Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Heart of John Calvin

(by David Mathis)

Burk Parsons is a pastor at St. Andrews Chapel near Orlando with R. C. Sproul. When you talk with Burk, you know he’s a pastor.

But he's an editor as well. He edits Ligonier’s monthly Tabletalk magazine (highly recommended), and he recently finished editing John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology which contains chapters by Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, and others (with a foreword by Iain Murray).

Burk agreed to answer some questions from Desiring God about this new Calvin title which officially released on Friday.

Desiring God: What prompted the idea for this volume on Calvin?

Burk Parsons: After I became a pastor, I began to receive all sorts of questions about Calvin and Calvinism—the same questions that I had been asking years before. So I began to pray and seek counsel from wise men to determine if I should write a book particularly for laypeople that would provide answers about Calvin and Calvinism.

I was doing a series of conferences in Colombia, South America, when I realized Calvin’s 500th birthday (July 10, 2009) was just around the corner. I realized that if I wanted to have the book ready for 2009 I would not have adequate time to write the book myself, so I began to assign chapters from my outline to men who might contribute to the book.

I wanted each chapter to represent the man who was writing. For instance, for the chapter titled “Calvin’s Heart for God,” which considers Calvin’s humble service to God and his motto—“I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely”—I wanted a man who represents such humble service and whose life manifests the simple majesty of Calvin’s motto. As such, I asked Sinclair Ferguson to write that chapter.

DG: How did you put together such an outstanding team to write on Calvin?

I threatened each of the potential contributors with the curses of Deuteronomy 28 if they didn’t write. No, not really.

Actually, I suppose that each of the contributors who wrote for the book did so on account of their desire to have a book on Calvin for laypeople.

A couple of other factors likely contributed to their decision to write. First of all, most of the chapters are very short—between 3000 and 5000 words, and I assigned each of the chapters to men who represented their respective subjects on the life, ministry, or theology of Calvin. That made it even more difficult for many of the contributors to decline.DG: The book assumes that the common opinion on Calvin is that he was stuffy and sullen.

Who is the real Calvin that your book wants to portray?

In my preface to the book, I write the following (which gets at your question):
John Calvin was a churchman for all ages. He was a Reformer, a pastor, and a revolutionary. He was a selfless husband, a devoted father, and a noble friend. But above all Calvin was a man whose mind was humbled and whose heart was mastered by the Lord God Almighty.... He saw himself first and foremost as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and he desired earnestly to be taught daily “in the school of Jesus Christ” so that he might rightly know the Lord in order to “trust, invoke, praise, and love him."...

Although many Christians throughout the world are somewhat familiar with Calvin’s doctrines, most are unfamiliar with the man who was so passionately dedicated to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Given all that the Lord accomplished in him and through him, his legacy to Christians in the twenty-first century is one of devotional, doctrinal, and doxological surrender to the Lord.
DG: What one thing about Calvin do you find most likable?

Calvin was not comfortable with others speaking more highly of him than he deemed appropriate. He would actually go so far as to correct someone who spoke too highly of him and then proceed to explain to the one making the comment, whether friend or opponent, in private or public, why it was that he was unworthy of such high esteem.

He did this, presumably, on account of his desire to make absolutely certain that God received all glory. From all appearances, Calvin was genuinely concerned not to think of himself more highly than he should and to esteem others better than himself—O that the Lord would grant us such character.

My sincere prayer is that the Lord would use this book not first and foremost to help us love Calvin more but to love the Lord more with all our hearts so that we all might worship the Lord in the way he deserves.

By John Piper. © Desiring God Ministries.


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