Wise Counsel to Pastors and Seminary Students – Michael Kruger

TT-Feb-2016This past week I began using the February issue of Tabletalk (the daily devotions are covering the gospel of Mark). Sunday I dove into the featured articles, which this time surround the theme of “Awakening” (read the introduction, “True Reformation”, by editor Burk Parson).

As I browsed the other rubrics, I was drawn to the interview article with Dr. Michael J. Kruger, president and professor of NT and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. The first two sections of this interview gather Kruger’s thoughts on the spiritual challenges facing pastors today and his advice to Seminary students.

I think you will profit from what he says on these subjects, so I include excerpts here. And that made me think, Am I and are you praying enough for our pastors and our pastors-to-be in these difficult days?

Tabletalk: As president of a Reformed seminary, what do you consider to be the greatest spiritual challenges that future pastors face in the United States and in the world? How can they prepare for those challenges?

Michael Kruger:

…So, the greatest challenge for pastors will be whether they will stand firm on the teachings of the Bible despite the fact that they are ridiculed by our culture. In order to prepare for those challenges, pastors need to (a) recommit themselves to the truth of Scripture, (b) become serious students of Scripture themselves, and (c) boldly preach the Scriptures to their congregations.

I would also add that pastors will not just be ridiculed by the world, but they will be increasingly ridiculed by their own congregations. Pastors will find themselves in a situation where many members of their congregation openly disagree with them about the Bible’s teaching on key cultural issues. Thus, there will be an ever-growing gap between the position of the pastor/session and the position of some portion of the congregation—and that is the kind of situation that can lead to infighting and schism. To address this challenge, pastors have to make sure that their own people are properly instructed, trained, and persuaded about these key cultural issues. We cannot just assume they agree with us. As we reach out to the culture with the truth of Scripture, we cannot overlook our own congregations.

TT: What wisdom would you give to a theological student who is struggling to connect his theological knowledge with his heart?

MK: The first thing to realize is that theological knowledge and the heart are not opposed to each other. We must avoid the idea that we have to choose between the two. Solid, biblical truth encourages and uplilts the heart. Second, the student needs to realize that the study of theology is always personal—it applies to them, too. As soon as we begin to see theological study as an abstract hobby, and not something that we apply to our own lives, we will find ourselves becoming cold and distant to the things of God. And third, students must maintain a vibrant and consistent devotional life. The intimacy of daily communion with God is an inoculation against growing cold and hard-hearted during one’s time in seminary.

To read the rest of this interview, which also gets into the issues of the Bible’s canon, inspiration, and authority, visit the link below.

Source: The Development of the Bible: An Interview with Michael Kruger by Michael Kruger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Comments on SCOTUS Homosexual Marriage Decision – B. Van Engen

One of the regular columns in the Standard Bearer is called “Church and State,” and in the most recent issue (Feb.1, 2016) attorney Brian Van Engen (member of the Hull, IA PRC) offers another set of comments on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage (June 2015).

SB-Feb1-2016.jpg

He brings clarification to the issues and begins to look at the implications for religious institutions such as churches and schools. I give you a part of his latest article here (his previous one appeared in the Dec.1, 2015 issue), encouraging you to read it all of it. If you are not an “SB” subscriber, you can become one by visiting the link above.

As mentioned previously, the Court in Obergefell did not create a right to homosexual marriage, but instead found that this right already existed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and that laws contrary to this right were illegal. While that distinction may seem to be merely a matter of semantics, it does have practical implications. People from both sides of the religious and political spectrum have stated that the rulers have spoken, and we must obey by submitting to this ruling or resigning positions that would cause us to violate our conscience. For instance, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, media attention was focused on Kim Davis, a district court clerk in Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses and was ultimately sent to prison for several days for her refusal. Even many Christians suggested that she must resign her position in light of the Court’s ruling.

The idea that the Court’s ruling is a mandate which we must obey is contrary to our system of government, under which the Court cannot legally create rights or freedoms or legislate, but only protects those rights which already exist under the Constitution or other laws. This is the reason the Supreme Court “found” the right to homosexual marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under our system of laws, now that the right to homosexual marriage has been found to exist, that right is simply one right which must be weighed against competing rights. In the case of homosexual marriage, even the liberal majority on the Supreme Court recognized that people may still oppose homosexual marriage for religious reasons, stating:

  • Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.[1]

 

[1] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)

For a list of the other articles in this issue, see the cover image here.

Christian Apologetics: Defending the Resurrection – Guy Waters

TT-Jan-2016To wrap up the featured articles on apologetics in the January 2016 issue of Tabletalk, Dr.Guy P. Waters addresses the vital subject of the resurrection (cf. link to full article below).

To show the Christian defense of this doctrine, he takes us to Paul’s defense of it in Athens on Mar’s Hill as recorded in the Scripture in Acts 17.

This is how Waters ends his treatment of Paul’s defense of the resurrection of the dead, with the calling for the church to continue to do so:

Thus far, Paul has reasoned with the Athenians based upon what they know of God and of themselves from the creation. He then turns to a particular fact of history—God raised a man from the dead (v. 31). That God has lifted the sentence of death from Jesus and publicly vindicated Him means that Jesus was a righteous man. That is to say, He is unlike any other person who walked the face of the earth. This righteous Jesus had claimed on earth that He would judge all people (see John 5:19–29). The resurrection vindicated this claim. In raising Jesus from the dead, God publicly affirmed Jesus’ claim to judge the world at the end of the age. Because this judgment is certain and imminent, Paul pleads with his hearers to “repent” (Acts 17:30), to turn from the service of idols to the worship of the triune God. The resurrection and the worldwide preaching of the gospel has brought to an end the “times of ignorance,” during which God was pleased to withhold final judgment (v. 30). The days of comparative but culpable Gentile blindness have come to an end. Only the gospel can dispel the ongoing ignorance and blindness in which unrenewed humanity finds itself.

Paul’s mention of the resurrection yields two very different results. Some mock and sneer—the very idea that one’s body would have immortal existence was laughable to the Greek mind (v. 32a). Others, however, want to hear more and, trusting in Christ, follow Paul (vv. 32b–34).

Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus did not, on this occasion, win Paul the accolades of the Athenian intelligentsia. Neither did it yield a visibly impressive host of converts in Athens. But Paul did not preach the resurrection because it was popular. He preached it because it was true. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the coming judgment but also secured blessing for the undeserving. However God is pleased to use this truth in the lives of unbelievers, the church’s task remains the same—to tell others that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Source: The Resurrection by Guy Waters | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Defending the Truth Concerning God by K. Scott Oliphint & Training Pastors by I.Martin

TT-Jan-2016As we have mentioned here before this month, the January issue of Tabletalk has the theme of “Apologetics: Giving an Answer for Our Hope.”

As Christians, we are called by our Lord to defend our faith and practice. And because that faith and practice centers on our Triune God, the central truth we are called to defend is that concerning our God Himself.

The second featured article on the theme in this month’s issue treats that very doctrine. Dr. K.Scott Oliphint in “God” tells us why and what we are to defend our faith as far as the true God is concerned. He does so by directing us to Exodus 3 and God’s special revelation to Moses at the burning bush.

This is how he ends his article:

In Exodus 3, therefore, God identifies Himself in two ways. He tells Moses that He is the covenant God, who is with His people, and that He is the self-existing God, who needs nothing in order to be who He is and to do what He purposes to do.

This brings us to the burning bush. The purpose of that miracle was not simply that Moses might be amazed; it was to display God’s own twofold character that He had announced to Moses. The burning bush illustrates what theologians call God’s trascendence and immanence. The revelation of the burning bush was a revelation that the “I Am” is and always will be utterly independent and self-suffiicient. He is fully and completely God even as He promises and plans to “come down” (Ex. 3:8) to be with His people and to redeem them. The burning bush points us to that climactic revelation of the One who is fully and completely the self-existing God, who comes down to redeem a people, and who is Immanuel (God with us). It points us to Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 1:2328:20).

The revelation of God’s twofold character in Exodus 3 is essential to grasp for all who seek to engage in the biblical task of apologetics. No other religion on the face of the earth recognizes this kind of God. The faith we defend is wholly unique. It begins and ends with the revelation of this majestic mystery of God’s character given to us in Holy Scripture.

To read the rest of Oliphint’s article on this subject, visit this link: Source: God by K. Scott Oliphint | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Another fine article in this issue appears under the rubric “For the Church.” Rev. Iver Martin writes about “Training Pastors,” and has this to say about the church’s work through her seminaries:

A truly healthy church is one in which its members are theologians, coming to church each Sunday with a readiness to think and learn, with an insatiable appetite for more. A good pulpit ministry will richly edify God’s people. It is fatal to underestimate the perceptiveness of our congregations. As people discover what it means to follow Jesus, the intellect often comes to life and the gospel produces a hunger for knowledge that a pastor should be well equipped to satisfy.

To suggest that today’s pastors do not need rigorous seminary training because the disciples did not have it is a spurious argument. Their time with Jesus was a three-year intensive course, complete with internship and testing, and in which they discovered the Scriptures as never before. If the church in the twenty-first century is to thrive, it will depend on high-quality pulpit ministry and well-equipped pastoral skill. If training for the ministry comes at a high price, it is worth it. The church cannot afford otherwise.

To read the rest of Martin’s thoughts on this subject, follow the link given above.

Turning from Vanity – Rev.M. DeVries

Ps119-37The meditation for the January 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer was written by Rev. Michael DeVries, PRC pastor in Kalamazoo, MI. It is a reflection on the prayer found in Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity ; and quicken thou me in thy way.”

Penned with the new year in mind, this meditation contains timely and timeless thoughts for us believers living in the twenty-first century. Here are a few of these considerations as we seek to flee the vanities about us and within us in 2016:

A Fervent Prayer
Who can deny that this world is filled with vanities? Who can ignore the horrible manifestations of sin that we see? Shocking immorality! Gross perversion of God’s ordinance of marriage! Unbelievable filth – vanity! Terrible lawlessness and rebellion – vanity! Economic woes and political chaos – vanity. And in much of the church we see bold apostasy and world conformity – vanity! We behold fantastic wealth, luxuries, pleasures, and entertainments – vanity!

…The term “vanity” comes from a root word which means breath or vapor. Go outside in the frigid temperatures of winter and exhale into the cold air. That puff of vapor is vanity! Vanity is that which has no real substance. It is that which is useless and futile. It doesn’t last. Its existence is fleeting. Apart from the fear of the Lord, all the endeavors of man, in every sphere of life, are vanity. All of his learning and culture, his science and philosophy, his invention and industry, his finance and economics, his recreation and entertainment, his life at home, at work, at play – vanity, all vanity! It is all passing away. Man finds no real joy, no real satisfaction, no true peace.

For sin and the curse of God’s righteous wrath beset this world and all the endeavors of men. We see utter rebellion against all Biblical standards of morality and even common decency. And it all ends in the vanity of death and the grave. Almighty God will not be mocked and shall cast the ungodly down into destruction. This is the world of vanity in which we have walked in 2015 and in which we are required to continue walking in 2016.

By God’s grace we pray, yea, we pray fervently, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” By grace we are not one with this world of vanity. Yet we feel the tug, the pull in the direction of the vanities of this world. For we are still beset with our sinful natures that belong to this world of vanity. We realize the appeal, the attraction, the allurement of this world of vanities. Perhaps especially in our youth – physical appearance, popularity, possessions, money – who can deny the appeal?

And so, by grace we express our heartfelt need unto the Lord, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. “ We realize that as earthy creatures all of our senses are attracted to these vanities, but especially our sense of sight. That’s why our culture of “screens” is so dangerous – from smart phones and tablets to large screen televisions to theater screens – the whole world of vanities is there to see! And those images are impressed upon our minds, and we become increasingly hardened and enslaved to the vanities. “O Lord, turn away my eyes!” Is that your plea?

An Apology for Apologetics – Stephen Nichols

TT-Jan-2016The first issue of Tabletalk for 2016 treats the important subject of apologetics, with the sub-title “giving an answer for our hope.”

You may recall that this branch of theology (practical) deals with the Christian calling to defend his faith, not only against attack from outright enemies (polemics), but also in answering those who ask us a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet.3:15-16) – an aspect of evangelism or personal witnessing.

Editor Burk Parsons gives his usual introduction to the subject in these opening words:

When people first hear the word apologetics, they typically think of our modern use of the word apology. They often conclude that the task of apologetics is apologizing for the Christian faith as if to say we are sorry for our faith. However, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia, which means “to give an answer” or “to make a defense.” Apologetics is not an apology, it’s an answer—a defense of what we believe. In his first epistle, Peter writes, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols has the first featured article on this topic (linked below) and adds this by way of further definition:

The Command

The Greek word apologia means literally “to speak to.” Over time, it came to mean “to make a defense.” When Athens accused Socrates of being harmful to society, Socrates had to offer his defense. He titled it Apologia. He stood before the “men of Athens,” offering his reasoned defense. The New Testament uses the word seventeen times. Many instances concern court cases, such as the time Paul appeared before the Jewish Council in Acts 22 and before Festus in Acts 25. Paul also speaks of his imprisonment in Rome as an apologia of the gospel (Phil. 1:716).

The classic text for the Greek word apologia is 1 Peter 3:15–16. Peter’s first epistle was written to the “exiles” living in Asia Minor, located in modern-day Turkey. These exiled Christians were ostracized for their faith and suffered persecution. They were insulted and slandered. Some of them suffered at the hands of their own family members.

Peter commands these exiles not to live in fear or cower before opposition. Instead, he commands these exiled Christians—and us—to be always ready to make a defense. The main verb “to make a defense,” from the Greek word apologia, is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood is used for commands. There’s no procedure for deferment here. The command extends to all of us.

Further, Peter tells how to make our defense. He notes that we should “always be prepared.” That’s a tall order. Questions about our faith tend to come at unexpected times. In order to be always ready, we must know our faith, which means knowing our theology. We must also know our audience. We see this in Paul’s example of being an apologist on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:16–34).

Peter also tells us that we need to make our defense “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s an even taller order. The word translated “respect” could equally be translated “reverence.” It’s the same word used of how we should approach God. So we exiles are to treat our examiners with gentleness and reverence.

Then there’s verse 16. Peter reminds us that who we are is every bit as crucial as what we say. May the testimony of our lives not put the testimony of our words to shame. Instead, “may our good behavior in Christ” also be our apologetic.

Source: An Apology for Apologetics by Stephen Nichols | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

If you are seeking to learn how to defend your faith in this unbelieving world, you will also find articles on general revelation, God, man, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the church, and the resurrection. Visit the Tabletalk website for details.

The Example of the Early Church On Sexual Matters – Michael Haykin

TT-Nov-2015Yesterday before our worship services I was able to complete my readings in this month’s Tabletalk (see the previous Monday posts this month for more on this issue).

The final article I read was the last one in the magazine – “The Example of the Early Church” by Dr. Michael Haykin. In connection with the theme of this issue (“The Christian Sexual Ethic”), Haykin takes us back in history to a key Christian apologetic work in the early church – The Letter to Diognetus (2nd century).

In this letter of a Christian (unknown) to an unbelieving inquirer (Diognetus) the apologist speaks to the way believers in Christ handle sexual matters in the world of their day, among other things.

The following paragraphs are a quote from this letter and some commentary by Haykin on it. It makes for interesting and instructive reading. So does the rest of Haykin’s article (cf. Ligonier link below), and I am sure, the rest of The Letter to Diognetus (shall we agree to read it together?).

In the World, but Not of the World

The author of the letter notes that, unlike the Jews, Christians are not to be distinguished from their fellow Greeks and Romans by virtue of their geographical locale, distinct language, or various unique customs of dress, food, and other matters of daily life. When it comes to all of these things, they lived like the other citizens of the Roman Empire. Yet, their Christian commitment did draw certain lines of demarcation between themselves and their surrounding culture:

They live in their own native lands, but as sojourners; they share all things as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners…. They marry, like everyone else, have children, but they do not expose their infants. They share a common table, but not the marriage bed. They are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend [their days] on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (Letter to Diognetus 5.5–9)

Here the New Testament language of sojourning and heavenly citizenship is pressed into service to affirm the paradox of Christian existence. The Christian life is one that was similar in so many ways to the mores of Greco-Roman society, but in certain key areas—notably with regard to the treatment of children and sexual expression—it bore witness to a completely different ethic.

Source: The Example of the Early Church by Michael Haykin | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

The Gospel Remedy for Homosexuality – J. Freeman

TT-Nov-2015The November issue of Tabletalk (“The Christian Sexual Ethic”) addresses boldly yet compassionately the major sexual issues of our day.  That includes homosexuality, the burning topic of these times.

John Freeman, president of Harvest USA (harvestusa.org), a Reformed ministry aiding individuals affected by sexual sin, has written a fine contribution with his article “The Gospel Remedy for Homosexuality.” Speaking forthrightly about the fact that there can be no true gospel remedy for homosexuality unless it is described and understood to be sin, Freeman makes this plain throughout his article.

The full article may be found at the Ligonier link below; I quote a portion of it here to get you started.

Source: The Gospel Remedy for Homosexuality by John Freeman | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

On this side of the fall, sex and sexuality are distorted to lesser or greater degrees. However, today there is controversy about homosexuality raging in evangelical circles and, increasingly, in Reformed churches as well. Not only is homosexuality often presented as good but it is also presented as something to be pursued with God’s blessing. It is alarming that the acceptance of homosexual behavior among professing evangelicals is increasing. We hear from some people that the kind of homosexual relationships we see today (loving, monogamous ones) aren’t addressed in Scripture. Although this trend seems likely to continue, these revisionist views must be rejected by followers of Jesus Christ.

God’s Word is firm in its negative view of homosexuality and same-sex sexual desire. The Bible is the infallible standard by which we must view homosexuality and understand the gospel remedy for it. Unfortunately, the reliability of the Bible in this area has been questioned by many today who claim the Christian faith. Christians who view Scripture as authoritative and inspired must not accept this watered-down view of God’s Word. The Bible reveals God’s assessment regarding the problems of the human heart, homosexuality being one of many.

November “Tabletalk”: The Christian Sexual Ethic: Courage and Compassion – Burk Parsons

TT-Nov-2015The November issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional, is now available, and this month’s theme is a significant one – “The Christian Sexual Ethic.” Boldly and plainly the issue addresses homosexuality, marriage, sexual abuse, pornography, and other such sexual matters of contemporary significance.

Editor Burk Parsons speaks to the issue of homosexuality immediately in his introduction, explaining with “courage and compassion” why and how we as Christians must speak boldly and with true love about this issue in our day.

I provide you his opening comments below, encouraging you to find the rest at the link  provided. At the Tabletalk page, you will also find a sampling of the other featured articles on this subject. Looks to be another “must” read for this month.

Source: Courage and Compassion by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Homosexual sin is a grievous and heinous sin. While it is indeed true that all sexual immorality is sin—adultery, fornication, pornography—homosexual sin is different. It is a more heinous and grievous sin because, as the Word of God makes clear, homosexual sin is contrary to nature (Rom. 1:26). Homosexual sin strikes against God’s created order in every way and mocks God’s design for procreation, thus making homosexuality logically self-defeating. Those who suggest the Bible is not clear about homosexual sin have never read the Bible or have not been given the ears to hear what the Bible plainly teaches.

The Bible is clear, so we must be clear. We cannot and must not waver in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition. Although the world is changing, the Word of God is not. We must stand our ground on the unchanging Word of God in the midst of an ever-changing culture. For even if the whole world says homosexuality is acceptable, we must stand our ground on the authority of God’s Word and insist that it is in fact unacceptable and unconscionable. We must speak the truth even if it means persecution and imprisonment. We must insist that homosexual sin is wrong, and like all sins, sexual or otherwise, it is deserving of God’s righteous wrath and condemnation.

Persecution: What the Future Holds – Owen Strachan

What the Future Holds by Owen Strachan | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The fourth featured article in the August issue of Tabletalk on the theme of persecution is written by Dr. Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Dr. Strachan addresses “What the Future Holds” in his article, and he presents a very realistic picture of what Christians can expect in this country. He lays out four main points, all of which are worth reading and contemplating.

What I really appreciated, however, was the way in which Strachan closed out his thoughts. These words especially, it seems to me, are worth our careful pondering.

There will be no retreat of the church. We will never stop witnessing unto life. We will never cease to minister the gospel. We will not forget the holy Apostles. We remember how they welcomed the jail cell, the Roman prison ship, the hair-raising tribunal. In any and all settings, they preached Christ. They went so far as to believe that God had not only permitted such moments, but had appointed them for His glory (Acts 5:41). They saw suffering with Christ as a privilege, much as this challenges our material sensibilities. We must not forget that if the church is unsettled, it is not by accident. It is by divine design, and it will be used for divine purposes.

While we live, like the priests of old in fallen Jerusalem, we may weep (Ezra 3:11–13). We cannot forget the millions of babies driven into the afterlife at abortion clinics. We cannot erase the suffering felt in fatherless homes and families detonated by selfish sin and bitter divorce. We cannot help but think back to past days, happy days, that celebrated the good of religious people and did not seek their undoing. All these trends speak to fallenness. All of them deserve our tears.

We will weep. But we will also dry our eyes. We will rise to our feet. Whether in a gated community, a busy city, a tense workroom, a chilly playgroup, or a prison cell, we will never cease to speak and to minister the gospel. The gospel was not made for quiet days and easy questions. It was made for the toughest stuff, the worst of times, the hardest of circumstances.

What does the future hold? The future will bring suffering. The days will be evil, as they have been (Eph. 5:16). But the future is bright, because God is real. The church must take heart. We have a living Lord. When history concludes, we will reign with unbroken bodies in a world of love. We will worship the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the earth. There is no life like this life. There is no hope like this hope. There is no God like our God.

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