BOOK REVIEW | Guan Un
Saturday 14 May 2016
A review of Family Worship by Donald Whitney (Crossway, 2016).
Here’s one way to make a parent feel more guilty than asking them how their prayer life is doing: ask about how they’re doing praying with their family.
Because if that parent is anything like me, the answer will vary from “badly”, to “well-meaning but badly”, to “mumble mumble mumble … how’s yours?”.
Of course, part of the answer here is that we don’t know what it is like to do family devotionals well. It’s an activity without a visible metric, and traditionally, we, rational people of Western society are not very good at those. There are other issues, like the growing distance between our society and the knowledge of God, where fewer parents—whether from Christian homes or not—might have experienced family devotionals first-hand.
We could also convince ourselves that we are doing the job by taking the kids to church and youth group, or being around for those unplanned moments of theological training like when your toddler asks “What colour is God?”. But here’s some truth: “… Without some regularity, structure, and purpose, bringing our children up ‘in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ is one of those things that we can assume we are doing but never actually do as well as we might think.”
The quote is from this book, the simply titled Family Worship, by Donald Whitney and it aims to help you do it better. Donald Whitney is a professor of biblical spirituality in the US. I’ve reviewed his book Praying the Bible before—and this is similar: a short bracing draught of practical wisdom, and also one whose effects could be lifelong and manifold.
Family Worship is just 60-odd pages, covering the biblical material on family worship, family worship throughout church history, and then how to do it. The answer of course, in one sense, is just do it. But of course, if it were that simple, you would just be doing it. And sometimes you need the kicker to give you the momentum to get you going. For that reason, the book is straight to the point (if anything, I would have appreciated a bit more meat around some of the practicalities and best practices, but that’s more preference than genuine gripe).
The last two sections of the book tactfully include potential questions about different family situations—”what if the father is not a Christian?” and “what if there is no father at home?”—and then the potential roadblocks to just getting started.
Some of the examples are particularly well chosen. For example, if you’ve ever used lack of time as an excuse for lack of devotionals, then witness Spurgeon’s schedule (preached roughly once a day, pastored to thousands, read five books a week), and the corresponding importance he placed on family worship.
But perhaps most importantly, this book convinced me to get it started in my own household, to do more than the before-bed prayers and irregular “what did you do in Sunday school?” questions. If you, like me, have been slow to get started and would like some convicting, this is a fine place to start.
In the second chapter, Whitney quotes Bible commentator Matthew Henry on family worship as saying, “Here the reformation must begin.”
“In other words, the reformation that we long for and pray for in our churches also involves the home. Since the church is comprised of family units—from singles to large families and everything in between—if the homes are changed through family worship, the church will be changed.”
So really the only reason to recommend this book is that it could clue you into a way of changing your home, your children, your family, and your church for the better.
Oh, and by the way, since we’re on the subject: how is your family prayer life going?