Saturday, January 31, 2009

Calvin on Scripture

Once again, I return to Calvin, whose thoughts on Scripture resonate deeply with me. Having been in a number of different kinds of churches that embraced a spectrum of teaching which varied largely due to their views on Scripture, from strict literal interpretations to pick-and-choose, I have come to love the Word of God as set down in the Bible as it reveals to us all that God has deemed needful for us to know about Himself and what he has done for us- because of who He is- in His Son, Jesus Christ.

After discoursing on how nature reveals to everyone that there is indeed a Creator, yet is not sufficient to tell us all that we must know about Him, Calvin moves to the topic of Scripture, and how vital it is for our knowledge of the one true God. We see in the Bible that God made Himself known to Adam, Noah, Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs by various means of communication;

"But whether God became known to the patriarchs through oracles and visions or by the work and ministry of men, he put into their minds what they should then hand down to their posterity... there is no doubt that firm certainty of doctrine was engraved in their hearts, so that they were convinced and understood that what they had learned proceeded from God. For by his Word, God rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion." (italics mine)

Superior to all opinion. What a blessed relief, what security! That God's Word speaks for itself and can be clearly understood as it was meant to be. We had been tossed about by the opinions of men regarding the Word of God to such a degree as to render us paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. There are still moments when, reading certain passages in Scripture, I must pause and sweep away the opinions that would weigh my heart down and ensnare my mind with grave errors. As we have found to be so very true, Calvin boldly states;

"For errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein."


In establishing the credibility of Scripture- which we still must do with the world around us- Calvin discusses the simplicity of the language used to communicate the divine message;

"For it was also not without God's extraordinary providence that the sublime mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven came to be expressed largely in mean and lowly words, lest, if they had been adorned with more shining eloquence, the impious would scoffingly have claimed that its power is in the realm of eloquence alone. Now since such uncultivated and almost rude simplicity inspires greater reverence for itself than any eloquence, what ought one to conclude except that the force of the truth of Sacred Scripture is manifestly too powerful to need the art of words? Therefore the apostle rightly contends that the faith of the Corinthians was founded 'upon God's power, not upon human wisdom' (1 Cor 2:5)"... For truth is cleared of all doubt when, not sustained by external props, it serves as its own support."

How I relate to "uncultivated and rude simplicity" when it comes to communicating the gospel! Praise God that it depends not upon my own eloquence, but upon his Spirit, as Calvin affirms here;

"There are other reasons, neither few nor weak, for which the dignity and majesty of Scripture are not only affirmed in godly hearts, but brilliantly vindicated against the wiles of its disparagers; yet of themselves these are not strong enough to provide a firm faith, until our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty there, lifts reverence for Scripture beyond the realm of controversy. Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit."

On the necessity of keeping Scriptural truth as the foundation upon we base our doctrine;

"... in promising it (his Spirit) of what sort did he declare his Spirit would be? One that would speak not from himself but but would suggest to and instill into their minds what he had handed on through the Word [John 16:13]. Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel." (italics mine)

And the point of Scripture... may I always keep this in mind whether reading the lyrical beauty of the Psalms, or slogging doggedly through the book of Numbers;

"Indeed, the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him. By this we can learn to worship him both with perfect innocence of life and with unfeigned obedience, then to depend wholly upon his goodness."

There is so much more in the past week's reading that I would love to share here, but I will close with one last thought on the enjoyment of Scripture, and an example to dispel any ideas that reading Calvin is dry and dull;

"... those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking tastebuds."

Well put.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Philadelphia Museum of Art

This past Saturday we kidnapped Jim away from the many projects and never-ending issues with work and took him to Philadelphia to celebrate his birthday. He truly enjoys museums of any and every kind, so we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the day. Yes, the "Rocky steps" museum, (and yes, we ran up the steps- most of us, anyway). The weather was clear, sunny and COLD, so a day spent indoors was fabulous. Photography was allowed in most of the museum, without flash, so, armed with the camera we proceeded to explore the museum!

Around the base of the George Washington statue in front of the museum are statues of animals found in the American wild. As with the lions of Trafalgar Square in London, we climb right up with them for a shot.

Ready to go find Art!

Erin and Bekah admiring European art from 1100-1500.

The display of Arms and Armor was very interesting.

Enthralled by late 19th Century to early 20th Century European masterpieces.

Our unfamiliarity with ancient Asian art does not diminish our appreciation for its beauty. Bekah here admires antique scent bottles, as lovely as the fragrances they once held.

Thomas Eakins, 1844-1916, one of America's few indisputably great painters, and from Philadelphia, so a whole section of the American Art wing was dedicated to his work.

The girls guarding the innocence of their little brother's eyes... Beware the boobies! (background- Thomas Eakins)

Van Gogh... just soak it in...

Museum visit finished, we prepare to return home. Happy birthday Jim.

For more photos of our day, visit my facebook albums, Philadelphia Museum of Art, album 1 and Philadelphia Museum of Art, album 2.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We Finally Got Snow For Keeps!

At last, SNOW! Snow to last for a few days even! The kids have gone sledding and played outdoors in the white stuff. They have marveled at the number of animal tracks found crossing the yard each morning, and then marred those tracks by letting Vali run and play in the snow. We have had fires going in the fireplace and wood stove almost constantly, to add additional warmth to our cold house as well as atmosphere. Nothing like a crackling fire to make one feel instantly warmer!

Right in front of our house- before the plows have come by.

Walking through the yard in the muffled quiet of the snowy evening.

Holly berries.

Milo gets a whiff- he remembers living outdoors and is so grateful for our cozy house!

No filter on the lens, as it darkened outside the camera captured the landscape in tones of blue- I wonder if there's a temperature sensor on my camera?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Curious Parallel

In reading John Calvin's Institutes, book one, chapter five, I came across a passage that reminded me of a speech in Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. Somewhere in my background reading on Calvin, one of the authors theorized that, due to the timing and wide distribution of the Institutes, it was conceivable that Shakespeare may have had the opportunity to read them himself. So now I wonder at the curious parallel I find here...

In discussing how so many men see ample evidence of a Creator even in their own bodies, Calvin writes,

"They see such exquisite workmanship in their individual members, from mouth and eyes even to their very toenails... But such agile motions of the soul, such excellent faculties, such rare gifts, especially bear upon the face of them a divinity that does not readily allow itself to be hidden..." (p. 56)

And now the Bard,

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" (Act II, scene ii)


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Change Is Our Normal

Change happens. This we know for sure. Not all change is bad, although some change hurts. But every change that comes our way is directed by a loving and good God, so we embrace the changes and seek to grow from them.

One change that has occurred in the past couple of months, which I did not feel at liberty to write about right away, is that Kate broke up with Alex. So, no wedding plans. Not dealing with this as a trite issue, but that really is all that I want to say.

Nathaniel is experiencing his own change, as he is moving from Hawaii to Ft. Campbell, KY this month. Sort of a cruel time to move from tropical paradise to winter, but, there he is. Kentucky being a much easier drive than Hawaii we are thrilled with the prospect of seeing more of Nathaniel in the near future!

Another change for which we are preparing, and at times seems like an adventure, is Jim's new job. Working for DHL has been a good run for Jim and the company has time and again shown that they value him and his contribution. Now though, times are tough everywhere, not the least in DHL domestically. His job here would soon end, so when given an offer from the International side of the company, after much prayer and seeking counsel from others, we decided that he should accept the new position.

The reason this was not a slam-dunk decision is that the position is in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Yup, the Middle East. Now, Dubai is not Tehran. The UAE has structured its laws to accommodate the large number of foreign nationals living there, in order to encourage the vast amount of business that now flows through and makes it rather unique in that area of the world. The original offer was for the kids and I to move with him to Dubai. But Jim and I have chosen to keep our family here, where we have just begun to feel settled and not uproot the kids again. Since his new job will require extensive travel we still wouldn't see much of him even if we did live there. So he will move there, and return home for visits as often as he can, and the kids and I may get to visit him there once even!

We have experienced something similar to this once before when, in 2003-04 Jim was in Brussels for 7 months. Being somewhat familiar with European culture helped while Jim was in Brussels, but we mostly know of the Middle East from what we see on the News- and the majority of that is rather unfavorable. So, needless to say, we have been doing our homework and researching quite a bit about this city in the sand, perched on the edge of the Persian Gulf. This article from National Geographic was one of the first I came across. Dubai's own website was also rather informative. Most importantly, we discovered that, as a Christian, Jim will be allowed to practice his faith and attend one of the many churches in Dubai. Whew!

We are trying to view this as an adventure; a bridge to other potential positions in the company instead of just a job on the other side of the planet. Please remember us in your prayers as we work through the remaining details before Jim leaves, (sometime next month).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Legacy of John Calvin

As I am currently sick, and original thought comes at a steep price, I will here simply mention a slim volume concerning John Calvin which I have just finished. The Legacy of John Calvin, His Influence on the Modern World, by David W. Hall is a quick read. An overview of the enduring influence that Calvin had on the ideas that eventually shaped modern civilization in general and America in particular, I heartily recommend this book.

A thorough review being beyond the powers of my feeble and feverish mind at the moment, (assuming my mind, in full health, would be capable, is still rather a stretch) I will merely quote J. I. Packer, as he is quoted in the book.

"It is now four hundred years (in 1964) since John Calvin died. Why should we concern ourselves with him today? Why should we regard him as a man worthy of commemoration at the present time?

It would be answer enough to this question simply to point out that his influence on history was so immense that you cannot begin to explain modern Britain- England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland- nor modern Europe, nor modern America, nor indeed any English-speaking country anywhere, without making reference to him. You cannot leave him out of the story of any part of the Western world.

It is not always realized, but it is true nonetheless, that for a century and more after his death John Calvin was quite literally the world's most influential man, in the sense that his ideas made more history than did the thoughts, or actions, of anyone else who was alive at the time...

If we look at more recent history, and think of men like Edwards, Brainerd, Whitefield, ... Wilberforce, Spurgeon, Carey, ... we see at once that the evangelical movement which began with revival in the eighteenth century, and the social and missionary movements which overflowed from it throughout the nineteenth century, could not have been what they were without John Calvin; for these great leaders, and a host of others who stood with them, were all Calvinists in their basic creed.

Thus we may fairly say that if we are going to understand our religious and cultural heritage in this mid-twentieth century, it is absolutely essential that we should know something about Calvin."

And later: "At the heart of Calvin's Christianity there was a vision and a passion. The vision was of God on the throne, God reigning in majesty. How often Calvin used the words "majesty" and "glory"! How often he dilates on the greatness of God! The passion corresponded to the vision. It was the passion expressed in that great phrase which has become the slogan of Calvinism- soli Deo gloria! It was the longing that the Almighty Creator and Redeemer, the Source and Stay and End of all things, should receive the praise and worship and adoration that were his due."

I pray that as I read through John Calvin's summa pietatis, that I too may capture that vision, and better understand the gift of God in my Savior, Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo gloria- to God alone be the glory!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gems From Calvin

A few thoughts to share on this blustery, icky-weather day. Bible Study is canceled and school had a two-hour delay due to freezing rain- yuck. (when will we get snow?!) Isaac is home for a second day sick; while the antibiotics work on his throat he's re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended versions.

And the closest thing to a quiet day at home has commenced. I really believed that the children's return to school would calm things down for me, but such has not been the case. I have been able to begin my reading of John Calvin's Institutes this morning, (accompanied by the soundtrack from the next room) and am already enthralled at the wealth that this volume holds.

Beginning with the Epistle Dedicatory to Francis, King of the French, wherein Calvin appeals to the king to give the Evangelicals a fair hearing rather than permit the persecution that has been inflamed by misrepresentations of their teachings. Calvin's humility before the Monarch, combined with his confidence based upon his assurance of the truth of Scripture is beautifully balanced in this letter and provides an insight to his motives.

Here, then, is a sampling...

In answer to the charges of arrogance, which Calvinists today still unjustly face: "... as we ought to presume nothing of ourselves, so we ought to presume all things of God; nor are we stripped of vainglory for any other reason than to glory in the Lord."

In appealing for Truth over "custom:" "Indeed, if men's judgments were right, custom should have been sought of good men. But it often happens far otherwise: what is seen being done by the many has obtained the force of custom; while the affairs of men have scarcely ever been so well regulated that the better things pleased the majority."

On the nature of the true church: "(the true church) has quite another mark, namely, the pure preaching of God's Word and the lawful administration of the sacraments."

On the distinction between pure doctrine and "lying doctrine:" "Here is, as it were, a certain characteristic of the divine Word, that it never goes forth while Satan is at rest and sleeping. This is the surest and most trustworthy mark to distinguish it from lying doctrines, which readily present themselves, are received with attentive ears by all, and are listened to by an applauding world." (seeker sensitive, anybody?)

And, finally, good reason for anybody, friend or foe of Calvinism, to read the Institutes: "Your mind is now indeed turned away and estranged from us, even inflamed, I may add against us; but we trust that we can regain your favor, if in a quiet, composed mood you will once read this our confession, which we intend in lieu of a defense before your Majesty."

Indeed, read on!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cool New Gadget

I discovered through, of all things, a church bulletin, a new gadget to add to the blog. It's called "reftagger", and when I put in a Bible reference, say, Gen 1:1, all you need to do to see the text of the verse is hover your mouse over it and a little window will pop up showing the text! How cool is that?! I am veritably surging with technical know-how.

Hee hee. I just really like the cool toys available to folks like me who can't write code.

So then, ready... set... Hover your mouses!

Rom 3:23

Rom 6:23

Rom 5:8

Romans 10:10 - 13

And that, my friends, is the "Romans Road".

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Reading Plan

Here's a reading plan for Calvin's Institutes, and Reformation 21 will be Blogging the Institutes this year. More help and encouragement!

They've Arrived!

Keil & Delitzsch are here at last! As are Hendriksen and Kistemaker!

Allow me to explain. As I have participated in and facilitated Bible Studies in years past I have often supplemented my own deficient understanding of the Scriptures with the thoughts and scholarship of those far more knowledgeable than myself. I have a few good resources at hand already, but have longed for more in-depth insight. My own mentor, Toni, in Florida, often referred to her commentary on the Old Testament by Keil & Delitzsch. My dear husband knew of my desire to finish filling the bookshelves with such a set, and so he ordered them for my Christmas gift.

A single set on the Old Testament alone seems so unbalanced though, so he also ordered the commentary by Hendriksen and Kistemaker, "the only complete commentary on the New Testament written solely from a Reformed perspective", according to CBD.

"The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament contain the divine revelations which prepared the way for the redemption of fallen man by Christ. The revelation of God commenced with the creation of the heaven and the earth, when the triune God called into existence a world teeming with organized and living creatures, whose life and movements proclaimed the glory of their Creator; whilst, in the person of man, who was formed in the image of God, they were created to participate in the blessedness of the divine life. But when the human race, having yielded in its progenitors to the temptation of the wicked one, and forsaken the path appointed by its Creator, had fallen a prey to sin and death, and involved the whole terrestrial creation in the effects of its fall; the mercy of God commenced the work of restoration and redemption, which had been planned in the counsel of the triune love before the foundation of the world. Hence, from the very beginning, God not only manifested His eternal power and godhead in the creation, preservation, and government of the world and its inhabitants, but also revealed through His Spirit His purpose and desire for the well-being of man. This manifestation of the personal God upon and in the world assumed, in consequence of the fall, the form of a plan of salvation, rising above the general providence and government of the world, and filling the order of nature with higher powers of spiritual life, in order that the evil, which had entered through sin into the nature of man and passed from man into the whole world, might be overcome and exterminated, the world be transformed into a kingdom of God in which all creatures should follow His holy will, and humanity glorified into the likeness of God by the complete transfiguration of its nature. These manifestations of divine grace, which made the history of the world "a development of humanity into a kingdom of God under the educational and judicial superintendence of the living God," culminated in the incarnation of God in Christ to reconcile the world unto Himself."
- from the General Introduction to the Five Books of Moses, by Keil & Delitzsch.

What beauty of scholarship and expression- I can't wait!