Reviewed by: Terry Johnson
A Practical Theology of Family Worship: Richard Baxter’s Timeless Encouragement for Today’s Home, by Jonathan Williams. Reformation Heritage, 2021. Paperback, 152 pages, $13.50. Reviewed by Terry Johnson, a PCA minister and author of Understanding Family Worship (2022).
The late Hughes O. Old likened the work of our generation to that of grandchildren going into the family attic, dusting off priceless antiques, and putting them back on display. This has been the case with historic Reformed worship, catechizing, and psalm singing, as well as family worship. Tried and true practices of the past, lost in the early twentieth century, began to be revived in the last decades of the twentieth century. Many of us who entered the Christian ministry in the 1970s and 80s had to scour secondhand bookshops to find resources to help us lead worship, introduce psalm singing, advocate for catechizing, and practice family worship. Helps were few and far between.
Thankfully we have seen a revival of interest in the antiques. The past twenty-five years have seen an explosion of articles and books promoting all of the above, not the least of which includes family worship. Jonathan Williams’s exposition of Richard Baxter’s “timeless encouragement” of family worship joins the resources that are now available. He guides us through Baxter’s broader Puritan context (chapter 2); his biblical case (chapter 3); his practical case, highlighting the benefits of family worship along the way (chapters 4–5); its practice in the setting of public worship (especially preaching); and its relationship to pastoral visitation, catechesis, counseling, and writing (chapter 6). The final chapter and appendices provided concluding encouragements for the practice of family worship.
I offer these criticisms: the historical section is weak; John Frame is not the optimum authority to cite for a definition of the regulative principle; the diversity of Puritanism should not obscure the fact that the vast majority of Puritans were Presbyterian (the author is a Baptist); he denies (or claims that Baxter denies) that household baptisms included the baptism of infants. Still, aside from these minor quibbles, I recommend Williams’s work for those looking for an overview of the historic Puritan, Reformed, and Protestant practice of family worship. Readers today may find it surprising to learn how aggressively and persistently Baxter and the Puritans promoted family worship. Williams’s treatment of Baxter helps us to escape the narrow limits of family religion as practiced in our own era. He joins an important chorus of voices calling today’s Christians back to the biblically required, theologically rooted, and historically proven practice of family worship.
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