Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review: An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition by John H. Leith

I'm not sure why I chose this book over hundreds of titles that crossed before my eyes. I recently requested and received an alumni card from my alma mater in order to have access to their libraries. I was searching their libraries' databases for interesting books and this one came up in a search. I decided to go with it. And I'm glad I did.

This is a textbook. It is not written for easy-readability. It is not a difficult read, but neither does it flow in Lucado-ian fashion. The book introduces the reformed tradition on a number of fronts:its ethos, its theology, its polity, its liturgy, and its culture. The author is quick to point out that this book is neither a comprehensive accounting of the Reformed tradition nor an exhaustive summary of their history. Rather, he attempts to illuminate themes, motifs, and commonalities throughout the history of this stream of Christianity.

The two chapters which were most appealing to me were the chapters entitled The Ethos of the Reformed Tradition and Theology and the Reformed Tradition. In the former chapter the author suggest that "At least nine identifiable motifs have significantly shaped the Reformed style of being a Christian"(p67). In his estimation the ethos of the Reformed tradition includes motifs such as: the majesty and the praise of God; the polemic against idolatry; the working out of the Divine Purpose in history; ethics, a life of holiness; the life of the mind as the service of God; preaching, the organized church and pastoral care, the disciplined life; and simplicity.

In the chapter Theology and the Reformed Tradition the author consider the characteristics, developments, and representatives of Reformed theology. His examination of the theology's characteristics covers issues at the very heart of Christianity: theology of the holy catholic church, theocentric theology, theology of the Bible, predestination, Creator/creature distinction, theology as a practical science and theology as wisdom. In the chapters introduction the author writes; "The reformed tradition has emphasized the vocation of the Christian to be a theologian and, more specifically, a responsible theologian of Christian faith"(p87) and that "The uniqueness of the Reformed tradition is not that it insists that everyone is a theologian but that it insists that everyone should be a responsible theologian who can speak intelligibly about the faith"(p87).

In the closing chapter where the author considers the future of the tradition we find this quote: "The future can be faced without fanaticism, without ingratitude, and without presumption. Fanaticism takes the future into its own hands because it despairs of God. Ingratitude discards the wisdom of the tradition because it cannot be simply repeated. Presumption forfeits personal responsibility because it forgets that God elects to service and to the fulfillment of his purposes. Faith serves God and trusts God for the future." (p222)

If you don't mind a book with an educational feel and a textbook-like structure you will not mind this work. It was interesting and full of insight into an increasingly vibrant sector of Christianity. I recommend it.

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