What I’m reading right now

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One of my fondest memories from college is of my History of the Reformation class meeting at my professor’s apartment. She would provide various treats for us, along with some very strong coffee, and we would gather to review various passages from Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. When people ask me about a liberal arts education at a small Christian university, this is the example that I give. It doesn’t get any better, really.

Needless to say, I miss that environment. I don’t want to mine the wisdom of the ages in a vacuum, so I’ll share some meaningful insights from my current reading list on the blog. If you have any thoughts about these books, please contribute to the conversation!

Just Finished

Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (1985).

Novus Ordo Seclorum means “new order of the ages.” It is a reference to federalism and the careful division of power within the federal government and between the federal government and the states.

McDonald includes plenty of details about individual convention delegates supporting this or that proposal, such as the proposal of a plural executive, but he also captures the whole scene. This book is a treasure for anyone who appreciates the Constitution and the founding generation.

John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Revised Edition 2011).

I know John Piper because of his Desiring God website and The Gospel Coalition. Until recently, I had not read the source material. This quote from C.S. Lewis captures the essence of the book.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory.”

God offers us the holiday at the sea.

In Progress

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Translated from the First French Edition of 1541 (Robert White trans. 2014).

I skimmed through the Institutes while researching various undergraduate papers, but I’ve never read it from cover to cover. The Institutes are very accessible, and I’ve already benefited from reading through the first few sections. Here are a couple of poignant quotes from Calvin.

The more outspoken a person is in his contempt of God, the more startled he will be by the sound of a leaf falling from a tree! Why is that? It is because God’s majesty takes vengeance upon such people: the more they try to flee from it, the more he terrifies their conscience.

Calvin at 5.

It is of course true that people who are schooled in the liberal arts or who have had some taste of them are especially helped to plumb the secrets of divine wisdom.

Calvin at 10.

God’s law is thus a dead letter which kills those who follow it when it is separated from the grace of Christ, and when it merely sounds in our ears without touching our hearts. If, however, by God’s Spirit it is vividly impressed on the will, and if it conveys Jesus Christ to us, it is the word of life, converting souls and giving wisdom to the humble.

Calvin at 25.

James K.A. Smith, Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition (2010).

I wish this book was published when I was in college. While I was baptized in a CRC church, I spent much of my childhood at a church within the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. In college, I was drawn back to the Reformed faith. As a “new” Calvinist, I shared many of the youthful shortcomings expressed by the author. This book provides helpful instruction and guidance. Read it and then give it to a young Calvinist.

On Deck

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Random House 2nd ed. 2005).

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (2016).

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