Howard L. Rice. 1991. Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers. Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox Press.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
As a lifelong Calvinist and seminary graduate, Howard L. Rice’s Book, Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers, came as a surprising find. The term, spirituality, has a New-Age ring to it. In reading about spiritual practices, I accordingly assumed that I was straying from the reformed tradition. Thanks to Rice, I no longer feel that way.
Rice organizes his book into eight chapters, starting with an introduction and followed by seven topical chapters. The topics addressed are informative: The experience of God, problems and possibilities, prayer, study, consultation, the practice of discipleship, and discipline in the Christian life. None of these topics come as a surprise. The introduction starts with the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death? (7). At the time of publication, Rice was chaplain of the Seminary and a professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
Rice defines spirituality as: the pattern by which we shape our lives in response to our experience of God as a very real presence in and around us (45). He notes that: spirituality demands letting go of control, taking emotions seriously, and emphasizing being as of equal value with doing (49).
Rice highlights the Puritan experience in explaining the reformed tradition (12). For Puritans, the preferred term is piety, not spirituality, reflecting the reformed suspicion of private revelation and guarded attention to the more colorful spiritual gifts. In worship, Reformed spirituality focuses more on scripture and the sermon while, in individual practice, it focuses more on prayer and meditation.
Importance of Theology in Reformed Spirituality
Rice emphasizes the importance of theology in the reformed approach to spirituality. For example, Richard Baxtor (1615-1691; 37) sought renewal of his congregation through personal instruction in the catechisms. While this terribly un-modern technique sounds dated, I know of at least one pastor who successfully used it to energize a youth group. The catechisms help church members to appreciate the doctrines of the church and to relate them to life. Theology is not the only lens that Rice employs. He observes that we encounter God in experiences of conversion, ecstasy, visions and spoken words, intuition, transcendence, and incarnation (30-35). These observations normally qualify one as a charismatic in reformed circles!
Rice clarifies the role of small groups and church committees in the reformed spiritual life. Reformed theology is systemic, complex, and complete–small groups and committees help maintain spiritual balance. For the Calvinist, the spiritual life requires walking with a community of faith. Rice writes: that is why corporate worship, hearing the word preached, and sharing in common administration of the sacraments are so central for any Reformed understanding of the spiritual life (53).
As a text on reformed spiritually, Rice’s book was unique in helping me understand my own faith practices. Clearly, I might have benefited from Rice’s systemic presentation at a younger age. Rice deserves to be studied more than once and is suitable for small group discussion.
Baxtor, Richard 2007. The Reformed Pastor. Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust.