Terry L. Johnson
Reviewed by: Dan Cooke
Understanding Family Worship: Its History, Theology and Practice, by Terry L. Johnson. Christian Focus, 2022. Paperback, 96 pages, $10.99. Reviewed by OPC ruling elder Dan Cooke.
Have you struggled with the why, how, and what-should-I-do of family worship? Terry Johnson’s wonderfully written, pastoral gem Understanding Family Worship uses Puritans, Presbyterians of a bygone era, and Reformers to showcase the necessity and beauty of family worship. The author starts with the godly home, then moves to biblical and theological support for daily family worship, drawing from the Old and New Testaments and weaving together the thoughts of many authors. Once the case for family worship is solidly before the reader, he develops the elements needed in family worship drawing from his own Family Worship Book and several writers of yesteryear.
Johnson states that the Reformation brought back the biblical design for spiritual nurturing in the home. He notes, “Wherever the Reformation took root, the responsibility for daily prayer shifted to the Christian home. Family worship in the home became a hallmark of Protestantism for generations and right up until the recent past. . . . Virtually the whole weight of Protestant history testifies to the importance of family worship.” After this, he moves to describing the godly home and viewing our families as Calvin put it “as little churches.” He emphasizes how children learn from parents and how parents need to conduct themselves. From here, Johnson leads the reader through the biblical and theological case for family worship. This is the core of the book; it very neatly, pastorally, and soundly sets forth why we must be engaged in family worship. There is very generous quotation from Puritan and Reformed scholarship of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries as Johnson makes his case from both Old and New Testaments.
After constructing a solid foundation, Johnson turns to the elements and practice of family worship, discussing how to engage children and the importance of keeping it short by not belaboring points. With all this, Johnson leaves the reader without excuse, tackling many of the barriers we tend to create as reasons to not do family worship. His quote of Doddridge is a dagger: “Where the heart is rightly disposed, it does not require any uncommon abilities to discharge family worship in a decent and edifying manner.” And further, ask yourself “whether you have not time for many other things, which you know to be of much less importance”? Johnson closes the book with chapters on “Catechizing” and “Parental Hopes,” which are full of encouragement to parents and children.
When we baptize our covenant children, two of the promises we make are to raise them and teach them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (baptismal vows, questions 2 and 4). Johnson lays out a thoughtful background for why family worship is part of this vow we take as parents. If you answered the opening question of this review with a yes or would like a deeper understanding, this book provides a concise and clear articulation of family worship. “Train up your child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6, KJV).
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