What’s up with Reformed theology?

I’ve never really understood Reformed theology. Well, I can understand it, I just don’t get it. What’s the big attraction? And, why do Reformed folks judge everything by the Westminster Standards instead of the Bible?

I’ve commented on this before, and I still don’t get it. It’s obvious as I weave through the theological blogosphere that the Reformed folks, at least the ones who are of the commenting persuasion, take issue with anything that doesn’t fit in their theological box. This seems at the very least to be unwise, and appears to be a form of fundamentalism. It is the theological equivalent of the senior citizen who simply stares forward and plows through an intersection without even checking to see if there is cross-traffic.

Reformed theology, aka Calvinism, is primarily concerned with the sovereignty of God, which has a direct impact on their doctrine of justification. Your desire and choice about whether to follow Jesus and be “saved” is not as important – and some would say of no consequence at all – as God’s decision as to whether or not you will be saved. The full spectrum of Reformed thinking, of course, runs all the way from the hyper-Calvinists who see only God’s sovereignty to those who hold to a form of universal election; however, the common emphasis is on God’s sovereignty. Therefore, when someone like NT Wright suggests a different spin, the Reformed Right condemns it out of hand.

Now, of course, you can go to a number of find Presbyterian churches and never hear any of this. One advantage of the current state of the church in America is that to a certain extent, Christianity has become cross-theological. When I was a child, a great chasm existed between Lutherans and Presbyterians. However, I’ve attended non-denominational Bible studies for 30 years, and para-church organizations like InterVarsity do much to expose people to a broader culture and ideology than what we heard in our Lutheran, Presbyterian or Baptist ghettos. It still confounds me, then, when I see that there are still dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists around who wave the Standards around instead of the Bible.

Michael Spencer, the “Internet Monk,” has posted a 3-part interview with Lutheran blogger Josh Strodtbeck about the differences between Lutheran and Reformed thinking as it concerns God’s sovereignty. As both are Reformation-based traditions that can look very similar at times, this is a very interesting and enlightening discussion. Here are the links:

Lutheran theology, of which I am possibly closer to than anything else, is often ignored in many of the Calvinist vs Arminian discussions, as it really sits off of that continuum, taking a different approach to the issues. For Lutherans, “sovereignty or free will” is not that big of an issue, and as far as I know, we’ve stopped burning Calvinists at the stake. I’ve just started rereading some Lutheran theology, having been out of that fold for 30-some years, and am finding things I agree with, and some I don’t. Luther, like all Catholics of his day, were way too influenced by Augustine, and was obviously still influenced by Roman Catholic doctrine. I really can’t blame Luther for not going further than he did, as the apple can only fall so far from the tree. But, for the most part, Lutheranism was a giant leap in the right direction and has a lot to offer to us today.

So, please check out the discussion.

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2 Responses to What’s up with Reformed theology?

  1. me says:

    Rev. McCain,

    Thanks for the comment. I recognized your name, as I have, in fact, already placed Concordia on my “Wish list.” (I’ve actually been looking online for a used copy, as I’m too cheap to pay full price…)

    What you say about Calvin makes sense, now that I think about it, especially with regard to his thinking on total depravity and man’s resultant inability to choose God.

    Considering the time in which he lived, Luther’s theology was incredibly revolutionary. I would love to find a good book on the development of Protestant theology; I have to admit that I’m relatively ignorant in that area.

  2. Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    Actually, John Calvin was, in the final analysis, the most consistent student of St. Augustine, not Luther.

    I would encourage you to consider a careful reading and study of the Lutheran Confessions, as contained in the Book of Concord. I think you would really enjoy it.


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