Whitney, Donald S. Family Worship. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016, pp. 80, $7.99, paperback.
Recent publications indicate a growing interest in the spiritual discipline of family worship. Families and Christian leaders are realizing that outsourcing the Christian discipleship of their children is neither effective nor a fulfillment of God’s plan. Don Whitney (DMin, Trinity; PhD, University of the Free State) is well qualified to contribute his voice to this important topic. He serves as associate dean and professor of biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also founded and currently serves as the president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He served in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years and has written numerous books on spirituality and spiritual disciplines.
Family Worship provides a brief introduction to the practice of family worship. With the first two chapters, the author builds the case for why families should regularly practice family worship. Chapter one surveys the Biblical record for examples of and instruction in family worship from Abraham to Peter. Chapter two calls on the saints throughout church history to give their teachings and testimonies concerning family worship.
The next two chapters provide practical instruction on how to implement family worship. Chapter three covers the elements of family worship. Family worship includes three simple steps: read, pray, and sing. Additional elements such as catechism, memorization of scripture, and reading other books can be included for families who want to spend more time in family worship, but these additional elements are not vital. Chapter four guides families whose circumstances may raise questions on how to practice family worship (e.g. “what if the father is not a Christian?” or “what if the children are very young?”).
The final chapter, “Isn’t This What You Really Want to Do?” is motivational. It begins by stating many of the benefits of regular family worship. It includes further motivational examples of faithful family worship leaders, one each from three sources: scripture, church history, and contemporary illustration. It concludes with two final admonitions. First, families must be resolved. They must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give strength for the task no matter the situation. Second, they must remember the gospel. Family worship does not make one right with God. Family leaders must apply the gospel to their own hearts before they can hope to apply it to the hearts of their families.
Don Whitney has written an excellent introduction of the vital practice of family worship. Multiple factors make this an excellent introduction. First, the book is also exegetically sound. Dr. Whitney searches the Scriptures for the principle of family worship. He is careful not to force more out of a text than what is in it. Nor does he put into a text what is not there. He simply highlights characters and teachings throughout the Scriptures that model or teach the principle of family worship.
Second, the book is short. Some may want more exegesis of Scripture or more explanation of methods, but the primary benefit of this book is that it is accessible to a wide range of people. Busy pastors, seminary students, and Christian lay people will all find it useful as an introduction to family worship.
Third, Dr. Whitney provides the proper motivations to begin or to continue practicing family worship. Whitney presents dual motivations for family worship. The first benefit is the worthiness of God for worship. This is obvious and cannot be overlooked. The second benefit is the blessings to the family. This motivation may be overlooked because family worship is often seen as an inconvenience rather than a benefit. But Whitney uses testimonies throughout the book of families who have been drawn closer together because they worshipped together in their homes.
Another strong point of the book is its survey of what church leaders throughout history have said about family worship. This survey, while necessarily brief, adds to the weight of the argument for family worship. Christians should be encouraged and challenged to practice family worship when they see that it has been a regular part of the practice of the Church from the beginning.
Finally, the book excels as a manual of practice for pastors who want to teach family worship and for families who want to learn family worship. The method of family worship that is presented is simple. Almost any family can find a few minutes every day to read the Bible, pray together, and sing. No one needs to prepare a lesson. The family just needs to gather together to read, pray, and sing. Family worship is simple and accessible. Even the additional components of family worship that Dr. Whitney introduces, such as catechism, scripture memory, and reading other books can be done without demanding inordinate amounts of time from families.
Pastors and families who want to teach or learn family worship are reminded of three pieces of advice. First, be brief. This is wise especially for families with younger children. Second, be regular. False starts and inconsistency in family worship can frustrate a family. Regularity will form habit and appreciation. Third, be flexible. Families can and should work together to find what works for them.
Many pastors and families will also find the chapter on unusual situations to be very helpful. Dr. Whitney has recognized the reality that many families will find family worship difficult or even awkward based on their unique situations. He has provided an excellent resource in this chapter for pastors who need to counsel families through these situations or for families who face them.
Family Worship is an excellent introduction to the practice of family worship. As a brief introduction, it does not answer every question on the topic. But it does give the student a good start in learning the importance and practice of family worship. It could easily be used as a textbook for a class on the Christian home or as a resource for lectures on the family life of a minister. The book is not aimed at the academy, yet biblical-theological students would do themselves a great disservice to ignore this book. It will equip them to lead worship for their own families and to model and teach family worship to those whom they will serve in the ministry.
The Baptist Church at Andover, Lexington, KY
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary