Book Review: Decisions, Decisions: How (and How Not) to Make Them

Decisions, decisions, we have to make countless decisions every day, some harder than others. While this book will not help you to decide on what to eat for lunch, it can certainly guide you in making some of the tougher decisions in life. Decisions, Decisions: How (and How Not) To Make Them is a book written by Dave Swavely . The book comprises of two main parts – what we should not do when making decisions and then what we ought to do instead.

The author starts off with a personal story – how one decision to eat lunch with his school’s administrator eventually led to marriage with his wife. Small decisions in our everyday lives can impact our lives in ways that we cannot see at that time. When discussing what we should not do, the author first educates us on what things are explicitly and entirely wrong approaches in decision-making. That being sinful motives, chance, spiritual revelation outside the Bible and supernatural signs. Then, he moves on to those factors that have a place in the process of decision-making but may be used wrongly –  namely, the will of God, feelings and impressions and circumstances, counsel, desires and prayer. In particular, regarding the will of God, the book points out the difference between the sovereign will and the moral will, as the author calls it. One should not try and discern the predestined counsel of God and try to make decisions in accordance with it but rather act in accordance with the law of God and the commands that He reveals to us. Furthermore, concerning the role of feelings and desires, the book warns against the worldly view that says, “Just follow your heart”. It also cautions against taking certain circumstances, counsel and prayers to be a revelation from God. These things, however, as the author states, do play an important role in the process of decision-making, as the book explores in the second half.

The second half of the book talks about the four P’s of biblical decision-making: Prerequisites, Principles, Process and Picture. The author provides a very useful flowchart here that illustrates the order of significance each factor should have in our decisions. Of upmost importance is that we always walk in the Spirit and in accordance with the Word of God. We must always first and foremost ask ourselves: What does the Bible say about this? However, sometimes the Bible does not directly (or even indirectly) condemn or commend a certain act. This is where we cross, as the author terms it, the Line of Freedom. Past this line, the next question asked should be: What is the wisest choice? These two questions cover most of the more important decisions in life. In the case that the choices to a certain decision are equal in the past two standards of Scripture and wisdom, it is then indeed appropriate to ask: What do I want to do?

This book clearly explains the reasons behind each and every point the author makes in that it provides many scriptural texts (although not in KJV) as evidence and grounds for its points. Furthermore, there are also many examples and illustrations that help the reader better understand the topic. However, in an effort to make the text more comprehensible, the author sometimes puts them across in a misleading way that may lead the reader to come to a wrong conclusion, so do be careful when reading and always remember to seek counsel in the Word of God! The book is also very well structured and the way the author explores the topic makes it clear and easy to understand. The flowchart on how to make biblical decisions is especially helpful as it consolidates the most important takeaways of the book. Another good point is that the book gives a list of discussion questions after each chapter, which allows the reader to meditate on the points raised in the chapter, take the time to internalise them and think about how they can apply the principles to their own lives. All in all, this book is a good read that helps to compile and order all the factors we should take into consideration in decision-making.


Written by: Chang Zi Hui | Issue 52


Book Review: Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz  

About the author[1]

Bob Schultz was born in 1951 and raised in Washington and Oregon. At the age of 15, he was led to a Young Life meeting. Young Life is a Christian ministry that reaches out to middle school, high school and college-aged kids in all 50 states of United States, as well as more than 90 countries around the world. Their mission is to “introduce adolescents everywhere to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith”. Schultz was married at 24 years old and thereafter the couple started their own Christian Fellowship, attracting about 100 believers. On June 13, 2008, he died unexpectedly of heart failure.

 About this book

This is a book that is easy to read and understand. The author uses short stories which are familiar experiences in the lives of adolescents. Though this book is written about boys and for boys, it is beneficial to everyone and anyone, even young girls. There are wise and biblical principles which can be gleaned from every short chapter that covers topics such as authority, honesty, courage to admit mistakes, leadership, forgiveness, self-control, resilience, as well as overcoming things like fear, laziness and temptation.

The author begins by reminding the boys that God has a Grand Book for boys to learn. This Grand Book is His creation. This Grand Book can teach them to work ­­— “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” A careful study of insects reveals a world of hard workers. The honey bees have much to teach about sweet rewards of diligent work. If the boys remember what they see and apply it to their lives, they will grow to be wise men. This Grand Book also teaches about manners. The rooster is an example of a true gentleman. How does this farm animal which sometimes can be a nuisance be used to teach our boys about self-control and kindness?

Do boys have difficulty confessing their faults? Do their parents resort to entreating or threatening to ‘help’ them confess their faults? What are all these stumbling blocks in their hearts that stop them from abiding in the Spirit? The chapter titled “Admit it” encourages the boys to try an experiment: “The next time you make a mistake, go directly to the one you wronged, admit it, and watch what God will do. Pick up your courage; walk past your fears; speak the truth. It’s the man’s road to freedom.”

These are the first 2 chapters of the book. The readers may discover that the author’s way of teaching virtues for manhood is soul searching as they continue with the remaining 29 chapters. However, they may not simply regard these chapters as intriguing stories that can give them a good laugh or momentarily stir up their emotional senses. They are to constantly desire this wisdom and seek the Lord (just like Solomon, David and Timothy) to help them nurture these virtues in their boyhood and when they grow up, they shall not depart from them (Pro. 22:6). These virtues are definitely great gifts from God to enable them to be godly members of the church and a spiritual head in their future covenant families. (In fact there are chapters on “Preparing for a wife” and “Preparing for your children”).

True strength in manhood comes from a heart that is renewed by God’s Word and His Spirit. The Scripture is the true source of wisdom and children of God must not be deceived by the lies of the world concerning manliness (1 Cor. 14:20; Pro. 24:5; 1 Tim. 4:12 & 14; 1 Tim. 4:8-9; 1 Tim. 6:11).

About the discussion questions

There are discussion questions after every chapter. The book will be even more profitable if the questions could lead the boys to meditate on God’s Word. This is because the Holy Scripture is able to make them wise unto salvation as it is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that they as men of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:15-17).


Written by: Jean Lim | Issue 51 


[1], accessed 23 January 2018

Book Review: Less than the Least

Who is Cornelius Hanko?

Yes. Most of us know him as the father of our dear Professor Herman Hanko.

What do you know about him?

Like me, you probably do not know much  about him, until you read this book—which is the fruit of the editing of his prepared memoirs, and tape-recorded interviews with the editor, Karen Van Baren, Professor Hanko’s daughter, whom some of us personally know.

Chapters 1-6 of the book help you get acquainted with Reverend Cornelius Hanko, and give the backdrop of the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches as well. You’ll find many interesting incidents and anecdotes recorded, often with dry humour. The Dutch culture is clearly manifested in the lives of the pioneers of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.

What is the value of reading the story of Reverend Cornelius Hanko?

The preface by Professor Herman Hanko puts it this way:

“…his ministry spanned almost all of the sometimes turbulent history of the Protestant Reformed Churches…He was deeply involved in the controversies over common grace, which formed the occasion for the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He was also in the troubled controversies of the 1940s and 1950s when the denomination was split over the question of the conditional theology.”

As you read chapters 7-10, you understand better the controversy of 1924, and what it means to our fellow saints in America. Chapters 22 and 23 record the painful schism of 1953, and its aftermath. Having gone through the divorce and remarriage split in our denomination, I can weep with our American brethren who wept. Many of us have gone through at least one split, and still bear the scars from the controversies. But God ordains all things for our good. As a result of such controversies, we grow in a better understanding of the truths of God, and hold dearly these truths, even as we struggle to defend them. We faltered, often, and God taught us, ‘My grace is sufficient for you”. We experienced what it felt like to be forsaken, alone, and in turmoil. Yet, through it all, we experienced a deeper sense of the presence and upholding grace of our sovereign Almighty God.

It strikes me as I read the book that in so many ways, we share many similar life stories and experiences with the saints in the PR churches, and so we can learn much from what they have gone through and learnt.

As Reverend Hanko chronicled the ups and downs in his life, against the backdrop of world events and schisms and troubles in the churches, you will see God’s sovereign and particular grace in his life, and in the life of the churches, and be greatly encouraged. At the same time, we are reminded of the fact that this world is not our home, and we are but pilgrims in this valley of tears.

Many of us have heard or read Reverend Herman Hoeksema, but we do not know him as a person. This book gives you a different perspective of one of the founding fathers of the PRCA, and helps you understand why he was so loved and respected.

The other chapters of the book each has its unique value.

In chapter 14, Reverend Hanko wrote of the difficulties, problems and sudden deaths in the congregations. It was during the Great Depression, and the people, including the pastors, suffered financial difficulties. There were also the drought and dust storms in 1934, followed by the grasshoppers, which devoured the entire crop, then torrential rains which caused  a great deal of destruction. There are times in our Christian life that trials and difficulties come in waves, one after another, and we wonder when we will see the light at the end of the tunnel…

Reverend Hanko embarked on a World Tour in 1975, during which he visited Singapore. You can read of his experience in chapter 27.

Chapter 30 is written by Karen Van Baren, in which she completes the life story of Reverend Hanko, faithful and struggling, as he finished his race. Many photographs are included, which greatly enhance the value of the book, for a picture is worth a thousand words.

I enjoyed the appendices at the end of the book too, especially appendices 2 and 7, and am greatly edified by them.

May our LORD bless and edify you, as you read ‘Less than the Least’.


Written by: Tang Jee Fung | Issue 49

Book Review: Little White Farmhouse in Iowa

This book was written by Carol Brands, a Protestant Reformed mother and grandmother in the state of Minnesota. It is a biography of Katherine Kroontje, whom Carol met when Katherine was an elderly woman. It tells of the story of Katherine’s first ten years and the many experiences she had as a child. This book is one of three books that Carol Brands wrote telling about the life of Katherine.

Susie Kroontje gave birth to Katherine in the middle of a stormy night during the Great Depression in the United States, when families were very poor. The book traces the time Katherine swallowed kerosene as a toddler to the time a blizzard swept through the United States when she was ten years old. We read about the times when Katherine’s family visited her Uncle Will and Aunt Ann to bring them food in the nearby state of North Dakota during the Great Depression.

In chapter nine, we read of how Katherine and her older brother Willie went   to   school   in   North   Dakota during the time they were visiting their uncle and aunt. It was a one-room schoolhouse that was painted a light beige colour and had a wide porch in the front. Katherine kept the four books for each of her subjects: arithmetic, writing, phonics, and music. I thought it was very interesting to learn about what subjects they had in 1935, though we still have the same subjects today!

Katherine’s family was very hard-working as they tended cows on the farm, got water at the pump, grew their own crops, cleared the table, and dried dishes. This is a good model for us to follow in our own work. It teaches us that we must work hard in the callings that God has set before us.

Throughout the book, we read of how Katherine’s family often read the Bible, followed by prayer. Devotions always made Katherine feel secure, as she knew that God’s blessings were always upon her on that day. Katherine often prayed short prayers on her own as well, to thank God or to ask Him for patience and calmness. This is a good example of how we must often pray little prayers to God, whether it is asking Him for forgiveness of sins, calmness, patience, joyfulness in a time of sorrow, or thanksgiving.

Even though there are many differences in culture between living on a farm in the United States in the 1930s and living in Singapore today, I still recommend this book to you. This is a very enjoyable book for children to read, but adults would also enjoy getting a glimpse of a godly family that lived in Iowa. This book is available on for those who would be interested in reading it!

Written by: Emily Lanning | Issue 48

The Necessity of Reforming the Church by John Calvin

Calvin’s treatise on The Necessity of Reforming the Church is a plea to Emperor Charles V to hear the cause of the Reformation. Calvin pleads that their cause is right and just, because it is based on the word of God. Their cause is necessary, because Rome has become thoroughly corrupt in her doctrine, worship, and institutional life. The reformers are fighting on behalf of God so that “religion might be purged from these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous” condition (39).

Reformation in the church is absolutely necessary because it relates to the pure worship of God. Reformation returns the doctrine, preaching, sacraments, and government of the church back to the biblical pattern, so that God may be worshipped aright. Calvin points out that the “whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption” (23). Rome has thoroughly corrupted the true worship of God by her false doctrines, wicked human traditions, and vain superstitious. Calvin therefore justifies the reformation and insists that the “uniform characteristics of a well-ordered church are the preaching of sound doctrine, and the pure administration of the sacraments” (127).

In setting forth the principles of worship, Calvin is a polemicist. Very logically, he sets forth the errors of the Romish church, his rejection of them on the basis of scripture and the ancient church, and then proceeds to establish the positive principles. Reformation in the church of Jesus Christ is not only a rejection of false doctrines and corruptions, but also a positive development and increased understanding in the truth.

First, Calvin rejects all kinds of things that are not approved by the word of God. God “disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word” (18). Calvin remarks that when the word of God is absent, “divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness; when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions; when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and his glory laid prostrate” (38). Heresies and schisms “arise when a return is not made to the origin of truth, when neither the Head is regarded, nor the doctrine of the heavenly Master preserved” (132).

Second,   true   worship   must   never be based on our own opinions or emotions.   Calvin   wisely   recognizes the foolishness of the depraved sinner, even though he may be a child of God. He writes that “such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray” (16). So we must “reject all human devices which are at variance with his command” (17). God “rejects and even abominates everything relating to his worship that is devised by human reason” (49). He is displeased when men, “overleaping the boundaries of his word, run riot in their own inventions” (96). God’s authority is established in worship when “we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty” (17).

Third, Calvin rejects worship that is not sincere, or one that does not flow out of true faith. God condemns and prohibits “all fictitious worship” (17). Rome is guilty of grave hypocrisy in her worship of God, especially in her many ceremonies. She has invented “an immense number of ceremonies”, whereby “men are vainly occupied with numbers of them that are both frivolous and useless” (22). These ceremonies mock God by causing men to think that “they have fulfilled their duty as admirably as if these ceremonies   included   in   them   the whole essence of piety and divine worship” (22). By “means of external ceremonies, like specious masks, we hide the inward malice of the heart” (51). God therefore “rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience” (23).

Fourth, human tradition must pale in comparison to the word of God in worship. Calvin rebukes the traditions of Rome for enslaving the Christian’s conscience. These traditions “had either been tyrannically imposed to hold consciences in bondage, or were more subservient to superstition than to bondage” (77). Although Calvin does not reject traditions which keep the church functioning decently and in good order, he recommends that we must “look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe” (17).

So important is the glory of God in worship that Calvin grounds true worship in the being of God. First, he writes that the chief foundation of worship is “to acknowledge him to be, as he is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation” (16). Those who worship him must desire to “ascribe and render to him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in him alone, and in every want have recourse to him alone” (16). In our worship, “we manifest for him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency” (16).

Second, because God’s will alone determines His worship, His word prescribes what may be allowed in worship. The word of God is the only authoritative rule for worship. The word alone “discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated” (23), since God “must be worshipped in spirit and in truth” (17). True doctrine “regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation” (15). True doctrine maintains proper worship in the church, since “the word of God furnishes a standard…for every thing” (35). When reforming the worship of the church, the reformers sought “to read the scriptures, in laboring diligently to make them better understood, and in happily throwing light on certain points of doctrine of the highest practical importance” (40).

Third, the administration of the sacraments is an important part of worship. Calvin contends that in the Romish   church,   “seven   sacraments were received without any distinction, though Christ appointed two only, the others resting merely on human authority” (29). The “two which Christ instituted were fearfully corrupted” (29). That is because the Romish church “fasten[s] upon the sign instead of the thing signified by it” (31). God’s people must come by faith to participate in these two sacraments. Only by faith “they may inwardly discern the thing which is visibly represented: that is, the spiritual food by which alone their souls are nourished unto life eternal” (70). Furthermore, the preaching of the word must always be accompanied with the sacraments, because “there is no use in the sacraments unless the thing which the sign visibly represents is explained in accordance with the word of God” (31).

Fourth, proper church government must be exercised because the office-bearers watch over the worship of the church. It must be a “spiritual government which Christ recommended” (33). Calvin writes that in condemning the papacy and the hierarchical form of church government, they have restored the pastoral office, “both according to the apostolic rule, and the practice of the primitive church, by insisting that everyone who rules in the church shall also teach” (71). Those who are elected must be “in the presence of the people, before the eyes of all, that he may be approved as fit and worthy by the testimony of all” (73). None “are to be continued in the office but those who are diligent in performing its duties” (71). No man “is a true pastor of the church who does not perform the office of teaching” (33). Teaching is so important in the worship of the Reformed church that Calvin is able to say: “none of our churches is seen without the ordinary preaching of the word” (71).

Fifth, true worship must be simple. It must be devoid of all kinds of “frivolous performances altogether alien from the command of Christ” (33). We must in no respect detract “from the spiritual worship of God” (46). Worship is simple because “God requires us to worship him in a spiritual manner” (41).

True   prayer   is   an   important   part of worship. Calvin writes that “by discarding the intercession of the saints, we have brought men back to Christ, that they might learn both to invoke the Father in his name, and trust in him as Mediator” (51). The child of God must pray first “with firm and solid confidence”, and then secondly, “with understanding also” (51). He must not be muttering “over confused prayer in an unknown tongue” (51). Prayers “proceeding from true faith obtains favor with God” (55). The design of true prayer is to “make God the conscious witness of our necessities, and as it were to pour out our hearts before him” (56).

The worshipper himself must be a regenerated child of God, offering sincere praise and worship to God. God “looks to the faith and truth of the heart” (47). Men must worship God “neither in a frigid nor a careless manner” (41). “True and sincere worship”, Calvin asserts, is “taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures” (16). Only a believing child of God will humble himself before God in worship, and “by this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reign in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives” (16).

When true worship is restored, the child of God receives the blessed fruit of assurance. He is able to rest in Christ “with firm and solid confidence, feeling assured that Christ is so completely his own, that he possesses in him righteousness and life” (25). Calvin’s treatise is powerfully polemical in establishing not only the cause of the reformation, but also the biblical principles of worship. The regulative principle, held fast by Calvin and the reformers, is a legacy left to us, the children of the reformation. We will be faithful to maintain it, so that “the pure and legitimate worship of God” (13) is upheld in our churches.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 48

Book Review: Side By Side

Another year is coming to a close, and a closing year for most students brings much free time. Before you, my readers, conclude that this is a boring nag to read intellectually heavy books on Reformed theology, please hold back your judgment and realize that the book we review here is on practice—godly living based on sound doctrine.

Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, is the book.

Those of us who have read this book would have recognized that it is not doctrinally sound. Before speaking of the depravity of our hearts, the author claims there is “good” (12) and that man still bears the image of God (88). In addition to the lack of soundness, we do not appreciate the author’s use of the NIV, which is known to be an unfaithful translation of the Bible.

Yet, the book is not wholly founded upon its doctrinal errors. There is doctrine with which we can heartily agree; in it, we will find the author promotes edifying conversations leading to spiritual counseling that all of us in the church need from each other.

Two themes struck me as I read the book, and I hope an open reflection of those themes will encourage you, my brethren, to pick this book up.

One recurring theme in this short book is fellowship in the church.

The author, in a way, forces us to examine what characterises our conversations in our church. What are our conversations like? Are they made up of laughs and banter only? Are they circled around earthly matters, without any Scriptural insight? Let everyone judge himself; but I know I have missed too many opportunities to steer a conversation for the spiritual edification of my brethren. And the author assumes that that is the case for most Christians.

The author assumes so on the basis of two experiences. As the ones speaking, we are often “afraid of what people will think” when we share about our struggles (p. 11). Hence, to run away from our fear, we avoid such conversations. As the ones listening, when it comes to helping others, “we feel unqualified” (p. 12).

Identifying these common experiences, the author offers encouragement to overcome them. We must not, he writes, be afraid about sharing our “neediness” in life (pp. 60, 63-64). As needy people, we naturally need others to help us; and as the Lord uses us to be a helper to others, we must know that the Spirit qualifies us to have such spiritual conversations and be of help to others in those conversations (pp. 68-71).

The author also realizes that these experiences   paralyze   our   speech; we do not know how to start and maintain spiritual conversations. So he briefly goes through the process of a conversation: Greeting others (pp. 73-77), finding topics to start off with (pp. 79-84), leading the conversation into speaking about the heart (pp. 87-93), etc. Through his suggestions, the author clearly does not intend to teach that every conversation must be aimed at talking about others’ problems. The intent, rather, is that one creates a rapport that, in God’s providence, may be used to help. Not all the suggestions in these pages must be used in every conversation; but they are worth our attempts. Perhaps, through our attempts, we will find better ways to start and maintain edifying conversations.

The second recurring theme in this book is sympathy. Again, the author leads us to examine our sympathy towards our brethren in Christ. Do we show sympathy? Or is there, instead, a   cold—perhaps   harsh—response to the needs of our brethren? Or, in response to the weaknesses of our brethren, do we jump straight in to a scolding? Again, let every one judge himself; but I know I have not shown sympathy to those who were in need of it. And, once more, the author assumes that that is the case for most. What does the author have to say about sympathy? Our words must express our sympathy for our brethren (p. 103). Even the words of our rebuke must be marked with that sympathy. One cannot go to the brother or sister without sympathy, and the author shows the need for sympathy by devoting an entire chapter on it (pp. 101-110).

Having    established    the    need    to show sympathy, the author points out specific words that do express sympathy, and others that hinder that expression (pp. 104-107). Once again, the author understands how often we lack the wisdom to choose the best words to use, so he offers concrete suggestions for our consideration. Having spiritual talk and sympathy— but overarching them is the one truth that the church is the body of Christ. Having  spiritual  fellowship, and in  such fellowship having true sympathy, is part and parcel of the body of Christ. “We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people…. That is how life in the church works” (p. 12). Why? Because Christ our Head did so with us! He walked on this earth with us—to experience the weaknesses of our earthly bodies, and even the temptations in our hearts— to save us from these weaknesses and temptations (p. 13).

To this truth we give our hearty consent. Discern and disagree with the doctrinal errors of the book; but receive its instruction from cover to cover!

But…perhaps something still bugs you. What good does this book do for us, Reformed Christians?

Certainly, reading a wavering view of total depravity does not add to our knowledge of Reformed doctrine positively. However, what does help is that we discern these doctrinal errors and, in our minds, replace them with right doctrine as we read the book.

Yet, what seems to be of greatest help is to keep our confessions in mind as we read the book. What do our confessions say about helping one another in the church? The Belgic Confession has strong language for this: “…all men are in duty bound…” To what? Join the church? Absolutely. To stand for right doctrine in the church? Definitely. But also, “… as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren.” We are duty bound to serve—to help—one another! Certainly, then, we are interested in learning how to counsel one another. With that interest, read the book!

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 46

Book Review: A Spiritual House Preserved

A Century in the River’s Bend

For its 100th anniversary last year, Hope PRC (Walker, MI) published A Spiritual House Preserved (Kalsbeek, 2016) to commemorate the occasion. The cover carries the following introduction:

“This is the story of a church of our Lord Jesus Christ with very humble beginnings on the extreme western edge of Kent Country… On one occasion the church’s membership of mostly poor farmers recorded in their minutes, “The question was asked if we were going to continue as a congregation, and the answer was yes.”

With that “yes” recorded in the tenth year of their existence they plodded on as a fledging congregation with little hope for the future. But God is at times a God of little things. Little did they know, or could they have imagined at the time, that God had many years in store for them…

…this one-hundredth anniversary book of Hope Protestant Reformed Church is more than a record of Hope’s history. More importantly it reveals the secrets of why she continues as a faithful church of our Lord Jesus Christ today: secrets which if heeded gives Hope and like-minded churches hope for tomorrow.”

For a church to exist as a distinct entity for 100 years is remarkable in itself – but for a church to remain true and faithful to her Lord for 100 years is nothing short of a miracle of grace. That alone should make us want to read this book. While the world notes the course of what is trending, famous people, inventions, sports championships, wars and rumours of wars, the centenary of a comparatively small, solidly Reformed church passes by quietly and largely unnoticed.

Not entirely unnoticed, however, and certainly not by us here in Singapore. A Spiritual House Preserved should be essential reading for all of us in CERC, for our own spiritual heritage can also be traced through all the way to the small, isolated group of poor farmers by the river’s bend, which once held worship services “under the big tree in Richard Newhouse’s yard”. Indeed, the book itself contains detailed historical perspectives of Hope’s official labours in Singapore between 1979 to 2005 by Rev. den Hartog   as well as Rev. Jason and Jean Kortering. These perspectives are extremely interesting and profitable reading for both old and new members of CERC.

In her 100 years of history, Hope has been the mother of three daughter congregations whose names and ministers are not at all unfamiliar – Faith PRC (Rev. Lanning’s previous congregation before accepting the call to CERC), Grandville PRC (Rev. Kenneth Koole) and Grace PRC (Rev. Ronald Van Overloop). As CERC has, over the decades, been a clear beneficiary of the direct labours of Hope and her daughter congregations, it would be correct to identify CERC at the very least, as an adoptive daughter or granddaughter of Hope. Hope PRC’s rich chronicles are deeply relevant to us here in Singapore, inasmuch as they are a part of our own heritage.

This book of Hope PRC’s story is a gem. A brief glance through its contents impresses upon the reader the comprehensiveness of its scope – in how many books can one find a serious doctrinal discussion right alongside one young man’s desperate flight from a tornado?

“The tornado was huge, monstrously huge. It was not the slender, curved, even graceful cloud of the painting. It was hardly a funnel. Rather, it was an enormous, squat column, nearly as wide at its bottom as at the top… it was a deep and fearsome black – the black of the third horse of the Apocalypse.

….The response of the young man was not so much fear, although he was afraid, as awe – awe as before Jehovah God of Israel come to judge the wicked world in the wrath of his holiness.”

– Prof. David J. Engelsma in Memories of the Tornado of 1956 .p.347

Each section is succinct and easily digested by even the young reader, especially as much of the book reads as one story to another. Topics range from the serious to the everyday and humorous (“Rumour has it that Rev. Slopsema was asked while in Singapore, “Are you the tallest man in the world?”), with numerous accounts by or of those, whose names are familiar to us in Singapore, especially those of former ministers of Hope or sons of Hope in the gospel ministry (Rev. (now Prof.) Herman Hanko, Rev. Jason Kortering, Rev. Ronald Van Overloop, Rev Slopsema, Rev. (now Prof.) Russell Dykstra, Prof. David J. Engelsma, Rev. Kenneth Koole…).

Besides the doctrinal issues surrounding the controversies on God’s grace in 1924 (common vs. particular) and on the covenant in 1953 (conditional vs. unconditional), the reader is offered an intimate view of the struggles of living through those times, as well as through the war years and the Great Depression.

On losing the church property to the minority group who stayed with the CRC denomination in 1925:

“…Although it is important to a congregation to have a church building as a meeting place in a community, the congregation had to go forward in the knowledge that even without a building a church continues to exist.

At what must have been one of the lowest points in the life of the small congregation, a congregational meeting was held on April 27, 1927, in the home of Deacon Moelker. The meeting was opened with singing verse 3 of Psalm 119 and prayer by the president, Rev. Ophoff. The minutes of that meeting are as follows:

Article 1. Rev Ophoff gave a short talk in which he explained the object of the meeting which was that our finance was nearly exhausted and to see if some means could be provided by which we could continue as a congregation.”

– David Moelker in Hope’s Buildings: Dedicated to the Service of God .p.86

And again in 1953:

Although in the years between 1925 and 1953 the congregation of Hope had grown to about forty families, it shrunk again in size. About fifteen families left; the congregation was brought down to about twenty-five families, although a few other families also joined the church shortly after the split. But as was always true and remains true today, it is better to be small and faithful to the truth than large and apostate. No price is too great to pay for the sake of God’s truth.”

– Prof Herman Hanko in Hope’s Involvement in the Controversies of 1924-1925 and 1953 .p.129

On the economics of the Depression years:

“Several hours later, and with daylight arriving, the disgusted farmers began to pack up and leave. I became desperate and sold the whole load to the lone buyer at 25c a crate. I was sick to my stomach as we made the transaction, for that price would hardly pay the cost for the sixteen containers… upon arriving home I told my father the circumstances of the deal. He estimated that the eight of us had worked that whole day for the sum total of $1.50. Well, that was the last of the berry picking for the season. The younger children were glad and didn’t hide the fact either. We older ones were a bit more sensitive to the heartache and despair of our father and mother as they watched that bountiful red-ripe field shrivel and go to waste.

Incidents such as that were multiplied during the long, lean years and have made a lasting impression on me. Because the last forty years have been years of prosperity and influence, the majority of this generation’s teenagers find it next to impossible to visualize, let alone sympathize, with the lifestyle of the Depression years and its lack of what is currently deemed a necessity.”

– Dewey Engelsma (father of Prof. Engelsma) in A Teenager during the Depression Years p.257

Countless other vivid and fascinating epithets like those above can be found in A Spiritual House Preserved. Rather than cite them all, which would be impossible, for there are so many hidden jewels, I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself! Besides the many oral accounts by members and ministers, the book also includes accounts of Hope’s participation in missions, of which Hope was the calling church for ministers-on-loan to Singapore for 15 years, and perspectives on Christian education (Hope was the first PR church in Michigan to start a school). Hope’s development as a “reading” church is also included, which is of course a matter of profound interest to the Salt Shakers. Some of us who may have had the pleasure of visiting Hope PRC can recall how strikingly deep the culture of reading and being well-read goes in Hope. Besides the distribution of various books to members at particular occasions (Bound to Join on the occasion of graduation from high school, Marriage: The Mystery of Christ and the Church on the occasion of marriage, and Believers and Their Seed and Reformed Education on the occasion of the baptism of a first child), a unique practice of Hope is how families will gather in the sanctuary on the Lord’s day half an hour before the service, and prepare for worship by silently reading Reformed literature. It is a matter worth thinking about for us in CERC too – are we a “reading” church? Do we want to be one?

Some other interesting sections include the accounts of young men of Hope who faced being drafted (called up to serve) in various wars, descriptions of all the societies and ministries in Hope, the work of the consistory, including a how-to guide for officebearers, and even some perhaps rosy perspectives on Singaporeans:

“I think that having been in Singapore gives me a more critical look at our churches. If the young people in Singapore have shown us one thing, it’s this: they are living much closer to God than our general population in the Protestant Reformed Churches. That’s at least what we consider to be true; we can’t read the heart. They are spiritual; they seem to be able to cast the world out…. I said to one fellow, “Do you keep up with the sports in Singapore?” He said, “No, God delivered us from all that.””

– Dewey Engelsma (Interviewed in 1985) in Oral History Accounts of Hope.p.254

Reading A Spiritual House Preserved, it is easy to see many parallels between what CERC and Hope have faced over the decades. We also gain insight into how CERC became what she is today, why she does certain things the way she does (such as, why do we open our worship with singing the opening Doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow..? What do we consider an appropriate way to worship and why?).

However, we also see God’s hand in preserving Hope over the years, and just how we too stand in the line of faithful churches in the midst of this dark time. For us in Singapore, to read of the struggles and victories of our fellow sister (mother, or grandmother, perhaps?) church, is deeply encouraging. For though Hope PRC is far away in a foreign land, nothing can be clearer that we do share strongly the same hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Spiritual House Preserved can be obtained through purchase from the RFPA website: products/a-spiritual-house-preserved. You may also borrow my copy, if available.


Kalsbeek, C. (2016). A Spiritual House Preserved. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association.


Written by: Chua Lee Yang | Issue 44

Book Review: Portraits of Faithful Saints

Title: Portraits of Faithful Saints Author: Herman Hanko
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 1999
Hardback, 450pp

As we all know, the Reformation Day Conference 2010 has just happened recently to celebrate the Great 16th Century Reformation. Thus, tying in with this joyous occasion, it is fitting that this book is highlighted in this issue of Salt Shakers.

Portraits of Faithful Saints, as the title suggests, tells of faithful saints of God who stood for the Truth in spite of heavy opposition. The author of this book writes about 55 persons. Though some of them did not stand for the exact doctrines we hold today, still they played major roles in developing the Reformed doctrine we know today. All of this rich history is summarized into ve parts and fty-two chapters. This book covers extensively the history after Christ’s birth; from the death of the Apostle John to the controversy of common grace in the PRCA.

The book has its limits; the author is not able to go into every bit of detail in each individual’s life. Thus, the author gives some suggested readings rather than a bibliography, as he had consulted so many books that he couldn’t possibly list them all for us. But still, the author is able to explain to us the major events of the individual’s life, ending off each summary with a conclusion that may be applicable to us. This trait makes the book very useful to the reader.

Another unique trait of this book is that it brings out men who worked ‘behind the scenes’ during the Reformation. When we think of the Great Reformation, many of us tend to link it with Martin Luther and John Calvin. But what about people like William Farel and Ulrich Zwingli? The many men who helped in the Reformation are names we never heard of before. It is wrong to ‘conclude that they are of little or no importance in the understanding of the Reformation.’ The author states this conclusion as ‘a sad mistake.’ (Page 168) And it truly is, for without knowing these men, we will not be able to fully see how the Reformation slowly spread throughout the world.

This book is very important, due to the fact that its rich history concerns us as the descendants of our Reformed forefathers. How are we to truly understand the Reformed doctrines unless we know of the history behind it, with all the blood, sweat, and tears these faithful men have shed for us? God has so graciously preserved the in uential works of His saints for His own. And thus it is a great gift to receive (and be) the fruit of the Reformation. May we be able to realize this great truth that lies beneath CERC and not be ignorant of this rich history and God’s wondrous Works; like the Israelites were in Judges (2:10) which the author speaks of in the ending of the last chapter of the book.

Ending off, I would like to quote from the book. It asks, ‘shall another generation arise which knows not the Lord? May God forbid it. (Page 420)’ I truly hope that we will not be a generation which knows not the Lord.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 5

A Spiritual Gold Mine: Pamphlets & Articles of the PRCA

This month’s book review is different. We’re reviewing a website filled with a wealth of knowledge. A website that is like a room lled with spiritual ammunition to fight the spiritual battle.

It is PRCA’s database of all its pamphlets and articles. Some background of the website. This section of the PRCA website is mantained by the Evangelism Committee of the South Holland Protestant Reformed Church. The Site’s pamphlets and articles deals with a wide range of both practical Christian living and doctrinal issues. Issues appealing to both the young and the mature Christian.

Some of the interesting titles are as it follows :

Genesis 1-11: Myth or History? – Prof. David J. Engelsma

The Christian and Culture – Rev. Herman Hoeksema

The Christian And The Film Arts – Prof. Herman Hanko

Is The Christian Faith Easy? – Rev. Steven Key

Is Good Self-Esteem Important for a Christian, and How Is It Developed?- David J. Engelsma

The Sin of Gambling – Douglas J. Kuiper

Church Membership in an Evil Age – Steven R. Key (Pastor of the Randolph Protestant Reformed Church)

Is Denial of the “Well-Meant Offer” Hyper-Calvinism? – David J. Engelsma

The Gospel – Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Try the Spirits: A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism – Prof. David J. Engelsma

Marriage and Divorce – Prof. David Engelsma

The Antichrist – Herman Hoeksema

Hope you would find this site helpful for your spiritual growth as it did for mine. If I may add add, faith is deeply personal, an assured con dence in Christ as our Saviour. The Christian faith engages all aspects of an elect child of God. The spiritual side, the emotional side and the intellectual side. As Psa 119:130 puts it “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” May we be made wise by diligently studying the word of God and His doctrines. As we grow in truth, may we also grow in faith and godliness (1 Tim 6:3). Have a blessed time reading!

“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Tim 4:13-16)

Written by: Josiah Tan | Issue 2

Book Review on “When You Pray”: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer

Many books on prayer have been written. Yet many fail to do justice to the biblical nature of prayer. The author of this book, however, is careful to maintain Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Every aspect of prayer and every scope of the author’s argument ows from the rich fountain of Scripture. The author puts it rightly, that “our prayers are totally governed by that word” (pg 5).

What stands out powerfully in the book is the author’s treatment of God’s sovereignty in prayer. The modern man’s prayer has reduced God’s sovereignty to the level of his carnal mind. He imagines God to be a pushover Whose eternal counsel can be changed by prayer according to his liking. The author correctly refutes this vain notion. He argues that “prayer presupposes the truth of God’s complete and absolute sovereignty, but it also determines the character of our prayer” (pg 17). Thus “the privilege of prayer, the right to pray, the knowledge of how to pray, and the ability and power to pray…is all of God” (pg 17).

The author is well aware that the request of Jesus’ disciples to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1) also characterises the saints of all ages. He acknowledges that there are times where “spiritual questions and problems so overwhelm our souls, and a sense of our unworthiness is so great, that prayers die on our lips and God seems far away” (pg 27). God’s people, nevertheless, have the blessed assurance that their heavenly Mediator prays for them.

Thoroughly expounding Scripture, the author aptly points out the rich truths of prayer in God’s Word. He faithfully explains what God demands of His people in prayer because in prayer “we speak to the living God, who is exalted in the highest glory” (pg 28). The author also touches on different kinds of prayer for a range of situations God’s people experience in this life. Whether in private or public prayers the author directs our attention to the throne of grace where God is pleased to hear His people’s petitions.

The clear and simple language that the author employs throughout the book renders it extremely readable. It is truly a book suitable for all ages and highly recommended for the child of God who desires his Father’s will in prayer.

Title: When You Pray
Author: Herman Hanko Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 2006
Hardback, 177pp

Written by: Aaron Lim | Salt Shakers Issue 1