Insights in the Institutes – Christian Hedonism

31 07 2008

John Piper’s teaching on the enjoyment of God being the key to glorifying him has impacted the Reformed evangelical world very deeply. The teaching of books such as Desiring God, with the use of terms like ‘Christian Hedonism’ have been the inspiration of discipleship and debate in almost equal measure.

I have posted before about my initial struggles with the notion of Christian hedonism, and my eventual acceptance of it as authentic in biblical and historical terms. This is evidently the case when one comes to read the Institutes. A number of quotes could be drawn from the early sections of Calvin’s great theological treatise, but the following more than adequately summarises much of what he teaches about our relationship to, and enjoment of, God our creator.

“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him – they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him”.

[Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol.1, p.41]


Quiet Victory

28 07 2008

Over the past few months I’ve revived an interest in cycling – a hobby which had lain in the dust since my teenage years. The Newry/South Armagh cycle last month proved a good impetus to get on my bike again, and I’ve been sticking at it since. I’ve rediscovered the pure enjoyment of riding alone through beautiful countryside and the fulfillment of physical challenge. How long this new interest will last, I don’t know – but it is proving a great way of blowing off the cobwebs amidst the smog of Thesisville.

My renewed interest in two-wheeled life has coincided nicely with the Tour de France, although in not having digital TV I’ve been relying on Teletext and the BBC News Website. Yesterday Spaniard Carlos Sastre won the event, grasping victory through some scorching mountain stages, and a superb time trial on Saturday. In a sport which has been plagued by scandals over doping, and big egos, it is refreshing to read his sentiments in the wake of winning one of the most gruelling tournaments on earth – a 2000 mile ride across physically ruinous terrain. In the run up to the event I read an assessment of Sastre which said ‘he could well end up working as a top domestique for the Schlecks’, minimizing his chances of victory entirely.

In a world which is absorbed with the narcissistic cult of celebrity and social advancement it is wonderful to read about a sportsman who is understated, and who wants achievement and media attention to be focused solely on his sporting victories. His words on BBC news today were touching in their self-effacing honesty:

“I like to come to the fore on the bike and not in front of the cameras…but my life is not going to be turned upside down because I have won the world’s biggest race. I have always wanted to protect my family as much as possible. I have never liked to expose them. This victory is the most amazing page of my life but I will exchange no victory in the world for the tranquillity of my family.”

Insights in the Institutes – Postmodernism

24 07 2008

Uncertainty is massively overated, and the upcoming generation know that full well. They have been living in a world, schooled in an education system, and saturated by a media industry, which has extolled the benefits of not knowing anything truly or firmly – except for the fact that one doesn’t know anything truly or firmly. They have listened to the equivocations, deliberations, and qualifications of a world whose supreme idea of virtue is ambivalant vacuity, and they have found it wanting in the balance of their own judgement.

Young Christians do not want stumbling, fumbling words about maybes, might-bes, and conversation. They are not set alight by the despondent countenance of a hermeneutical humility which probes every point in every part of modern life, without ever daring to jump to a single conclusion. What convinces, what inspires, what motivates to true Christian knowledge and full Christian living is the Truth and certainty revealed in the Word of God – the sense of belonging to something big, grand, historic, and genuine. The sense that they have a Saviour who can speak for Himself, a God whose Word is firm eternal and right. These are truths worth living and dying for.

In the Institutes, Calvin likewise imagines the shameful state of a world in which nothing is known certainly, and little is held to firmly, and he addresses this issue with precision and force – blowing the speculations of godless philosophy in his day and ours into tiny pieces.

Some praise the reply of Simonides, who, asked by the tyrant Hiero what God was, begged to be given a day to ponder. When on the following day the tyrant asked the same question, he asked for two days more, and after having frequently doubled the number of days, finally answered, ‘The longer I consider this, the more obscure it seems to me’. He wisely indeed suspended judgment on a subject so obscure to himself. Yet hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.
[Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol.1, p.66]

Saturday Link Library Pt.1

18 07 2008

Another addition to the miscellany that my Saturday posts are becoming – an occasional round up of some worthy posts and websites that are out there.

Guy Davies has a thoughtful and thought provoking review of A.T.B. McGowan’s Divine Spiration of Scripture over at Exiled Preacher. The two parts can be read here and here respectively.

Martin Downes has some similarly helpful insights on the issue of inerrancy, and gives a very powerful juxtaposition of McGowan’s views and those of the late great John Murray. Fascinating stuff.

I’m being richly blessed at a personal level by the writings of John Calvin at the moment. 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of his birth, and the Calvin 500 blog is most definitely worth a look.

Timmy Brister writes an urgent and breathtaking prayer request on behalf of Pastor Tom Ascol of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.

And finally, I think I’m going to have to eat my own words about the ESV Study Bible. This is a serious study tool, and one which looks to benefit the body of Christ in a major way when it is released in October of this year.

Insights in the Institutes

17 07 2008

There truly is nothing new under the sun, and the reading of masterworks from historic Christianity confirms this most fully. I have recently been working my way (very slowly) through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and have found this to be particularly true. Time and again as I have read Calvin’s depictions of man and God, his sentiments have come home with such force and relevance to contemporary situations and debates that I have marvelled at the power and timeless quality.

Over the next while I hope to post a series of posts which show how Calvin’s words from the sixteenth carry power and import for the twenty-first century, and how many of the debates and difficulties now faced within Christianity, as well as assaults upon it from a hostile world, are not new but old and well answered by believers of a different time. It goes without saying that Calvin is not directly or explicitly addresing the issues I highlight, but that I am applying his wisdom on the topics of his day in such a way as to show the ideological basis of his concerns and controversies are exactly the same as ours today. My hope is that these occasional posts will be helpful to others, but that they will also form into a repository of quotations and theses which will inform my own ministry and preaching in days to come.

The first insight from the institutes will appear next Thursday, and then on certain Thursdays following.

Wholehearted Holiness

14 07 2008

As stated in my recent review of Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit, the author’s treatment of personal holiness in the believer’s life is outstanding in its force and depth. What Packer writes has been of tremendous help to me personally, and is written with a sanity and gravity that one expects from his literary output. The following quote really blessed and challenged me:

Any idea of holiness as required refusal to do all that one most wants to do must be dismissed as the unregenerae mind’s misunderstanding. True holiness, springing as it does from what the Puritans called the ‘gospel mystery’ of the sanctifying work of God, is the Christian’s true fulfilment, for it is the doing of that which, deep down, he now most wants to do, according to the urging of his new, dominant instincts in Christ” – Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.89-90

Saturday Silliness Pt.1

12 07 2008

I love this clip, and a recent post on Heavenly Worldliness brought it to mind.