Many of us love to read books! It seems that especially in the Reformed faith, we buy, buy, buy - books that look interesting to our eyes (covers) or minds (titles). One of my biggest fears as I sell the titles of many publications for Reformation Heritage Books is that people buy books so that their shelves look nice, or their coffee tables have a great- looking stack of books for the neighbor to see, or maybe even so that they can lay a book on the shelf of their bathroom simply so that they look like they love to read! Often, personally, I know when I see books and new titles, I want more than I will ever be able to keep up with. It seems as if every new title that P&R and Crossway is doing, I want! However, reading books at RHB and the few I get from Crossway and P&R time-to-time, the pile begins to stack up on me – especially as I am a full time seminary student and working. I think that in this day and age, with books being published like never before, we must - as Christians - take careful consideration in the books we may buy so that we do not merely become a collector of titles to store upon the shelves in our studies. We need to look deeply into what we should purchase and what we should read, and then actually read what we spend our money on. So with that said, I wanted to ask one of the editors of the Calvin 500 Series (David Hall) a number of questions about the first volume (Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes) of the series so that you, the readers of it, may know why you may be interested in reading it and should take the time to read it.
Interview with David Hall on the Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essay and Analysis
Dewalt: Why did you choose to write the section on, “Calvin and Human Government and the State,” in the first volume of the Calvin 500 Series, Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes?
Hall: I have been studying Calvin and Beza on this topic for almost two decades, so it is a longstanding interest of mine. We had a grant to research a book (The Geneva Reformation and the American Founding) in 1999, and since that time this topic has probably become my main area of research. Moreover, this is a living issue, and bible-believers need all the resources of history to aid us as we seek to minister in the public square. Calvin certainly cast a large shadow in his own culture for good. He towers among most theologians both in his knowledge and articulations on these areas. Wouldn’t a wise Christian want his instruction? Think of it this way: if you had a grandfather who had some wisdom on an important area, wouldn’t you want to listen to him?
Dewalt: When editing and compiling these essays together, which one did you enjoy the most and why?
Hall: You know I can’t single just one out! Still, I thought Scott Clark’s essays was one of the finest, both in style and substance. Several of the essays had difficult tasks (Joe Hall’s and Bob Godrey’s in particular) since their topics spanned so many pages. Then again, I always enjoy Pete Lillback’s writing, and David Calhoun’s piece on prayer was quite devotional. Of course, my wife and I both agree that the Foreword by Dr. Packer is THE best 5 pages in this book and . . . most anywhere. Unbelievable!
Dewalt: In a culture that we live in America, what essay did you see most needed for today?
Hall: Several of the first articles are foundational to many concerns today. Bob Reymond’s article on Scripture will stand the test of time and remain a classic. Also Scott Oliphint’s piece on knowledge and apologetics will remain important. The more practical topics toward the end (worship, prayer, ethics, the church) may also be consulted over and over again.
Dewalt: When studying John Calvin’s political values and ideas, did it change or make you think different in how you viewed your own political views today in the 21st century?
Hall: I was reminded of this cautionary tale once again: we must be careful not to marry a particular party; but that should not disincentivize us from the full range of proclaiming and applying the Scriptures to political and social matters. Calvin also reminds us not to be overly dogmatic about micro concerns but to hold fast to major principles. One of my first books on Christians and politics was written because so many Christians in our own church were devastated when an election did not go as they hoped. That revealed that if one’s trust is placed in a narrow political outcome it may not be as scripturally founded as thought.
Dewalt: Seeing how John Calvin’s view of serving in civil government was, “the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men” what do you think believers in America should do to help bring about the glory of God in a culture that at times does not carry out biblical morals, ethics or laws.
Hall: While there is no 4-step formula, the most important thing I know to do is something very simple and practical: each sphere of life must do its own work every generation. By that, I mean that the church should (as in #4 above) proclaim the whole counsel of God. I customarily preach an election sermon every cycle, and other churches have found similar helps. Obviously, such preaching is a nonpartisan but biblical calling to apply the Lordship of Christ to political matters–just as we call folks to apply Christ’s Lordship to matters of morality, finances, childrearing, law, education, and other areas. Second, each home should disciple its own children in a Christian worldview. For the long term, such discipleship holds great promise. Perhaps the rediscovery of Calvin’s work will assist many of us in that.
Also, when Christians do not enjoy immediate electoral or political success, there are times for review and reformulation. Our goal, it seems to me, for the coming generation will be to disciple our members in all areas of life–not merely a few. Calvin and others can help us remember that God is the true and sovereign Ruler, regardless of any appearances. Knowing that usually yields the confidence to stick to biblical principles instead of either joining every crusade or of despairing if there is not quick success in politics.
** If you are interested in purchasing the Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essay and Analysis you can do so for only $20.00 by simply clicking here.