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Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647

Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647
Matthew Everhard
PLC Publications
PO Box 2210                                                    
Lenoir, NC 28645
www.layman.org
Copyright: 2012
ISBN: 978-1934453100; $11.99
Reviewed for Deus Misereatur by: Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber

Theological Introspections– 4 ½ of 5 stars

How do you bring theology and the spiritual disciplines together? Often, in personal discussions, theology and doctrine are disparaged by teachers and the taught so that the devotional can be developed. Usually this is heard in the notion that head knowledge must be trumped by heart knowledge. Yet Matthew Everhard has recently made a masterful attempt at pulling together the two in his delightful work, “Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647”, a 296 page paperback meant for theological students, parishioners and pastors.
Everhard takes up the 1647 version of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document of some weight and significance for Reformed Christians. His choice of this version of the Confession, over other ones, makes his book useful for the various flavors of Presbyterians in the United States and throughout the West. But the fact that he has even selected to spend so much time, ink and paper reflecting on the Confession is noteworthy. The author insightfully remarks, “( . . . ) confessions and creeds are to help assure us that the doctrinal faith that we articulate today has not subtly changed over time by being subject to the warping influence of secular society” (5). Beyond the Biblical validity for creeds and confessions, this point should hold great weight for 21st Century Christians.
The author works his way through each of the 33 chapters of the Confession, with an intentional pattern in mind. After the Confession’s chapter is quoted in full, then there are Scripture passages listed. Next comes a short prayer written by the author. Then follows a four-part reflection in which Everhard (1) examines the historical thought of the chapter (“Reach Back”); (2) brings the Confession to bear on the heart (“Search Inward”); (3) draws the reader into adoration and worship (“Gaze Upward”); and finally, (4) leads us to think out ways the chapter might be applied (“Step Out”).
In the midst of this four-fold reflection, the author attempts to meld the “spiritual disciplines”, made popular by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, to the doctrine just discussed from the Confession. He covers many exercises, focusing on one per chapter, from silence to prayer to confession to spiritual directors. For some this may be the weakest part of the book, or most annoying. Nevertheless, the way Everhard handles each of these can give a thoughtful reader purposeful pause to think over what is said and maybe attempt a few of his suggestions so that they can go deeper than they previously had with a particular chapter of the Confession. I found this approach helpful, and worth some thought on my part. The book concludes with appendices that have the Larger and Shorter catechisms, and the two extra chapters added by later American Presbyterians, but he spends very little time on these.
“Hold Fast the Faith” is a delightful read. The theological content is not so deep as to bore a non-seminary trained reader, but gently explains most of what is covered in a given chapter of the Confession in a way that is accurate and beneficial. And the devotional content is of such a quality as to draw even the most staid Presbyterian to her knees in loving adoration of our God. This would be a nice resource to use in adult Sunday School classes, seminaries, and leadership training. I highly recommend the book.

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