Heidelcast listener Wes, who describes himself as a “newcomer to the Reformed faith,” writes to ask for recommendations to build a “firm foundation in Reformed theology.” Here are some preliminary recommendations. You are welcome to add your recommendations in the comments. To be added to the list the title must be intended to help the reader understand the Reformed theology, piety, and practice as confessed by the Reformed churches in such documents as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, or the Westminster Standards.
The most obvious place to begin is the Reformed confessions themselves. These are the eccelsiastical summaries of the Christian faith in the Reformed tradition. In these documents, the churches expressed their official interpretation of God’s Word on those things they considered most essential. This is how the churches intend for you to learn theology (doctrine), piety (prayer, worship), and practice (the Christian life). Start with the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Canons of Dort (1619). See also the Westminster Confession (1648), the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648), and the Westminster Larger Catechism (1648).
After reading, meditating on, and perhaps even memorizing the Heidelberg or the Westminster Shorter Catechism, here are some explanations of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice that I think might be helpful.
- Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. James Clark. Lewes: Focus Christian Ministries Trust, 1992. This is one of the first attempts, in the middle of the 16th century, to try to explain the Reformed faith to those without much background. As of this writing it is not available on Amazon but it is still available through libraries via inter-library loan. Call your local library.
- R. Scott Clark, What Must A Christian Believe?
- Louis Berkhof, A Summary of Christian Doctrine. Banner of Truth, 1960. It has long been a tradition for Reformed theologians to produce different versions of their dogmatics or systematic theologies, a full edition (sometimes running to multiple volumes), intended for pastors and theologians, a one-volume handbook, intended for elders and Sunday School teachers, and a summary, intended for catechism students. More recently Mike Horton has done this. His summary or introductory volume is Core Christianity. The larger one-volume edition is Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples.
- Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. Updated edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.
- Peter Dathenus, The Pearl of Christian Comfort, trans. A. Blok (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997). An excellent example of the confessional Reformed piety of the late 16th and early 17th centuries and a very good treatment of the question of assurance of faith.
- Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored. Grand Rapids: Reformed Fellowship, 2012. This is a great place to start learning covenant theology. Here is a course on covenant theology and baptism.
- Ken Golden, Presbytopia: What It Means To Be Presbyterian. Christian Focus, 2016. Here’s an interview with Ken.
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. New York: MacMillan, 1923. When I read this book 30 years ago or so, it was as if Machen had written it yesterday. Nothing has changed fundamentally and Machen’s analysis is still dead-on. When Van Til urged “fortiter in re, suaviter in modo,” he was thinking of Machen. One hopes this work will whet your appetite for more.
- It Takes Time To Become Reformed
- Pilgrims (And Their Hosts)
- Why (Some) Reformed People Are Such Jerks
- Resources For Those Beginning To Study Covenant Theology
- R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007. One of the reasons I wrote this book was to help newcomers to the Reformed theology, piety, and practice avoid some of the culs-de-sac into which newcomers often wander.
- How Should A Lay Christian Learn Theology?
- Discovering The Reformed Confession
- Here is a library of other resource posts.
- Here is an older, longer, and more advanced reading list that I update from time to time.
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I’d like to add that the daily installments from the various Reformed confessions that RubeRad has set up so they will arrive via e-mail are particularly useful. It’s a great way to start each day and you can work through all of them during the calendar year.