Reformed Confessions Harmonized, edited by Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson; Baker Books, 1999, 271 pp. $19.99.
Reviewed by Stephen Haines
This large format book (8.5" x 11") offers the reader a convenient way to compare seven of the most important Reformed confessional standards in parallel columns. From the Swiss family of documents, Beeke and Ferguson have chosen the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566; the Dutch-German tradition is represented by the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619). The editors have chosen from the Scottish-English heritage the Westminster Confession of Faith and the related Shorter and Larger Catechisms (1647).
The brief historical introduction to the Reformed confessions is an aid to those of us not as familiar with the Swiss and Dutch-German traditions as we are with the English confessional history.
The harmonization follows the order of subjects of the Belgic Confession, the oldest confession used in the comparison. The most standard English translations have been used with minimal updating of spelling and punctuation. The editors believe that "this harmony will promote easy access to the content of great Reformed confessions and will also help Dutch Reformed, Hungarian Reformed, English Presbyterian, and other Reformed Christians gain a deeper appreciation for one another's confessions." The major divisions are: Theology, Anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology.
Theology includes the being and attributes of God, Scripture, the Trinity, and God's decrees and predestination. Anthropology includes the harmonization of sections dealing with free will and inability. Soteriology includes the sections dealing with the law, assurance, and Christian liberty.
The parallel columns include the Scripture references and footnotes that appear in the various confessions and catechisms. By necessity the page layout is not uniform, as the seven documents treat subjects with differing emphases and elaboration.
The 24 page Selected Bibliography is especially welcome and useful. Beeke offers his opinion on the relevant literature for each of the 37 articles of the Belgic Confession. Each article ends with several suggested works that provide a sound starting point. Perhaps the author will publish this bibliography separately to help all of us quickly locate the most helpful works on each subject.