Reformation Month: Day 24

31 Days, 31 Books

The Reformation is not only history, but the event itself was a series of effects growing out of a long series of historical causes.  The Reformation did not start on October 31, 1517.  No historical event ever started on the date that we remember as its start.  The one thousand years of Medieval European history, or rather, the one thousand years of Christendom were the foundations that pushed events toward the tearing and rebuilding and renovation that we call the Reformation.

Any serious study of the Reformation, whether approached as history or theology or both, will involve reaching back into the roots.  In a very real sense, we can say, “No Augustine, No Luther. ” And, “No Augustine, No Calvin.”  Concerning the foundational first 16 centuries of Christian history, one can profit greatly by spending some money and then time on the writings of Philip Schaff.

Philip Schaff (1819-1893)  was a German theologian and historian who came to America in the 19th century.  He compiled a history of some eight volumes in the late19th century, titled A History of the Christian Church.  Volumes 7 and 8 cover the German and Swiss Reformations. Volumes 4 through 6 cover the Medieval period.  Although this set is an older work, it is still quite valuable.  Schaff was extensive in his survey of events and in his bibliographic references.  He was a serious Christian who was devoted both to Christ and scholarship.

Another valuable resouce by Philip Schaff is his 3 volume Creeds of Christendom.  There is much more here than just Reformation documents.  Of course, there are lots of creeds and confessions that are linked to the Reformation.

Philip Schaff’s inaugural address at the German Reformed Theological Seminary in Mercerberg, Pennsylvania was originally delivered in German.  Schaff, after all, was a native German.  It was translated into English by John Williamson Nevin.

Philip Schaff, church historian.

Reformation Month: Day 23

31 Days, 31 Books

The Puritans were the immediate heirs and embodiment of much of the work of the Reformation.  When people in England and Scotland began reading the works of Luther and Calvin and others, they began wondering where and how to start making Reformation happen in their own land.  Henry VIII proved to be a pawn in the Providential Hand of God.  He sought a break with Rome in order to procure a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but when Parliament restructured the Church of England, a chain of events started.

Those who were reading the Scriptures and the Reformers took adantage of every chink in the political armor.  Of course, neither Henry nor his two daughters desired a truly Reformed Church.  The short-lived King Edward VI would have been far more favorable to reform had he lived longer.  But the people who came to be called Puritans were not easily daunted, swayed, or threatened.  To their way of thinking the world functioned like this:  “The Bible says….;therefore, that is what we need to start doing.”

Over the past 30 plus years, there have been more Puritan books reprinted than ever in all of history.  The Puritans were prolific.  Most were highly educated.  Many were first rate scholars.  The breadth and depth of their knowledge and interests were astounding.  Their desire to draw out and apply the Bible was truly exhaustive and often exhausting.  Their emphases on practical Christianity, on the nurture of the soul, on spiritual disciplines have never been surpassed.

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones is a gem of a book.  This massive volume contains over 1000 pages with selections from quite a few famous Puritans.  I only recently acquired my copy of this book, so I am not familiar with much beyond the table of contents.  It is quite easy to see what a fine book this is.

Joel Beeke obviously loves the Puritans.  Morever, he has obviously read extensively from the writings of the Puritans.  Meet the Puritans, another of his books, is a great resource for learning who the Puritans were, what individual Puritans wrote, and how they lived.

A survey of Puritan writings could easily turn into an extensive blog.  Years ago, I first became acquainted with lots of Puritan names and history from reading Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy.  Murray’s intent in the book is to discuss the history and abiding validity of Postmillennialism.  The book contains so much history on Puritan views of prayer and revival, that people who are not Postmillennial can read the book with profit.  But beware, Murray’s enthusiasm and the Puritans’ hope and the Biblical doctrines in this book are powerful.

The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray

Reformation Month: Day 22

31 Days, 31 Books

The year 2009 saw lots of great books on Calvin and Calvinism come out.  That year was the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.  Celebrations and conferences took place all over the world.  Of course, one of the most noted conferences was in Geneva, Switzerland where Calvin scholars, theologians, and pastors gathered for a great time of praising God in commemorating Calvin’s work.  The conference in Texarkana, Arkansas where I spoke along with Pastor Curtis Thomas, coauthor of The Five Points of Calvinism:  Defined, Documented, and Defended, and Pastor Martin Rizley.

My beloved and now deceased laptop and that delightful lineup of books I used for my talk at the Texarkana Calvin 500 Conference.

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology was one of the fine books published that year.  As can be seen in the picture above, the contributors were a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ among Reformed and Calvinistic thinkers and writers.  Men who would disagree here and there on other issues,  joined in contributing thoughtful essays on Calvin.  Contributors included such men as Jay Adams, Joel Beeke, Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, D. G. Hart, Michael Horton, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, and Philip Graham Ryken.  I really enjoyed this book, and I could probably profit for another scan and read through it.

A book of a very different nature was John Calvin’s American Legacy, edited by Thomas J. Davis and published by Oxford University Press.  This book consists of some very scholarly essays on the impact of Calvinism on American history and culture.  Through the years, the intent of many has been to modify, deny, attack, or reinvent the legacy of Calvinism.  This is not a book one reads in order to find confirmation of doctrine and practice, but it is still a useful resource.   My friend Curtis Schrock did an extensive review of this book, which he calls a great read, on his blog, which can be read here.

Here is a cut and paste of the table of contents:

Introduction, by Thomas J. Davis
Section I John Calvin, Calvinism, and American Society
Chapter 1 Calvin and the Social Order in Early America: Moral Ideals and Transatlantic Empire, by Mark Valeri
Chapter 2 Calvinism and American National Identity, by David Little
Chapter 3 Implausible: Calvinism and American Politics, by D. G. Hart
Section II John Calvin, Calvinism, and American Theology
Chapter 4 Practical Ecclesiology in John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, by Amy Plantinga Pauw
Chapter 5 “Falling Away from the General Faith of the Reformation”? The Contest over Calvinism in Nineteenth-Century America, by Douglas A. Sweeney
Chapter 6 Calvin and Calvinism within Congregational and Unitarian Discourse in Nineteenth-Century America, by David D. Hall
Chapter 7 Whose Calvin, Which Calvinism? John Calvin and the Development of Twentieth-Century American Theology, by Stephen D. Crocco
Section III John Calvin, Calvinism, and American Letters
Chapter 8 “Strange Providence”: Indigenist Calvinism in the Writings of Mohegan Minister Samson Occom (1723-1792), by Denise T. Askin
Chapter 9 Geneva’s Crystalline Clarity: Harriet Beecher Stowe and Max Weber on Calvinism and the American Character, by Peter J. Thuesen
Chapter 10 “Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Baxter & Co.”: Mark Twain and the Comedy of Calvinism, by Joe B. Fulton
Chapter 11 Cold Comforts: John Updike, Protestant Thought and the Semantics of Paradox, by Kyle A. Pasewark

Reformation Month: Day 21

31 Days, 31 Books

In the New Testament, Christians were accused of turning the world upside down.  Actually, Christians are seeking to turn the world right-side up.  The faith is never simply and solely about going to heaven when we die.  Ideas have consequences (the oft quoted phrase) and an example of that is that Christian salvation spills out into all areas of life.  The person who is saved suddenly starts orienting his life around church.  He starts orienting his family around spiritual concerns.  He is a different man at work, in the neighborhood, in organizations, and in all areas of life.  At least, that is what should happen.  Christianity is a world-and-life changer.

At some point, the implications of the Christian faith turn to political matters.  If God is Sovereign, then the state cannot be sovereign.  If God’s Law is truth, then legislation contradicts Scripture to the detriment of society.  If man is basically sinful, then the standards of law and justice must take that into account.  If man, as in all people, are created in the image of God, then a certain sanctity and protection of life is essential.  Whether it is Psalm 2 or Romans 13 or a massive host of other passages, the Bible speaks often directly and often indirectly of matters pertaining to politics.

John Calvin and Martin Luther, and other Reformers, did not dabble in politics because they were interested in what was happening at the local precinct meeting.  They were interested in politics because political matters were life-and-death matters for themselves and their followers.  Calvin wrote lengthy and quite brilliant dedications in many of his books to key political leaders of his day.  There was a pressing need for political reform in their day.  Matters pertaining to salvation came first.  Then a host of other issues came pressing in:  church government, education, family life, vocational matters, and all sorts of political issues.  For that reason, Calvin devoted Chapter XX (20) of Book IV of The Institutes of the Christian Religion to political matters.

Abraham Kuyper devoted his third lecture in Lectures on Calvinism to politics.  The involvement of Calvinists in political matters is a deep and rich subject.  Reformed Christianity has a long and varied history of interaction in political movements.  The political science student who casually wonders while sitting in church what the connection is between the worship service and the civil social order suddenly discovers a huge mountain, in fact, a whole mountain range.

Douglas Kelly’s book The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World:  The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments From the 16th through 18th Centuries is the study to realize the breadth of Calvinistic influence on political matters.  This book covers the following:

Huguenot France:  The French Protestants struggled for political freedom and ultimately lost in France.  Had France allowed the Huguenots to migrate to the areas of Canada that were then New France, the world would have been very different.

Knox’s Scotland:  A great story that includes the battles between John Knox and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, but also includes lots more.

Puritan England:  Another incredible and detailed story, summarized by Kelly.

Colonial America:  So much of our early history in this country is dominated by Calvinism.


One of a series of books published by P&R in commemoration of Calvin’s 500th Anniversary in 2009.

Along with David W. Hall’s book The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding, this book is quite useful in understanding the greater impact of Calvin on political matters.

The Constructive Revolutionary: John Calvin and His Socio-Economic Impact by Fred Graham is an older, but still really good book.  I used it in my own book Punic Wars and Culture Wars.  Graham wrote:

Luther felt God’s law primarily as the threat which drives us to God’s mercy, and that was the end of its Lutheran usefulness. For Calvin, the law had a further purpose, that of guiding the believer after he had accepted God’s mercy and forgiveness. This meant that the Calvinist was a more “driven” Christian—driven to live a life more in harmony with stern biblical morality, and thus driven to change society in this direction.


Politica is by Johannes Althusius (c. 1563 – August 12, 1638), a German jurist and Calvinist political philosopher. It is a political classic that had an impact on the Dutch revolt against the Spanish.  It has been reprinted in recent years by Liberty Fund.

John Witherspoon was a preacher, a theologian, an educator, a political leader, a political philosopher, and a participant in revolutions in two countries.  When efforts to free Scotland from Hanoverian English control failed, Witherspoon migrated to the American colonies.  He taught at Princeton University, and his students became future leaders of the nation.  He was directly involved in the American War for Independence, and, in fact, he signed the Declaration of Independence.  He was the best American representative of Political Calvinism.  This biography, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, by John H. Morrison, is a great study of this political leader.

Another Scot was Samuel Rutherford.  Besides being a great preacher, he was also involved in politics.  Lex, Rex, which means Law King, was a great statement of the right to revolt against tyrants.  Is it any wonder that wicked kings like James I of Scotland did not like Samuel Rutherford.  This too is a Calvinist political classic.

Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, which was translated as Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, is not knownOutside of politically conservative Calvinistic circles, the book itself tends not to be known.  But John Adams claimed that this was one of the most influential books in America on the eve of revolution.  It is yet another thoroughly Calvinistic political work on the topic of revolution.

For years now, R. J. Rushdoony has taken lots of hits for his many different controversial theological and political positions.  He, too, was a Calvinist political philosopher.  This Independent Republic was one of the first Calvinistic books I read.  I was not quite a Calvinist, but as Andrew Sandlin said, the Calvinist intellectual like Rushdoony “tractor beamed us into the Reformed faith.”  It was Rushdoony who first made me aware of the Junius Brutus book mentioned above and of the role of John Witherspoon.  Whether someone likes Christian Reconstruction or not, anyone interested in American history and in the impact of Calvinism on history should read this book, along with other works of Rushdoony, including The Nature of the American System,  The Politics of Guilt and Pity, and The Institutes of Biblical Law.

A relatively recent book is Politics Reformed:  The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn Moots.  The author states, “For centuries, theology advanced the discussion of political theory more than did the Great Books.”  And he writes, “Reformed theology was more familiar to Europeans and Americans than the works of Spinoza, Hobbes, or Locke, and its doctrines had enormous political import.”  This is good stuff.  This book, published by the University of Missouri Press, is a gem.

The works of Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd are now being reprinted at affordable prices.  This short work, which became available in the United States back in the early 1960s, is titled The Christian Idea of the State.  Dooyeweerd built his political views, in large part, upon the work of other Dutch Christians such as Abraham Kuyper and Groen van Prinsterer.  They are all coming out of the rich traditions of the Calvinistic and Reformed theology of the Reformation.

A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer caused lots of controversy for Schaeffer and politically conservative Christians back around 1980 when it first came out.  Schaeffer’s son Franky is still spastic about it–insanely so.  Although Schaeffer borrowed heavily from portions of R. J. Rushdoony’s writing and thinking, he never footnoted him.  There were and are gaps in Schaeffer’s works and writings.  But Schaeffer did several important things in this political tract.  He called upon Christians to get politically involved in matters pertaining to abortion.  And, he called attention to the Calvinist political tradition, and in particular to that book mentioned above–Lex Rex.

Reformation Month: Day 20

31 Days, 31 Books

How many biographies does a person need on John Calvin to just survive?  I am not talking about wealth and opulence, but mere survival.  As a middle class family, we are trying to get by on about a dozen Calvin biographies.  Thankfully, there are plenty of other books by and about Calvin that we have that enable us to get through all this.  I will comment briefly on the biographies listed below.  Some I have not read or not read completely.  Some I have read and then reread portions of repeatedly.

I think this was the first biography of Calvin that I ever owned.  It is a great study.  My copy is filled with highlighted portions.  Of course, much of Calvin’s life was spent in the study and in the pulpit, but there were so many factors and forces swirling around him that any biography has to be the life and times of Calvin.  Also, even though he wrote profusely, there are only bits and pieces about his personal life in his writings.  Thankfully, there are several volumes of his letters that have survived.  The Banner of Truth reprinted many of Calvin’s writings in The Tracts and Letters of John Calvin in seven volumes.  I can survive without this set only because I purchased a nice four volume set of Calvin’s letters back in 1978.

The author of The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding, David W. Hall, wrote A Heart Promptly Offered:  The Revolutionary Leadership of John Calvin for the “Leaders in Action” series.  That whole series consists of relatively short biographies of influential Christian leaders.  The books consist of a hundred or more pages on the life of the person, with additional sections on their character and leadership style.  These books are great reads for junior high and high school students.

The Legacy of John Calvin, also by David W. Hall, is an even shorter account of his life that was part of the P & R Publishers’ “Calvin 500 Series.”

Steven Lawson is a really fine writer.  This short book is a good glimpse of certain parts of Calvin’s life, particularly his labors in the pulpit.  Of course, Calvin’s life in the pulpit was basically his life.  While this book is biographical, it is mainly of interest to preachers.

I read this book some years back and thought it was an outstanding study.  Part of what is intriguing and amazing about Calvin is the impact of his work in revolutionizing all of society.  Geneva was a microcosm of his influence and the positive and negative impact of trying to bring a society into conformity with Christianity.  Wallace also did two other books on Calvin:  Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament and Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life.  These are both useful studies and the second of them is an outline of Calvin’s Institutes.

This is a rather recent and a highly regarded biography of Calvin.

Williston Walker is an older historian.  His HIstory of the Christian Church is a valuable resource.  I picked up a copy of Walker’s biography of Calvin over 30 years ago.

This Was John Calvin is an easy-to-read and yet really good biography of Calvin.  I am glad it is still in print.  If you are looking for a good biography for the kids, this is it.  But you will enjoy it too.

The biography of John Calvin by Bruce Gordon recently showed up on a list of great biographies as compiled by Christian historians.  I picked up a copy of this book at a library sale a year or so ago.

I have only read a portion of McGrath’s biography of Calvin.  I acquired it the last time that I was teaching Modern World Humanities, which begins with the Reformation.  I have read some other works by McGrath that I have enjoyed, including his recent biography of C. S. Lewis.

I acquired this book at some point at a really good price.  I have not used it, but I remember some favorable things said about it when it came out.  Here is the standard descriptive statement about the book:

This significant study explores the influences that shaped John Calvin up to the first edition of the Institutes. The author examines the tumultuous events that surrounded the young Calvin, the writers who shaped his thought, and questions concerning the nature of his conversion, his sense of call, and his views of the unity of the church. A historian thoroughly acquainted with both the primary and secondary literature, Ganoczy vividly re-creates the theological atmosphere of the early sixteenth century. Avoiding the polemics of a later era, he frames the issues in terms of Calvin’s concern for the reform of the whole church.

Theodore Beza was Calvin’s first biographer and his successor in Geneva.

I am embarassed to say that I do not have Theodore Beza’s biography of John Calvin.  I try to keep that quiet so as to not bring shame and social awkwardness to my children.  The benefit of such a book is that you get two Reformers for the price of one and you get both biography and some eye-witness understanding of Calvin’s times.

Any other Calvin biographies I have overlooked?  I was just surveying some of the publications by Banner of Truth Trust, along with some of the books that were published or reprinted in 2009 on the occasion of Calvin’s 500th birthday.  Bottom line is this:  I need a few more books.


Urgently needed.

The Life of John Calvin


Reformation Month: Day 19

Several years ago, my friend and expert bookman David Leach asked me if I was familiar with the historian George M. Ella.  I was stumped because I had never so much as heard of the man.  I promptly started looking into his work and discovered the book Henry Bullinger: Shepherd of the Churches.  This book is valuable simply to help us all to see that God did not just raise up Luther and Calvin in the 1500s.  There were quite a few other key theologians and pastors who spoke and wrote just as boldly and with the same convictions as Luther and Calvin.  People still read Luther’sBondage of the Will and Calvin’s Institutes.  (Or at least, they buy the books to put on the shelves or recognize the titles.)  Martin Bucer, Philip Melancthon, Henry Bullinger, and quite a few other Reformers appear as almost footnotes or shadow figures.  Some readers might think that this biography overstates Bullinger’s importance.  And those of us who have identified ourselves as Calvinists for years would find it stressful to now have to call ourselves Bullingerists.  Nevertheless, this book is a necessity for Reformed pastors and history teachers.

George Ella has quite a few titles that I would like to have.  He is a very prolific author, and his website can be found here.  Unfortunately, most of his books are published in the United Kingdom and are quite pricey.  For a listing of his titles, click here.

Reformation Month: Day 18

31 Days, 31 Books

What started in Wittenberg and later in Geneva spread throughout Europe.  In some places, it took root; in other places, it fought for a position; and in some, it flourished for a season and then perished.  Scotland was one of the lands where the Reformation took root and came to largely dominate the culture and impact the national character.  I would think that Scotland, along with the Netherlands and the British colonies in America (and later, the United States) were the primary areas where Calvinism flourished.

The Scottish story is a fascinating series of chapters and adventures in church history.  Iain H. Murray’s book, A Scottish Christian Heritage (published by Banner of Truth), is a great survey of the history.  Murray is a Scot and one of the finest writers of histories designed to encourage and educate believers.

Reformation is never, never, never the work of one man.  But there is often a key leader who motivates, centralizes, and directs the work of Reformation.  In Scotland, that man was the courageous, indomitable, unyielding, and zealous John Knox.  His life story is astounding.  I know I have read several accounts of him through the years.  Murray’s book, as expected, contains a chapter on Knox.  Below are a few of the biographies that attempt to capture the life and challenges of Knox.

To the best of my recollection, W. Stanford Reid’s biography of Knox. Trumpeter of God, is a fine work.  It must have been over twenty years ago that I read it.  Douglas Wilson’s biography, For Kirk and Covenant: The Stalwart Courage of John Knox, follows the pattern of all the “Leaders in Action” series.  Each biography, based heavily on secondary sources, gives a short overview of the leader’s life, followed by a series of applications regarding that person’s qualities.

I think I have the biography by Lord Eustace Percy, but I will have to check out in the study to be sure.

More about Knox and the Reformation in Scotland can be gleaned from Knox’s own account: