Expanded Reformed Starter Pack
If I was being completely honest, I would recommend essentially my entire library plus another 150 books for every beginning Reformer. However, I would like to focus on the four main things that will help the newly Reformed person: Scripture, Systematic Theology, Creeds/Confessions, and Prayer/Worship. In a follow up article I will recommend books on Apologetics, Epistemology, and much much more.
Though linked are various websites, Amazon links and more, find these things as cheaply as possible. For example, you never know when Ligonier will do a “donate anything day,” and you never know what you’ll find at Half Price Books. Be a good steward; don’t go out and overnight ship all of the following resources from Amazon. Be smart. Find the balance between inexpensive and valuable investment.
Study Bible or Bible & Commentary Set
First and foremost for the Christian, a study Bible should be purchased. Or, a Bible with a commentary. There are benefits and drawbacks to each method, but here is the important thing: you can not interpret Scripture by yourself. You are a sinner and you read into the text what you would like.
I would personally recommend the Reformation Study Bible (hereafter RSB) in the ESV version and/or the Reformation Heritage Study Bible (hereafter RHSB). Both study Bibles contain Reformed confessions, book outlines, theological essays, and much more.
For a critical text perspective, study notes from men like R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer are the highlight of the RSB. For a traditional or Textus Receptus priority perspective, the RHSB offers just as fantastic study notes from men like Ian Goligher and Joel Beeke. I personally prefer the RSB for the critical text perspective, as well as the technological and digital resources that come with it.
There are many great study Bibles out there, and many will run to them due to popularity. No matter what you get, there will be things to digest and to spit out; the author of the study notes is not inspired.
Must have for everyone:
- Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Pick one of the following to purchase, but aim to read/borrow them all:
- Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin
- Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge
- Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck
- Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof
- The Christian Faith by Michael Horton
- Systematic Theology by John Frame
Additional systematic for us Baptists:
- Abstract of Systematic Theology by James P. Boyce
I know this is a lot; however, one of the first things you need to get used to is how many books you will read as a Reformed person. Also keep in mind that Systematic Theologies are references. Feel free to read these books straight through if you please, but I find it much more helpful to wait until I have a question, look it up in the systematic theology section of my personal library, and read the section or chapter pertaining to the issue I am having.
Don’t get all of these at once. In fact, don’t feel obligated to get more than one or two. Go to your local seminary and read a chapter from each, and see which is most beneficial for you. The great thing about libraries is that you don’t have to buy the book, and if it’s a private library, most will be okay with you reading their material if you keep it there.
Calvin’s Institutes are what propelled the Reformation. What Luther started with Justification, Calvin propelled with Systematic Theology. The brightest of today’s minds refer back to Calvin’s masterpiece, and it is a great start for everyone. The great thing? You can find it free online. I prefer a paper, bound copy, but a theologian on a budget can get a lot of these works for free or extremely cheap.
For modern approaches, Michael Horton and John Frame are great places to go. Notice that when you read these two, you’ll observe an extremely different approach to kingdom theology. That’s good. Wrestle with the tension and go further in your study.
Confessions, Catechisms, and Creeds
Must have creeds (purchase none):
Must have confessions (purchase first two):
- Westminster Confession of Faith (1646 Original or American Update)
- 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
- Canons of Dort
- Belgic Confession
Must have catechisms (purchase first two):
The importance of creeds, catechisms, and confessions cannot be overstated. Of course, they are not Scripture, but they very rightly reflective of Scripture’s basic truths. To be reformed is to be confessional and creedal.
Think of the creeds as Scripture’s bullet point essentials, the confessions as what tie us together, and the catechisms as mini-systematic theologies in an easy Q&A format. To be a part of the Reformed tradition, you need to know where your theology comes from and why it is so important.
As a Reformed Baptist, I hold to all of the creeds and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, also known as the Second London Baptist Confession. It is important to note that in order to be Reformed, the confessions have to be a part of your beliefs and convictions. Loose and strict subscription arguments to the side, the 1689 Confession is where I go to test my convictions for consistency, not because is is my highest authority, but they rightly reflect my interpretation of Scripture. Buy the leather-bound 1689 or WCF. You won’t regret it.
A great place to start for those who are lost on this whole confessional business is the New City Catechism. The New City Catechism is an extraordinary resource with videos on each question of the catechism and much more. For further catechizing, the Westminster Standards (comprised of the confession, shorter and larger catechism, and a few other things) and for us baptists, the of Keach’s Baptist Catechism and the Orthodox Catechism.
Worship & Prayer
The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotionals. It would benefit each in every Christian in learning how to pray in praying through these and the Psalms.
Don’t be cheap and get the paperback version of the VoV. It’s tempting, I know. I recommend getting the cheapest version of everything, from systematic theologies to classic Christian literature. Don’t do this for the VoV. Why?
First of all, Joe Thorn tells you to buy the leather bound version. Why? Because you’ll use as a Bible companion. You’ll pray out of it three times a day for 13 weeks (should you follow the Joe Thorn schedule) and it will wear down quickly.
Secondly, because Joe Thorn tells you to buy the leather bound version. Why? Because the page numbers are consistent in the Leather Bound VoV with Joe Thorn’s recommended schedule. So listen to Joe, he’s smart.
What distinguishes us Reformed folk from the rest of the Evangelical world is how we see worship. The Regulative Principle of Worship is central to us, whether we take the Frame view (closer to myself) or the Exclusive Psalmody view.
Included in this is the need to sing the Psalms; we are commanded to sing them. The best way in my opinion is via the 1650 Scottish Psalter. Everything is in Common Metre (if you don’t know music, this is good for you) and the tunes can be sung as prescribed to songs you know even better.
Furthermore, the Trinity Hymnal is a good resource for hymns. To be completely honest, many of the Trinity Hymnal’s melodies are terrible, but the theology is solid. So, pick the ones that don’t require a vocal coach and fear plugs to sing, and find some modern melodies to sing these too.