Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Louis Wilken

Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom by Professor Emeritus Robert Louis Wilken is published by Yale University Press. It is a hardback book affordably list priced at $26.

This book was incredibly pleasing to me in a variety of ways.  It was scholarly without being technical.  It covered a wide range of history going from the time of the Church Fathers through the Reformation.  It was a combination of historical, political, and theological studies.  It affirmed the Christian faith and Christian struggles with conscience issues.  It is the kind of book that makes me say, “This is why I have chosen to make history my life study and to teach it to others.”

Sometimes, we are given the impression that Christianity, the Church, and religious folks in general have been the enemies of freedom, especially freedom of conscience.  If you are wanting to slap Christian really hard in the kisser, history provides plenty of examples of sins, bad rulings, and oppressive actions.  To be fair, history has enough sewer running right down through the middle of human affairs to throw everyone and every cause into it.

But what was the ongoing and developing direction of history?  As this book points out, Christian leaders repeatedly came back to recognizing that the conscience of a person, his or her inner convictions, cannot be commanded, controlled, or coerced by Church or State.  And without being overly progressive or unduly optimistic about human nature, the Faith has matured in its convictions and practices regarding religious differences.

In many Christianized societies of the past, serious leaders were completely troubled by the idea of two religions co-existing in the same realm.  The idea that religious beliefs might take on a thousand different shades was beyond their grasp.  In their better moments, it was conceded that those whose convictions differed from the state religion or religion of the realm would need to exercise their faith and liturgy somewhere other than the public square.

It is easy to be condescending to everyone in the past from our modern perspective.  They were narrow minded, but we are broad minded.  We have embraced the virtue of tolerance, but they were intolerant.  Granted, a person today faces no attacks from the ruling or ecclesiastical authorities for his views on the Lord’s Supper.  But we have our own “religious dogmas” that cannot be tampered with.  Thankfully, the diversity within the United States allows some freedom of movement, expression, and action for those of us who go against the accepted (politically correct) views of our time.

Speaking out sexual, economic, racial, political, and even some scientific views can get a person banned from the academy, politics, or even Facebook.  We have our own religious battles in our own society.  That is all the more reason to study books like this one.

A free church in a free state is a golden ideal.  Neither is accomplished without lots of ink and maybe blood.  Neither can achieve permanent status in this world.  But if it is freedom that one desires, it is to the Christian tradition that one should go to find it.  Christians erred many times, but in the ongoing clash of ideas, of working through the theology, the recurring idea has prevailed.  I cannot make your religious, Christian, or moral.  That does not necessarily rule out laws to restrain all human impulses, but it does bring us back to a formula for a society of faith existing alongside societies of differing views.

I have several of Robert Louis Wilken’s books, but this is the first time that I have given one of his volumes a serious and complete reading.  It will not, Lord willing, be the last time.  The mark of a good book is that the reader hurries to get through it, then is sad that it is finished, and then wants to read it again.  That is very true of this book.

 

 

Paradise Restored by David Chilton

 

 

It was the 1980s and we were young.  Also, we were on a mission to change the world.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  But each generation does change the world, and while the young men of the 1980s were not like the boys who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc, they have had their own impact on culture and society.

The 1980s was a world where, within evangelical Christian circles, eschatology, or the study of last things, was rampant.  Many Christians I know testify that the first book they read after being converted was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay.  He was a popularizer of “we are living in the last days” theology, but he was far from alone.  The sound of many preachers preaching on Revelation (which some called Revelations), Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the Anti-Christ, and the rapture was deafening.

I became a Christian in the 1970s, but never connected with any form of Dispensationalism.  Perhaps it was the Methodist roots that held me back.  I suspect it was that I really found it disappointing to think that I might never get through college and get to teach history.  Besides, I never understood what the preachers were talking about.  I could never quite get the charts and fulfilled prophecies settled in my mind.  And, no one ever gave me a copy of The Late Great Planet Earth.

Instead, I began–after I got into college–reading books with titles like A Theological Interpretation of American History (C. Gregg Singer), This Independent Republic (R. J. Rushdoony), Nietzsche (H. Van Riessen), Christianity and the Problem of Origins (Philip E. Hughes), and at least one popular best seller in Christian circles, How Should We Then Live? (Francis Schaeffer).  I also read the books by Loraine Boettner, such as Studies in Theology and The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.  At some point, I plowed through Boettner’s The MIllenium.

In other words, I was on my way to being a nice, ordinary evangelical believer when I suddenly got hijacked by a notorious circle of writers who believed in serious Christian thought, based on the theology rooted in the Reformation.  The shorthand for all that was the term “Calvinist,’ which referred in part to the “Five Points of Calvinism,” but really embraced much more.  (James Jordan’s delightful article “The Closing of the Calvinist Mind” chronicles these same kinds of life-changing events, as does P. Andrew Sandlin’s essay “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”)

In my earlier years in Reformed circles, I was somewhat Amillennial in my views.  I was reading both Amillennial and Postmillennial authors on topics other than eschatology.  Dispensationalism, which never took root anyway, was ignored completely.  I was also finding myself reading and liking more and more of the writers who would come to be labeled as “Reconstructionists” or “Theonomists.”  It was, however, the reading of two books that pushed me into the Postmill camp.  One was J. Marcellus Kik’s Eschatology of Victory and the other was John Jefferson Davis’s Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered.  Neither of those authors were considered part of the Reconstruction Movement.  (Kik’s death preceded the rise of the movement.)

See the source image

 

See the source image

In the course of time, I learned about a new book, titled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, and a new young author, named David Chilton. This book with an awkward title was a rebuttal to a book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider.  Already secure in conservative political thinking, Chilton’s book was a real delight.  I realize now that I should read Sider’s book (and will, if I find a used copy cheaply priced) and re-read Chilton.  But Christian-leaning socialism is distasteful to me even when I recognize serious concerns they raise.  Defending capitalism and the free market involves some careful thinking and formulating, lest one get tossed in with the worst of the money grubbing capitalists.  David Bahnsen’s The Crisis of Responsibility is a brilliant and balanced study of the issues in our time.

See the source image

See the source image

 

David Chilton was a student of Gary North and an writer within the web of organizations of that time that were promoting Christian Reconstruction.  He undertook to writing a few books on eschatology.  These works were Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation.  I read both books.  Or to use the more aggressive term, I devoured them.  Add to that, embraced them, quoted them, promoted them, and built my views around them.

See the source image

David Chilton’s life and ministry were cut short by serious heart problems and an early death.  While someone (I cannot remember who) suggested that he wrote his books too early and should have waited until he was more mature in his thinking, it is good that he wrote when he did since his days were not long in this world.

Over time, especially after I married, had children, and began working to establish a classical Christian school, many theological hot spots cooled down.  This is not a confession of wrongdoing, but rather a recognition that life changes result in changes of focus.  And I mellowed.  In Christian school circles, I was around people of differing views.  The more I read, the more I became comfortable with the wide range of theological positions people who love Jesus hold to.

These past two months, April and May 2019, I reread Chilton’s Paradise Restored.  Sometimes, re-reading a book results in a feeling of disappointment, meaning that it was not as good as I once thought.  Or, some rereadings result in rejection, meaning that the book is no longer convincing.  Rereading Chilton was, however, confirmation.  I found the book strangely warming, to borrow from John Wesley a bit.  I read it without looking for ammo to use in battles with the pre-mills and a-mills in my life.  Instead, I read it for devotional comfort from God’s Word.

One thing I would not like is for people to read this book to either battle with unrelenting zeal for the postmillennial position or, worse, to look for gaps in the position that Chilton takes.  Notice the title:  Paradise Restored.  Much of this book is a serious study of Paradise, God’s original Creation, and its reflections found in the Temple and in prophecy.  Did God’s Plans A (Creation of Paradise) and B (the Covenant People of Israel) fail, leaving Him to abandon the whole planet earth project?

My mellowing out over the years does not mean that I have lost my bearings or convictions.  It does mean that I seek and I want other Christians to seek to read and study the views of their fellow believers with care and grace.  I think this book will convince some, maybe many, to embrace or lean to a postmillennial view of the Bible and history.  But I would also like to see it enable some to simply appreciate the depth of arguments for this position.

A few months back, a man at church was talking to me about millennial issues.  The church I am part of is generally Amillennial.  When I told him that I was Postmillennial, he said, “There are not many of you around, are there?”  Well, back in the 1970s that was the case, but there are plenty of Postmill folks that I know or know of.  In this book, Chilton has an appendix that lampoons Hal Lindsay’s statement “There used to be a group of people called postmillennialists.” We are closer now to being able to say, “There used to be a group of people who read Hal Lindsay.”

One more point in favor of this book:  In reading this book, you actually get a really good study of Athanasius’ classic work On the Incarnation.  Chilton uses lengthy quotes from Athanasius at the beginning of each chapter, so reading this book is like reading the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of Athanasius.  Then, Chilton has a nearly 50 page appendix excerpted from the Jewish historian Josephus concerning the Fall of Jerusalem.  That event in history, written by someone with no agenda on modern eschatology issues, adds lots of details to what was prophesied in Matthew 24 and other places.  So,  in one book, the reader is able to garner understanding of three writers.  But the main reason to read this book is not for picking up on or reviewing Athansius or Josephus, or even for understanding David Chilton’s ideas.  Read this book to better understand the Bible.

See the source image

 

 

Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction

Close this window

Here is the truth of the matter:  We are all new Christians.  It doesn’t matter if you were converted last Sunday or fifty plus years ago.  We are all arriving at the party (okay, let’s say fellowship meal) long after it began.  This means that we are going to be constantly surrounded by a discussion where we are lost as to the issues.  We miss the inside jokes.  We don’t understand the words and concepts being used.  We don’t know who the others are talking about.

Christianity has been running strong for over 2000 years.  (We could extend that time even longer and include the Old Testament saints.)  The most basic and important means of catching up is reading the Bible. But no one does or can read the Bible without help.  During all the years the Christian faith has been spreading, there have been teachers and preachers whose gifts and ministries from God has been helping people understand, see, and apply the Word of God to all areas of life.  As in any field, there are good and great examples.  Some people have been so dominant in the field of Bible study and theology that their names and influence continue to this day.

I know there are plenty of people who are simple folk and who are busy with jobs and families or maybe hindered from pursuing the Bible and theology in depth.  I am not judging nor condemning them.  But people who can read, people who master computers, video games, sports trivia, and other mind-centered fields of interest can also get grounded in the Bible and theology.  This is not being said in order to just fill in some intellectual niche in the life of educated people.  Instead, this is a great need in the Church.  It is a great need in the local church you are attending.

Most of us are part of churches or church traditions that are small creeks.  In so many ways, a creek can be a really fascinating place.  (I lament no longer owning land that had creeks running at both the front and back of the property.)  But if we never explore and find the river that the creek flows into, we are missing something.  And that river itself then leads to a bigger river and on then to the ocean.

 

Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction by Kenneth Richard Samples is an invitation to explore past the pleasant creek and see the flowing rivers and vast ocean of God’s Kingdom through history.  This book is published by Reasons to Believe, a Christian organization devoted to strengthening believers in doctrines, apologetics, and a world-view of Christian thought. Ken Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, along with being an adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University.  He has authored several books prior to Classic Christian Thinkers, including Without a Doubt and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

Classic Christian Thinkers covers nine Christian scholars:  Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis.  Of course, part of the fun of this book is raising questions like “Why did you leave out (fill in the blank)?” or “Why is (fill in the blank) included?” I admit to be a glutton for books with a group of theologians, pastors, preachers, or writers we should know.

This book keeps the focus narrow enough so that we can actually get some depth on the scholars in the line-up.  Samples has designed the book as a launching pad.  It is well and fine to read the book and be able to say, “Anselm…Yes, I have heard of him.”  But there is a need to dig deeper and read the nine men in this book.  Samples gives short biographical sketches of the men, followed by a description of key doctrinal positions or insights, distinctive ideas, and contributions to the Christian Church as a whole.  Lots of other details are presented, including a few main writings, a defining quote, a timeline, and resources for further study.

This book is the theological equivalent to the Fodor’s travel books.  In other words, this book is to be followed up with an actual journey after reading.

Sometimes, looking over the vast writings of an author is intimidating.  But many authors can become familiar by reading shorter works or short selections from works.  Augustine’s Confessions, which Samples and I both love, is not too long or too hard to read.  Luther’s Small Catechism, recently translated and published by Paul Rydecki, is short and very readable.  Wading into the wide river is not too hard to do, especially if you take advantage of guides like this book.

No photo description available.

One additional advantage of this book is that it forces us to stop thinking so provincially and so denominationally.  God has moved across a wide spectrum of beliefs and theological traditions across time.  We who are Protestants feel quite comfortable with Luther and Calvin, but they were both nurtured by the Church Fathers, which includes such men as Augustine and Anselm.  Thomas Aquinas may be one of the defining theologians in the Roman Catholic tradition, but many men, like R. C. Sproul, have gleaned richly from his writings.  Blaise Pascal is an interesting case study because he was French and, therefore, almost automatically Catholic, but he is connected to the Jansenists who were very thoroughly Augustinian.  As for C. S. Lewis, he is God’s gift to all believers.

I have often thought in recent years about the decision that John Piper made in his early theological studies to pick and master one theologian.  In terms of where I am, I think I must be content to be a dabbler in many theologians, historians, novelists, poets, and philosophers.  But books like this remind me that there is a need to get the basics and then follow the stream to where it leads to the rivers.

 

Susie by Ray Rhodes–Charles Spurgeon’s Wife

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon

Okay, I must begin again by confessing, “I was wrong.”  You would think I am used to this by now, but it is still hard to do.  But let everyone hear me clearly, “I WAS WRONG!”

First of all, I like biographies.  But I want to read about political leaders like Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, or Ronald Reagan.  I love biographies of military leaders, such as Douglas MacArthur, Robert E. Lee, or Archibald Wavell.  I even read biographies of theologians, philosophers, novelists, and poets.  And I have many books about preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others.

Second, I love the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon.  I first heard of Spurgeon when I was in Henry Wood’s history classes in my first year of college.  “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon,” Mr. Wood said, quoting Helmut Thielike.  I didn’t completely embrace that advice.  Yes, I bought a few Spurgeon works here and there, but never enough.  It was only in recent years that I acquired the available in-print editions of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.  It was just a few years ago that I read Lectures to My Students from beginning to end.  Perhaps my own ministry work and preaching revealed my Spurgeon-gaps more than I realized.  But I was a fan, a reader, a gleaner of quotes.

All that being said, I was not initially drawn to this book.  There is a slight dread of the religious biography that tends toward hagiography.  There is the slight distaste for the Victorian era style of writing with overblown, overly sentimental, and overly “spiritual” language.  And I am possibly a male chauvinist.  It is stupid if I am such, for my life has been incredibly enriched by wise, godly, strong-minded women.

The first wall of resistance crumbled when George Grant promoted the book back in December in a series of posts recommending books for Christmas. I did succumb to several of George’s suggestions, meaning that I bought the books for myself for Christmas. But I did not buy Susie.  And one of my teachers offered to buy me a copy of the book, but I declined that act of generosity.

Then I became friends with Ray Rhodes Jr., the author, on Facebook.  At that point, I was being overwhelmed with reading posts by him and comment from appreciative readers.  I gave in, contacted Moody Press, and received my copy of the book.

Susie:  The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon, published by Moody, is a very delightful book.  Yes, Charles and Susie used much of the stilted and spiritual Victorian language in communicating to each other.  This tends to obscure some of the real emotions or trials they were facing.  In the case of Susie’s physical problems, we are left to speculate what her problem was.  She had a very serious surgery after the birth of twin boys, resulting in no further children for the couple.  So, we don’t know exactly what female problem she had, as though my life is somehow incomplete for not knowing this.

We live in a time of bluntness, detail, and, subsequently, crassness.  While I don’t think we should revert to saying “She is in a family way, rather than “She is pregnant,” I do wish we had a little more circumspectness about language.  The age of the Spurgeon’s is a healthy antidote to our age.  Plus, the degree of turning every written communication into a Christian exhortation is woefully deficient.  I confess to being far more prone to ask a fellow church member about work, weather, or widgets than asking him about his prayers.  The point being that the life and times of Charles and Susie Spurgeon are instructive and convicting for us in our times.

Now, here’s the scandal buried in the text of this book.  After all, we live in a time of scandals here and there among not only political and entertainment figures, but also church leaders.  Charles and Susie Spurgeon were on the surface fully absorbed in the Christian life and faith.  But in private…they were just as absorbed, if not more so.  Outwardly, they seemed to have a marriage driven by love for Christ and each other.  Inwardly, the same.  Charles was a powerhouse in the pulpit, and he was the same man at home.

Along with their solid Christian lives, take note also of this:  Their lives are a repudiation of the health and wealth gospel heresy of our time.  Financially, they did seem to do well, but considering the fact that Charles pastored a mega-church, they were not rich.  Healthwise, their lives were incredibly difficult.  Besides frequent bouts of depression, Charles suffered gout continually along with other ailments.  His life’s work looks to be the product of someone who lived 300 years, but he died at age 57. Susie lived on for more than a decade longer, although she was ill and infirm during that time.

Being married to a woman who has been the wife of a pastor, I know the weight they carry.  Although Scripture gives no commands regarding the duties of pastor’s wives, they have many duties, chief among which is being a helpmeet to a man with an impossible job.  Like many spouses of preachers, Susie carried on additional work.  She wrote a number of books herself and worked extensively on her husband’s posthumous autobiography.  She helped start a church in a community that did not have a Baptist church.  Most of all, she ran a ministry devoted to sending out books to pastors whose shelves, unlike her own husband’s, were devoid of books.

She was, in short, quite an incredible woman.  I found myself inspired, convicted, and amazed constantly while reading this book.  I have no doubt that many women have and will enjoy reading this book, but I would encourage men to read it as well.  There have been too many cases, especially in some Reformed circles, where women and women’s ministries have been demeaned, suppressed, and despised.  Susannah Spurgeon was a woman who shouted at the top of her lungs to the church and to the world.  She didn’t do so literally, of course.  But through her works, book distributions, prayers, and testimony, her life was a loudspeaker proclaiming the glories of Christ.

Don’t hesitate any longer.  Buy and read this book.

See the source image

 

Calvin Books from Banner of Truth

 

Sermons on Timothy and Titus (16th-17th Century Facsimile Editions): Calvin, John

It is a rather funny thing that that such words as “Calvinists,” “Calvinism,” and the like exist.  I don’t think Calvin himself would find it either funny or flattering. He would be most troubled that his attempts to mine the truths of the Bible would be something that resulted in attaching his name to a movement, which is really a number of movements.  But the terms related to Calvin’s name are useful as identifiers when used correctly.

What is too easily overlooked is how Calvin the man was so different from those of us who have appropriated the name Calvinists.  Calvin was often more a devotional writer than a scholarly theologian.  He seems to have had one and only one audience:  God’s sheep, the congregation.  His preaching schedule was murderous, and his method was expository teaching through the Bible book by book.

Some years ago, Banner of Truth (which is a favorite publisher) reprinted several facsimile editions of Calvin’s sermons.  These were English translations from the 1500’s and maybe the 1600’s.  These were beautiful books–big, well bound, and printed with quality in mind. But for reading purposes, they were less appealing.  The size of the books, the older versions of English print, and the other features expected in a facsimile edition render these books hard to read.  When I preached through 1 Timothy a few years ago, I don’t think I even looked at the facsimile that I have.

Now here is the good news:  Calvin still speaks to us today.  His message is still relevant.  And, translations are pouring off the printing presses that are much more manageable, readable, and attainable.  While Banner of Truth is not the only publisher to be mining the riches of Calvin’s sermons and books, they books they have made available are outstanding.

Currently, I am reading from Letters of John Calvin.  Banner has a more complete multi-volume edition of Calvin’s letters and other writings that is quite attractive. It is called Tracts and Letters of John Calvin.  Many years ago, I picked up a four volume set of Calvin’s letters that has been valued, but under-used in my library.  It was published by some scholarly publisher, and I suspect Calvin’s correspondence was rare until the recent Banner set.

But most people are not going to casually or devotionally read multiple volumes of Calvin’s mail.  This book is just the right size. It is a relatively small book of some 70 letters and less than 300 pages.  The letters are preceded by a biographical sketch of Calvin’s life.  Despite having read books and articles by the scores on the life of Calvin, I always enjoy revisiting his story once again.

His correspondence provides an autobiographical look into the man’s personality and character.  It is also a testimony to the front line issues of the Reformation and key figures in it.  Because Calvin’s intent and life was God-centered, this book is devotional reading and theological study as well.

Cover image for Sermons on 1 Timothy

Robert White is, as far as I know, the best Calvin translator around today.  Several years ago, I received and read from his translation of Calvin’s Institutes.  It is a beautiful rendering of Calvin’s words.  Most recently, I have acquired Sermons on First Timothy.  It rests on the stack of books I read from in the mornings, and for now, it is part of my Sunday morning reading.  In other words, I am inching my way through this book of sermons.

I would think that the better method would be to read a sermon every day, but time constraints prevent that right now.  But Calvin can be enjoyed in just short and even infrequent doses.  Cotton Mather said that he loved to sweeten his breath with the taste of Calvin before going to bed.  Me, on the other hand–I prefer a dose of Calvin along with strong morning coffee.

Whether read in conjunction with Calvin’s commentary on 1 Timothy or read as a resource, this book would be most useful to the pastor or teacher working through the letter.  Also, as a book just for spiritual edification (as though that were a minor component of life), this volume is first rate.

Take note that Banner now has volumes of sermons on 2 Timothy, Titus, Genesis, Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Daniel, and perhaps others that I have overlooked. Needless to say, there are far too many good books around than I can wrap my mind, time, or pocketbook around.  Nevertheless, we do what we can.  Inch along the way and get Calvin’s books in the new, faithful translations.

Banner Books on Calvin:  HERE.

Cover image for John Calvin's 'Institutes of the Christian Religion'

Cover Image for 'Sermons on Titus' by John Calvin

How the Dutch Saved Civilization

 

This year I have been teaching a history course on the twentieth century. With a number of historical periods that I have studied, read about, and taught on, the twentieth century is possibly my most frequently studied period.  My class and I spent an inordinately long time studying the Great War (World War I) which, like all historical turning points, extends both back in time and forward in its causes and effects.  We are currently wrapping up a study of the Russian Revolutions.  Next I will be devoting attention to the period between the World Wars, leading up to a month or more of looking at World War II.

The chessboard of twentieth century history includes many key players.  The United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and France are vital to the whole period.  But one cannot overlook Italy, Japan, China, and then some major minor players like Belgium and Serbia in World War I and Poland and Spain (particularly the Spanish Civil War) in World War II.  The post-war period brings in a whole new cast including Greece, Israel, Korea, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and other countries.

One could make analogies to various chess pieces and the leading countries.  Then there are the pawns whose movements may or may not be significant to the causes of events.  Any chess player (and I am not one) can affirm that pawns can make or break a game of chess.  They can be minor pieces, but their impact can direct the course of events.

This brings me to the topic of the Netherlands and the Dutch people in the twentieth century.  I am not when or if the fine textbook I am using refers to events in the Netherlands after the age of Napoleon.  The Netherlands was neutral during World War I (wise move on their part) and were a quick knock-out in World War II.  The Dutch underground in the Second War gets some attention.  The failed Allied offensive (recounted in the book and move A Bridge Too Far) took place in the Netherlands, but that story is one of the British, American, and German armies.

After World War II, the Netherlands was a NATO member, but has remained on the periphery of historical movements.  One recurring story is of decadence and immortality in that country which seems to be ahead of the rest of the West in moral degeneracy.

The history books and the news accounts often miss or don’t know the whole story or even the greater story.  The late 19th and 20th century history of the Netherlands is rich in certain respects.  Unlike my hopeful title, the Dutch have not saved civilization, but they have pointed to and promoted what would be civilization saving in many respects.

There are a number of Dutch Christians who lived in the middle to late 1800’s and up through the mid-1900’s who have grasped issues even more important than the immediate challenges of ending World War I, defeating Naziism in World War II, or holding on to the Free World against the Communist Bloc in the Cold War.

The names are familiar to those who have waded into the deep currents of Reformed theology and philosophical thought.  Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, Geerhardus Vos, Klaas Schilder, Hendrik van Riessen, H. R. Rookmaaker, and Cornelius Van Til are among the key leaders in the intellectual revolution of the past 100 plus years.

I could devote quite a few paragraphs and pages to talking about the various men named above.  I actually have talked and written about most of them.  In fact, I have literally talked from coast to coast about them.  (I spoke at two conferences years ago–one in Virginia and one in Alaska.)  For now, I will focus on two of the many books that are now available highlighting key ideas from the Dutch Calvinist Worldview Thinkers, as I like to call them.

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper is a Christian classic.  It has been reprinted and edited many times since it first emerged from the Stone Lectures that Abraham Kuyper gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898.  One such reprinting and repackaging changed the name to something other than either Lectures on Calvinism or The Stone Lectures.  The goal of all such publications is to get the message of these lectures out.

This book calls for a big dose of humility from all Christians.  Reformed Christians need to realize how limited our vision is when we think of Calvinism as a system of 5 Points or we think that our efforts to promote Christianity are full-orbed.  Non-Calvinists need to realize how, despite whatever struggles they may be having in regard to soteriological (salvation related) issues, the claims of God are over all areas of life.

Many books, movements, schools, colleges, ideas, study centers, and terms have grown out of this book.  Many Christians speak today of having a Christian worldview without knowing that this idea springs from Kuyper.  Kuyper, however, spoke of a World and Life System rather than using the more compact term Worldview.  Every concern that comes up about the Christian role or lack thereof in politics needs to be referenced back to Kuyper’s chapter on politics.

He also spoke about science, art, and the future, which can be studied for how Kuyper may or may not have foreseen events.

American Vision has reprinted and edited the edition of the book pictured above.  Some of Kuyper’s sentences were a bit long and heavy and many of his references are obscure to most of us.  This book has modified some of the language and punctuation without rewriting or condensing the content.  Also, footnotes explain many of the terms or references that Kuyper and his audience would have been familiar with.

I would include this book for essential reading not just in my top 100 or 50 or 25 reads, but in my top 10 reads.  Furthermore, it is not a read-once-and-shelve book.  This is a book to reread often.  Get it and read it.

One of Abraham Kuyper’s mentors and contemporaries was Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer.  Usually and conveniently, he is referred to as Groen, pronounced to rhyme with prune and equivalent to our word green.  Groen was a brilliant Christian historian and political leader in the Netherlands.  At some point in his career, he gave a series of lectures at his house on the key determining issue of his age.  That issue was the French Revolution.  It was not the details of the storming of the Bastille or execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette that concerned Groen.

Behind the Revolution and preceding from it was a worldview or philosophy.  As has been often, but not often enough, pointed out, the so-called American Revolution and the French Revolution were not twin events.  Their differences are comparable to the knife use of a surgeon and that of a street criminal.  Lest someone think this is a odd-Christian weirdo interpretation, just look at such books as James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men.  

Before Billington and before all the forces for secularism, humanism, and whatever other objectionable isms of the twentieth century, Groen was discussing the essential beliefs and unbeliefs that propelled Europe into the modern age with revolutions continuing for over a century.

For years this book has been hard to find.  It was translated into English and published by a small Canadian publisher back in the 1980s and 90s.  I doubt that it is on the reading lists of any or certainly not many college courses on the French Revolution, modern thought, revolution in general, or political philosophy.  Groen would not have been shocked or surprised by that omission.

Unbelief and Revolution has been reprinted by Lexham Press.  Along with a number of great books, including Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics and many volumes by Abraham Kuyper, Lexham Press is turning into a modern center of Reformed Christian thought and theology.  Harry Van Dyke, a great scholar and acquaintance of mine, translated this book.  Jake Mailhot, who is what I want to be like when I grow up, is a key figure in the distribution of Lexham Press publications.

Get this book.

Read the Dutch Christian authors.  Start with Kuyper and Groen.

Hitting the Heart and the Mind–Morning Reads

 

See the source image

Maybe I do believe in what is called “Second Blessing.”  And I certainly do believe it is the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work.  And it was not something that happened when I was a new Christian.  The Second Blessing that I refer to is learning to love mornings.  I wish that I could boast of being up by 4 or 5 a. m., but for that to happen, there will have to be a third blessing.  However, I do love mornings, and I love them for the fact that this is the time when I enjoy the BBC, not meaning the British Broadcasting Company, but rather Bible, books, and coffee.

Here are some of the recent reads that have been very strongly caffeinated remedies for both the heart and the mind.

See the source image

Mark Jones is a bright, young pastor, theologian, and writer who lives in Canada.  His mind, heart, and writing style almost appear to be cloned from the inimitable J. I. Packer.  In his book, he does several things.  First, he takes the reader through some deep systematic theology. In fact, the central focus of the Christian life is knowing who God is.  But this is not the deep end of the Olympic-size theological pool where Jones simply pushes you in and says, “Swim.”  He is clear, brief, direct, and very understandable.

Second, he has this book divided into 26 chapters with some introductory pages and an epilogue.  That makes this book a great resource for reading over the course of a month. Families could read it for the family devotion or Sunday school classes could use it as well.  (Preachers:  Don’t feel ashamed if you want to use the book for a sermon series.)  The chapters are short.  In fact, I had planned on finishing the book on January 27, but found myself reading more than one chapter on quite a few mornings.

Third, Jones brings you into his circle of mentors, teachers, and guides.  Like Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Jerry Bridges, Mark Jones is on a first-name friendship basis with many of the Puritans, Reformers, and Church Fathers.  One could simply go through this book and read the quotes–all warmly evangelical and nourishing–and delight in it.  The notes at the back of the book were announcements to me of books I should be reading and acquiring.

Fourth, in each chapter Pastor Jones first discusses and explains the doctrine–God’s Omnipresence, for example.  Then he turns the focus to Christ.  God’s attributes are found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  His Incarnation did not mean that He was not God the Son for a season. But we often don’t realize how Jesus has the same attributes we attribute in a fashion to the Triune God.  The final part of each chapter is application.  God’s attributes are not speculative, philosophical, or theoretical characteristics of a Supreme Being.  Our Covenant God reveals Himself and teaches us through that most vital aspect to all life and learning–Knowing God.

See the source image

Along with this book, Jones’ book Knowing Christ, which I read last summer, is also a fine work.  It should be read after reading Packer’s classic work Knowing God.  In fact, Dr. Packer wrote the foreword to Knowing Christ.  Once again, this book will take the reader deep into the Bible and theology with abundant quotes from the Puritans, their forebears, and heirs.

Some may be familiar with Jones from the massive book that he and Joel Beeke compiled titled A Puritan Theology:  Doctrine for Life.  This is a weighty book in every sense of the word, but one that can be digested in small sections.  Maybe this summer, I can return to digging from this gold mine.

See the source image

This past summer, Mark Jones gave some talks in Brazil where there is a growing love of Reformed theology and Puritan writings.  At least some of his books have been translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil.  He is also in demand as a speaker across North America.  With his youthful mind and love for God’s Word and God’s servants of old, I am hoping to see quite a few more books from him as the years go by.

See the source image

Mark Jones and son with Joel R. Beeke. Together, these two men compiled a great devotional and theological study of the Puritans titled A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.

 

I mentioned Joel R. Beeke a few paragraphs ago.  Whereas I fight back being jealous of Mark Jones’ youth and brilliance, I have to combat a different type of jealousy regarding Joel R. Beeke, who is close to my age.  Pastor Beeke produces books faster than most people read them.  He writes, edits, compiles, or reprints and promotes more books than I can keep up with.  He may be the leading expert on the Puritans in our time.

I recently read and greatly enjoyed his latest book Reformed Preaching.

See the source imageTake this warning:  No man dare enter the pulpit without reading deeply, prayerfully, slowly, repeatedly, and thankfully from this book.  It is a wealth of practical instruction and guidance for the pastor and speaker.  Also, it is a history of preaching.  In fact, much of the book is a history of the preaching styles and focus of great preachers.  The history begins with the Reformers, and that does not mean just Calvin and Luther.  No surprise also that Beeke, as a proponent of the Puritans and their theology, includes lots of biographical and exhortative information about those hardy Englishmen.

There are also chapters devoted to Dutch preachers.  I can never really decide who were the greatest:  The Puritans, the Scots, or the Dutch.  I don’t have to pick a favorite, and they are all described here.  Some of the more recent preachers like Martyn Lloyd-Jones are included as well.  Even though the history section of this book is lengthy, I would have enjoyed yet another one or two hundred pages of such material.

Pastors need to be well versed in history and theology, they need to also be grounded in other areas that Beeke addresses.  These included being balanced (Woe are us Calvinists all too often!), being effective (not the same as being successful, but also not the same as being theologically sound), and being holy (and that is not just a scandal in the Roman Catholic Church).

The opening chapter of this book is titled “Reformed Experiential Preaching.”  When I first started this book (in either November or December last year), I read that chapter in one sitting.  The next reading time, I could not bring myself to move on in the book, but chose to read that section again.  I am still planning on reading the last chapter, “Preaching for Holiness,” again.

I have been blessed by being able to put this book in the hands of other preachers.  I wish I could give out a hundred copies of it.  My preaching career is over, so it seems, but still I found the book helpful and soul-nourishing.  The man or woman in the pews can read this as profitably as the preacher.

Reformed Preaching and God Is are both published by Crossway Books.  Knowing Christ is published by Banner of Truth.  A Puritan Theology is published by Reformation Heritage Books.