Sunday, June 23, 2013

“The Family Worship Book” by Terry L. Johnson

The Family Worship Book by Terry Johnson serves as a good resource for those looking for a more deeper and substantial time of family worship, going beyond basic devotional practices and actually digging deeper with example outlines of worship, Scriptural reading, hymns, prayer, creeds and confessions, etc. The first few sections introduce what family worship is, why it's important, and how to get started. After the first few chapters the book feels like it goes directly into reference-mode, including a Bible-reading checklist, catechism, and then copious inclusion of psalter songs and hymns.
And while I'm all for this book and think that it's an excellent resource for getting started, the problem becomes that for things such as the sample responsive readings in the book, you're either left having to get multiple copies of the same book, or make copies of the pages that you want to use, and repeatedly in reading this book I found myself wondering, "so why wouldn't you just get a stack of Trinity Hymnals and use those for family worship time?" since so much of what this book includes as reference material is already in the Trinity hymnal (including the Westminster Confession, the Shorter Catechism and plenty of responsive readings, etc.) In fact, it seems like HUGE sections of the book could have been skipped and that Johnson could have just said "Go and buy a stack of Trinity hymnals for your family worship time" (a quick Google search for "trinity hymnal" will find a bunch of sites selling these, around $20 each, in both regular and Baptist flavors, too...) Using individual hymnals for each family member allows everyone to have their own to use for singing and catechism, and they can also make notes in their own copies of favorite hymns, etc.

One other issue I found was the fact that although this book includes a number of hymns, the songs don't include the actual musical notation, only the words, and are followed with comments at the bottom of the song like "All saints old", and speaking as someone with limited musical skills, that type of notation means nothing to me. It would have helped tremendously if the hymns included the musical notation as well, because in that situation if you aren't familiar with the melody you could at least play out the melody on the piano first if it's a hymn you don't know.

So those few gripes aside, it's still a good book for someone new to the idea of family worship who wants to get started, and there are some excellent ideas to incorporate, but again, seems like much of this material could have been skipped, and much more sensibly, simply pick up a few copies of the Trinity hymnal (enough for each family member) and go that route instead.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Importance of Christian Scholarship by J. Gresham Machen

Having been attending the OPC again after a long number of years, I've become something of a Machen junky.  I don't agree with him on everything, but so much of what he writes is just spot-on.  Here's a review I did for the local paper:

In The Importance of Christian Scholarship, J. Gresham Machen calls for a revival of learning in the context of Christian teaching, evangelism and defending the faith, largely in response to the objections of “modern”, anti-intellectual evangelical leaders and the insistence that deeper knowledge is not necessary for faith, and that the gospel is a simple thing that does not need to be obscured by too much scholarly research. Machen confronts these alternative opinions by establishing that scholarship brings order out of confusion and makes the message shine fourth more clearly. It is “out of a great fund of Christian learning that the true message springs.” To Machen, in evangelism it's important that we tell the story of Jesus “straight and full and plain” and that what many despise today as “doctrine” the New Testament refers to as “gospel” (one of the things so refreshing about reading Machen is how relevant his message is to today, even though he was writing these works in the 1920's...)

Machen teaches that Christian evangelism isn't just "look at me and my virtues" and "you can be as happy and wonderful as me if you do this and that", but explains that people are not saved by a radiant testimony, but by a preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's only through the gospel and having this taught clearly and with a solid doctrinal understanding that the message is put forward through which they can be saved.

Machen maintains that all objections and criticisms of the faith are addressed in the New Testament. Teaching solid Christian doctrine to believers is about giving to Christian people materials that they can use in both dealing with avowed skeptics and also when they speak with their families, friends, students, etc. Christian scholarship and doctrinal richness empowers Christians to be both strong and fortified in their faith and to have a scholarly response to objections. Scholarship empowers the Christian to give credible responses to these questions.

Underlying preaching is Christian scholarship, necessary to both the preacher and to the man. The gospel is a simple thing, and while some objections would weigh that scholarship can obscure the message of the gospel, the opposite is actually true: scholarship helps the message shine forth more clear.

This work was presented as a series of lectures by Machen and is available for free from here: