Book Review: Always Reformed, edited by R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim
As the crisp, cool days of Autumn grow shorter and the blazing trees shrug off their fleeting glories to stand stark against the frozen sky, we may know with a sighing certainty that winter is indeed coming. Soon, the fresh-harvested fields will snuggle up beneath a blanket of white for a long, deep slumber, and the shopping malls will spring up everywhere with those interminably various â€œsampler packs,â€ enticing gift-seeking consumers with an assortment of the very best wares that can be had in dark chocolates, exotic coffees, hearty sausages and fine cheeses. Soon, those who are unfamiliar with these sophisticated luxuries, taking advantage of a cozy living room and a few days off work, will be introduced to a new world of pleasure, with time to prove all its best offerings and, if things go well, develop an appetite for further exploration in favorite specimens. Perhaps it is only the nostalgia associated with the time of year, but I can think of no better analogy for the recent publication of Always Reformed, a festschrift in honor of W. Robert Godfrey, with a remarkable array of contributors. If you want the â€œsampler packâ€ of the best the conservative, confessional Reformed community has to offer on a wide smattering of topics, then carve out some time this winter to digest this admirable assortment of essays.
Bob Godfrey is certainly a man of various passions, if this collection of writings in his honor has any semblance of authenticity. But even so, why would someone who is unacquainted with this man be willing to give up a couple afternoons of his life to figure out what those interests are? I would suggest this: it is because all of his interests tend toward tracing out the particulars of what he would call a comprehensive, consistent, Christocentric, and committed Calvinism. At a time in which Calvinism is merely a synonym for the five petals of the TULIP, and when the label Reformed is applied to virtually anyone who holds to this minimalistic set of doctrines, regardless of his broader doctrine, piety, and worship, it is refreshing to see a picture of what a Calvinism that extends to every area of life might look like. And that is just what this collection does. It is not just an introduction to the man Bob Godfrey, it is an introduction to a conservative, confessional Reformed theology, practice, piety, and worship â€“ a total package which is as desperately needed in today's Evangelicalism as it is neglected and misunderstood.
The sampling of essay topics in the collection really is diverse. The reader will find something scintillating for just about every taste. There is a strong representation of historical themes, ranging from biographies of some remarkable men of the past to exegetical traditions of difficult passages to the chronicles of Reformed fellowships and denominations. There are also excursions into various theological questions, critiques of much of the contemporary piety and worship in the American Church, apologies for a historic, Reformed practice in worship â€“ and even a little literary criticism.
But if there is one thread that runs through the whole book, in spite of its variety, it has to be the centrality of the Church in all areas of life. I could repeat about this collection the words of David VanDrunen, a former student of Bob Godfrey: â€œBob had communicated â€“ as much informally as formally, as much in practice as in word â€“ the centrality of the church for Christian faith and life. Being a Reformed Christian was about much more than a few key doctrines, excellence at work, or personal devotions. Bob has helped to teach me, and many others, that the church's worship, preaching, sacraments, education, and discipline are central, not peripheral, to Christian pietyâ€. I find this sentiment to be as valid as it is un-American.
The highlights of the book are numerous. Scott Clark's fascinating history of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson was as much a true page-turner as you'll ever come across in a theological tome â€“ and what's more, it contained a moral of tremendous importance for today's church, which has derived so much of her piety and worship practices from Sister's influence, oftentimes, I would suspect, unwittingly. Kim Riddlebarger's appeal for a frequent use of the Lord's Supper is impeccably reasoned and soul-stirring in implication. Hywel Jones offers important, practical wisdom to pastors on the manner in which to preach and teach on the foundational Reformed doctrine of monergistic regeneration. Michael Horton explores the heart of what it really is to be Reformed and â€œalways reformingâ€ in a manner that is both confessional and vibrant, neither denigrating nor idolizing the great documents of the Reformation. D. G. Hart's brief biography of truth-warrior J. Gresham Machen was both fascinating and relevant to battles for the truth that still rage on today. A comprehensive look at the church of the twentieth-century all but demands an evaluation of Karl Barth, which Ryan Glomsrud has capably provided.
These and many other stimulating essays are waiting only for a quiet afternoon and a thoughtful reader to serve up an illustrious platter of delectable wares, a wide-ranging sampling of what it means to be a comprehensive, consistent, Christocentric, and committed Calvinist. By all means, carve out that afternoon sometime this winter, settle down in your favorite chair, and dig in.