Jubilee Tour explores Reformation sites

02-Venema preaching-cDr. Cornel Venema and his wife, Nancy, never expected they would lead a tour group in Europe to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But in God’s providence, they were in Germany on the actual date marking the event.

Tony Aguilar, representing Levia Tour in New York City, contacted Dr. Venema and asked if he’d be willing to host a tour that included stops to significant sites in Reformation history.

“The itinerary was already in place, although I asked them to make a few changes after I agreed to work with them,” Dr. Venema explained. A concern that Wittenberg would be too busy on October 31 led to scheduling that visit a day earlier; a good move since many dignitaries were in Wittenberg for a celebration on the 31st and the tour group wouldn’t have had access to the Castle Church and other important sites for security reasons.

The group of 50 participants visited sites in Germany, France and Switzerland on the Reformation Jubilee Tour, which took place October 28-November 9, 2017.

01-Lutheran chuchThe tour began with a worship service in a famous Lutheran church in Berlin. Dr. Venema preached from Romans 3:19-4:5 about Christ as the just and the justifier. Rev. Mark Minegar (Allegan, MI) led the group in prayer. Nancy Venema played the organ.

On October 30, the group took a bus to Wittenberg, where they visited the monastery that eventually became Luther’s home. Another site was Phillip Melanchthon’s house, and participants also viewed the Castle Church door, where Luther had nailed his 95 theses 500 years earlier.

This was one of the most memorial days for Rev. Ed Marcusse of Immanuel’s Reformed Church (URC) in Salem, OR, and his wife, Denise. The couple enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime trip as a gift from Rev. Marcusse’s current and former churches in celebration of his 25 years in pastoral ministry.

“Standing in front of the door of the Castle Church where Luther posted the 95 these was moving,” said Rev. Marcusse, “but even more interesting was touring the ‘Luther House Museum’, which the German government organized in commemoration of the 500-year anniversary.” He explained that when Luther married, Prince Frederick the Wise gave the then-empty monastery (where Luther had lived and taught) to him as a wedding gift. “This may seem like quite a large gift for one couple (the building is HUGE), but by the time he marries, Luther’s fame has spread all over Europe and on any given night he has between 30 to 300 visitors staying with him in order to soak up more of his teachings. His new wife, Katarina, feeds and houses them all. The daily life of the Reformer was well-chronicled in this museum.”

It was on the second floor of the former monastery that Luther frequently met with students after dinner for theological discussions. Notes taken during these “table talks” were published after Luther’s death.

06-Wartburg Castle-cTo celebrate on October 31, tour members began the day with worship. They then traveled to Erfurt, the city where Luther attended university, became a monk, and was ordained a priest. Part of the day included a trip to Wartburg Castle near Eisnach. When Luther left Worms after being declared a heretic, Prince Frederick arranged for Luther to be “kidnapped” and hid for ten months at Wartburg Castle. During this time of seclusion, Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek into German, a step that propelled the Protestant Reformation forward. People now could read these Scriptures for themselves.

On November 3, the tour bus stopped in Worms, Germany, and participants visited the Cathedral where the Diet condemned Martin Luther of heresy. The visits to Wartburg Castle near Eisenach and to the Cathedral in Worms, where Luther took his stand in 1521 in the presence of the young emperor and an assembly of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, were highlights for Dr. Venema.

07-Worms Cathedral-c“Both of these places were pivotal in Luther’s reformation career, and you could not but be impressed by the courage that he was given by God’s grace to take his stand for the gospel and the authority of the Scriptures in the face of likely martyrdom,” he said. “North Americans, with our strict appeal to the separation of church and state and our history of religious freedom, have almost no sense of what Luther was facing and of the tremendous implications of his reforming work for the church and the Christian life in the world.”

The tour continued into France and arrived at Strasbourg, where participants visited the famous Cathedral as well as the homes of John Calvin and Martin Bucer. On the journey to Switzerland, the bus crossed a section of Germany and stopped at Constance. Group members viewed the building that housed the Council of Constance from 1414-1418.

Although the Council’s primary purpose was to deal with the schism caused by three men claiming to be the Pope, the Council made a sad and significant decision related to the Reformation. It condemned the Czech priest Jan Hus as a heretic and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.

10-Strasbourg Cathedral interiorThe execution of Hus took place 102 years before Luther posted his theses. It’s interesting to know that Hus is reported to have said, “You are about to burn a goose [Husa in Czech means “goose”], but in 100 years a swan will arise that you will not be able to kill.”

A Lutheran church now stands at the place where Hus was executed, and tour members had a worship service there on the second Sunday of the trip. Rev. Marcusse preached from 2 Timothy 3:15 on Sola Scripture.

“It was personally moving for me to do this,” he said. “As I preached, the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned in Hebrews was running through my mind.”

The tour went on to Zurich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger lived and worked. In Lucerne, tour members viewed a famous lion sculpture and the highly-photographed Chapel Bridge with its octogan-shaped Water Tower. The group then traveled through the Alps, enjoying breath-taking vistas of some of its highest peaks.

The final day of the Reformation Jubilee Tour was spent in Geneva. Rev. Marcusse was impressed by seeing “Calvin’s church and especially standing in Calvin’s auditorium, across the street from his church, where every weekday at noon he would teach, working his way through Bible books verse by verse. These talks were written down by faithful scribes and turned into transcripts, which we hold in our hands today as his commentaries.”

14-Elger mountain AlpsReflecting on the trip, Dr. Venema found it “sobering” that “many of these events and sites are long forgotten in a Western European society that is post-Christian and often ignorant (even hostile) toward its own history.”

He also sees a need for North Americans to develop a more balanced perspective. “I believe Christians, especially Reformed Christians, in North America face two challenges when considering the sixteenth century Reformation. The first challenge is not to ‘idolize’ a particular moment in history, to romanticize it, and to think that we need only to return to the past rather than continue to seek to be faithful to the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace alone. The second challenge is to recognize the importance of history in the unfolding of God’s purposes through time, to become better students of our own history so as to understand and appreciate more our reformation heritage and its continuing significance for the church’s life and ministry today.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.


Calvin Seminary appoints URC man to moral theology position


M Tuininga fam
The Tuininga family

On June 15, 2015, delegates at the CRCNA’s Synod unanimously ratified the appointment of Dr. Matthew Tuininga as Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. Dr. Tuininga is a member and licensed exhorter of Covenant United Reformed Church in Pantego, NC.

“Moral theology encompasses our understanding of the practical implications of the gospel for human beings in the church and the world,” Dr. Tuininga says. “It extends to God’s will for his created order, but is especially concerned with the fulfillment of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the implications of that revelation for people as they live in this world. It encompasses Christian ethics as understood in the broadest sense.”

Dr. Tuininga graduated from Covenant College in 2004, worked as a legislative correspondent for a congressman in Washington, DC, for a year and at the FBI as a counter-terrorism intelligence analyst for another year. He then attended Westminster Seminary California, graduating in 2009. He began teaching politics and core courses at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA, in 2013, and received his Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics and Society from Emory University in 2014. His dissertation explored John Calvin in light of two kingdoms theology.

“The dissertation argues that the two kingdoms distinction is central to Calvin’s political theology,” he explains. “Understood in light of the two kingdoms distinction, Calvin’s political theology serves as a helpful corrective to triumphalistic forms of transformationalism that expect to see temporal society transformed into the kingdom of God. But Calvin’s two kingdoms doctrine was not, first and foremost, a theology of institutions. Rather, it arose out of Calvin’s understanding of the kingdom of God, which lies at the foundation of his thought, and the way in which that kingdom breaks into the present age. The doctrine seeks to explain the relationship between the present age and the age to come, given the existence of the kingdom that will one day transform all things, but that is not yet manifested in its fullness (the already and the not yet). My dissertation then traces the implications of this eschatological dynamic for Calvin’s understanding of church and state, and I conclude by grappling with potential implications for contemporary Christian engagement.”

In 2007, Dr. Tuininga was licensed to exhort by Covenant URC in Pantego, which his father, Rev. Cal Tuininga, pastors. His grandfather, Cecil Tuininga, was one of the student group at Calvin known as the “Sacred Seven” in the 1950s. Six students attending Calvin Seminary and Cecil, who still attended Calvin College, wrote a grievance against the liberal teachings of several professors. Dr. Tuininga’s brother, Rev. Eric Tuininga, served in pastoral ministry in the URC and now as an OPC missionary in Uganda.

“After my interview at Synod, a delegate told me that he saw in me the passion for truth that characterized my father and grandfather,” Dr. Tuininga says. “I am honored to take that passion back to Calvin Seminary just like my brother Eric has taken it to Uganda. There are so few schools in the continental Reformed tradition to begin with, and even fewer that have a full time position in moral theology. I am blessed to be able to teach at one of them! My grandfather died several years ago, but my father, like the rest of my family, has been very supportive. As I made clear in various interviews, I haven’t turned my back on the URC in any way. The whole church is Christ’s church and I will serve wherever God calls me to serve. I do hope that coming to Calvin from the URC gives me the ability to begin to build bridges once again between believers and churches who have much more in common than we often realize. Reformed believers need to proclaim the gospel clearly together.”

The position at CTS begins in 2016, with Dr. Tuininga teaching an online course in Christian Ethics during the spring. His family anticipates moving to Grand Rapids in the summer, and he will begin teaching full-time at the Seminary in the fall.

As he anticipates his last academic year at Oglethorpe, he’s grateful for the opportunities the secular liberal arts context has given him to discuss fundamental issues with young people.

“I’ve learned to talk about Christianity, ethics, and the gospel in ways that take seriously and challenge the concerns of a broad audience,” he says. “These sorts of discussions do not take place in the mainstream media, and rarely in the academy, as Americans increasingly take refuge in their own bubbles, talking and engaging only with people like themselves.”

He adds, “Christendom is behind us, and we live in a world that is increasingly pluralistic. Used to being in control, we have much work to do in thinking about what faithful Christian witness looks like when we are a minority not in control.”

Reflecting on his appointment, he says, “It seems like an exaggeration, but I believe my whole life was preparing me to do this. I was raised and educated in a strong, confessionally Reformed tradition, and my commitment to it is deep and thorough. But I earnestly desire to see the tradition engage the broader Christian community and the world in more constructive and gospel-oriented ways. I’m sensitive to the riches our tradition has to offer, but I’m also sensitive to its weaknesses and blind spots. This equips me well, I think, to guide seminary students who will themselves wrestle with the implications of the gospel in a wide variety of circumstances.”

Dr. Tuininga hopes to give pastoral ministry students “an energetic vision for the way in which the gospel shapes” the entire Christian life. “We need a vision for faithful Christian witness that is thoroughly Reformed and evangelical. Given the times in which we live, faithfulness will require a greater willingness to be conformed to Christ in his suffering. Standing for the faith, for love, and for justice in conformity to God’s will for his creation is going to be costly. We need to have a clear understanding of the gospel, and we need to recover a clear understanding of what is means for the church to be the church—in preaching, the sacraments, discipline, and the diaconate.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the August 26, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.

Simonetta Carr’s beautiful biographies

Simonetta Carr

Simonetta Carr writes beautiful “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” that are a visual and literary delight while teaching biblical truth. Her subjects in this series, published by Reformation Heritage Books, include John Calvin, Augustine, John Owen, Athanasius, and Lady Jane Grey (see review below). She has also written a semi-fictional biography, Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata, a book in P&R’s “Chosen Daughters” series.

When Glenda Mathes recently interviewed her for Christian Renewal, she discovered that Simonetta Carr is more than an author. She’s a teacher, translator, and busy mother. She and her husband, Tom, have seven sons and a daughter; four of their children still live at home. The family resides in Santee, a suburb in East County of San Diego, and attends Christ United Reformed Church. 

CR: Simonetta, I believe you are from Italy, is that correct? How did you happen to come to the United States?

SC: Yes, I am from Italy. I met my husband there (he is American). It took us many years to decide to come to live in the United States, because he preferred to live abroad. After many children, we realized that economically (at least at that time) living here was a better choice, because obviously my husband could find better opportunities to work.

CR: Do you have any connection to Rev. Ferrari or the church in Milan from the time you lived in Italy?

SC: I have been translating Christian books from English to Italian for many years, so I first contacted Rev. Ferrari about 7-8 years ago when I discovered that his publishing house, Alfa e Omega, specialized in Reformed books. I have since translated for them until recently, when Rev. Ferrari left his position as publisher to concentrate on his ministry as pastor and church planter. My schedule was already full anyhow, because — besides being a wife and mother — I translate for another company and spend a lot of my spare time doing research for the books I write.

CR: What led you to begin writing biographies of theologians for children?                                                                                                   

SC: I just saw a need for simple and factual books for younger children with an emphasis on the importance these men and women bear on Christian thought and the church in general. There are, of course, Christian biographies for children, but when I started to write I found that most of them were geared to older children and didn’t usually include much information on these people’s theological contributions. I wanted to show children, for example, that our historical creeds and confessions have been compiled with much careful thought, study, and prayer and have been confirmed throughout the centuries, and that Reformers like Luther didn’t wake up one morning with a theological revelation, but rested on the exegetical work of others before them and on historical councils.

CR: What other work or writing do you do?

SC: I translate Christian books from English to Italian, and I teach Italian part-time (in the evenings or on Saturdays). I write occasional articles for magazines (most recently, Modern Reformation, Leben, and The Outlook).

CR: How would you describe your usual schedule or a typical work day?      

SC: I wake up around six, when my husband gets up to go to work, then go to my “office” (a walk-in closet that has been turned into an office, with my clothes still hanging on one side) for some quiet time alone before the kids wake up. I normally read something short and pray, then check my emails. I have breakfast and family devotions with my kids around 7:30, then we clean the house together. Now that it’s summer the kids are busy with many activities, so every day is different. I translate for an Italian publisher, so I have a goal of translating a short chapter each day and checking the previous chapter (they are very short chapters, less than 2000 words each, and this work takes me about two hours). Since I am translating great Christian books (mostly commentaries), it’s also very nourishing for my soul.

The Carr family

Most of my day is still taken with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and kids — even if the ones at  home are teenagers now. As the years start weighing me down, I have gone back to the good Italian habit of an afternoon nap. That’s very refreshing and gives me some more time to read and pray before I fall asleep. On most evenings, I teach Italian outside the home — sometimes at the Italian Cultural Center in San Diego, and sometimes in private classes. I come back around nine.

So when do I write? Most people are surprised to know that I write in my spare time — in the few evenings when I don’t teach, on some Saturdays, just whenever I have time. And it’s okay, because it’s something I really like to do, so I don’t need to find motivation.

My sixth book in the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series, Anselm of Canterbury (scheduled to be published next year), has already been sent to a few experts to check for accuracy, so right now I am doing research for my seventh book, John Knox. After a busy and often challenging day, cuddling up with a book on the Reformation can be very inspiring.

Then a lot of the actual writing is done as I go. I hate to get stuck in front of a computer screen with nothing to say, so when that happens, I take that thought with me while I wash the dishes or drive to the store, and eventually the sentences start to take shape in my mind. Then I just run back to the computer to write them down.

CR: How did you get connected with the illustrator who does such lovely work?

SC: Matt Abraxas is the brother of my pastor [Rev. Michael Brown]! The first two books were done by other illustrators, but they couldn’t continue for different reasons.

Initially, I had a lot of problems finding a good illustrator for my books. My first illustrator decided not to continue after the first book (he was just helping me to get started). The (good) problem is that he set a very high standard with his work, so when he quit I had to embark on a mad search for a top quality artist who was willing to be seriously underpaid. I found a few people, but then something always went wrong — there were misunderstandings, or they changed their minds at the last minute…. I am not exaggerating when I say that my publisher almost gave me the boot. He was seriously wondering if I could ever work with an illustrator. I finally found someone for the second book but, almost immediately after we hired him, my pastor mentioned very casually that his brother was an artist. After I saw his work and exchanged a few emails with him I knew immediately that he was perfect for the job! He was the answer to my impossible quest — a true artist (not only talented, but insightful and serious about his job) and willing to work “for peanuts” (as I often told him).

CR: So you’re responsible for finding and hiring your own illustrator?

SC: In my case, yes. It all depends on the publisher. Large publishers hire their own illustrators, but smaller publishers cannot afford to invest money in illustrations. From the start, I wanted to make the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series comparable to the best biographies for children you find in the secular market, so I agreed that any expense for illustrations or photos can be taken out of my royalties. Recently, however, RHB has very graciously decided to put a cap on my expenses, and I am very thankful for that.

I had a vision for this and amazingly God allowed me to do it. I think it’s quite amazing that he gave Reformation Heritage Books a similar vision. They have also aimed at high quality and I know that they are investing much money in these books.

CR: From what publishers or outlets are your books available?                                 

SC: They are available from Reformation Heritage Books, P&R, and from many other venues online (including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christianbook.com, Grace and Truth, etc.)

CR: How would you describe your philosophy or perspective on your work?

SC: I aim at quality, accuracy, and simplicity. I do the same amount of research whether I write for children or others. I try to understand the historical context and theological issues, and then try to convey them with simple words so that children can understand them. I also send off each manuscript to at least two experts on the character I am covering.

CR: How do you maintain your perspective?                                                                      

SC: I keep reminding myself of my initial goal of providing children with accurate accounts of church history, including the history of theology, so they will have a better understanding of why we believe what we do.


Lady Jane Grey by Simonetta Carr, 2012, Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 64 pp.

“Raised to be Queen”

Simonetta Carr’s “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” are delightful volumes. Artistic illustrations and superior materials make them heirloom quality. These thoroughly researched biographies transcend factual information to show children the ways God used this person in theological history.

Lady Jane Grey is the newest addition to the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series. Lavish illustrations, many by Matt Abraxas, and interesting narrative engage and hold the reader’s interest. Simonetta Carr’s writing skill is obvious from the opening paragraph: “Lady Jane Grey lived almost seventeen years and ruled England for less than two weeks. Still, she has been remembered for generations for her courage in defending the gospel until the end.”

That writing skill become increasingly evident as Simonetta describes a complex period of English history in a clear and smooth narrative. She is careful to add explanations about events or situations that are far removed from modern readers. She accurately and sensitively handles the execution of Lady Jane Grey at a young age.

Chapters highlight Jane’s childhood as a girl “Raised to Be Queen,” through the political and religious intrigue during “Times of Trouble,” to her reluctant acceptance of “A Heavy Crown,” and her time as a “Prisoner” who was “Ready to Die” for the sake of Christ’s true gospel.

The back matter of the book includes a helpful time line of Lady Jane’s life, an interesting “Did You Know?” section that gives fascinating glimpses of life in 16th century England, and the text of her last letter to her sister.

I highly recommended this book with its lovely illustrations and lucid language for home and church libraries. Adults as well as children will appreciate this valuable biography of the girl was raised to be Queen: Lady Jane Grey.

The above interview and book review appeared on pages 29-31 of the August 22, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.