Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A New Idea for Daily Devotions

Let’s pretend, with author Donald K. McKim, that we are about to have Coffee with Calvin, Daily Devotions, published by WestminsterJohnKnox and available at McKim has “long wanted to write a Calvin devotional book,” and now he has. Of course, we will also have to pretend Calvin can speak English with us. His first language was French, as he was born and brought up in France (1509–1564) and received much of his education there. He  knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but we will converse with him and McKim in English, just for now.

Calvin attended the University of Paris and he probably joined with activities of some of the Reformers there in about 1533 or 34. He was a shy person, definitely an introvert, though he was very involved in sharing his ideas, both theological and cultural, and he found many ways to express them with pen and ink. In 1534, there were some difficulties between evangelicals and Catholics, and the evangelicals demonstrated their protests with placards. This upset King Francis I and an investigation began, which forced Calvin to leave Paris. Shortly after that, his rooms were searched and his papers were taken, with the result that we do not have much reliable information about Calvin’s life up to then. He has been described as “elusive,” because he did not share much about his personal life at any time.

But McKim tell us that Calvin “was an eminently practical theologian who believed theology should be not just a matter of the head, but of the heart and the hands as well. McKim provides 84 one-page devotional guides. Each one begins with a short paragraph from Calvin’s famous two-volume work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. McKim has used the Latin, 1559 version, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1960.

To give you an example: Prayer. Calvin says “The goal of prayer....namely, that hearts may be aroused and borne to God, whether to praise him or to beseech his help—from this we may understand that the essentials of prayer are set in the mind and heart, or rather that prayer itself is properly an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid open before God, the searcher of hearts.” [cf. Rom. 8:27]. (Institutes 3.20.29) And McKim responds: “For all Calvin’s heavy theological discussions, the longest chapter in his Institutes is the one on prayer. Calvin sees prayer as absolutely essential for the Christian.”

Another of Calvin’s devotions is called: Doing Good Works, and Calvin says: “For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them....Faith and good works must cleave together.” (Institutes 3.16.1) And McKim reminds us: “Both Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized that we are justified by faith alone and not by good works. This was a basic Protestant understanding during the sixteenth-century Reformation.” And he fills the page with other reminders, including this: “But while these Reformers stressed that salvation is by faith alone, they also recognized that justification is not by a faith that is alone. That is, those who are justified by faith will seek to do good works. This includes following God’s law and living by love.”

If you are looking for a new and interesting book of devotions, try Coffee with Calvin. It is filled with short paragraphs from John Calvin’s ideas and theology, as well as wisdom from Donald McKim who, in his comments and applications introduces readers to Calvin’s theological insights. McKim hopes that will help us discover that Calvin’s insights “strengthen, challenge, and nourish our Christian faith.” Highly recommended.

—Lois Sibley