Introduction to the Reformed Faith

by John M. Frame (original source here)

When I first came to Westminster Seminary as a student (1961), the student body was largely Reformed in background. Many of the students had been trained in Calvinistic1 schools and colleges; even more had studied the Reformed catechisms and confessions. Today, that is rarely the case. More and more, students have come to Westminster from non-Reformed backgrounds, or even from recent conversion experiences. And those from Reformed backgrounds don’t always know their catechism very well.

Many Westminster students, when they first arrive, don’t even understand clearly what Westminster’s doctrinal position is. They know that Westminster maintains a strong view of biblical authority and inerrancy; they know that we hold to the fundamental doctrines of evangelical Christianity. And they know that we explain and defend these doctrines with superior scholarship. But they are sometimes not at all aware of the fact that Westminster is a confessional institution, that it adheres to a definite historic doctrinal tradition– the Reformed Faith.

I am very happy to have all these students here! I am very pleased that Westminster is attracting students from far beyond our normal confessional circles. But their presence necessitates some teaching at a fairly elementary level concerning the seminary’s doctrinal position. It is essential that students be introduced to the Reformed faith early in their seminary career. That Reformed faith energizes and directs all the teaching here. Students must be ready for that. Hence this essay.

I also have another reason for providing this introduction: When you have begun your seminary study, you will come to see that there are a number of variations within the general Reformed tradition. You will learn about “hyperCalvinism,” “theonomy,” “antinomianism,” “presuppositionalism,” “evidentialism,” “perspectivalism,” “traditionalism,” etc., the various names we call ourselves and call each other. It will not always be easy to determine who is “truly Reformed” and who is not– or, more important, who is “truly biblical.” In this paper, I would like to show you, at least, where I stand within the Reformed tradition, and to give you a bit of guidance, helping you to find your way through this maze.

This is, of course, only an “introduction” to the Reformed Faith, rather than an in-depth analysis. The in-depth analysis is to be found in the entire Westminster curriculum. Particularly, the doctrinal points expounded here will be expounded at much greater length in your later courses in systematic theology and apologetics. Still, there are obvious advantages in your having a general overview at an early point in your studies. Together with this document, I suggest you read the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, also the “three forms of unity” of the continental European Reformed churches: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt. These are wonderful summaries of the Reformed doctrinal position, thorough, concise, and precise. The Heidelberg is one of the great devotional works of all time. I also believe there is much to be gained from the opening summary of the Reformed theology in Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith.2 Continue reading

What Practical Difference Does Reformed Theology Make Today?

Dr. James White: What Practical Difference Does Reformed Theology Make Today?” With Q and A at the conclusion.

21 Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking

Dr. Sam Waldron, from the 2015 Reformation Preaching Conference (RP15):

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at the Reformation Preaching 2015 Conference. I was given the delicious, but in some ways difficult topic: Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking. After some thought and seeking counsel, I entitled this message: 21 Misunderstandings of Calvinism.

There are a few things beside the native darkness and pride of the human heart that are a greater danger to the doctrines of grace than the widespread misunderstandings of those doctrines and their implications. The best solution to these misunderstandings is a study of the Reformed tradition itself and its clear statements about what the Bible does, and does not, teach regarding the doctrines of grace.

Before I addressed this important subject, I gave the conference four points of introduction. The first of those is the subject of this first post on those 21 misconceptions of Calvinism.

The Sources of These Misunderstandings

I distinguished three sources of misconceptions about Calvinism

The first was Arminian Misrepresentation. It is unquestionable that both today and in the past history of the church, Arminians have constantly repeated misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace. While these misrepresentations may have seemed to them the necessary implications of the views of their Calvinist opponents, they were made in many cases in spite of the clearest denials by the Reformed. It is unfair for anyone to charge their opponents with holding views that they deny even though they seem to be the logical implications of their positions. It is fair to point out that their views do lead to such implications. It is not fair to affirm that they hold or believe such implications when they explicitly deny them. Continue reading

Reformed Theology – Q&A w/ White, Durbin, Samson

From Reformcon2016, here is the Q&A with Dr. James White and John Samson, hosted by Jeff Durbin:

Begins around the 12:28 minute mark:

A Church for Exiles

Carl-TruemanArticle: A Church for Exiles: Why Reformed Christianity Provides the Best Basis for Faith Today by Dr. Carl Trueman

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.

American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism start this exile with heavy baggage. Evangelicalism has largely wedded itself to the vision of America as at heart a Christian nation, a conception that goes back to the earliest New England settlers. An advertisement for The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) proudly boasts that it “connects the teachings of the Bible, the history of the United States and the life of every American” while “beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight the people and events that demonstrate the godly qualities that have made America great.” Yet a nation where the language of “choice” and “freedom” has been hijacked for infanticide, the deconstruction of marriage, and a seemingly limitless license to publish pornography is rather obviously not godly. That’s a hard truth for those who believe America belongs to them by right.

For Roman Catholics, the challenges of our cultural exile are different. Rome has somehow managed to maintain a level of social credibility in America, despite holding to positions regarded as intolerable by the wider secular world when held by Protestants. Her refusals to ordain women or sanction the use of contraception do not seem to have destroyed her public reputation. But if, for example, tax-exempt status is revoked for educational and social-service nonprofits opposed to the increasingly mandatory sexual revolution, the Church will face a stark choice: capitulate to the spirit of the age or step out into the cold wasteland of cultural and social marginality. When opposition to gay marriage comes to be seen as the moral equivalent to white supremacism, it is doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to maintain both her current position on the issue and her status in society. She too will likely be shunted to the margins. Continue reading

Before I was Reformed

I wonder if you can relate to much of this…. Les Lanphere, in an article entitled “10 Things I didn’t understand before I was Reformed” writes:

I, like so many others in my generation, was a Christian for a long time before being confronted with the doctrines of grace. Why does this matter? What difference do these doctrines make in the Christian life?

There is a solid Christianity that has been fought for, that people have died for. There have been Church councils and controversial men who stood up to revolt against corrupt practices and unbiblical doctrines. We aren’t left in the dark to figure Christianity out all over again. The truth has been opened and passed down to us by Saints past.

Not only has reformed theology opened my eyes to new things, it’s cleared up so many things that I already believed but failed to understand.

10. MY SIN

I knew I was a sinner. I knew I needed to be forgiven. But just how much of a sinner, I had no idea. Sometimes I would say, “Wow, I didn’t sin much this week.”

Now I know that it’s quite possible that I have never, for a second, obeyed the command “Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”. I never took seriously Jesus’ words that looking at a woman with lust is to commit adultery, or that hating a man in your heart is murder. I ignored the fact that Jesus said “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:48

I finally understand that I sin every day, every hour… on some level I sin every moment of my life. This is how sinful I am. But God! Oh, how merciful He is to such a sinner.

9. GOD WORKS ALL THINGS FOR MY GOOD

This seemed like a nice idea – God works stuff out in the end. I don’t need to worry too much, because God can clean up the messes and put it back together.

But once I understood sovereignty, it all changed. God doesn’t just react to what people are doing or the messes that pop up in life. He is “working all things” for the good of His people. Because He orchestrates everything, my life isn’t left to chance for a split second. Nothing surprises Him, not because He knows it all but because He’s actually in control.

8. WHY WE PRAY FOR THE LOST

This is something everyone does. We pray for our family and friends to be saved. We say things like “soften their hearts” or “reveal yourself to them”. It’s not something I ever thought about as incosistent with my beliefs, but now I see how strange it really was.

If God couldn’t override people’s free will, how could He save them? How could He do anything different than the 100% He was already giving everyone, waiting fo them to make their decision. What does it mean to “soften a heart” other than “do more than You are doing to change their mind”?

Now I can pray fervently for God to override a family member’s sinful will, because I know that this is their only hope. If God can’t touch our wills, we all go to Hell. God, destroy their will, and MAKE them love You, so they can be saved from Hell! Continue reading

Justification – on what basis?

Mark Jones has posted a very interesting series of blog entries regarding justification, especially as it relates to the Arminian and Reformed views.

Justification by Precision Alone?

The Act & Habit of Faith in Relation to Union with Christ

Can we lose our justification?

Arminian vs Reformed on Justification

The Heart of Reformed Theology

reformedtheologyThe heart of Reformed Theology or Calvinism is the cross of Jesus Christ … that all redemptive blessings flow from Him alone (Eph 1:3). That His Person and work is sufficient. That salvation is all of grace because it is all of Christ. It is a sign of a corrupted doctrine which teaches anything in addition to Christ …i.e. that man must (at least partly) either attain or maintain his own just standing before God. Now you either believe one or the other.. If you believe that Jesus is not sufficient to save you to the uttermost, then you embrace a theology to a greater or lesser degree like Roman Catholicism (Gal 3:3).

One of the main purposes of the five points of Calvinism is to demonstrate that the Scripture would always turn our trust entirely back to Christ: if you reject say, irresistible grace, then you reject or downplay the sufficiency of Christ, who provides EVERYTHING we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe (see Deut 29:4, 30:6; Ezek 36:26; John 6:63, 65, 37; 1 Pet 1:3). The same goes for preservation of the saints (which Jesus also teaches ex. John 6:37-40). If one believes they can lose salvation it is like saying that what Jesus did was not really sufficient … THAT WE must (at least partly) maintain our own just standing before God… So the five points (which are all grounded in Scripture) are simply a way to demonstrate that “salvation is of the Lord” … that it is “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30-31)

– John Hendryx

What does it mean to be “Reformed”?

reformationwallSpeaking theologically, what does it mean to be “Reformed”?

I came across this list which was put together by Brandon Solberg, and believe it to be a very helpful, useful guide:

Historically Reformed

Affirm the great “sola’s” (Latin for “only”) of the Reformation.

Sola Gratia…Grace Alone
Sola Fide…Faith Alone
Solus Christus…Christ Alone
Sola Scriptura…Scripture Alone
Soli Deo Gloria…To the Glory of God Alone

To summarize, salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, according to the Scriptures Alone, to the Glory of God Alone.

Affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the supremacy and sovereignty of God in all things and sees God as actively involved in His creation, governing and overseeing all the affairs of men. cf. Psalm 115:3; Job 34:14-15; 37:6-13; Daniel 4:35.

Affirm the utter dependence of sinful man upon God in all things, especially concerning salvation.

Affirm the Doctrines of Grace (commonly referred to as Calvinism), which display God as the author of salvation from beginning to end.

The acrostic TULIP (which is a summation of the Canons of Dort) is the most familiar way of delineating the doctrines of Grace. TULIP is made up of 5 points, which are:

* T – Total Depravity
* U – Unconditional Election
* L – Limited Atonement
* I – Irresistible Grace
* P – Perseverance, and Preservation, of the Saints

Creedal – To affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church.

The Apostles’ Creed
The Nicene Creed
The Definition of Chalcedon

Confessional – To affirm AT LEAST ONE of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church.

* The Westminster Standards
– The Westminster Confession of Faith
– The Westminster Longer Catechism
– The Westminster Shorter Catechism

* Reformed Baptist Standards
– 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
– The Baptist Catechism
– Orthodox Catechism

* The Three Forms of Unity
– The Belgic Confession of Faith
– The Heidelberg Catechism
– The Canons of Dortrecht

Covenantal – To affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. The Scriptures contain numerous examples of God “covenanting” with man, establishing and ordaining a variety of covenants.

A high view of Scripture, in it’s necessity, infallibility, sufficiency and internal consistency, and our dependence upon it to learn what God has revealed about Himself, His commands, and His way of salvation.

A high view of the church in preaching (the exposition and application of God’s Word), the ordinances, discipline, prayer, worship (Regulative Principal), fellowship, and evangelism, all encompassed in the keeping of the Christian Sabbath, commonly called the Lord’s Day.

A distinctly Biblical, Christian worldview that permeates all of life, a life lived in the world, but at the same time, a life not oriented to the world and it’s standards, but oriented to God’s Word.

– A clear understanding of the distinction between, and relationship of, Law and Gospel.

The Law has Three Uses:

1) The civil use. The law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin. The law restrains evil through punishment. Though the law cannot change the heart, it can inhibit sin by threats of judgment, especially when backed by a civil code that administers punishment for proven offences.

2) The pedagogical use. The law also shows people the perfect righteousness of God, and their sinfulness which deserves punishment, and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves, found in the Gospel alone.

3) The moral, normative, sanctifying use. The moral standards of the law provide guidance for believers as they seek to live in humble gratitude for the grace God has shown us. This use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from works.

The 2nd use of the Law and its perfect requirement points us to the Gospel (good news) of the purchased redemption and free grace of the Son, for God’s people, and the Gospel, once applied by the Holy Spirit, then points us back to the third use of the Law in delight to obey its commands to the glory of God as a new creation in Christ Jesus.

Five Myths About Reformed Theology

five01Michael Horton writes:

Calvinists can be pains in the neck. I should know—I’ve been one myself on occasion. Yet, it is a terrific irony that a theology that so exalts God and lays human beings low before his majesty and grace should be championed sometimes with a spirit that contradicts it.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Reformed theology. I tackle these at length in For Calvinism. Here I’ve been asked to address a few of these in a nutshell.

1. “REFORMED THEOLOGY IS ARROGANT AND PRIDEFUL”
There are several impressions bound up with this critique.

First, the very name suggests that we hold up John Calvin more than Jesus Christ. Truth is, “Calvinism” was coined by critics who wanted to marginalize Reformed teaching, when actually Calvin didn’t teach anything unique that you can’t find, for example, in Augustine or Luther. Furthermore, as important as he was, Calvin was one of many shapers of the Reformed tradition. Our confessions and catechisms (none of them written by Calvin) set forth what we believe. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Calvinism is just a nickname” for what we should call “the doctrines of grace.”

Second, sinful attitudes and behaviors come from our own hearts, not from the word of God. Reformed theology exalts God and his grace, while laying ourselves low as helpless sinners and rebels who are on the receiving end of his generosity. Puffed-up pride is about the most contradictory response one can imagine to the deepest convictions Reformed churches confess.

Third, new converts to anything often possess a zeal that easily morphs into a spirit that many perceive as impatient, know-it-all, and harsh. Yet again this doesn’t fit the conviction that only the Spirit can persuade people of his truth, just as he teaches us.

2. “REFORMED THEOLOGY MAKES US ROBOTS IN GOD’S PLAN”
First, this impression rests on a basic misunderstanding of Reformed teaching. Regardless of what individuals teach, our confessions teach that human beings are never forced to believe or do anything against their will. Unpacking that requires more space, so I can only refer folks to For Calvinism, where I treat this question at length. Continue reading