Review: A Little Book on the Christian Life – John Calvin

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Calvin’s pastoral heart shines through most vivaciously in this short book. The work is a stand alone extract of part of Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’.

This short work consists of only five chapters, but they are rich in comforting and exhorting truths. The first chapter considers the call of Scripture on the Christian life, exhorting them to fully abide in the reality of being a son or daughter of God. The second consists of a call to self – denial. This was, for me, the most convicting chapter, as Calvin labours the point that there is no reason that we ought not to serve others; no type of person that should not solicit our service, in some form or another. The central tenant of Christian living, to take up one’s cross, is propounded in chapter three. Again, Calvin leaves no room to hide for those who bemoan the state of the world and perhaps the hardships that we are sometimes called upon to bear. We are to pick up our cross. The book concludes with the fourth and fifth chapters, looking towards our hope in the future and how best to use this life to that end. Particularly striking is Calvin’s stern words about the abundance of worldly comfort, and how such a temptation must not be allowed to invade our Christian life. However, on the reverse side, he talks passionately to rebuke those who would have the Christian do nothing except that which was not strictly necessary. He offers a balanced view on Christian living: we are not to be addicted and immersed in worldly luxury, but neither are we to be ascetics and shun those things that we do for pleasure.

A short read, and a book well worth reading.

Review: Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes – Voddie Baucham

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Although this book is specifically addressed to men’s role in the home, its firm foundation in, and explanation of, the Bible’s prescription for marriage and the family means the book useful for wives and mothers in joining with their husbands in the task.

Voddie opens with a much needed discourse on the necessity of equipping men as family shepherds, and the subsequent need of discipleship. The foundation is based on the ‘three legged stool’ of discipleship from Titus:

1. Godly, mature men and women in the church
2. Godly, manly pastors and elders
3. Biblically functioning homes

The main focus of the book is on the third of these, but I think Voddie does well to note that all three are needed for effective, Biblical discipleship. Moreover, the training and discipling of children does not happen outside of the paradigm of these three aspects of discipleship working together.

Having established the basis and context in which family shepherds are to work, Voddie splits the actually day – to – day role of the family shepherd into three further sections.

The first is on teaching, instruction, and evangelism in the home. He calls for fathers to proclaim the Gospel at home; discipling their wives; discipling their children. He advocates strongly not just for passive instruction, but active instruction – taking time aside to read the Scriptures and pray in acts of family worship. He also advocates strongly for the ‘old fashioned’ practice of catechesis and explains why it is beneficial – not just for the catechumen (student/child) but also the catechiser (teacher/parent).

The second was on the primacy of marriage. Voddie makes a great point about marriage being the foundation of the family, and not the other way around. Staying together ‘for the kids’ is not a Biblical form of marriage, and does not help to raise good future husbands or wives ourselves. Moreover, a family shepherd’s job isn’t simply to ‘not get divorced’ but to actively disciple wife and children; hanging on until the children leave is not effective discipleship and does not epitomise the self – sacrificial love found in Christ’s relationship with His bride. Included in this chapter is a discussion of male headship in the home, and Voddie (as expected by any already familiar with anything else he has ever written or spoken on!) categorically affirms it and helps Christians navigate the modern challenges to the notion. Helpfully, Voddie points to some areas where modern radical feminism has invaded our culture so much so as to make the idea of ‘headship’ repulsive to us on first reading. He is fantastically helpful on this issue.

One odd phrase he uses in this section is about submission as a modelled for us by Christ. His point overall is good – Christ was (and is) equal to the Father, and in submitting to the Father (as He does in the garden of Gethsemane) it does not mean that Jesus is less than the Father. However, in explaining this, Voddie does say “there is headship in the Trinity” (p. 107). In the context of his point, the charitable reading to assume he is talking about the economic relationship of the Trinity, whereby the Son submits to the Father as mediator of the Covenant of Grace. However, since there were no clarifying statements, the stand-alone phrase may imply a headship in the onotological Trinity (or, indeed, other readers may assume this upon reading that section). I am not sure entirely on Dr. Baucham’s position on the ESS/EFS debate, but this is a troublesome statement all the same.

The third section is on the discipline of children. I found this the most helpful section of the book, as it contained the most amount of practical advice, as well as the theological and epistemological framework that family shepherds ought to have. Voddie makes a distinction between ‘formative’ and ‘corrective’ discipline. Although I am not sure I agree fully on his stance on smacking as a form of corporal punishment, his point that we ought to spend far more time on formative than corrective discipline was a sound one. The anthropological stance he takes here is what makes this section excellent. Voddie dispels the myth of the moral neutrality of children, and insists that we recognise them as sinners in their nature. As such, they need to be taught where their actions transgress God’s Law and, as an implementation of grace, be given the chance to repent. This should be done mostly in private, and without embarrassment to the child, but also should take a lead from your own modelling of this principle:

“The way you handle your own sin and failings in part of what you’re to model before you children. They need to see you fall on the sword when you’ve blown it. They need to hear heartfelt, unsolicited repentance from you. They have as their ultimate model one who lived a perfect life – and you’re not that one. You merely point them to *Him*” (p. 130)

The final section is on lifestyle evaluation. The first chapter in this section on church membership is outstanding. The necessity and centrality of church membership, and the reasons that it is so important, are highlighted in a convincing manner. Voddie makes the excellent point that parents can worry about the fact that their children don’t go to church when they grow up because they have never been taught why church membership matters! Voddie concludes by looking at how we are to honour God with our time and pursuits in leisure, the workplace, and finances.

There is a final ‘special concern’ chapter at the end of the book at is very pastorally minded and addresses the issue of single mothers. Voddie outlines how family, and in places, the church community can help single mothers in the difficulties that come with single parenting.

The book is well written and concise. Whilst this is a strength of the book, I felt that I would have benefited more from an expansion in some points, and some more practical advice on the implementation of an excellently argued worldview.