Posted by: chuckbumgardner | December 5, 2014

Pollard/Brown, A Theology of the Family

Just out: Jeff Pollard and Scott T. Brown, eds., A Theology of the Family (Wake Forest, NC: The National Center for Family-Intergrated Churches, 2014). (Amazon)

This 700-page tome is not “a theology of the family” in the sense you might think; that is, it is not a work that sets forth a coherent theology of the family in the way that, say, Craig Blomberg’s Neither Poverty nor Riches sets forth “a biblical theology of possessions.” But it is full of riches nonetheless. In this anthology, Pollard and Brown have compiled dozens of excerpts from sermons and writings of saints both past (usually) and present (occasionally). Fifty-six authors are represented, including J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, John G. Paton, Benjamin Keach, Thomas Watson, John Gill, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Matthew Henry, J. C. Ryle, Philip Doddridge, John Calvin, Richard Baxter, Martin Luther, and Stephen Charnock. A relatively few recent selections are culled from the writings of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joel Beeke, R. C. Sproul, and a few others.

The excerpts average somewhere around five pages each, and are grouped into twelve categories: Family Worship, Godly Manhood, Virtuous Womanhood, Marriage, Bringing Up Children, Fatherhood, Motherhood, Childbearing, Abortion, Duties of Sons and Daughters, Modest Apparel, and Thoughts for Young People. As would be expected, the excerpts in the “Abortion” section are almost entirely from modern authors, and modern authors are also well-represented in the collection of essays on “Modest Apparel”; apart from those two sections, all contributors are no longer alive (with one exception, Joel Beeke, who contributes to “Family Worship”). Each section is introduced with a one-page orienting essay by Scott Brown.

The book is laid out in an attractive fashion, with a good balance of white space and print, and an easy-to-read font. A helpful list of “authors featured in A Theology of the Family” provides a sentence or two about each of the writers, and each writer’s information also appears after each of his essays. An eight-page preface by Scott Brown sets forth the rationale and plan for the work: a biblical view of the family has been largely lost in the present day, and since “a Christ centered view of the family was understood much better” in previous eras, it is helpful to be reminded of such a view through pertinent excerpts of godly preachers and writers of those eras (34). What is needed is “a reformation of biblical family life”; Brown argues that such “a family reformation took place during the Protestant Reformation [he highlights Calvin in this regard] and later among the successors of the reformers—the Puritans” (36); hence, most of the book’s excerpts are drawn from Reformers and Puritans. “This volume is an attempt to bring forth the fruits of the revival that took place during the Reformation and the Puritan era, as well as the legacy of those who embraced their doctrine and practice afterwards” (37).

This is a helpful book. C. S. Lewis’s “clean sea breeze of the centuries” will blow gustily through the mind of the reader. I have only two minor critiques. First, it would have been instructive to include some excerpts from Christians who wrote before the Reformation (Luther is the earliest author). In actuality, this is more a wish than a critique; the editors clearly state their rationale for beginning with the Reformers and moving forward through the Puritans to those in the present day who have drunk at their wells. Still, culling material from the church fathers would doubtless be instructive (volume two?). Second, while author and subject indices would be more or less superfluous in a work such as the present one, a Scripture index would be extremely helpful, and I do consider it a strike against the volume that one was not included. At the same time, I suppose such an index would be used largely by those wishing to preach or teach or write on family-oriented passages of Scripture, and the nature of the passage in mind would doubtless point one to the appropriate section of the book to peruse its contents.

These two minor critiques do not detract materially from the value of the anthology. The selections are such that a reader could easily consume one a day in a brief amount of time and work his or her way through the book in four months. I mentioned C. S. Lewis earlier, and his words are appropriate to highlight the value of A Theology of the Family:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. . . . Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.

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