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Book Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

In the past, I would post only book reviews pertinent to worship, music in the local church, or general Christian leadership and discipleship. Recently, I've been studying many more general topics as well, such as history, economics and scientific thought, some of which end up as reviews here as well.

Entries in creationism (2)

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate - John H. Walton (2010)

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate- John H. Walton

The last 6 years of my life I have been focused on studying history, Christianity, and science, always with an eye to looking at the serious questions of cosmology, anthropogeny and the origins of civilization. In relation to cosmology, I have found no single book more profound and articulate in explaining the Genesis account of creation than John H. Walton's "The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate".

There is a torrid spew of rhetoric accompanying both Christian and non-Christian views on the creation narrative found in Genesis 1. There are as many factions of Christian creationism as there are scientific theory groups whose anti-theist positions demand just as polemic a view point. What normally happens when Christian talk about cosmology (origins) is that they come down into two groups: those who believe the Genesis 1 account is literally true; and those that believe the Genesis creation narrative is allegorical. There are a few other subtler positions that combine features of the two, as well.

What Walton does with "The Lost World of Genesis One" is to revisit the text, the language, the culture and the ancient literature in which the text finds its context, and brings to us a brilliant re-thinking of the entire debate.  Part of the problem with this intensely powerful topic is that the conversation around it has become almost political in its consumption of subtly. We take sides without thinking deeper about the topic. But most of that is hardly our fault. Genesis is written thousands of years ago, into a language and culture we don't know or understand. Walton walks us into that strange world, and expertly explores how the ancient text was written, for whom it was written and how it can be read today in a startlingly satisfying and understandable way.

Because of the intensity and applicability of the topic (especially in today's culture and media) and the landmark approach which Walton synthesizes in this book, this is easily the most important book you read will this year, possibly in the next several.  In the Western world we often believe that the most important questions can be answered by short, simple sound bites. But this leaves us with a truncated mental grid through which to explore complex and profound truths. John Walton takes a lifetime of research and teaching to present a clear understanding of Genesis 1 that doesn't reduce the complex and important details into creationist or evolutionary memes. 

One of the pivotal points made by Walton is that the Genesis narrative, rightly understood, holds together as real and actual creation, but in a way that compliments the setting into which it was written. He says :

In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not "exist" if it has not become functional.1

The implications of this statement are vetted out through 18 propositional chapters, along with a summary and much more supporting information which even includes a "Q&A" section to explore the nuances of what such a position means to Christians and the world.  I won't give more details here, since this is a serious book that really states every point well. In my opinion, this is the most important book of the decade.

I implore you- if you read just one book this year, make it this book. This excellent book contains the single best explanation for cosmology and the Genesis narrative I have ever heard. It is because of this that "The Lost World of Genesis One" garners our Editor's Choice Award. I can't urge you enough to consider this profound work. John H. Walton has given the Christian church a brilliant, readable and (most importantly) usable thesis for one of humanities most profound inquiries- the question of Creation.

Amazon Link:


Review by Kim Gentes


  1. Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) Pg. 26. Kindle Edition.


Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life - John Calvin (translated Henry J. Van Andel)

Were I to meet John Calvin today, I think he might be a surprisingly moderate but deeply spiritual Christian professor of warm wisdom and serious desire to see personal holiness take hold in the life of followers of Christ.  This might seem obvious, but note what I did not say. I doubt that I would find a man who is so vehemently driven by the later (derived1) sectarian doctrine of TULIP that he would not sit in community with me as we discussed our varying understandings of theology.  Where do I find such a wise and thoughtful Calvin? Where do I meet the great teacher who inscribed the systematic theology of the reformation that Martin Luther so profoundly burst forward with on the public of medieval Europe?

I meet this John Calvin in the heart of his writings of the Institute, at the sixth chapter, in book III, which was entitled by Calvin (after a number of revisions) as  “On The Christian Life”.  This section of his monumental treatise “Institutes of The Christian Religion” was also extracted and printed as a separate small volume called “The Golden Booklet”. In the pages of the “Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life“ (our later English title) we find the John Calvin who speaks with both fiery passion and tempered wisdom.

Calvin begins sharply enough, setting the terse tone of his writing and focused style which gets to the point almost surgically.

The goal of the new life is that God’s children exhibit melody and harmony in their conduct. What melody? The song of God’s justice. What harmony? The harmony between God’s righteousness and our obedience.2

No one can accuse Calvin of presenting an unrequited gospel. To the contrary, the Golden Book proceeds from point to point, blithely trampling on self-importance, false motives and hardness of heart to get the reader to see the reality of the gospel’s unmistakable call to the cross. He returns here repeatedly, helping us place our pride on the altar by examination of the cross :

Therefore, that we may not become haughty when we acquire wealth; that we may not become proud when we receive honors ; that we may not become insolent when we are blessed with prosperity and health, the Lord himself, as he deems fit, uses the cross to oppose, restrain, and subdue the arrogance of our flesh...This is the reason why we see different persons disciplined with different crosses. The heavenly Physician takes care of the well-being of all his patients; he gives some a milder medicine and purifies others by more shocking treatments, but he omits no one; for the whole world, without exception, is ill (Deut. 32:15).3

But John Calvin is more than just a naval gazing mystic. His profound grasp of the breadth of the Scriptural landscape helps him juxtapose his Imago Dei/creational theology (found in statements such as “The law of God contains in itself the dynamic of the new life by which his image is fully restored in us;”4 and “But Scripture here helps us out with an excellent argument when it teaches us that we must not think of man’s real value, but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love”5) with a theology of suffering, God’s will and predestination (“For adversity will always wound us with its stings. When we are afflicted with disease we shall, therefore, groan and complain and pray for recovery. When we are oppressed with poverty we shall feel lonely and sorry. When we are defamed, despised, and offended, likewise we shall feel restless. When we have to attend the funeral of our friends we shall shed tears. But we must always come back to this consolation: The Lord planned our sorrow, so let us submit to his will. Even in the throes of grief, groans, and tears, we must encourage ourselves with this reflection, so that our hearts may cheerfully bear up while the storms pass over our heads (John 21:18)”6).

Calvin’s writing here reminds us instantly of Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ”.  Calvin’s Golden Book unearths the heart motivations, factors, deceptions and is always looking to bring the reader forward into a picture of our bleakness such that we will abandon hope of having anything useful within ourselves, save that which surrenders to Christ’s suffering discipline in our lives. Calvin whittles at our motivations of conscience and hearkens the glories of persecution.  At one point, one might think he goes too far, even calling on God’s persecution so that the righteous may be more clearly vindicated:

Let the impious flourish in their riches and honors, and enjoy their so-called peace of mind. Let them boast of their splendor and luxury, and abound in every joy. Let them harass the children of light with their wickedness, let them insult them with their pride, let them rob them by their greed, let them provoke them with their utter lawlessness...For, according to Paul, it is a righteous thing with God to award punishment to them that trouble the saints, and to give rest to those who are troubled, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven. This is our only consolation.7

While I admire Calvin’s pursuit of holiness, this declaration reads like a prayer asking for evil to come upon Christians so that they might be “accounted as sheep for the slaughter,” as he says earlier in the text. It seems doubly bad that he then says that our comfort should come on this point- the hope that others will get punished for having caused us trouble.  Calvin misreads Paul, or at the least, adds his own vestige of a 16th century bloodless martyr teaching into Paul’s original text.

But Calvin is far too great a theologian and writer to leave us with a blighted aftertaste. His transcendent understandings of God’s grace and especially his mandates to a vocational calling on human beings (again rooted in his belief in the Imago Dei) lift up the highest of Calvin’s brilliance:

Finally we should note that the Lord commands every one of us in all the actions of our life to be faithful in our calling. For he knows that the human mind burns with restlessness, that it is swept easily hither and thither, and that its ambition to embrace many things at once is insatiable. Therefore, to prevent that general confusion being produced by our folly and boldness, he has appointed to everyone his particular duties in the different spheres of life. And, that no one might rashly go beyond his limits, he has called such spheres of life vocations, or callings. Every individual’s sphere of life, therefore, is a post assigned him by the Lord that he may not wander about in uncertainty all the days of his life....And everyone in his respective sphere of life will show more patience, and will overcome the difficulties, cares, miseries, and anxieties in his path, when he will be convinced that every individual has his task laid upon his shoulders by God. If we follow our divine calling, we shall receive this unique consolation that there is no work so mean and so sordid that does not look truly respectable and highly important in the sight of God (Coram Deo!) (Gen. 1:28; Col. 1:1 ff)!8

Not only is this profound wisdom but it rings of Calvin’s glorious assignment of God’s goodness into our humanity. This is very interesting, since later proponents of strong “Calvinist” doctrine would nearly eviscerate this high valuing of humanity using the hyper TULIP conflagration of the doctrine of total depravity.

Reading the Golden Book is an eye-opening and encouraging look into a more personal, pastoral Calvin, whose wisdom never leaves him, and his sense of care for the soul is always on fire.


Product Link on Amazon: Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life


Review by
Kim Gentes


[1]Calvin didn’t create the 5 point doctrine of Calvinism himself. It was assembled later (50 years beyond his death) by adherents of Calvin’s teachings at the Synod of Dort in 1619 as a mechanism to combat the divergent understandings of Jacob Arminias (from whose namesake and teachings was derived the doctrines of Arminianism)

[2]John Calvin,  “Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life”, translated Henry J. Van Andel (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 1952), Pg 15

[3]Ibid., Pg 55

[4]Ibid., Pg 15

[5]Ibid., Pg 37

[6]Ibid., Pg 64

[7]Ibid., Pg 79

[8]Ibid., Pg 92-93