Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting to Know Calvin

Friday July 10th was John Calvin's 500th Birthday. Quite a milestone for the man. Many blog posts have circulated in his honor. I have benefited greatly from his works and wanted to pass along a few ideas on how to get the most from all his years of labor in the scriptures.

Reading Calvin's Institutes - While in college, I joined two friends in a study of the book Disciplines of a Godly Man. The best part of reading this book was what I found in the back. The author (R. Kent Hughes) interviewed a number of well known Christian leaders (like R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and Eugene Petterson) and asked them, "What books, apart from the Bible, have been influential in your life?" I've often tried to discover what books shaped famous people and read those (for instance, Reagen pointed to Witness and Churchill cited The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as most influential). The most often mentioned book by these authors was C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, but a close second was John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion. Since being involved in that group, I've wanted to read the Institutes and have finally made it around to it this past year. I only read a few pages a day - but they are powerful pages. And it is surprisingly readable: it seems Calvin's intent was to write for the layman. He answers the charges of the day in a way the common citizen can easily understand. I highly recommend taking the next year or two to read through this work. You can either buy this fancy two-volume work, or this more affordable combined version.

Calvin's Commentaries
One of the more useful things I learned in seminary was the value of Calvin's commentaries. Wayne Grudem told me, in the midst of working heavily on the ESV Study Bible, that he often begins with John Calvin's commentaries (before a modern commentary) when seeking further clarification on a passage of scripture. You can purchase the entire set in hardback here, or you can access them on online for free at

The Master of Geneva
Calvin has often been misunderstood, both in his theology and in his governing of Geneva. There are many biographies available on Calvin, but last year I read a novel on his life called The Master of Geneva. If you have wanted to read more on Calvin's life, this would be a great book to pick up. However, good luck finding it, since it is out of print. I borrowed it from the church library, and I imagine most seminary libraries would have it. You can find them used online here and read a review of the book here

You can also download a well acclaimed biography on Calvin from Desring God Ministries for free here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alexis de Tocqueville's Birthday

I receive a daily email from American Minute. It is worth signing up to receive these daily nuggets of american history, which serve as a great reminder of the amazing heritage we have in this nation.

Today the post is on Alexis de Tocqueville, born this day in 1805. De Tocqueville was a French social scientist who traveled to America to observe the country and try to discover what makes it unique and prosperous. His classic work Democracy in America is the summary of his observations. In it he says the following:

"Religion in America... must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it... This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation."

De Tocqueville added:

"There is no country in the whole world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence than in America... and nothing better demonstrates how useful it is to man, since the country where it now has the widest sway is both the most enlightened and the freest."

Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hunting Eichmann and a few other books

I was back in Louisville for a week this summer and able to take a trip to the bookstore with mom (a height of the trip for both of us I think). We came home with three books, one of which I could not put down: Hunting Eichmann (which we learned about from Al Mohler's summer reading list). The book tells the story of the search for Adolph Eichmann, one of the lead implementers of the Nazi's "Final Solution," who escaped capture and trial at Nuremberg. He amazingly was able to hide in Germany for five years before fleeing to Argentina. Much like the book Manhunt (on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth), if it were not for a few blunders, one wonders if Eichmann would ever have been found. It's a fascinating read and a page turner, and written with a unique balance of suspense. The rhythm of the book was such that each time it seemed the group capturing Eichmann was in the clear; another challenge loomed large and renewed the suspense.

But the negative part of reading a book of this type is that I inevitably begin rooting for the guy on the run – no matter how heinous of a criminal he may have been. It happened in Manhunt, and it happened here. It must be because of the nature of wanting to root for the underdog, or for the person that seems helpless. But what makes this author unique is that he will not let the reader stay sympathetic towards Eichmann. He has a keen sense for rhythm in this book, as he seems to be able to predict the points at which his reader is starting to pull for Eichmann. At this point, he reminds the reader of the horrible acts of genocide Eichmann approved, encouraged, and performed. This was no man to be pitied. He destroyed humanity and displayed no remorse – even 15 years later, as a feeble old man.

This writing style reminds of the singular command given in the first three chapters (the theological part) of the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 2.11 charges us simply to "remember." One word – one command – REMEMBER. Paul's charge is to remember everything that is true of a Christian in light of what is true of those who are "in Christ" (as outlined in Ephesians 1.4-11). In Hunting for Eichmann, remembering the horror of the holocaust drives the story and it drives those who pursued Eichmann. It is so easy to forget.

The other part of the story that inspires is the tireless work of the Mossad agents (Israeli equivalent of the CIA). They could not just waltz into Buenos Aires and ask for Eichmann, as the Argentinian government was sympathetic toward the Nazi's. The operation required a massive amount of planning and loads of money to pull of the grab.

The other two books we brought home were We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families and American Prometheus. The first was chosen because I am traveling to Rwanda in the fall to teach a class on the book of John to Anglican pastors. It is a collection of stories from those who faced the genocide in Rwanda. The second, American Prometheus came as a recommendation from a friend who also recommended The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I read the Atomic Bomb book a few years ago and was amazed by the incredible amount of effort it took our nation to develop the A-bomb. We essentially built the equivalent of the entire U.S. auto industry in three years to make two bombs. This effort required the use of the entire U.S. stockpile of silver (since copper was being used in bullets) for winding the gigantic magnets that split the atomic particles for the bombs. All this was done at the height of a World War that was already pulling resources from every corner of the country. Though other countries might have been able to discover the science of the bomb, no other would had the resources necessary to develop it during the war. The mastermind behind this effort was a man named Oppenheimer. This man was brilliant, hard charging, and able to keep an eclectic group of scientists focused on the task of the Bomb. American Prometheus tells more of his story.

Finally, one book that was left behind was The Third Reich at War (learned about here). However I'm happy to report that upon returning home, mother immediately ordered the book and already has it in her possession. I imagine that it will not take her long to read it since WWII history is her favorite genre.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time on Marriage

Time Magazine recently published this article on marriage. In it they make two important statements:

"There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage."


"On every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children form intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households. Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarceration – if you can measure it, a sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others."

One feminist responds:

"As a feminist, I didn't want to believe it," says Maria Kefalas, a sociologist who studies marriage and family issues… "Women always tell me, 'I can be a mother and a father to a child,' but it's not true." Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect on a child. "The mom may not need the man," Kefalas says, "but her children still do."

Read the full article here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dirty Fun

My son in a state of sheer delight

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Reject Pile

Went to Borders with my Mom today to select a couple of books for our semi-annual reading tradition. Here is the pile that we didn't bring home. It was hard to say no.