Book Review: Calvin & Culture

Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview

David W. Hall (Author, Editor), Marvin Padgett (Editor)

Calvin and Culture is the final volume in the Calvin 500 series put together in honor of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.  One of the aspects of this title that appealed to me was the fact that it dealt with so many different disciplines.  Specifically, it deals with Calvin’s impact on the disciplines of: 1) history; 2) law; 3)the arts; 4) economics; 5) Literature; 6) Philosophy; 7) Political Science; 8) Business; 9)Music; 10) Medicine; and finally 11) journalism.

The broad array of subject matters is what made this book so interesting.  In a way the primary benefit of this book is that it serves as introduction to each of the above disciplines from a reformed worldview.  Which brings me to the dirty little secret of the book, Calvin didn’t really have a direct impact on all these disciplines!  In fact, some of the chapters present quite a stretch in order to “demonstrate Calvin’s influence.”  When I finished the book I was not under the impression that Calvin was a great journalist, or even a historian.  However, I was impressed with the impact that the worldview articulated  by John Calvin has had in so many areas of life.  You see, Calvin’s influence goes beyond his day in that those who were impacted by his teaching lived out and advanced the same worldview (a biblical worldview)

That being said, I was impressed with several areas of Calvin’s direct influence that I was ignorant of before this book.  For instance, Calvin played a huge role in the economic development of his day by parting from the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant leaders and accepting loans with interest as an acceptable practice.  There were several other very interesting aspects of Calvin’s life and thought that I was introduced to through this book.  I don’t agree with all the specifics (i.e. some conclusions from individual chapter authors), however it was extremely beneficial to see how the worldview of Calvinism has impact so many different disciplines.

If you are interested in this title you can read a sample chapter HERE.

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A Christian view of the “laws of nature”

The term “laws of nature” are often used to speak of the observable patterns that exist within the universe.  For instance, when we let go of something it always falls.  We call this the law of gravity.  Observable patterns, such as gravity,  certainly exists.  Furthermore, it is good for us to understand and examine the created world around us.  But, is it really helpful for us to refer to these patterns that we observe as “laws of nature”?

Probably not.  I know, it seems as though I am splitting hairs on a minor issues.  However, I think as Christians we can think “better” on this issue (notice I am not saying “right” or “wrong”; “righteousness” or “sin”)

Colossians 1:17 says, “He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  Here we see the real reason why the patterns we observe in creation remain constant.  It is Christ who hold together.  At this point some would object and say that God has established the “laws of nature” and uses those laws to hold together the universe.  While there is some truth to this, it seems to me that this view puts the emphasis on the wrong thing.  Rather than emphasizing the fact that God constantly and consistently is holding together creation this view almost makes it seem as if God created the world with natural laws and then took a step back.  More on this in a minute…

Don Petcher has written on this issue (I owe my some of my own thoughts on this to his writing).  Here is what he has to say,

It is only God in his providence who brings about his certain purposes for his creation, not through the laws of nature per se, but through his eternal decrees.  …The regularities of the universe are therefore not to be considered as built-in natural laws at all, but patterns that God lovingly covenants with his creation to uphold his radical sustenance. (Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview, 172-173)

I really think that Petcher is on to something here.  And there are a few main reasons why I think it is important for Christians to see things from this perspective:

  1. It rightly understand Colossians 1:17.
  2. It is the difference between fatalism and God’s sovereignty – With this perspective our outlook on life–in light of God’s sovereignty–is not fatalistic because the personal God of the universe is immanently involved in the day-to-day operations of the universe.  Things don’t “have to happen” because the universe demands it.  “Things happen” because God is directing the events of the universe.
  3. It prevents us from moving toward a mechanist (i.e. deistic)  worldview.

The Value of Clear Language

I read a great article today by George Orwell on the topic of modern English writing.  I am hesitant to post a link here because you will notice that many of the habits he decries can be found in my writing.  However, I think that it is well worth the read.  His basic point is that writers need to be clear about what they are writing.

Here are a couple of the quotes that stood out to me:

  • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”
  • ‎”…prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

Here are some rules Orwell provides for those of us who need help:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

The article is entitled, Politics and the English Language and can be read in its entirety by following the link.

Gospel Cartoons

As a father of two little ones as well as the Pastor over children’s ministry in our church I am always looking for resources that will bring the gospel to my children and the children of our church.  In my mind this is one of the most important “fields” that we as Christians have to work in.  The ground should be soft and fertile because our children have been exposed to Gospel truth and they have seen it lived out.  That being said, salvation is based on the redeeming work of Christ alone and it is not based on birthright.  Thus, our children can never be “over exposed” to the Gospel.

That being said, I try to come up with creative ways to bring the gospel to my children and the children of our church.  This week I found a couple of cartoons–yes I said cartoons–that I plan on using with our kids.  Both videos are quite well done and would be suitable for children’s ministry, youth, and even adults.  I am an adult (usually) and I was quite moved!

The first is a cartoon (those with more class than I have call it an “animation”) set to the music of The Gospel Song (Sovereign Grace Music):

The second cartoon–I mean animation, is set to the music of “Prodigal” (Sovereign Grace Music):

My prayer is for your children (and mine) as they are exposed to Gospel truth.

Words to Live by…

This morning I was listening to a Sinclair Ferguson during my run–which is the perfect time listen to a sermon–and I heard an excellent quote that really impacted me.  In fact, today I have spent most of my time contemplating it, and trying to implement it in my own life.  So here it is:

Christ-like love is blind when it comes to the faults of others, but it has 20/20 vision when ti comes to the needs of others.

*Read with Scottish accent*

There it is–now all we have to do is live it out!

12 Step Program: How to commit to the church (pt. 2)

Part. 1

7. Give Sacrificially

Commitment to the local church requires that you give sacrificially to the church.  Proverbs 3:9 is clear in its teaching.  1 Corinthians 9:6-7 is also clear in its teaching; we must give generously and cheerfully to the church.  This is a requirement for commitment to the local church.  If you are not giving monetarily to the church you are in sin (with the exception of extreme circumstances like you don’t have a job).  Sometimes it is hard to give to the church, especially when you don’t have much.  But God’s word is clear.  If we trust God to provide for our needs then we are going to give to the church.  Furthermore, if the church is a priority for us then we are going to give our money to the church before we spend it on things like entertaining ourselves.

8. Take your commitment seriously

When you join a local church and make a commitment to that church you are entering into a covenant with that church.  Understand that your church is not just another organization that you are a part of.  God has placed in you in that church, you have entered a covenant with that church, now you need to take that commitment seriously.

9. Humbly Listen and Apply God’s word

Show up on Sunday morning ready to humbly prepared to apply the sermon to your own life.  It is so easy to be critical of our pastors and pick on their shortcomings in the area of preaching.  However, even if all the pastor does is read God’s word on Sunday then the Spirit can still use that to change our lives.  As C.J. Mahanney has taught on many occasions, we will be held accountable for what we have heard on Sunday mornings no matter how the pastor delivered it to us. This does not mean that we should ignore heresy, wrong doctrine, or an inappropriate use of God’s word.  It simply means that we shouldn’t elevate our own “preaching preferences.”  Rather, we should look take a long look at our own hearts before we criticize the preaching of someone else.  And then, after the service, don’t have “roasted pastor” for lunch!  Instead talk about all the ways that God convicted you through His word.

10. Guard your attitude

Because of our pride it is easy to get a bad attitude about the church we attend, the people in it, and the leaders of it.  We must be aware of this and guard our attitudes.  If we are consistently struggling to love our church and the people of it then something has gone array with our attitudes.

11. Never Gossip

During WWII the Navy had a says that “loose lips sink ships.”  Well, the same thing is true for churches.  That is why if you are committed to your local church you will not gossip.  Gossip is so dangerous for churches for a few reasons:

  • It is sin (Romans 1:29)
  • It doesn’t deal with conflict biblically (Prov. 10:12, Matthew 18:15-18)
  • It leads others into sin (Prov. 20:19)
  • It creates misconceptions (Prov. 18:17)

12. Practice the “One Anothers”

The biblical standard for how we are to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ has been outlined in Scripture.  Unfortunately there are many times when we are either ignorant about how we should treat other Christians, or we neglect the biblical principles.  If you want to commit to the local church it means committing to the people of your local church, which means that you need to practice the “one anothers” toward them.  These “one anothers” begin with loving one another, and then extend out into every area of our relationships applying that love.  Here is a practical tip, print up a list of all the “one anothers” in the New Testament and keep it somewhere that you will see it frequently.  Then, as you go through your week, check yourself to see how you are doing.