I primarily know Joel Beeke for his book Meet the Puritans and his involvement with Reformation Heritage Books, a great book publisher. In addition to his more scholarly works, Beeke also writes shorter tomes, like the rerelease title Portraits of Faith, of which I was able to snag a review copy from the publisher.
Portraits of Faith is not written for the scholar. In fact, it’s geared more towards newer believers and is based on some messages he gave a few years back. Explaining what faith is can be challenging. Most people can say it’s believing something or give the “Sunday school” answer that it is trusting in something. Others might quote Hebrews 11:1, that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Rather than give a textbook answer to the question, Beeke highlights four Bible stories that highlight what it means to have faith.
This is where I have an issue with the book. The subtitle on the cover reads, “What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God.” While this is technically true, it sets the expectation that we’re about to learn from five different people in the Bible. Instead, Adam and Eve are each counted—Beeke only deals with four biblical stories. The others are the Shunammite woman, the Canaanite woman, and Caleb.
I most appreciated Beeke’s treatment of the Canaanite woman. I’ve heard more than one sermon try to downplay what Jesus said to her (it comes off as quite harsh). Beeke explains what Jesus was doing, and his explanation deals appropriately with the text. His treatment of Adam and Eve was not as strong. While I would agree that Adam and Eve had faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, Beeke draws more out of Adam’s naming his wife “Eve” than is warranted, at least more than is warranted without a big caveat. It’s making a mountain out of a molehill, much like that pastor who preaches a whole sermon on each word in John 3:16.
Beeke’s writing is also influenced by his church tradition, which holds that Sunday is the new Sabbath, churches should sing the Psalms, and the King James Version should be the preferred translation. I can’t fault him for writing in accordance with his convictions, but criticizing those who don’t observe all Ten Commandments won’t win points with people who don’t hold his views on the Sabbath. Likewise, quoting from the King James has it’s place, but when Beeke has to define multiple words because they are so archaic, it points to the fact that the King James Version has outlived it’s usefulness for regular Christian use.
I would like to give Beeke higher marks, particularly because I love his work on the Puritans, but the treatment of Adam and Eve and the use of a translation that he has to frequently provide definitions for makes it an okay book, but not outstanding.