Category: tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: To Be A Christian by J.I. Packer

In a day when the evangelical church is breaking doctrinal fetters in pursuance of wokeness, intersectionality and progressivism, “To Be a Christian” reads like a breath of fresh air.  I’ve been told more than once not to “put God in a box.”  But I’ve lately come to realize that Scripture already has.  Sound doctrine forms the parameters by which our infinite God is to be known and worshipped and taught.  Confessions, creeds, and catechisms, are an historically reliable way to teach those parameters.

In “To Be a Christian” the Anglican Church aims to catechize its members, both young and old, in the basic tenants of the Christian faith.  It does this by means of the traditional Question/Answer format and often in an eloquent manner well-deserving of quoting and memorization. For example, #5 under Salvation reads:

“Can you save yourself from the way of sin and death?  No. I have no power to save myself, for sin has corrupted my con- science, confused my mind, and captured my will. Only God can save me.” (25)

What makes this catechism unique from others in the reformed tradition is that it is written by Anglicans for Anglicans.  This becomes overtly apparent in the section, “Concerning Sacraments”  i.e. #149:

“What is absolution?  In absolution, a priest, acting under God’s authority, pronounces God’s forgiveness in response to repentance and confession of sin.” (62).

Now if that ain’t the Anglicanist thing you ever did hear!

I’m going to shelf this one for reference, but wouldn’t recommend it for use in family worship or instruction.  Unless ye be Anglican, of course.  Still, it was a comfort to read that in the essentials of the Christian faith, the Anglican Church seems to be upholding and instructing sound doctrine to its members.

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher but am not obligated to write favorable review.

Tolle Lege: A Bible Story

img_5778The tiny Bible pictured above is the second of its kind I owned.  The first, which my husband gifted to me on the occasion of the birth of our first child, proved the perfect size to hold in one hand and read aloud to a nursing infant.  Alas, it’s greatest strength proved it’s fatal flaw.  That Bible accidentally ended up in the laundry immediately following the birth of our fourth child, the unfortunate victim (I mean the Bible, not the baby) of its own diminutive size versus the mountains of laundry a family with 4 boys under the age of 6 is bound to produce.  The birth of our 5th son warranted the purchase of a nearly exact duplicate which I found equal to the task of being easy to hold with one hand while reading aloud to a nursing infant.  Precious hours of nourishment for mommy and baby both.

In 2016 I marked the New Year with a new Bible and a new resolve to read through it again.  This time I wasn’t bound to a baby in a rocking chair and opted for one of those new fangled clunky ESV Journaling Bibles that Crossway was becoming famous for.  Finally, I had plenty of space in which to sloppily scrawl my notes, making my Journaling Bible the least Instagram worthy in all of Bible Journaling history.  With that kind of reckless abandon you can only read through your Bible a couple times before it just becomes an illegible mess, such as is highlighted in the picture below.img_5771

So in 2019 I was thrilled to start the year with a complete set of Crossway’s ESV Scripture Journals.  Now I could study a single book and mark it up to my heart’s content and not ruin a whole Bible in the process.  Because each book of the Bible is bound individually it’s so convenient to carry whichever one your studying from or memorizing with you wherever you go.  They also make great gifts.  We gave away a number Gospel of Johns to folks we were evangelizing and who were shy of tackling the whole Bible.  To just be able to hand the book of Philippians to a sister who is in the pit of discouragement and say “hey, read this little book” made it so easy to get the Word of God into other people’s hands.  The downside to these Scripture Journals (pictured below) is that being individually bound you’re not likely to be carrying around the whole Bible with you in that format.

Enter 2020.  And a whole new chapter in my Bible story.  Yesterday I received in the mail the brand new ESV Journaling New Testament, Inductive Edition.  A mouthful to be sure but title aside it has all the space for notes as the Scripture Journals, only in a completely different format, but it’s bound in a single volume.  At least half of it is.  Apparently they’ve only published the New Testament so far and I’m dying to get my hands on a companion OT.  Hurry up Crossway!  I really, really like that the space for taking notes is in between each line instead of just in the margins like the Journaling Bible or on the opposite page like the Scripture Journals.  Take a look below at all those clean, luxurious blank spaces for me to mess up with my embarrassing sloppy scrawling.  Or maybe I should take a cue from Steve Lawson and take up writing everything neatly with a fountain pen.  After all it is a new decade.  No better time to start strange new habits than the present.

 

Tolle Lege: John Calvin- For a New Reformation

John Calvin

Just in time for Christmas!  I’ve been waiting to say that ever since I read how much Calvin hated this holiday :). Maybe hate is a strong word but he certainly wasn’t the fan Luther was.  Consider the following excerpt from Calvin’s 1551 Christmas Day sermon:

Now, I see here today more people that I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel. Did you think you would be honoring God? Consider what sort of obedience to God your coming displays. In your mind, you are celebrating a holiday for God, or turning today into one but so much for that. In truth, as you have often been admonished, it is good to set aside one day out of the year in which we are reminded of all the good that has occurred because of Christ’s birth in the world, and in which we hear the story of his birth retold, which will be done Sunday. But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are as crazed as wild beasts. For when you elevate one day alone for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just turned it into an idol. True, you insist that you have done so for the honor of God, but it is more for the honor of the devil.

Let us consider what our Lord has to say on the matter. Was it not Saul’s intention to worship God when he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, along with the best spoils and cattle? He says as much: ‘I want to worship God.’ Saul’s tongue was full of devotion and good intention. but what was the response he received? ‘You soothsayer! You heretic! You apostate! You claim to be honoring God, but God rejects you and disavows all that you have done.’ Consequently, the same is true of our actions. For no day is superior to another. It matters not whether we recall our Lord’s nativity on a Wednesday, Thursday, or some other day. But when we insist on establishing a service of worship based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol, though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity. Therefore, let us pay attention to what Micah is saying here, that God must not only strip away things that are bad in themselves, but must also eliminate anything that might foster superstition. Once we have understood that, we will no longer find it strange that Noel is not being observed today, but that on Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and recite the story of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all those who barely know Jesus Christ, or that we must be subject to him, and that God removes all those impediments that prevent us from coming to him, these folk, I say, will at best grit their teeth. They came here in anticipation of celebrating a wrong intention, but will leave with it wholly unfulfilled.

—From Calvin’s sermon preached on Christmas day 1551 in John Calvin, Sermons on the Book of Micah, trans. Benjamin Wirt Farley (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 302–04

Even though the above quote isn’t from the new book from Crossway, “John Calvin: For a New Reformation,” it’s timely topic gives us a glimpse of this polarizing figure whose life and works have become so recognizably relevant to the church today.  Now, to be honest, as relevant as Calvin may be, it was the other names on this volume that first drew my attention.  I mean to see the late R.C. Sproul’s name right on top as author of the afterward almost made me cry.  Editors Derek Thomas and John Tweeddale explain in the preface,

In this book, leading Reformed pastors and scholars reflect on the significance of the ministry and teaching of John Calvin for the church today (9).” 

The pastors and teachers–Stephen Nichols, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, Burk Parsons, Joel Beeke, and Keith Mathison, just to name a few–who author this book weren’t just what drew me to it, they prove to be its greatest strength.  You know what it’s like listening in to a bunch of friends and family members all sharing about the same loved one and starting to feel like you know that person so much better just from hearing others’ anecdotes?  This book is like that.  Only all the friends and family members are actually scholars on the subject.   But their genuine love and respect for the man shine through on every page.

What sets this biography apart from others is the format. Each chapter is written by a different author bringing a fresh perspective, a new voice and angle on Calvin’s life, works, and teachings.  That said, it also might be it’s greatest weakness, which honestly doesn’t detract much from the quality of this work.  Because you have so many authors contributing, sometimes they repeat facets of Calvins life and influence.  There is often a sense of being reintroduced to the subject matter each time you start a new chapter.  But this is a small price to say for the diversity and depth of perspective.

The last time I dove deep into a biography of this magnitude was with Ian Murray’s “Jonathan Edwards” and I have to say, the multi-author format made this tome far more digestible than would seem possible at first glance of its 600 pages.  My rating for this gem is definitely “Share It.”  And if you’re feeling particularly mischievous, wrap it up as Christmas present when you do so.  Calvin would just love that.

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Even though I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher I am not obligated in any way to submit a favorable review.