Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Edward T. Welch. P&R Publishing, 1997. ISBN 978-0-87552-600-3. 240 pages. Softcover. $14.99. Available at Reformed Book Outlet, or online at christianbook.com and the publisher at prpbooks.com. Reviewed by Barb Dykstra.
Whom do you fear? Whom do you strive to please? God’s word instructs us to fear him alone. Proverbs 19:23 teaches us: “The fear of the Lord tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied.” To fear God is to live to serve Him alone, to hold Him in reverence and awe. It is when our greatest joy is to please Him and our greatest sorrow is to displease Him. But we are so often more concerned about what men think of us than we are about fearing God.
Edward Welch wrote When People are Big and God is Small to confront readers with the many ways we often fear man more than God. The fear of man is when one is controlled by whomever or whatever he believes can give him what he thinks he needs. It is summarized thus: “We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others.”
Welch’s book is divided into two sections: “How and Why We Fear Others,” in which he identifies the ways and the reasons why we fear others, and “Overcoming the Fear of Others,” in which he explains how growing in the fear of the Lord will be the answer to fearing man less.
Don’t think fearing man is a problem in your life? Take a look at just a few questions Welch asks: “Do you find that it is hard to say no even when wisdom indicates that you should? You are a ‘people-pleaser,’ another euphemism for the fear of man. Are you jealous of other people? You are controlled by them and their possessions. Do other people make you angry or depressed? If so, they are probably the controlling center of your life. Have you noticed times when you cover up with lies, justifications, blaming, avoiding, or changing the subject? If so, you want to look better before people.” And yet more subtle ways we fear man: “Do you avoid people? Even though you might not say that you need people you are still controlled by them.” Feel good about yourself when you compare your success in life with others? Your life is still defined by other people rather than God. The author explains how, when these things are true in our lives, we have made people our idols. “As in all idolatry, the idol we choose to worship soon owns us…. It tells us how to think, what to feel, and how to act. It tells us what to wear, it tells us to laugh at the dirty joke…. We never expect that using people to meet our desires leaves us enslaved to them.”
Welch leads the reader through Scripture, pointing out saints who struggled with the fear of man (Abraham and Peter) and those whose fear of God was strong (Daniel). Fear of man is something we do ‘naturally’ since the fall of Adam and Eve. Our culture’s cure is increased self-love, ‘self esteem.’ Welch points out that this is actually the disease. He also points out in depth the errors of Christian psychologists who say: “There is a God-given need to be loved that is born into every human infant. It is a legitimate need that must be met from cradle to grave.” And in identifying our true needs (not what we think we need), Welch also examines prayers recorded in Scripture (Matt. 6:9-13, John 17:15, 17) to find the inspired calls of the needy heart.
There are a few things in the book that the Reformed reader will object to (inviting the reader to fear God, and not stressing the need of preaching to grow in the fear of the Lord), but the book is valuable in leading the reader to examine the question of who it is whom he fears. “The fear of man bringeth a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25). To fear God more we must know Him more and delight in Him more. In order to do that, we must be reading God’s Word daily. “When a heart is being filled with the greatness of God, there is less room for the question: ‘What are people going to think of me?’ By God’s grace, we can grow in knowing his holiness, and this knowledge will both expel the people-idols from our lives and leave us less prone to being consumed with ourselves.”
The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World, by David W. Hall. P&R Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59638-085-1. 112 pp. Paperback. $12.99. Available online at christianbook.com and the publisher at prpbooks.com. Reviewed by Rev. Douglas J. Kuiper.
Commemorating the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (July 10, 1509), Presbyterian and Reformed is publishing several books in its “The Calvin 500 Series.” David W. Hall, pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia, is both the general editor of the series and the author of this book.
The book’s argument is that the world as we know it would not be the same had God not raised up John Calvin. The argument possessions
is not simply that the church would not be the same; the book notes the great influence Calvin also had on society.
Following a two-page chronology of Calvin’s life, Hall notes ten ways in which modern culture is different because of John Calvin. As one would expect, these ten ways do include ways in which Calvin worked for reform in the church. Regarding the church’s official work, he instituted measures by which the poor would be cared for. Regarding church government, he worked so that the church would be free of hierarchy and state control and could govern herself. He worked to translate church music into the common language of the day, resulting in the Genevan Psalter.
In addition, Hall notes Calvin’s influence on the Christian life as one of dedication to God, regulated by God’s law. His influence was felt in the area of education, largely because of and through the Genevan Academy. Calvin’s influence on civil government is still felt in our own country, in which people elect their government, and in which the legislative body consists of two houses, both of which must approve a measure before it becomes law. Calvin taught that every man should view his work as a calling from God, and busy himself in it to God’s glory. Calvin’s view of economics was God-centered. “Wherever Calvinism spread, so did a love for free markets and capitalism” (29). And Calvin was a user and promoter of the latest technology in getting the word out—the publishing press. This helped his influence spread greatly in his own day.
In an epilogue to this first section, Hall summarizes how the American colonies and Western democracy and civilization adopted many of Calvin’s ideas.
The second section of the book is a 40-page biography. This account of Calvin’s life demonstrates the points made in the first section, regarding Calvin’s influence in many areas. The point is made that “his reforms began in the church and only then radiated outward” (59). The epilogue to this section emphasizes the humility of this servant of God, a trait that his enemies have not always acknowledged in him.
The final section of the book contains tributes to Calvin by men of bygone years such as Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, John Wesley, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, as well as men living today such as John Piper, Steven Lawson, and J.I. Packer. All these men come from different segments of Protestantism, not only that which we would call specifically “Reformed”; so the point is made that Calvin’s influence is felt by Protestants of all stripes. The final tribute, by a Roman Catholic (!), I found to be rather vague.
The book’s main weakness is the fact that it does not devote even one section to Calvin’s influence on the church’s doctrine. The section regarding his influence on the Christian life does allude to this influence, and several tributes refer with appreciation to Calvin’s teachings regarding predestination. But Calvin’s influence on the church’s doctrine is never made a point in itself; it is only woven into the other points the author makes. One would expect that in a book on Calvin’s legacy, this point would be singled out more than it has been here. Does the church no longer appreciate the work of God through John Calvin in leading us to a deeper knowledge of the truth?
Still, the reader who thought that Calvin’s legacy was only doctrinal will be convinced after reading this book that it is much broader than that. This book is not difficult to read, and is recommended for any and all who desire to have a brief summary of Calvin’s life, work, and legacy.
God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens. Emblem Editions, 2008. ISBN 0771041438. 320 pp. Paperback. Available at most large bookstores and online at amazon.com ($14.59). Reviewed by Kevin G. Vink.
Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (Heb. 11:3).
Faith is the refusal to panic—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God (Ps. 14:1).
I must admit, I had never heard of Mr. Hitchens before reading his book. In our circles, the tendency is to focus on the evils of Rome, free-willism, the Federal Vision movement, and other such menaces that threaten our distinctively Reformed views. After reading this book I wonder if more time should not be given to misguided charlatans like Hitchens and his friends.
Who is Christopher Hitchens? He is an avowed atheist who dismisses religion as man-made—God didn’t create man, but man created God (or, if you will, an idea called ‘god’). Perhaps many of us would dismiss this in the same way Hitchens dismisses religion, as senseless, mindless drivel. Why waste time with such a man and his nonsense? Because Hitchens’ book was on the New York Times best-seller list for many weeks and represents a growing spirit in our society that I am convinced we must deal with sooner or later.
Hitchens spares no one in his rant against organized religion. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims alike are given no quarter. He reduces his objections to these four points:
1. Religion wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.
2. Because of this original error, religion manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism (a word Hitchens is in love with and means “my mind is the only thing that I know exists”).
3. Religion is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression.
4. Religion is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
Hitchens contends that “serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.” And as far as he is concerned, the Ten Commandments are over-estimated in importance, really unnecessary and trite—everyone knows murder and adultery are bad things. In addition, they demand the impossible. Hitchens: “One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions…but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much.” Such statements run rampant through the book. And the author is a serious proponent of the theory of evolution and “Ockham’s razor,” the notion we cannot assert that for which we have no proof. In Hitchens’ view, proof is achieved only by means of science, reason, and research, while religion is basically a travesty of science and reason.
In fact, the author takes great delight in quoting what the church father Tertullian once said: Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd). Hitchens argues that “if one must have faith in order to believe something…then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings far more ‘miraculous’ and ‘transcendent’ than any theology.” Even more alarming is his answer to the question, “What will you say if you die and are confronted with your Maker?” Hitchens’ glib response: “Imponderable Sir, I presume from some if not all of your many reputations that you might prefer honest and convinced unbelief to the hypocritical and self-interested affection of faith or the smoking tributes of bloody altars. But I would not count on it.”
As you might imagine, this is not an easy book to read. Besides the actual content, the author’s continual references to people like James Madison, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Socrates, and a host of others is somewhat tiresome. And his sophomoric references to Christians as stupid, idiots, and in one case, “boobies,” does in no way enhance his standing or arguments with the readers, no matter what their convictions may be. In some sense you are led to believe that it’s also personal, as Hitchens is a good friend of Salman Rushdie. He charges that it was not just crazed Muslims who threatened Rushdie’s life, but that religious leaders from all major faiths agreed Rushdie had it coming. Hitchens complains of continual threats and phone calls as to his demise here on earth and after, as if we are to feel sorry for the plight he is in due to his militant atheism.
Being brought up a Christian, I find it hard to believe that Hitchens honestly holds the firm convictions he has laid out in this book. I fear this will end very badly for him. Hitchens does make one concession. His own prior allegiance to revolutionary Marxism makes it possible for him somewhat to empathize with us: “To some extent,” he says, “I know what you are going through.” Nice, I feel much better now.
Finally, Hitchens just isn’t a likable character regardless of his beliefs. One look at his picture on the rear sleeve was enough to convince me of his purported romance with nicotine and alcohol (the daily intake of which he has been known to boast was enough “to kill or stun the average mule.”)
Surprisingly (or not), I was asked by a number of people why I would even consider reading this book. As reprehensible as the book is, I will use the author’s last sentence in the book to respond. “To clear the mind for this project, it has become necessary to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it.” On that, we can at least agree.