Monday, July 24, 2006

A Children’s Bio of John Calvin

The River of Grace: A Life of John Calvin, by Joyce McPherson
(Greenleaf Press, 1998), pb., 159 pp.

This Was John Calvin, Thea B. Van Halsema
(I.D.E.A. Ministries, 1959), pb., 221 pp.

In a previous post I commented on Beza’s life of Calvin which I recommended as background reading for parents. We had two other biographies of Calvin which were directed at children. I examined the two briefly in order to decide which one to read to my boys at this time. This was John Calvin seems to be very accurate and the endorsement from Roger Nicole speaks volumes. However, with my quick glance through the two books, The River of Grace seemed to be the most engagingly written of the two so we went with it.

I was very pleased with Mrs. McPherson’s retelling of Calvin’s life. Unlike some other children’s bio’s we have read this one covered the whole of the subject’s life which was really good. It was also very nicely written. The book opens with a very engaging scene of Calvin as a boy playing soldier with his friend. This is nicely woven into the story as the reader follows Calvin through his childhood, to the university, into his first contact with the Reformation, along his growing unease with the church and attraction to the Reformation, to his conversion, ultimately to Geneva, Strasbourg, and Geneva again. McPherson pays much attention to Calvin’s time in France as he came to embrace the Reformation. Though our knowledge of this time period is not complete, she creates a very plausible order of events emphasizing the danger of the time and the adventure of clandestine Bible studies, secret work of translating the Bible and eluding the authorities. I think this portion of the book helped my boys to grasp the tenor of the time, the danger of just studying the Bible, and the bravery of those who did so more than anything else we have read so far.

I am actually amazed that the Mrs. McPherson was able to cover so much of Calvin’s life in this short of a book. Of course many things are not covered, but that is to be expected. Of the wide range of doctrinal matters that could be covered, the book appropriately focuses on the centrality of Scripture and the true Gospel. Regarding Calvin himself there is particular focus on his role as pastor, his care for his people, his hard work and care for the broader church as well as his role in advising Reformation churches and leaders all over Europe. I will simply provide one example from the book, where Calvin goes to answer some questions from a church member named Jean Stordeur. Stordeur who had fled to Geneva from elsewhere has been affected by more radical views (which gained some hold at the time) which pitted the Spirit against the Scripture allowing private subjective impressions “from the Spirit” to trump Scripture (this ideas continues today!). I don’t know if we have actual accounts of this conversation or if the author is simply providing a typical conversation on this topic (which did occur), but she has captured well the sort of advice one would expect from this Reformer. After explaining that the Scripture and the Spirit will never be in conflict since the Spirit inspired the Scriptures, McPherson has Calvin continuing with these words:
Jean, if you want the Holy Spirit to be active in your life, you must be all the more diligent to study the Scriptures. Read your Bible. Listen to the reading of Scripture at church. Every time you attend to God’s Word, God is at work in you.” (111)
With some frequency I have to teach this same lesson to adults today. Reading this to your children then is a grat blessing and another reminder that in encouraging parents to read good books to their children, the parents will learn as well!

Three other features of the book require mention. First, each chapter has a quote above the chapter title. Early on the quotes come from various places, but as the book moves on they are primarily taken from Calvin’s writings. Many of these are real gems, particularly on the topic of suffering. Secondly, there is a three page appendix providing an alphabetical list of other famous people in the book and a brief description of who the person was. This is a great resource for helping the reader keep track of characters and also could serve as a primer on key characters of this time period. Lastly, a nice two page bibliography is also included listing other helpful books (many of the key works) on Calvin.

We would heartily recommend this book.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Bio of Calvin for Parents

The Life of John Calvin, Theodore Beza; translated by Henry Beveridge (1844); edited and expanded by Gary Sanseri
(this edition, Back Home Industries, 1996), hb., 149 pp.

In our working through the Reformation we have made our way to John Calvin. When I looked I saw we had three biographies of Calvin. Here I will comment on one I decided not to use for my boys (I hope to comment on the other two soon).

This biography was written by Calvin’s close friend and successor and is therefore and authoritative account. However, it is also not directly aimed at reading for younger children. The style and wording would be difficult at various points, and since Beza is writing to his contemporaries he assumes knowledge of various events and people. For these reasons it is not a top pick for reading to your children, but I read it for myself to provide some definitive background when reading one of the other books. For this purpose, this book is excellent!

Beza wrote his brief account to answer critics and to describe the ministry and character of Calvin. This edition includes a number of helps. The editor, first of all, provides numerous notes to explain less common words and to explain people or events. Some of the notes seemed unnecessary to me, but too many is probably better than not enough. Additionaly, for easier reading some spelling has been modernized, longer sentences have been broken up, and paragraph and chapter divisons have been added. The book is also augmented by fives appendices which address these topics:
“Calvin on Reforming the Church”- basically a summary of Calvin’s Reply to
Sadoleto and his On the Necessity of Reforming the Church with historical
“Calvin and His Wife”
A Letter from Calvin on dealing with Michael Servetus- This contributes to the discussion of Calvin’s support of the execution of this avowed heretic.
“Calvin on Religious Persecution and Religious Freedom”- excerpted from The Creeds of Christendom, by P. Schaff
“John Calvin on the Love of Money”
Notes in the text of Beza’s biography direct the reader to appendices where they are relevant in the flow of the story.

Although I have previously read other accounts of Calvin, I was especially struck in reading this book by the labor and diligence of the man. I would recommend this as a good resource for parents when preparing to read a more imaginative account of the life of Calvin.

Monday, July 17, 2006

New Site on Children's Books

Steve Barancik at his website, “Best Children’s Books,” has created a new page devoted to blogs that focus on children’s literature. He lists a number of blogs with each blog providing a “3 Best” list. The Children’s Hour is featured on this page with a list of three best Bible story books for children.

Mr. Barancik has nice things to say about this blog. His site may be of interest to some of the readers here. His list includes blogs from a wide range of opinion including books on Zen for children. Clearly these blogs do not all share my perspective but I am glad to be able to recommend some good Bible story books in that setting.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Children’s Bio of Tyndale

Bible Smuggler, Louise Vernon
(Herald Press, 1967), pb., 137 pp.

Wow! Having read and not been real impressed with four other Vernon Bio’s I was not expecting a whole lot from this one, but we had no other biographies of Tyndale. However, we were pleasantly surprised. This book worked well as a story. It was compelling, flowed well and communicated well the basic points of Tyndale’s life. After the first chapter I was already impressed and my boys were longing for more. In fact in this book practically each chapter ended at a cliffhanger- something which I don’t think the other books did.

In this story Collin Hartley, an English peasant boy, gets the opportunity to learn from William Tyndale preaches against the abuses of the Church. When Tyndale begins his work on translating the Bible into English and moves to the Continent Collin goes with him. The danger of the time and persecution of those who sought to read and translate the Bible is communicated well. With spies chasing Tyndale, Tyndale’s dogged determination, and the overcoming of various hurdles this was a compelling read! It is of a significantly different sort of the other Vernon volumes we have read.

It still would be nice to have a brief note on what was historical. There wasn’t much to question here, but the one thing was significant. Mrs. Vernon has Tyndale meeting Luther and spending time with him. I have not read elsewhere of this happening. It could be true but things of this significance should be clear. Still, we would highly recommend this book.