Resources on the Life, Writings and Legacy of John Calvin Print E-mail
The 500th Anniversary of John Calvin's birth (2009) has given rise to a flood of new books on the life, thought and legacy of the reformer.  Below is a list of some suggested reading – some new works, and some of enduring value. More introductory-level suggestions are at the top, followed by some more advanced suggestions for those already familiar with Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.
Christians and Cremation PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2008 10:52

Richard Mouw offered some brief and helpful thoughts on cremation on his blog, and it's resurrected some of my own recent wrestlings with this issue.

I think there are good “arguments” for and against the practice of cremation from a Christian perspective. I worry less about whether cremation poses any obstacles for God’s power to resurrect the dead, and more about how the practice can impact our attitude toward the physicality of life in the present. We do tend to treat our bodies as objects apart from ourselves, rather than part of our-selves. Pressing issues in bioethics offer plenty of good examples, and in the evangelical community it tends to be part and parcel of the larger world-denying rather than world-engaging spirituality. If ultimately, God's plan is to redeem our bodies and indeed all creation, how should that impact the way we treat our own bodies and the creation now?  (Gilbert Meilaender has an interesting article on this issue, and he touches on cremation, in the February 2007 issue of Touchstone, called “Broken Bodies Redeemed.”)

Benedict XVI: Christian faith is personal encounter, not moralism PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2008 10:16
In an address to a group at the Vatican yesterday, Benedict XVI, while reflecting on Paul's conversion, noted that Christianity "is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church - touch Christ's heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian."

Though in some ways this is an unremarkable statement of mere Christianity, I think this succinct statement is a nice contradiction of the impression one can get of the Pope from American media.  The composite picture of the Pope gleaned from mainstream media can make it seem as though he thinks of Christianity first and foremost as a set of moral restrictions.

There are a few reasons why the media focuses on the Pope's comments on the conflict between mainstream Christian ethics and western libertarian morals.  Obviously such comments seem newsworthy because they speak into the "culture war."  And the continuity of basic Christian ethics across the Protestant-Catholic divide has, of course, been one basis for recent rapproachment between evangelical Protestants and Catholics.  On that score, see the nice editorial from Richard Mouw in the New York Times, written during the Pope's visit to the U.S. last Spring.

The audio of the Pope's brief comments yesterday can be heard here.
Abyss or Embrace?: Life Between Death and Resurrection PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2008 18:00

The following is the second lecture in a series entitled "Living Hope: The Story of the Future Life." To download a copy of the lecture, click here.

This morning we continue under the theme of Living Wisdom: Forming Our Faith with the Mighty Dead. The premise of this theme is that the tradition of the church — as lived and taught by the “mighty dead,” the saints of ages past — has much to teach us today. In our first lecture I cited C.S. Lewis, who encouraged us to read “old books” as a way “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.” Paying attention to history has many benefits, not the least of which is the fact that history can illumine the major blind spots of our own age and re-awaken us to significant truths about faith and life that we have discarded, sometimes unintentionally. Our goal is not to become antiquarians — interested in history merely for its own sake. Instead, we enter the drama of history seeking “Living Wisdom,” insight that is very much alive and that we ourselves would do well to live. Though as Protestants we believe that our faith and life must ultimately be founded on the teaching of Scripture, we also know that the Spirit has worked throughout history in helping the church to come to a better understanding of the Word of God.

The Story of the Future Life, Lecture 1: A Firm Foundation: The Hope of the New Creation PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 April 2008 18:00

As Theologian-in-Residence at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX, my theme for special lectures this year is Living Wisdom: Forming Our Faith with the Mighty Dead. There will be four series of lectures under this theme. Our first series is "Living Hope: The Story of the Future Life." And this is the first lecture in that series. To download a copy of this lecture, click here.

Introducing the Series

I would like to begin today’s lecture with some words from G.K. Chesterton: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about." With those words, Chesterton touches upon a profound truth not often recognized by modern Christians: sometimes the greatest resources for facing our future are found in our past.

Fearing His Power, Drawn by His Goodness PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 22 February 2008 18:00

The Gospel lectionary text for today is Mark 5:1-20. It's the story of Jesus healing the demoniac who is possed by "Legion" -- many evil spirits. Jesus sends the evil spirits into the nearby herd of swine, who then charge into the lake and drown themselves. At this surprising display of power, the residents don’t give thanks for the healed man but are rather terrified by Jesus and ask him to leave.

There are a variety of ways to explain why the residents ask Jesus to leave. Were they just distraught over the loss of their possessions, their swine? Was this unleashing of spiritual power too much to handle, perhaps fearing what Jesus might do to or require of them? Calvin remarks that their fearful request for Jesus to leave reflects the basic quality of their present relationship with God:

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