The Power of Books in China – Even Calvinist Ones

souls-of-china-2017Last week I ordered a new book for the PRC Seminary library, one that has received some attention since its publication last year. It is titled The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian Johnson (New York: Pantheon Books, 2017).

The author’s website gives this description of the book:

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao (2017) tells the story of one of the world’s great spiritual revivals. Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with new temples, churches and mosques–as well as cults, sects and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty–over what it means to be Chinese, and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is still searching for new guideposts.

This book is the culmination of a six-year project following an underground Protestant church in Chengdu, pilgrims in Beijing, rural Daoist priests in Shanxi, and meditation groups in caves in the country’s south.

Along the way, I learned esoteric meditation techniques, visited a nonagenarian Confucian sage, and befriended government propagandists as they fashioned a remarkable embrace of traditional values. These experiences are distilled into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle–a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world’s newest superpower.

That may strike you as a rather broad look at the revival of religion in this vast land, maybe even disappointing. But did you know there is also a Calvinist resurgence in China and that the Reformed church is growing? I discovered this to my own surprise as I was cataloging it.  When I catalog a book, I always look at the chapters for subject ideas. When I did so with this book, I was surprised to see a chapter on Calvinism. But there it was – chapter 21 – “Chengdu: The New Calvinists.”

In the chapter Johnson focuses on three different men who are involved in growing Calvinism and the Reformed church in this city of Chengdu. There are some fascinating references to their solid creedal Christianity; one of the churches, for example, has this as one of  their statements:

We are Reformed-denomination Protestants. We accept the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), as the complete, balanced and authoritative expression of Christian faith.

And another congregation spent a summer reading and studying the Heidelberg Catechism.

But what also caught my attention was the importance of Calvinistic literature in that place. One of the men had a special vision and gifts, and used them to open Trinity Bookstore and begin Enoch Publishing. Johnson tells the amazing story of Peng Qiang:

After graduating in 1994, he returned to Chengdu and fell in with friends who had found an unusual niche publishing books. Most publishing houses were government run, and they were allotted a certain amount of ISBN numbers each year, allowing them to publish books. But these state-run companies had little idea what would attract readers. Most lost money. Some started selling their ISBN numbers to middlemen who used them to publish popular titles on doing business, self-help, and psychology. This was Peng’s role: a broker trying to figure out what excited and moved Chinese people, without running afoul of government censors.

…Peng began to hone his business model. Many books related to Christianity could be sold through the same model he used to sell pop-psychology books. All books still had to pass censorships, but a book on church history would be approved if given a straight historical title. But unlike most history books, these had a broad audience of Christians, making the publication profitable. So, too, books on Christian ethics or historical figures like Calvin and Luther. A book on Chinese theology would be banned, but if presented as part of Western history, ideas like Calvinism could be printed.

Amazing, the power of Reformed books in Communist China! A testimony to the sovereign grace for which Calvinism is known. Not surprisingly, given the greatness of our God, the church of Christ is being gathered and being reformed in that land.

Book Alert! “The Belgic Confession: A Commentary” by David J. Engelsma

belgconf-comm-DJE-2018This week I received the latest offering from the Reformed Free Publishing Association – my personal copy along with that of the seminary library. The new book may have an unassuming title – The Belgic Confession: A Commentary – but it represents a new subject matter for the RFPA and helps fills a major void in  English for those who embrace this Reformed Confession (also known as the Netherlands Confession).

The author of the commentary is well known – emeritus PRC Seminary professor David J. Engelsma – and his commentary is the fruit of a ministry spent preaching, teaching, and writing about the Reformed doctrines summarized in this Calvinistic creed.

The publisher gives this description of the new book:

An orthodox commentary on the confession, that is, one that is in wholehearted accord with the teachings of the confession, and resolutely faithful to them, will be profitable to Reformed Christians and churches in the twenty-first century, not only for invaluable instruction in the Reformed faith, but also for the maintenance and defense of Reformed orthodoxy.

Founded on holy scripture, the Belgic Confession determines sound doctrine for Reformed churches and believers. This doctrine is rich, lovely, and powerful. The confession also authoritatively exposes contemporary heresies. As they read this commentary which proclaims the doctrine and authority of the confession, all believers who love the Reformed faith will be faithfully guided in the truth of the “old paths.”

Volume one covers Articles 1-21 of the Belgic Confession.

The first volume is a hardover of 368 pages, retailing for $31.95. But join the RFPA Book Club and the title is yours for only $20.77! The author promises in the introduction that the second volume is not far behind (that will cover Articles 22-37 of the Belgic Confession).

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In his introduction, Engelsma sets forth the importance of the Belgic Confession for the modern reader and church member:

As the official authoritative creed of Reformed churches worldwide, how great is the importance of the Belgic Confession! It authoritatively defines the truth of scripture. Explicitly and by implication, it also authoritatively defines heresies. It identifies true churches of Christ in the world. It constitutes the authoritative witness of these churches to other churches and to the world outside the church. On the title (front) page of the original publication of the Confession was a quotation of 1 Peter 3:15: ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.’ It is a document to instruct the members of reformed churches in the biblical truth that they profess, especially the children of Reformed believers. It is the guide of reformed preachers concerning the doctrines they must teach and defend. It is the defense of the Reformed faith against errors by which the faith is threatened, whether by heretics within the churches (always a danger, to all churches) or by the winds of false doctrine blowing upon the true church from without [pp.12-13].

All Reformed Christians interested in bolstering their faith with solid teaching and practical counsel will want to add this volume to their personal and family libraries. And don’t forget those church libraries also. 🙂

Contact the publisher at the information found at the links above to obtain your copy and to join the book club.

More Seminary Library Books Relating to the Synod of Dordt – The Staten Bible and the Dutch Annotations on the Whole Bible

Throughout this year and into next year we are highlighting the 400th anniversary of the “great” Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which begins this year and will continue into next year.

In our initial post we called attention to some general things and in our last post we started to call attention to some special (and rare) books connected to that Synod and its work.

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Title page of the 1637 Staten Bible

In this post we call attention to the two more special books related to the work of Dordt. Both relate to the special Bible translation commissioned by the Synod, a new Dutch translation that came to be called the “Staten Bible” (or Bijbel, in Dutch) or the Statenvertaling (States translation). It was first published in 1637 and the PRC seminary has several first edition copies, one of which is enclosed in a special case in the library (cf. the image below; the other is placed in the rare book case). To see one such rare edition, visit this page where one was for sale.

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One of the seminary library’s copies of a 1st edition Statenvertaling Bible

 

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The second book (or set of books actually) related to Dordt’s work also is connected to this Dutch Bible, the Statenvertaling. The first edition included annotations on the text of the Scripture (in Dutch), that is, special notes or comments about the meaning and application of the passage. Later these annotations were published separately as well, as the title page above indicates. The editor and translator was Theodore Haak and this work was published first in London in 1657 – in English (which you may also find online here).

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While the PRC seminary library does not have a first edition of this book of annotations, we do have the 5 volumes that were reprinted by Inheritance Publications and edited by Roelof Janssen (cf. title page above and the five volumes on the shelf below).

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Roelof J. recently stopped by the seminary and spoke to us about his publications (old and new). In the course of the conversation we mentioned that he ought to finish this reprint and get the rest of the volumes completed. He is hoping to do so, if he can generate enough cash flow. Something to think about, if you are so inclined (by purchasing books from Inheritance Publications you are also helping this cause!).

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For now, notice the quality and beauty of the initial volumes (image of volume 1 above). But, of course, the content of these books makes for fascinating reading.

Exciting Reformation (and Church History) Book News! “Here We Stand” is Here!

Today for our Thursday history feature we highlight some exciting new Reformation book news, along with a children’s/young people’s church history book.

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At the top of the list is a special book hot off the press that was delivered earlier this afternoon. RFPA managing editor Alex Kalsbeek stopped in at seminary and brought with him freshly printed (and fresh-smelling!) copies of the RFPA’s latest publication Here We Stand: Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (cf. cover photo above).

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The book is special because it is the fruit of the PRC Seminary’s October 2017 Reformation 500th Conference. The contents of the book are the expanded speeches given at that conference, the topics of which you will see on the flyer above. Three of our professors have contributions to the book (Profs. R. Cammenga, R. Dykstra, and B. Gritters), and the entire book is edited by Prof. Cammenga. The publisher gives this description on its website:

The great sixteenth-century church Reformation was so significant an event that virtually every church today is affected by that history, as well as its reforms in doctrine and life. This book demonstrates the impact of that historic event by focusing on a few aspects of the Reformation, including the crucial issues of justification by faith alone, the authority of scripture, and proper worship. This book also covers two lesser-known, yet significant aspects of the Reformation that began in 1517: the unique development of the Reformation in the Lowlands and the reformers’ response to the “radical reformation.”

The chapters included in this book are written by: Prof. Ronald L. Cammenga (editor), Rev. David Torlach, Prof. Barrett L. Gritters, Rev. Martyn McGeown, Prof. Russell Dykstra, and Rev. Steven Key.

While the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century may be over, your reading about it does not have to stop, and it ought not end with 2017. Be sure you  add this title to your Reformation reading list for 2018, and for years to come. You may obtain the title by visiting the RFPA website or visiting the Seminary bookstore. Or, become a RFPA book club member and receive all the new titles automatically – at a 35% discount!

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The second new Reformation book you ought to have on your radar for reading (and purchase – cf. the deal below!) is Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, edited by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (New Growth Press, 2018). The publisher provides this summary of the book:

Twenty-six liturgies, including historical introductions that provide fresh analysis into their origins, are invaluable tools for pastors and worship leaders as they seek to craft public worship services in the great tradition of the early Reformers.

Christians learn to worship from the generations of God’s people who have worshipped before them. We sing psalms, because thousands of years ago, God’s people sang them. Five hundred years ago, the leaders of the Reformation transformed Christian worship by encouraging the active participation and understanding of the individual worshiper. Christian worship today is built on this foundation. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey have made worship resources from the Reformation era accessible by compiling the most comprehensive collection of liturgies from that era into newly translated modern English from the original German, Dutch, French, Latin, and early English.

The structure of the liturgies, language, and rhythm continue to communicate the gospel in word and sacrament today. They provide a deep sense of God’s call to worship and an appreciation for the Reformers as, first and foremost, men who wanted to help God’s people worship. This book will also be of great interest to theological scholars and students who wish to understand early Reformation leaders. A useful tool for individuals, Reformation Worship, can be used as a powerful devotional to guide daily prayer and reflection.

By providing a connection to Reformation worship, Gibson and Earngey hope that through their work readers will experience what John Calvin described to be the purpose of all church worship: “To what end is the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the holy congregations themselves, and indeed the whole external government of the church, except that we may be united to God?”

This fresh title is currently available at a 50% discount from the publisher as well as from Westminster Bookstore.

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Finally, a brand new title I ordered for myself (that is, for our home library and for our grandchildren in particular) but think I will also add to the seminary library is a wonderful summary of church history in graphic form. The book is God’s Timeline: The Big Book of Church History, produced by Linda Finlayson and published by CF4K (Christian Focus, children’s division, 2018).

While produced with children and young people in view, the colorful book of timelines and charts (16 timelines and 1 pull-out timeline poster) is sure to be of use to and appreciated by all age groups. I fell in love with it the minute I opened it up (visit the publisher’s page to see sample pages). Here is the description found on their site:

With colour illustrations, pictures, and pull–out timelines, this history book brings the church throughout the ages to life! Learn about the Early, Medieval and Missionary church, passing through key events such as the Council of Nicea and the Reformation – right through to the present day. Find out about the people God used and the impact they had on those around them – including us today!

With a retail price of $15.99 the hardcover book is a bargain. But you may also find it for sale on Christianbook.com for $11.99 (25% off). By all means add this book to your family and church library!

Does God Call You to Be a Teacher or a Minister? ~ Prof. R. Dykstra, April 15, 2018 Standard Bearer

sb-logo-rfpaThe latest issue of the Reformed magazine, the Standard Bearer, is now out (April 15, 2018), and once again it is packed with edifying content.

In this issue are articles by Rev. M. DeVries on Ps.61:2 (a meditation), by D. Doezema on the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 16, by Prof. R. Cammenga on the sufficiency of Scripture, by Rev. R. Kleyn on remembering the Lord’s Day (the 4th commandment as taught by the Heidelberg Catechism), by Rev. J. Laning on the believer’s heavenly life in Christ alone, and by Rev. J. Mahtani on our calling to relate to other Christians who belong to the universal (catholic) church of Christ.

There is also an editorial by Prof. R. Dykstra, part of a mini-series he is doing on the idea of Christian vocation. This particular article hones in on two very special callings God gives to some of His people – that of Christian school teacher and that of gospel minister. In addressing the need for young people to face the questions, “Does God call me to teach in a Christian school? Does God call me to preach the gospel?” Prof. Dykstra points them to four spiritual qualifications and to three natural abilities they ought to find in themselves as they face God’s call.

Tonight we post a portion of his editorial, focusing in on two of the four spiritual qualifications he mentions. It is our prayer that this editorial will stir up serious consideration of these gifts and of God’s call to these special labors in His church and kingdom.

Second, prospective teachers and preacher must find in themselves a genuine love for God’s people, particularly the youth. This brotherly love enjoined on all Christians truly desires the good of God’s people, and truly desires to help them as he is able. Do you have this yearning to give your time, abilities, and heart – to give yourself –  for the good of sinful saints? Then perhaps you have the call to be a teacher or a minister.

Closely related, since both teaching and ministry are positions of service, the desire to serve must also be part of your spiritual makeup. Self-promotion has no place in these vocations. The proud must stay far away. Despite what you might imagine, God does not need you, no matter how gifted you may be. Ultimately, under God’s judgment, the proud will fail, for God’s people cannot abide such pride, and God will not tolerate it. A desire to serve, coupled with humility and meekness, these are the spiritual virtues found in godly, effective, beloved teachers and ministers.

R.C. Sproul and Berkouwer’s Dogmatische Studien | Open Book with Stephen Nichols

We recently introduced you to this new podcast series featuring Dr. Stephen Nichols with Dr. R.C. Sproul. It bears the name “Open Book” and the episodes feature interviews with Dr. Sproul in his home about special books in his personal library and their impact on his faith and life.

Episode 2 introduces us to Sproul’s studies in the Netherlands at the Free University in Amsterdam, where he studied under famed Dutch theologian G. K. Berkouwer. During this fascinating interview you will learn about Sproul’s struggle to learn and read the Dutch language while delving deeply into the person and work of Jesus Christ under this theologian.

Below is the little summary provided at the webpage and then the link to listen to this podcast. Enjoy learning a little Dutch while also learning about Sproul’s Reformed education in Holland.

On this episode of Open Book, Stephen Nichols and R.C. Sproul discuss the person of Christ, Dutch pronunciation, and a page that took 12 hours to translate.

Source: R.C. Sproul and Berkouwer’s Dogmatische Studien | Open Book with Stephen Nichols

A Rare Book on the Synod of Dordt, 1621

Last month we began to highlight the 400th anniversary of the “great” Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which begins this year and will extend into next year. In our initial post we simply called attention to some general things.

In this post I want to begin to call attention to some of the special books we have in the PRC Seminary library on the Synod and its work, including, of course, books on the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith over against the Arminianism that the Synod was called to contend against (This latter type books we will feature at a later time.).

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One of those special books is found in our rare book case and is a 1621 edition of the Acts of the Synod of Dordt (cf. outside binding above and title page with familiar drawing of the delegates below).

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Yes, you read that correctly – a 1621 edition – printed only two years after the Synod had ended. As you may guess, this work is in Dutch and in old script, which can make it difficult to read.

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But, you can certainly make out some of the words, especially on those pages where the various delegates are mentioned from the states and provinces in the Netherlands (cf. pages above and below). Those of us in West Michigan will recognize these provinces because they also are towns found nearby – Drenthe, Overisel, Zeeland, Holland (north and south), Graafschap, Zutphen.

You may notice that the names and the descriptions of the men are Latinized (that is, stated in Latin), which was the language of the church at that time yet.

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The page below shows some familiar names at the end of a section of addressing the articles of the Remonstrants (Arminians).

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That’s it for now – although I might add that a “new” article on the Synod of Dordt has been added to the PRC website“Our Debt to Dordt” – by one of our current professors, Ronald L. Cammenga. Be sure to read that for more information and inspiration on how Dordt impacts us today.

Theologians Who Love the Scriptures – K. Kapic

little-book-theologians-kapicIn the final chapter of his edifying little book, A Little Book for New Theologians (and those not so new), Kelly Kapic ends his study of theology and worship with a wonderful chapter titled “Love of Scripture.”

Here he fittingly shows us the place the inscripturated Word of God must have in our lives as the people of God, whether we are trained theologians or amateur ones. One of his closing points is this:

We must never forget that the purpose of the words is to draw us to the Word and thus into the embrace of the triune God. As people who grow to cherish and delight in the sacred writings, we must never forget their fundamental purpose: that we might know the true God and respond to him in repentance and faith, being drawn into communion with him. Strangely – but not surprisingly to any of us who end up professionally handling the Scriptures on a daily basis – there is always the danger to make the Scriptures an end in and of themselves.

And then the author relates the story of Jesus’ “heated discussion” with the Jews over his authority in connection with his practices on the sabbath day (John 5). He ends up admonishing them concerning the truth that the Scriptures (Moses and the entire OT) pointed to Him and, therefore, they ought to have believed on Him (cf. Jn.5:39-40). Whereupon Kapic concludes with application to ourselves:

Jesus here reminds us that the words of Scripture are alive, not because they are intrinsically magical but because by God’s Spirit they reveal the living Word and draw us to the triune God. To study the words but never encounter the Word is not to miss something. It is to miss everything! Studying the Bible alone, therefore, does not make one a good theologian.

What then? This:

The sacred Scriptures are sacred because, by God’s Spirit, these chosen means reveal God to us and draw us to himself. Here our idols are smashed and our worship is directed to the Creator Lord whose beauty and love is always worthy of our praise. If the Scriptures do not take us to a fuller and richer worship of the triune God, then we have missed the purpose of the written Word. But empowered by God’s Spirit and with a genuine thirst to receive his grace and know his mind, we can search the Scriptures like the Bereans, confident that here the Word is revealed once for all; here is the means by which we can know and live to God, and by this source we can test the claims made about him (Acts 17:11). [pp.117-119]

Shall we make that our deliberate and distinctive purpose as we study theology in the light of God’s holy Word?

God’s Work through the Means of Grace: It’s All So Ordinary

Means-of-Grace-3The following are theologian Michael Horton’s further thoughts on being content with God’s “ordinary” means of grace for the Christian’s faith and life:

‘Expect a miracle!’ That’s good counsel if there is a promise in Scripture to back it up. The problem today is that many Christians are not looking for God’s miraculous activity where he has promised it, namely, through his ordinary means of grace. Through these means, he has pledged to raise us from spiritual death, to forgive sins, to assure us of God’s favor, and to conform us to Christ’s image.

…Typically, we identify ‘acts of God’ with the big stuff: earthquakes, hurricanes, and parting seas. Or perhaps a better way of putting it: we identify the big stuff with what can be measured and recognized as an obvious miraculous intervention by God. Millions of people around the world will turn out for a prosperity evangelist’s promise of signs and wonders. But how many of us think that God’s greatest signs and wonders are being done every week through the ordinary means of preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper?

…If our God is so keen to work in and through the ordinary, maybe we should rethink the way we confine him to the theatrical spectacles, whether the pageantry of the Mass or the carefully staged crusade. It takes no honor away from God that he uses ordinary – even physical – means to bring about extraordinary results. On the contrary, it underscores the comprehensive breadth of his sovereignty over, in, and within creation as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

To be content with Christ’s kingdom is to be satisfied also with his ordinary means of grace.

…Just as we wouldn’t have expected to find the Creator of the universe in a feeding trough of a barn in some obscure village, much less hanging, bloody, on a Roman cross, we do not expect to find him delivering his extraordinary gifts in such human places and in such humble ways as human speech [preaching], a bath [baptism], and a meal [the Lord’s supper]. This can’t be right, we reason. We need signs and wonders to know that God is with us. Yet it is only because God has promised to meet us in the humble and ordinary places, to deliver his inheritance, that we are content to receive him in these ways.

CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week. These means of grace and the ordinary fellowship of the saints that nurtures and guides us throughout our life may seem frail, but they are jars that carry a rich treasure: Christ with all his saving benefits.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 7 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I am currently making my way through. The chapter is simply titled “Contentment.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.139-49.

Horton’s words leave us with some questions: Are we content with God’s ordinary means of grace? And if so, are we using them as He intends?

400th Anniversary of the Great Synod of Dordt, 1618-19

2018-19 marks the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dordt held in the Netherlands in the city of Dordtrecht over parts of 1618-1619.

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This synod of the Reformed Churches is known as the “Great Synod,” in part because of the great work that it did: condemning the errors of  Arminianism while setting forth the positive concensus of the Reformed churches on five main points of doctrine (the “Canons of Dordt”, as they are known); adopting editions of the other two major confessions of the Reformed churches – the Belgic Confession (1562) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) to form with the “Canons” the “Three Forms of Unity” as doctrinal standards in the Reformed churches; and approving a new translation of the Bible – the Dutch Staten Bible.

For this reason, the Synod of Dordt was also great in significance, which is why we will spend time this year reviewing its work and referencing resources that are being produced about it and events that are being held to commemorate it.

Just last week Ligonier did a feature on the Synod of Dordt on its “Renewing Your Mind” program. The twenty-five-minute program had Dr. Robert Godfrey presenting a church history lecture on the history and basic work of the “Great Synod.” It is worth your time to listen to this broadcast as we begin our own commemoration of this significant church gathering (use the link provided here to listen).

In addition, you may find an important overview of the Synod of Dordt on the PRCA website, where I will also be adding more related articles this year. Prof. H. Hanko has a fine article titled “The Synod of Dordt.” You are encouraged to read that as part of our own instruction and inspiration.

Later this year the Standard Bearer hopes to publish a special issue on the Synod. Look for that at the time of our annual Reformation issue this Fall!