Basics of the Reformed Faith Series: What Is the Lord's Supper and What Is Conversion
Reformed Christians are notorious for recommending books, myself included. Over the years, I have had dozens of conversations about the Reformed faith, which, in many cases, have ended with a book suggestion. I have, on select occasions, even gone as far as to purchase the book(s) for the interested party or loaned to them my personal copy--so long as they promised to read it and return it! I have noticed, however, that this approach has only rarely been successful. For more times than not, the books I recommended were simply more than the inquirer bargained for, providing either too much information on the subject or laden with theological jargon, a language largely inaccessible to the average reader.
The difficulty is this: it is simply not easy to find a short and concise treatment of reformed doctrines that are designed with the inquirer or congregant in mind. This is why the "Basics of the Reformed Faith" booklet series by P&R publishing is not a moment too soon. In the space of roughly thirty pages, pastor theologians take on crucial but often confusing theological subjects in a manner accessible to the average reader.
What is the Lord's Supper?
The latest contribution to this series, Richard Phillips booklet What is the Lord's Supper, is no different. The sound Biblical instruction in plain language that so many of us have come to expect from Rick Philips is here found in his treatment of the Lord's Supper. He introduces this subject by first identifying the reasons why the idea of "sacramental grace" has fallen on hard times and why today's evangelicals must again give the Table its proper place of importance in worship--the place Jesus' intended at its establishment.
Phillips attempts to establish the proper place of the Lord's Supper by surveying key Biblical passages regarding the nature of the Supper, including the accounts of its institution in the synoptic gospels and Paul's explanation in I Cor.10 and 11. Not neglecting the foreshadowing of this new covenant meal in the Old Testament, Phillips traces the genesis of the Lord's Supper back to the rite of Passover (see Exodus 12), observing Jesus' careful intention to connect the two feasts and his replacement of the former with the latter.
Next, Phillips addresses the important theological issues surrounding the Supper, paying closest attention to the controversies regarding Christ's presence in the sacrament, the nature and efficacy of the Supper as a means of grace, and the question of the sacrament's necessity for salvation. Phillips tackles these subjects in turn by highlighting the differences between the opposing views and then setting forth a supremely Biblical view of the Table.
Finally, Phillips addresses the important pastoral concerns with the presentation of the Lord's Supper and to whom the Lord's Supper should be administered. In his treatment of this oft-debated subject, Philips sticks close to the text of Scripture and helps shed light on Paul's discussion of participating in the Lord's Supper in "an unworthy manner" (I Cor.11:27).
In this short booklet, Phillips accomplishes a masterful feat. He provides us a detailed and thorough treatment of the Lord's Supper, while being sensitive to the needs and interests of the inquirer and congregant. Anyone interested in this subject should start right here.
What is True Conversion?
Another recent release in this same series is Stephen Smallman's treatise, What is True Conversion? Bringing years of pastoral wisdom to bear, Smallman discusses true conversion from the point of the newly converted or those Christians who have done little to no analysis of their conversion experience.
To begin this discussion, Smallman recounts the twists and turns of his own conversion experience and the glorious "before and after" nature of God's work of grace in his life. Smallman, then, encourages us to tell our story, to make much of God's work of salvation in our lives. But before we do, he challenges us to be theologically correct in our evaluation of what happened. To help us in this, Smallman weaves together Scripture, experience, and confessional statements to explain both the role each member of the Godhead takes in salvation and the terms Scriptures uses to describe conversion.
Though Smallman's own personal conversion experience was sudden and quite dramatic, he is careful not force everyone's conversion experience into the same mold. The Spirit, as he freely admits, often takes a long time to bring people to the point where they are willing to place faith in Jesus Christ.
Conversion, a subject often confusing and laden with misnomer, is here treated by Smallman with both personal and theological care. He has provided a well balanced and peculiarly insightful explanation of the very personal and often difficult to describe experience we call conversion.
By Rick Phillips and Stephen Smallman - Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2005
Review by Nate Shurden