“I think I’m Reformed”…”Not Reformed enough”™

Note: the following essay is written partly in a serious vein, and partly tongue-in-cheek. I’ll leave it to the reader to discern between the two.

I wrote in my last post a little about the early days of my journey toward affirming the doctrines of sovereign grace, commonly nicknamed Calvinism. I came to a point where I understood that such people are sometimes called Reformed, and so I was able to declare to my roommate one evening, “I think I’m Reformed.”

In the 40+ years since that announcement, I’ve become more and more convinced that the Bible teaches these doctrines, often called the 5 Points of Calvinism, though the naming of these points with the acrostic “TULIP,” is a caricature of the actual teaching of Scripture on these matters.

I also have learned that there are degrees to which people identify as Reformed. And because social media exists, many are not afraid to let people know how their beliefs don’t represent the true Reformed faith. And I guess I’ve come to accept the fact that I may be Reformed…but Not Reformed Enough™.

I attach a “trademark” designation to this, because this group is so vocal and so organized that there must be a union somewhere. Local Reformed Thinkers and Pipe Smokers Union 1646 or something. “You can’t be one of us…not with that credobaptism you got there!” I am convinced they are not trying to simply be divisive. I know they’ve thought through all the implications of their theology so much so that it all hangs together or it will surely fall apart. Maybe I haven’t contemplated all the ramifications. Or maybe I came to different conclusions.

I would surely place myself in the Reformed camp in terms of my belief in the 5 Solas (Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone) and the 5 Points. I affirm most of what I read in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (as well as the classic creeds and confessions).

Where I am Not Reformed Enough™ is that I affirm the baptism of believers rather than infants, I generally speak of the ordinances rather than the sacraments, and I play my guitar in church even though guitars are not mentioned in the Bible. I also don’t smoke a pipe, but I’m willing to learn.

For the most part, the discussions the Reformed™ and the Not Reformed Enough™ have are cordial and affirming. We understand that on the critical things – the authority of Scripture and how God saves sinners – we are in agreement.

At the end of the day, labels aren’t essential; doctrines are. And I understand that my “more Reformed than I” friends think their distinctives are important doctrines. But as long as we can boil it down to the pressing teaching of the Bible – God. Saves. Sinners. – we’ll get along just fine.

“I think I’m Reformed”

I would not describe the Bible college I attended for 3 years as overtly Calvinistic in its theology. That is to say, if any of my teachers were, they didn’t really wear it on their sleeve. And I don’t recall a class where we specifically tackled the doctrines of grace. Maybe that was a senior-level course. Most of our profs were from the Dallas Theological Seminary camp, and thus were pretty solidly dispensational. I think if I’d stayed for a fourth year, I’d have taken the “Daniel/Revelation” course and have seen that in full bloom. It was a good school, but looking back, it seems odd that while there, I began to have Calvinistic leanings.

It was my 3rd year, and it was while meditating on Ephesians 1:4 – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (NIV) – that I began to ponder the idea of election and predestination. That single, simple statement from the hand of Paul set me on a path toward understanding that the reason I was justified before God was ultimately because in eternity past, God chose me.

I was also attending a Presbyterian Church in America church because I liked the pastor and the solemnity of the worship. My Sunday School class was held in the pastor’s study. Now, when I get in anyone’s study, I’m always interested in their choice of books. I took notice of a set of commentaries that were colorful and small. Just the design was attractive.

They were a small series of commentaries published by Banner of Truth Trust from the epistles of Paul and Hebrews. Written by Geoffrey Wilson, each was identified on the inside cover as “A Digest of Reformed Comment.” At my next visit to a local Christian bookstore, I purchased one, the one on 1&2 Thessalonians. I probably paid $1.50. I shortly bought a few more and eventually completed the set.

I believe that was the first time in my young life that I’d encountered the word “Reformed.” Not knowing what it meant, I’d have to depend on context clues from the commentary to discern its meaning.

I began to peruse the commentary and found that it was indeed a “digest” in that these little books were full of collected observations from various older writers, whom I gathered to be Reformed.

I also discovered that many of those comments were reinforcing the thinking that I had begun with my meditations on Eph. 1:4. The idea that God is sovereign over all and chose and predestined us in love before the foundation of the world was being confirmed in the comments from these ancient writers.

So, sitting there in my study carrel, I leaned back to see my roommate at his seat and announced matter-of-factly, “I think I’m Reformed.” Because he and I were more likely to talk about Jesus Music and Monty Python back then and not particularly prone to theological discussion, that was the extent of the conversation.

“I think I’m Reformed.”

I didn’t yet know all the implications of that declaration, but for the most part it was an accurate assessment of my faith journey in those early years. Shortly thereafter, I became acquainted with R.C. Sproul and his teaching tapes. He and others helped me on my safari.

While I’m not particularly a fan of labels, I’ve openly become an adherent to the doctrines of grace and have written about them and defended them in my teaching and writing. I’ve also learned that apparently according to some people I’m Not Reformed Enough.™ But I’ll write more on that later.