Mr. Terpstra is a member of the Faith Protestant Reformed Church of Jenison, Michigan.
Welcome to the world of books, especially good, Reformed books! And yes, probably some books that are not so Reformed, maybe even some that are quite Deformed, which good Reformed readers nevertheless should read and learn from. Having been appointed to this rubric, my sister Sue Looyenga and I hope to stir up some good reading habits on the part of our Standard Bearer audience, young and older. We plan to write regular reviews with a more positive emphasis, recommending solid Reformed and Christian books of all types and for all ages. We purpose to encourage and inspire you to read books that will challenge your thinking, feed your soul, and strengthen you in your faith and walk with the Lord. And we will be enlisting other reviewers from all walks of life to read and recommend books to you too. That is what you may look forward to in the coming year, D.V.
In this opening article and review, we want to encourage our readers to become greater readers, i.e., to read more and to read better books. We trust that you are readers; after all, you subscribe to the SB, and you are reading this article. That is a good sign. And if you read this magazine, you probably read others too. And, no doubt, you read some books—an interesting novel now and then; perhaps a new history biography, or a great war story. We hope you know where your local library is, and visit it on a regular basis. And we trust you read some good Christian books too, especially those of the Reformed stripe! We hope you visit your local Christian bookstore from time to time, and browse, and buy a title that grabs your attention and interest. With winter soon settling in for us “northerners” (but this applies equally to our “southerners”), now is a perfect time to take a Friday night “book hunt” outing.
We realize there is much fluff and rubbish in the Christian bookstores these days, but you will also find some treasures that are worth having and reading. You may even be surprised at what you find in the secular bookstores. I have found several classics of the Christian faith at Barnes and Noble and such like stores. (P.S. I will make some recommendations about a few great Internet resources for good Reformed/Christian titles at the end of this article.) And what about those great RFPA books that you purchase as a book club member? They’re not simply gracing the bookshelves, are they? You do READ them, right?! Again, we encourage you to become greater readers!
We know what we are up against in trying to get our readers to read more and to read better. It is, after all, the age of the visual and audio—TV, Internet, video games, iPods, cell phones, etc., all beckoning our eyes and ears, and consuming so much of our time. Books, and all reading material for that matter, are considered passÃ©, especially by the younger generation. Book sales are way down; newspapers and magazines are falling by the wayside monthly. People simply are not reading as they were in the past.
And we do not hide the fact that we have great concern for how we as Reformed Christians are spending our time with these modern means of communication and entertainment. So much of our precious time—time that could be used for reading solid Reformed/Christian books—can be and often is wasted day after day, and night after night, in front of the TV and computer screen. We have no doubt that the devil is often pleased with how he tempts us to squander our God-given minds and minutes with the modern media.
And so our mission to encourage greater reading could very well be called Mission Impossible! But it is not. And we are not going to give up that easily or quickly! We are Christian soldiers called to battle, and we firmly believe we must fight—not only against the things that distract us from good reading—but also for the things that encourage us to read, for the good of our souls and for the glory of God! And let us be clear, we well know that the modern media is not the enemy per se. TV, computers, the Internet, iPods, cell phones, etc. are only tools, which can be used for good or for evil. In fact, we might say we would be very pleased (and the Lord too!) if our Reformed/Christian readers were making use of these modern means to read more and to read better! We would be delighted if you were downloading Reformed books and articles from the Internet, and feasting your soul on the wealth of material available there. We would be greatly encouraged to hear that you have on your iPod, not just music, but the Bible and other Christ-centered literature that you listen to on the drive to work or at lunch-hour. And even if you told us that you have a Kindle and you like to read e-books, and that you have found solid Reformed literature in this form too, still we would be happy and thankful.
But, of course, we want you to read real, traditional-style books—the hard-cover and paperback variety! The ones at the bookstores and in the libraries! The ones you crack open, and smell; the ones you can write in! Books on the historic Christian faith! Books on the distinctive Reformed faith! Books on church history, and church conflicts, and church councils! Books on Christian figures from the past and present! Books on Christian living, and Christian dying! Books on Christian suffering, and Christian triumphs! Books on Christian marriage and Reformed family life! Books that stretch your believing minds, enflame your hearts, and grow you deeper in the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ!
Do you see the need to do this, to be greater readers? Will you make an evaluation of how you are using your time, and commit to doing more of the above-mentioned reading? I know that, for myself, determining to write this article out of my personal passion for good books has made me more aware of how much better I can do in my own life. I need your encouragement too. And so let us help one another to become greater readers. Write us (via email—email@example.com) and share your good books with us. Let us know what books you are reading and how they have instructed and encouraged you in your Christian faith and walk. Feel free to recommend to us some books for review in this rubric. We would love to hear from you. Secondly, in this initial article we would like to recommend two recent titles to you. Both are in commemoration of this year’s 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. There are many others recently published that you may have seen, and hopefully even read; but these are two that I have read this summer and fall and found very enlightening and edifying. The first is entitled John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, edited by Burk Parsons, and published by Reformation Trust, a division of Ligonier Ministries (associated with Dr. R.C. Sproul). It is comprised of nineteen chapters written by nineteen contemporary Calvinists (such as Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, Robert Godfrey, Michael Horton, and Joel Beeke). These men trace Calvin as a Christian and as a Reformer, and then lay out the broad lines of Calvin’s theology. To give you a bit of the book’s flavor, here are some chapter headings: “Calvin’s Heart for God”; “The Churchman of the Reformation”; “The Counselor to the Afflicted”; “The Supremacy of Jesus Christ”; “Election and Reprobation” (excellent!); and “The True Christian Life.” In each chapter the authors let Calvin “speak for himself,” quoting extensively from his writings (mainly his sermons and his Institutes). I found this book to be a wonderful survey of the life and teachings of Calvin, and heartily recommend it for your personal library—and your personal reading!
The second title I recommend has recently been published by our own Reformed Free Publishing Association: The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in Summary. It is authored by David J. Engelsma, professor emeritus of dogmatics at the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. For those who desire to become better acquainted with Calvin’s magnum opus, but who are intimidated by its detail and length, this comprehensive, one-volume summary of Calvin’s Institutes is a great introduction. Again, Calvin is allowed to “speak for himself” through ample quotes from his work. But at the same time, Prof. Engelsma explains and gives contemporary comment to Calvin’s teachings, even at times critically. As he takes us through the four main “books” (or sections) of Calvin’s Institutes, we gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Reformed faith that God led Calvin to rediscover and develop from the Word of God. We stand amazed at the breadth of Calvin’s knowledge and grasp of biblical truth. We marvel at the wonderful way in which he communicated and defended the “faith once delivered to the saints.” But we also see his grace-driven humility and godliness, as he sought to understand and live his faith to the glory of God.
The book also includes a sketch of Calvin’s life and work, and four chapters on special aspects of Calvin’s Institutes (their nature, history of their publishing, their style and structure, and the prefatory address). This wonderful volume too we heartily recommend to our readers. They would make great gifts, especially for the Christmas season. Information on ordering them may be found below.
Finally in this article I give you some promised Internet resources for finding, reviewing, and purchasing good Reformed/Christian books. This list is not by any means comprehensive, but contains websites that I have found most helpful in locating good books for a Reformed Christian’s library.
www.rfpa.org (the Reformed Free Publishing Association)
www.ligonier.org (including Reformation Trust Publishing)
www.monergism.com (specializing in Puritan & Reformed books)
www.cvbbs.com (Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service, also specializing in Puritan/Reformed books)
Until next time, tolle lege—Take up and read!