The End of Many Books

The Imaginative World of the Reformation

by Peter Matheson

I finished this book a couple years ago but it’s been in my “currently reading” list since then. No longer! I read it in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, and I figured I’d post a review today in preparation for Reformation Day tomorrow.

Matheson argues:

“The Reformation…was more a song or a symphony than a system, more lyric than lecture, more a leap of the imagination than one of those social restructurings we are so heartily sick of today. It certainly produced systems, lectures and structures as well, but they were secondary.” (loc. 215)

This is not a disparaging word against the solas, it’s just that justification by faith alone belonged with abundant life not only clarified doctrines, let alone liberation from self-serving religious authorities. The Reformation gave Protestants freedom to read God’s Word, freedom to share communion, freedom from traditionalism and from dualism. It was a freedom to imagine (not outside reality but new concepts of reality) that daily work and survival meant something to God and was a good given by God.

“the Reformation can be seen as an infinitely varied, but coherent and extended, metaphor for the bountifulness of God’s grace.” (loc. 99)

Should you read this? You should put it in your queue if you’ve already read a lot of Luther and Calvin first, and if you’re interested to see how preaching was (actually only) a part of how nations were turned upside down.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

Gospel Odor

Worldliness dulls our senses. It is harder to describe what it feels like to be wet when we are submerged in water, and it is harder to stand out from the world when we’re standing in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1). This is one of the reasons why worship sharpens our senses. Worship is a renewal of identity, of our distinct and named identity in Christ.

He names us and He gives us our essence. He makes our lives smelly.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

I trust its not pressing the analogy too far, but, how close do others need to get to you, and how much proactive sniffing effort do others need to make to smell your life? Some of you have a distinct gospel odor; your neighbors and co-workers and unbelieving family can tell when you’re coming. Likewise your brothers and sisters in the body catch a whiff of your life and give thanks to God. Your life is a savory fragrance of life to them.

Others perhaps need our communion to renew the aroma. May the Spirit douse you with faith and love and service and patient endurance for sake of the Son.

Verse 16 ends with the question: “Who is sufficient for these things?” The obvious answer is that none of us are, but the gospel is the gospel of grace.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Faithful Sons

When we were starting a church almost nine years ago, we considered naming it Trinity Reformed Evangelical Church. God’s triune nature is the origin of love and fellowship, which He made us to experience and to have with Him. Evangelical got shortened to Evangel, because “evangelical” is like word-soup, usually too hot or too cold, and “evangel” makes people’s tongues trip enough to wonder why (it’s the original word for gospel). As for Reformed, that didn’t make the final cut in the name, but it is still a crucial part that we care about.

“Reformed and still reforming” tags us as conscious of our history and conscious of the lessons of our history. We stand on the shoulders of many 16th Century Reformers who loved the gospel too well to see it trampled on. We give thanks to God for men such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Knox, and John Calvin. We consider the outcome of their way of life and we imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

The outcome of their lives was the glory of God in the light of the gospel of free grace received by faith alone. They turned their respective nations upside down in Christ’s name, and may we be faithful sons.

We will do that as we imitate their faith, which, of course, is not faith in them. Imitating their faith means relying wholeheartedly and completely and directly on God through Christ. We read the Reformers’ teachings on and interpretations of Scripture because they teach us to read and obey the Bible. It’s why all of them worked hard to translate God’s Word into the vernacular of their people. As we prepare for another Reformation Day on October 31, there is no better way to do so than to read, listen, meditate, and submit to God’s Word. #KeepTheFeast

The End of Many Books

Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader

edited by James D. Bratt

Even though it took me more than five years to finish this book, I loved it. James Bratt collected and introduced sixteen of Kuyper’s essays on a variety of subjects such as modernism, common grace, Calvinism and constitutional liberties, evolution, sphere sovereignty, and education. I found this unique photo in the book, and found some current application for his thoughts on sanctimoniousness and powerlessness.

Should you read this? Probably not first, though it does give a bunch of Kuyper’s foundational thoughts in one volume.

I’d recommend starting with Lectures on Calvinism, then Wisdom and Wonder, and then Our Worship. I’ve started making my way through his Collected Works in Public Theology, but it’s quite a number of thumb’s-widths wide.

5 of 5 stars

Every Thumb's Width


The tree in my front yard
A Shot of Encouragement

Trinitarian Goals

I not only appreciate this Mission Statement from Fred Sanders, I am a big beneficiary of his efforts. #blessed

“I teach theology in order to increase the odds on the doctrine of the Trinity doing its proper work in the church; in particular I am a content provider for evangelical trinitarianism.”

Buy yourself a copy of The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything or buy a dozen copies and give them to your people, like a Trinitarian.

The End of Many Books

It’s Your Ship

Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

I appreciated the stories and principles in this book. I did not like the egalitarianism found near the end, but reading to the end was worth it because that’s when he at least let a little off the air out of his humble-brags. Anyway, a leader should keep learning, keep listening, and keep leading.

“the winning leader’s first principle: Optimism rules. And the corollary: Opportunities never cease. The bottom line: It’s your ship. Make it the best.”

Should you read this? If you lead somewhere, then yes, put this into your non-urgent but needing-a-shot-in-the-arm queue.

3 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

Maybe More Effective Than a Curse

If you remember the story of Balak and Balaam from the book of Numbers you probably remember that Balaam didn’t accomplish what Balak asked. But it turns out, Balaam was quite effective, just in another way.

Balak, the king, originally tried to hire Balaam, a prophet, to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1-6). Balaam was interested in the money, and was almost killed on his way to meet Balak, saved by his faithful donkey who stopped him short of the sword of the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:23, 25, 27). The LORD prohibited Balaam from cursing Israel, in fact, the LORD caused Balaam to pronounce a verbal blessing on the, which only made Balak more irritated (Numbers 23:11-12).

However, a few chapters later, we learn that Balaam had some effective advice.

“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident in Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

The “incident” was the men of Israel taking Midianite women, committing sexual immorality with them, and then worshipping their gods. The Israelites weren’t pure in their relationships or their religion, and according to Moses, the temptations came about due to Balaam’s strategy.

Jesus refers to some in Pergamum who were holding to Balaam’s teaching (Revelation 2:14), and they were those indulging themselves similarly in immorality and idolatry.

But we should know better and not listen to anyone who “does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Saliva and Plastic as Gifts

Is communion more of a spiritual act or a physical act? It is both, of course. Just thinking about it isn’t obedience to the Lord’s ordinance, while eating and drinking without faith and the Spirit isn’t a means of blessing, but rather a reason for judgment.

There are a surprising number of tangible things that can distract us from the spiritual nature of the supper. It could be pain, it could be a rowdy kid, it could be a slow row, it could be a dry piece of bread. Keep your eyes on Christ.

But it is also possible for us to be so anxious about keeping our eyes on Christ that we miss all the things about this meal that He delights in. He chose for us to have bodies, that can experience pain or discomfort or fatigue, even death. He knows that. He apparently likes the idea of kids who need to learn self-control, and one of the ways they develop self-control is by watching you be self-controlled in response to their lack of self-control. And He gave you saliva to choke down dry bread if necessary, and He gave plastic to hold our wine so we don’t have to hold it in our hands.

The meditation is: Christ took on flesh and spent His body so that we could live for Him in our bodies, even now through the inconveniences and discomforts, all the way up to dangers. A further application is: if you (or your kid) spills, just let us know so that we can treat it. It’s all His and for Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Counting Waves

In our Omnibus class for adults we discussed On the Incarnation by Athanasius last Thursday night. It is a 1600 year-old book about God taking on flesh in Christ, and it is both accessible and encouraging. Near the end Athanasius wrote this:

“For as one cannot take in all the waves with one’s eyes, since those coming on elude the perception of one who tries, so also one who would comprehend all the achievements of Christ in the body is unable to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, for those that elude his thought are more than he thinks he has grasped.” (107)

This is not a discouragement to stand on the beach and watch a wave, nor a discouragement to read the Bible and look for the Logos. It is a reminder that however great what we see is to us, the reality is even greater. We could sooner count all the oxygen molecules in the sea than we could count all the glories of the Son.

As just one example, from Jesus’ self-identification to the church in Smyrna, He is “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” Where would our meditation on the waves of implications end?

At the Lord’s Table we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” I still get struck meditating on why Paul chose “death” as the element proclaimed. When we know who Jesus is, His death is the element that is the most surprising, even scandalous. How could “the first and the last” die? In some ways His resurrection is more obvious, what sticks out is that He died.

His death is His glory, and our redemption. Even though we cannot count the flood of blessings that come to us in Christ, we should swim in thanks.