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With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession
With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession, by Daniel R. Hyde. Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, 2008, xi + 543 pages, $24.00.
With confessional Presbyterian churches worldwide, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has adopted the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as its secondary standards. The secondary standards of our sister bodies, sometimes called "continental Reformed" churches, are referred to as the Three Forms of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. As Daniel Hyde, a minister in the United Reformed Churches of North America, notes at the beginning of this book, the Belgic Confession tends to be the forgotten member of the trio, even among people in continental Reformed churches. Hyde has written a very fine book that should go far in remedying the relative unfamiliarity of this wonderful Reformed confession.
With Heart and Mouth helpfully begins with a narrative of the events surrounding the composition of the Belgic Confession (around 1560) and of its author, Guy de Brès. Following an outline of the contents of the thirty-six articles of the Belgic Confession, Hyde proceeds to offer commentary on each of the articles consecutively. Each chapter begins with the text of the article and ends with several study questions. Though this book is long, it does not read long, for Hyde's comments on each article are generally concise and to the point. If there is a weakness to the book as a whole, it is that certain matters presented in the Belgic Confession are dealt with quite briefly. Overall, however, I believe that Hyde struck the right balance between thoroughness and brevity.
I certainly recommend this book and now point out a number of reasons why. First, the Belgic Confession is a beautiful summary of Reformed doctrine, and Reformed Christiansincluding Presbyteriansare the poorer for not being acquainted with it. Hyde's book, if nothing else, places the text of this confession before us and does so in an accessible way that laypeople as well as trained theologians can find profitable. Along with the recent publication of Nicholaas Gootjes's The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources, the present book should stimulate renewed interest in this Confession.
Second, Hyde has done an excellent job in presenting the Belgic Confession in its historical context. His brief biography of its author, de Brès, is not only informative but also inspiring. De Brès suffered terrible persecution for professing and preaching the doctrines of the Belgic Confession, and his life is a great reminder to us who live in such comfortable circumstances that the truths of Christianity are literally worth dying for. As he expounds the text of the Confession itself, Hyde also helpfully compares it to its two main sources, the French Confession of 1559 and John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. In many places Hyde points out the opponents that de Brès had in mind, particularly Roman Catholics and Anabaptists. He also regularly relates the doctrine taught by the Confession to that of later Reformed theologians and confessional documents, including the Westminster Standards. All in all, Hyde successfully places the Belgic Confession within the ongoing development of early Reformed theology and church life.
Third, Hyde not only places the Belgic Confession in its historical context but also skillfully communicates its present relevance. With an eye especially to trends within contemporary American evangelicalism, he frequently attempts to show the implications of the Confession's doctrine for Christian life and worship. One of the very useful things about this book, appropriately, is that it explores what it means to be confessional as Reformed Christians and churches. Being Reformed is more than believing a few special doctrines. It encompasses a wide range of doctrines that cannot be separated from our worship and our way of life. Our doctrine makes all the difference in defining and forming who we are as a church of Jesus Christ.
Finally, With Heart and Mouth, even apart from its specific connection to the Belgic Confession, offers a fine summary and defense of Reformed doctrine. As a commentary on a confessional document, this book should not be mistaken for a systematic theology. Nevertheless, it covers a range of theological topics (moving generally from the doctrine of God to anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and finally eschatology) and consistently explains the basic biblical reasons why Reformed Christians have confessed these doctrines.
For all of these reasons, this book makes a valuable contribution to Reformed literature. Not only does it illuminate a document of historical importance for many Reformed churches worldwide, but it also expounds Reformed doctrine well and highlights the connection of Christian faith and life in a way accessible even to the non-theologically-educated. This would certainly be an excellent addition to the library of any Reformed or Presbyterian church.
Westminster Seminary California
Ordained Servant, August-September 2008.