Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Some Good Resources for Better Understanding Reformed and Covenant Theology

I have been convinced lately that Reformed Theology is very misunderstood, and thus the popular responses have been equally misled.

Primarily, when referring to "Reformed" generally do not understand the theology fully explained and defined. Thus there are a couple camps that call themselves "Reformed" that don't actually represent a fully, nor historically Reformed position.

For one, many calling themselves "Reformed," simply think being "Reformed" means signing on to a version of TULIP (I was one of these folks once).  This mostly has to do with the "young restless and reformed" movement of primarily the "Reformed Baptist" persuasion.  See this book and this blog for an Arminian response to this movement (a different response than I am giving here, or course).  Unfortunately, those who respond to this movement, are not actually responding to "Reformed Theology," just a segment of it (and even that is more than I would like to concede).  But for some who have understood that Reformed Theology cannot be fully grasped without an understanding of covenants, there has been a movement of (what I call) closet-covenant theologians, proposing a type of "progressive dispensationalism."  However, many of these progressive-types are not all "Reformed" (to muddy the water).  This final group, is actually quite vocal right now - more than my Covenant Theologian brothers!

Second, there is another, less visible, camp that comes from a historic Reformed background, but like many Reformed-congregationalist churches, now mostly in the UCC, were and are more influenced by their culture and their presuppositions than their Reformed Theology.  This "less visible" camp believes being "truly" Reformed is informed by many conservative, Second Great Awakening, American, evangelical, pietistic notions...  That's a mouth full!  But it describes the position pretty closely.  This view is not really published, per se, other than some blogging that seeks to maintain a status quo of some sort. 

In light of this, last week I engaged in a dialogue about what Reformed Theology actually is. I essentially stated that Reformed Theology perceived correctly cannot be understood without understanding Covenant Theology.  The conversation went into the direction of asking what books are actually out there that would be good to read on Covenant Theology, and that is the essential purpose of this blog post.  Specifically, what should we read as a good education in Reformed and/or Covenant Theology, and what can we offer to others, especially our congregants, as good reading on this theology and its implications?  This was a tougher question than I realized, but I came up with a list with the help of Greg Perry at Covenant Seminary:

Before the list, I would say it is my opinion that anything polemical, as in, "why I am," "why I am not," "against X" and "for X" have their uses, but fall back into the trap of TULIP and the endless debates that really do not characterize Reformed Theology is the right light. 

Also, as the list below will suggest.  I believe that Reformed/Covenant Theology is best defined by Genesis 1-4 and Colossians 1, more than (though not without) Romans 8-11 or Rev. 20 (I am resisting saying that "Reformed/Covenant Theology is best defined by the Bible").

So I suggested (again, with the help of Greg):

Creation Regained  by Albert M. Wolters

Far as the Curse is Found by Michael Williams

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantiga

The Mission of God's People by Chris Wright
Center Church by Tim Keller

Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (for a longer read, which I agree with but it is not one to just read quickly - you're welcome Frank!)

Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint (yesterday I saw a review of this new-ish book, reviewed by my friend Peter Green.  [disclaimer] I have not read the book yet, but telling by Peter's review, it would be a good one to add to the list.)

Each of these books above would give a fuller understanding of what Reformed Theology actually is by also defining Covenant Theology.  I am interested in other books to add to this list.  What are your suggestions?

I will add as a parting shot what I normally tell folks about my "Reformed Theology journey": For a long time I claimed to be "Reformed," but the moment I knew I was truly "Reformed" was the moment I felt closest to a "tree-hugger" (this was also the moment that I had my last 3-10 hr predestination vs. free-will debate!).  That is, there is much more to "Reformed" than your soteriology.   

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