Resources for Christian Formation

This Sunday we will wrap up our Christian Formation Sunday school class.  Below are some books that have greatly aided me as I've developed my own thoughts about Christian formation and catechesis within the life of the church. Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old Fashioned Way, by Gary Parrett and J.I. Packer.

The Family Worship Book, by Terry Johnson.

Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet, by Jason Stellman.

With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, by D.G. Hart and John Muether.

Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church, edited by Martin Downes.

Applied Redemption

As I have mentioned at the evening service (and I as recommended you read), I have been reading John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Dr. Murray provides a terrific reminder of the greatness of the saving grace of repentance in the life of a believer [p. 116]:

Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence. And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Saviour, so repentance results in constant contrition.

Please take up and read. This brief book will greatly enhance your understanding of Christ's work of redemption in your life and bring encouragement to you.

Chris Malamisuro

More Resources for Learning Reformed Catechisms

The White Horse Inn interviews Dr. Packer and Dr. Parrett (authors of the forth-coming book, Grounded in the Gospel) on the issue of the importance of catechesis in the local church.  This is an important interview as it addresses the question of how the church equips its young people with the truths of biblical doctrine. Listen here.

During the interview, Dr. Packer challenges us to relearn the Bible through catechesis with these words:

We today in the evangelical community are far further out of sync with Christian discipling in the first century and the apostolic age than we have any idea.  We claim to be Bible people, we talk a lot about the Bible, whereas they, in the first century, drilled people in Bible doctrine.  We simply don't do that....  We simply aren't close enoough to Bible doctrine, Bible truth, even to the Bible text, to really have the right to call ourselves evangelical Bible people.

Also - yet another book to help us learn the Reformed Catechisms.  In God's School: Foundations for a Christian Life.

In his preface Dr. Marcel writes, "Our knowledge of salvation can never be more than the Word of God, or such as God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures."  Wow, a better motivation to study biblical doctrine cannot be imagined!

Corporate Worship: God Addresses, Undresses, and Redresses His People

I am always glad to read thoughtful, biblical critiques of our corporate worship ideals, particularly when I personally need correction, and when that correction motivates and intensifies my desire for corporate worship.  Jason Stellman does just that in his book, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet (available in our church library).

Here's an excerpt:

At the root of Western culture's constant demand for new and improved worship experiences is not our unique inability to sit still for sixty minutes, but our fear of not being in control.  Unlike "first-person shooter" games and surfing the Internet, corporate worship is an activity in which we are neither the initiators nor the primary actors.  Instead, God addresses us with His gracious summons, undresses us with His holy law, and then redresses us in the righteous robes of His Son Jesus Christ.  The entire affair culminates with a meal at His table of grace, where we are fed and nourished for our continued pilgrimage to glory.  While God's people do participate with responses of prayer and praise, these are just that - responses to God's divine initiative rather than our own efforts to conjure up some feeling or experience to confirm what we already knew before we arrived (p. 6).

A Book on Parenting

Admittedly, I have never been too excited about the over-abundance of parenting books on the market.  Perhaps simply because there are so many - perhaps because so few of them address my personal parenting concerns and challenges - I don't know.  However, after reading the review of Gospel-Powered Parenting, by William Farley (published by P & R Publishing Co.), at challies.com, I am finally persuaded to pick up and read. I've not read the book yet, only the review, but to read the review is to catch a glimpse of a book that grounds our parenting in the power of the gospel.  And, in a world in which moralistic therapeutic deism dominates the religious minds of our children, isn't the gospel really what we need?

As a follow-up to his review, Tim Challies interviewed the author and that interview can be found here.

Happy Birthday John Calvin

I often miss birthdays, but here is one that is hard to miss.  The Reformed world has been acknowledging and commemorating Calvin's 500th birthday this year with a variety of publications and conferences, and today is his birthday. John Calvin was born in France in 1509, and he became one of the most influential Reformers during the crucial years of the Protestant Reformation.  Perhaps best known for his articulation of the doctrine of predestination, Calvin in fact contributed so much more to the life and theology of the Church.  His writings on various topics, such as the believer's union with Christ, sanctification, justification, the threefold mediatorial offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest and King), worship, the Holy Spirit, and the corruption of man, all combine to form a thoroughly God-exulting theology that has had enormous practical blessings for God's people.  While he is rightly celebrated as one of history's great theologians, his pastoral ministry is of great significance as well.  Calvin preached regularly (daily even) and his theology was always practiced, not in the ivory towers of a university setting, but in the daily life of the church.

There are many reasons John Calvin is important for the church today.  Perhaps one of the greatest is found in the simple fact that he was a reformer.  And, as history bears witness, as long as Christ's church remains in its "militant" (not-yet-triumphant) stage, true reformation will always be one of our greatest needs.  Like Calvin and the other Protestant reformers, may we be humble enough to recognize this, and bold enough to pursue it.

We are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him.  We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions.  We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal  (John Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1).

For further reading:

Beeke, Joel R. Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008.

Calvin, John.  Institutes of the Christian Religion.  (Various versions and translations are available).

Lawson, Seven J.  The Expository Genius of John Calvin.  Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2007.

Parsons, Burk, ed.  John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.  Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008.

A Review of 'John Calvin' by Simonetta Carr

As a parent, I am always looking for reading resources for my children which are true to the Christian faith without being preachy or moralistic. One such new resource, for ages 7-10, is in the church library: John Calvin by Simonetta Carr and beautifully illustrated by Emanuele Taglietti. This new book is the first in a proposed series, the 'Christian Biographes for Young Readers' series, from Reformation Heritage Books. Augustine, John Knox, and B. B. Warfield are among other anticipated volumes. This one came out first in honor of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth (July 10, 1509). The book has much to commend. Clearly written, Mrs. Carr deftly and ably distills Calvin's life and writings, highlighting the main points, noting his weaknesses, and drawing some important lessons from Calvin and the Reformation. In addition, she casts the story within the larger historic framework of the Reformation and Europe, noting important reformers like Martin Bucer and Theodore Beza as well as Roman Catholic foils such as Cardinal Sadoleto. The illustrations and pictures add depth to the story, giving clarity to Calvin's home, Geneva, and the Geneva Academy in Calvin's day. The broad layout, chapter tabs, time line, and 'Did You Know' section at the end all make the book user-friendly, adding depth to the story and explaining some things not common to us today. One such word was a game Calvin often played called 'quoits' similar to our game of horseshoes.

While this book is written for pre-teen children, most everyone would benefit from reading this book. It gives a concise, abridged version of Calvin's life and importance. Certainly all who are members of a church named in honor of this great reformer should have a working knowledge of his life. This book will provide that. Also, children will certainly benefit from hearing of a man who lived a life well spent. Calvin worked hard, studied hard, and produced vast resources which the church still uses today. Calvin is definitely a model for young children to emulate.

I would encourage you to check out this book to read to your children or have your children read it. While this serves as an introduction to Calvin's life, it may be a springboard to reading other hisitorical Reformation accounts as well. Happy reading!

A Communion Poem

While reading Philip Ryken's book, City on a Hill, I came across the following poem by Mark Noll.  The poem tangibly captures our desperate need for God's grace, and it reminds us how that grace is manifest to us at the Lord's Table.  As always, I'm anxious for the feast that will be set for Sunday morning. Note - Scots' form is a method of communion in which people come forward to tables in the front of the sanctuary to receive the sacrament.

Scot's form in the suburbs

by Mark A. Noll

The sedenatary Presbyterians

awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread

with white, to humble bits that showed how God

almighty had decided to embrace

humanity, and why these clean, well-fed,

well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.

The pious cruel, the petty gossipers

and callous climbers on the make, the wives

with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts

of stone, the ones who battle drink and do

not always win, the power lawyers mute

before this awful bar of mercy, boys

uncertain of themselves and girls not sure

of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in

alike by cash, physicians waiting to

be healed, two women side by side - the one

with unrequited longing for a child,

the other terrified by signs within

of life, the saintly weary weary in

pursuit of good, the academics (soft

and cossetted) who posture over words,

the travelers coming home from chasing wealth

or power or wantonness, the mothers

choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed

by children died or children lost, and some

with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes

of pain in chest or back or knee or mind

or heart.  They come, O Christ, they come

to you.

They came, they sat, they listened to the words,

"for you my body broken."  Then they ate

and turned away - the spent unspent, the dead

recalled, a hint of color on the psychic

cheek - from tables groaning under weight

of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.

The ESV Study Bible

The much anticipated ESV Study Bible has arrived (see introductory video below).  From my own perusal through it, it seems it will be a tremendously helpful resource for anyone interested in serious study of God's Word. Although not explicitly "Reformed" (such as Ligonier Ministries' The Reformation Study Bible), it will fit well on the shelf of any Reformed believer as it affirms a covenantal understanding of Scripture and the sovereignty of God over all things, including the salvation of men.

For example, the notes on Ephesians 1:4 say:

He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ), and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world.  This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.  God's initiative in redeeming the believer from sin and death was not an arbitrary or whimsical decision but something God had planned all along "in Christ."  Since God chose his people in his love, they can take no credit for their salvation.  God was determined to have them as his own.

You'll find a solid covenantal perspective in the introductory article, Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation, written by Vern S. Poythress.

One other note on the Bible - it's big.  Really big.  Almost 3,000 pages.

This bible will be a tremendous resource for all Christians and I heartily recommend it.