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On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories

Sean Michael Lucas

Reviewed by: Brent Ferry

Date posted: 10/21/2007

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories, by Sean Michael Lucas. Published by P&R Publishing, 2006. Paperback, 271 pages, list price $14.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Brent Ferry.

Sean Lucas grew up as a fundamentalist Baptist, but is now a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and professor of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary. Lucas says that this path from baptistic fundamentalism to confessional Presbyterianism is "the common story for many PCA members" (p. xi). "Yet," he writes, "many of our church members, and even some officers, do not have a solid understanding of what it means to be Presbyterian" (p. xi). Therefore, this book is intended to be "a primer of Presbyterian identity" (p. xii).

Lucas argues that "being Presbyterian involves certain beliefs, practices, and stories that intersect to forge a web of personal identity" (p. 247). For beliefs, he focuses on the doctrines of sovereignty, grace, the covenant, the church, and the sacraments. For practices, he singles out piety, worship, and Presbyterian government. For stories, he traces the history of Presbyterianism, focusing on the Reformation, the American frontier, the nineteenth century, and the formation of the OPC and the PCA.

Lucas describes what he calls "Plain Ol' Presbyterianism," or "vanilla Presbyterianism," or "the broad middle of what conservative Presbyterians in America have believed for over three hundred years" (p. 248). For the most part, he achieves this. Intramural issues that divide Presbyterians (such as theonomy, patriarchy, hyper-Calvinism, and Clarkianism) are not part of the Presbyterianism that Lucas describes. Yet when he defines covenant as "a sovereign administration of grace and promise" (p. 52), and when he promotes the two-office view of church leadership (pp. 141-43), he adds a little spice to the vanilla.

Lucas writes with the clarity of a good teacher, the concern of a true minister, and the mind of an informed scholar. He also writes as one who understands the "psychological challenges" (p. 250) of leaving one tradition or another. It is one thing to become a Presbyterian procedurally; it is another thing to be a Presbyterian psychologically. And this is what the book is all about. It is about making Presbyterian beliefs, practices, and stories your own.

Each chapter concludes with "Questions for Thought and Review," along with a list of books "For Further Reading." The book will make a good addition to your church library or book table. On Being Presbyterian is also a good book for members of the OPC who want to learn about the formation of the PCA, or members of the PCA who want to learn about the formation of the OPC. Thank you, Dr. Lucas, for a book that people in my church need and can read.

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