Matt, no one will probably ever read this in my congregation, because my congregation does not consist of readers. I can recommend easy books and get one or two bites.
However, almost all confessions are segmented into parts, making it perfect for devotional reading. So I still think that all Reformed Christians ought to read it. That is quite different from saying that all will read it.
Interesting question. I recently have a deacon came to my library and comment to me that he reads a Christian book once a month, and this is from a deacon that is very “Spiritual” by our church standards…
I suspect that your expectations (and those of Reformed Sinner) are unrealistic, perhaps in the extreme. Books are “easy” for someone who spent most of his life in school and in a pastor’s study. While there were isolated moments/locations of great lay learning in Western History, the bulk of Christendom and Protestantism consisted of faithful men and women who were catechized as children, read their bibles, listened to sermons, and could be counted on to read several books per year.
If Reformed Christianity is ever going to thrive in our less-educated segments of society (where Pentecostals and Baptist currently dominate), we may have to readjust our goals and methods for growing people into maturity. But I don’t get the sense that many Reformed pastors are looking for congregations like that, do you?
Books are wonderful when used in the right way. But give me a Bible reader with a sincere heart to honor the Lord over a “reader” any day.
I will most certainly buy this book. Schaff’s Creeds are frustratingly incomplete on the Reformed confessions (yes, I know, that work already takes up 3 volumes). For reasons I don’t understand, he completely omits an English translation of the 1st Helvetic Confession (although the Latin and German versions are there).
I find the reading of confessions to often be more helpful than reading individual authors. Confessions are far more “sifted” in their language and teaching, more precise, and more concise than the writings of individuals. They are more dependable, being authored and/or adopted by larger bodies in the church, and not nearly as prone to quirks, flubs, and errors that are found in even the best Reformed theologian’s corpus of writing. And, last, they are more authoritative than the writings of any individual – in the sense of better representing a current or historical church’s beliefs and also in the sense of defining what it means to be Reformed today.
But this is a huge work – 600 pages with 2 more volumes still to come. I doubt I’ll read it cover to cover. I’ll probably read swaths of it that particularly interest me, and then use the rest for reference (I expect more than occasionally). Looking forward to it (and the 2 other volumes).
I feel the power of Mr. Beatty’s comment. At the same time, I know plenty of Christian men that could name both the offensive and defensive lines of multiple football teams, give trivial-pursuit type stats about teams, and list the Super Bowl winner for the last 20 years, who couldn’t list the books of the Bible. I know women that can give a botany lesson that would blow anyone’s mind on this blow, but don’t know if Calvin lived before or after C.S. Lewis. Such people are not using their intellectual gifts correctly – I’m sure you’d agree. Not everyone is gifted as a scholar, indeed. However, everyone can do more and we could all stand to rethink our priorities.
“Schaff’s Creeds are frustratingly incomplete on the Reformed confessions (yes, I know, that work already takes up 3 volumes). For reasons I don’t understand,….”
David, we need to remember that book production today is far easier with our technology. Schaff’s work was produced without the benefit of even a manual typewriter. He probably wrote out much of not all of those three volumes with pen and ink. He also had no inter-library loan system to assist him. We have blessings Schaff and his contemporaries did not enjoy. Laus Deo!
Matt, I don’t think my expectations are unrealistic at all. Creeds and confessions do not tend to be all that complicated to understand, with the WS maybe being an exception. But even there, with a little perseverance, even non-knowledgeable people can understand them. This work of Dennison’s is probably (I say that because I haven’t read it) not scholastic in method, but rather more like the Apostles Creed. As I said before, I don’t expect that my people will be all that interested in it, although I will still probably mention it to them.
When I first try to bring WSC to our fellowship as teaching tool, people bulked. Claiming they “just want to read and learn from the Bible.” But I asked them to trust me that WSC, while we are not directly learning from the Bible (we still do read the relevant verses), will give us a solid foundation of the Bible. After a year now all my fellowship comers say they really appreciate learning through the WSC, and how it gave them a solid foundation of Biblical knowledge synthesized.
Don’t under estimate your flock’s ability to comprehend books. My experiences teach me they bulk not because of laziness, but they never see the benefits that these books can also give them to help them apply Biblical truth in their lives. Of course it says something about our society that reading is more for “fun and entertainment” then relationship/knowledge enhancement.
I’ve seen too many recent seminary grads come huffing and puffing into their first pulpits with the grandest of expectations – largely based on the idea that laymen (let’s restrict our conversation to men, shall we?) in the congregation have as much – or just slightly less – time to read than they did as seminarians. Not too mention the intellectual gifts and cultivated dispositions.
The result? Frustration. And it didn’t need to be this way.
I have great confidence in the ability of the laymen in most Reformed churches to read – how shall I say – responsibly, given the myriad of demands he faces. Working 50 hours per week, leading his wife in the care/nurture/discipline of children (larger families… more responsibilities), nurturing and teaching his wife, spending time talking with unbelieving neighbors, doing his taxes, attending Christian school/homeschool meetings, and the list goes on. I think a man, if given the right encouragement and sufficient native abilities, can read good books with understanding at a reasonable pace – perhaps 1 per month or so.
But now put a church in a working-class neighborhood – or the rural outposts of our country – and I think things change a great deal, maybe a whole bunch. Memorizing the recent passing stats of “X” quarterback isn’t the same as making sense of 16th and 17th century theological reasoning. Not even close, in my opinion. I say that staring at 20+ different “sets” of Puritan writers (BoT) sitting on my shelves. I love this stuff.
I would suggest that if Lane were to spoon-feed some of our tradition’s great religious literature in small groups where questions could be asked, etc., then twenty years from now, he might be looking at a very different congregation.
Good ideas, Matt. I agree, and actually that is what I’m trying to do. I’m starting with regular Bible studies, really, and recommending books like Ferguson’s _The Christian Life_, and Teelinck’s book on godliness. I think I might move on from there to, say, Williamson’s commentaries on the WS, which have been known for being able to explain the WS simply. Then, something like this book would be great after that.
My preference for getting men up to speed, in order:
> Ferguson, The Christian Life
> Roberts, God’s Big Picture
> Directory for Family Worship (explained)
> Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life
> Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied
> Goldsworthy, According to Plan
> > Dyksen (?), Rediscovering Catechizing
> Williamson, WSC & WCF Commentaries
> Robertson, Christ of the Covenants
Good discussion! Matt, thanks for the thoughtful response. Having graduated from seminary 3 years ago and got a job in the freight industry (40-50 hpw), I hear what you’re saying. Further, I run my own business in the off hours (10-15 hpw) and have a young growing family with another on the way. In addition, I’m in a teaching and preaching rotation at church (??? hpw) and am active in most church activities. That rounds out my major, time-consuming responsibilities. Here’s my point: I do more every week than most (say, 98%) of the people I personally know and I still have time to read beyond everything listed above (some of which involves reading). I end up reading about one book… maybe more… for personal development a month. Now, by nature I’m more studious than a lot of folks – granted. However, the I-don’t-have-time excuse is simply that, an excuse. Put it in stone: a man will make time to do whatever he really wants to do. Americans are notoriously lazy – American Christians are hardly an exception. I say that with much conviction of the laziness I see in myself.
I think the pastoral issues are helping people 1) to oppose sloth and 2) towant to read good books. I think we need to help them see how they and their family will be benefited by reading good books. Do pastors have a no-nonsense apologia for book reading that lovingly offered to the flock?
I’m in general sympathy with your thoughts, although suspicious that in the hands of most Reformed pastors – this becomes bibliolatry. I’ve just begun to preach through Ephesians and it occurred to me that if I wanted Ephesians to “stick” – they would have to do more than listen to me on Sunday. So, we’re memorizing the book (in about 10 months) together. I would much rather my folks time be spent memorizing/mediating on God’s word than a catechism/books of theology – as helpful as they might be. I remember seeing numerous ordination exams in the PCA where the candidate was sharp in the doctrine of God, sacraments, BCO, etc., but didn’t evidence mastery of very basic biblical facts – things my 9 year-olds know “cold.” The candidates – after being told to bone-up on English Bible – often remarked that this was “Bible trivia.” That’s stuck in my craw ever since and is one (of several) reason(s) why I left the PCA for the CREC. There, the text is still important. I realize that there are some (many?) in the PCA who still feel that way, but the emphasis on books rather than THE BOOK is still too heavy in TR circles.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens; Justification, by John Fesko; The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan; Recovering the Reformed Confessions, by Scott Clark; Brief Outline of Theology, by Friedrich Schleiermacher; Principles of Sacred Theology, by Abraham Kuyper
Books I am now reading
Exodus commentaries; Matthew commentaries; Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology; Baker's new history of the church
Books for future reading
Turretin's Institutes; Joseph Caryl on Job, German encyclopedias of theology