Friday, November 18, 2016

Reformed Theology: More than 5 Points.

Reformed theology is often called "Calvinism." So, what is Reformed theology, and what is a Reformed Christian? Some Christians often describe themselves as five point Calvinists, four point Calvinists, and I remember one minister describing herself as a 3 point Calvinist at most. What am I? My reply is that I hold to more than just five points.

You see, John Calvin, a pastor-theologian, did NOT come up with the specific five points attributed to him. They are all found in the Bible, but specifically, were derived from the Canons of Dort in response to five theological points disputed by followers of Jacob Arminius (called the Remonstrants). In this sense, Calvin was a Reformed Christian, but not a "Calvinist." The five points are often explained as TULIP:

  • Total depravity of humans - meaning sin is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. We were created to enjoy God, but sin separates us from Him.
  • Unconditional election - meaning we are spiritually dead and helpless to save ourselves, and do not by nature desire God as God. As a result, He must choose us.
  • Limited Atonement - meaning Jesus' death atoned for our sins, but He did not die for people in general, but purposefully came and died for His children.
  • Irresistible Grace - meaning God's grace is effective by accomplishing His purpose in the lives of individuals. God does not give up His sovereignty regarding salvation.
  • Perseverance of Christians - meaning God's salvations depends not on our works, but on His work of atonement. He will not let us go (though he may bring us home soon).
Another way to explain this is by BACON:

  • Bad people
  • Already elected
  • Completely atoned for
  • Overwhelmingly called
  • Never falling away

The problem today is that modern so-called "Calvinists" claim these five points as the defining theological positions of Calvinism. Yet, Reformed theology is so much more than these five points. It is rooted in God's sovereign love and mercy. The Christian story is about the Son of God coming to earth and taking the penalty of sin for us, though He was innocent. The Christian story is both a love story and a mystery.

For this reason, when these five points are removed out of the context of Reformed theology, they often produce an angry, proud attitude in its adherents. However, when understood within the broader context of Reformed Theology based on the Bible, the results differ. His love and mercy, when understood in context of His sovereign will, should produce a humble, loving response in such Christians. In my case, I am humbled when I look back at my life and understand that my salvation is 100% God's doing. I know I need God's sovereign love and mercy in my life because I sin against Him daily. So, while I know I have offended Him more than I will ever fully realize, at the same time I know I am loved by Him more than I will ever realize.

So, as a Reformed Christian, I know there are many more points to the Christian faith than these five points; and in it all, God remains sovereign. Yes, I hold to all five points in the context of Biblically based Reformed theology. I understand God wants me to enjoy Him forever.

"Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
  A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."

- Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs; Presbyterian Church in America.