by connecting us to the Creator who made us as we are and to others who call forth love and strength we never knew we had. You may not get the church you wanted. But you get the church you never knew you needed.

“The two of us are not naive about how many churches fall short of this vision. You might think we underestimate the challenges. On the contrary, because of our positions, we know far more than most about the dark side of churches. We’ve experienced it ourselves. We’ve heard of it from others. We’ve seen it with friends and family members. And we’re not asking you to tolerate abuse or heretical theology. We’re not issuing a blanket endorsement for churches or condoning the misuse of power and authority that we know is common among churches, past and present.

“We do, however, believe that you must expect friction in church. You should not expect to get along with everybody. You should not expect to share the same vision, the same priorities, the same strategies. Those moments of friction test all of us. They make us wonder if another church around the corner would be easier. It might, at least for a time, though probably not forever, because in that church you’ll find sinners redeemed by grace. And you’ll still be a sinner redeemed by grace. You’ll find the good and the bad, maybe to a lesser degree. But no church this side of Jesus’s return can avoid every disagreement and disappointment.”

This material is adapted from the new book by Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential (Crossway, 2021)

Published in: on August 14, 2021 at 9:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

Eerdmans Publishing Turns 110 Years Old Today

Eerdmans-publ-logoToday (Wednesday, August 11, 2021) is a significant birthday in the life of a significant Christian book publisher in Grand Rapids, MI. The William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is celebrating 110 years today!

Their website has published a special page marking the event, including a timeline of important dates and events and a history of the company. The first part of this we post below.

Eerdmans is also significant to PRC (Protestant Reformed Churches) history, as they were the publisher to first print the books of Herman Hoeksema, one of the founding fathers of the PRC. In fact, Hoeksema and Eerdmans developed a friendship of mutual respect and appreciation. Do you know which “HH” book Eerdmans published first?

The answer is… (coming).

A Brief History of Eerdmans Publishing

The son of a Dutch textile manufacturer, William B. Eerdmans Sr. immigrated to Grand Rapids from the Netherlands in 1902 and began peddling books to support himself while attending Calvin Theological Seminary. In 1911 Eerdmans quit the seminary, convinced that he would be “a misfit in the ministry,” and on August 16, 1911, he and Brant Sevensma formed the Eerdmans-Sevensma Company, a dealership specializing in theological textbooks.

By 1922 Eerdmans was sole owner of the company, then renamed the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Many of the earliest Eerdmans books were classic theological works by European scholars, and the initial volumes were printed in the Dutch language.
The company distinguished itself in the early years with its numerous volumes on and about John Calvin, including a new printing of the 50-volume “Commentary of John Calvin” published at a cost of $300,000. Calvin’s Institutes are still to be found on the Eerdmans list as well as a number of books about John Calvin.

Source: Eerdmans Publishing Turns 110 Years Old

Published in: on August 11, 2021 at 10:01 PM  Comments (1)  

Christian Olympic Champions in the Race of (Eternal) Life

Laurel Wreath • Ancient Greece •

24.Know ye not, that they who run in a race.

He has laid down the doctrine, and now, with the view of impressing it upon the minds of the Corinthians, he adds an exhortation. He states briefly, that what they had hitherto attained was nothing, unless they steadfastly persevered, inasmuch as it is not enough to have once entered on the Lord’s way, if they do not strive until they reach the goal, agreeably to that declaration of Christ — He that shall endure unto the end, etc. (Matthew 10:22.) Now he borrows a similitude from the race-course. For as in that case many descend into the arena, but he alone is crowned who has first reached the goal, so there is no reason why any one should feel satisfied with himself on the ground of his having once entered upon the race prescribed in the gospel, unless he persevere in it until death. There is, however, this difference between our contest and theirs, that among them only one is victorious, and obtains the palm — the man who has got before all the others; but our condition is superior in this respect, that there may be many at the same time. For God requires from us nothing more than that we press on vigorously until we reach the goal. Thus one does not hinder another: nay more, those who run in the Christian race are mutually helpful to each other. He expresses the same sentiment in another form in 2 Timothy 2:5,

If any one striveth, he is not crowned, unless he strives lawfully.

So run. Here we have the application of the similitude — that it is not enough to have set out, if we do not continue to run during our whole life. For our life is like a race-course. We must not therefore become wearied after a short time, like one that stops short in the middle of the race-course, but instead of this, death alone must put a period to our running. The particle ὅυτω, (so,) may be taken in two ways. Chrysostom connects it with what goes before, in this manner: as those who run do not stop running until they have reached the goal, so do ye also persevere, and do not stop running so long as you live. It will, however, correspond not inaptly with what follows. “You must not run so as to stop short in the middle of the race-course, but so as to obtain the prize.”

26. I therefore so run

He returns to speak of himself, that his doctrine may have the more weight, on his setting himself forward by way of pattern. What. he says here some refer to assurance of hope — (Hebrews 6:11) — “I do not run in vain, nor do I run the risk of losing my labor, for I have the Lord’s promise, which never deceives.” It rather appears to me, however, that his object is to direct the course of believers straight forward toward the goal, that it may not be wavering and devious. “The Lord exercises us here in the way of running and wrestling, but he sets before us the object at which we ought to aim, and prescribes a sure rule for our wrestling, that we may not weary ourselves in vain.” Now he takes in both the similitudes that he had employed. “I know,” says he, “whither I am running, and, like a skillful wrestler, I am anxious that I may not miss my aim.” Those things ought to kindle up and confirm the Christian breast, so as to devote itself with greater alacrity to all the duties of piety; for it is a great matter not to wander in ignorance through uncertain windings.

Taken from John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 26. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics come to an end (held this year 2021), well may we ponder the prize for which we are running as Christians. Infinitely higher and greater. Promised and assured to all who persevere in the race. Kept (in the race) and empowered (to the finish line) by sovereign grace. Crowned with the crown of our risen and ascended Savior. Run, Christian, run! With your eyes on Jesus!

Published in: on August 7, 2021 at 10:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Benefits of Reading Stories

“Stories serve important functions in the lives of individuals and societies. The most obvious one is entertainment. What makes stories entertaining? One answer lies in their power of transport. The genius of narrative is its ability to remove us from the physical world around us and plant us in an imaginary world replete with its own places, characters, and events. This occurs easily because stories unfold as a sequence, creating their own momentum, drawing us in and placing us under their enchantment. The phenomenon expressed by the familiar phrase ‘lost in a book’ is preeminently true of stories.

“While we intuitively enjoy a book without necessarily thinking about what produces the pleasure, we can also notice delightful techniques. A story’s aesthetic pleasure lies in seeing and relishing creative skill and its beauty. We admire a storyteller’s inventiveness in crafting captivating scenes, characters, and episodes. The author’s way with words and chosen prose style can generate pleasure.

“A further function emerges when we consider why we tell stories. John Shea has written that ‘we turn our pain into narrative so we can bear it; we turn our ecstasy into narrative so we can prolong it.’ People feel a strong compulsion to tell about their experiences. What characterizes the story we share when a friend or spouse asks how our day went? The story is selective and interpretive. We speak of having had a good or bad, boring or challenging day. Our story is more condensed than the day’s experiences, and we highlight important aspects. These traits are equally true of the literary stories we read. They too are simplified and organized, silhouetting important material with heightened clarity.”

Taken from the new book from Crossway (2021) titled Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful (pp.82-83). I continue to make my way chapter by chapter through this book and am highly appreciating its wonderful perspective on and incentive to reading. The above section from chapter 7, “Reading Stories: Tell Me a Story,” is another example. Have you read any good stories lately? (Don’t forget the Bible is full of them – God’s true stories centered on His Son, our Savior!)

Published in: on August 3, 2021 at 9:28 PM  Leave a Comment