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John Calvin on Death and Grief by Sara Jane Nixon
It is difficult for many of us to imagine John Calvin doing something so human and vulnerable as grieving. Nor is it any easier to picture him being interested in compassionate pastoral care to bereaved friends or to members of his flock. Often, our mental image of him is of a cold, academic man, interested in God’s glory in a way that excludes too much kindness or tenderness towards fellow human beings. This is not an accurate image: as will be shown, Calvin felt his grief intensely and wrote long letters to bereaved friends and acquaintances in order to comfort them. But be as that may, it is not part of our cultural picture of Calvin or his tradition. Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 1

The Reformed Pastor Confronts the “Last Enemy” by Allen C. McSween
Every aspect of pastoral ministry can and should be viewed as an occasion for theological witness and reflection. Nowhere is that more important than in the face of death with the depth of the issues it raises and the intensity of the grief it provokes. The stark reality of death blows away our empty clichés like an umbrella in a hurricane. In this essay I will focus primarily on the theological significance of the funeral service and sermon. That is not meant to denigrate other aspects of the church’s pastoral ministry on the occasion of death which are vitally important, but it is to insist that in the work of comforting the bereaved the pastor on behalf of the Church universal has a unique Word to proclaim that is and always will be “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1). Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 6

Finding Joy on the Journey of Grief By Peter B. Barnes
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but I’m experiencing the sensation of being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” “At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 13

When Theology Burns by Richard A. Ray
So here is the dare. An historical text unknown to you in the past lies within reach. You pick it up, begin to read it, plug it into your brain, and jolts from the literary lithium-ion battery begin to do some strange things within your mind and your social world. It is the gift of an electric intellectual arch. You walk beneath it into a different world. You complete your reading, begin again, and more curious possibilities come to your attention. One thing becomes completely clear in the process. Christianity has always been mesmerized by words. Winter 2018 Theology Matters, Pg. 1

Orthodoxy at Stake by Joseph D. Small
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and revealed to us ––we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion with us, and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1–4 “In general, the churches . . . bore for me the same relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola: they promoted thirst without quenching it.” John Updike, A Month of Sundays1

For over a century, a small gem has been embedded in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order: the “Great Ends of the Church.” Six great purposes of the church’s life––the life of every congregation and of the whole denomination––present Presbyterians with markers for the character of our life together, pointing to basic works of the church that are foundational to who the church is and what the church is called to do.

The Great Ends of the Church are:
• proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
• shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
• maintenance of divine worship;
• preservation of the truth;
• promotion of social righteousness;
• exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 5

Martin Luther: A Moment to Remember by Richard Gibbons
Recently I received an email along with a photo of a cute puppy. It read: “This is Buddy. I bought him as a surprise for my husband, but it turns out he’s allergic to dogs. So unfortunately I have to find a new home for him, and am wondering if anyone out there can help. His name is Allen. He’s 61, great at DIY projects, drives a nice car, and plans wonderful holidays.” Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 11

A House Divided: What Presbyterians Might Learn From Jacob and Esau by D. Matthew Stith
That the Presbyterian family in America is a house divided is neither a new phenomenon nor a particularly original observation. For reasons that have seemed good (or at least sufficient) to us, we find ourselves broken into what are functionally separate clans, with all of the characteristically “clannish” behavior that one would expect in such a situation. Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 12

Calvin and Barth on the Unity of the Church by Richard Burnett
The unity of the church concerned John Calvin so much that he wrote to Thomas Cranmer on April 1552: “The members of the Church being severed, the body lies bleeding. So much does this concern me, that, could I be of any service, I would not grudge to cross even ten seas, if need were, on account of it” (Letters 2:348). Winter 2018 Theology Matters, Pg. 15

Does The Reformation Still Matter? by Richard Burnett, Managing Editor

“There is no question the mainline church is dead,” he said. “The only question now is whether Evangelicalism is the seven demons that come into the corpse.” This was the response I got after a long period of silence to a question I had posed to my teacher, George Lindbeck, in a course on “Comparative Ecclesiology” in the fall semester, 1992, at Yale University Divinity School.

I did not like it. I considered myself an evangelical (and still do). Nor was I ready to forsake my mainstream ecclesial inheritance. Yet even then I suspected that one reason I did not like my teacher’s verdict was because there was more truth in it than I was prepared to admit. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p.1

Three Pastoral Insights From Martin Luther by Raymond Hylton

Like many pastors across America and the world, I encouraged our congregation to observe the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But churches were not the only ones honoring this historic moment. Print media, television networks, BBC, NPR, social media and numerous internet outlets tried to cover the importance of Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and the revolution that he sparked. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p.2

Calvin’s Way of Preaching in a Digital Age by Richard Gibbons

Today as churches around the world continue to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation the question uppermost in my mind is: Does the preaching model provided by our reforming forefathers have anything relevant to say to a generation dominated by the ubiquitous convenience of a digital playground? It could well be argued that this generation’s identity is defined by access to smart phones, tablets, Hulu, Netflix, Instagram, and Facebook. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p.4

No Substitute for the Word by Patricia Crout Gwinn

The word proclaimed is central to Reformed worship. If and when it is neglected the body can no longer stand with any real integrity and uprightness. The priority of preaching in worship and as worship is one of the contributions of the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition to the larger ecumenical community. So does the Reformation still matter? Yes, more than ever, and particularly as regards the word of God preached. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p.6

The Bible’s Church by Timothy P. McConnell

Does the Bible belong to the church or does the church belong to the Bible? We tend to lose track of the profound influences that formed the world in which we live and shaped the way we do the things. Christians are so accustomed today to having access to the Bible we fail to realize that this access was hard won. The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura altered the course of the church, and arguably the course of western civilization. It is still contested to this day. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p. 7

Worship Matters by Walter L. Taylor

Throughout the 500th anniversary celebration of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther has been the principal character for reflection. At the center of Luther’s personal quest, which led to the important role he played in the Reformation, was a question: How is one made right (justified) before God?” In answering the question of whether the Reformation still matters, one must decide whether the question that motivated Luther matters today. No doubt, there are those for whom such a question is out-of-date or even a bit “passé”, theologically. Perhaps that fact in itself shows us that the Reformation still matters more than ever! Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p 8

Doing Life Together: A Priesthood of All Believers by Nancy A. Duff

Fifty million American adults attend faith-based small groups regularly, according to a 2016 survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.[i] Yet just over 500 years ago, this common faith practice would have been seen as dangerous and displeasing to God. Although small groups are not a direct outcome of the Reformation, they are part of its legacy: The Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has shaped how the body of Christ functions together today. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p 9

Living by Grace Alone by Helen Harrison Coker

She sat across from me, imprisoned in pain because she doubted her self-worth and questioned her identity. As her pastor, I tried to reassure her that she was a beloved child of God, so loved in fact that Jesus voluntarily died for her and lavished His amazing grace upon her. But she had been bound for years by chains of lies, lies that had led her to this place of pain. She struggled to break free from those shackles. What more could I do to help her? What did I learn in all those seminary classes that would make a difference in her reality? Does the Reformation even matter to her? Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p. 11

How the Reformation Shapes our Life Together by Edwin Hurley

Last Spring I was planting vegetables and noticed printed on the plastic wrapper around one tomato plant the slogan, “Deep roots produce abundant fruits.” As I reflected on this claim, I thought about how this applies to my own understanding of ministry and how it shapes the life of the church I serve. I thought about the deep roots of our Reformation heritage and how grateful we should be for this heritage, how it has shaped us in the past, continues to bear fruit in the present, and gives us reason to look ahead in hope to future harvests. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p. 12

The Call to Reformation by Peter Barnes

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses, I imagine he had little thought about how it would affect not only his life and the Roman Catholic Church of his day, but also how his actions would reverberate throughout history and actually change the world. When he started out, no one expected him to be someone who would change the theological landscape of Europe in the 1500s. In fact, it was a complete surprise to his family that he became a theologian in the first place. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, p. 13

The Source of Revolution by Gerrit Dawson

October 31, 1517 is 500th anniversary of a revolution. It began when a young, obscure theologian in an insignificant town in Germany rediscovered the radical grace of the gospel. It soon set the world ablaze. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a copy of his 95 theological challenges to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the crystallizing moment for a movement that had been growing around Europe. For a hundred years, the Bible had been translated into the languages everyday people could understand. Reading the Scriptures in plain language was kindling a fire in the hearts that maybe Jesus Christ is different than the medieval church had said he was. Maybe there could be some freedom from the relentless cycle of sin, confession, penance, and the purchasing of so-called indulgences to reduce one’s punishment for sin. Fall 2017 Theology Matters, P. 15