On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories
by Sean Michael Lucas
(P&R Publishing, 2006, 271 pages)
This book gives an overview of the doctrine (beliefs), piety and ecclesiology (practices), and history (stories) of Presbyterianism. Sean Lucas is a church historian and Presbyterian pastor writing to educate those new to the Presbyterian tradition and those training for various offices in Presbyterian churches. By breaking the book down into the three sections of beliefs, practices, and stories, Lucas attempts to give a holistic orientation to Presbyterian identity.
The first section on “beliefs” deals with distinctively Reformed or Presbyterian understandings of doctrines like the sovereignty of God, soteriology, ecclesiology, and the sacraments. The second section on “practices” elucidates a Presbyterian approach to prayer, worship, and church government. These sections are clearly written and helpfully contextualize Presbyterians within the broader Christian tradition. However, it is the third section on “stories” where the book’s real value lies. Here Lucas offers a short history of American Presbyterianism. He begins with a brief look at the origins of Presbyterianism with John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. The rest of the section traces Presbyterianism’s development in the United State, from its formation in the early colonies, to the “golden era” of Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth-century, to various separations and reunifications that characterized Presbyterian denominations from the nineteenth to the twenty first-century.
The historical section delves into its subject at a significantly greater depth than the preceding two sections. Lucas sends up a storm of names, dates, and denominational splinters in order to give a sense of the integral role that Presbyterianism has played in American history. The historical story lines that Lucas develops serve most directly to illuminate the formation of his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). While the history is thorough, relative to its length, some will no doubt see Lucas’ focus on the roots of the PCA as something of a limitation. In addition, the disparity between the broader focus of the first two sections and the more specialized character of historical section means that the intended readership might not be as clear-cut as intended. Still, this book is very valuable, and it should be helpful to anyone with an interest in the history of religion in America.