Reformation Trust provided this copy for a honest review on my part, so here it is:
Rev. Hyde offers readers a primer on the history and doctrine of the Reformed Church, focusing mainly on the 3 Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).
Although an Evangelical Baptist, I am indebted to the 3 forms more than any other confession, catechism, or doctrinal formulation. I welcome with joy this brief book which introduces many to a heritage that is little-known in the broader American Evangelical Church.
Rev. Hyde takes great care to represent Reformed theology as a religion of the heart and mind. Hyde states,
“God has established an inseparable connection between truth and godliness. If truth remains in our heads but does not proceed to dwell in our hearts and find expression in our conduct, then we are no different, James says, than the devils (James 2:18-19).”
Many have criticized Reformed theology as being arrogant and cerebral. While there are some who may unfortunately represent the Reformed heritage in such a way, this certainly is unrepresentative of the whole. Hyde commends Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan’s quote, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and finally a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.” Hyde reminds us that we are first Christians, and secondly catholics. Catholic in the sense that we affirm solidarity with the church behind us, the church around us, and the church ahead of us.
Hyde also reminds us that Reformed theology highlights the importance of Sanctification. While many may first think of God’s sovereignty and Justification as key Reformed doctrines, the Reformers cared just as much about holy living. Hyde notes:
“Our Reformed fathers focused heavily on holy living. The volume of teachings they devoted to sanctification in their confessions and catechisms is striking. The Heidelberg Catechism devotes forty-four of its 129 questions and answers, more than one-third of its material, to sanctification, while the Westminster Larger Catechism devotes an impressive eighty-two of 196 questions and answers (42 percent) to this subject. By this emphasis, the Reformed churches declared that Calvinism is no mere religion of “head knowledge,” and we cannot live as if it makes us the “frozen chosen,” as we are sometimes derisively known. It is a religion of head and heart.”
The last emphasis that I found helpful was Hyde’s treatment of the Church and the centrality of the means of grace through Word and Sacraments. He reminds us that,
“It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, that creates the people of God. The gospel not only saves us from our sins and the wrath of God, it places us in vital union with Jesus Christ and other Christians. Thus, the church is the fruit of the gospel; it is not our own creation, but a creation of the triune God of grace.”
The only disappointment I had was Hyde’s neglect of the Reformed Baptist heritage in its 1644 and 1689 confessions. Perhaps Hyde doesn’t acknowledge the London Baptist confession as representative of what constitutes a “Reformed Church”. He does however make mention of the likes of William Carey and Adoniram Judson when citing Reformed involvement in Missions. I certainly hope that Hyde’s neglect of the Reformed Baptist heritage, even in brief, was due to the focus of his work and need to redact accordingly. If, however, he doesn’t view the Reformed Baptist confession as part of the “Reformed Church”, then he should also not list Baptist missionaries in his effort to defend Reformed Theology against the attack that missions is neglected in such circles. You can’t have it both ways Rev. Hyde. If even you added a paragraph to mention the Reformed Baptist confessions, you would at least have been free from the perception that you selectively mention Baptist missionaries, while seemingly not viewing Baptists as “Reformed” in your broader historical treatment.
UPDATE: Rev. Hyde was kind enough to contact me on 11.11.2011 with a link to an interview he had with Tim Challies on some of the issues I addressed in regards to Baptists.
The Bottom Line:
Rev. Hyde does us all a great service in this book, which serves as a great primer to the great confessional heritage of the Reformed Church. He corrects common stereotypes that Reformed folk are uptight prudes who care only about how one thinks about God. The fact is that the Heidelberg Catechism was written and affirmed by folks whose lives were on the line, thus manifesting a piety that involved firm convictions of mind AND heart.
Hyde was once a Pentecostal, who was turned on to the 5 points of Calvinism by a Pentecostal College professor, who he remains somewhat indebted to. My story is very similar. Where our stories vary is that Hyde has found refuge in a rich confessional tradition, whereas I have learned from the confessions a great deal, but remain an Evangelical. I happen to subscribe to the 3 Forms with a few minor adjustments. I see myself a product of the confessional tradition, but remain a Reformed-minded Evangelical. In this sense, I think I heed “Rabbi” Duncan’s words (with the following revision):
“I’m first a Christian, next an Evangelical, then a Calvinist, fourth a Covenantal Baptist and finally an Anglican (liturgy and partly ecclesiology). I cannot reverse the order.”