Humans, argues Rev. Dr. Jonathan Master, “need clear answers to the biggest questions in life and the most consequential matters of eternity.” This is because “knowing what we believe about God, humanity, worship, and salvation is important.” These two simple convictions form the foundation of Master’s short but helpful Reformed Theology, an introduction to Reformational Calvinism.
Master is the president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina and a former Evangelical Baptist who holds a PhD from the University of Aberdeen. His book is a useful introduction to Reformed theology for educated laypeople trying to understand the commitments of Reformed churches broadly. Master has divided his work in to four sections. The first is a definitional chapter explaining what Reformed theology is. The second section focuses on scriptural foundations for Reformed commitments regarding the sovereignty of God. The third chapter defines covenantalism and explains why Reformed Protestants prioritize Convent theology. Finally, Master explains particular blessings he sees in Reformed theology.
This is a primer more than a heady theological treatise, so Master’s definition of Reformed theology is broad without being reductionistic. Anyone looking for a work litigating the latest controversies of theological minutiae among conservative Calvinists in North America is going to be disappointed. Master accepts the definition of Reformed theology as one of the two great theological traditions birthed out of the Reformation, the other being Lutheranism. Reformed theology, he writes, is committed to the Solas of the Reformation and to the doctine election, but he helpfully notes that while the TULIP acronym can be a useful summation of Reformed doctrine, TULIP does not fully encapsulate, or accurately describe, all of Reformed theology. A high view of scripture, Master notes, also typifies Reformed theology. Chapter two builds on chapter one by offering a full throated defense of God’s absolute sovereignty over his creation and over the eternal destiny of mankind. Evidence of God’s effectual calling from the Old Testament and the New Testament accompany of broad outline of Redemptive Theology in the Reformed tradition.
Covenants, Master argues, form the most important framework for understanding how Reformed theology works. God interacts with humans, Master tells his reader, in a covenantal fashion. Some readers may quibble with Master’s claim that the terms covenantal theology can be treated as more or less synonymous with Reformed theology, but given the semi-popular and lay audience of Reformed Theology, is likely that Master’s claim is true in practical terms for Reformed communicants coming from Revivalist or Evangelical backgrounds.
The book’s final chapter is the most compelling and is also the most pastoral. Reformed theology presents God’s people with a God who is in control, who is good, who can be trusted, and who can be relied on even in bad times. In this regard Master assumes the mantle of the Nineteenth Century Presbyterian William Swan Plumer who posited that Jehovah-Jireh—”God provides” or “The Lord will provide”—as the name that most perfectly presents who God is to His people.
Reformed Theology is a helpful and concise introduction to the Reformed faith that manages to be serious, pastoral, and also practical. The irenic spirit of Master’s work should please confessionalists and Evangelicals. While the work is obviously geared towards Presbyterians, Anglicans and other Reformational Protestants asking for a short work to understand Reformed priorities will find this short volume useful as well.