Like the earlier book, To Be Reformed addresses a broad audience, situating the Reformed tradition within the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” He shows what Reformed Christians have in common with all Christians (incarnation and Trinity) and what we share with other Protestants (primacy of the Bible, justification by grace through faith, and priesthood of all believers), before turning to distinctive Reformed “accents” (grace of Jesus Christ, sovereignty of God, and the Christian community empowered by the Spirit). He then explores four aspects of Christian living that are particularly informed by Reformed theology, each of which counters a dominant thread in contemporary U.S. culture.
The titles of the chapters reveal both the Reformed themes and the cultural context to which they respond: “Gratitude in an Age of Achievement,” “Worship in an Age of Self-Fulfillment,” “Community in an Age of Individualism,” and “Justice in an Age of Self-Interest.” New here are opening chapters on the significance of the term “Reformed” and the value of tradition (a fine chapter which might have been titled “Remembering the Past in an Age of Novelty”), plus a final “missional postscript,” calling on the church to attend to new possibilities into which God might be sending us.
Throughout the book, Small shows deepened engagement with the diversity of Reformed voices around the world and next door (particularly feminist/womanist and African-American Reformed theologians). With regard to tradition, Small offers a winsome image of how we rightly honor the past: neither by trying to reinvent some pure church of an earlier time, nor by ignoring the past in order to “press toward a more enlightened future.” Instead, we sit in a circle with saints who have gone before us, and “Jesus Christ is at the center of our circle; our conversation with one another is about God with us, about the story of God’s Way in the world.” This image provides a clue to the depth and resilience of Reformed Christianity. Drawing on the old motto ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum dei, Small reminds his audience that “the church is always to be reformed by God.” That is, we are in conversation with the church that has been reformed in the past, which helps us attend to God’s word and spirit at work even now.
In a time when too many church conversations are driven by lament and fear, this book comes as a welcome reminder of the best theological core of our tradition: the grace of Jesus Christ, the sovereign love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. If we continue to sit in the circle of the saints attending to this holy triune God, then we need not fear when the church continues to be reformed.
Martha Moore-Keish is associate professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.