Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Christian, first

I’ve had this question on my mind for a while now: Why do so many of us whose theology is Calvinistic or Reformed so often refer to ourselves as “Reformed”? Why don’t we just call ourselves “Christian”?

It reminds me of what I’ve observed about many Catholics that I’ve met. I don’t recall ever hearing a Catholic refer to his- or herself as a Christian. Always, their first response was, “I’m Catholic”. As I’ve surfed various Calvinistic/Reformed blogs, I’ve found a similar trait among the Reformed. Many of us, it seems, are Reformed before all else. When we get through explaining ourselves, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are thoroughly Reformed (and proud of it, too!).

Now, I think I’m as Reformed as the next Reformed person. In my opinion, if one reads the Bible correctly, one would have to agree that Calvinism or Reformed theology is right and Arminianism is wrong (and heretical, too). As someone famous once said, “Calvinism is simply biblical Christianity” (or words to that effect—seems like it was either Spurgeon or Packer—I’ve forgotten). In my view, Calvinism or Reformed theology is simply what the Bible teaches. Period.

However, I don’t want to make a practice of wearing my Calvinism on my sleeve. I’m a Christian. Now, if you question me about the details of my theology, I’ll tell you I believe in mankind’s total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement (or particular redemption), irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. I believe salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

But, bottom-line: I’m a Christian.

I used to enjoy reading biographical stories about being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I’m thinking of the old, 19th–early 20th century, Wesleyan Holiness stories I’ve read, how the writers were saved for many years, but never knew what true religion was until that one glorious day when they were entirely sanctified or filled with the Holy Spirit and made free from all sin (according to their Holiness teaching). Personally, I always found those stories fascinating to read because they were exciting and, often, dramatic. It was obvious, despite some flaws in their theological understanding of sin, these dear people were sincerely hungry for God. Certainly, I empathized with their quest for holiness. But, I thought they made so much of the “second work of grace” (as the old Holiness folks called it), that they seriously minimized the “first work” of salvation. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if, perhaps, they had never been saved to begin with and that the “second work” they so highly valued was actually their being saved for the first time.

Well, this is the same sense I get reading some Reformed blogs. There are those that speak of being Reformed as if it were their conversion. I don’t want to criticize. I do understand their enthusiasm. I’ve been “fully Reformed” for about 6 years, and it has been a great blessing to me and my family. Reformed theology helped answer a lot of questions (I’ll write about some of those questions in later postings), and helped unify the Scriptures in my thinking. I’m convinced the “Doctrines of Grace” are, indeed, what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, my full embracing of Reformed teaching 6 years ago doesn’t compare with my salvation 26 years ago. If anything, knowing God’s sovereignty in salvation makes me appreciate even more what God did in my life 26 years ago.

I suppose what I’m pleading for is less use of theological labels. Let’s not be so proud of being Reformed. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me” (Jeremiah 9:24). Let’s be “Christians”—followers of the Lord Jesus Christ—first and foremost.


Scott D. Andersen said...

Good word. Reflects my goal as well. And interestingly I too had run into numerous 2nd work of grace holiness writings. The ones where the "sin you must" bad guy tries to keep the "free from sin" guy from establishing a church or preaching his gospel. Plus the testimonies. They were exciting. I think they appealed to me because it seemed to be an answer to the typical, "I prayed the prayer with my child 20 years ago and it doesn't matter what they are doing now, they are saved, mentality". Actually a weak grace gospel that teaches God is indebted to save you because of the prayer you prayed. I see now, how the doctrines of Grace are the true understanding and proper response to the "prayed the prayer so it doesn't matter" position. Grace that is both God's good will toward you and God's good work in you.


wwdunc said...

As I wrote, the "doctrines of grace" are, simply, what the Bible teaches. Additionally, when it comes to sin and temptation, I believe that a Reformed understanding of Scripture fits real-life human experience. Unlike Holiness or other "second work of grace" teachings, which leave you feeling frustrated and defeated (that is, if you really take sin seriously, as the Bible does), Reformed/biblical theology works.