Reformed Systematic Theology – Vol 3: Spirit and Salvation (book review)

Beeke, Joel R., and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 3: Spirit and Salvation.   Wheaton: Crossway, 2021. 1184 pp. $65.00

Biographical Sketch of the Authors

Joel R. Beeke serves as president and professor of systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. His other books include Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption, and Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace.

Paul M. Smalley is teaching assistant to Dr. Beeke and is pastor of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He co-authored Feasting with Christ: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper, John Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing God, and Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.


We previously reviewed Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 1: Revelation and God here, and Vol. 2: Man and Christ as well. The series will eventually be made up of 4 volumes. Vol 3 under review today, covers the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Salvation. The final volume will address the doctrine of the Church (ecclesiology) and Last Things (eschatology) in Vol 4.

In this volume, Beeke and Smally explain their reasoning for combining Pneumatology/ study of the Holy Spirit with Soteriology/ Salvation (19-20.) As they rightly put it, “In God’s plan of salvation, the Holy Spirit applies to the elect the salvation accomplished by the work of Christ as Mediator (Titus 3:5-6).” The authors have organized this volume by examining three perspectives of the Spirit’s work. First, there is the Historia Salutis or History of Salvation (49-224.) Next is the Spirit’s connection to the Ordo Salutis/ Order of Salvation (225-742.) Finally, the believer’s experience of salvation or Experientia Salutis is explored (743-1022.) I appreciated the fact that as with the other volumes in this series, Beeke and Smalley end each chapter with a “Sing to the Lord” call to worship, “Questions for Meditation or Discussion,” and “Questions for Deeper Reflection.” The authors also follow their pattern of including a Bibliography (1023-1066), a General Index (1065-1095), and an extensive Scripture Index (1097-1171).

The Spirit and the History of Salvation

As with any volume this size, it would be impossible to review everything it covers. For purposes of this review, we will look at a sampling from each of the three sections. First, in Section A on the Historia Salutis, Beeke and Smalley provide a helpful “Introduction to the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” in Chapter 1 (49-69.) They identify and respond to objections to the study of the Spirit and offer firm but irenic counsel, writing “The way to heal divisions among true Christians and distinguish them from false Christians is to learn the truth about the Holy Spirit from God’s Word and to embrace that truth with humility, love, and the fear of God (51).”

One of the many compelling reasons the authors give for why Christians should study the Spirit is that “To know the Spirit is to balance the Christian life (53).” They call on believers to balance Word and Spirit so as to avoid “the coldness of intellectualism” as well as “the confusion of emotionalism,” both of which can lead to skepticism. Perhaps most importantly, the study of the Spirit should lead to the knowledge of Christ and claiming him as our Savior (56-57.)

The Spirit and the Order of Salvation

I was thrilled to see that Beeke and Smalley devote substantial material to the doctrine of adoption in Part B of the Order of Salvation (577-624.) First, they examine Adoption and Biblical Theology (577-596), followed by Systematic and Relational Considerations (597-624.) God’s unmerited favor is immediately laid out when the authors write, “As an act of free grace, adoption is not based on any merit in the person, but only on God’s mercy exercised towards sinners as he wills (578.)”

The cultural background of adoption in the ancient Near East is explained (579-584.) Next, the authors lay out adoption in the biblical texts of the Gospels and New Testament epistles (584-594.) I was happy to discover that Beeke and Smalley at least imply that adoption is in view in the account of the baby Moses and Pharoah’s daughter in Exodus 2:10 (579.)

Chapter 26 serves as Adoption Part 2 where the authors make the brief but convincing case that David’s mercy towards Mephibosheth was a demonstration of “the type of God’s miraculous mercy that brings the weak and unworthy to sit as the King’s son at his table (597.)” They go on to explore adoption and systematic theology, effectively connecting adoption to the Reformed doctrine of the effectual call (605.) The authors reason that the effectual call results in the believer’s union with Christ and that adoption is “a grand benefit” of that union. Consequently, adoption brings about transformed relationships with the Triune God, the believer himself, the world, and the church (611-623.)

The Spirit and the Experience of Salvation

In their third and final section of this volume, the authors cover the Experientia Salutis or Experience of Salvation. They dedicate two chapters to assurance of salvation. Part 1 offers what Beeke and Smalley describe as “A Balanced, Biblical, Reformed Approach” to assurance (766-790), followed by Part 2’s look at “The Sealing, Earnest, Witness, and Firstfruits of the Spirit (791-810.)

Some readers may be troubled that the authors deny that “full assurance” is “essential” to saving faith (767.) The authors carefully go on to say that “Yes, it is possible to be saved without assurance, but it is not possible to be a healthy Christian without assurance.” Over and against the Roman Catholic tradition, the Reformed view affirms that assurance can be found and cultivated (768-788.)

Beeke and Smalley assert that Chapter 18 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) is preeminent among the historic confessions in its treatment of assurance. Much of what they offer on assurance is a helpful exposition of the WCF. They offer a bird’s eye view of the Bible’s teaching on assurance and conclude, “… assurance is possible for the believer in Christ and is ordinarily attainable through faith and obedience to God’s Word. However, not all believers possess assurance, and not all assurance is genuine (770.)” The authors appropriately go on to labor the point that assurance can only be found and grounded in faith in Christ alone (770-773.)


Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley’s Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 3: Spirit and Salvation is another theologically rich entry in what has already become a modern classic series. As with the previous volumes, the authors effectively balance academic theological precision with pastoral and devotional care. We look forward to Crossway’s release of the final volume later this year. Highly recommended.


A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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