Takeaway: A overview of a diverse theological part of the church. A bit heavy on the theological language if it really is intended for an introduction. Best part is the short Q&A in the appendix section.
I picked this book up when it was free for kindle a couple weeks ago. I decided to intentionally look into reformed theology because I have been interacting with reformed Christians more and more and because I really do not know that much about it. Over the next couple weeks I am going to review a couple books by reformed authors. Clearly Reformed Theology like any other theological branch is not monolithic, but I hope these four books will be fairly representative of the basic theological points.
Primarily I am reading to learn, not critique. One of the strengths of the Reformed tradition is its emphasis on scripture and the creeds. This book starts with an overview of the three historic creeds (the Nicene, Athenasian,and Apostle’s creeds) and then the three primary Reformed Creeds (the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort and the Heidelberg Catechism). This is a heavy start to a book. If you do not have some theological background or at least some idea of Christianity, I think it is unlikely that you will get through this first third of the book. It might be a intended as a welcome to the Reformed Church, but it is written as a welcome to people that are already Christians, not those that are investigating Christianity in general. The level of theological background that is assumed coming in is very high.
The theological language does not really let up through the rest of the book, but it does move on from the creeds to a more general systematic theology. I understand and respect much of the theology that is being shared. But after reading I understand more of why I am not reformed.
The best part of the book, and really what I was looking for throughout the book, was the questions and answers in the appendix. Unfortunately this was only a short section. And the questions involved some straw men. As a reader of a lot of Christian books, I think it is a bad habit that many authors answer the weakest version of opponents questions, not the strongest. If we really want to move people toward Christ, or push them to investigate their own ideas, it is not a good idea to mis-represent people that disagree with you. I don’t think there was much mis-representation here, but there were some weak construction of the questions.
With any theological “system” (for lack of a better word) there are people that are good at communicating to outsiders and there are those that really are only good at communicating to insiders. Part of this is the exposure to ‘outside’ ideas. But another part is the humility that is a person holds on their ideas. It is probably considered bad form to talk about Reformed Theology and quote NT Wright, but it fits my point. NT Wright says (paraphrasing) that about 25 percent of what he thinks he knows is wrong. The problem is that he is never sure which 25 percent it is.
In general, those Reformed Christians that I interact with and read, are either the most humble or most arrogant Christians I know. It is my opinion that these are a result of the two emphases of Reformed theology, the depravity of humanity leads to humbleness but the focus on learning leads to superiority. It feels like there is not much of a middle ground. This book is humble but sure of its theology. That is not bad, it just is.