Saturday, May 27, 2006

Book Review: The Presbyterian Handbook

The Presbyterian Handbook
Geneva Press (2006)
List Price: $14.95 $10.17 (as of May 27, 2006)

There was a box of these hip-pocket-sized books at the May 16 meeting of the Presbytery of Missouri Union. I was intrigued, and at $10 a copy I didn't have to think too long about it.

This short volume is written for "...Presbyterian youth, adults, students, families, and all those interested in learning about much of what encompasses life in the church."

Along with such practical suggestions as "How to Stay Alert in Church" (if all else fails, pinch yourself), "What to Bring to a Church Potluck by Region" (tofu is big on the West Coast), and "How to Avoid Getting Burned at the Stake" (one suggestion is to avoid public heresy), there are serious sections on Church and Presbyterian history, including what it is that defines us as Reformed Christians and Presbyterians and those much-maligned and often-misunderstood beliefs about predestination. Here, according to this book, is what predestination is NOT (page 117):
  • Fatalism. "It makes no difference what I do if I'm not predestined by God for salvation."
  • Determinism. "I have no real choices to make in life and no freedom because my life has been predestined."
  • An excuse to live it up. "Since I don't know if I am among the elect, I might as well just do what I want and enjoy myself in life."
  • An excuse to coast along. "I'm a member of the church, so I must be 'elect'. I can coast along in life doing as I please, since my salvation is assured."
  • An excuse not to spread the gospel. "If God has already determined who will be saved, there is no need to preach the Gospel."
It goes on to describe what predestination IS, and how to explain it to your friends. There is a prominent disclaimer in this section that "it may take multiple readings -- and time -- to understand this concept."

Much of the book is in the form of lists -- ten Bible heroes, sixty essential Bible passages, the five wierdest laws, and so forth.

The list of ten Bible villains contains the usual suspects -- Satan, Judas, Jezebel -- but also includes God's People with this explanation:
"They whine, they sin, they turn their backs on God over and over again. When given freedom, they blow it. When preached repentance by God's prophets, they stone them. When offered a Savior, we kill him. In the end, it must be admitted, God's people -- us! -- don't really shine. Only by God's grace and the gift of faith in Jesus Christ do we have hope." -- page 136
And then there are the five grossest stories.... On second thought, let's not go there. Teenage boys will love it, though. And they will turn to their Bibles.

Overall I found this book to be engaging, informative, witty, and serious. It could be used well in confirmation classes, but I suspect that many adults would find things in The Presbyterian Handbook that they didn't already know. It is well worth reading.

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