The Glory of God
Tolle Lege: Take Up and Read
The year 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. A number of publishers are celebrating this ‘Calvin Quincentennial’ by releasing new books on the life, work, and teaching of Calvin. Among these are a new book titled Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel R. Beeke. Dr. Beeke is well qualified to edit and co-author such a volume. He is the president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, or edited over fifty books, and he has also written fifteen hundred articles for various publications, including Tabletalk.
Beeke explains the reason for this book in his Introduction. He writes, ‘For many years, I have searched for a book that would cover the intellectual and spiritual emphases of Calvinism, the way it influences the church and everyday living, and its ethical and cultural implications. The book I had in mind would explain for today’s reader the biblical, God-centered, heartfelt, winsome, and practical nature of Calvinism, and would clearly convey how Calvinism earnestly seeks to meet the purpose for which we were created, namely, to live to the glory of God. By doing so, it would serve as a corrective to the many caricatures of Calvinism that still exist in North America and beyond.’ Unable to find a single book that fit the bill, Dr. Beeke has written it himself, with the help of several co-authors.
Living for God’s Glory is divided into six parts with a total of twenty-eight chapters. Of these twenty-eight chapters, Beeke himself has contributed eighteen. The remaining ten chapters consist of contributions by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. James M. Grier, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin, Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Rev. Ray B. Lanning, Dr. Robert W. Oliver, Ray Pennings, and Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas. All of these men are gifted authors, and their chapters are consistently well-written.
Part One is titled ‘Calvinism in History’ and contains two chapters. The first outlines briefly the historical origins of Calvinism in the Protestant Reformation and distinguishes it from other branches of the Reformation. In the second chapter, Beeke provides some basic information about some of the more important Reformed confessions and catechisms, including the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. These chapters provide a helpful context for the discussions in the remainder of the book.
In Part Two, ‘Calvinism in the Mind,’ Beeke introduces some of the doctrinal distinctives of Calvinism. In chapter three, he discusses the debate over the central or core doctrine of Calvinism, concluding ultimately that it is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. In chapters four through nine, Beeke introduces readers to the so-called Five Points of Calvinism. These chapters helpfully clear away misconceptions about these doctrines and show how they are grounded in the teaching of the Bible. Chapter ten provides a brief explanation of the five solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone). Part two concludes with a chapter by Dr. Grier explaining Calvin’s philosophical views.
Part Three is titled ‘Calvinism in the Heart.’ In chapter 12, Michael Haykin discusses and explains the Calvinistic view of the means of grace. Beeke then looks at the theological, ecclesiastical, and practical dimensions of Calvin’s understanding of piety in chapter 13. In the final two chapters of Part Three, he looks at the puritan understanding of sanctification and how it was worked out in daily living. The six chapters in Part Four, ‘Calvinism in the Church’ are devoted to an explanation of Reformed church polity, worship, preaching, and evangelism. I would recommend these chapters to all pastors. Chapters 18 and 19 on Reformed preaching are particularly important in this day and age.
‘Calvinism in Practice’ is the subject of the six chapters in Part Five. Here the authors explain the Reformed view of marriage, family, work, and the state. This section concludes with a helpful explanation of the theocentric view of ethics espoused by Calvinists. The book concludes with a chapter by Sinclair Ferguson on Calvinism’s goal entitled ‘Doxology.’ When a man properly understands Reformed theology, he cannot help but give all glory and praise to our triune God.
The vast number of books published each year makes it difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dr. Keith A. Mathison helps us sort out the good books from the bad each month in his book review column Tolle Lege.