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On My Shelf: Life and Books with Joel Beeke

Reprinted with permission from “The Gospel Coalition” blog by Ivan Mesa

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Joel Beeke—president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite biographies, his favorite Puritan work, and more.


What’s on your nightstand right now?

My nightstand is always overflowing. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible is there, of course. My wife and I read it together every day—including the family worship sections at the end of each chapter.

Samuel Rutherford’s Letters has been there for more than 20 years; Valley of Vision, a Puritan collection of poetry, has been there for 10 years. I read these books especially if I’m feeling a bit discouraged, as they are pick-me-uppers.

Then, presently, there’s Shawn Wright’s Theodore Beza, as well as an old copy of Beza’s own book on The Song of Solomon (only the first three chapters)—published in English in 1587, 18 years before he died.

There’s also an out-of-print manuscript by John Calvin on suffering, and a doctoral dissertation by Eric Rivera, ‘From Blackfriars to Heaven’: The Puritan Practical Divinity of William Gouge.

Then there are about 10 manuscripts by contemporary writers I have to review in the next two weeks to determine whether Reformation Heritage Books should publish them.

Finally, my own forthcoming Debated Issues in Sovereign Predestination: Early Lutheran Predestination, Calvinian Reprobation, and Variations in Genevan Lapsarianism (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht) is there, as I’m doing a final proofing of the text before it goes to press.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I love John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War. My dad read Pilgrim’s Progress to us every Sunday evening after church for about 30 to 45 minutes for all 20 years I was at home. We would sit at his feet, drill him with questions, and he would often set the book down, and teach us from Bunyan about how the Holy Spirit works in the souls of sinners like us—with the tears streaming down his face. When my parents had their 50th wedding anniversary, and all five of us children thanked each parent for one thing, all five of us chose to thank my dad for those amazing times around Pilgrim’s Progress.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve hardly read any fiction as an adult, however. I have 30,000+ non-fiction volumes in my library—most of which I still haven’t read—so in this short life, in which I still have so much I want to learn, I’m quite sure I’ll be sticking with non-fiction to the end. I know I’m strange, but honestly, fiction puts me to sleep, whereas Bible-based, historical-theological, God-glorifying non-fiction wakes me up.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

Charles Spurgeon’s The Early Years and The Full Harvest made me go to my dad at the age of 15 (when Spurgeon started to preach!) to tell him I thought I had to quit high school and start preaching. My dad wisely said, “God is a God of order, son—you had better finish your education first!”

Later in my teen years,  Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield (2 vols.) had a tremendous effect on me as a teenager in fostering zeal for ministry and evangelism.

Then, too, nearly all of the biographical writing Iain Murray has done over the decades—especially his two-volume set on Martyn Lloyd-Jones—has profoundly influenced me to love the Lord more and to pray much that God would make me more useful and fruitful in and for his kingdom.

Finally, George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life gripped me like few books I’ve ever read. I think I read it in a week. It made me want to have a single eye for God’s glory in all that I think, say, and do.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

Though I read a lot, I don’t re-read much other than the Bible. I have literally hundreds of books in my “must read” piles, so it’s hard for me as a seminary president, pastor, and author to find time to do much re-reading. Exceptions would be Samuel Rutherford’s Letters and Spurgeon’s Chequebook of the Bank of Faith, because they stir up within me love to Christ.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?

Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students has molded my ministry more than I can express. I read it often in the first few decades of my ministry, and I never cease to be amazed at its practical wisdom.

But I’d have to say that for an all-round book on ministry, Charles Bridges’s The Christian Ministry has most profoundly shaped how I strive to do ministry. His sections on experiential preaching, how to minister to various kinds of hearers, and how to kill one’s own abhorrent pride are superlative—but so is the entire book. Bridges is so biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical about how to handle all kinds of ministry, from preaching to counseling to living, that for me—especially when I was in my 20s—it was a Godsend. More recently, studying and teaching a course on the leadership style of Jesus and of other biblical leaders in the Bible (Joseph, Moses, Paul, and so on) has been most helpful.

What’s one Puritan book would you recommend to every Christian and why?

For a starter, read Thomas Watson’s Heaven Taken by Storm as it teaches us practically how to use the Christian disciplines and how to live the Christian life with passion to God’s glory. Based on Matthew 11:12, Watson describes how the Christian is to take the kingdom of heaven by holy violence through the reading and exposition of Scripture, prayer, meditation, self-examination, spiritual fellowship, and keeping the Lord’s Day. His explanation of how the believer is to battle against self, Satan, and the world is unmatchable, as is his countering all our objections against offering such violence. This little, overlooked treasure is vintage Puritan, experiential teaching at its best.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

Three things have lately impressed me:

1. The more we live with Trinitarian intentionality—walking with simple faith in Jesus, trusting in his Father’s sovereign will, and depending on his Spirit—the more we will be conformed to Jesus’s image, which is the supreme purpose of life (Rom. 8:29). I yearn to be more like him in his servant, loving, and humble heart.

2. The value of Christ’s intercession is growing on me. I’m convinced that this doctrine is the most underrated truth in the Christian faith. What a comfort to know that he ever lives to intercede for me as my efficacious Elder Brother from moment to moment (Heb. 7:25; cf. John 17)! Anthony Burgess’s 17th-century volume of 145 sermons on John 17 has helped me a great deal here. (Together with his Spiritual Refining, it has catapulted Burgess into first place as my favorite Puritan author.)

3. As I get older, I look forward much more to being with Jesus forever, which translates into more preaching about utopian marriage with him in heaven. Recently preaching through the Book of Revelation, and then publishing my sermons on it, has greatly sweetened my longing to be gazing upon Immanuel’s face forever.

What Should Holiness Look Like in Your Life?

What Should Holiness Look Like in Your Life? from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Godward Focus – The Puritans Got it Right

Godward Focus – The Puritans Got it Right from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Cramming Life With Too Many Good Things

Cramming Life With Too Many Good Things from NCFIC on Vimeo.

The Value of Reading the Puritans

William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, Samuel Rutherford, Anthony Burgess, John Owen, John Bunyan, John Flavel–these are some of the greatest names in Christian literature. I have spent a lifetime reading the theological, devotional, and practical writings of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Puritans. Why is it worthwhile to do so? To find out, listen to the recent podcast: The Value of Reading the Puritans.

What Does a Holy Man or Woman Look Like?

What Does a Holy Man or Woman Look Like from NCFIC on Vimeo.

The Family Worship Bible Guide

 

FAMILY WORSHIP BIBLE GUIDE from Puritan Seminary on Vimeo.

Hiking the trails of our national parks can be an experience of exhilarating beauty, or utter frustration when you get lost in the woods. A good guide can make all the difference. In the same way, the Family Worship Bible Guide will lead your family down the trails of the Bible to see the glory of the Lord—and avoiding getting frustrated. Who among us has not known what it is like to read a chapter of the Bible to our children or for our devotions, and have no idea what it has to do with our lives today? Here is help.

This book offers brief, major takeaway thoughts for personal application for every chapter of the Bible. Whereas most devotional books address only select parts of God’s Word, this book is unique in that it walks you through the whole Word of God and shows how to apply it to your life, one chapter at a time. Yet its emphasis on application is not man-centered, but God-centered, for it builds upon the foundational truth that all the Scriptures testify to the glory of God in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Whether you are looking for help with your personal devotions, or desire to lead family worship in the home, are reading the Bible with a friend, or need wisdom as you prepare to teach or preach in church, this is a great tool, regardless of what Bible translation you read.

The Family Worship Bible Guide also includes an eight-page introductory essay on how to do family worship, an excellent starter course for those who have never done it before, and a helpful refresher for the experienced Christian parent.

Just Arrived: Family Worship Bible Guide

family-worship-guide

family-worship_bible_guide__53657-1465502613-1280-1280An exciting day for RHB in Grand Rapids—we just received our shipment from the Netherlands of 10,000+ copies of the Family Worship Bible Guide, which presents rich devotional thoughts for private and family worship on all 1,189 chapters in the Bible, including searching questions to promote conversation in your family. I thank Michael Barrett, Jerry Bilkes, Paul Smalley, and others who joined me in producing this book. Pray that the Holy Spirit will mightily bless the daily use of this book, offered both in leather and in hardback, so that families will be more richly informed, reformed, and transformed by daily family worship.

New Book: Theodorus Vander Groe, Sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism

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I’m very excited that, with the help of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, we at Reformation Heritage Books can finally bring into English print in 2 volumes Theodore VanderGroe’s (1705–1784) classic Heidelberg Catechism sermons, which were nearly as famous in his day for their doctrinal soundness and experiential warmth as Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service (4 vols.). Brakel excepted, this is the most major work ever translated from the Dutch Further Reformation.

Steeped in Scripture and pastoral in nature, these sermons promote a healthy form of spirituality; they contain both great comforts for believers and powerful warnings to unbelievers. Bartel Elshout has provided an excellent translation and I thoroughly enjoyed editing it.

If you or someone you know enjoys Brakel, or appreciates the Heidelberg Catechism, this would make a perfect year-end gift—a beautiful set of books for only $45.00 which now reads in English like it was written yesterday. You will love this renowned classic exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism written for lay people. Buy, read, and be edified.