Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book on Puritan Theology Worth the Struggle of Reading It

Theology is about life.  Those who disdain theology and doctrine because of its perceived irrelevance doom their followers to true irrelevance.  Theology informs attitude, thought, and behavior and determines lifestyle.  What you believe about God shapes how you relate or don't relate to him.  What you believe about Christ shapes how you cling to or ignore him.

It follows, therefore, that the better one's theology, the better one's life; or, the truer one's theology, the truer one's life.

That being the case, how can I not but recommend J. I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life ((C)1990).  It is essentially J. I. Packer teaching Puritan theology.  It's not set up like a typical theology book, but it is divided into 5 broad subjects.  After a section on the Puritans themselves, there follows sections on the Bible, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Christian Life, and Ministry.

Packer asks a question at the outset: Why do we need the Puritans?  And he answers with one word: maturity.  The book reflects the truth of his answer: These guys were deep!  But they weren't deep for the sake of being intellectual.  They dwelt much on the things of God and preached them to their people to elevate the living of their people.  Their goals in theology were always practical.  As Puritan William Perkins put it, theology is the science of living blessedly forever. 

A Quest for Godliness is a treasure-trove, a chest full of the spiritual gold that comes from mining deep into the Scriptures.  On a tour of Mammoth Cave recently, our guide led us to and highlighted the its wonders.  In a similar way the Puritans lead us to and highlight the wonders of Scripture.  In so doing they, through Packer, enrich our understanding, swell our hearts with wonder and love for God, and multiply our gratitude toward God.

That's not to imply that this is an easy book to read.  It takes time and thought to process the thinking of the Puritans, but it is definitely worth it.

There were many highlights for me along the way in this book, including sections on communion with God, the importance of preaching, marriage and family, worship, and revival.  The one chapter I disagreed with was the chapter 8, which would have been better titled, "Against the Heresy of Arminianism."  (I have vented on that chapter here and here.)

My rating (out of 5): 4 3/4

I close with a couple quotations from the book (to give you a taste):

[Answering the question why Scripture isn’t better organized—Scripture is written to make us godly, not to make us smart, Puritan John Owen says:]  The principal end of Scripture is … to beget in the minds of men faith, fear, obedience, and reverence of God—to make them holy and righteous….  Unto this end every truth is disposed of in the Scripture as it ought to be.  If any expect that the Scripture should be written with respect unto opinions, notions, and speculations, to render men skillful and cunning in them, able to talk and dispute … they are mistaken.  It is given to make us humble, holy, wise in spiritual things; to direct us in our duties, to relieve us in our temptations, to comfort us under troubles, to make us to love God and to live unto him….  Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men…. sometimes an occasional passage in a story, a word or expressions, shall contribute more to excite faith and love in our souls than a volume of learned disputations….  (pp. 94-95)

[J. I. Packer comments on one Puritan's teaching regarding our friendship with God:]
Thomas Goodwin dwells on the love of Christ, who, when we had fallen into sin and enmity against God, died to make us his friends again—though ‘he could have created new ones cheaper’—and develops powerfully the thought that friendship is not a means to an end, but an end in itself, and that true friendship is expressed in the cultivation of our friend’s company for its own sake:
‘Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it … [so] besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to [God], take occasion to come into his presence on purpose to have communion with him.  This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business … they are, the more friendly they are….  We use to check our friends with this upbraiding, You still [always] come when you have some business, but when will you come to see me? …  When thou comest into his presence, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labour to abound in expressions of that kind, than which … there is nothing more taking with the heart of any friend….  (208)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kent, concerning the value of Theology, i.e., “The study of God,” please consider the following....
In his great wisdom from the Holy Spirit, Kent, Solomon wrote:
“ A man that has friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.“ Proverbs 18:24
Truly, this proverb ultimately refers to Christ. Consider if you will the following: “ I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” –Jesus Christ (John 15:15).
And through divine inspiration, Jeremiah wrote: “Let him who boasts, boast in this: that he understands and knows Me” –The Almighty (Jeremiah 9:24).
Luke also wrote about an early church eager to know God’s friendship even more: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word [of God] with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, KJV).Truly, spending time in studying God’s Word, i.e., is truly profitable: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness, 17. That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17).Here is a poem I came across a few years ago and have always valued it among some of my literary treasures, Kent:
If you hear a kind word spoken,
Of some worthy soul you know,
It may fill his heart with sunshine
If you only tell him so.
If a deed, however humble,
Helps you on your way to go,
Seek the one whose hand has helped you,
Seek him out and tell him so!
If you heart is touched and tender
Toward a sinner, lost and low,
It might help him to do better,
If you’d only tell him so!
Oh, my sisters, Oh, my brothers,
As o’er life’s rough path you go,
If God’s love has saved and kept you,
Do not fail to tell him so!
“And one of them, when he saw that [Jesus had] healed him, turned back and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down at His feet, giving Him thanks” (Luke 17:14).
Thanks, Kent. –Dad