Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Presbyterian Beliefs: A Brief Introduction

Donald K. McKim, Presbyterian Beliefs: A Brief Introduction. Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003. 126 pages. ISBN 9780664502539

What do Presbyterians believe? Donald K. McKim, a life-long Presbyterian seeks to answer this question. McKim is Academic and Reference Editor for Westminster John Knox Press. He is the author and editor of several books, including Introducing the Reformed Faith, Theological Turning Points, and the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms.

McKim, in Presbyterian Beliefs introduces the major beliefs of Presbyterians. Chapter one covers revelation. He distinguishes "general" and "Special Revelation." In chapter two, McKim presents the Presbyterian beliefs on the trinity. Chapters three and four discuss creation and providence. McKim notes, "The purpose of creation stories is not to tell us how God created; their purpose is to tell us that God created all things--'all things visible and invisible' " (22). In chapter four McKim states that the doctrine of providence is intended to comfort Christians.

In part two, chapters five through ten, McKim discusses human beings, sin, Christ, the Holy Spirit, election, and salvation. Human are created in the image of God. McKim says that because of original sin, humans "possess a sinful nature which we are totally unable to change by ourselves" (50). In chapter seven the author discusses Christology. He writes that Jesus Christ is both fully divine and fully human. In the chapter on election and predestination, McKim stresses there have been differences among leading reformed theologians, such as John Calvin, Calvin's followers, and Karl Barth. McKim states that "Election, or predestination, is another way of saying that we are saved by God's grace. It seems that the strong doctrines of election and predestination have been softened in this chapter. The author disagrees with double predestination. The author asserts, "We do not sit around speculating about whether or not God has elected us before all eternity to be saved. . . . We ask ourselves: Do I believe in Jesus Christ?" (74).  McKIm states that "A basic instinct of Presbyterian belief is that God is the one who takes the initiative" (78). I think even classical arminianism will agree with this idea. Another distinctive view of the Presbyterians is that a believer will not lose their salvation. This is known as the perseverance of the saints.

In part three McKim discusses the Church, the Christian Life, and the Future Life. He states that Christian life can begin in the church and be nourished in the church. He distinguishes between the visible and invisible church. McKim says that Presbyterians recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. These two sacraments nourish the faith. In chapter twelve Mckim states that "Sanctification means the development of our spiritual character, the nature of who we are as Christians" (103). He disagrees with the idea that we can achieve sinless perfection in this life. The last chapter discusses last things. The author does not believe we can select a date when God's kingdom will come in His fulness. He even says Jesus spoke against doing this very thing. Instead, we must live our lives in expectancy that His coming can come at any time.

McKim's Presbyterian Beliefs: A Brief Introduction is a good introduction to basic Christian beliefs. It shows distinctive doctrines of Presbyterians, but emphasizes beliefs it has in common with other Christians. It would be a good guide for new Christians or a new member's class for Presbyterians. A good book to follow this one for Presbyterians would be McKim's book, Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers: Exploring Christian Faith. This book goes in a little more detail in discussing distinctive Presbyterian beliefs and practices. I recommend both books.

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