Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thinking Through Reformed Theology, Part 3

There are several important factors to realize in any investigation of Reformed Theology. In order to best help you think through the Doctrines of Grace, as they are sometimes called, and to counter the horribly poor research and characterizations that some give to the Reformed community, I have listed these five points for you to keep in mind as you do your homework.

1) Reformed Theology is Evangelical- The term “Evangelical” has been applied across the board to Orthodox Christians of various theological systems. Today Evangelicals are composed of both those who are Arminian, and those who are Calvinistic. The term is, to quote John Frame, an “umbrella-term, covering both Reformed and non-Reformed Christians who [hold] high views of Scripture and adhere to the ‘fundamentals of the faith.’” It is important to realize that Reformed and non-Reformed Christians are united on many of the most important Biblical doctrines: God, man, Jesus Christ, Salvation by grace through faith, Scripture, prayer, and the need to spread the gospel message (this last point will need to be addressed in more detail, and will be in a moment). Throughout Christian history many of the most influential and beloved Christian heroes of all time were Reformed in their theology: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, C.H. Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, W.A. Criswell, Martin Luther, John Calvin, St. Augustine, Isaac Watts, William Cowper, John Newton, John Bunyan, John Piper, John MacArthur, James Montgomery Boice, D. James Kennedy, Joni Erickson Tada, R.C. Sproul, and many more. So Reformed Theology is still orthodox; that’s very important to remember.

2) Reformed Theology is Evangelistic- This has often been denied by opponents of Reformed Theology. Many assert that since Calvinists believe in predestination that they do not believe in evangelism, this is wholly un-true. What they believe, instead, is that God does have an elect whom He has foreordained for salvation, but He does not foreordain the ends without foreordaining the means. The means by which God brings all His elect to salvation is through the hearing of the gospel, the repentance of sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So the need for evangelism is huge! None of God’s elect will be lost, all will hear the gospel and believe- because God does not elect in vain- but it is for this reason that so many Calvinists have been passionate about missions. If all of God’s elect will receive Christ, then missions and evangelism can never fail! So many of Christianity’s greatest missionaries and evangelists were Reformed in their theology: David Brainerd, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John G. Paton, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, George Whitefield, C.H. Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, Andrew Bonar, George Muller, Ichabod Spencer, Richard Baxter, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and many others. It is important to realize that no matter what the characterizations of Calvinism say, they are wholly evangelistic and passionate for missions.

3) Reformed Faith is Spread Across Denominations- When I first found myself inclined towards this theological system I thought that meant I had to become Presbyterian, since everyone whom I was reading at the time was Presbyterian. But the truth is that Reformed Theology reaches into various denominations across the spectrum of Orthodox Protestantism. George Whitefield was a Calvinistic Methodist; Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Charismatics too have their Calvinist figures. Within the Baptist tradition alone there is a long line of Reformed theologians and preachers. Many of the earliest English Baptists were Calvinists: John Spilsbury, Benjamin Keach, William Kiffin, John Bunyan, etc. The first British and American Missionaries were Baptists and Calvinists: Carey and the Judsons. The Founders of the SBC were Reformed- William Johnson and Richard Fuller (as well as were many of its other Presidents). The Founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were Calvinists, so was its first faculty: James P. Boyce, John Broadus, P.H. Mell, and Basil Manly Jr. There is no one denomination that holds the rights to Reformed theology. Of course many more within Presbyterianism have been Reformed than have been within Methodism, but nonetheless there is no attribute of the system that is tied to one particular denomination.

4) Reformed Theology is Predestinarian- This is probably the leading difference between Reformed theology and other forms of evangelicalism. Every group must wrestle with the words “elect” and “predestined,” for they are found in Scripture (Ephesians 1:3-5, Romans 9, Romans 8:29-30, etc.). The ways that Arminians handle these texts is different from how Calvinists do, and so a thorough investigation of Reformed theology will need to look at Scripture and see how both sides have handled the various texts- A good book to help on this is Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views- Dave Hunt and James White. Simply put, the way the Reformed tradition has handled predestination is as follows: God, in His grace and love, has appointed a select group of men and women out of the whole human race to be saved, not an account of anything that they have done, but wholly out of the mere pleasure of His will. Not based on any foreseen faith or action, but based on grace. In this light men are not elected because they have believed in Jesus (the Arminian interpretation) but they believe in Jesus because they are elect (John 6:44).

5) Reformed Theology is Humbling- John Newton, a Calvinist, once wrote, “I have never despaired of God’s saving any man since He saved me.” This is the attitude that Reformed Theology should generate (the fact that it sometimes does not generate this attitude is not a discredit to the system, but an evidence of man’s sinfulness). When once man realizes how Sovereign and powerful God is, that man is doomed to sin and hell without God’s intervening and awakening His heart to new life in Christ, he is truly humbled. A realization that you can do nothing to save yourself, that it is all of God’s grace, that you have done nothing to deserve salvation or to earn it, is the most humbling of all things. Those who have throughout history loved Reformed Theology have been pressed to see a big view of God and a properly low view of themselves. Puritanism and old Calvinism were not distributors of low self-esteem; they understood that by painting the Biblical view of man as one deep in the depths of sin, dead in his transgressions, was to make the beauty of grace all that more amazing before a man’s eyes.

With these five points in mind I hope you will pursue a serious study of this subject, for it will be well worth your efforts. As I continue through this series feel free to post comments, corrections, questions, and even POLITE disagreements :) .


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