Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A couple of things

A few miscellaneous things for today. First here is a post from Justin Taylor announcing that the number of abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973 has reached 50 million. That is a staggering number. To put that in some perspective that would be an average of 1,428,571 children put to death a year for the last 35 years. It is more than six times the number of people killed in the holocaust (using high estimates). Taylor notes that it is roughly the living population of 24 of the 50 states (follow the link to see). This is certainly a call to weep and pray over the state of our nation and to pray that God would work to change the hearts and minds of our leaders to end this practice as God's law clearly tells us, "Thou shalt not murder."

Second, and only slightly less sobering, I wanted to point you to a recent article by Carl Trueman (Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) over at Reformation 21 ("Why Are There Never Enough Parking Spaces at the Prostate Clinic?"). Trueman critiques the fascination in the church today with cultural studies and contextualization. He does not want to say that we should never seek to cultural issues or use context to preach the gospel. Instead his concern is that culture is used as an excuse for lawlessness and that often cultural matters are proclaimed and discussed rather than the gospel and the Christian faith. I do not agree with everything that Dr. Trueman says but this is a very challenging article and I highly recommend reading it and thinking over his points.

Finally, a few weeks ago I finished reading John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology edited by Burk Parsons. This book is meant to be an introduction to the life, thought, and writings of the Geneva Reformer. It includes essays by Derek Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, D.G. Hart, Robert Godfrey, Eric Alexander, Richard Phillips, Jay Adams, Philip Graham Ryken, Michael Horton, Jerry Bridges, and Joel Beeke.

The opening essays are largely biographical and are intended to introduce Calvin's life and work. Several of them involve a brief biographical survey that is intended to place Calvin within the context of the Protestant Reformation (often forgotten by Reformed Christians is the fact that the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1539 was led by Melancthon's Common Places in 1521, Luther's The Bondage of the Will in 1526, and Bullinger's work on the covenant in 1534). Calvin did not write and teach in a vacuum but was a part of a movement to reform the church from heretical doctrines. Accordingly readers of Calvin will see that he often quotes the early church fathers to show how the Roman Catholic Church had departed from the teaching of Scripture and the historical confession of Christ's church.

Several essays follow that seek to paint a picture of Calvin as a preacher, evangelist, counselor, and writer. These essays do much to dispel the common picture of Calvin as a stern dictator in Geneva, nodding in approval as heretics like Severtus are burned at the stake (the mythical views people seem to have of this story are dealt with in several essays). Instead the authors reveal Calvin as a pastor with a deep love for his congregation and their spiritual lives. Many people do not know that Calvin had married a widow and adopted the children from her first marriage. While the Severtus story is exagerated to discredit him very few discuss the house ministry that he led to visit plague victims and preach the gospel to them, often risking exposure himself.

The second half of the book analyzes the thought and teaching of Calvin of chief doctrinal points. This is not a survey of the Institutes but instead engages all of Calvin's writings on specific subjects (all of the doctrines of grace are given a seperate chapter though they were split out and articulated more clearly in the debate over the Remonstrants in the Netherlands that were a reaction to Calvinism several decades after the Reformer's death). I thought that Bridge's and Beeke's closing essays on Christian piety and prayer were particularly valuable. It should be emphasized that Calvin's intent in writing the Institutes was not to write on theology for theology's sake but it was intended to be a manual for the Christian life.

As a whole I thought that this was a very useful book. I think that it is a more friendly introduction to Calvin than the longer and more academic Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes. I recommend it as a starting point into studying how God blessed his church through this gifted preacher and teacher and then moving on to read his Institutes for yourself.

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