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:

Reformation Month: Day 17

31 Days, 31 Books

A short review from a blog post of yesteryear of one of my favorite books.

Calvinistic America—An Abridged Review

Some scholars say that our Founding Fathers were Deists. We hear of their freethinking and skepticism. I have been catechized about the influence of the Enlightenment on our country. Such mantras as “pluralism”, “separation of church and state”, and “secularism” have all been drummed in my mind by the academic elite. Oh surely, the Founding Fathers were members of the established churches, but that was as irrelevant then as now.Thomas Paine, the infidel, molded the Revolutionary American mindset. Thomas Jefferson, the Deist, formulated the American ideal. John Locke, the secular thinker, fashioned the principles of the Revolution. The American Revolution seemingly sprang out of the soil even though the colonies had a long and rich history by 1776. But there is more to the story.Pastor and theologian David W. Hall’s The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding shows that America’s heritage is Christian and Calvinistic. Reformed and Calvinistic people largely colonized America. America did not invent a new order of the ages in 1776. It continued a process of refining a Biblical and Reformational theory of government that acknowledged the sovereignty of God and resisted the sovereignty of kings. Calvin of Geneva created the mindset that governed this country. More than the Greeks and Romans, more than the Enlightenment thinkers, more than the explorers and colonizers, Calvin established America. And Calvin was not alone. Such theologians, writers, and pastors as William Farel (Calvin’s co-pastor in Geneva), Peter Viret of Geneva, Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor), John Ponet of Strasbourg, the anonymous author of Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos in France, and Johannes Althusius (the author of Politica) all weighed in on the theological implications of governmental tyranny, persecution of the Christian faith, and the limits of obedience to ungodly rulers.

If these continental Reformers did not say enough, from the British Isles came another regiment of political and theological thinkers. John Knox, Andrew Melville, and other Scots put their theology in action during the turbulent reigns of such tyrants as Queen Mary Stuart and her worthless son James. Scotsmen George Buchanan and Samuel Rutherford penned great treatises on government to teach rulers how to rule and to admonish and remove them when they misruled. As this Calvinist political philosophy was being debated and thought out among the Puritans in England, some opted to pack the ideas for their trek across the Atlantic to the New World.

William Bradford, John Winthrop, John Cotton and others set the norms for Biblical and covenantal civil government in Colonial America. By the time of the American War for Independence, the war for the hearts and minds of the people, the true revolution, had been completed by scores of pastors who had faithfully preached election sermons for generations. The language of the colonial charters, the resolutions preceding the Declaration of Independence, the ongoing sermons and theological pamphlets all testify to the Reformed heritage in this country’s founding and the extent to which Calvinism sparked our independence. Presbyterian and Congregationalist pastors and laymen filled the ranks of both officers and soldiers in the Continental armies. The War for Independence was truly a Presbyterian Rebellion.

Dr. Hall’s first major witness to testify is a surprise: Thomas Jefferson, the ‘creator’ of the wall of separation of church and state, the arch-Deist and unbeliever among the Founding Fathers, the primary secular and Enlightenment thinker of his age. Jefferson’s motto was “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”, which was a Cliff’s Notes version of the political theology of the Reformers, the Covenanters, the Huguenots, and the Puritans.

As a further proof of Jefferson’s wonderful inconsistency, Hall cites the case of Jefferson’s efforts to move the entire faculty of Calvin’s Academy of Geneva to northern Virginia. Jefferson knew that this Calvinistic faculty would flourish in this land if transplanted.

Hall’s book is weighty, long, heavily documented, filled with analyses of theological and political tomes, devoid of anecdotes, plodding in its lining up the proofs of the thesis, scholarly, sober, and academic. In other words, it is the kind of book to make a Calvinist’s heart throb with excitement. This is certainly no easy read; it will not fit at your bedside or near your fattest easy chair. This book calls for a desk, a notepad, strong coffee, and quiet children.

Pastor and author, Dr. David W. Hall of Midway Presbyterian Church in Georgia.

Reformation Month: Day 16

31 Days, 31 Books

Even with daunting covers, this book has persuaded many.

The first time I saw a listing for the book The Reformed Doctrine of Presdestination by Loraine Boettner, I thought, “It’s a good thing that woman reformed that awful doctrine.”  At the same time, it certainly did not sound like a book I would be even remotely interested in.  After all, how could anyone, as in any Christian believe in predestination?

Several months later, I inexplainably began reading Loraine Boettner’s book Studies in Theology.  It was, from my perspective of time, Boettner’s chapters on the person and work of Jesus Christ and on the Trinity that sent me down the road to Reformed theology.  It was the listing of Scripture after Scripture on the nature of God that brought me humbly before the authority of Scripture.  If a person reaches a point where the autonomous claims of human reason and fierce pride are subdued, the teachings of Scripture on God’s Sovereignty begin to fall in place.

After reading Studies in Theology, I picked up The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination with a willingness to compare the book with Scripture and let the truth fall were it would.  One of my early reactions was to accept the teachings, but to be disappointed that it was so.  Coming to understand the theology of the Reformation was a major turning point in my life.  My own conversion was a series of dawnings.  I was never in serious doubt about Christianity, just woefully ignorant and indifferent.  The dawning of Reformed theology suddenly put a much greater centrality to the claims of the Faith.

Many years later, in 1995, my family (which was Stephanie, Nick, and me at the time) was traveling home from an ACCS conference in Moscow, Idaho.  We were coming down through northern Missouri when I saw a sign for the town of Rock Port.  What a flood of thoughts and emotions went through my mind.  Loraine Boettner had lived much of his life in Rock Port, Missouri.  For many years, he lived on a farm there, and from there, he shipped copies of his books at give-away prices to interested inquirers all over the country.  I ordered directly from him on several occasions, and each time, he would type out an encouraging letter and enclose it with the shipment.

Below are a couple of excerpts from an article I wrote some years back called “A Dutchman and a German,” which was about Dr. Boettner and Dr. Cornelius Van Til.

Boettner’s Ministry

Boettner began publishing his books in the 1930s. Van Til slowly began putting his lectures into print in the 1940s. It is doubtful that either man or their publisher ever saw any financial gain on their writings. Any chance of a profit was offset by the tendency both had to give away or sell at discounted prices their works.

Their benchmarks of success would not come until around the 1980s. That was thirty to forty years after their books hit the shelves. Many best sellers came and went during those decades. Many authors enjoyed lots of fame and influence. Yet, I doubt that any two authors were ultimately more important than these two.

In short, Boettner taught his readers how to believe and Van Til taught his students how to think. Boettner wrote in a plain simple style with numerous Scripture references, abundant quotations from theologians, and unadorned, unapologetic Calvinistic doctrine. He synthesized the Princeton tradition, adding little in the way of original exegesis or insight, and taught a Calvinistic soteriology and a Postmillennial eschatology.

His major book was The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The book began with a defense of Scripture and the Sovereignty of God. From there he tackled the Five Points of Calvinism, point by point, verse by verse, precept upon precept, leaving no Calvinistic stone unturned. The next section of the book answered the common objections to Calvinism. Then for good measure, he devoted one of the last sections to the history of Calvinism.

Anyone who became familiar with Calvinism through this book also became much more familiar with the Bible. Boettner both printed and referenced numerous texts to buttress each point he made. The reader also became familiar with the “who’s who” of Reformed theology. Of course, Calvin himself was quoted, as was the Westminster Confession of Faith. But other theologians, such as Benjamin B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and Louis Berkhof were among the key thinkers that Boettner referenced.

For many of us, books like Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine came into our lives after we had been saved. Few of us were self-consciously Arminians. Many of us first reacted to Boettner’s gentle persuasion with much hostility. In time, the trickle of Bible verses became a tidal wave, and the arguments we hastily erected against Calvinism came crashing down. The dawning in our hearts of a knowledge of the sovereignty of God was a grand experience.

Likewise, Boettner’s treatment of history opened the door for more study. Boettner’s coverage of Calvinistic influences in history is poorly documented at points, occasionally totally incorrect, and sometimes a bit inflated. He was blazing a trail, not smoothing a road. Others have built upon and improved his labors.

Very simply summarized, here is what Boettner accomplished:

First, Boettner caused readers to re-examine and carefully study the Scriptures. For me personally, I learned how to study the Bible from his book Studies in Theology. Reading Boettner never pulled the reader away from the Bible, but rather grounded him in it.

Second, Boettner compared his writing to a bouquet of flowers collected from the garden. By this, he meant that he had simply gathered the insights of great theologians. He did what good teachers always do: teach great insights with clarity and continually point the students to sources for yet more insights. So personal libraries that began with a Boettner book soon grew to include books by the key names in Reformed theological history.

Third, through this method, Boettner caused Christian men to love reading good books of theology. No doubt there really are dry, dusty theological tomes, but superceding those works are the great Calvinistic works that still surge with a love of God and truth and conviction of Scripture and Reformed teachings.

Fourth, Boettner impressed upon his readers the importance of studying church history. Perhaps more than any other theological tradition, Calvinism honors the past. A Calvinist who does not love history, if such exists, is an oxymoron. And due to Boettner’s brief survey of Calvinism in history, many of his readers have fleshed out the details and built upon his summary.

Finally, Boettner awakened many to the splendor of the sovereignty of God in salvation. When I first saw the title The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, my thought was that predestination surely seemed like an idea that needed reforming and I hoped this lady named Loraine succeeded at changing it. The book not only corrected my understanding of who the author was, but it changed virtually every point of my previously misdirected theological compass.

Loraine Boettner, a teacher with a heart aflame for God.

American Phoenix

A good many years ago, Robert Massie wrote one of the best accounts ever of a part of Russian history.  The book, Nicholas and Alexandra, covered the fateful years of Russia when the country was struggling with efforts to modernize, while seeking to maintain its old order and suppress revolution.  The centerpiece of this story was the lives and marriage of Nicholas Romanov, Czar of Russia, and his wife Alexandra, a German princess and a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain.  The book has often been described as history that reads like a novel.

Jane Hampton Cook’s American Phoenix: John Quincy Adams and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence is a similar type book.  It is the story of a marriage.  The marriage, between John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa, was a good and strong marriage between two amazing people.  But they faced great struggles and tensions both in the world they lived in and in their marriage.

John Quincy Adams was at a low point in his political career.  Although he had entered public service early in life and had served Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, the political tides had turned against him.  After looking around at some of the options back home, he recieved an appointment from President Madison to serve as ambassador to Russia.

This book is about the labors of Adams as the ambassador to Russia.  Most Europe was locked in a series of wars and entangling alliances with Napoleon and France.  Britain was at war with France and at odds with Napoleon’s allies.  The United States was still, nearly some 30 years after winning the War for Independence, hardly regarded as a separate country.  Life in Russia, even for a diplomat, was hard.

Much of this book focuses on the personal struggles of Louisa Adams.  She struggled to find the right clothes for balls and receptions.  She suffered several miscarriages and the death of a baby girl while in Russia.  And she missed her family back in the United States.  Two of her sons were left behind in America and several of her relatives died while she was away.

On behalf of the United States, John Quincy Adams was seeking trade agreements, the freeing of Americans held hostage in Denmark, and better foreign relations with Russia.  On behalf of her family, Louisa Adams was seeking to maintain her life and get back to the United States.

A key part of this story is Louisa’s decision to leave Russia by carriage and travel across the cold and snow of a Russian winter and along the pathway recently traveled by Napoleon’s army and reunite with her husband who had transferred to France.  That trip demonstrated the true mettle of the woman.  Meanwhile, amidst news and rumors of disasters in the United States during the War of 1812, John Quincy Adams was negotiated the best possible treaty to end that war.

This book is lengthy and filled with bits and pieces from the diaries of the Adams family.  Both were incessant journal keepers, seriously devout believers, and readers.  The end result of the times in Russia and then France resurrected Adams’ political and public service career.

Usually we remember a President in one or two sentence snippets.  That is not good news for Presidents Nixon and Clinton.  In the case of John Quincy Adams, it is often difficult to recall much more than his being the son of the second President or his election battles with Andrew Jackson.  John Quincy Adams was a dedicated and honorable statesman.  It was, perhaps, his life and careers both before and after his four years in the White House that best distinguish him.  His wife, unlike his mother, is an obscure figure in our history.  She was also the only foreign born first lady.  This book will do well in bringing her into more prominence, as well as highlighting another honorable chapter in J. Q. Adams’ life.

I noticed that several reviewers were put off by various tendencies in the author’s writing style.  I think the author is a gifted writer and researcher, but some serious editing and shortening could have helped this book.  Certain phrases and cute sayings were repeated endlessly.  At one point, I felt that I would go crazy if the statement “Adam and his Eve” were used again in describing the family after they got to Russia without their wardrobe.

The key to reading this book if one does not enjoy the author’s flowery and emotional-laden style is to read fast.

Reformation Month: Day 15

31 Days, 31 Books

In 1955, the year that I was born, Dr. E. Harris Harbison gave me a present.  The next year, 1956, he gave me another present.  I was too young to know it at the time and Dr. Harbison never knew me.  The first present was his book The Age of Reformation and the second present was his book The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation.  Dr. Harbison (1907-1964) was a professor of religious history at Princeton University.

The Age of Reformation is simply a really good and readable and fairly short survey of the Reformation.  I have read it a couple of times.  One can read more recent scholarship; one can read more in-depth; one can read more technical studies; but the prime benefit of this book is the masterful summary of the events.

The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation is another fine book.  Harbison devotes a couple of chapters to the topic of scholarship in the Christian tradition.  The rest of the book consists of chapters devoted to Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin as scholars.  Harbison said, “The Protestant Reformation began in a scholar’s insight into the meaning of Scripture. It was to a large extent a learned movement, a thing of professors and students, a scholars’ revolution….There is no better age than the Reformation in which to study the Christian scholar and his vocatio, divine calling and professional occupation.”

The topic of scholarship is all too often suspect in Christian circles.  Reformation and revival, which are needed in our churches today, certainly depend upon faithful pastors and congregations.  But the Christian community needs scholars.  Although the Scriptures declare that “not many wise are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26),  the Scriptures do not declare that not any  wise are called. Several years ago, I read an amazing article by James Jordan called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  The article was a wake-up call for me that reminded me of the vast depths of Calvinistic thinkers who not only influenced James Jordan, but also had impacted me.  I began combing through my library to see how many of the books on the list I had.  Next, I set out to acquire all the ones that I did not have.  I also began reading or re-reading the books and soon starting writing on these authors and their insights.  I also had several occasions to travel around the country, once to Virginia to the Christian Worldview Student Conference and once to Alaska, to lecture on Calvinistic thinkers.

There are many mission fields calling and begging for us to come over and help.  The academy, the Mars Hills of our day, the centers for thought and discussion, yearn for what Christian scholars can provide.  We are always in need of Reformation in this world and the reformation of scholarship demands that we look back at such Biblical and literary scholars as Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin.

Both of Harbison’s books can still be found at Amazon in used editions, some new editions, and on Kindle.

The more recent paperback edition of Harbison’s book.

A Memorial Message for My Step-Mother

Leta Love Gatlin House, who we all knew as “Teed,” or “MeMaw,” or “Mimi.” 1913-2013.

The following is the basic message I spoke at my step-mother’s funeral yesterday.  I truly felt like the message itself was a gift from God, as was my step-mother.

A Memorial Service for Leta House  on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at the Bates Family Funeral Home in DeKalb, Texas:

Scripture Passage: John 2:1-11  The Wedding at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine.

I. Why This?

This is not a normal funeral passage.
Some of you may be wondering why I chose to read this passage about the Wedding in Cana.  Some of you have wondered about me for years.

Certainly, John 2 is a passage we would more likely expect to hear at a wedding.
Several reasons:
1. I like weddings better than funerals. Both are family gatherings. Both are among the things we are expected to attend. Both have a certain solemnity. Both have flowers.  But of the two, I like weddings better than funerals.

2. When you read through the Gospels about Jesus attending funerals, He always threw the whole event off. When He finds Jairus’s daughter dead, he restores her to life, as He does the son of the widow of Nain. “Young man, I say to you , ARISE.”  He waited several days before going to Lazarus’ grave, and then Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth.”
The earthly ministry of Jesus was not good for funeral directors. I wonder if they had a money back guarantee.

3. I do believe there are some good reasons for focusing on this passage about turning water into wine today as we remember the life of Teed House.
Even though we know this is a funeral, a memorial service, and not a wedding.

Let’s consider some things today so that we might find strength and comfort on this occasion.

1. Funerals don’t end family relationships. Teed has not ceased to be a part of our families and our lives. She is still a wife, a mother, a step-mother, an aunt, a MeMaw, a MiMi.
All of the members of our families who have died are still members of our families. Our fathers and mothers are still our fathers and mothers. Husbands and wives are still husbands and wives. Grandparents are still grandparents.
There will never be a time when Teed will not be a part of our families.

And while funerals don’t end family relationships, weddings, our topic today, EXTEND family relationships.
Weddings create, blend, and enlarge families.

All of us here today are here because of a series of weddings. Families who scarcely know one another. Families who may be total strangers are brought together in weddings.
Through the ages, the old story has occurred over and over. A man and a woman are joined in marriage and from there families extend and are connected.

Many year ago, in the very early part of the 20th century, Teed’s parents, Dan and Betty Elkins were married and a family was started. They were farm people in Ward’s Creek.
Walter and Lelo House, my grandparents, perhaps around the same time, were married and were farm people in Avery.  At times, their paths certainly crossed.
And because of those marriages and families, and because of many other marriages and families, we are all here today, many of us connected by ties of blood and many by ties of the marriage covenant.

And in particular, many of us here today are here because of a December wedding back in 1987.

A wedding, like all weddings, that extended and blended and enlarged our families.

2. There is a dark side to all this.
In the wedding at Cana, we are reminded that we are in a world where things don’t go right.

In the commonly noted Murphy’s Law, if anything can go wrong it will.

In the Bible story, the families who were hosting the wedding feast ran out of wine.  We might think that this merely a disaster for some catering company.  It would have been a very embarrassing social disaster for the host families.

We can certainly think of much worse things that could happen at a wedding.
We certainly know of much worse things that happen in every day life.  Worse things happen, even tragic things.

The death of a family member certainly seems worse than running out of wine at a wedding.

As it happens, a guest at the wedding changed everything. He saved the day, so to speak.  Changing everything and saving the day was the life mission of this guest.

As it happens, Jesus did not come into the world to save us from social disasters, to help us through awkward moments, and to rescue us from the many calamities that can and do happen.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Jesus was God and the Son of God in the flesh. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
In the mystery of mysteries, the Son of God not only took on a human body, but He was obscurely standing among the guests at this wedding.
He was on a mission that would take Him to the Cross.
Along the way, He lived as no man ever lived. He taught as no man ever taught. And He revealed His power and glory in small events we know as the miracles.
John 2:11 says, “This beginning of signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.”

This was the first of the miracles as recorded by John as Jesus moved along that road to the Cross.
It is a beautiful story and fitting, because Jesus’ coming was all weddings and not funerals.
He even skipped His own funeral.

Back to Cana:  Something went wrong at this wedding.
That is a reminder that something is wrong in this world.
It is not just that bad things happen. It is not just that this is not a perfect world.
Rather, it is all because this is a world suffering under the effects of the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and this is a world filled with pains and miseries due to sin.  Sin in the world leads to death.  This is a world where even the best of marriages end in funerals.

There is something wrong in this world.
In the late 1980s, there was something wrong in the lives of Joe House, my dad,  and Teed.

The Bible says of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” The same could have been said for Eve.

Both my dad and Teed had lost their spouses. Both were alone.
They met and soon afterwards had a December wedding.
December wedding because they were both older people.

I suspect that both of them had thought during those lonely years that the good years were over, that the best of life had now passed.
But God who can turn water into wine does wonderful things.
These two people got to know each other, grew to love each other, and then married.

There was a romantic rustic cabin in Arkansas where they spent a lot of time…with me.
It was my house, and my dad was working almost daily on finishing out the cabin that had been framed up.
I helped him some, but I got replaced by another assistant carpenter–Teed.
It was winter and cold and the house had no heat other than a fireplace.
Daddy and Teed would build a fire, work on whatever room was needing finishing, and warm up some soup on a hotplate.
My dad really knows a lot about dating and courtship.

One day, he and Teed got in the truck to leave, but then he stopped and came back over to where I was.
“What would you think if Teed and I got married?”
My dad was asking my permission to get married!

I figured that if I or my sisters said NO, they would elope.
But my sisters and I didn’t want to say NO.
We knew that in a world where things go wrong and had gone wrong, this could be a great blessing for our dad. It was not good for our dad to be alone and Teed was an anwer to our prayers.  She was, so to speak, God’s means of turning water into wine.

We did have some concerns.
We knew it would take a strong-willed woman to be married to this man.
We learned that Teed was just such a strong-willed woman.
Teed grew up in a family of six kids. She grew up in the tough times that many people experienced in the earlier decades of the twentieth century.
Think of how long she lived–100 years and six months.
Born in a time when Woodrow Wilson was President, just a few years after the first Model T’s rolled off the assembly lines, just a couple of years after the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, before the time of talking movies, and before World Wars I and II.
Born into that world in 1913, she lived up to a time where at age 70, she took her first airplane ride and went to Los Vegas.
She lived up into this modern age.
Long before the there was much talk about women’s rights and equality, Teed was running a business on her own. For some 30 years she ran a store and service station.  During part of that time, she was also a single mom.

She was very quiet. All of us who remember Del, Teed’s sister, remember the great differences in the personalities of the two sisters.
Teed was the quiet one, reserved, but strong.
If I had one fear of her, it was this. I never wanted to ask her opinion about something. I knew she would give an honest answer, not just one that I wanted to hear.
Once we were with Teed and Daddy, and we had brought along some pumpkin pie. I asked, “Would you like some pumpkin pie?”
Teed answered, “We prefer sweet potato.”

In God’s good providence, this strong woman came into the life of my dad.

We also knew that my dad needed someone with energy.

The other night, we were talking about when Teed got her pacemaker.  I have my own ideas about her pacemaker. I think that the doctor didn’t install the pacemaker because of Teed’s heart. I think he saw the man she was married to. You just about have to have a pacemaker to keep up with my daddy.

And Teed did keep up with Daddy.
For years, they went camping and went square dancing. They traveled to the Texas Valley for about a month each winter. They traveled all over the place.
As the years went by, they slowed down, but not a whole lot.
Every family gathering, they were there.
Trips to Texarkana, trips across the country, trips with Betty.
They have had an amazing 25 plus years.

That’s why I like weddings better than funerals.
There were some sad days that left both of them single now what was many years ago.
But it was a good day when these two married.

4. Till death do us part

There is a wedding vow, carried over through the ages. It says, “Till death do us part.”
Even in our sorrow today, we are celebrating the lives of two people who took that vow as a foundation for their marriage.  It wasn’t just words or tradition.  It was a foundation for them.  Remember that both have now experinced the deaths of spouses twice.

I am thankful for the marriage that we are celebrating.
I am thankful for the many ways in which our families have been extended and expanded and blended.
There are grandchildren here and great grandchildren who are thankful to have had a MeMaw or a MiMi.

Thank you, Betty, for sharing your mother with us. For watching over her and my dad.

3. All of this time today brings us to this point:  The Bible is a book about marriages.
The mission of Jesus Christ was to gather His bride, the church.

In that great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” the first verse says, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord” and it goes on to say, “From heaven He came and sought her to be his holy bride, with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.”

The Bible is one long story of a wedding. The plans get thrown off a lot, but the final end of all things is the marriage feast of Jesus Christ and the Church.

This whole world doesn’t end in funerals. Jesus didn’t like funerals.  He likes weddings. The invitations go out to all. And Jesus invites us to not just attend, but to be part of the Bride of Christ.
The Gospel is good news to all people.

A death is much worse than running out of wine at a wedding. But John says that this was the first of the signs that Jesus did that showed His glory.

Jesus went to the cross and died, bearing our sins.  Then He rose from the dead–the greatest of signs.  This Jesus calls us all to Him.



Reformation Month: Day 14

31 Days, 31 Books


A broad study of American church history that focuses upon a narrow topic.

The study of the Protestant Reformation must necessarily begin in Wittenberg, Germany and from there extend to Worms, Germany and Geneva, Switzerland.  There are then more and more extensions of this study:  Zurich and Basel, Strassburg and scattered locales throughout France.  Very quickly the study then carries us to the British Isles.  It is always vital to connect the beginning of the Reformation (1517) to Columbus’ voyages (1492 and beyond) which then takes us to the New World.

The English colonies became a Reformation melting pot.  In the New World, the theological ideas of the Reformation could be planted on soil that was free of the centuries old layers of religious strife and struggle.  Religious freedom took root and grew in North America.  The modern reader has to beware of this kind of thinking.  We equate freedom with a total individualistic, every-man and every-church unhindered, mind-set.  The concept of “a free church in a free state” was a strong recipe for the melting pot.  Freedoms came slowly and painfully.

Understandably, Puritans and others who came from the colonies had no intention of setting up sound churches in godly communities and then subjecting them all to popular votes.  No organization can survive with easy membership and democratically based structural changes.  Again, the point is not to see the Puritan era of New England and the Chesapeake Bay colonies as ideal.  But the culture and society of the New World was a blank page.

Many, in fact, most of those who came to the New World came as Lutheran-Calvinists.  By that, I mean they came as children of the Reformation.  Puritans didn’t talk about when they became Calvinists.  That would be like most of us talking about when we “became” Americans.  The era and the atmosphere was coated with the theology of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and others.  Calvin’s teachings were the lens through which people read  the Bible.

These colonists, contra the historian Tawney, were not consumed with the doctrines of Predestination and Election.  These doctrines were not some internal hard-drive pushing the Puritans, Separatists, and others toward accumulating wealth so that they could make their calling and election sure.  There was a lot of depth and balance to the theology of the American colonists.

But they did believe in Predestination.  They were convinced of this doctrine from Scripture.  They did look at the circumstances leading to their crossing the ocean and settling the wilderness as acts of God’s Providence, Plan, and Purpose.

Peter Theusen’s book Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine is an insightful study of  the doctrine of predestination and its impact and history in America.  As Theusen’s title points out, this doctrine has been a contentious in the American experience.  In this study, he discusses Calvinists, Lutherans, Methodists, and others who either defended the doctrines of predestination and election or opposed them or modified them.  By the way, it should be remembered and stressed that Calvinists and Lutherans are historically at one on the doctrine of Predestination.  In fact, as the book Bondage of the Will shows, Luther was perhaps more adamant about the doctrine than Calvin.

Defending, opposing, and modifying:  By taking those three choices, one can cover much of the religious history of this nation. This book begins where American history really begins, in my opinion, with the Protestant Reformation. The Puritan theology and experience in the New World brought both an entrenchment of doctrine and opposition to it. Some opponents, such as the Methodists, were orthodox and Protestant in other points of theology; however, Mormons, Adventists, and other enemies of Calvinism veered way off the trail of historic Christianity. This book is a very useful and readable study.

This book was published in 2009 in conjunction with the world-wide celebration of the 500th year since John Calvin’s birth.  It is published by Oxford University Press.