A conversation with Joel Beeke

BENYOLA: We’ve seen an awakening in this generation that may be called a “Modern Reformation.” Besides the inner transformation that experiential reading of Scripture brings to a Christian, what advice would you give to any young person who is passionate about the deeper things of God’s Word to use what we learn from solid theological resources, but who isn’t necessarily called to vocational ministry?

BEEKE: Indeed, we have seen a re-awakening of interest in historic Reformed theology in the English-speaking world, now extending into Latin America, the Far East, and many other parts of the world. In 1957, the works of most of the Reformers and nearly all of the Puritans had long since ceased to be reprinted. Those few people who knew what to look for and where, could find forgotten treasure only on library shelves, in used book shops, or in private collections. Today so much has been reprinted that readers and students need help in choosing from among the many options. What cannot be purchased in hard copy is often available online.

Beginners should school themselves first of all in the Holy Scriptures. Begin where the Reformers began! Take a course in Hebrew or New Testament Greek. A colleague of mine is famous for saying that, “The best commentaries on the English Bible are the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.” Then, use a good study Bible, such as the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, to help you understand the Bible better, and to provide good thoughts for personal worship. For commentaries, begin with John Calvin, Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole.

A great help to the right understanding of the Bible’s system of doctrine is found in the Reformed Creeds and Confessions, and the many expositions of them that have been produced. Begin with the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Mastery of these basic documents will prepare you to read the Reformers and the Puritans with greater ease, understanding and profit.

As for reading about the Puritans, I recommend beginning with Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, which serves as an overall introduction, and then read my Meet the Puritans (with Randall Pederson), which provides short biographies on the 150 Puritans that have been reprinted since the resurgence of Puritan literature that began in the late 1950s together with mini-summaries of each of the 700 Puritan books reprinted since the late 1950s, and my A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (with Mark Jones) which provides a summary of Puritan teaching in 50 major areas, and then in the concluding eight chapters shows how the Puritans brought doctrine to bear on their thinking, their family life and their conscience.

Once you have familiarized yourself about the Puritans, you should turn to reading the Puritans themselves. You probably want to begin with the “Puritan Treasures for Today” books, which are short Puritan titles thoroughly edited and modernized, so that they are easy to read without sacrificing content. From there you could move into reading the easier Puritan authors in their original writing, such as Thomas Watson, John Bunyan and John Flavel. Eventually you will be able to read the more challenging but richly spiritual Puritans such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.

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Covenant theology, interviews, Reformation