A Nonfiction Tour of America – Flavorwire

Nonfiction Books About America’s 50 States – Flavorwire.

The-Other-Side-of-the-River-Kotlowitz-Alex-9780385477215Here’s an interesting post from Flavorwire (July 17, 2014) relating to summer travel and reading: the top books on all fifty states in America! It is indeed an interesting list, but be sure to read the comments since readers are offering good alternatives, including for Michigan.

Some of these I have read and others I would like to, including the one on Michigan (a new author to me!). How about you – what nonfiction book on your state would you recommend?

Whether you’re staying at home this summer or traveling around to different parts of America, the easiest way to discover what makes this country tick, in ways both maddening and beautiful, is to read some books. To aid you on this virtual journey, Flavorwire has dug up some of the best nonfiction about specific American locations — in this case, our 50 states — and found 50 books that will shed light on every corner of the country.

This is the title chosen for Michigan, one with which I am not familiar. I might have to squeeze this in yet this summer during our camping week. This is what the publisher’s blurb states about its story:

Separated by a river, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are two Michigan towns that are geographically close, yet worlds apart. St. Joseph is a prosperous, predominately white lakeshore community while Benton Harbor is impoverished and predominately black. When the body of Eric McGinnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river that separates the towns, relations between the two communities grow increasingly strained as longheld misperceptions and attitudes surface.

As family, friends, and the police struggle to find out how and why McGinnis died, Alex  uncovers layers of both evidence and opinion, and demonstrates that in many ways, the truth is shaped by which side of the river you call home.

What the Bible Says About the Bible (Psalm 119) – R.Cammenga

SB cover-July 2014-SynodAnother part of my Sunday reading was this article from the July Standard Bearer (the “Synod 2014″ issue) by Prof.R.Cammenga. Writing under the rubric “Taking Heed to the Doctrine”, Cammenga is currently treating the doctrine of Scripture, specifically its “Revelation, Inspiration, and Infallibility”.

He has been treating these subjects under a sub-section titled “What the Bible Says About the Bible”, and is up to “the Testimony of the Psalms” (and with Psalm 119 in particular). Here are a few wonderful sections from this article that define what God’s Word is – and is for us as Reformed Christians who base all we believe and all we practice on this holy Book.

The Bible is a book like no other book. The Bible is the word of God. …The Bible is the word of God as a whole, and the Bible is the word of God in all its parts. From beginning to end, the Bible is God’s word. What it says, God says. From Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, God is speaking. In every book, in every chapter, in every verse, we are confronted with ‘Thus saith the Lord.”

This is what the Bible teaches about itself. The Bible proclaims itself to be the word of God. What is true of the Bible as a whole is also true of the Old Testament.

…Psalm 119 sets forth every important truth regarding the word of God. The truth of the word of God from A to Z is set forth in Psalm 119. This is very significant. The longest chapter in the lengthiest book of the Bible is not devoted to an exposition of the truth about marriage, the family, the church, the Trinity, or the coming of Christ. But this acrostic psalm is devoted to the truth of God’s word itself. This is of great significance. And undoubtedly the significance is that foundational to all truth and every individual truth revealed in Scripture is the truth that the Bible is God’s word. The psalm is an ode to God’s word. In the psalm, God’s word is exalted. And the psalm makes plain the central place that God’s word occupies in the church and in the life of the believer individually.

This is the main, really the only subject, of Psalm 119. In nearly every one of the 176 verses of the psalm, God’s word is referred to. Nearly every verse of the psalm contains a reference to God’s word, by means of one of the synonyms for God’s word that appears throughout the psalm… (pp.422-24).

The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy – R. Scott Clark

The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy by R. Scott Clark | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July 2014Yesterday I read the next main article on the theme of this month’s Tabletalk. It carries the above title, treating the chaos and confusion that reigned in the papacy of the Western church in the 14th century.

R.Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (West-CA), sees this as a teaching lesson to show that Rome’s contention of a clear succession of popes from Peter to the present day is invalid, as well as unbiblical.

I believe you will profit from knowing this side of the church’s history during this century. You will find Clark’s full article at the Ligonier link above. Here is a portion of it to get you started.


Like Christians during the Avignon crisis, we live in an age when authority and order seem to be dissolving before our eyes. Some Christians, who are sensitive to these cultural shifts and to their effect upon evangelical churches, see the problems reflected in liturgical changes and general spiritual and ethical chaos. They are thus attracted to Rome on the basis of her claim to continuity with the past, ostensible unity, and stability.

The Avignon crisis is just one of many examples from the history of the medieval church that illustrate the futility of seeking continuity, unity, and stability where they have never existed. The historical truth is that the Roman communion is not an ancient church. She is a medieval church who consolidated her theology, piety, and practice during a twenty-year-long council in the sixteenth century (Trent). Her rituals, sacraments, canon law, and papacy are medieval. The unity and stability offered by Roman apologists are illusions—unless mutual and universal excommunication and attempted murder count as unity and stability. Crushing opponents and rewriting history to suit present needs is not unity. It is mythology.

Roman apologists sometimes seek to vindicate the Roman popes, as distinct from the Avignon popes and the Pisan popes, by describing the Avignon popes as if they were less fit for office than the former. That is, to put it mildly, a strange argument. If popes are as popes do, then we may shorten the list of popes quite radically. On that principle, Rome had no pope from 1471 to 1503, and arguably beyond. In that period, Sixtus IV (reigned 1471-84), in an attempt to raise funds, extended plenary indulgences to the dead. Innocent VIII (reigned 1484-92) fathered sixteen illegitimate sons, of whom he acknowledged eight. Alexander VI (reigned 1492-1503) fathered twelve children, openly kept mistresses in the Vatican, made his son Cesare a cardinal, and tried to ensure Cesare’s ascension to the papacy. Alexander’s daughter Lucretia has been alleged to be a notorious poisoner. We have not even considered Julius II (reigned 1503-13), who took up the sword and was so busy conducting military campaigns to improve papal control over the peninsula that he conducted Mass while wearing armor.

The existence of simultaneous popes in Rome, Avignon, and Pisa, each elected by papal electors and some later arbitrarily designated as antipopes, illustrates the problem of the notion of an unbroken Petrine succession. The post-Avignon papacy is an orphan who has no idea who his father was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Amen – W.Langerak

In the July issue of The Standard Bearer (the “Synod 2014″ issue), Rev.W. (Bill) Langerak penned another fine word study from the Bible, this time on the word “Amen.”

It is a fitting word for us as we worship the Lord this day and use this little word often in our prayers and songs. And do not forget that every sermon we hear ends with this vital, verbal witness. For it is not the word of man we hear, but the Word of God. “Thus saith the Lord.” It truly is! And so let it be!

Click on the image below to enlarge it for easier reading.

Amen-SB July 2014 - WL


And to accompany this article, we include this video of a performance of the “Amen” chorus from Handel’s Messiah.



The Ordinary Means of Growth

The Ordinary Means of Growth.

means of graceThis article appeared in the featured list from “The Aquila Report” this week (dated July 15, 2014). It is actually a reprint of an article Dr.Ligon Duncan wrote for Tabletalk magazine back in 2007. But it is worth republishing and repeating because what Duncan wrote seven years ago remains relevant. In fact, even more so now!

As we end our week and anticipate the Lord’s Day tomorrow, may we continue to be committed to the “ordinary” means of grace. Which, are in reality, extraordinary, because they are the means by which God saves us through Christ and keeps us in Christ.

Below is a quotation from the heart of Duncan’s article. To read all of it – and it is all good reading! – visit the link found above.

Ordinary means of grace-based ministry is ministry that focuses on doing the things God, in the Bible, says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, and which aims to see the qualities and priorities of the church reflect biblical norms. Ordinary means ministry is thus radically committed to biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. Ordinary means ministry believes that God has told us the most important things, not only about the truth we are to tell, but about the way we are to live and minister — in any and every context. Hence, God has given us both the message of salvation and the means of gathering and building the church, in His Word. However, important understanding our context is, however important understanding the times may be (and these things are, in fact, very important), however important appreciating the cultural differences in the places and times we serve, the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity. Because faithfulness is relevance. The Gospel is the message and the local church is the plan. God has given to his church spiritual weapons for the bringing down of strongholds. These ordinary means of grace are the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

They may seem weak in the eyes of the worldly strong. They may seem foolish in the eyes of the worldly wise. But the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation, and the Gospel means are effectual to salvation. These are the Spiritual instruments given by God with which Christian congregational Spiritual life is nurtured, the Spirit’s tools of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible.


Gerald R.Ford and the PRC Synod of 1961

Ford Museum celebrates anniversary of president’s birth; new exhibition opens today | MLive.com.

Gerald_FordAs many of you will know, Former U.S. Congressman and later U.S. President Gerald R. Ford (38th, serving from 1974-77; and prior to that 40th Vice-president serving under Pres.R.Nixon from 1973-74) is buried on the grounds of the presidential museum that bears his name (maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration), along the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. You may also know that Ford’s presidential library is located in Ann Arbor, MI on the campus of the University of Michigan.

This past Monday, July 14, was the 101st anniversary of Pres.Ford’s birth (also my father’s birthday – more famous to us!), which was commemorated at the museum with the annual wreath laying ceremony, as the above-linked story on MLive reports.

Why do I bring this up on this Friday? Because I am running a day late with my posts this week and this post is going to be our PRC history/archives one for this week. OK, you may say; but still, what does PRC history have to do with Pres. G.Ford?

Well, here’s the answer – in the form of a question! Did you know that our churches have on record in our Acts of Synod a letter to and from “Jerry” Ford when he was serving as a congressman from Grand Rapids in Washington, D.C.?

That’s correct. In 1961 our Synod took the unusual step of adopting an overture that originated in Creston PRC (Grand Rapids, MI) and approved by Classis East in which we objected to the military’s requirement at that time “that our young men take part in military training and drill on the Sabbath day” (p.57). The overture had three grounds and included a letter to Congressman Ford, as well as his respectful and sympathetic reply (as you will see in the material below).

This matter directly involved Rev.George Lubbers, pastor of Creston PRC at that time, and as you will note, a son of his by the name of Cornelius, known to most of us as “Case”.

Before posting the overture itself, I will quote from the relevant article (39) of the Acts of Synod 1961 which gives the decisions made:

A motion is made to adopt I, A, i.e., ‘that synod adopt the overture of Creston as approved by Classis East.’ Carried

A motion is made to adopt I, B, i.e., ‘that synod send a letter to Major General D.W. McGowan, to the Chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Corps Reserve Affairs and to Robert McNamara, Sec. of Defense.’ Carried

A motion is made to adopt I, C. i.e., ‘that synod send a copy of the above letters to Rep.Gerald R. Ford with a letter of explanation.’ Carried.

Below is the overture with its supporting documents, including the letters to and from Rep.Ford (click on them to enlarge).

Acts 1961-2_Page_1



I find this fascinating. Little did Synod of 1961 know that it would have on its records letters from a future President of the United States! I wonder if his archives (now part of our National Archives) contain these letters. Shall we try to find out?

British Museum’s Wheel of Books Attracts Gawkers

British Museum’s Wheel of Books Attracts Gawkers | Publishing Perspectives.

For our first “Friday Fun” post today we give you this little news item about a catchy book wheel now featured at the entrance to the bookshop inside the British Museum in London (Posted July 9, 2014). A rather novel idea, I say, chaps! :)

For more on the story, visit the link; here’s the first part of it.

All bricks and mortar booksellers need to get noticed, need to make people stop a minute and want to come through the doors. The newly refurbished bookshop at the British Museum in London has tackled this challenge enthusiastically and come up with a unique solution, one that is probably even eliciting the odd droll comment from the famously stern-faced sphinxes in the Egyptian galleries close by.

 Wheel-of-Books-2-510x287East London-based Lumsden Design has created a two-meter diameter ‘wheel of books’ for the bookshop’s window, a structure that has been causing visitors to pause ever since it was installed last month. It stands nearly seven-feet tall, contains 270 real books and looks like a literary version of one of the living, natural sculptures by British artist Andy Goldsworthy, the man who hangs circles of leaves from branches and creates free standing sculptures out of loose stones.

Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 8:15 AM  Leave a Comment  

Penitentiary – A Place for True Penitents

Penitentiary | Define Penitentiary at Dictionary.com.

In connection with my previous post on the interest in and study of the Heidelberg Catechism by a group of prisoners in Texas, we turn to our Wednesday word feature – a day late, I realize, but I had a busy day yesterday and couldn’t get to any blog posts.

When I recently saw the name of a prison include the old word “penitentiary” (as in United States Penitentiary), it struck me that this word is related to the word penitent (“to be repentant, sorry or ashamed for having done wrong”) and penitence (“the state of being penitent; repentance” – Webster’s New World Dictionary: College Edition). These words are all derived from the Latin, as you will see below from the Dictionary.com listing.

repentance-1And while the Roman Catholic Church has robbed the word of much of its meaning with its doctrine of penance and its tribunal for dealing with sinners (see one of the definitions below), we Reformed Christians know that repentance (or conversion) is a vital part of the true Christian’s (convert’s) life. We cannot be saved without it.

And when God’s sovereign, irresistible grace is given to miserable sinners such as ourselves and takes hold of us in the depths of our being (hearts!), we are made repentant! By His power we are turned from sin and unto the living God, so that we are made sorry for our sins and we confess them openly and with shame to the Lord. And in this way, we find the blessedness of full and free forgiveness in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

As I read prisoner letters, I am humbled and thankful to know that such repentant sinners who are in state penitentiaries are in aptly named places. For by God’s grace they too are penitents; they know the gift of repentance. With changed hearts and minds, they are changing their lives too. For the glory of God. Let us praise God for His amazing grace – in them – and in us!



noun, plural pen·i·ten·tia·ries.

1. a place for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment, especially a prison maintained in the U.S. by a state or the federal government for serious offenders.
2. Roman Catholic Church . a tribunal in the Curia Romana, presided over by a cardinal (grand penitentiary)  having jurisdiction over certain matters, as penance, confession, dispensation, absolution, and impediments, and dealing with questions of conscience reserved for the Holy See.

3. (of an offense) punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary.
4. of, pertaining to, or intended for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment.

1375–1425; late Middle English penitenciarie  

priest who administers penance, prison 

Medieval Latin pēnitēntiārius  of penance. See penitence-ary

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 9:19 AM  Comments (1)  

Heidelberg Catechism Teaching In Prison

A few months ago I did a post informing you of a sort of “prison ministry” in which the Seminary has become involved. Today I would like to follow up on this since we have been getting a steady stream of letters from the men in a prison in Texas (Darrington Unit).

HeidCat-1And what is striking again about these letters is that the men involved in a special study are fired up about the Reformed faith as it is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism! We had sent them twenty copies of it (as contained in our “Three Forms of Unity” booklet), and now they are requesting further study materials.

Since I have a box of old copies of Rev.H.Hoeksema’s work on the “HC” (the original series of Triple Knowledge published by Eerdmans in the 1940s), I plan to send these to them, along with some other “extra” free books I have collected from various sources, including RFPA titles. If you should have any old editions of classic Reformed and PR-authored books you would like to donate to this cause, let me know.

Below are a couple of quotes from recent letters from prisoners in that Texas facility.

At present we have a group of guys who have come together to teach the Heidelberg Catechism in the day-rooms on the cell blocks. This study began on one cell block and has now spread to four. As we realize the way in which the Lord is blessing these efforts we are also realizing the necessity to be able to teach the Catechism effectively on each cell block. We have little resources outside of the catechism itself to guide us in this area. Those of us who do the teaching are all students of the seminary (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which recently started holding classes in this unit. According to several contacts there, Calvin Seminary has also been there to investigate the possibility of offering courses. -cjt) and we have the opportunity to meet each week in preparation for how the following Lord’s Day from the Catechism will be taught. We are hoping to gather a couple of resources to be shared among us in order to aid our efforts (Then follows a list of three titles the men seek. -cjt).

…From your emphasis on the importance of teaching and preaching the Catechism (The men have been reading our PRT Journal! -cjt) we are hoping that it owuld be possible to somehow provide these things in support of our efforts here. Any other direction would be a great help as well (I am thinking that some of our catechism materials on the “HC” might be useful – workbook, etc. -cjt).

And a brief note of thanks from one of the “leaders” in this group:

God has blessed the last sending of the Three Forms of Unity you sent to us at Darrington Unit…. Thank you for your help. Please know that your reformed brothers are doing their work in spite of the Arminian, Baptist agenda here. We have named our Reformed study with the Three Forms as ‘Reforming the Mind.’ The men are growing in the Lord. It is a blessing to watch the men grow. Thank you and God bless.

New and Noteworthy in the Seminary Library

It has been some time since I highlighted a few new books that have come into the PRC Seminary library, so today I selected four that I have setting on the “new and noteworthy” shelf in the library. All of them are recent publications (2013 and 2014). I will simply note them with some basic information from the publisher and also include links for them.

These are all processed and ready for checkout should you decide you want to make use of these for some good summer reading! :)

To find these books and more, visit our online library catalog.

1. Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton (Crossway, 2014; 271 pgs., paper). This is the fifth volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series edited by Stephen J.Nichols and Justin Taylor and published by Crossway. The publisher adds this note concerning this title:

John Calvin, a man adored by some and maligned by others, stands as a legendary figure in Christian history. In Calvin on the Christian Life, professor Michael Horton offers us fresh insights into the Reformer’s personal piety and practical theology by allowing Calvin to speak in his own words.

Drawing not only from his Institutes and biblical commentaries, but also from lesser-known tracts, treatises, and letters, this book will deepen your understanding of Calvin’s theology and ministry by exploring the heart of his spiritual life: confident trust and unwavering joy in the sovereign grace of God.

Taking God at His Word - DeYoung-20142. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway, 2014; 138 pgs., hardback. Our copy includes a study guide as well.). This what Crossway says about this little volume:

Can we trust the Bible completely?
Is it sufficient for our complicated lives?
Can we really know what it teaches?

With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians andnon-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.

Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.

Reading Bible with Luther-Wengert-20133. Reading the Bible with Martin Luther: An Introductory Guide by Timothy J. Wengert (Baker Academic, 2013; 134 pgs., paper). Baker introduces this title with these words:

Prominent Reformation historian Timothy Wengert introduces the basic components of Martin Luther’s theology of the Bible and examines Luther’s contributions to present-day biblical interpretation. Wengert addresses key points of debate regarding Luther’s approach to the Bible that have often been misunderstood, including biblical authority, the distinction between law and gospel, the theology of the cross, and biblical ethics. He argues that Luther, when rightly understood, offers much wisdom to Christians searching for fresh approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. This brief but comprehensive overview is filled with insights on Luther’s theology and its significance for contemporary debates on the Bible, particularly the New Perspective on Paul.

Holy Communion - HOld-20134. Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church by Hughes Oliphant Old; edited and introduced by Jon D. Payne (Tolle Lege, 2014; 919 pgs., hardback). Just as Old has written an extensive history of preaching, now he has done so with the history of the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed church world. This is a significant work, as these words of the publisher indicate:

All across the United States, Protestant churches have forgotten their sacramental roots.  The Lord’s Supper has often been reduced to an empty memorial if it is even celebrated at all, and the contemporary Protestant church suffers greatly from this lapse.

In Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, Hughes Oliphant Old uncovers the central importance of Holy Communion in the Reformed tradition.  Beginning with Calvin and moving into modern times, Old pinpoints and explains the most pivotal developments in Reformed eucharistic theology—from the true nature of the communion elements to preparatory services and seasons.  Along the way, he shows that our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has profound influence on the church’s life and operations—on her piety.

This volume is both a scholarly exploration of Reformed tradition and a pastoral call to the contemporary church to rediscover the most potent truths and edifying practices of our Christian forefathers.  In our day of debilitating liturgical innovations, Holy Communion proves yet again that God’s truth on any subject is timeless and evergreen.  Before we can display Christ fully in our day, we must recover a full commitment to biblical worship—in the Word preached as well as the Word made visible in the Lord’s Supper.


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