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Photo: Calvin Theological Seminary
Photo by Calvin Theological Seminary

The Calvin Seminary community recently celebrated the release of Dr. Karin Maag’s new book Lifting Hearts to the Lord: Worship with John Calvin in Sixteenth Century-Geneva by hosting a conversation with Maag and Dr. John Witvliet, the Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

The book is part of a series published by Eerdmans and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship that offers case studies of worshipping communities across the world and throughout history. Lifting Hearts, as well as the other books in the series, is a collection of primary source materials drawn together by docent-like notes that guide the reader through the texts.

Maag draws on a number of Genevan primary sources to examine worship practices in the sixteenth century, including Calvin’s contributions to the Reformation and ordinary Genevans’ reactions to the changes taking place in their worship. These sources include selections from Calvin’s commentaries and sermons, pages from the Genevan psalter, and excerpts and accounts from letters and records on Genevan worship.

The discussion included lively descriptions of worship in Geneva in both cathedral spaces and countryside churches. Maag explained that the way church services ran was often very different from what modern Christians might think. Dog fights and rambunctious children were not uncommon experiences, and often congregants would verbally interact with the ministers.

One worship practice that Maag found particularly relevant to churches today was the Genevan pastors’ practice of preaching in prophetic mode. These ministers, Calvin included, offered a distinctly countercultural approach to following Christ that was often challenging and controversial.

These sources from Calvin’s Geneva show that sixteenth and twenty-first century Christians face many of the same questions, including “what it means to follow Christ, how to hold to the truth and yet still co-exist with neighbors who hold different views, and, in many cases, how to live as a religious minority.” Examining the past can provide a helpful framework for present-day Christians’ understanding of these concerns.

Dr. Karin Maag is professor of History at Calvin College and Director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies.

Missed the book launch? You’re in luck: it was recorded! View the full conversation here.