I was directed to The Bible Project recently by my friend and mentor Daniel Viezbicke. It’s an attempt by a Bible teacher and a graphic designer to explain the Bible in a simple and unified way, using 5-10 minute animated videos. Their conviction is that “The Bible is a unified narrative that leads to Jesus and has profound wisdom for the modern world.”
I haven’t kept to my once-a-week minimum of posting that I had going in February and March. Forgive me.
I wrote last month about my goal to read a short and spiritually nourishing book each month this year. The book I read in March was John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. The material was originally part of his Institutes, but was later published separately. My copy is 94 pages.
Calvin has five headings in this little book: “Humble Obedience,” “Self-denial,” “Patience in Crossbearing,” “Hopefulness for the next world,” and “The Right Use of the Present Life.” What amazes me about this book is how incredibly pastoral it is. Regardless of your theological persuasion, most of us don’t think of Calvin as being particularly pastoral. But of course he was- the man lived and taught in Geneva, home to people from every corner of Europe who had fled the wrath of the Catholic or Anglican church because of their religious convictions. He himself was a religious refugee of sorts. And it comes out in his writing, in gentleness, spiritual discernment, and great compassion.
His gentleness, especially in dealing with sinful people, is evident. Consider:
A sincere repentance from the heart does not guarantee that we shall not wander from the straight path and sometimes become bewildered.
Let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. There is no man so unhappy that he will not make some progress, however small.
Though we fall short, our labor is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one.
Imagine walking into your pastor’s office burdened with sin and hearing those words from his lips. There is so much comfort here, so much gentleness and pastoral wisdom!
When I say spiritual discernment, I mean that Calvin seems to so often see the root of the issue. Consider these excerpts:
The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life.
But our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.
[On cross-bearing] It is no small profit to be robbed of our blind self-love so that we become fully aware of our weakness; to have such and understanding of our weakness that we distrust ourselves; to distrust ourselves to such and extent that we put all our trust in God; to depend with such boundless confidence on God that we rely entirely on his help, that that we may victoriously persevere to the end; to continue in his grace that we may know he is true and faithful in all his promises; and to experience the certainty of his promises so that our hope may become firmer.
I think he just nails it in so many of these assertions he makes about the human heart, about God’s purpose in suffering, about the goal of our faith.
Calvin’s compassion for suffering comes out particularly here as well:
[On charity] When a member of our physical body is diseased and the whole body has to labor to restore it to health, we do not despise this diseased member or hold it under obligation because it needs all this assistance.
The more we are afflicted by adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed!
That no man might call sadness a vice, he has pronounced a blessing on them that mourn.
This is the reason why we see different persons disciplined with different crossed. The heavenly Physician takes care of the well-being of all his patients; he gives some a milder medicine and purifies others by more shocking treatments, but he omits no one; for the whole world, without exception, is ill.
Calvin was no ivory-tower theologian; I think it is evident from his writing that he suffered with his people, and tried as best he could both to comfort them in pain and to teach them to suffer well. I particularly love that last excerpt; the concept of God loving his own with distinction is one I’ve written about before.
I had read Golden Booklet before, and I’ll definitely read it again. I highly recommend it.
At the end of 2014, I decided to read a short (~100 pages), spiritually nourishing book each month during 2015. About half of the books I lined up are ones I have read before, but they’re the sort of books that a man ought to come back to again and again throughout his life.
Being as I was on a blogging hiatus in January, I didn’t record my thoughts from January’s book of the month (Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle– it’s one of my all-time favorites), but I’d like to do so from here on out– “and this will we do, if God permit.”
February’s book was one I hadn’t read before: The Loveliness of Christ, by Samuel Rutherford. It’s a collection of excerpts from his Letters, and most of them are only a line or two (the excerpts, not the letters). It’s very encouraging. Rutherford seems to have suffered much in his life, or been around people who suffered much, because most of the saying in this little book concern trials, crosses, scourges, deep waters, and the like.
I see two prominent themes from these pages: Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings, and the strange and wonderful ever-newness of Christ to those who seek him.
The way Rutherford talks about Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings is so comforting and so encouraging. Consider these gems:
He delighteth to take up fallen bairns [children] and to mend broken brows: binding up of wounds is his office.
There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him.
He taketh the bairns in his arms when they come to a deep water; at least, when they lose ground, and are put to swim, then his hand is under their chin.
It is our heaven to lay many weights and burdens upon Christ. Let him find much employment for his calling with you; for he is such a Friend as delighteth to be burdened with suits and employments; and the more homely ye be with him, the more welcome.
I could go on– there is so much in these brief pages of the sweetness of Christ, his tender healing hand, his eagerness to take the sorrows of sinners up into himself and to soothe them!
Equally, Rutherford’s descriptions of how new Christ is every day and how fathomless is the knowledge of Christ awakens wonder and worship in my soul. Him again:
Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love hath neither brim nor bottom.
There are infinite plies [folds] in his love that the saints will never win to unfold.
I think I see more of Christ than ever I saw; and yet I see but little of what may be seen.
I am sure that the saints at their best are but strangers to the weight and worth and the incomparable sweetness of Christ. He is so new, so fresh in excellency, every day of new, to these that search more and more in him, as if heaven could furnish as many new Christs (if I may speak so) as there are days betwixt him and us, and yet he is one and the same.
O, we love an unknown lover when we love Christ.
I am glad I read Rutherford in February– I’ve needed him this month. I’m not much for books of quotations or pithy sayings, but The Loveliness of Christ is well worth it to read a saying or two with your Bible reading in the morning, or on your lunch break, or before you go to sleep at night. Let the Spirit use his gospel words to cause faith to rise within your heart. You’ll be glad you did.
Hey, Since I took such a long break from posting, I need to do a bit of back-writing. It’s been a while since I recommended a book, and I read some humdingers in the last year. One sticks out particularly in my mind: A Higher Call by Adam Makos.
2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown and his crew were aboard their B-17 bomber (“Ye Olde Pub”) in their first bomb run to destroy an aircraft production facility in Bremen on December 20th, 1943. Before the plane could release its payload, flak from anti-aircraft fire hit the plane and took out two of its engines, forcing it to throttle down and drop behind the formation of B-17s, making it a target for the enemy fighters which were mobilizing to repel the attack.
Those enemy fighters, over a dozen German 109 fighter jets, swarmed the crippled B-17 and attacked in a series of manuevers for about ten minutes before disengaging, during which a third engine was lost, the tail gunner was killed, the planes systems thrown into complete disarray, and Charlie passed out. He awoke to find the plane in a dive and managed to right it at 100o ft.
Charlie now had a choice to make: he could try to make it back to base by flying over the northern coast of Germany out over the sea and toward England, or he and his remaining men could parachute out of their severely damaged plane and hope that the Luftwaffe would find them, rather than the SS. Given that some of his men were too badly wounded to survive a parachute drop, he decided on the much more risky flight home, knowing the odds of their survival were slim flying over Germany’s coast with its anti-aircraft defenses.
Shortly before reaching the heavily fortified coast, another German 109 came upon the limping bomber. With 8 of her 11 guns taken out, the crew of Ye Olde Pub were defenseless against the smaller craft, and could not even perform evasive maneuvers. Charlie Brown was desperate, and sure that death had come to them at last. Strangely, then, the German pilot did not fire. He instead flew in formation with the American vessel, ensuring safe passage past the ground defenses who saw the outline of the German plane and did not fire on either aircraft. The German pilot flew wingtip to wingtip with the B-17 until they were safely out over the sea before saluting a mystified Charlie Brown and peeling away back toward Germany.
Well-written and compelling from start to finish, this book may be one of the best I’ve ever read. The events I’ve just described form the crux of the book (It’s all on the back cover, so I haven’t given anything away), but the backgrounds of both the German and the American pilot are what make this story so engaging. A friend complained to me not long ago that we’re now being inundated with WW2 stories, but if they’re all as heroic and selfless as this one, then there is a reason for the wealth of novels, biographies, and movies coming to us from that era. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It’ll inspire you and even encourage your faith, if you’ve eyes to see it.
A Higher Call is definitely a must-read. Let me know what you think.
Sitting down to write just now, I popped in my headphones and went to my favorite site for this sort of thing, called Rainy Mood. It’s a site which provides white noise while you work, but with Youtube sort of stuck in so you can mash the soothing sound of a thunderstorm with tunes or lectures or whatever it is you listen to whilst you work. One of my favorites is Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie, and you can access it on Rainy Mood here. Or you can opt out of Youtube and play your own music. Right now I’m going withTobias Hume’s Musical Humors. I highly recommend it for background music, and I highly recommend Rainy Mood for background noise. It beats the sound of the highway outside my window, anyway. Check it out.
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly repent.
I have maintained in the past that reading D.A. Carson is like dragging a cheese-grater across my eyeballs. I had a bad experience.
In my adult life, I have rarely been so entranced by a (respectable) book that I’m unable to put it down, finishing it in one day. I think the last one was Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. But Exegetical Fallacies is one such book. So here it is: Don, I’m so sorry I said that reading your books is like dragging a cheese-grater across my eyeballs. You’re a wonderful man.
Not only is this book concise, easy to understand, full of clear examples, and extremely helpful to all those called to the ministry of the Word; it’s also incredibly funny, in a dry, Don Carson-like way. Here are some quotes which I thought were just funnier taken out of context:
“Perhaps we should play a laugh-track while the offering plate is being circulated” (p. 34).
“Who is going to bear the babies? Or do I know get my turn?” (p. 92).
“Unfortunately, the letter writer was unable to understand this point” (p. 101).
“…our cross becomes… (God forgive us!) a joke” (p. 103).
What a gem.
Seriously, this book is full of Carson gold. Because he uses so many examples of bad exegesis from so many different debates and issues, one bonus in this book is just being able to see Carson weigh in on everything from gender relations to dispensationalism to historical criticism, offering a sentence or two here, a paragraph there. Very enlightening and engaging.
I have some questions about some concepts he introduces in the beginning, and there are some fallacies I would like to have seen fleshed out more, but I would heartily recommend this book to anyone serious about reading the Bible and discerning its meaning rightly.
Dr. Carson, I hope you read this post someday, and accept both my apologies for ever doubting you as well as my suggestion to write a part deux to your book, covering all the headings you raised in the last chapter. You’re my hero.
Ha- in writing that title, I can visualize the disbelief on the faces of some of my more doctrinally minded friends. Before I read Blue Like Jazz, it occupied the same space in my mind as books like The Shack, Your Best Life Now, and anything by Joyce Meyer (by the way, I haven’t read Osteen or Meyer. I’m not making a claim about the books per se, but about my preconceived notions of those books. Please don’t be angry with me).
But I just finished Blue Like Jazz a few days ago, and I do think it’s worth reading. Don Miller has a very heartfelt and loving way of pointing out some weaknesses he has seen in American Evangelical churches, and he tries to correct these weaknesses with humility.
I think there are some questions Blue Like Jazz doesn’t answer, but I’m not sure Don Miller was intending to answer questions as much as cast a vision. And I think he did a pretty good job of that. I was edified and challenged through the book (and I didn’t even have to take off my theologian’s hat to do it, although sometimes I had to raise my eyebrows dangerously), and I honestly can recommend it to anyone who has grown up in the church and sometimes feels like the 10-dollar words don’t carry the same weight they used to.