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Ferguson, Staten Island, and Jesus Christ

Ruins and Foundations

Our church has at least two sets of pastoral needs. About half of those in worship on a given Sunday are African, and about half are American (mainly white), but right now, none are “African-American” – American-born black. I’m writing this note mainly to my church. I want to give you things to remember when you see ugly things happen as they have in Missouri (and, since I started writing this post, in New York City) in the last few weeks. Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island are all over the news, and if you use Facebook or Twitter, all over them, too. Recent events – the refusal of two grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men – bring to our attention some of America’s most shameful problems and ugliest history.

First, there is systemic racism in the United States. We all know about the horrible crime and sin of black slavery, which ended in the…

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Distance Education

If you were told that a friend had suddenly become ill to the point of death, would you not do everything you could to get to your friend as soon as possible, especially if you knew it was within your power to help your friend survive the sickness? Would you not literally leap at the chance to also spare your friend’s family the pain of seeing their loved one suffer and die, especially if that family was also dear to you? Of course you would go; of course you would help! Why? Because you love those people. But when Jesus was told this kind of news about His friend Lazarus, the all-powerful Savior did not rush to help. In fact, He deliberately delayed His arrival on the scene, allowing Lazarus to die and breaking the hearts of those who called for His help. Why did Jesus delay? For the same reason you would not delay: Because He loved those people. Read more

An Unconditionally Conditional Faith – (reposted by request)

Note: This series of blog entries was lost in the transition to GenRef’s new format. I’m reposting them one by one by request. Special thanks to for keeping the links up!)

Imagine that you and a Christian friend you’ve not seen in a while are taking a theology class together. The teacher hands out copies of the Apostle’s Creed and asks the students to sign them if the Creed accurately represents their beliefs. Happy to codify your Christian convictions, you sign your copy. However, you notice that your friend is busy making marks on his paper. You watch as he places an asterisk beside each statement of the Creed. He places one final asterisk at the bottom of the page and writes next to it: “These beliefs are subject to change.” Read more

Two Cents on Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics Matter.  Hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of a text. As a pastor, I spend many many hours per week practicing hermeneutics as I study the Bible. There are certain rules that govern how a text is to be understood- and this is true in all liberal arts disciplines which interpret the writings of men and women. Whether you are studying Shakespeare, the Apostle Paul, or JK Rowling, there are rules for how one reads a text.

Today, I learned I had to teach my young son a lesson in hermeneutics.  Following my return from the study this afternoon I took two of my sons on a walk around our mountain.  My young son, following me on our walk, carefully picked up 62 Realtor cards that read, “Allow me to give you my two cents.” There were two pennies taped on every card.

To my son, who is not trained in hermeneutics, this card was to be interpreted as a personal promise to him. The “you” in the text was him, not the owner of the driveway in front of which the Realtor placed the card.

Hermeneutics matter.

Please consider this fact as you endeavor to study the Bible as a student of the Word. There are rules of interpretation that govern the way that the Word of God is to be interpreted. Context, original audience, authorship, grammatical structure, genre of writing, and a host of other things govern how we MUST understand the Scriptures… otherwise you may end up with a handful of promises that don’t belong to you.

Now to retrace our steps… two cents at a time.

Ducking the Real Issues?

Is it wise for Christians to market their own morality as entertainment? That question seems to be worth asking as the feathers settle after this month’s Duck Dynasty flap.

Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson entertains. He also markets duck calls for hunters. As a reality television star, his lifestyle and morality serve as his product. His status as a for-profit entertainer ought to inform the debates Christians have regarding his GQ magazine interview earlier this month. Read more

Just Call Me the Little Drummer Boy

A quick update.  My technician tells me our new launch date for our new look should be sometime between now and Christmas.

Hope so.  My arms are getting tired doing this drum roll.

(Dis)ingenuous – part three of a GenRef series on Emergence Christianity

The day after your long and sometimes troubling conversation with your friend, you decide to seek counsel from the teacher of the theology class you’re taking together. You knock on his office door and he greets you warmly. He takes several books and a loose pile of papers off a chair. You sit, impressed at the library surrounding and towering over you.

The professor notices your looking around, glad that you apparently appreciate his collection. “Some of these books are centuries old” he says with a wistful smile, and then he chuckles. “Sometimes I think that my truest friends are dead people!”

Slightly unnerved, you ignore the disturbing ways that statement could be understood, focusing instead on the reason for your visit. You tell the professor about your friend, including as many details as you can remember of the Emergence Theology (ET) which has so captivated him. “Ah,” the professor begins. “So that explains the asterisks on the Apostle’s Creed.” Read more

Jonathan Leeman on Church Discipline

III. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.  [Chapter XXX of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Of Church Censures]

Church discipline is hard, painful, touchy, easily misunderstood, misapplied, maligned, loving, ignored, frightening, sanctifying, corrective, and a mark.  But unless we forget, it is also biblical.

It is easy to find lectures exploring the subject of baptism or the Lord’s Supper.  It is also easy to find a multitude of messages on the Gospel.  But church discipline?  Not so easy.  It is a subject rarely discussed.

Here I would like to introduce you to two lectures by Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks.  With clarity, conviction and wisdom, Mr. Leeman very helpfully unpacks the subject of church discipline.  While the messages are certainly geared for pastors, it is entirely relevant and beneficial for the average listener.  In fact, I would urge all the saints to familiarize themselves with the subject matter at hand.  It is worthwhile.

A Church Discipline Revival, Part 1

A Church Discipline Revival, Part 2

Understanding E.T. – (Emergent Theology, not the alien!) – part 2 of a GenRef series…

Imagine that you are back with your Christian friend, talking in the hall after the theology class you’re taking together. You inquire about his placing asterisks on his copy of the Apostle’s Creed. “Yeah” he begins sheepishly. “Maybe the asterisk thing was over the top, a bit too in your face, and I don’t mean to be like that. Although it was funny when the prof read it and spit out his drink!”

You ask your friend what happened to his faith since you saw him last. After a minute’s reflection, he replies: “I stopped worshiping the idol of epistemic certainty.” Recognizing that the conversation is about to get very philosophical, you invite your friend to the Mars Hill of postmodern America: The local coffee shop. Read more

Gently Introducing Psalm Singing at College

The following post is a guest article by Anna (Pulliam) Carini, a senior at Wheaton College studying cello performance and philosophy.  It offers ideas and serves as an example of how gently to bring to others the means of grace of singing God’s Word.


Psalm singers are rare outside the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

As a senior at Wheaton College, I’ve learned a lot from my fellow believers on the subject of worship and psalm singing. I was blessed to grow up at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, and though I despised a cappella psalm singing when I was younger (especially being a cellist), I grew to love and appreciate it greatly. However, in a campus of a couple thousand believers, I am one of only a few Wheaton students who believe that psalm singing is best, and I have had a great desire to see the practice grow. Read more

Keep the Drums A-Rolling!

Glitches!  Just when we thought our new site would be up last weekend, we discovered behind the scenes that we had a problem with securing our link.  We are working on that and hopeful that this weekend our new look should be unveiled.  We really are not intentionally trying to build suspense!

Some posting has been delayed due to this difficulty.  Hopefully next week we will be up and running with more frequent posting again.

Thank you again for your patience and visiting us here at Gentle Reformation!  To encourage you, I will be putting up one guest post here shortly.


An Unconditionally Conditional Faith

Imagine that you and a Christian friend you’ve not seen in a while are taking a theology class together. The teacher hands out copies of the Apostle’s Creed and asks the students to sign them if the Creed accurately represents their beliefs. Happy to codify your Christian convictions, you sign your copy. However, you notice that your friend is busy making marks on his paper. You watch as he places an asterisk beside each statement of the Creed. He places one final asterisk at the bottom of the page and writes next to it: “These beliefs are subject to change.” He signs the paper and, with a smile, asks you about the concerned look on your face. Read more

Drum Roll, Please!

Over this weekend, hopefully you will notice a change to Gentle Reformation.  We wanted a bolder, cleaner site that was easier to read and access.  Also, hearing that over 40% of those visiting blogs do so via smartphones and learning that figure may double in a couple of years, we knew we had to do something, for this current hosting site was not working well on smartphones.  We even hoped to throw in a new logo.   Alas, I have seen the preview, and all these changes and some others should be coming soon.

So we want to thank our friend, Ben Brame, who has been the chief one working diligently behind the scenes to bring these formatting updates.  Once they are up, let us know what you think in the comments section or send me an email.

Then let me ask you to consider this request.  These changes come with a cost.  As we are seeing the Lord use Gentle Reformation to bless people near and far; as we are adding new features such as a monthly podcast; and as we plan to add other writers to keep giving you fresh, encouraging posts from a Reformed perspective that focus on gentle persuasion rather than gotcha polemics, might you be interested in sending a gift to help us out?  If so, send me an email at  I’ll answer any questions you have and tell you where to send a gift if you like to do so.

As always, thanks for reading!

Introduction to Reformed Theology by John Tweeddale

Each month the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosts helpful “webinars,” which are live online classes addressing a topic of interest to the church where participants can submit questions.  Yesterday Professor and Pastor John Tweeddale of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Pittsburgh gave a concise, encouraging, and devotion-inspiring talk on ten characteristics of Reformed theology.  This teaching was recorded so others might benefit from it.

This is a resource that would be helpful to those wanting to review the basics of the Reformed faith or to learn about Reformed theology for the first time.  I encourage you to watch it, then pass the link on to others via Facebook, email, or all the other ways the Lord of technology has given us to share His word!

Mistaken Identity

I was offended by the news today. They called me a bad name. It still hurts to even think about it. They called me a…consumer. Blech.

Truth be told, there are times when the horrible name is deserved. Times when the shiny stuff of the world leads me around like the stick-held carrot it is.

But the name still stinks. What’s worse, the more I hear it, the easier it is to believe. A thousand advertisements preach their sermon to me every day, tempting me toward this mistaken identity.

And so back to the pages of God’s Word, where a better name is given.  Read more