Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday School Reading - September 14, 2008

Here are some reading recommendations from yesterday's Sunday School class starting our study on Presbyterian theology. Again, remember that what we did yesterday really only relates to the first question from the Shorter Catechism but I do recommend taking some time to think about the question and study the Scripture proofs listed.
Q1. What is the chief end of man?
A1. Man's chief end is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and to enjoy him forever (Ps. 73:25-26).

Reading for "Why Study Theology?" and "Characteristics of Presbyterian Theology":

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories by Sean Michael Lucas - Those of you who have gone through the Inquirer's class in the last two years probably already have a copy of this but this is a fantastic brief introduction to Presbyterianism and helps to explain the importance of studying it.

Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ by Stephen Nichols - The main reason that I recommend this book is because I think that object lessons in the danger of false views of Christ are very valuable in reminding us why we must be built up on our most holy faith and why we need to contend earnestly for it. Here Dr. Nichols surveys the major American views on Jesus and shows why they are not Biblical views and helps to reveal where the errors rose from. This is a very interesting and sobering book.

A Scottish Christian Heritage by Iain Murray - I'm largely going to recommend a number of church history books and biographies of major figures for this week because I think we can glean a lot about our basic practices and beliefs from these kinds of books. This book in particular covers a number of major figures in the Scottish Free Church (such as John Knox, Robert Bruce, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Horatio and Andrew Bonar, and others), which was the biggest European influence on American Presbyterianism. Beyond this I will say that everything I've read by Iain Murray has been well worth my time. His books are not simple histories or biographies but are always instructive.

The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World by David Hall - I mainly included this book because I think we need to have something about Calvin on this list. This book is helpful because it focuses on the influence of Calvin's theology and work rather than just a biography of his life.

Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism by D.G. Hart and John Muether - This is a good summary of the history of Presbyterian beliefs and practices in America from the first Presbytery meeting in 1706 until the tri-centinnial of that in 2006.

John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist by D.G. Hart - Nevin, along with Philip Schaeff, was one of the two main proponents of the Mercersburg theology. There were some problems with that theology in general but still his writings on the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening (particularly regarding Charles Finney) and on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper are quite useful.

Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life by Sean Michael Lucas - R.L. Dabney lived and taught in the 19th century and was one of the two most influential figures in the Southern Presbyterian church (along with James Henley Thornwell). As such, he has particular importance for us as the PCA split from this church in 1973. Dr. Lucas is very fair in dealing with Dr. Dabney's many contributions to the church and our theology while also recognizing the sin in his views on slavery.

J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen Nichols - Dr. Machen is arguably the most important figure in the history of American Presbyterianism. He was the leading founder of both Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and his views were heavily borrowed and recited during the foundation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Carl Trueman calls his book Christianity and Liberalism "the single most important book ever written by a Westminster professor." It is widely considered to be one of the most important books of the 20th century. He was regularly published in the New York Times and testified before Congress about the founding of a federal Department of Education. While there are more comprehensive biographies of Dr. Machen available (particularly one by his friend and colleague, Ned Stonehouse), I recommend this one because Dr. Nichols takes the time to summarize the major writings of Gresham Machen.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Muether - Dr. Van Til was one of the founding members of Westminster Theological Seminary and probably the most influential apologist since John Calvin. Virtually all of modern Presbyterian Apologetics and Epistemology are either based on Dr. Van Til's writing and teaching or are a response to it. This particular biography is also very helpful in understanding the state of orthodox Presbyterianism in the 20th century as Dr. Van Til was involved in a number of theological debates and controversies with men such as R.B. Kuiper, Louis Berkouwer, Karl Barth, and Gordon Clark.

The Life of John Murray by Iain Murray - Along with Cornelius Van Til, John Murray was considered one of the two pillars of Westminster Theological Seminary through the 1960's when he retired and returned home to Scotland. I will quote from Professor Murray's works a lot in our study and this is the only biography that I'm aware of on him.

Reading for General Revelation:

I'm going to refrain from recommending a lot here because I'm going to recommend several things next week on a doctrine of revelation in general. Instead I would recommend reading the first five chapters from Book I of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. These chapters are probably the best five summary points on a Christian doctrine of general revelation that you can ever read. Scott Oliphint's contribution to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes (ed. David Hall and Peter Lillback) is a great summary and explanation of those chapters though I do recommend reading Calvin before reading any commentaries on him. Often people expect Calvin to be very difficult to read but he is remarkably clear and cogent in his writings and often very stirring (not at all the dry and harsh demeanor that we expect from general preconceptions of the Geneva Reformer). The MacNeil and Battles English edition of the Institutes is without doubt the easiest to read.


Richard said...

Thanks Matt for committing to this class. It looks like fun. I've read the Lucas book and now need to get into Calvin's Institutes next. This is a very thought provoking blog and is sure to be popular once the word gets out.

Tom said...

Thanks for your efforts, Matt. I'm a sucker for bibliographic essays! I have just one suggestion: how about adding whether the books you suggest are available in the church library?

Matt Pickens said...

Tom, thanks for the suggestion. I sent a message to Tom Parker and to the church office to see if there was a catalog for the library that I could check to see what was available. That way I could even recommend a few books there that may not be as good but might save people a few dollars. I will try to recommend some articles that can be looked at online in the meantime. I'll go back and edit these posts if I can get a hold of a list of what the church has available.