The good folks at Reformation Heritage Books were kind enough to send me a copy of William Boekstein’s latest, The Glory of Grace: The story of the Canons of Dort. Handsomely illustrated by Evan Hughes and published with a child-sized hardcover and on glossy paper, this is an attractive volume. Where, in books aimed at older readers, the text is more important, the tactile and visual qualities of children’s books are important. Here’s a small but important quality. The faces of the characters are pleasant. It’s important not to create more distance than necessary from our past.
This volume is well written. It offers a brief sketch of the Reformation before moving on to setting the stage for the Dutch Reformation and the Arminian (Remonstrant) Crisis in the Netherlands. It tells the story of the Dutch rebellion against the oppressive Spanish regime in the Netherlands, the influence of Erasmian humanism, the rise and influence of Jacob Arminius, and the response of the Reformed churches to this challenge and their defense of the gospel. The volume does a nice job of setting the theological and ecclesiastical controversy in its broader social setting. The volume helpfully provides the Five Points of the Remonstrants (those who objected to Reformed theology and also of the Remonstrance, i.e., the document) before it includes a brief summary of the Canons so that it’s clear that the Reformed adopted five points not as the ideal summary of the Reformed faith but in response to a very particular challenge. It was pleasant also to see a brief summary of some of the other actions of the Synod, e.g., its actions on worship, catechism instruction, and the like. The Great Synod of Dort (1618–19) met to serve God’s Word and minister to that Word to the church and not simply to debate theology, however much the Remonstrants wanted to make Synod into a debating society.
Children’s books are important for a lot of reasons but chiefly because this is the story that some people may carry with them all their lives. They may never revisit the history of the Synod of Dort, the Remonstrant crisis, or even the Reformation. So it’s important for children’s book to get things right. Some adults, as a colleague of mine once said, begin their own learning in a new field with children’s books. This approach has merit. Children’s books or “juvenile literature” (as our grammar school librarian said) tend to be clearer, shorter, and a good foundation for future reading.
So, does this volume get the story right? Yes, almost completely but for a couple of small matters. First, King Philip appears in the story without any explanation. In future editions, of which we hope there are many, it might help children to understand who he is and why he did what he did to the Dutch Protestants. Second, I was puzzled by the book’s claim that Arminius was dismissed from Geneva for “privately teaching the students to disagree with their professors.” To the the best of my knowledge, and I’m happy to be corrected, Arminius left the Genevan Academy with a letter of commendation from its rector, Theodore Beza (The Works of Arminius, trans. James Nichols, 3 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1996), 1.27–28). According to Carl Bangs, Arminius (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971), 78) Arminius left Geneva because of financial difficulties. The only place I could find any suggestion of duplicity in Geneva was in McClintock and Strong’s 19th-century entry on Arminius from but there was no information given to substantiate the story. There is evidence of less than straightforward dealing by Arminius in Leiden but his time in Geneva seems to have been without incident. Indeed, Bangs’ account was at pains to emphasize Beza’s good humor and gentleness—a pleasant contrast to the usual portrayal of Beza as monster in the secondary literature.
These small things aside, parents, pastors, and church librarians will be thankful to Boekstein and Evans for their good and thoughtful work on behalf of our covenant children and the future generations of the church.
I have an idea for a future children’s book (or perhaps a book for adults): Petrus Plancius (1552–62), one of the fellows who spoke up about the dangers of Arminius’ revision of Reformed theology. Plancius is a famous as an astronomer, cartographer (in the time of the early exploration of the new world), but he was also a minister who stood for the faith confessed in the Belgic during a time when many others, some of them quite powerful, wanted to sweep the issue under the rug in the interests of “getting along” and dealing with the bigger social issues (e.g., war with Spain). We may all be thankful for hunched little Plancius who knew the gospel and knew the corruption of the gospel when he heard it.