Reformed Theology’s Titanics
Reformed Theology and today’s New Puritanism
Tod Kennedy, Revised January 1, 2006
1. The Reformation began with Martin Luther in 1517, but the theology draws heavily from Augustine. The present Reformed theology movement began with the theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), of Zurich, Switzerland, and John Calvin (1509-1564), of Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin drew from Augustine (354-430). Strains of the Reformed tradition developed with different leaders and in different areas—northwest Europe, central Europe, British Isles, America. ("The Reformed Tradition," W. S. Reid, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Ewell, editor. Baker, 1984. 921-924).
2. The reformers’ theology was very dependent upon Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Augustine was more of a philosopher than a Bible expositor. He used the allegorical method of Bible interpretation. He thought that Satan was bound during the church and will be released at the end of the world; that God elected some to salvation and the others to damnation and that man does not have free will. Along with this he said that faith is God’s gift to the elect. He held to infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, sacraments, prayers to saints, and purgatory. Furthermore, Augustine pushed for persecution of those Christians of independent churches, as illustrated by his persecution of the Donatists, a fourth century Christian movement in North Africa. This is only a sampling of Augustine’s views. John Calvin drew heavily from him. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, reformed theology has become more popular due to books, conferences, and radio ministries. Yet, many of those attracted to it do not know its theological roots or its fundamental beliefs.
3. Reformed theology has a strong emphasis on theology, philosophy, education, and political theory. The theology centers around God's sovereignty; the philosophy centers around determinism; the education, when it is emphasized today, often centers around a classical education, for example the Trivium of medieval education; the political theory centers around Old Testament law and amillennialism or postmillennialism; the study method (especially post-Reformation) centers around its presuppositions (I would say its creeds) and logic.
4. Reformed theology is considered in the orthodox tradition. It has, however, been accepted as such by default. The more one studies the movement the more one learns how far many of its main doctrines are from Scripture. Its foundational doctrines are wrong, therefore we find its resultant trends and applications are often incorrect. Our differences with Reformed theology are with these foundational doctrines and the resulting trends, and applications. Each of us needs to know what we believe and why we believe it so that each may live the Christian life and honor the Father, Son, and Spirit. When we talk with those with whom we disagree, we want to clarify the truth clear, to convince rather than to defeat them, and to remain friendly.
5. The theology of the first reformers (primarily Calvin and Luther) depended upon Augustine. The theology of post-reformation theologians has followed this pattern. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Reformed theology is post-reformation Reformed theology and New-Puritanism. Lordship salvation theology is a glaring example. The Puritans represented a strong post-reformation variety.
6. John Richard de Witt has written a small book entitled What is the Reformed Faith? (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust. 1981). He writes to a general audience to explain the Reformed faith:
"[F]or one thing, there is no single source to which we can turn for an authoritative expression of the Reformed faith. Certainly we are indebted to John Calvin. But we also owe much to many others: to Augustine, for example, and to Anselm, and to Martin Luther….I often tell my students that if we are to learn what the Reformed position has been on this or that point of doctrine--if we are to garner anything like an official understanding of the Reformed faith--we must look, not to the writings of the theologians, but to the confessions of the church: the Belgic confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Second Helvetic confession, the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. There we have our closest approximation to a consensus ecclesiae, a consent of the church, at given moments in history regarding the teaching of the Word of God." (3-4)
John Richard de Witt continues,
"1. In the first place, utterly basic to the Reformed faith is its doctrine of Scripture….the emphasis has not fallen on the manner of inspiration, or on a technical definition of the meaning of the various attributes of Scripture taken by themselves (its perfection, clarify, sufficiency and necessity), but on its authority." (5, 7)
"2. The Reformed faith is also characterized by the insistence that God is to be known and worshipped as the sovereign God." (9)
"3. Another leading feature of the Reformed faith is its constant insistence upon the invincibility of the grace of God….While there is certainly a good deal more to the teaching of Scripture than the five points of Calvinism--the doctrines of election, particular redemption, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints--yet these great truths are at the heart of our proclamation.…" (11)
"4. The Reformed faith likewise accentuates the biblical doctrine of the Christian life….The Reformed faith, with its grasp of the doctrine of the covenant of grace, has insisted upon a multi-faceted, full-orbed Christian life.…" (12, 13)
"5. The Reformed faith has also been characterized by a clear understanding of the distinction between, and relationship of, law and gospel….The law…is also our blessed and holy guide to the life of obedience and faith….If the holy law of God is indeed a reflection of the holiness of God himself, then the Christian, too, though free from the law as a means of life, continues in a relationship of joyful obedience to the law which God in his free mercy has given." (13, 14)
"6. Another leading characteristic of the Reformed faith has been its positive and affirmative view of what I may perhaps be permitted to call the relationship between the kingdom of God and the world….the Reformed theological tradition has expressed a great interest in the form and culture of the world.… in the sense of the transformation of the world." (14, 15)
"7. Finally, the Reformed theology is marked as well by a distinctive view of preaching. I should perhaps have said: by a distinctive view of the ministry and of the life of the church in relation to it." (17)
1. The five Points of Calvinism--the acrostic, T U L I P: Each of these letters is the first letter of the word that identifies one of the points of Calvinism. Actually, the five points of Calvinism were not developed until 55 years after Calvin died; I doubt that Calvin would have agreed to all of them.
In 1610, some followers of James Arminius (1559-1609), a Dutch theologian who had rejected the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election, reprobation, and irresistible grace, issued a remonstrance (a formal statement of grievances) against Calvinist views. The synod of Dort, held at Dordrecht, the Netherlands, from November 13, 1618, to May 9, 1619, condemned the Arminian view and agreed on five doctrines, on April 23, 1619, that came to be shorthand for Calvinism . The synod also wrote 93 canonical rules and agreed with the validity of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. The Reformed church then forced the followers of Arminius out of their fellowship. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Second edition edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press. 1974, page 421)
The following on the five points of Calvinism have been taken from CRTA, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, http://www.reformed.org/index.html. Downloaded on February 2, 1999.
This web site states,
"This description of the Five Points of Calvinism was written by Jonathan Barlow who acknowledges that not all those bearing the name "Calvinist" would agree with every jot and title of this document."
"According to Calvinism: Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the Gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation."
1.1. T: Total depravity of man.
"Total Depravity is probably the most misunderstood tenet of Calvinism. When Calvinists speak of humans as 'totally depraved,' they are making an extensive, rather than an intensive statement. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality -- his thinking, his emotions, and his will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being."
"The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called 'Total Inability.' The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God's making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5)."
1.2. U: Unconditional divine election.
"Unconditional Election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon his looking forward to discover who would 'accept' the offer of the gospel. God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15,21). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4-8)."
"This doctrine does not rule out, however, man's responsibility to believe in the redeeming work of God the Son (John 3:16-18). Scripture presents a tension between God's sovereignty in salvation, and man's responsibility to believe which it does not try to resolve. Both are true -- to deny man's responsibility is to affirm an unbiblical hyper-calvinism; to deny God's sovereignty is to affirm an unbiblical Arminianism."
"The elect are saved unto good works (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, though good works will never bridge the gulf between man and God that was formed in the Fall, good works are a result of God's saving grace. This is what Peter means when he admonishes the Christian reader to make his 'calling' and 'election' sure (I Peter 2:10). Bearing the fruit of good works is an indication that God has sown seeds of grace in fertile soil."
1.3. L: Limited atonement (Particular Redemption).
"Limited Atonement is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, 'for whose sins did Christ atone?' The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church -- the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name 'Christian' (Ephesians 5:25)."
"This doctrine often finds many objections, mostly from those who think that Limited Atonement does damage to evangelism. We have already seen that Christ will not lose any that the father has given to him (John 6:37). Christ's death was not a death of potential atonement for all people. Believing that Jesus' death was a potential, symbolic atonement for anyone who might possibly, in the future, accept him trivializes Christ's act of atonement. Christ died to atone for specific sins of specific sinners. Christ died to make holy the church. He did not atone for all men, because obviously all men are not saved. Evangelism is actually lifted up in this doctrine, for the evangelist may tell his congregation that Christ died for sinners, and that he will not lose any of those for whom he died!"
1.4. I: Irresistible grace.
"The result of God's Irresistible Grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God's beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (I Peter 5:10)!"
1.5. P: Perseverance of the elect.
"Perserverance of the Saints is a doctrine which states that the saints (those whom God has saved) will remain in God's hand until they are glorified and brought to abide with him in heaven. Romans 8:28-39 makes it clear that when a person truly has been regenerated by God, he will remain in God's stead. The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the "last day" (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ's promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect."
How do we respond to these five points? Are all of these five points biblical? Reformed theology says "yes." I think not. Man is dead in sin--dead to God--but he can come to God consciousness; and he can believe the gospel when the Holy Spirit convicts or convinces him about that message. Rather than claiming unconditional election, it is more accurate to say that God elects everyone whom he knows will believe the gospel, and possibly because they are in union with Christ. Limited atonement is wrong; Christ died for the sins of all human beings, whether they believe him or not. Irresistible grace removes responsibility and volition. Perseverance of the saints is wrong if it means that a person will persevere in good works if he is one of the elect; if by perseverance one means that he is eternally secure, then that is correct.
Grace, to Reformed writers, is very coercive. I agree that no one can earn or deserve anything from God; His blessings are a favor, a free gift. But, to make God's entire dealings with man based on His forced or coercive grace does injustice to God's character and to the Bible teachings.
Reformed theology theologians tend to take biblical truths—total depravity and grace are illustrations—and through presuppositions and logic arrive at non-biblical conclusions.
2. Covenant theology emphasizes God's covenantal dealings with man, specifically the covenants of works and of grace; some theologians add a third, the covenant of redemption. It was begun not by the original reformers, but by the secondary reformers, such as Andrew Hyperius (1511-1564), Kaspar Olevianus (1536-1587), Rafael Eglinus (1559-1662), and William Ames (1576-1633); Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) systematized Covenant theology and gave to it a place of theological recognition and importance. Though Covenant theology developed as a reaction against strict Calvinism, it soon became a part of the Reformed theology tradition. This development has continued up to the present time. There are two or three covenants—Reformed writers vary. Osterhaven writes of three covenants: Works, Redemption, and Grace. ("Covenant Theology," M. Eugene Osterhaven, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Ewell, editor. Baker, 1984. Pages 279-280). A. A. Hodge, the son of Charles Hodge, both Princeton Seminary theologians of the 19th century, taught two covenants; the covenant of grace included the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of works. (Hodge, A. A. Outlines of Theology for Students and Laymen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973 reprint of the 1860 edition revised in 1879)
2.1. Covenant of Works: God made a covenant with Adam that included
"1. a promise of eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience throughout a probationary period; 2. The threat of death upon disobedience; 3. The sacrament of the tree of life, or, in addition, the sacraments of paradise and tree of the knowledge of good and evil….Before the fall Adam was perfect but could still have sinned; had he retained his perfection throughout the probationary period, he would have been confirmed in righteousness and been unable to sin." (Osterhaven 279)
"The inspired record of God's transactions with Adam….The 'promises,' life and favor….The 'conditions' upon which the promises were suspended, perfect obedience, in this instance subjected to a special test, that of abstaining from the fruit of the 'tree of knowledge….the 'alternative penalty.' 'In the day thou eatest thereof thou shat surely die'…." (Hodge 309-310)
2.2. Covenant of Grace: "This covenant has been made by God with mankind. In it he offers life and salvation through Christ to all who believe. Inasmuch as none can believe without the special grace of God, it is more exact to say that the covenant of grace is made by God with believers, or the elect." (Osterhaven 280)
[F]ormed in the councils of eternity between the Father and the Son as contracting parties, the Son therein contracting as the Second Adam, representing all his people as their mediator and surety, assuming their place and undertaking all their obligations, under the unsatisfied Covenant of Works, and undertaking to apply to them all the benefits secured by this eternal Covenant of Grace, and to secure the performance upon their part of all those duties which are involved therein." (Hodge 370)
2.3. Covenant of Redemption: "[T]he eternal pact between God the Father and God the Son concerning the salvation of mankind[,]…covenant theology affirms that God the father and God the Son covenanted together for the redemption of the human race, the Father appointing the Son to be the mediator, the Second Adam, whose life would be given for the salvation of the world…." (Osterhaven 279-280)
3. Reformed theology is amillennial or postmillennial and is against premillennialism and dispensationalism. Premillennialism and dispensationalism are the result of a normal reading of the Bible and are the correct interpretations of Scripture. John F.Walvoord, a premillennial dispensationalist (The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books 1997, and The Logos Library System), and Lorraine Boettner, a reformed theologian (Lorraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism” http://home.earthlink.net/~puritan7/postmill. html), are representative of the different millennial views.
3.1. Amillennial: "Beginning with Augustine, the amillennial interpretation held that there would be no literal future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, but that the Millennium referred to the present age or possibly the last thousand years of the present age….The most popular, the Augustinian interpretation, relates the Millennium in the present age as a spiritual kingdom ruling in the hearts of Christians or embodied in the progress of the Gospel in the church." (Walvoord)
"Amillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Bible does not predict a 'Millennium' or period of worldwide peace and righteousness on this earth before the end of the world. (Amillennialism teaches that there will be a parallel and contemporaneous development of good and evil -- God's kingdom and Satan's kingdom -- in this world, which will continue until the second coming of Christ. At the second coming of Christ the resurrection and judgment will take place, followed by the eternal order of things -- the absolute, perfect Kingdom of God, in which there will be no sin, suffering nor death)." (Boettner)
3.2. Postmillennial: "[The] Millennium would be the last 1,000 years of the present age. Adherents of this view believed the Gospel would triumph to such an extent in the world that the whole world would be Christianized, bringing in a golden age which would correspond to the millennial kingdom. Like amillennialism, it places the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Millennium." (Walvoord)
“ Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the Millennium.” (Boettner)
3.3. Premillennial: "From the first century Bible scholars have held that the second coming of Christ will be premillennial, that is, the Second Coming will be followed by a thousand years of Christ’s literal reign on earth. This was a predominant view of the early church as witnessed by the early church fathers. By the third century, however, the Alexandria school of theology, bringing in sweeping allegorical interpretation of Scripture, succeeded in displacing the premillennial view." (Walvoord)
"Premillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the second coming of Christ will be followed by a period of world-wide peace and righteousness, before the end of the world, called 'the Millennium' or 'the Kingdom of God,' during which Christ will reign as King in person on this earth. (Premillennialists are divided into various groups by their different views of the order of events associated with the second coming of Christ, but they all agree in holding that there will be a millennium on earth after the second coming of Christ but before the end of the world)." (Boettner)
3.4. Dispensationalism is premillennial. Dispensations are the Divine administration of human history (or period of time) in the progressively revealed plan of God. Each dispensation is distinguished by doctrine, people, administrators, and events (Eph 1.10; 3.1-12). Time (human history) is divided by God into four basic administrations: 1. Age of the Gentiles (Gen 1-11); 2. Age of Israel (Gen 12-Gospels and Rev 4-19); 3. Church Age (Acts-Rev 3); 4. Millennium, the rule of Christ on earth (Select OT Scripture such as Is 11; Ps 72; Dan 2.4-45; and Rev 20). Dispensational theology is based upon a normal or plain interpretation of the Bible and, therefore, a recognition of the distinction between Israel and the Church, and that the overall plan of God is doxological instead of soteriological (Tod Kennedy, "The Doctrine of Dispensations," Spokane Bible Church, most recent edit, January 2004).
3.5. An illustration: Douglas Wilson of Moscow, Idaho is a strong proponent of Reformed theology. He wrote, "Robert Van Kampen, author of The Sign, was kind enough to have a copy of his new book sent to me for review. It is entitled The Rapture Question Answered, Plain and Simple. My subject in this editorial is the first chapter of that book, in which Mr. Van Kampen outlines the hermeneutic put forward to support his particular brand of dispensationalism. Now the various intercine arguments of the dispensationalist community are not really an issue for us. For those of us outside the dispensational camp, all the 'pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-wrath' stuff seems to us somewhat arcane, and frankly makes our head hurt. "(Douglas Wilson, Credenda/Agenda Vol. 9, No. 4)
4. Reformed theology adherents generally believe in Lordship salvation. This is in distinction to the views of the early reformers--John Calvin and Martin Luther.
4.1 John MacArthur Jr, who seems to hold to a mixture of Reformed theology and dispensationalism, writes in his The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 1988, page 153) about the prodigal son in Luke 15:
"Here is a perfect illustration of the nature of saving faith. Observe the young man's unqualified compliance, his absolute humility, and his unequivocal willingness to do whatever his father asked of him. The prodigal who began by demanding an early inheritance was now willing to serve his father as a bond-servant. He had made a complete turnaround. His demeanor was one of unconditional surrender, a complete resignation of self and absolute submission to his father. That is the essence of saving faith."
MacArthur is, of course, quite wrong. The prodigal son story illustrates repentance that occurs during the Christian life. This story has nothing whatever to do with eternal salvation. The son returns to "fellowship" with his father.
4.2. Osterhaven, in his article on covenant theology, describes faith, "He will be their God and they will be his people. He will bestow on them the grace they need to confess his name and live with him forever; in humble dependence on him for their every need, they will live in trustful obedience from day to day. This latter, called faith in Scripture, is the sole condition of the covenant, and even it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9)." (Osterhaven 280)
Osterhaven, like MacArthur and other Lordship salvation people, have changed the definition of faith from a conviction that something is true to faith and obedience, or faith plus works. I do not know if Osterhaven would place himself along side of MacArthur, but the effect is the same.
4.3. A Moscow, Idaho local church's statement of faith is representative of the current Reformed position: "We believe that a man is saved in truth when the Holy Spirit regenerates him and he submits, in faith, to the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:13). He has become a disciple of Jesus Christ, and seeks to live in submission to His Word. We deny that Christ can be received as Savior, and rejected as Lord (Matthew 7:21)." (Community Evangelical Fellowship, Revised by elders on July 24, 1997. Moscow, Idaho. http://www.moscow.com/Resources/Credenda/gencred/cefstat.htm)
4.4. We conclude along with Philip F. Congdon about Lordship salvation, "[T]he classical Calvinist doctrine of salvation is functionally the same as the Arminian doctrine. Arminian theology teaches that you are saved by faith, but that you stay saved by works. Classical Calvinist theology teaches that you are saved by faith, but if you don't have works, you were never saved in the first place." (Philip F. Congdon. "Soteriological Implications of Five-Point Calvinism." Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. Volume 8, Number 15 (August, 1995) 55-68).
4.5. Many well known and current day Reformed theologians and pastors have gone on record supporting Lordship salvation; R C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, and J. I. Packer are three.
5. Reformed Theology is more creedal and is more philosphical than Dispensational Theology.
5.1. The historic creeds of the church are Reformed creeds. Reformed theologians often use the creeds to express their fundamentals of the faith rather than Scripture. This is not necessarily bad, but it does characterize the Reformed faith.
Important creeds include the Heidelberg Confession of 1563, the Helvetic Confessions of 1536 and 1566, the Gallic Confession of 1559, the Belgic Confession of 1561, the Thirty-nine Articles of 1563, the Westminster Confession of 1648.
The same Moscow, Idaho church writes in their statement of faith "As a body of reformational evangelicals, we seek to display our unity in truth with other faithful churches, not only in the present, but also with the historic Christian church throughout the centuries. Although not included here, we are also in essential agreement with the historic confessions of the Reformation, including the the Synod of Dordt, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism (together known as the Three Forms of Unity), the Westminster Confession of 1646, and the London Baptist Confession of 1649." (Community Evangelical Fellowship Statement of Faith, Moscow, Idaho)
5.2. Post-reformation Reformed theologians tend to take a biblical truth and through presuppositional philosophy and logic arrive at non-biblical conclusions. These conclusions then become the tradition. Actually, Reformed theology is very traditional; there is little room for inductive Bible study and individual interpretation, since the tradition of interpretation has already been set.