The Legacy of Bob Shaker

When I was a teenager, my brother would occasionally drive me to Avenue Road in Toronto to a small basement bookstore called Reformation Book Service. Even the address was funny: 2045 1/2 Avenue Road. There we would find the owner, Bob Shaker, an older gentleman who would inevitably be reading, but would but the book down and prepare to visit. I remember these visits lasting hours — unhurried, pastoral, insightful hours.

This was long before Calvinists were a thing. There was no ministry called Desiring God. Tim Keller was not a household name. The YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) were not in vogue, and Bob Shaker was probably one of those men who would be horrified to find himself on the trendy side of any movement.


I don’t remember coming to his store with any particular book in mind, but I don’t think I ever left empty handed. Inevitably our conversation would take some turn, and Shaker, like an old apothecary, would remember some long-forgotten cure contained in a book two rows over on the bottom shelf. His was the best kind of bookstore. There were no books from the bestseller list: no books promising your best life now, or recounting a little boy’s trip to heaven. I have a feeling that most of the books were written by people long dead. There were books there you couldn’t find anywhere else. You could have told me that his many of his books were snatched from Spurgeon’s personal library and I may have believed you.

I don’t know how he stayed in business. How he made the rent or paid himself is beyond me. Of course, it never really seemed to be about money.

A few years back — I can’t remember exactly how many — I happened to see a large table full of books for sale at Toronto Baptist Seminary. These, I learned, were what was left of Reformation Book Service. The store had closed, one of the last of its kind. Bob Shaker was not there, which is funny, because I have a memory of him sitting sadly to the side in an armchair watching as students picked over his legacy. The imagination is a funny thing.

Of course, the books were not really his legacy. I learned last week that Bob Shaker passed away, just shy of his hundredth birthday. Church historian Michael Haykin writes:

He was a friend and mentor to hundreds of pastors who came to his bookstore not simply to buy books but to spend time with Bob. Here many well-known preachers visiting Toronto would come … In his latter years I went to see him regularly at the bookstore, where he dispensed nuggets of practical Christian wisdom about Reformed theology, how to work with other evangelicals, the need for a solid Canadian evangelical witness, his love for T.T. Shields (he never ceased to admire him) — and then after an hour or two we would pray together. What a rich prayer life he had.

I've read many comments the past few days that have revealed the depth of Shaker’s impact.

A man who loved the Lord set up a bookstore with some of the best books available. He used his humble bookstore as a front of sorts for mentoring countless numbers of pastors, professors, and ordinary Christians. He invested his life and prayed like a man who understood what’s at stake. He did all of this well under the radar. I can’t help but think of Hebrews 11:38: he’s the kind “of whom the world was not worthy.” His life is over; his impact isn’t, and I look forward to seeing him again.

Read more about Bob Shaker by Ian Clary, Margaret Sharpe, and Michael Haykin. Shaker's church held a tribute to him almost five years ago; some thoughts by his pastor, and pictures, are posted here.

The Wisdom of Church History: An Interview with Michael Haykin


Michael Haykin is professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to this he served as Professor of Church History at Heritage College & Seminary and as Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary. He is also the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Biblical Studies and has authored numerous books on church history and biblical spirituality.

“I sometimes wonder if Michael Haykin is one scholar or a conspiracy of brilliant minds masquerading as one man," says Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary. "After all, he is a pacesetter in the very different fields of spiritual formation, Baptist studies, patristic history, and beyond. He is one of the most recognized scholars in the world in each of these fields, having written and lectured extensively in each area, even while serving as a seminary administrator, popular conference speaker, and leader within the Canadian Baptist churches.”

Michael was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Sadly, most evangelicals don't seem to have a good grasp of church history. Why do you think this is so?

Well, in this they reflect their culture. North American society is not really interested in history as a source of wisdom. Entertainment, yes. But not wisdom. Then Evangelicals have prided themselves, and that rightly, as a people of the Book. But this has tended to make them want to skip over the past 20 centuries of history. Finally, the topography of North America militates against an interest in history. Contrast this with Europe for example where historical stuff abounds in public view.

What are some of the results of this lack of knowledge in the church?

Not knowing our history as Evangelicals means that the church is like a person with dementia. If we do not know where we have come from we have no idea where we are or where we are going. And since knowing the past is a vital factor in the cultivation of humility (we learn about how much we owe those who have gone before) failure to remember the past fuels arrogance. And finally a refusal to remember the past is sin, as God commands us to remember what he has done in days gone by.

What can pastors do to promote an awareness of church history?

Pastors can recommend books on church history and historical figures from the pulpit; they can quote church history figures in sermons and talks. They can do a small series of studies in Sunday School or mid week. They can invite an historian like myself in to the church to do seminars in church history: have a church history day once a year.

Is there a particular era of church history that especially needs to be rediscovered in today's church?

A particular area of research that I think is needed is how evangelicals have read and interpreted Scripture. There really is little on this.

I've really appreciated your books. Are you working on one right now?

I am currently researching Andrew Fuller. I have a book on Edwards just out and also one on revival among 18th century Baptists is shortly to appear. It is entitled Ardent Love to Jesus.

Theology Pub Recap: Michael Haykin on the Church Fathers

We had our Toronto Theology Pub last night, and it may have been our best one yet. Michael Haykin spoke on rediscovering the Church Fathers. The Church Fathers have often been neglected, but we need them. Michael spoke on how we're impoverished if we neglect to learn from the Fathers, and he spoke of some of the benefits he's received from studying them:

  • he's been freed from the present
  • he's gained wisdom in his Christian walk
  • he's understood some New Testament passages better
  • he's learned piety

I was taking notes, but there's lots that I missed. The Church Fathers can provide depth in places that evangelicalism needs it. This is true doctrinally, with issues like the Canon of Scripture and the Trinity. It's also when it comes to piety. As well, they show us what true community looks like.

I'm really appreciate of Michael and his work. There are lots of applications to the church's current condition in what he said.

Check out his book Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. He also mentioned Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction by Bryan Litfin.

I'm looking forward to our next pub on November 28.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.