Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, edited by Timothy and Denise George; Broadman & Holman, 1996; 282 pp. $24.99. Reviewed by Tom Ascol

This volume is published as a part of Broadman & Holman’s Library of Baptist Classics series. Timothy and Denise George, who serve as the General Editors for the series, are the most literarily prolific couple in Southern Baptist history. The Library of Baptist Classics has brought back into print some wonderful material which has long been out of print. The series not only has historical value for Baptists, it also is theologically important.

The doctrinal significance of this present work is hard to overestimate. It brings together for the first time a collection of Baptist confessions, covenants and catechisms. Among the confessions are included full texts of the First London (1644), the Philadelphia (1742), the Orthodox Creed (1679), the New Hampshire (1833), the Baptist Faith and Message (1963) and the Report of the Presidential Theological Study Committee (1994).

Fifteen personal and church covenants and one covenant produced by a convention of churches are printed in this volume, including the one found in J. Newton Brown’s The Baptist Church Manual (1853). A poetic covenant of nineteenth century missionary Peter Philanthropos Roots is the most unusual of the collection and concludes with this final verse:

New rules we do not mean to make,
The Bible rules we only take,
And show by this our Scriptural creed,
In Bible truth we are agreed.

Only three Baptist catechisms are included, but they are three which show clearly the important place which this didactic method held among our Baptist forefathers. Henry Jesse’s A Catechism for Babes, or, Little Ones, (1652) includes a summary of the chief points and the Ten Commandments in verse. Benjamin Keach’s Catechism (1693), edited and widely used by Charles Spurgeon in the last century, and John Broadus’ A Catechism of Bible Teaching (1892), originally published by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, are also printed in full.

This collection is an excellent resource to demonstrate the great importance which, historically, Baptists have placed on orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Proper faith and practice have always been central concerns to the people called Baptists, and those who would suggest otherwise are contradicted by the historical record. How important has precisely defined doctrine been to Baptists? One need only to read the confessions and catechisms in this book to receive a clear answer. Even many of the covenants, which focus more on practical living than on accurate belief, make strong doctrinal affirmations (including “particular election” “effectual calling” and “particular redemption”).

The Introduction to this volume, written by the Timothy of the Georges, is of extreme value on its own. It comprises the finest brief summary of Baptist confessional history which I have ever seen. Of particular interest is his astute clarification of the confessional (and therefore, doctrinal) heritage of the Southern Baptists Convention, which he summarizes in the following words:

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith was transplanted to the Charleston Baptist Association in South Carolina. It soon became the most widely accepted, definitive confession among Baptists in America both North and South. Each of the 293 “delegates,” as they were then called, who gathered in Augusta to organize the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, belonged to congregations and associations which had adopted the Philadelphia/Charleston Confession of Faith as their own (11).

This volume ought to be in the library of every Baptist pastor and church leader. It would make a great supplementary text for seminary and college classes on Baptist history. All who appreciate the theological and spiritual heritage of Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to the Georges and to Broadman & Holman for putting this book together.

The Art of Prophesying by William Perkins, Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, 191 pp. $6.99.

Reviewed by Derek Johnson

William Perkins’ book, The Art of Prophesying, is the epitome of the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” At first, one might be repelled by the title. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Perkins’ concern is with the art of forth-telling the whole counsel of God.

The 1996 Banner of Truth edition of this book is actually a combination of two works by the author. The first section consists of The Art of Prophesying, first published in Latin in 1592 and in English in 1606. The second section is The Calling of the Ministry, originally published in 1605. The combination of the two books into one makes the Banner edition a valuable tool for aspiring young preachers as well as seasoned pastors.

The first part is especially appealing because of its relevancy for the contemporary scene. Although written over 400 years ago, the message rings true in our modern era. The opening admonitions and insights give the impression that Perkins is living in the 20th century and is experiencing the typical obstacles that plague the ministry today. The fact that a book written so long ago can speak so vividly to the modern church demonstrates the value of following scriptural models of preaching and teaching in order to effectively minister God’s Word. Time does not change the way that people are won to Christ. And “new methods” of doing the work of the ministry are, in some respects, the very snares which pastors should avoid.

This message is exactly what Perkins conveys. In the brief opening chapter, he explains what he means by prophesying. He then spends the next four chapters focusing on the contents, interpretation, and exposition of the Scripture, which he describes as perfect, pure and eternal.

Perkins gives two chapters to the use and variety of application which he defines as, “the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation” (p. 54).

Every preacher knows the importance of tailoring the message to his audience. Perkins’ treatment of “Categories of Hearers” provides great help in doing this. He identifies seven of them and offers insights on preaching to each: (1) Unbelievers who are both ignorant and unteachable, (2) those who are teachable, but ignorant, (3) those with knowledge but no humility, (4) those previously humbled, (5) believers, (6) backsliders, and (7) the audience with both believers and unbelievers (the most common situation in a typical congregation).

Perkins ends this section of the book with tips on the use of memory, the actual preaching of the Word, and the use of public prayer. In these last chapters, he brings together the culmination of all that he has said in relation to preparing and handling the Word of God aright and then gives practical insight into the delivering of the message prepared. In summary, he states that preaching involves (p. 79):

  1. Reading the text clearly from the canonical Scriptures.
  2. Explaining the meaning of it, once it has been read, in the light of the Scriptures themselves.
  3. Gathering a few profitable points of doctrine from the natural sense of the passage.
  4. If the preacher is suitably gifted, applying the doctrines thus explained to the life and practice of the congregation in straightforward, plain speech.

The heart of the matter is this:

Preach one Christ,
by Christ,
to the praise of Christ.

The second section of this book addresses the call to the ministry. Perkins does this through an exposition of Isaiah’s vision found in Isaiah 6, specifically verses 5-13. He outlines the text in three chapters: Ch. 1, The Vision of God (v. 5), Ch. 2, Divine Consolation (vv. 6-7), Ch. 3, Renewal and Recommissioned (vv. 8-13).

The bulk of the exposition centers on the first point. Perkins brings attention to the fear Isaiah experienced when confronted with the vision of God and remarks concerning true ministers, “The more afraid they are and the more they shrink under the contemplation of God’s majesty and their own weakness, the more likely it is that they are truly called of God and appointed for worthy purposes in his church” (p. 128). He also shows how Isaiah’s fear worked to cause conviction and confession of sin in his soul and to strip him of pride Furthermore, Perkins uses the idea of godly fear to encourage potential ministers that “if we ever aim to be made instruments of God’s glory in saving souls, then at the outset let us set before our eyes not the honour but the danger of our calling” (p.129).

Once the man of God is humbled, God gives divine consolation to his weakened soul. Perkins is careful to note that God many times will bring affliction to His people, especially those He has placed in leadership positions, in order to bring about a mighty work of grace in their lives or the life of His church.

Finally, God renewed and recommissioned Isaiah. Perkins points out that the divine question, “Whom shall I send? and who will go for Us?,” was asked for our sakes to demonstrate “how hard it is to find an able and godly minister” (p.175). God seeks men who do not “content themselves merely with the name and title of minister. They must seek to adorn the gospel. They should not take the honour and material possessions of the ministry if they will not also accept its burdens and duties. God has no need of such” (p. 178).

Perkins ends this section with the admonition that God never calls a man to service without equipping him to perform it. He writes, “If he sends them he will defend and protect them,…If he sends them he will provide for them and reward them adequately….[I]f he sends them he will pay their wages” (p.190-91).

The combination of these two old works makes a wonderful treatise on preaching the Word of God and being sure of a divine call to the ministry. The systematic approach and experiential maturity make this a valuable resource for pastors and ministerial students. Banner of Truth has done a great service to God’s people in publishing it.