Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A Proposed Bible Reading Adventure

Read a chapter from each of these sections each day (a total of seven chapters). When you get to the end of a section, simply go back and start reading again. You get the Bible all mixed up together. The Old Testament sections follow the order of the Hebrew Bible. This is a variation on Grant Horner's Bible Reading Schedule, but I think it's more interesting.

Section 1: The Pentateuch (187 chapters)

Section 2: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings (147 chapters)

Section 3: The Latter Prophets: Isaiah through Malachi, minus Lamentations and Daniel (233 chapters)

Section 4: Psalms (150 chapters)

Section 5: The Writings, in this order: Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-2 Chronicles (252 chapters)

Section 6: Gospels, Acts, and Revelation (139 chapters)

Section 7: The Epistles (121 chapters)

Sections: Shortest to Longest

Section 7: The Epistles

Section 6: Gospels, Acts, and Revelation

Section 2: The Former Prophets

Section 4: Psalms

Section 1: The Pentateuch

Section 3: The Latter Prophets

Section 5: The Writings

What this means is that you will get through the epistles more often than Gospels, Acts, and Revelation. You will get through the Pentateuch more often than through the Latter prophets, etc.

Monday, October 17, 2022

David's "Satan"

2 Samuel 24:1 says, "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, number Israel and Judah.'" The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says, "Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel." The obvious difference between the two has provoked a great deal of discussion among the commentators and theologians. I have no intention of adding to the dispute about the Lord or Satan. Instead, I suggest a different alternative.

People connect "Satan" in 1 Chronicles 21:1 with "Satan" of Job 1:6 and following. There is a difference, however. In Job, the character is referred to as "the Satan."  The word has the Hebrew definite article attached. Clearly from the context, the devil is intended. In 1 Chronicles, however, the definite article is missing. It is simply "a satan." The word satan in Hebrew may refer to the devil, or it may refer to an adversary. It is used in that latter sense twice in 1 Kings 11. In verse 14, the adversary (satan) raised up against Solomon is Hadad the Edomite. In verse 23, the adversary (satan) is Rezin the son of Eliada. In neither case is the definite article used with satan. The construction is identical with 1 CHronicles 21:1.

On the basis of this observation, I suggest that satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1 ought to be translated "an adversary." The significance is as follows. The Lord raised up an unnamed adversary against David. This adversary was probably not an individual, as in the cases with Solomon, but rather an army. The census that this adversary provoked David to take was a census to determine the strength of forces that David could call upon if the need arose. As 2 Samuel 24:1 says, "he incited David against them." The "them" is probably not Israel, but the adversary. This is a test for David. Will he trust in the power of the Lord to defeat this adversary, or will he rely on the strength of his army? It is similar to what the Lord says in Judges 2:221-23, "I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua." The Lord tested David, and in this case he failed, bringing judgment on the people as a whole, as did the sin of Achan in the taking of Jericho. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Some Thoughts Toward a Better Understanding of the Old Testament

Most Christians appear to have a limited understanding of or appreciation for the Old Testament. The New Testament makes sense to them, but the Old Testament is a mystery, with its diverse kinds of literature and a seeming lack of connection with the New Testament. Most Bible reading plans don't help this very much. Either they read straight through the Bible, in which the New Testament simply follows the Old, or they have some OT and some NT every day, but with no connection drawn between them. Perhaps one way of rectifying this situation is to use the New Testament as something of a search engine for the Old. This has the dual advantage of connecting the testaments and of clarifying the significance of those connections. 

If we start with Matthew, the first verse gives us a number of Old Testament connections. "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham". There are three connections right away. "The book of the genealogy" connects us to Genesis 5, which begins "This is the book of the generations of Adam." That genealogy takes us from Adam to Noah. The subsequent genealogy in Genesis 11 takes us from Noah to Abraham. So read Matthew 1, Genesis 5, and Genesis 11. "The son of Abraham" connects us to the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-25. This may seem long for some readers, so read Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 21-22, which will give the reader the substance of Abraham's story and clarify the importance of Abraham for the story of Jesus Christ. "The son of David" takes us to the story of David. The Old Testament gives 61 chapters to the story of David (from 1 Samuel 16-1 Kings 2). That doesn't include the 73 Psalms of David in the Book of Psalms. So read 2 Samuel 1-8, which gives us the best part of the story of David. That includes the covenant that God made with David which issues in the promise of the everlasting Davidic king.

The genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Jesus also links to a number of other OT passages. First, we have the mention of Judah and Tamar, which takes the reader to Genesis 38. The mention of Rahab (Matthew 1:5) takes us to Joshua 2, with the beginning of the conquest of Canaan. Verse 5 also mentions Ruth, which takes us to the Book of Ruth. The mention of "the wife of Uriah" takes us to 2 Samuel 11-12 which also tells of the birth of Solomon, thus continuing an explanation of the working out of God's promise to David. 

The mention of Josiah (verse 11) takes us to 2 Kings 22-25, which tells of the glorious reign of Josiah and the sad demise of the kingdom of Judah. The reference to Zerubbabel in verses 12-13 takes us to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The story is summarized in Ezra 1-5. 

Matthew 1 ends with the birth of Jesus and the reference to the Immanuel prophecy from Isaiah 7. To get the context for that pronouncement, the reader can read Isaiah 6-12. 

From the first chapter of Matthew, the reader has been introduced to many of the major themes and persons of the Old Testament. It has also drawn the reader to more than thirty chapters of the Old Testament, and has given the reader some sense of the importance of those passages in the unfolding story of God's redemption. 

A person who has a Bible with cross references can thus easily make connections with OT passages by noting the passages that the NT quotes. When making those connections, it is important to get something of the context for the OT citation. Continuing our use of Matthew, chapter 2 will take the reader to Micah 5 (read chapters 4-6); Hosea 11:1 (read chapters 10-11); Jeremiah 31 (read chapters 30-33). The final reference in Matthew 2 "he would be called a Nazarene" is something of a puzzle, but a reading of 2 Kings 15 and Isaiah 8-9 might go a long way to clearing up the puzzle. 

By following the directions given by the New Testament, the reader can, over time, develop a solid understanding of the Old Testament, and the way it relates to the New.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Preaching to Cows

Heard from a radio preacher this morning (approximate quote): "When my pastor was teaching me to be a preacher, he told me to grab my Bible, and he'd take me out to preach. He gave me a bullhorn and drove out to the country. He told me to open the window and start preaching. At some point I said, 'Pastor, why am I doing this? There's nothing out here but cows!' He said, 'Son, when you're ready for people, I'll take you into town. But for now, just preach!'" It's a funny story, but it teaches a real truth. Preachers need to practice if they're going to improve. 

Now most would-be preachers aren't going to have someone take them out to preach to cows. These beginning preachers will be placed in front of congregations. Very few of them are any good at it when they start. Listening to them is like listening to someone starting to play the violin. It can be excruciatingly painful. But if a man is called to preach, he must practice. And that means that congregations are going to be subjected to beginning preaching.

Some advice for those afflicted congregations. First, welcome him. He's nervous and unsure. Make him feel comfortable. Second, don't overpraise him. You may think it will encourage him, but it will likely encourage him to think he doesn't need to improve. Third, don't overcriticize him. I don't know a single preacher who is not, at some level, insecure about his preaching. Beginning preachers, except the arrogant ones (who are usually full of themselves and probably shouldn't be preaching) are insecure and sensitive about their work. Fourth, don't ignore him. He needs help and encouragement, and maybe some instruction. Those who are good at public speaking, or teaching, might consider offering your assistance. I think it is especially incumbent on overseeing pastors to spend time with beginning preachers after they have preached. Gently point out to him things he did well and things that need to improve. Fifth, don't approach him immediately after the service to point out his errors. Preachers after the service are generally emotionally spent and not in a good position to receive correction. Wait until a more opportune time.

Now some advice for those beginning preachers. First, practice! Preach every chance you can find. If God has called you to preach, preach! Sign up to preach for chapel services at the local rescue mission or homeless shelter, or prison if it's allowed. If you're in seminary and have had some homiletics instruction, and people have approved for you to do pulpit supply in local churches, take every chance you can get. Second, record yourself and listen to yourself afterward. It's painful, but you will hear your mistakes and will learn to do better. Third, work with simple and clear passages. Develop a file of sermons that you can hone over time, and that can be adjusted timewise to fit any time between fifteen and thirty-five minutes. Some places that you might preach may limit you to fifteen minutes. And most preachers, beginning preachers especially, do not do well when they go past thirty-five minutes. Fourth, be open to instruction and criticism. Whether it is given in a spirit of love or not, criticisms can help you get better. 

If you have to preach to cows, preach to cows. Eventually, they'll put you in front of people.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Final Reflections on PCA GA 2018

There is no particular order to what follows.

It was a very short assembly. The opening worship service began at 1:30 Wednesday afternoon and, except for the closing devotional at 8:00 Friday morning, everything had been done by 10:00 or so Thursday evening. I think part of the reason the Assembly moved so well was that Irwyn Ince was a very effective moderator.

The Overtures Committee is to be commended for their excellent work. I just wish that all presbyteries had sent commissioners.

The informational reports are a waste of time. The information is in the Commissioner’s Handbook. Let the commissioners read those. Then the various committees wouldn’t have to spend money making infomercials.

The Committees of Commissioners for the various permanent committees and agencies have become rubber stamps for the committees and agencies. They are supposed to function in a checks-and-balances fashion, but they have long since ceased to do so. I was embarrassed for the Covenant College CoC with regard to the issue about putting women on the board. It struck me that the CoC in that case served as the advocate for Covenant College, rather than the devil’s advocate.

This assembly began the process of making consistent our constitutional statements on the nature of marriage.

The ratio of TEs to REs remained about 4-1. I don’t entertain any real hope of this changing anytime soon, though I continue to pray for a change.

I am becoming more convinced that we don’t need an annual GA. It didn’t strike me that there was anything done this year that would have been damaged by being put off to next year.

I still think we need a delegated assembly. As it is, “grass-roots Presbyterianism” looks more and more like the Southern Baptist convention with wet babies.

Perhaps, with 87 presbyteries, it is time to start thinking about synods. If presbyteries need to divide (or “multiply” as apparently the new buzzword is), that could be handled at the synod level without the need for the GA to render a judgment on it. As it is, the Assembly usually rubber stamps those requests.

Perhaps we could improve the TE to RE ratio if only the following TEs were allowed voting privileges: TEs who are currently serving as pastors, associate pastors, assistant pastors, RUF ministers, and those serving pastoral callings on the mission field. As a seminary professor, I would happily give up my voting privilege to someone who is actually pastoring a local church.

I’ll revisit these issues next year.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

The PCA: A Connectional Church?

At the congregational level, there is not much difference between a congregational church and a PCA church. Congregational churches are often ruled by a board of elders, elected from among the members, which is also the case with Presbyterian churches. But, as far as church government goes, that is where the similarity ends. Presbyterians hold to the idea of a connectionalism through graded church courts. The “courts” language is unfortunate, as it gives a certain twist to the meaning of those bodies, and their purposes, that is not intended in the name. But that is a consideration for another post.

Unlike congregational churches, Presbyterian churches are partially defined by their identity as “connectional” churches, that is, congregations of the same denomination are vitally connected through the church courts. In the PCA, the session is the court of the congregation. The presbytery is the court of the churches in a defined area. The General Assembly (GA) is the court of the denomination as a whole. The difference between these courts and, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention and the SB Conventions in the various states is that decisions of the higher courts are determinative for the policies and practices of the lower courts. In other words, a decision by the presbytery affects all the congregations in the presbytery. A decision of the GA affects the presbyteries and the local congregations.

The question is whether the PCA is functionally a connectional church. My experience is limited both by time and area, in that I have been an ordained teaching elder (TE, minister) in the PCA for only a little over twenty-two years, and all that time I have served in Calvary Presbytery in the Upstate of South Carolina. But I was raised in the UPCUSA (now the PC[USA]) and served in various capacities in that denomination until I joined the PCA in 1981. My experience there was not much different from what I have experienced in the PCA. And my experience tells me that most PCA congregations are functionally congregational. Unless the area is saturated with PCA churches, one local congregation is at most vaguely aware of other PCA churches. There seems to be little cooperative work among them. The existence of presbytery and GA is acknowledged, but the existence of those courts seems to be more theoretical than practical (at least in the minds of congregational members).

How do we, as TEs in the PCA, change that reality in order to make the church connectional in practice as well as in theory? First, we can attend presbytery regularly (along with the allowed number of ruling elders [REs]). Then we give our congregation a report on the actions of presbytery. Did the presbytery take candidates under care? Did the presbytery license or ordain a man to ministry? Is the presbytery planting a church? Were decisions made at presbytery that will affect our congregation? It will benefit the congregation to know these things, to remind the congregation that they are connected to other congregations with similar goals. Second, we can make the concerns of presbytery a regular element in our pastoral prayers and in the prayer lists that most churches make available to members. Third, we can attend GA (with our allowed number of REs) and again inform the congregation about the actions of GA, particularly regarding things that will affect our congregation and/or the character of the denomination as a whole. Fourth, we can make the concerns of GA a regular element in our pastoral prayers and in the prayer lists we make available to our members. Fifth, we can make it a practice in church prayer meetings to pray regularly through the list of presbyteries. In this practice, it can be particularly helpful to contact the stated clerk of each presbytery to ask if there are particular concerns of that presbytery that we can pray for. Again, this keeps church members reminded that we are a vital part of a much larger national (and international) church. Sixth, we can make it a practice in church prayer meetings to pray regularly through the list of the committees and agencies of the GA. These committees and agencies regularly publish newsletters that include prayer requests. Seventh, we can in our prayer meetings particularly pray for upcoming meetings of our own presbytery and the annual meeting of GA.

These practices can accomplish two things. First, they will regularly remind the congregational members in a tangible way that they are not alone in their gospel labors. Second, we are reminded by James that “the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (James 5:16 CSB). Such prayers, along with the Word and the sacraments, are the very lifeblood of the church.

Sunday, June 03, 2018


The time has rolled around again for the meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA GA). It is made up of REs (ruling elders, members of the ruling boards on local congregations) and TEs (ministers). The meeting and its purposes are briefly defined in the BCO (Book of Church Order—the policies and procedures manual for the PCA) and much more thoroughly treated in the RAO (Rules of Assembly Operations—the policies and procedures manual for the GA itself). The meeting itself is run according to the RAO and RRONR (Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised—the guide to orderly discussion for meetings, especially necessary for a meeting as large as the PCA GA, which generally has 1,200-1,500 commissioners).

The meeting can be, and usually is, overwhelming for first-timers. I suggest that any TE or RE who is attending for the first time attend the workshop that is scheduled for first-timers. It will help you get a handle on things, and the meeting will not be quite so overwhelming. But to get you started, here are some guidelines. First, if you have a laptop, download the Commissioner’s Handbook. That contains all the necessary information. If you don’t have a laptop, you can get a hard copy, but you will want to get it ahead of time (you’re pushing your luck at this point). Second, look through the docket. That will orient you as to what happens when. Third, read the key elements of the Handbook. Some people want to think that every page of the Handbook is equally important, but that’s not true. The budget material, for example, is largely opaque to those without some experience in accounting. Even if you have experience in accounting, there is no way to tell, just from looking at the numbers, whether these budgets make sense or not. From my perspective, the important parts this year are the Overtures (true every year). If you don’t understand the overtures, find someone to explain them. Next is the report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation. The report has been two years in the making and deserves careful study, whether you agree with certain portions of it or not. Third is the report of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). There is no opportunity to debate the decisions of the SJC, but you ought to at least know what the cases and issues are that have risen to the level of the GA.

The last things to read are the informational reports of the committees and agencies of the GA. This information will be repeated on Thursday afternoon. After that, you can read the budget reports. In total, there are some 634 pages to the Commissioner’s Handbook, but not all of it will need to be read closely. Having at least read the key elements and skimmed over the rest will prepare you to take part in the Assembly and not feel completely lost.

A note about speaking at the Assembly. If it’s your first meeting, it’s probably best just to sit quiet and listen. If you decide to speak, 1) Make sure you know what you’re talking about. If you’re not sure, be quiet. 2) Speak briefly and to the point. Don’t ramble. Prepare some notes to keep you on task. 3) Remember that you’re not the only one desiring to speak, so don’t hog the microphone. 4) Pay careful attention to men such as Fred Greco, David Coffin, and a few others. These men know what they’re talking about and they present a good model for anyone else to follow.