Book Review: Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney

Family Worship_Cover

As part of my own 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to purchase a copy of Donald Whitney’s Family Worship (Crossway, 2016). It helped that Crossway unceasingly advertised this book on my Facebook feed (it goes to show you how impressionable I am, I reckon). And I am glad that I both purchased and read it. The theme of this book is that there ought to be a planned, routine, established time of worshiping God as a family through the reading of the Bible, praying together, and singing praises to God together.I was taken aback during and after reading Family Worship because, to my surprise, this little book packs a punch in the form of heritage and exhortation in just sixty-four pages. Whitney addresses the theme of the ages and one of the celebrated tenants of Christianity, namely, that God deserves our worship. He both deserves and delights in our worship, as individuals and as families who are a part of his Church (Psalm 96:7,8).

From a heritage standpoint, the book gives a quick rundown on the spiritual disciplines of men like Abraham, Job and Joshua in the Old Testament as well as mandates for husbands and fathers from the likes of Paul and Peter in the New Testament. In addition, Whitney generously refers to respected men of the faith down through history, from Tertullian, Luther, the English Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Piper. Their words add a rich perspective to the argument that our families ought to have purposeful, regular time set aside for worshiping God at home in addition to assembling with other believers in our local churches.

A little more than midway through Family Worship, Whitney shares some serious words from J.W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister from New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, who wrote a book called Thoughts On Family Worship. In the last chapter Alexander wrote, “Laying aside all flattering words, I may say plainly that I regard the neglect of family worship as springing from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion.” To be fair, Whitney adds his own anecdote.

     But, that’s not true if people have never learned about family worship. You can’t expect Christians to do what they’ve never been taught to do. I once taught a class of 115 seminary students, in which I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where family worship was practiced?” Only seven raised their hands. Then I asked, “How many have visited in homes where you have seen family worship taking place?” No one raised their hand. In a conservative, Bible-believing seminary which attracts some of the most devoted, gospel-zealous Christians on the planet, people preparing to be pastors and missionaries, only one out of sixteen students in a class on spirituality had any familiarity whatsoever with family worship.

What does that say about the situation regarding family worship in our own churches, the kinds that are blessed to produce such committed young believers? What is the likelihood that students who have never even seen family worship would go into the ministry and teach people to practice it and how to do so? Of course, if they were not first taught about family worship themselves, we would never imagine them teaching it to others.

Here is what I mean when I wrote that I was taken aback. I was personally convicted, as Whitney meant to accomplish in telling this story. Based on the personal experience of 115 devoted young seminary students, he finishes with this:

So we can’t agree with Alexander that “the neglect of family worship [springs] from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion” if people have never heard of it. But, in reading this book, now you have.

It is in this part of the book where all my failed spiritual aspirations as a husband and father came calling. But where many popular “Christian living/ family” books perhaps may leave their readers feeling guilty and demoralized, thankfully Whitney’s book did not do so to me. In it, he encourages his readers, husbands and fathers first, to resolve to lead their families in purposely worshiping God together (through Bible reading, praying and singing) instead of dwelling on past negligence or failed attempts at family devotions. Families, single men and single women, and empty-nesters are also addressed.

Above all, Whitney makes a good case for family worship in his little book, but he is careful to distinguish this practice of family worship from the Christ of the gospel, who alone is the source of salvation. He makes it clear, “We are not made right with God by practicing family worship, or by how well we love and provide for our families, or by anything else we do. The gospel—the message that can lead to being right with God—is the truth of what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

But what good does it do our families if we never exemplify the gospel, by living it out every day, or by communicating God’s worth? My resolve was strengthened as well as inspired by reading this small tome. I’ll finish this post with something Whitney wrote at the end of Family Worship. “Blessed is the family where the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ is declared, day after day, generation after generation.”

 

 

 

Juggling Books

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“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Miss Bingley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

2016 Reading Challenge Update—Making some progress. Have actually finished four books! I know, not really a record, but it’s satisfactory. Plus, making a purposeful effort to dive into reading more (and comprehending more) is, personally, a cause for mentioning here. When you can fit in time for reading after work and making time for family–better still, incorporating more reading into daily time with one’s family- finishing four books into March is all the more jubilatory. Still, I’m always up for improvement. That’s why I always juggle several books at a time. Some get full treatment while others get flung off and ricochet somewhere between my ambition and the back of the book shelf and into that forgotten realm of good intentions.

Currently, I’m going back and forth between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment to fulfill the “classic novel” and “Christian living” quotas in the basic level of the Challenge respectively. Throw in A.A. Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh at the children’s bedtime and it’s a modest juggle act. As far as the pace of reading goes, I’m going at a rather slow rate. Reading tends to be easier if I’m focused. Picking up Ridley Scott’s The Martian from Redbox completely destroyed any intent to crack open a cover and partake of words when I arrived home. I was inspired to grow potatoes, however.

I’m looking at maybe reading Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney to fulfill reading a book published in 2016. We’ll see. In the meantime, I must finish what I’ve started and am currently reading before I plod ahead. Happy reading!

 

Delving Into The 2016 Reading Challenge

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I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions (as usual), which means I haven’t broken any either (which is pretty fantastic). Just before Christmas, I did learn on Facebook, via a friend from Texas, about the Reading Challenge 2016 from POPSUGAR. It got me interested. Then I read of a similar reading challenge on Tim Challies’ blog, which reeled me in completely.

If you haven’t heard of the Reading Challenge, the gist of it is you read as many books as you can, generally involving a smattering of different genres in the list. Challies uses four levels: The Light Reader, The Avid Reader,  The Committed Reader, and The Obsessed Reader. Obviously, the amount of books goes up with each level. I decided to aim low and go with the first level at 13 books in a year because I’m pretty sure I can hit that bar and jump over it. Being realistic, I’m not holding out much hope of reading the 104 books at the Obsessed Reader level, which is two books a week. We’ll see how things go.

In our house, there are many books. My wife and I both have a love for books. But since we also have many children (five of them, which is relatively a lot in the twenty-first century in these United States when you’re not Mormon) and we love them also, jumping veraciously into a book just isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Child rearing generally means shoving book-reading time into the luxury category—filed next to date nights and riding a tamed Tyrannosaurus Rex. Naturally, taking part in some kind of structured reading plan (especially when it includes the word “challenge”) appeals to us.

Currently, I’m reading Winterdance by Gary Paulsen, having finished a George Grant book about Theodore Roosevelt entitled Carry a Big Stick. The latter book, a little over 200 pages, was a quick read, making me want to read a bit more on T.R. Grant focused on Teddy’s faith, qualities (including his impulsiveness), and character traits which made him the leader that he was. Winterdance is an entertaining and even poetic biographical tale about Paulsen’s training for and running in the Iditarod, an 1180 mile sled dog race in Alaska in the 1980s. The film Snow Dogs with Cuba Gooding, Jr. was loosely based on Paulsen’s experiences. I’m enjoying it so far. Paulsen’s dramatic flair for conveying the comedic and absurd makes great reading.

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On the horizon, I’m planning on reading F.F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, which was recommended by another friend of mine. My wife is reading Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and it’s very enjoyable to see her enjoying it as I enjoyed reading it a while back. I especially like the give and take we engage in as we both are reading our respective books. On that note, I am looking forward to reading more and learning more this year with a bit of structure.

Books: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Steinbeck

see wiki: Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones - 1899-1981 Steinbeck with Charley

I’m currently reading two books. By reading, I mean holding them at various times, opening them and staring at a page or two at a time, closing them and then just feeling them in my hands in a sad sort of way.

The first book I’m reading is The Plight of Man and the Power of God by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s a book on a series of lectures he gave in Edinburgh in 1941. MLJ draws out sermonic gold from the first chapter of the New Testament Epistle to the Romans, addressing “The Religious History of Mankind,” “Religion and Morality,” “The Nature of Sin,” The Wrath of God,” and “The Only Solution.” The copy I have is an unstated first edition with musty tanned pages and a blue tattered cloth cover. I just finished the second chapter, dealing with the false premises of comparative religion and the false promises of morality divorced from God.

…[M]an by nature is inimical to God, and does his utmost to get rid of God and what he regards as the incubus of revealed religion. Man, rebelling against God as he has revealed himself and from the kind of life that God dictates, proceeds to make for himself new gods and new religions and to elaborate a new way of life and of salvation.

The “Doctor” pretty much schools us on the fact that man hasn’t bettered himself in some kind of religious upward mobilization, but instead has degenerated ever since Adam’s original sin. This is my first book I’ve picked up by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have listened to a couple of his sermons but reading is a more adequate way for me to grasp deeper subjects, and so I look forward to reading the rest of this short book of 120 pages.

The second book I have picked up is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. A buddy of mine, who I grew up with from AWANA clubs through high school, recommended that I read it. I had always meant to get to this Steinbeck tome, but haven’t until a week or so ago. The last time I read Steinbeck was when I was sixteen or seventeen and I read The Grapes of Wrath. I think that was when I started to listen to Woody Guthrie too; I even read his book Bound for Glory and thought it slightly similar to Steinbeck’s book, which in fact did inspire Guthrie’s writing to some extent.

Steinbeck was one of the last American male authors who could say something macho and still sound like he said something poetic. “My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.” Pure gold. I’m not very far along in this book either, but like Steinbeck’s epic journey, I’m making headway a little at a time. Presently, I’m at the part where Steinbeck is buying booze in Connecticut. I am loving this book.

Here’s to more reading and thinking, and writing also.

Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Devotional

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I purchased a devotional book last week from a bookseller in Gloucester, England. It arrived two nights ago in our mailbox, along with my wife’s recent cloth diaper order. We were both happy as school children on a snow day when our respective parcels arrived. My wife bought a Louis Armstrong-themed cloth diaper for our littles ones. It’s pretty cool,but I’m going to head into the rest of this blog entry.

The rest of the blog post

The book is Morning and Evening by C.H Spurgeon. I have enjoyed Spurgeon’s works for the past eleven years or so, but have never read his devotional works, including The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith in addition to the title I purchased. There are apps for these two devotionals one can download. Also, one can go to Spurgeon.org and read the daily entry for Faith’s Checkbook or Morning and Evening. There are many good electronic resources, but if you’re like me, paper and binding wins over the glow of phones, tablets, or laptops. No batteries are required for old-fashioned tomes.

Small and travel-friendly edition

This edition was published by Christian Focus Publications, under their Heritage imprint. It is leather bound, with lightweight offset pages (“Bible paper”) with gold edging, and is 765 pages in length. The book doesn’t weigh more than a pound and can fit in a shirt or coat pocket quite easily. Each daily morning entry has it’s evening counterpart on the opposite facing page. Succinctly put, this is a beautiful and hardy copy.

I look for forward to reading each morning and evening entry from, well, Morning and Evening. To be sure, any devotional book does not replace regular Bible reading and meditation on the holy text. My hope is that this particular daily devotional will aid my own desire for and study of God’s Word.

David Brainerd and G.K. Chesterton: The Diary & Journal and The Everlasting Man

Books are swell things, good books are good things, great books are great things. Being able to read and finish one, on the other hand, for me is a miracle these days. I have been trying to make a go of quite a few titles, probably about a dozen or so in the past year; while I have made prolific attempts, I seem to start one more before I can manage to finish another. Therefore, instead of displaying all the books I have read, it will be much easier, in addition to being more honest with myself, to simply list a handful of titles I am currently reading. Obviously, I have no place in even voicing a complete opinion about these titles, let alone giving off the air of being authoritative, since I haven’t finished the two which follow. As I have made known before, my blog entries are merely exercises, and that also goes for this one. If the book titles I share are of interest to anyone who gets lost trying to find something else to read, that will make this all the more useful.

 

1. The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton

The Everlasting Man

I bought an older copy of The Everlasting Man at Ken Sanders’ Rare Books while on a day trip in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago. This paperback has since spent its time on my shelf, where I casually have picked it up now and again until last week. I have only barely gotten through the introduction and briefly made a dent in the first chapter, The Man in the Cave. I am sorry I have waited this long to get to know Chesterton. I am thoroughly enjoying what I am reading. When I had previously thought of G.K., like many other people, I never got past him as a writer in the mystery genre (which I, surprise, have also never read). When I did a little web sleuthing on Wikipedia (where it must be true because everyone says it is!), it appears C.S. Lewis, among many others, was incalculably influenced by this writer and contemporary of H.G. Wells. As such, I can see a glimmer of Lewis’ Mere Christianity already in The Everlasting Man. A twinkle in Chesterton’s eye, if you will.

 

In the summary on the back of the copy I have, it says, “The Everlasting Man propounds the thesis ‘that those who say that Christ stands side by side with similar myths, and his religion side by side with similar religions, are only repeating a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking fact.'” This was said of a literary work published in 1925, which makes this book timeless and justifies itself as being considered a classic. Below I include a personal favorite Chesterton-ism of mine from this book thus far:

One of my first journalistic adventures, or misadventures, concerned a comment on Grant Allen [who was, according to Wikipedia, “a Canadian science writer and novelist, and a successful upholder of the theory of evolution”], who had written a book about the Evolution of the Idea of God. I happened to remark that it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book about the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen.

 

Pure gold.

 

2. The Diary and Journal of David Brainerd

Diary and Journal of David Brainerd

John Piper’s sermons and book, The Hidden Smile of God, first introduced me to Brainerd when I was a bachelor (of the non-swashbuckling sort) almost ten years ago. For the life of me I haven’t a clue why I hadn’t made an attempt until this past Christmas to acquaint myself with this 18th century saint and Protestant missionary and friend of the New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. The Diary & Journal of David Brainerd is an excellent book. Despite it being a diary, and initially not intended for publication, the way Brainerd cast his cares and woes unto the Lord is a refreshing and humbling turnabout when compared to much of today’s Christian literature. He was not afraid of penning many confessions of his sinful state, of his conversion, and the sins he struggled with until his early death. He described his state before his conversion as

being like the troubled sea, and my thoughts confused, I used to contrive to escape the wrath of God by some other means, and had strange projections, full of atheism, contriving to disappoint God’s designs and decrees concerning me, or to escape God’s notice and hide myself from Him. But when, upon reflection, I saw these projections were vain, and would not serve me, and that I could contrive nothing for my own relief, this would throw my mind into the most horrid frame, to wish there was no God, or to wish there were some other God that could control Him.

 

Upon his conversion, after viewing himself as only a soul broken because of his sin and rebellion against his Creator can, the reality of grace was that much sweeter. Later he wrote,

At this time,  the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should ever think of any other way of salvation: was amazed that I had not dropped my own contrivances, and complied with this lovely, blessed, and excellent way before. If I could have been saved by my own duties, or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refused. I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely by the righteousness of Christ.

 

David Brainerd is another voice, another testimony of God’s holiness and extension of grace to wretched, filthy, vile man. His life also refutes the fairy tale, starry-eyed misconception that the Christian’s life, if full of enough faith, is always a happy banquet. Like Job, Brainerd experienced hardship, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But like Job, God did not leave Brainerd. He was with him, as He is with all of His children.

 

More to Come

 

Maybe if I was highly energetic and meticulously well organized, I might lay out a preview of future topics. But I am not. If these posts seem opened-ended, let me know. Feedback is more than welcome. I will say this, that stylistically I am currently an open-ended writer. Hope to continue with this because I enjoy it very much. [Closing inspirational quote from some awesome person goes here.]