Reformation Month: Day 31

31 Days, 31 Books

Thanks to all who have read, liked, shared, and commented on this blogging marathon.  The subtitle, 31 Days, 31 Books, is misleading.  I have commented upon and mentioned far more than 31 books.  Lack of time and not lack of books will keep me from going on through the end of the year.

But when it is all said and done, the Protestant Reformation was and is all about one book: The Bible.

Although we acknowledge and celebrate the Reformation on October 31, the day on which Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, there are many dates in the course of the Reformation that could be celebrated.  High among these would be when Luther was assigned the task of teaching through and working through the Psalms and Romans.  Also, Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms really captures the heart of the Reformation.  But perhaps even more significant dates would either be May 4, 1521 when he was kidnapped by allies and taken to the castle at Wartburg or September 21, 1523 when the New Testament in German was published.

It was during his time in exile in the castle when he had great amount of time to study and work through his translation of the Bible into the language of his people.  All of the forces that had been shifting since that fateful day in 1517 at Wittenberg then became a major shift for the world.  The Bible in the hands of even a common plowboy:  That had been the vision of Luther’s old enemy, sometimes ally, Erasmus.  Everyone would have the chance to read it, think about it, comment on it to a neighbor, apply it to a practical matter, and refer to it when hearing the local preacher.

Sola Scriptura, that foundational sola of the Reformation, was and is the second most dangerous position that the Church can take.  The Scriptures, as evidenced in the Reformation, can rip apart the unity of church, state, and society.  Seems like Jesus made a reference or two to teachings and doctrines that set fathers against sons and mothers against daughters.

Unity, a truly catholic Church, is a great goal, a wonderful vision, and an ongoing prayer.  But that unity has to be around the doctrinal truths of the Bible.  Yes, we Protestants have blundered many times.  The Bible-believing and Scripture-affirming world has fractured and split and provoked an incredible number of disunities in the body.  A unity that puts organizational, hierarchal, tradition-bound structures in the place of Bible teachings holds no truck with me.  Give me a hillside with the Scottish Covenanters, a small clapboard church in colonial Virginia, a struggling seminary still reading the Reformers, a hearty band of the faithful over the ostentatious powers any day.

From Luther’s Heilige Schrift the idea of putting the Bible into the “vulgar languages,” that is, the languages of the people, caught on.  William Tyndale paid the ultimate price for that vision, and dying, he prayed, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”  The story of the Bible in English is a fascinating one that started much earlier than the Reformation.  John Wycliffe, that bold Morning Star of Reformation, labored to teach the Bible in England.  In time, during the Reformation, many of the English Protestants found it expedient to leave England and lodge for a season in Geneva.  Calvin’s Geneva had plenty of printing houses and soon the Geneva Bible became the spiritual and political text for the Reformers.

King James I’s willingness to have an Authorized Version of the Bible was largely motivated by his angst over the troubling footnotes in the Geneva Bible regarding tyranny.  King James, that great pervert and tyrant as Pastor Joe Morecraft always called him, then promoted a culture changing Bible that still resonates with students of the English tongue.

The story is only scantly told here, but it is a rich one.  The battle for the Bible continues.  Good books are still being published upholding Scripture truths.  There are still those who accuse us of Bibliolatry, those who affirm while watering down, those who hedge their bets, those who tremble before the icons of modern science and modern thought.  Reformation, past, present, and future, will always get back to a focus on one book:  The Bible.

 

The Geneva Bible was the Bible of the Puritans, of our Pilgrim Fathers, and many English believers.

Would that I had more time to study Jaroslav Pelikan’s THE REFORMATION OF THE BIBLE AND THE BIBLE OF THE REFORMATION.

Leland Ryken’s THE LEGACY OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE is a very enjoyable account of the cultural and religious impact of the KJV.

Reformation Month: Day 30

31 Days, 31 Books

Reformation was announced to a broken and fallen Adam and Eve in the garden.  God the Father purposed reformation from before all time.  Jesus Christ came into the world for reformation.  He taught the reforming message, reformed broken lives and bodies, and effected reformation of the world on the cross and assured reformation when He rose from the dead.  He also gave a promise of further reformation.  That promise was fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit is Reformation 24/7.

There are times in history where the work of the Holy Spirit in sending reformation, revival, and renewal is so great that whole churches, cultures, and societies are transformed.  Just such a reformation swept Europe in the 1500s (and is called the Protestant Reformation), and parts of the Reformation deepened in England during the Puritan Era and took root in Scotland for many generations from the time of Knox and Melville through the times of the Covenanters.  Reformation took root in the American colonies under the ministries and preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and others.  Back in England at that time, reformation arrested the moral collapse of that land under the same Whitefield and the Wesleys.  Revival took place in the Netherlands in the early 1800s and led to the raising up of great Christian leaders beginning with Groen van Prinsterer and continuing through the times of Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, and others.

Reformation can be seen in the totally unexpected revivial and resurgence of Calvinism in our own time.

One of the greatest of twentieth century students of the Protestant Reformation and its effects was Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  Lloyd-Jones never believed that what happened in the times of Luther and Calvin or what happened in the days of the Puritans was merely history.  He loved the stories, but he did not merely love them as stories.  The histories and the stories, to Lloyd-Jones, were templates for how God works in the church.  Lloyd-Jones believed in revival.  He believed that what God did in 1517 and following would be done again and again.

Lloyd-Jones was doctrinally committed to Calvinism.  He believed that a climate change in the church of his time would happen only if and when God so chose for it to happen.  He affirmed the Sovereignty of God in salvation and the life of the Church.  As always, when someone grasps the teaching of God’s sovereignty, when someone encounters the awesome and almighty power of God with even a glimpse of the power of God, they recognize that man, on his own, can do nothing.

But when a person encounters God’s Sovereignty, when they realize that all things happen according to the plan and purpose of God, they don’t sit back and do nothing.  Quite the contrary, they are consumed in serving God.  A true grasp of God’s grace results in works.

For Lloyd-Jones, the primary work of reformation and revival would and will come through preaching.  The Reformation and all true reformations are the results of applying the preached Word to all areas of life and thought.  But the change would not come through beginning in the outer areas and working toward the sermon.  The sermon is where it would all begin.

Pastors are, first and foremost, preachers.  The most basic and foundational counseling sessions for church members will the sermon.  Theology is taught primarily not in the classroom or the seminary, but in the pulpit.  The liturgical parts of the worship service are focused on building up to the sermon.  The main administrative duty of pastors is administering the sermon.  Even the fellowship of the church is an outgrowth of the preaching.  The pastor’s main workday task, the bulk of his 8 to 5 hours, were to be focused on preparation of sermons for preaching.

This high vision of preaching was at the heart of Martin Lloyd-Jones’ many years of ministry.  He lectured, taught, wrote, counseled, and attended meetings, but primarily he preached.  But then, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Matthew Henry, Whitefield, the Wesleys, Edwards, Spurgeon, and, moving into our day, Sproul, Piper, Keller, and others are preachers.  It really is amazing that God has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching to bring reformation and revival to the world.

I have been preaching off and on for some twenty plus years.  I entered the eldership and the pastorate at an older age, around 37.  For many years, my preaching was more ‘pulpit supply.’  In some cases, I was preaching because there were not any or many others who could take on the load.  I preached because it needed to be done.  I wasn’t begrudging it, but I saw myself as a history teacher who sometimes preached sermons, even if the “sometimes” meant “quite often.”

A little over two years ago, I resumed working as a pastor.  Probably 90 to 95 percent of the pastoral work I do is preaching.  I am not opposed to the other parts of ministery, but am tied down to another full time job–teaching history and literature.  I have no idea how long I will be preaching extensively.  I have been surprised to discover a love for the task and an awareness of my own inadequacies.

Martin Lloyd-Jones has been one of the  dominating influences in my life.  His book Preaching and Preachers was one of the best books I ever read on preaching, and I need to reread it…often.  His series of sermons that are in his book Spiritual Depression have impacted my life greatly.  His book The Puritans and Their Origins was a great delight.  Lloyd-Jones loved church history.  In recent months, Lloyd-Jones’s book The Sermon on the Mount was the apex of my study resources while I was preaching through that sermon.  I have quite a few other books by Lloyd-Jones that I treasure, including most of his volumes on Romans and all of his works on Ephesians.

Lloyd-Jones not only understood and prayed for revival and reformation, he was used of God to bring it.  I am an heir to the treasure he was and is to the church.

And then there is Iain Murray’s outstanding two volume biography of Martin Lloyd-Jones.  I like it all, but the second volume transformed my life some twenty-five years ago.

Reformation Month: Day 29

31 Days, 31 Books

Here is a different angle on books on the Reformation:  A novel, a modern novel, and in fact, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  It is not about the Reformation, but it is about Calvinism.  More specifically, it is about an aging Congregationalist minister who is reflecting back on his life and heritage.  The book is set in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa around 1957.  The pastor, John Ames, is in his 70s, but he is married to a young woman and they have a seven year old son.  Much of the story hinges on Pastor Ames’ remembering his family, particularly his father and grandfather who were ministers.  Also, he has a close friend, Reverend Boughton, who is the local Presbyterian minister.  Ames and Boughton are tied together by being fellow pastors and old friends, but also by Boughton’s son, who is named John Ames Boughton.

This is not an action novel.  Remember, it is about a Calvinist pastor, and an elderly one at that.  Much of the time, Rev. Ames is thinking about the number of sermons he has preached and the books he has read and the laborious duties of being a pastor.  He is also concerned about what will happen to his wife and young child when he dies.  Fathers and sons, mortality, the net worth and meaning of the labors we have done, the sorrows of seeing people who have gone astray, and love are the themes of this book.

Marilynne Robinson is noted for being an author influenced by none other than John Calvin.  See this article from Christianity Today.  I was introduced to her writings last year or so back when a friend from Tennessee, Jason Parolini, and a professor, Dr. Tom Wagy, both recommended the book to me at about the same time. (Neither man knows the other.)  Since that time, I have been amazed at how many references I have come across to Gilead.  Even President Obama has read the book and liked it, but don’t hold that against the book.

Calvinism has not produced as much literature as one might wish.  Neither has it produced literary theory as much as Leland Ryken, professor emeritus at Wheaton College, or I would wish. I will survey a few novels and novelists for their Calvinism and continue lamenting.  By the way, I am not counting some of the historical novels that are about Calvinists, such as the Scout series by the Dutchman Piet Prins.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  It has been decades since I read this, but I have never forgotten the conversion of Friday, which was a beautiful Calvinistic picture of conversion.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I wish that every public school teacher who has used The Scarlet Letter for Puritan bashing would be forced to wear a scarlet I, for incompetent.  Hawthorne was not writing a history of the Puritans.  He had his theological faults, but he was using the Puritan culture as the setting.  Reverend Dimmesdale was a truly troubled man, and he was the minister, and he was guilty of adultery.  Much of the story is his failed efforts to get away from his personal sin.

Does it count if the author looked Calvinistic?

Moby Dick and Billy Budd by Herman Melville.  Moby Dick is one of the most expansive, wide ranging novels I have ever read and reread.  I have heard references to the white whale being God and connections between the story and Calvinism.  I just cannot make the connections, and I love the book.  In fact, I love the long, vast, oceanic middle section, which goes about 25, 000 pages.  I think the book is about knowledge.  How can we know reality?  How can we know the vastness and ways of a great white whale? How can we know ourselves?  I also think Bainard Cowan’s book on Moby Dick is helpful in this regard.  Regarding Billy Budd, he is certainly a Christ-figure.  Melville seems to be a man who was haunted by God, or close to the Kingdom, or actually a Christian.  I hope it was the latter.  But Melville is textured and layered.  I can find elements of the Calvinist worldview in his writings, but I find other visions as well.

In the Beauties of the Lilies by John Updike.  The first of the four main characters in this novel was a Presbyterian minister.  In fact, he had studied at old Princeton and had such teachers as B. B. Warfield.  But, in the opening section of the novel, he has lost his faith.  For a time, he stumbles on through the role of a pastor without faith.  His poor wife even tries to step in and pastor in his place.  In the place of his Calvinism, he turns to the movies.  The novel goes downhill from there.  I know Updike is often touted for being a writer who was a Christian.  I need a bit more evidence.

Light in August and The Unvanquished by William Faulkner.  Faulkner may have been a Presbyterian of sorts, or he may have been a Methodist.  He did read the Bible repeatedly.  He did present some powerful images of Christian characters, such as Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury.  In Light in August, young Joe Christmas is sent to live with the McEchern family for a time.  The McEcherns are Calvinistic people, with all the harsh sterness and condemnation of sin that is found in Calvinism at its best and worst.  But we have to grant that Joe Christmas is one warped character and is a reflection of the mixed up, messed up, sin-ridden heritage we all have.  Pastor Hightower in the book is a bit touched himself.

I think Granma Rosa Millard in The Unvanquished is a better picture of Southern Calvinistic plunk.  She is just such a lovable and fiesty character that it is hard to resist her.  In typical Faulkner fashion, she too is a bit unstable.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemons.  Clemons was raised Presbyterian and his funeral was preached by a Presbyterian in a Presbyterian church.  I have wished him to be a believer, but have more hope for Melville, Faulkner, and James Fenimore Cooper than for Twain.  One of the most powerful critiques of Calvinistic preaching is found in Tom Sawyer.  After some awful singing of the choir, the preacher prays a prayer that “narrows the elect down to such a small number as to hardly be worth the saving.”  Huckleberry Finn is filled with lots of social criticism.  I recently read of a book that attacks Twain for his blaming Christians for slavery.  I think Huckleberry Finn is a powerful loud speaker calling society to repent of plain and obvious sins.  Only the sins weren’t plain and obvious, even to church members.

Broderick Crawford brilliantly portrayed the wily, crooked Willie Stark in the movie version of the great political novel All the King’s Men.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Warren was not a Christian, but in this great political novel, there is a powerful testimony to Calvinistic theology.  Willie Stark, the key character and villain, told his political goons to find some trash on the upright and honorable Judge Irwin.  They insist that he is clean.  Stark then replies that he attended Sunday school as a child at a Presbyterian church.  From the teachings he learned there, he learned that everyone has sinned, that we are all depraved and wicked.  Sure enough, then, but with a little digging, some dirt is found on the judge.

[The exact quote from the book is this:  Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.” And he told me to dig it out, dig it up, the dead cat with patches of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen, dove-gray hide.                          Thanks to Jason Parolini for this.]

True Grit by Charles Portis.  Mattie Ross, the young girl from Yell County in Arkansas, is in search of a man of ‘True Grit’ who will capture her father’s slayer and bring him to justice.  There is not much that keeps Mattie from heading out to the Indian territory and bringing the criminal to justice herself.  Mattie has ‘True Grit,’ and she is a Presbyterian and a Calvinist.  Because of the watering down of Presbyterianism on the frontier, Mattie was in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  But, she is not happy with the weakened Calvinism of the Cumberland Presbyterians.  She is for the doctrines of Predestinatin and Election as strongly as she is for bringing her father’s murderer to justice.

The Catholics have more than their share:  Graham Greene, G. K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, and pat Conroy.

The Episcopalians have C. S. Lewis and Jan Karon.

The Orthodox Church has Dostoevsky…enough said, but they also have Solzhenitsyn.

Calvinists who have produced so many theologians and preachers still have some work to do in the field of fiction.

Who have I overlooked or left out?

Reformation Month: Day 28

31 Days, 31 Books

The Battle of the Minds

Calvinist philosophers, thinkers, and opponents: Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til

I first heard of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til through sale sheets from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, now simply called P & R Publishing.   It was around 1975 and I was a young kid in college and both of them were old men in their 70s.   From the sales sheets, I picked up a few volumes by each, but struggled through the reading.  Being new to Calvinism, Calvinists, and Reformed theology, I would have assumed they were best buddies.  I wasn’t exactly sure of what they were talking about in their books, but I was increasingly awestruck by the intellectual vigor of the Calvinist wing of Christianity.

Clark and Van Til represent several vital traditions in Calvinism and the Reformation.  First, both had extremely high regard for the Scriptures. In Defense of the Faith, perhaps his best book, Van Til states, “The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks.  Moreover, it speaks of everything.”  In his essay, God and Logic, Clark said, “First of all,Scripture, the written words of the Bible, is the mind of God. What is said in Scripture is God’s thought.”  Second, both men affirmed the saving work of Christ on the Cross, the resurrection, and the great truths of the Christian faith.  Third, both men loved learning and were accomplished scholars and life-long students.  Clark grew up in a Calvinistic Presbyterian home, received his degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and taught at a number of colleges, including Wheaton College, Butler University, and Covenant College.  Van Til was born in the Netherlands to a family that immigrated to the United States, carrying their rich Dutch Calvinism with them.  He attended Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary.  After a short teaching stint at Princeton Seminary, he joined with J. Gresham Machen and others in forming Westminster Theological Seminary, where he taught for years.

Both men wrote lots of books.  Van Til currently has some 33 books on Goodreads.    (Some of these are actually books about Van Til’s thought.)  Most of what Van Til had published as books grew out of class syllabi which he used at Westminster.  He only rarely seemed to write a book that was purely a writing project.  Also, there is lots of overlap in the writings of Van Til.  The fundamentals of his thought can be found in just a few of his volumes, such as Defense of the Faith and Christian Apologetics.  (His books are still published mainly by P&R Publishing.) His recurring emphasis was on Christian apologetics, the defense of the faith.  The only other topic was yet an application of his apologetic and that was a couple of books he did on Christian education, which he viewed as an absolute necessity.  (See Essays on Christian Education.)

Clark was more diverse in his writings; however, most of his books deal with aspects of philosophy.  He wrote a comprehensive Christian approach and study of philosophy (see below) and many other studies on aspects of philosophy and the teachings of various philosophers, such as Dewey and William James.  He also wrote a book on Christian education and did quite a few Bible commentaries.  He wrote forty or more books.  His works have been faithfully kept in print by the Trinity Foundation.

With so much in common in terms of beliefs and intellectual issues, it is hard to realize that these men had a major falling out over some theological and philosophical issues back in the 1930s.  The books and blogs on the Clark-Van Til debate and controversy are easily accessible and will not detain us here.  I confess to not having the philosophical bent of mind, nor the time, to invest myself in the controversy.  Besides, I am like a child in a custody battle.  I love both Clark and Van Til.  I don’t discount that there were serious issues at stake, but I am usually at the mercy of whichever partisan I am reading.

Here is my interest for the present:  Intramural, in-house, brother-to-brother controversy has been a part of the Reformed tradition.  Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli had a major falling out.  There has never been a time where the key theologians, pastors, professors, and thinkers have been in lock-step.  As someone once said, “If everyone thinks alike, no one is thinking.”  The creation of the Internet and the popularity of blogs has exponentially increased the modes of attack, critique, analysis, appreciate but disagree with, and totally slander fellow Reformed folk.  It used to be that if Van Til and Clark were up in the ring duking it out, the rest of us were just in the stands cheering our champion on.  Now, we all get boxing gloves and a place in a ring.  In fact, if I were a well known blogger, there would be at least 50 comments on this blog ripping into me and at least 3 other bloggers quoting from this to demonstrate what a theological creep I am–in their opinion.

Fighting amongst ourselves is part of the price of having the Word of God in our hands.  I would take the Van Til-Clark controversy any day over any Pope or council of Cardinals decreeing what we believe.  There are lots of dangers and distractions that come out of controversy.  Again, the history of this can go as far back as Paul and Barnabus’s near fist-fight over whether or not to allow young, fickle John Mark to be the youth pastor. (And both were right.)  It is as recent as the content of the Strange Fire Conference hosted by Pastor John MacArthur and the sideshow by the wily Mark Driscoll.

The controversies can be indicative of wrongful attitudes toward brothers and the neglect of essential Christian ministries.  That need not be the case.  Both Clark and Van Til devoted the bulk of their time and labors to teaching their students, writing their books, and ministering in their churches.  I have no doubt that they have been arm in arm since 1987 when Van Til transferred his church membership to the same church as Clark–in Heaven. (They may even be having good natured banter with a common theological foe Karl Barth, who keeps joyfully saying, “All right, so I vas wrong on zum tings.  You two vern’t perfect either. Praise Gott fur grace.”)

Barth gets a stamp. When will the U. S Postal Service issue the Clark-Van Til collection?

The best approach for those who love the Reformed Faith here and now is to dig in the books of both Clark and Van Til.  Building on the Reformed heritage, both have left us even more treasures.

Key Books by Van Til:

Read these 3 Van Til volumes and you have the essence of his thought.

Key Books by Gordon Clark:

THALES TO DEWEY is Clark’s outstanding historical survey of philosophy. The current edition is a fine hardbound volume published by the Trinity Foundation.

HISTORIOGRAPHY: SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS is a favorite of mine.

A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF MEN AND THINGS is a prequel to the study of philosophy. I wish I had the copy pictured above.

  

Reformation Month: Day 27

31 Days, 31 Books

Martin Luther and John Calvin were both fully employed several times over.  Both pastored churches and had numerous duties connected with overseeing and shepherding their congregations.  The preaching schedules of both men were extensive.  It was not merely a Sunday morning service with a Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Concerning Calvin,  his preaching schedule included sermons given once or twice on Sundays and often every day of the week on alternate weeks. This amounted to somewhere between 200 and 300 sermons a year.  Calvin’s series included 189 sermons on Acts; 65 on the harmony of the Gospels; 174 sermons on Ezekiel; 159 on Job; 200 on Deuteronomy; 342 on Isaiah; 123 on Genesis; 107 on 1st Samuel and 87 on 2nd Samuel.

Both men were heavily involved in training young men for the ministry, conferring with fellow pastors, and dealing with all sorts of people, ranging from political leaders to common folks.  No wonder that both men died relatively young–in their 50s.  Both lived by burning the candle at both ends and giving their all to advancing the Kingdom of God.

From their preaching, teaching, letters, and specific writing assignments, both Luther and Calvin were both prolific authors.  Luther was a virtual internet of blog articles dealing with all sorts of issues.  He apparently wrote fast and furiously. He was loud and boistrous, sometimes angry, and eager to push open any doors he came to.  That is what makes Luther so much fun. His mouth and pen sometimes got him into trouble.  That is what makes Luther so interesting.  His idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies shook up his friends as well as his enemies.  That is what makes him so…Luther.

Fortress Press publishes the 55 plus volumes of Luther’s works.  Sad to report, I don’t own the set.  I do have one lone volume of Luther’s letters out of the set that I acquired years ago.   The whole set contains commentaries Luther gave in the form of lectures, tracts and writings, and sermons.  A prize volume is number 54, Table Talk.  This volume consists of snippets, saying, and comments Luther made to his many guest, mostly theology students, who ate with him.  Here are a few snippets:

“When God wills to punish a people or a kingdom, he takes away from it the good and godly teachers and preachers, and bereaves it of wise, godly, and honest rulers and counsellors, and of brave, upright, and experienced soldiers, and of good men.” (64)

“God very wonderfully entrusts his highest office to preachers that are themselves poor sinners who, while teaching it, very weakly follow it.” (66)

“If Moses had continued to work his miracles in Egypt but two or three years, the people would have become accustomed thereto, and heedless, as we who are accustomed to the sun and moon, hold them in no esteem.” (142)

  Perhaps more influential than Table Talks was Luther’s Lectures on Galatians.  It has been an influence down through the ages, inspiring and instructing such men as John Wesley, Charles H. Spurgeon, and most recently, my son Nick, who used the book in a class on Galatians at Wheaton College.  Galatians, like Romans, clearly defined, documented, and defended the doctrine of justification by faith, which was so dear to Luther.

As a consolation for not owning Luther’s Works in full, I do have a few volumes of his writings, including an edition of his work on Galatians and a portion of his Table Talks.  Also, I recently acquired Through the Year with Martin Luther: A Selection of His Sermons Celebrating the Feasts and Seasons of the Christian Year.  I have not read from it yet, but hope to during the approaching Advent Season.

Few quite a few years now, Calvin’s Commentaries have been rather easy to acquire.  Baker Book House has been publishing Calvin’s Commentaries for quite a few years, and various sellers have offered the set of 22 volumes with great discounts.  Some of the on-going reprints have resulted in poorer quality paper and covers, but the contents are readily accessible.  John Calvin is still, after 5 centuries, a useful commentator on Scripture.

Calvin’s Institutes

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion are also readily accessible.  The two volumes Westminster Press edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill, is, in my opinion, the best edition.  Other people prefer the older, more 19th century styled Henry Beveridge translation. I use the Beveridge translation in my Humanities class when we read extensively from Calvin’s Institutes in the Modern World course.

More of Calvin can be found in Tracts and Letters, recently published in 7 beautiful volumes by Banner of Truth Trust.  Again, I must lament my not owning this set.  I do have and treasure an older four volumes of Calvin’s Letters.

The beauty and durability of a Banner of Truth publication: Calvin’s Tracts and Letters in seven volumes.

Reformation Month: Day 26

One of the joys of being a student, a life-long student, that is, and a teacher is the “forced necessity” of reading and studying. I never had a college class that focused merely upon the Renaissance and Reformation, but I think I have done enough self-imposed homework in those areas to claim my credit hours. On the other hand, I am willing to accept a bad grade with the necessity of going back and doing the studies again, rereading some of the best works and reading other works for the first time.

I have commented upon the writings of many historians and authors in these recent blogs covering Reformation Month–October.  I started this quest to learn about the Reformation back in the fall of 1974 when I first learned of John Calvin in a class covering colonial American history.  In time, over the next year or so, I became, like Luther, “captive to the Word of God” and captive to the history of the Reformation.  All history points in two directions, so I have also felt the need to study church history before Luther and church history since the Reformation.

Several years ago, I was at an education conference where I got to hear the author and Christian thinker Gene Edward Veith and got to visit with the historian George Thompson.  Somewhere in the midst of this Lutheran dominated conference (where the Thompsons and Houses were the sole Presbyterians), the name of Professor Lewis W. Spitz came up and then came up again.  It was one of those embarassing moments when I felt the need to run out of the conference in tears.  Instead, I came home and began acquiring some of Dr. Spitz’s books.

The Renaissance and Reformation Movements is a two volume set designed as textbooks for college students.  Some of the maps and pictures have the look of older textbooks.  By that, I mean that these two books aren’t glossy and high tech.  These books came out a good while back, but it is the breadth and content that gives them their value.  The author, Dr. Spitz, was a highly loved teacher and an accomplished scholar.  He was a Lutheran with deep ties to the American mid-west.

The first volume of Lewis Spitz’s two volume set is about the RenaissanceThis study of the Renaissance was quite comprehensive in its coverage of men and movements. I confess to often relegating the Renaissance to being just a bunch of talented Italian painters and sculptors who were sitting in art class while Luther and Calvin were kids waiting to grow up and change the world. There were numerous political and social events that created the environment for the artistic side of the Renaissance. The period is quite rich.

Any good study of the Reformation will include the stories of the key figures, meaning Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.  But there are so many more people and places and event involved.  Lewis Spitz’s textbooks are good reads that give the bigger and broader coverage of the events.  These two volumes are published by Concordia Publishing House, a very fine Lutheran publishing company.

Reformation Month: Day 25

31 Days, 31 Books

Henry was “the other Van Til.”  Like his kinsman-uncle Cornelius, Henry was a faithful Christian, a thinker, and a teacher.  He was, until his death at age 55, a professor of Bible at Calvin College.  He attended Westminster Theological Seminary, where he famous uncle taught, and also studied at the Free University of Amsterdam, which was the key place where Reformed people sought higher learning.

Professor Henry Van Til.

He is remembered for one book:  The Calvinist Concept of Culture.  This is a key book in the area of developing a Christian worldview.  But it is not a mere Christian survey of different areas of life with Bible verses attached.  This is a heavy-weight foundational study.  A large part of the book entails a study of key Christian thinkers whose theological vision and Biblical vision was culture impacting and culture changing.  The four Christian thinkers were Augustine, John Calvin,  Abraham Kuyper, and Klaus Schilder.

It should be no surprise that the two more recent thinkers were Dutch.  Van Til knew that the country of his heritage had changed the world through producing a long line of Christian theologians, philosophers, social critics, political thinkers, and culture changers.  From Kuyper and Schilder, one can quickly go to such names as Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, Van Reissen, and Rookmaaker.

There have been great works of theology produced by the Reformers and their heirs.  There have been many works directing Christians toward lives of piety and godliness by the same group.  But there have been, and continues to be, great Christian works that still press the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life and culture.

Henry Van Til is best remembered for a great phrase:  “Culture is religion externalized.”  This book is a 245 page exposition of that statement. Van Til’s obituary stated this about his life and beliefs:  “Christ crucified and risen, King in every relationship of life, was the burden of his preaching, teaching and writing.”

Great quotes from The Calvinistic Concept of Culture:

“Scripture is not only the authoritative guide for the way of salvation, but it furnishes man with an authoritative interpretation of reality as a whole.”
“The Christian is in the world, but not to be of it. This constitutes the basis of the perennial problem involved in the discussion of Christian culture. Because believers are not of the world, there have been many Christians who have taken a negative attitude toward culture.”
“Culture derives its meaning from man’s faith in God; it is never an end in itself, but always a means of expressing one’s religious faith.”
“The family is the simplest and smallest unit of society and the real fountain of culture. If this fountain remains pure, man’s culture has promise. But if it becomes polluted, all the rest will turn to dust and ashes, since the home is the foundation of the entire social structure.”
“One cannot keep on evangelizing the world without interfering with the world’s culture. It devolves upon God’s people, therefore, to contend for such a society which will give the maximum opportunity for us to live wholly Christian lives and the maximum opportunity for others to become Christians.”
“The primary principle of the Calvinistic system of thought is the direct and absolute sovereignty of God over all things. Such sovereignty is not one among the many attributes of God, but it comes to expression in all of His attributes.”
The call for Christian cultural application goes on.  My friend P. Andrew Sandlin recently wrote a short introduction to the topic in a really good, but little known, book titled Christian Culture: An Introduction.