Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Big Book of Textual Variants

Unless you are a rabid King James Only advocate, you will know about the existence of textual variants in the New Testament text. But how do we find out what those variants are, and what they mean? Why does the NIV read differently from the ESV in places? Why do both differ from the Authorised Version? What do you do when someone approaches you and asks about the variants? What about Bart Ehrman's contention that the variants represent radically different theologies?

Philip Comfort's book New Testament Text and Translation Commentary is just what you need in cases like this. I call it 'The Big Book of Textual Variants', as it's a good description of the book. This 900+ -page volume is certainly big, and it's all about textual variants. Comfort goes carefully through the New Testament text, listing the significant variants, which printedGreek Text includes them in the main text, the manucripts that contain them, and which English translation (if any) has each variant. There then follows an explanation of the variant, and the reason why it may or may not be the original text. There are, of course, some variants which no English version contains, and which is found in the main text of no printed Greek text. While the previous standard book in the field, Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, only contained those passages that were included in the apparatus of the UBS 4th edition, this book has all of them. This book does not require a knowledge of Greek, although of course that would help!

This is an important book, written by a good conservative scholar, which ought to reassure Christians that we ought not to be afraid of the textual variants! Invaluable for pastors, seminary students and apologists.

[Readers will understand that I am unable to supply books reviewed. I got this one from the EMW bookshop in Cardiff, and suggest readers do the same.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

The PTS Bookshop in London

In Many Bookshops with Mr. Charmley continues with the Protestant Truth Society's bookshop on Fleet Street in central London. Once the centre of London's newspaper world, Fleet Street is now mostly just another shopping street. I would say that the glory had departed, but calling newspapers glorious might be stretching things a little too far.

The Protestant Truth Society bookshop is, as the name suggests, Protestant. This part of the name means that no ecumenical or Romanist books are found here. Secondly, the word Truth should indicate that no false books are found on the shelves. Sadly, a few years ago I caught them stocking books by Gail Riplinger, a notorious and hysterical King James Only advocate who is not above using any and every for of smear tactic, and telling vast and bizarre lies about anyone she disagrees with. A strongly-worded e-mail followed. This aside, the PTS bookshop is predominantly Reformed in character, and the books stocked are, with the exception of some bizarre KJV-Only stuff, useful and helpful. A lot of Banner of Truth books can be found here, as can books that are quite difficult to find elsewhere in England. The range of stock is broader than the Tabernacle Bookshop, not tht this is difficult. Staff will order in books in the fairly unlikely event that what you want isn't in stock (assuming you are of a Reformed persuasion). Highly recommended.

Future In Many Bookshops posts will follow as and when I visit more bookshops. These will, God willing, include the Heath Bookshop in Cardiff, the EMW Bookshop in Swansea, and Shepherd's Christian Bookshop in Newport.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Harvest Books and Crafts, Pontypridd

Continuing In Many Bookshops with Mr. Charmley, we come to Harvest Books and Crafts, Pontypridd. This little bookshop is located in the centre of the town of Pontypridd in South Wales. As the name suggests, it sells book and crafts.

The character of this shop is best decribed as 'broadly Evangelical'. Anyone who knows anything about the Evangelical movement today will have some idea what that means: it means that The Shack will be found alongside books by R. C. Sproul and Geoff Thomas. This is only to be expected, really, seeing as The Shack has been promoted by 'Evangelical' personalities whatever that means these days), and therefore a lot of books stock it on the mistaken assumption that it muct be all right. The stock is very small, understandably, as the shop is fairly tiny, and of course has to contain the crafts as well as the books. I could have wished that the stock had been selected with more discernment, as is the case in other craft/bookshops, such as that in Droitwich. Nevertheless, an effort has been made to have a good range of books, including good Biblical commentaries. The shop will order in books on demand from customers. I found the staff helpful and friendly, and as this is the only Christian bookshop for some miles, it deserves to be made use of. And of course, a shop's stock is decided in part by demand. If people want certain books, they will be stocked. On the other hand, books that are not bought will eventually not be stocked. I will probably go back there next time I go to Pontypridd. Whenever that is.

Next: Back to London.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

'The Word Became Fresh'

It seems that the historical books of the Old Testament seem to intimidate preachers. I have heard quite a number of older preachers speak from these books, but fewer young men. Perhaps one of the reasons some find the Old Testament difficult to preach is that Dispensationalism has made them confused about how to interpret the Old Testament. Also there has been a lot of bad preaching from the Old Testament, namely the rampant and uncontrolled allegorization of narratives. Younger preachers, aware that this allegorical approach is wrong, are left unsure of what to do with these stories. And yet I am assured that this is not a new problem. Even in the past, the majority of sermons were not preached from the narrative portions of the Old Testament. An examination of a volume of sermons from my library, published in 1898, Welshmen in English Pulpits, reveals that, out of 30 sermons in the book, thirteen are from the Old Testament, seven of these from predominantly narrative books, namely Genesis (1), Exodus (1), 2 Samuel (1), 2 Kings (2), 1 Chronicles (1), and 2 Chronicles (1). An eighth, from Deuteronomy 2.3 is essentially narrative as well. Supposing that these sermons are representative of Congregationalist preaching from the late 19th century, we find that 26.7% of the sermons are from Old Testament narrative passages. The actual treatment of the text is not considered here, of course - some of them could be allegorized or taken out of context, though I hope not!

Because of this perennial issue, The Word Became Fresh is an extremely welcome addition to homiletic literature. This is a book written by a man who knows what he's writing about, which is always a good start with a book. Dale Ralph Davis is probably well-known to readers as the author of a number of excellent commentaries on historical books of the Old Testament, something that makes him eminently qualified to write on this subject. Davis does not offer a 'magic bullet' that will make preaching from Old Testament narrative texts a doddle, but a well-written book in which he lays out some commonsense suggestions for understanding and preaching narrative texts. Chapter one deals with the approach to the text. Happily, he opens with the need for the help of the Holy Spirit in opening the Bible. Only then does he go on to the technical elements of the approach to the text. Chapter two is entitled 'quirks', and deals with the peculiarities of narrative. Chapter three is on theology, referring to the theology of the text. Chapter four, 'Packaging', deals with the structure of the text. Chapter five deals with 'Nasties', particular texts that are difficult for us to preach from for various reasons - difficult because they're off-putting for some reason or other. Chapter six is called 'Macroscope', and is about interpreting the passage in light of the whole book in which it is found. Having done all that, we come to chapter seven, in which Davis deals with the question of application, something that is quite important in a narrative text - we can retell the story, but what does it mean? Chapter 8 is 'Center' (sic. Davis is American), in which he points out that we need to have a theocentric focus. Here there is a disagreement. I, with others, prefer to say that it ought to be Christocentric. Not in a shallow, allegorizing way, but in that we approach the texts as Christians, in the light of the New Testament, not as Jews. That is to say, as a Christian, I have to read the whole Bible in the light of the fulness of God's revelation in Christ. But then, perhaps Davis and myself are using the term 'Christocentric' in two slightly different ways. Finally he gives us a worked example in the final chapter. This is a book that every preacher ought to read, and perhaps it will help to make sermons from the narrative books of the Old Testament less of a rarity than they have become of late.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Conspiracies and the Cross'

We all remember the Da Vinci Code book and movie, and as we look back to 2004, we wonder just how it was that the book and the film created so much hype in the first place. But the fact of the matter is that the book was only part of a whole series of attacks on the nature and authority of the Bible, and the facts of Christ's life. Many excellent books answering the Da Vinci Code were released at the time that the film came out, but now that the Da Vinci Code is a distant memory in the remainder bin of life, that research needs to be put in a more permanent form. Thus Peter Jones' Stolen Identity, and the excellent Reinventing Jesus by Komoszewski, Sawyer and Wallace, were born. Now Timothy Paul Jones, author of Misquoting Truth, the response to Bart Ehrman, has given another book of this type, Conspiracies and the Cross.
This is popular-level apologetics at its best, serious research underpins eveything that Jones says. Not only has he obviously worked hard to understand the ten 'conspiracies' that he deals with in this book, but he has read widely to refute them. The book is structured around these ten 'Conspiracies', widely-popular theories that attack the Gospel. Each chapter begins by simply laying out the 'conspiracy', then giving a list of those who say so. The rest of the chapter interracts with these sources, finally refuting the 'conspiracy'. Jones' prose is lively and often humorous, though without ever becoming crude or insulting. There is a ten-page bibliography, and twenty-nine pages of endnotes that display the scholarship that underlies the answer. This is not a simplistic book, and Dr. Jones is plainly very much aware of contemporary scholarship. He refuses to buy into easy answers or dubious interpretations of facts, rather exposing the reader to the facts as they are. The book will probably be most useful in a more intellectual setting, such as a university, where the Christian faith is under intellectual attack. It contains a study guide for use in small groups, which will again be of most use in a more intellectual environment, such as a Christian Union at university.
I liked this book, and I think that the books that are now trying to put the research that was done to debunk Dan Brown (vastly more than was ever done by Dan Brown) into more permanent form are a great contribution to the corpus of apologetics.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'The Historical Reliability of the Gospels'

As the son of an historian, and a man interested in history myself, I find the question of the historical reliability of the Scriptures, and especially the Gospels, to be of great interest. We have all heard people telling us that the Gospels are not history, but legend, written up later (well, I have, but then I come from a liberal Anglican background). How do we respond to this?
Craig Blomberg's book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has been a standard work on this subject for two decades. While it has been of great usefulness, these two decades have seen new challenges to the historicity of the Gospels, or rather, new forms of the old challenges. A great deal of material has been written on both sides of the debate. In 2007 a new, completely revised and updated, edition of Blomberg's book appeared, now with references to Bart Ehrman and to the Jesus Seminar, as well as other developments in this field. The book is quite welcome, as it brings togther in a useful single volume a huge amount of important research. For the reader who knows that there are answers to the challenges of the sceptics, but does not know what they are, this book will be extremely helpful. It is my favourite book on the subject - not that the opinion of an assistant pastor in South Wales should count for very much, of course!
Blomberg considers the question of historical methodology, the history of the question, and such questions as miracles, differences between parralell accounts of the same events, and apparent contradictions. This is a very thoughtful book, and at 416 pages, inluding indices and a fifty-six page bibliography, certainly weighty! It is published by IVP Academic in the US and Apollos in the UK.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cardiff Christian bookshop, Wyndham Arcade

Cardiff Christian Bookshop, located in Wyndham Arcade, one of the many shopping arcades in Cardiff, is one of the Evangelical Movement of Wales bookshops. Located as it is in the capital of Wales, it is a well-stocked shop with helpful staff who usually know what they're talking about. Its location means that it is a general evangelical bookshop, so some of the stock would be less than acceptable to the presumed readers of a blog entitled 'Strict and Particular'. Nevertheless, the majority of the books stocked here are of a helpul nature.

The shop stocks a wide variety of materials, from children's books to the huge and more intellectually-challenging. On one visit I picked up Philip Comfort's huge New Testament Text and Translation Commentary. The majority of Christian bookshops, especially evangelical ones, have to maintain a delicate balance between selling what the managers like and what the public are asking for. The question of how far to go is up to management at the shop. One way to go is that of the Norwich Christian Resorce Centre, and other ecumenical shops - sell anything and everything - the other is that of the Tabernacle Bookshop - sell only what Dr. Masters wants to. Which is fair enough, since he runs it. Still other shops cater to the lowest common denominator of evangelicalism - Dance Praise and The Shack, with more CDs than books. The EMW shops seem to be closest to the balance that keeps a shop financially viable, yet without making the name 'bookshop' something of a misnomer. Cardiff Christian Bookshop also has a secondhand section, which usually contains something useful as well as books that seem to have been given to the EMW because no-one wants them any more - such as A.S. Peake's book on the true nature of Christianity. The answer, of course, is not what Prof. Peake thought it was.

Next: Pontypridd gets the In Many Bookshops treatment!

Disclaimer: This is an opinionated blog piece, and as such may safely be ignored if you disagree with it. All opinions contained in this piece are those of the author, and possibly no-one else.

Friday, March 20, 2009

'The Prodigal God' by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God is a book that created a small controversy before it was published. To name no names, some Reformed people criticised Keller simply for the title of this book! To me, this was a total non-issue, obviously the book was an exposition of the parable usually referred to as 'The Prodigal Son'. Most agree that this name is not completely appropriate, partly because there are two sons in the parable. I know of a missionary who refers to it as 'The Parable of the Running Father', to emphasise the fact that a father in ancient near-eastern culture would never run, as it would be contrary to his dignity.
Although I had heard many good things about Pastor Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, I had never read or listened to Keller before I read this book. I came to it as just another book. And I like it. Keller has written a book that presents the Gospel biblically, in an exposition of the parable. The title The Prodigal God was chosen by Keller to express the reckless generosity of God to sinners. It's all about the Gospel, and Keller gets it! He knows what the Gospel is, God's free grace to sinners through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's a striking title, and perhaps you find it shocking. You're meant to, the reckless freeness of the Gospel to sinners is shocking, especially to the self-righteous. Now, when a book presents the Gospel like this, it's well worth reading and passing on.
Whether this is actually the case or not, what struck me was Keller's concern for the 'elder son' sinners, self-righteous people. While most expositions of the parable tend to spend more time on the younger son, Keller seems to balance the time he spends on each. As a former liberal Anglican, I found this quite refreshing. I was one of those people, and I am so glad that Keller understands that self-righteous sinners need the Gospel too. Better yet, he understands that Christians need to hear the Gospel so that they do not get into an 'elder son' mentality of legalism! A little book, it could have done without Rick Warren, Billy Graham and Christianity Today on the back cover!
The Prodigal God is published by Dutton, and is available from your local Christian bookshop, or from Amazon.co.uk.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banner of Truth celebrates Calvin 500

The Banner of Truth Trust has been consistently the best British publisher of Reformed reprints since its establishment in 1957. Thanks to the efforts of the Trust, many excellent gems of Reformed theology have been brought back into print over the last half-century. These books range from the era of the Reformation to the earlier part of the twentieth century, with authors from all sorts of places and backgrounds. John Calvin is well represented, as he ought to be, of course. His sermons predominate, as they ought to for a man who was first and foremost a preacher, with seven different titles listed on the Banner website. Second come Biblical commentaries, which again is as it should be, as Calvin remains one of the greatest of Biblical commentators. There are four volumes stocked, commentaries on Genesis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Daniel and the Minor Prophets. Until this year there were only two other Calvin titles published by the Banner, Truth for all Time, Calvin's short summary of Biblical doctrine, and a selection of Letters of John Calvin. But for this Calvin 500 year the Trust has produced a real treasure, the seven-volume set of Tracts and Letters by Calvin. This set brings together what were originally two separate publications, the three-volume set of Tracts published by the Calvin Translation Society in the mid-nineteenth century (1844-51), and the four-volume set of Letters of John Calvin, first published in America by the Presbyterian Board of Publication in 1858. For this year only, the Trust is offering the set for £45, which adds up to less than £6.50 pervolume. Given that these are cloth-bound volumes, this is quite a bargain!
The first three volumes of Tracts contain shorter writings of Calvin. The first volume begins with Beza's Life of John Calvin, giving a good introduction to Calvin himself. It is chiefly concerned with the Reformation of the Church, including his Letter to Cardinal Sadoleto, and The Necessity of Reforming the Church. Volume two contains a more miscellaneous selection of writings, including the Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Calvin's Geneva liturgy, and his writings on the Sacraments, particularly on the Lord's Supper. The final volume opens with Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, with the Antidote. This particular writing is extremely important, as Trent still forms the foundation of the modern Roman Catholic Church. This work shows where the dividing line between Rome and the Reformation still lies.
The four volumes of Letters are proably the closest we can get to Calvin the man, they show him as he was. Time and again, reading biographies of Calvin, I have come across writers saying "read the letters". Now, thanks to the Banner of Truth, we can.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Books to use for non-Calvinists

The accusation has been made that I have only given references to books by Calvinists. For this reason, I give a list of books about Calvin by non-Calvinists that you can give to your Dave Hunt-influenced friends.

1. William J. Bouwsma: John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York, Oxford University Press, 1988). By a historian at a secular university, namely Berkeley, and published by a secular publisher, there is no way that this can be accused of being a mere fan piece.

2. Andrew Martin Fairbairn: ‘Calvin and the Reformed Church’ Pp.342-376 in The Cambridge Modern History Vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1934). Great if you can get hold of it. Fairbairn was a dedicated Arminian who had deliberately rejected his Calvinistic upbringing in Presbyterian Scotland. His whole mental bias was against Calvin, yet he is almost laudatory of Calvin!

3. R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933). Another great biography to give to Dave Hunt's followers. Hunt makes it quite clear that he is no Calvinist, but at the same time he refuses to close his eyes to Calvin's good qualities.

4. Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1914). Liberal Presbyterian author, very scholarly and full of quotations from the original sources.
5. Williston Walker, John Calvin: Revolutionary, Theologian, Pastor (Reprinted Fearn, Christian Focus, 2005). Yale Church historian. I trust that no-one will suspect him of Calvinism. Certainly not after reading this book!
If the Dave Hunt fan refuses to read any of these books, or says he doesn't believe them afterwards, ask him why. Point out that a refusal to examine the evidence is not a Christian virtue. I own and have read all of these books, and I like them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An old classic that deserves to be reprinted, but hasn't been yet

R.N. Carew Hunt's Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933), is probably my favourite biography of John Calvin. I find it a slightly better read than Reyburn, though it's a close call. This book is a classic, and it wasn't written by a Calvinist either! Robert Reymond writes of it:
“As a biography it is unsurpassed, but Hunt is somewhat hard on times because of his doctrine of predestination.” T.H.L. Parker writes of this book:
"whatever qualifications must be made about its interpretation of Calvin's theology, [it] is reliable and well-written history." Simply put, this is one of the classics, a book that I can recommend to everyone who wants to learn more about Calvin. It is not merely a rehash of what is found in Reyburn, and Hunt's racy English prose is a joy to read. Since Hunt is not a Calvinist, this can be a good book to use to correct a victim of Dave Hunt's silliness. The final paragraph of the book is wonderful. I give it here:
"At this point what we may think of his doctrine or his system become of no
importance. We are left in the presence of a man who followed what he believed
to be the truth, and consecrated his life to its attainment, and for this he
will be had in honour as long as courage and singleness of purpose are held as
virtues among men."

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Tabernacle Bookshop

Next in our occasional series 'In Many Bookshops with Mr. Charmley', is the Tabernacle Bookshop, London. Located behind the Metropolitan Tabernacle, famed for the preaching of C.H. Spurgeon, the Tabernacle Bookshop is a ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and as such the books found in the bookshop are personally vetted by Dr. Peter Masters, the present pastor. And herein lies my only complaint about the shop. The stock is extremely limited according to Dr. Masters' preferences. Thus it gives a good idea of what Dr. Masters recommends, but this means, conversely, that any book or author with which he has certain differences will be excluded. Sadly this means that very few of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' books will be found here, and that of Tom Nettles' three-volume work The Baptists, only volume one is available. Asking the staff to order in books is a risky business, and not recommended unless you are prepared for an argument. Strangely enough, Dr. Masters stocks the commentaries of Albert Barnes, despite Barnes' semi-Pelagian Finneyesque revivalism, and his incipient four-point Calvinism. All of which goes to show that no-one can be 100% consistent. This is a good shop for what it stocks, and has had a lot of money from me over the years, but don't expect the 'full spectrum' mentioned on the website banner. I have no objection to vetting the books stocked in a shop, I just think that the criteria used in the Tabernacle bookshop are perhaps too strict. Last time I was there the shelves looked rather empty, but that was probably the after-effects of Christmas.
Next (DV): EMW shop in Cardiff.
Others in consideration are the Heath Christian Bookshop, Cardiff, and Harvest Books and Crafts, Pontypridd. As this is a blog, these are opinionated articles that do not reflect the views of anyone but the author (although others may agree with him). The fact that a bookshop is reviewed here obviously does not constitute a recommendation of either the bookshop or everything stocked in it. In fact it simply means that I have the ability and the inclination to get to the shop in question. Unless otherwise mentioned, I have bought items from the bookshops reviewed. Sometimes quite a lot of items...

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Books About Calvin: 4

In addition to the nine biographies of Calvin that I have listed, there are a number of special studies that deal with aspects of the Reformer's life that are worthy of mention.
1. Timothy George (ed.): John Calvin and the Church (Westminster/John Knox, 1990). This is a series of essays on Calvin. Despite the title, it does in fact deal with far more than just Calvin and the Church. There are essays on such diverse subjects as 'Calvin's Illnesses and Their Relation to Christian Vocation', 'The Church as the Elect in the Theology of Calvin', and 'The Place of the Academy in Calvin's Polity'. Its diversity makes it a great book to read. It is aimed at the scholar, but the intelligent Reformed non-scholar will find something here as well. Available from Amazon.
2. David W. Hall: The Legacy of John Calvin (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008). The question of Calvin's influence on the world is one of the questions that will be asked in this year of Calvin 500. Hall tries to give an answer to this question. This book is in three parts, part one deals with 'Ten Ways Modern Culture is Different because of John Calvin', part two is a short biography of Calvin, and part three consists of quotations demonstrating Calvin's influence across the denominations. This is an excellent book, and well worth the read. Available from Amazon.
3. Richard Stauffer: The Humanness of John Calvin (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008). Calvin is often caricatured as an ogre. Whilst the biographies that I have listed are all of a more balanced type, there are still some Arminians and free-willers out there who like to regurgitate the old lies about Calvin. This book, originally published back in 1964, was written to correct these misrepresentations. It draws on the best scholarship, and quotes Calvin himself. It is a good, short introduction for those who have been influenced by such people as Nelson Price and Dave Hunt. Available from Amazon.
4. Steven J. Lawson: The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007). Calvin was a preacher first and foremost. In this useful little book, Lawson examines Calvin as preacher, his abilities and his methods as a preacher and commentator. It is extremely useful for those who want to dig deeper into Calvin the preacher. Available from Amazon.
Of course there are other books about Calvin available. This list is simply those that I have first of all read, and secondly they are books that I have found helpful. The literature on Calvin is huge. That being so, there's no excuse for those who just regurgitate mere slander as if it actually described the real Calvin.
There will be other 'Calvin 500' posts here in future.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Books About Calvin: 3

Part 3. Scholarly works on John Calvin. These books are fairly in-depth, and many have a lot of footnotes or endnotes.

1. William J. Bouwsma: John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York, Oxford University Press, 1988) : A scholarly study of Calvin by the Sather Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, this is an extremely accomplished tour de force study of Calvin’s life and teaching. Rather than taking a strict chronological approach, Bouwsma takes a more thematic view of Calvin's life and thought. Those who agree with Calvin theologically will find things they disagree with, but this is a well-researched book. Available from Amazon.

2. Alister E. McGrath: A Life of John Calvin (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990). A modern scholarly biography by an Oxford Don, McGrath’s work is an in-depth examination of Calvin’s life by an evangelical Anglican scholar. McGrath treats Calvin in his historical context, and gives a readable and engrossing book. I debated where to put this, but decided that it belongs in the 'scholarly' category. He does not shy away from difficult issues. This book distils the results of 20th century Calvin scholarship. Available from Amazon.

3. Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (Reprint, Bibliobazzar, 2009). I am really excited by the reprint of this classic 1914 biography of John Calvin. I possess a first edition of it, and I ahve found it extremely useful. Its original release was overshadowed by the First World War, and it has not received the recognition that it deserves. This 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth is a perfect time for this book to be re-issued. It is a work that impresses by its level of scholarship and the author’s evident familiarity with the original source documents, which he draws on with masterly skill. Reyburn’s own theology is rather liberal, but he does not let theological disagreement colour his assessment of Calvin. T.H.L. Parker wrote of this book: “Reyburn’s book has been unjustly neglected; no doubt it suffered from being published in the year that the Great War broke out. Reyburn made good use of the original sources and quotes liberally from them.” (John Calvin P. viii) Available from Amazon.

4. Herman J. Selderhuis: John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life (IVP, 2009). This latest biography of John Calvin by an accomplished Dutch historian is a real treat for the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. Each chapter is entitled for an aspect of Calvin's life, a character that Calvin bore, such as 'Orphan', 'Pilgrim', 'Stranger' and 'Refugee'. The subtitle says it all, this is Calvin as a man of suffering. Excellent. Available from Amazon.

Next time: Specialist studies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Books about Calvin: 2.

Medium-level books on Calvin, for those seeking a little more information than Reymond gives, are legion. I have only listed good books here, and those that have a degree of scholarship.

1. Williston Walker, John Calvin: Revolutionary, Theologian, Pastor (Reprinted Fearn, Christian Focus, 2005). Walker is deeply scholarly and very readable. His work is the first modern English biography of Calvin. He does not avoid the hard facts about Calvin, and is quite willing to criticise the Reformer where he thinks Calvin was in error. Although first published more than a hundred years ago, it is still extremely important, and a good read as well. Although it is a fairly scholarly book, the fact that it was the first modern English biography of Calvin means that it does not assume previous knowledge of Calvin's life. Robert Reymond writes of it: “This biography is truly a classic and quite scholarly.”

2. T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin (Tring, Lion Publishing, 2006). A fuller treatment of Calvin’s life by a scholar second to few in his knowledge of Calvin and his works. Parker devotes a sizable portion of his work to Calvin’s earlier years. He is not afraid to differ from previous writers. This is another book that is a good, solid read. It is not, however, an easy read, and it would be best to read this one after something like Reymond, or even Walker. It demands serious attention from the reader, and won't let you listen to the radio news while reading it. Reymond writes about this book: “In my opinion, this biography of Calvin is one of the best.” Available from Amazon.

Next time: Scholarly Calvin biographies for serious students.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Books about Calvin: 1.

This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Calvin is a giant of Christian theology by any standards, and readers of this blog will be aware that I am not ashamed to be called a Calvinist, even though I do not follow him, but Jesus Christ. I admire Calvin because of his passion for God, and his love of the Bible.
This 500th anniversary is a good time to think about reading a biography of Calvin. Yet the fact is that there are literally dozens of books to choose from. Where to start? Having read practically every biography of Calvin available in English, I think I have some right to make a few suggestions. I have linked from most books to the publisher, if not, links lead to Amazon.co.uk. I have only listed books that are currently in print.
First are some good introductory books on Calvin - call them good places to start.
1. Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Trans. Darlington, Evangelical Press, 1997): This is the first biography of Calvin, written by his friend and successor as pastor of St. Pierre, Geneva. It is of course very much on Calvin’s side, but as the author knew and worked with Calvin, his witness is invaluable. It is a short book, and a good starting point for anyone interested in Calvin. This was the first Calvin biography that I read.
2. Robert Reymond: John Calvin: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Christian Focus, 2004). Based on lectures, this is a popular-level work by a Presbyterian theologian. Reymond is very readable, and his book is based on the best scholarship available. This is a short and accessible book for the general reader. Again, it's a good place to start, giving more information than Beza, and with the perspective that has come with the centuries since Calvin's death.
3. Emanuel Stickelberger: Calvin (Lutterworth Press, 2003). A translation of a popular work by a leading Swiss man of letters, Stickelberger’s book is based on good scholarship, as the notes indicate, but readability is the first concern of the author. Stickelberger writes very much in defence of Calvin. The book is now over fifty years old, but it is still a good read. Available from Amazon.
Next time: Medium-level works.

Monday, March 9, 2009

EMW Bookshop, Bryntirion

Presenting the second in an occasional series: 'In Many Bookshops with Mr. Charmley'.

The Evangelical Movement of Wales maintains a number of bookshops, located in strategic places in Wales. The bookshop at Bryntirion, Bridgend, is located in the EMW headquarters at Bryntirion House, also home to the Wales Evangelical School of Theology. These two institutions impact the nature of the bookshop. While it stocks many general titles, the fact that the buildings see a relatively high proporion of ministers and theological students means that there is a great quantity of more intellectually demanding material as well. The stock is balanced, and there is a wide range of books on the shelves. The books found here are generally Reformed in their orientation, with a certain amount of general evangelical stuff as well. Our photograph shows just one corner of the shop, and mostly the 'New Titles' shelves. There is a small second-hand section, the books in it of course being very much dependent on what people want to get rid of at the time. I found the staff helpful and knowledgable, and they are willing to order books that they do not have in stock. The shop is located on the ground floor of the building, with level access. I found this a good bookshop to use, but then I was going to a fraternal in the EMW offices at the time!

Friday, March 6, 2009

'A Passion for God' - Review

A.W. Tozer was a prophetic voice in the wilderness of American Fundamentalism in the first half of the 20th century. Born in rural Pennsylvania in 1897, he began his life's work as a minister in the final years of the First World War, and continued until his death in 1963. His books are still widely read, and yet little is known about the man in most circles. Lyle Dorsett's book A Passion for God (Moody, 2008) is therefore especially welcome.

A writer of biography himself, Tozer disliked those books that applied a liberal coat of whitewash to their subjects. He knew there was only one perfect man on earth, and that was the Lord Jesus. Thus I think Tozer would have welcomed Lyle Dorsett's honest appraisal of his life. We have here both the good and the bad - and, indeed, the ugly. Dorsett paints a picture, not of a plaster saint, but of a real man who seems often to have been so wrapped up in the affairs of the Kingdom and the things of God that he forgot his role as a husband and a father. I do not bring this up to attack Tozer, but as a warning, it is possible to be so taken up with the work of the Church to forget that we also have a life as a human being to lead!
Dorsett is always a refreshing read because he is so honest about his subjects, even when those subjects are iconic figures in evangelicalism, such as Tozer, Moody and Billy Sunday. Thus the reader can evaluate for himself the character of the man. In A Passion for God, Dorsett gives us Tozer 'warts and all', yet without the sort of exaggeration of faults that makes the picture more a close-up of the warts than a portrait of the man. So we have Tozer the pastor and preacher, Tozer the man who cared for the Church, and who was grieved to his heart by the fact that the Church in America seemed divided on racial lines, "I do not believe there is any color line in the Kingdom of God", he said. Yet even in Chicago Sunday morning seemed to be the most segregated time in the life of the community. We see the man who prophetically challenged the attempt to draw crowds to the churches with sensational and tasteless gimmicks - the example that Dorsett gives is Tozer's criticism of a church that advertised "Moving pictures of cannibalism" to draw people to a missionary convention!

This is a book the only real complaint about which is that it could have been longer. Long may Dorsett be spared to give us such volumes! It is available through Amazon.co.uk, and from good Christian bookshops.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bethel Laleston

Bethel Baptist Church, Laleston, is located, as the name suggests, in the village of Laleston, just outside the town of Bridgend (Pen-y-bont Ar Ogwr). It is an historic and evangelical church, originally founded in 1848 by Ruhamah Baptist Church in Bridgend itself. The cause of this was that a large number of members of Ruhamah were living in Laleston, and in 1848 a branch Church was formed at Laleston. This became independent of Ruhamah in 1892, and in 1905 it was placed under the oversight of Rev. W. Hill. In 1911, together with the Baptist Church at Corntown, the congregation at Bethel called Rev. Evan Jones to a joint pastorate. He served for five years. The first pastor of Bethel alone was Rev. J.H. Jones, a graduate of the Cardiff Baptist College. The present minister is Rev. Jim Grindell.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ruhamah, Bridgend

This is Ruhamah Welsh Baptist Church, Bridgend. The name of the chapel is unusual, being derived from the book of Hosea, Chapter 2, verse 1:
"Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah." The name means 'Having Obtained Mercy'. I have never come across another church with this name in the UK before, although I am sure there are some. This is the original Baptist Church in Bridgend, and was the mother-church of a number of Baptist causes in the area.
The language used in this church is Welsh. For this reason, I have no idea where it is doctrinally.