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What Is a Reformed Church? and What Is a True Calvinist?

Stephen Smallman, Philip Graham Ryken

Reviewed by: Larry Wilson

Date posted: 02/26/2006

What Is a Reformed Church? by Stephen Smallman. Published by P&R, 2003. Paperback, 28 pages, list price $3.50. What Is a True Calvinist? by Philip Graham Ryken. Published by P&R, 2003. Paperback, 32 pages, list price $3.50. Reviewed by editor Larry Wilson.

These two booklets begin a new series, Basics of the Reformed Faith, designed to introduce lay readers to Reformed distinctives. They are welcome resources for our churches.

What Is a Reformed Church? was written by Stephen Smallman, pastor of New Life Northeast PCA in Philadelphia. It sketches what it means to be Reformed. Smallman writes clearly and with a concern to communicate to those who are uninstructed in the Reformed faith. He shows that "Reformed" means much more than "the five points of Calvinism." Smallman highlights six facets of the Reformed faith: submission to Scripture, belief in the sovereignty of God (in providence and in salvation), a commitment to the covenant (including the unity of the Bible and the importance of the Old Testament for Christians), a high view of the law of God, a high view of the visible church (including church government and the sacraments), and a commitment to the kingdom of God. His treatment of these topics is generally faithful and clear.

The discussions of the church and the kingdom of God, however, leave some room for confusion. In contrast to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Smallman does not relate the kingdom of God to the church as the place where King Jesus manifests his saving rule working by his Spirit through and with the Word. Consequently, he omits the Reformed emphasis on the indispensability of the preaching of the Word and ignores church discipline. This is not to dismiss Smallman's pamphlet. It does address important needs. But I hope this significant omission is addressed in a future edition.

Philip Ryken, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, has written What Is a True Calvinist? Too often we grasp the doctrines of grace ("the five points of Calvinism"), but they don't grasp us. Ryken exposits Isaiah 6 to show what happens when the doctrines of grace really grip our heart. He points out six fruits of a true Calvinism: a God-conscious mind, intent on the majesty of God; a penitent spirit, intent on walking with God; a grateful heart, overflowing with thanksgiving; a submissive will, dependent upon and obedient to God; a holy life, positively consecrated to God; and a burning purpose, dedicated to the glory of God. Ryken shows that a true Calvinist will be tenderhearted and evangelistically minded, with a holy jealousy for God's glory.

These pamphlets, and others like them (for example, Banner of Truth publishes What Is the Reformed Faith? by John R. DeWitt, and The Practical Implications o f Calvinism, by AI Martin) begin to meet a great need for accessible, attractive resources for church literature tables, membership classes, and outreach.

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