“Are you reformed?”
I get that question quite a bit as a Baptist attending a Presbyterian seminary (Westminster). It’s a tough question to answer. My answer depends on the context: What does “reformed” mean to the person asking the question?
What “Reformed” Used to Mean
“Reformed” properly refers to:
- The theological heritage of John Calvin, the Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Confession
- A commitment to covenant theology, including pedobaptism
- Belief in predestination and reprobation (i.e. TULIP, commonly called Calvinism)
- A preoccupation with the glory of God
- A preoccupation with the sovereignty of God
- A commitment to redemptive-historical hermeneutics (The whole focus of this website.)
As a credobaptist I can’t say that I’m in that heritage. However… that doesn’t mean I’m not reformed. It depends on the situation.
What “Reformed” Means Today
Like the term “evangelical” the meaning of “reformed” is changing. In the west today “reformed” theology has lost the implications of covenant theology, pedobaptism, and its credal heritage.
Today “reformed” has typically dropped the first two criteria and simply means: Continue reading
I am enjoying the current issue of Themelios. The article Do The Work of an Evangelist by D.A. Carson is truly excellent. It ties closely to the main theme of Armchair Theology so here is an excerpt with my commentary.
For some Christians, “the gospel” (equivalently, “the evangel”) is something you preach only to unconverted people. The gospel merely tips people into the kingdom; transformation and sanctification are sustained by discipleship. Once people become Christians, then the work of life transformation begins, often buttressed by various discipleship seminars: “Biblical Leadership,” “Learning to Pray,” “What to Do with Your Money,” “Christian Marriage,” and so forth—none of which falls under “gospel,” but only under post-gospel discipleship.
One of my main goals is to see the gospel applied to all life – especially growth in holiness:
In recent years, however, many preachers and theologians have convincingly argued that “gospel”/“evangel” is the larger category under which both evangelism and discipleship fall. In the NT, gospel is not everything—it is not law, for instance—but it is a very big thing, precisely because it is the unimaginably great news about what God is doing in and through King Jesus, especially in and through his cross and resurrection. A careful reading of Scripture shows how often Christian conduct is grounded in the gospel itself.
This was a game-changer for me a few years ago. Every time we see a command in the Bible it is prefaced with the gospel message. This isn’t limited to just the New Testament. Read Ex 20:2 and see how the ten commandments are prefaced with a message of God’s saving work for his people.
For instance, the gospel is to be obeyed (e.g., 2 Thess 1:8); certain behavior conforms to the gospel, while other behavior does not (1 Tim 1:10–11). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)—transparently, this is a gospel appeal. In short, in the NT the gospel is preached both to unbelievers and to believers. It calls unbelievers to repentance and faith; it calls believers to ongoing faith and conformity to Jesus.
Gospel ministry is ministry that is faithful to the gospel, that announces the gospel and applies the gospel and encourages people to believe the gospel and thus live out the gospel.
Here’s a quick note that Iain Duguid’s ebook Is Jesus in the Old Testament? is available for free download on the Westminster Bookstore website to help promote a sale on three of his commentaries.
If you scroll down you’ll also see deals on other books he wrote about finding the gospel in the Beatitudes and the lives of the patriarchs.
The Passover and subsequent exodus was the most significant redemptive event in the history of Israel. It’s primary symbol was the lamb that was sacrificed to prevent the same destruction that hit the houses of Egypt from striking the houses of Israel. It’s no wonder that the New Testament writers made reference to the Passover lamb when writing about Christ and the greater redemption he accomplished for us:
Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Cor 5:7
It’s great to draw analogies between OT redemptive acts of God and NT redemptive acts of God. But is it legitimate to say that the OT redemptive act was prophetic (i.e. predicted) the greater NT action? Take for instance:
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
John is referring to this description of the Passover lamb:
It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.
But the original context of Exodus 12 has no reference to a future event. It’s all about Israel’s situation in Egypt. So did John just pretend that it was a prophecy? Did he invent a new meaning for this text?
Why This Matters
This is a big deal because it could mean that John wasn’t being faithful to Scripture as he was writing Scripture. That would make us doubt at least John’s writings and then cast suspicion on the rest of the Bible as well.
It would also raise questions like: Continue reading
This is an exploration of what a Christo-yearning hermeneutic might look like.
Was your New Year’s resolution to read the Bible in a year? Genesis was interesting. Exodus is pretty riveting. But Leviticus? Not so much. This is going to sound somewhat blasphemous but…
Maybe Leviticus is supposed to be boring.
Why might that be? Vern Poythress explains:
Are you bored by the repetitious descriptions in Leviticus 1-9 of how each animal is sacrificed or the descriptions in Numbers 7 of the offerings of the tribes? There is more food for thought in these passages than we suspect, but in a sense we are meant to be bored.
Wait… we’re supposed to be bored? This is God’s word we’re talking about. Shouldn’t it be exciting and invigorating? Poythress continues: Continue reading
When we discuss theology, the study of the things of God, is it enough to know true things about God, true things about humanity, true things about the Temple and true things about other Bible doctrines? Augustus Strong answers:
Science is not only the observing, recording, verifying, and formulating of objective facts; it is also the recognition and explication of the relations between these facts, and the synthesis of both the facts and the rational principles which unite them in a comprehensive, rightly proportioned, and organic system.
- Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology
What does that mean?
Theology isn’t just about the facts of biblical doctrine. Theology needs to be about the relationships between truths:
- What do the doctrines mean together?
- How do the doctrines interact with one another?
- What do the doctrines build to?
Scattered bricks and timbers are not a house; severed arms, legs, heads and trunks from a dissecting room are not living men; and facts alone do not constitute science. Science = facts + relations;
Have you built a library of disconnected facts about God, the Bible and salvation? Or have you built a house from the bricks and timbers of your theology? Have you seen the living, breathing truth from the arms, legs head and torso of the doctrines of Scripture?
The relationship – the house or living body in Strong’s analogy – is God’s grand design to redeem his enemies into his family so that they might glorify and enjoy him forever.
If you know a doctrine but can’t explain how it connects to the Bible’s chief message of redemption and reconciliation, you don’t know that doctrine.
Without that framework, theology is just a pile of bricks and timber.
Doctrine is not enough.
The recent controversy over the PC USA voting the contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone” isn’t surprising. A quick summary from Timothy George:
The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.
The Bottom Line: They want to change “the wrath of God was satisfied” to “the love of God was magnified” because they find the idea of God the Father pouring out wrath for sin on God the Son objectionable.
On one hand, the news that a liberal Protestant denomination continues to act in a liberal way is not at all a shock and is just as newsworthy as the headline, “Pope found to be Catholic.”
On the other hand, it is a good moment for reflection:
- Why did Jesus need to die?
- Why did Jesus need to die on the cross?
Interestingly enough, the PC USA agrees with theological conservatives on the answer to the first question. It’s the second question, however, that finds us light years apart. And more importantly, calls into question the love of God. Continue reading