The Reformation for a New Generation: An Interview with William Boekestein
William Boekestein is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, and the author of several fully-illustrated children’s books. These books, The Glory of Grace, The Quest for Comfort, and Faithfulness Under Fire, have been written with the hope that they would help children gain a greater appreciation for the Christian faith and Reformation church history.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Pastor Boekestein about this series of books and the importance of training our children in the historic Christian faith.
1. Why did you write these stories?
I want to see these books help children understand the context of the Reformed confessions, ultimately, so that they can flourish in their relationship with God. I believe that with God’s blessing, the ideas contained in the confessions can make our children more mature and disciplined followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. But especially young children better grasp ideas that are connected to people. If you wanted a child to catch a vision for the idea of service embodied by Rotary International it might help to begin by telling them stories of famous Rotarians. The adventures of Admiral Richard Byrd (the first explorer to reach both poles by air) or aviation pioneer Orville Wright would provide concrete expressions of service in action. Similarly, my hope is that children who have learned the stories behind the Confessions, will have a greater desire to learn about and live out the principles taught by the historical characters.
Confessions have the unfortunate stereotype of being “dry and dusty.” My hope is also to dispel that myth for a new generation of children who experience these stories. For many children (mine included) books are not dry and dusty; they are not simply read and then set aside. They live out the books they read. It’s not uncommon for our son to say to his sister things like, “Eva, you be Lady de Winter and I’ll be Dartagnon” as they play out a scene from The Three Musketeers. Or, “I’ll be Henry and you be Bessie” as they reenact a chapter from Elizabeth Prentiss’ Henry and Bessie. In a similar way, I would love to have a young generation of kids wanting to “be Guido (or Caspar or Zacharias).” I believe that connecting life stories to our confessions will serve our churches well as children become introduced to Reformed theology.
2. What can Christians today learn from Christians in the past?
In a way that only he could say it, C.S. Lewis warned against “chronological snobbery.” The chronological snob cuts himself off from a wealth of wisdom that can be mined from the past. It is almost impossible to limit the number of ways the study of church history benefits us today. But let me highlight just a few.
Church history can expand our thinking beyond currently accepted norms.
It has become common, I think, to assume that today’s minister is too busy to do much personal visitation. In many large churches today, ministers do almost no visitation. Instead, “pastoral care” is accomplished by small groups. If a pastor does need to meet with a parishioner, he can first “meet” the person thanks to church management software. The example of the nineteenth century Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers may be just what we need to revive us from such modern thinking. When Chalmers became pastor of the Tron church in Glasgow, he set out to visit every family in his parish. The parish may have contained 10-12,000 families!
Our children, too, can become trapped by a modern idea of what is normal. Church history helps them break free from that trap.
Church history can help us appreciate God’s sovereignty.
If you were to spend just one hour reading an accurate overview of church history, you might wonder how the church has continued to exist at all. From the Roman persecutions of the first three centuries to the Spanish Inquisition of the 16th century to the Armenian genocide in the 20th century to the unholy war presently being waged against North African Christians, the church has undergone tremendous opposition. The study of Church history helps us understand Christ’s words when he said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18, Cf. Belgic Confession, Art. 27).
Church history can help us resist being captivated by fads.
Author Brett McCracken has outlined the modern church’s obsession with trendiness. Many churches today are desperately trying to overhaul their image to be more hip. Churches seek to impress by embracing cultural fads of style, technology, music, movies and even shock-jock approaches to sexuality. Responding to this approach on behalf of the younger generation, McCracken says with confidence, “When it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real. If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”
Church historian Bruce Shelly explains that “Church history tends to [help us] separate the transient from the permanent, fads from basics.” To paraphrase Isaac Newton, Christians transcend fads by standing on the shoulders of the giants of the faith who have gone before.
Church History can help us live courageous Christian lives today.
Isaac Watts, the 18th century British Hymnist, asks a number of powerful questions making the point that the study of church history can be a spur to faithfulness:
“Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the lamb, and shall I fear to own his cause, or blush to speak his name? Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God? Since I must fight if I would reign, increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.”
Until the Lord comes again, the church is appropriately called the church militant. Many before us have fought well. But the fight continues.
Studying the history of the church soberly reminds us that we take our place in the ranks of the army of God. We take up the same battle-beaten armor that the saints of old used. We use the same weapon, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we fight, not only to continue our heritage but to leave a lasting legacy for future generations as well.
3. Do you see Christians rekindling an interest in confessional statements?
It was almost inevitable. For a few generations creeds and confessions have been criticized as harmful to the pursuit of a vibrant Christian life. This model has brought disastrous results. Churchgoers are woefully ignorant of basic Christian doctrine. The doctrinal minimalism of modern churches has produced a Christianity that is a mile wide but an inch deep. Thankfully, many of those who have grown discontent with superficial religion are beginning to drink from the deep, clear, refreshing spring of historical Christianity. They are finding in the confessions a helpful guide back to the word of God.
4. How can parents and teachers integrate the primary task to teach Scripture with helping children become familiar with creeds and catechisms?
Actually, the confessions themselves helps us do this in a few ways.
The confessions help dispel the myth that they have equal authority as Scripture.
The Belgic Confession, after listing the sixty-six books of the Bible affirms that, “We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith” (Article 5). Later the Confession insists that, “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein…Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, or decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God” (Article 7).
The Confessions help introduce us to Scripture.
Although they do reflect the historical situation of their day, they were drawn from Scripture by eminently qualified theologians. I mention in The Glory of Grace, that the delegates to the Synod of Dort swore an oath to conduct their business “using no human writing, but only the Word of God, which is an infallible rule of faith.” Because the confessions are amply footnoted with Scripture texts, parents can show their children the Scriptural basis for the confessional statement they are teaching.
5. Are you working on any other titles in this series?
I have written a little story on the history of the English Reformation leading up to the Westminster Assembly but it will not be part of this series. Along with Joel Beeke, I have written a little book on the incarnation which should be available later this year.
Pastor Boekestein’s three children’s books are available from the Ligonier Store for $8 each: