Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology by James Montgomery Boice (1938 – 2000) is a single volume systematic theology. There are four books in this volume, and each book has eighteen chapters broken up into four parts. This edition IVP just published in January includes a ~40 page study guide, which I loved! Overall, this book is just over 830 pages.
While this book seems long and intimidating, the chapters are around 10 pages on average. It’s pretty easy to read a chapter and go over the study guide in one sitting. The study guide has two sets of questions— one for study and discussion, one for personal discipleship. The added study guide is great for individual studying, or if you have a book club or study group.
This is the first systematic theology I’ve read from cover to cover. Not only was it easy to understand, it was enjoyable! There were some topics I didn’t agree with, and a few that challenged or changed my views… I learned a lot and took SO many notes!
I have two complaints about this book… First, the pages are glued together instead of sewn. I can see myself frequently turning back to this book, and I’m concerned about how the binding will hold up throughout the years. Second, Boice had strict second commandment convictions, and this updated book cover has a picture of Jesus. He spoke about his convictions multiple times throughout the book, and I’m sad to see that they weren’t respected for the cover design.
There are a few pages (97-99) that go over images of Jesus in the chapter called The True God (book 1, part 3, chapter 9, if you have the older edition) that I made note of to mention in my review. Here’s an excerpt…
“1) We are to worship God and obey him.
2) We are to reject the worship of any other god.
3) We are to reject the worship of the true God by any means that are unworthy of him, such as the use of pictures or images.
At first glance it seems quite strange that a prohibition against the use of images in worship should have a place at the very start of the ten basic principles of biblical religion, the Ten Commandments. But it is not strange when we remember that the characteristics of a religion flow from the nature of the religion’s god. If the god is unworthy, the religion will be unworthy too. If the concept of God is of the highest order, the religion will be of a high order also. So God tells us in these verses that any physical representation of him is dishonoring to him. Why? For two reasons. First, it obscures his glory, for nothing visible can ever adequately represent it. Second, it misleads those who would worship him.
Both of these errors are represented by Aaron’s manufacture of the golden calf, as J. I. Packer indicates in his discussion of idolatry. In Aaron’s mind, at least, though probably not in the minds of the people, the calf was intended to represent Jehovah. He thought, no doubt, that a figure of a bull (even a small one) communicated the thought of God’s strength. But, of course, it didn’t do so adequately. And it didn’t at all communicate his other great attributes: his sovereignty, righteousness, mercy, love and justice. Rather, it obscured them.
Moreover, the figure of the bull misled the worshipers. They readily associated it with the fertility gods and goddesses of Egypt, and the result of their worship was an orgy. Packer concludes,
It is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense ‘bow down’ and ‘worship’ your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship.”
I really enjoyed reading this massive book this month. I highly recommend it to all Christians, no matter where you are in your walk. Thank you IVP for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.