Why I Am Not Reformed: Introduction

I am, happily, a product of the Reformation. The Reformation was that period in history, beginning early in the 16th century,[1] when Europe was turned upside down – socially, economically and politically, but chiefly spiritually. Amidst the darkness of a Roman Catholic dominated society, light began to dawn through the rediscovery by Martin Luther, and others, that justification was by faith alone. The Five Solas,[2] which we often use to summarize the Reformation, are vital aspects of truth which we must still cherish today. God used men like John Wycliffe and Jan Huss to prepare the way, and then others, such as Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Tyndale and John Knox, had a massive impact upon most of Europe. Not everything that the Reformation produced was good. But it did result in the true gospel being taught and preached in a way it had not been for a long time.

The early modern histories of Canada and the United States also include abundant gospel preaching. This is in contrast to Roman Catholic influenced societies in most other countries of the Americas – and the reason is the Reformation. So many of the people of the 17th and 18th centuries that settled in and governed in the lands that became Canada and the USA came from Britain, a region that had embraced the Reformation,[3] and the British people transported their gospel liberties across the Atlantic. Gospel preachers such as Jonathan Edwards (American born, though a reflection of English Puritanism that came out of the Reformation) and George Whitefield (born in England, died in the US) were greatly used of God in this continent. When evangelists[4] came a century later, awakening many out of the lethargy of dead religion, preaching not only a clear gospel but also the simplicity of the NT church, they came from Scotland. Like the rest of Great Britain, the Scottish people had also been greatly blessed by multiple revivals (e.g., 1859) – but those revivals are themselves products of God’s work in the Reformation.

The Reformation does not explain the entirety of my spiritual heritage, but it is part of it – and it is part of yours too. I am grateful for the Reformers. But I am not Reformed. Why not? And what do I even mean when I say Reformed?

I am not an advocate of labels. The terms we use to categorize one another mean different things to different people. But these articles will only be meaningful if I am permitted to use them. Among gospel-believing Christians there are, broadly speaking, two streams of thought on how to understand the theological big picture in Scripture: 1) Dispensational, and 2) Reformed. That is not to say you won’t find people who want a different label, nor does it mean I am trying to force a particular theological framework upon you. But the Bible is a cohesive book, expressly intended to help us understand God’s purposes through the ages.[5] If a careful reader is going to make sense of the Bible, he or she needs an approach to interpreting the Bible. And sincere, Bible-believing Christians, depending partly on certain assumptions and partly on what they have been taught, will generally fall into one of the two categories mentioned above. Nonetheless, whatever framework is influencing us, we all must maintain a willingness to have our thinking and framework modified by the Scriptures.

Providing only two categories is also not saying that everyone fits into a neat and tidy box. If the categorization above is valid, and if I am not Reformed, then I must be a Dispensationalist. Yet Dispensationalism itself encompasses people of fairly diverse beliefs[6] – please don’t box me in! Another term, essentially synonymous with Reformed theology, is Covenant theology. While it is sometimes labeled as Replacement theology, that is a bit of a pejorative term. In these articles, I will generally use the term Reformed, but remember I am encompassing Covenant theology under that label. Calvinism is another word that is sometimes equated with Reformed theology. To be fair, they are not identical. Even within Dispensationalism, you will find Calvinists and non-Calvinists, though likely more of the latter. However, adherents to Reformed theology are almost always Calvinist.

At this point, someone could justifiably ask, why not write positively on why I am a Dispensationalist? There is merit in simply explaining what is true. But there is also a time to expose (what I believe to be) error. I am purposely highlighting the word Reformed. It is not only the credal foundation of Presbyterians[7] and Reformed Baptists[8] but has become a buzzword and rallying cry among many evangelical Christians. Their wise use of the web and social media (which is something to learn from, not something to bash) has enhanced its popularity. I am not implying their popularity is owing strictly to online saturation – they have also boldly proclaimed “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1Ti 1:11 ESV). Historically and presently, Reformed brothers and sisters have done much for the cause of the Christian faith. I read some of their books, I have learned from them, and I am thankful for them. But I am definitely not Reformed. Why not? What is wrong with it? Please follow along with this series to learn of my concerns.

 


[1] Admittedly, the movement owed its origins to multiple factors and it is somewhat arbitrary to nail it down to a particular date – pun intended for those who know a little Reformation history.

[2] “Sola” is Latin for “alone.” The Five Solas are Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and to the Glory of God Alone.

[3] In Britain, the Reformation was different than the rest of Europe, initially being more politically orchestrated. Nonetheless, the gospel message held by Luther, Tyndale and Knox eventually flourished.

[4] E.g., Alexander Marshall, Donald Ross, Donald Munro.

[5] This assumes a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture – all the Scriptures are God’s word and God does not contradict Himself.

[6] E.g., John MacArthur, who seems a clear dispensationalist in some ways, aligns himself with Reformed theologians largely because of his zeal for Calvinism and a distaste for teaching from dispensationalists that is pushed too far, but he would not readily espouse Covenant theology.

[7] E.g., Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung, R.C. Sproul. Also see the Westminster Confession of Faith.

[8] E.g., John Piper, D.A. Carson, Matt Chandler. Also see the Philadelphia Confession of Faith.