Always Reforming

Something I find regrettable in contemporary Christianity is the degree to which it has abandoned its own heritage, in thought, art and literature. It was the center of learning in the West for centuries because it deserved to be. Now there seems to be actual hostility on the part of many Christians to what, historically was called Christian thought, as if the whole point were to get a few things right and stand pat.

~Marilynne Robinson from All Things New

Continue reading “Always Reforming”

Presbyterians And Predestination

Genesis from The St. John’s Bible

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
2 For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face.

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory.

Ephesians 1:3–14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

RickJohn Calvin generally gets a bad rap for the brand of Calvinism that basically says that God predestined some people for heaven and others for hell.  While many people do believe that, it’s a bad reading of Calvin and a worse reading of the Bible.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote:

We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.

John Calvin was a humble man, though Voltaire went on to call him the “Pope of the Protestants.” He saw every man as an image bearer of God and therefore immeasurably valuable. As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

The doctrine that consumed Calvin, and you can see it in the first ten pages of the Institutes, was the doctrine of creation. What I mean by this is not creationism, although Calvin believed in a literal reading of Genesis, but a view of the glory of God found in the created order, which, to the eyes of faith, gives profound witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Calvin said, “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice,” and, therefore, we are “not only to be spectators in this beautiful theatre but to enjoy the vast bounty and variety of good things which are displayed to us in it.” Calvin approaches this amazing world, the “theatre of God’s glory,” as he liked to say, with awe, amazement, or as he said, “wonderment.” God’s rule over the creation is sovereign. Our lives are held in the sovereignty of God. The beauty of creation overwhelmed Calvin, as did the beauty of God (yes, beauty), the God who has called, claimed, loved, and redeemed us in Jesus Christ. And so Calvin invites us to serve this God in the theatre of God’s glory, the world. Marilynne Robinson reminds us that “Calvin was a product of Renaissance humanism, a student of Greek and Roman classics who reread Cicero [106 BC-43 BC] every year, a writer of exceptional grace and lucidity in both Latin and French, a man of prodigious learning, who did not dwell on damnation but rather exulted in a sovereign but not at all distant God, a God whose glory was manifest in the goodness of the world and the potential of humanity.

Is predestination the same as predeterminism?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at



D I G  D E E P E R

 Marilynne Robinson and John Calvin

Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson

“I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it.”

Marilynne Robinson, from The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought

John Calvin
John Calvin

“We have the love of God towards us testified also by many other proofs. For if it be asked, why the world has been created, why we have been placed in it to possess the dominion of the earth, why we are preserved in life to enjoy innumerable blessings, why we are endued with light and understanding, no other reason can be adduced, except the gratuitous love of God.

But the Apostle here has chosen the principle evidence of it, and what far surpasses all other things. For it was not only an immeasurable love, that God spared not his own Son, that by his death he might restore us to life; but it was goodness the most marvelous, which ought to fill our minds with the greatest wonder and amazement. Christ, then, is so illustrious and singular a proof of divine love towards us, that whenever we look upon him, he fully confirms to us the truth that God is love.

He calls him his only begotten, for the sake of amplifying. For in this he more clearly showed how singularly he loved us, because he exposed his only Son to death for our sakes. In the meantime, he who is his only Son by nature, makes many sons by grace and adoption, even all who, by faith, are united to his body. He expresses the end for which Christ has been sent by the Father, even that we may live through him: for without him we are all dead, but by his coming he brought life to us; and except our unbelief prevents the effect of his grace, we feel it in ourselves.”

John Calvin, from his commentary on 1 John 4:9

The St. John’s Bible

Genesis from The St. John’s Bible

The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press.

Beginning in 1970, master calligrapher Donald Jackson expressed in media interviews his lifelong dream of creating an illuminated Bible. Following a Saint John’s University-sponsored calligraphy presentation at the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1995, Jackson discussed a handwritten Bible with Fr. Eric Hollas, OSB, former executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John’s explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created first samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998 and funding opportunities were launched. The public was introduced to the project in 1999 and production was completed in 2011, with the final word penned in May 2011 and touch-up work completed by December 2011.

The Saint John’s Bible is divided into seven volumes and is two feet tall by three feet wide when open. The Bible is made of vellum, with 160 illuminations. The version of the Bible used is the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE).[1] A copy of the Bible has been presented to the Pope at the Vatican in several volumes, with the final volume being presented on 17 April 2015.[2]

The scriptorium of The Saint John’s Bible is located in Monmouth, Wales.


When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

imageIf you look up The Catcher in the Rye on Goodreads, you will find this quote at the top of the list:

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.

At the time of this writing, that quote as over 12,000 Likes.

We readers love our authors and when their books are truly great, we feel a kinship. That can be truly frustrating when authors simply won’t let you know them, like Marilynne Robinson does here. When I Was A Child I Read Books is a collection of essays that successfully strike a balance of scholarly depth and conversational approachability, and the conversation is rich. Lucky us.

I read this book as supplementary reading to Housekeeping and pounced on the passages that illumined her fiction. It felt a little like a cheat sheet and the guilty pleasure reminded me of dialing up Dr. Robinson at night to discuss Ruthie and Sylvie after dinner.

She writes:

I had a Chinese student once who wrote movingly about a colony of exiles to the frontier of Mongolia who were treated as enemies of the people because they were mathematicians, or because they played the cello. This was done in the name of democracy. I hardly need to mention to this audience that if such standards had been applied at the time of the American Revolution, our democracy would have deprived itself of that whole remarkable circle we call the Founding Fathers, and your own Mr. Jefferson would have been the first to suffer denunciation.

The Constitution, to which appeal is made so often these days, could never have been written. We are profoundly indebted to the learnedness, in fact the intellectualism, of the Founders, and if we encouraged a real and rigorous intellectualism we might leave later generations more deeply indebted still. But the current of opinion is flowing in the opposite direction. We are in the process of disabling our most distinctive achievement—our educational system—in the name of making the country more like itself.

Odd as the notion might sound, it is well within the range of possibility.

To cite only one example, I have seen trinkets made from fragments of Ming vases that were systematically smashed by Mao’s Red Guard. If we let our universities die back to corporate laboratories and trade schools, we’ll have done something quieter and vastly more destructive.

The book, of course is much more than a commentary on Housekeeping. Marilynn Robinson is unmatched for her ability to take a clear eyed look at Christianity and humanism and find integrated roots in the common tree. She brings context to seismic geopolitical and socioeconomic current realities by forcing the noisy topics into a thoughtful, integrated conversation. She is a living testament to the value of a broad liberal arts education.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

I Will Move On Up A Little Higher by Mahalia Jackson (1947)

One of these mornings
One of these mornings
I’m gonna lay down my cross
Get me a crown
One of these evenings, oh Lord
Late one evening, my Lord
Late one evening
I’m going home to live on high
Starts as soon as my feet strike Zion
Lay down my heavy burdens
Put on my robe in Glory, Lord
Say Lord, tell a story
Above the hills and mountains, Lord
Up Christian fountain
All of God’s sons and daughters, Lord
Drinking that old healing water
Live on forever
Yes, we gonna live on forever
Yes, we gonna live on up in Glory after while
I’m goin’ out sight-seeing in Beulah, Lord
March all around God’s alter
Gonna walk, never tired
Oh, Lord, and never falter

Written by W. Herbert Brewster • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

In her masterful book Housekeeping, Marilynn Robinson wrote “Families will not be broken. Curse and expel them, send their children wandering, drown them in floods and fires, and old women will make songs of all these sorrows and sit on the porch and sing them on mild evenings.”  She might well have been talking about the struggle of black Americans in the early twentieth century and their most resonant songstress Mahalia Jackson.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Jackson’s first attempt at recording for Decca Records was a failure. People who could afford to buy records didn’t normally buy gospel, and so the recordings flopped. Music executives tried to get her to record in a more popular genre, knowing that her vocal abilities could make her very successful singing jazz or blues. She refused, feeling it would be a betrayal of her calling. The result was seven years without doing any recording, instead focusing on meeting the growing demand for concerts.

When “I Will Move On Up a Little Higher” was made into a record, the expectations were modest, but it was discovered and played regularly by Chicago DJ Studs Terkel, who actively promoted the song. It sold fifty thousand copies in four weeks, and Apollo Records could not keep up with the orders. It eventually sold over a million copies and got national attention. White audiences discovered her sound and loved it, and as the word about this gospel singer with a voice of unearthly beauty spread, new opportunities began to come her way. She performed at Carnegie Hall (where she broke attendance records), toured the States and Europe, and appeared on the television shows of Dinah Shore and Ed Sullivan. Eventually she even had her own short-lived TV program, which despite its overall popularity was canceled due to the loud complaints of racist viewers.

Throughout her life Jackson struggled against racial prejudice. When she went for drives in her Cadillac she was often stopped by police officers who thought a black woman could not possibly own such a car. She was sometimes refused food and lodging in white-only restaurants and hotels. Someone even shot out her front window when she moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. And so, as the civil rights movement began to form around Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, she joined the fight, singing for free at civil rights events and raising money for the cause. She believed that the same God who had rescued the Israelites from captivity in Egypt would bring emancipation to African Americans. But she knew that emancipation would not come without a battle, and she did not hesitate to throw her influence behind the cause.

Which singer touches your heart with their voice?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Mahalia Jackson


Mahalia Jackson

(1911–72), U.S. gospel singer. With her booming, soulful voice, African American singer Mahalia Jackson belted out hymns and spirituals with an intensity and richness that made her famous around the world. Although she could have become a successful blues singer, Jackson decided at an early age to devote her talent to music with religious content and her energy to helping people live in peace and harmony.

Mahalia Jackson was born on Oct. 26, 1911, in New Orleans, La., to Johnny Jackson, a longshoreman, preacher, and barber, and his wife, Charity, a laundress and maid. A very poor family, the Jacksons were also extremely religious. Mahalia’s mother, who died when Mahalia was 5, was a devout Baptist, and Mahalia regularly sang hymns in the church choir. Growing up in New Orleans, Mahalia was also influenced by the diverse sounds and rhythms of the streets, as well as the songs of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. While the blues style was popular with blacks in the South, Mahalia’s family rejected blues songs as being decadent and discouraged her from singing them.

When she was 16, Jackson went to live with a relative in Chicago, where she hoped to attend nursing school. Armed with only an eighth-grade education, Jackson soon found herself earning money doing domestic work. Upon joining a local Baptist church, Jackson auditioned for the choir and was immediately invited to be a soloist. Word of her talent spread and soon she was performing at other churches and at funerals throughout the Chicago area. When Jackson’s grandfather had a stroke and lapsed into a coma, she promised that if he recovered she would never sing any songs of which he would disapprove. He recovered and she kept her vow, though she was later offered large sums of money to perform the blues in nightclubs.

Beginning in the late 1930s, Jackson spent five years touring the country with well-known composer Thomas A. Dorsey. They visited churches and gospel tents, where Jackson would sing traditional hymns. Having earned very little money in her years of touring, Jackson returned to Chicago and opened a beauty shop and a flower shop. One day Jackson was practicing in a recording studio in 1946 when a Decca record company representative overheard her singing and asked her to make a recording. “Move on up a Little Higher” (1946) became her breakthrough hit. The single eventually went platinum and thrust her into the national spotlight.

Suddenly famous, Jackson bought an automobile large enough to sleep in so that she would have a place to spend the night when she performed in segregated areas where motels refused rooms to blacks. She also carried her own food with her so that she would not have to patronize segregated restaurants. Jackson’s remarkable singing eventually attracted white audiences. Her popularity spread nationally and internationally. One of Jackson’s most famous concerts took place in Israel, where she performed for an audience of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Jackson devoted a great deal of her time and energy to the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. She participated in the Montgomery bus boycott that followed Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person. She sang the old inspirational “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” to more than 200,000 people at the 1963 march on Washington, D.C., just before Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jackson died from heart failure on Jan. 27, 1972, and was mourned by fans around the world. Her one unfulfilled ambition had been to build a nonsectarian, nondenominational church in Chicago. Mahalia Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influences category in 1997.


Sources & Resources

“Jackson, Mahalia,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Jackson, Mahalia. Mahalia Jackson: The Power and the Glory. Directed by Jeff Scheftel. DVD. Santa Monica, CA: Xenon Pictures, 2003.

The Story of Gospel Music: The Power in the Voice. Directed by James Marsh and Andrew Dunne. DVD. London: BBC Warner, 1996.

Willman, Chris. “How Gospel Great Mahalia Jackson Gave Wing to MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech.”

Yahoo Music. January 18, 2015.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.