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Q&A: Why Reformed Theology?

by randy on January 12th, 2009

Daniel Robbins asked in response my previous post “Why I Embraced Reformed Theology”:

What personally showed you the importance of reformed theology? No need to go into extreme detail (like sharing information about specific events, etc.) but it would be nice to understand what led you to view reformed theology as being so necessary for the modern church. If everyone had perfect theology, then there wouldn’t be a need for an emphasis on reformed theology or any other theological movement, so you must be seeing things in today’s church that you feel needs to be addressed. Would be cool to hear your opinion on this and how you feel that a refocusing on reformed theology could help correct this.

Daniel,

In short reformed theology addresses the rampant misunderstanding of the gospel throughout the modern church. Reformed theology begins and ends at the gospel and strives to get it right not only in its preaching but also in its application.

Of all the doctrines of reformed theology the one that most are convicted of first is the doctrine of salvation (soteriology). Realize that the reformers were coming out of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman church did not accept the biblical concept of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in justification. They believe that though sins were forgiven on the Cross (and continually through the sacraments)- righteousness and holiness needed to be worked for in order to enter heaven. What we couldn’t complete on earth could be finished in purgatory.

Using the scriptures alone, sola scriptura, the reformers contended that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. They recognized that while justification was not of works, sanctification and glorification were part of the package and were inseparable.

So far you might not recognize anything different than what the majority evangelical church adheres to. But the reformers in their biblical analysis of the doctrines of salvation also recognized something that modern evangelicalism denies. Modern evangelicalism parts from the reformers in the following area which I will argue compromises the holy character of God, the unending measure of his grace, the understanding of our fallen nature and finally the gospel message.

What the reformers recognized that modernism denied was the total depravity of man. Modern evangelical’s will agree in the semantics but not in its definition. According to reformed theology: the fall put man at enmity with God. We are dead in trespasses and sin, incapable and unwilling to desire, seek or please God apart from His sovereign intervention, regeneration.

In opposition to this, modern evangelicals hold to a semi-pelagian view, a view much closer to Roman Catholicism than biblical Christianity. Pelagius was a heretic who denied original sin in the early fourth century. While modern evangelicals do not entirely deny original sin they DO deny its extent. Rather than concluding that man is dead and helpless, they would much rather describe him as sick. According to modernism, man is in control of his destiny, he is not hopelessly dead in need of a miraculous resurrection, he is sick and can take his medicine.

Because modern evangelicals would place man in a hospital sick bed rather than in a casket, they must also deny that salvation was fully accomplished for us on the cross. In their view the cross of Christ did not literally save anyone, it merely brought the possibility of salvation, or the medicine for salvation. In the final analysis man must complete the final step of salvation and take his medicine. They limit the atonement in its saving POWER and assign man one last work in salvation to complete. Essentially the reason you are saved and someone else is not, is not because God was more gracious to you as the scriptures teach, it is because YOU made the right choice… and unfortunately that leaves YOU something to boast about.

Reformed theology states that the atonement of Christ was unlimited in POWER and did accomplish salvation for ALL of whom it was intended. Christ had a specific people in mind when he went to the cross and no work was left for man to complete. My repentance and apparent choice of God was not my doing but it was in fact God drawing me. As water takes no part in being drawn from a well, so too we take no part in being drawn to Himself in regeneration. Instead of limiting the atonement in POWER, as modern evangelicals do, it’s limited in SCOPE as the scriptures do (John 17:9; Matthew 1:21).

Modern evangelicals raise the complaint, why evangelize and why pray if God has already chosen? We do so because we really believe God is the one who works in salvation. If a modern evangelical did not live in a world of theological contradictions he would have a hard time answering the question himself, “why pray?” If you were to believe that God does not change peoples minds and that men must ultimately make the right decision- then prayer is hopeless because God does not intervene. Reformed theology holds at its very core that GOD DOES INTERVENE. That’s why we pray!

The doctrines associated with salvation in reformed theology are also referred to as the Doctrines of Grace because it really puts man in his rightful place as depraved. With that black and dirty backdrop of mans depravity the grace of God is made so much clearer and amazing because He not only died to make salvation possible for me but He also lifted me out of my wretched condition and saved me! My salvation was 100%, completely, in His hands. Now you see why those puritan hymn writers could write such amazing songs.

Those who hold to the semi-pelagian view see man in need to partner with God in the work of salvation (it takes two). This false view is called synergism. Granted, while some truly strive to give God the glory and honor: many change the gospel message in attempt to reach those who may want the carnal benefits of salvation but not God Himself. Why? Because if man must partner with God to save himself the “evangelist” is forced to make appeal to sinful flesh and present fringe benefits as the gospel in order to render a “decision”. It’s no longer a requirement that God be doing a work: the stance is that all men have the capacity to make the right choice and whatever the “evangelist” can do to move them- whether right or wrong motivation- all the better.

Followed in the same train of thought comes the false belief that Jesus can be Savior but not Lord (separation of justification and sanctification). Since the effectual call of the Holy Spirit is rejected by semi-pelagians men are lured into accepting some sort of “Jesus” who brings only fringe benefits and a free ticket out of hell. Many of these “converts” have no desire to be reconciled to God. Repentance from their rebellious life towards God is an optional second step. They accept the “Jesus” of their imaginations and go on hating God with a false assurance of post-mortem salvation. Those who don’t bear fruit are thought to be “carnal christians”: no present work of sanctification is going on in their life because regeneration was replaced with an experience of “accepting Jesus into their heart”. See my post on the False Gospel vs. the True Gospel.

Reformed theology frees me to pray and preach the true gospel of reconciliation knowing that God has chosen to accomplish His will through man. We then approach it #1) humbly- knowing by the grace of God I am what I am; #2) humbly- knowing any fruit is on account His sovereign will.. and #3) with the understanding that I will be successful in the endeavor. It frees me from the fear of rejection or lack of numbers because God in His sovereignty does the work! I don’t have to modify it, I don’t need eloquence or cultural relevance. I just preach it the way the apostles did.

Soteriology (doctrine of salvation) only scratches the surface of reformed theology. When a church could get something so central and basic as the gospel wrong, it only follows that there must be more as well.

7 Comments
  1. Then why does Scripture say that “all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved “. To “call upon” takes an effort, a decision, an action on the part of the caller. It logically also implies that all those who “don’t ” call upon His name will not be saved.

    • randy permalink

      CL,

      Why do you think these verses of scripture are opposed to reformed theology? We simply hold that the reason anyone does call upon the name of Jesus is because the Holy Spirit draws him.

  2. Because that would imply that The Holy Spirit calls some and not others. I think it impunes the character of God, knowing that He has foresight, that he would create billions and billions of people knowing that He has *with intent* created billions simply for destruction. At Judgement such a one may ask God “why did you make me if You knew I was not one Your Holy Spirit would ‘call’ “, what should God answer ? ” Because it was my good pleasure ? ” ! Who wants to worship this kind of God ? No wonder non-believers want no part of Him.
    If you believe little children that die before the age of accountability go to heaven (we have to believe a 3 year old that dies goes to the presence of the Lord) what can you say about that ? That ALL children who die before the age of accountability are “chosen” ? Or do some of them go to hell too ?
    This is what I have found to be the best answer for this centuries long argument:
    ____
    Like a river that flows between two banks, so the truth of God’s Word flows between the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism. As it has been pointed out, both are true and both are false. Election and predestination are Biblical doctrines. God knows everything and therefore He cannot learn anything or be surprised by anything. Thus, He knows, and has known from eternity past, who will exercise their free will to accept Him and who will reject Him. The former are the elect, the latter are non-elect. As D.L. Moody once said, the “whosoever wills are the elect, and the whosoever wont’s are the non-elect.” Every person who is not saved will have only himself to blame; HaShem will not send anyone to hell, but many people will choose to go there by exercising their free will to reject the Messiah.

    On the other hand, no one who is saved will be able to take any of the credit. Our salvation, from start to finish, is 100% God’s work, and is based entirely on the finished work of the Cross. We were dead in trespasses and sins, destined for hell, when God in His grace, drew us to Himself, convinced us of our sin and our need for a Savior, and gave us the authority to call Yeshua ADONAI. Is this grace, this wooing, irresistible? No, we have free will and we can resist, even to the damnation of our souls, but God does everything short of making us puppets to draw us into His family.

    Moreover the concept of a limited atonement, that Yeshua only died for the elect, and not for the sins of all people, is clearly unbiblical. The Bible is crystal clear that Yeshua’s death on the cross was for all people, and that there is sufficient power in His blood to cleanse away every sin. “Whosoever will may come” is meaningless if man has no free will and no ability to choose God.

    So just what is Hebrews 6:1-6 teaching? Without attempting to fall into either ditch dug by these two theologies, here goes Rabbi Ariel’s opinion:

    It is imperative to remember that both Calvinism and Arminianism are systems of theology devised by godly, devout, Bible-believing men in the 1600’s. Both systems are based on the Word of God, and both contain essential elements of truth, but neither can be substituted for reading and believing the Word of God. The Apostolic church knew nothing of either system; they simply believed what HaShem had revealed. The difficulty arises when it seems that some of what God has revealed contradicts something else He revealed. How can man be absolutely free and God absolutely sovereign and directive simultaneously? How can salvation be entirely God’s work, yet require the cooperation of mere men simultaneously? These are unanswerable questions ultimately. The Torah teaches both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. It teaches what appears to be unconditional perseverance in some places and conditional perseverance in others. These things can never be intellectually reconciled because God is simply too big for us to understand. Both systems of theology emphasize one set of Scriptures while either ignoring or drastically twisting and explaining away others.

    We are not called to fully understand God, only to believe Him. I am a free moral agent, responsible for my own sin, hopelessly lost. Yeshua not only died for me, He drew me to Himself with bands of loving-kindness and grace, convicted me of my sin, gave me the power to call Him LORD, and will one day present me faultless before His presence with great joy. I am, by His grace, His child. And yet, I am still free to walk with Him or not to walk with Him. And what applies to me, applies to every human being. Messiah died for all of us and desires fellowship with all of us. Whosoever will may come and receive of His forgiveness and grace and salvation. Innocent babies who die are safe in heaven. God’s election excludes no one; Messiah’s atonement includes everyone. As has been pointed out, we are looking at two sides of the same coin. Election is God’s side, free will is our side. Someone once said that as we enter life, we see emblazoned over the gateway the words “Whosoever will may come;” then as we enter and look back at the backside of the same gateway, we see inscribed with the words “Elect from the foundation of the earth.” Election is God’s side of the coin we call salvation, human responsibility is our side.

    A famous Talmudic rabbi adequately described the typical Judaic view: “All is foreseen yet free will is given.”

    Rather than interpreting the Bible based on any theological or philosophical structure, it behooves us to simply read and believe the Torah of ADONAI. As we teach the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, verse by verse, in context, we will at times sound like staunch Calvinists, preaching those passages which emphasize God’s sovereignty, while at other times we will seem like devout Arminians, as we preach those passages which emphasize man’s responsibility. The key to successful ministry is balance – to stay focused on the Torah, and not become distracted by the doctrines of men.

    Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

    • randy permalink

      CL,

      You said, “At Judgement such a one may ask God “why did you make me if You knew I was not one Your Holy Spirit would ‘call’ “, what should God answer ? ” Because it was my good pleasure ? ” ! Who wants to worship this kind of God ?”

      It’s sad that you would not want to worship the God who has already clearly answered this question.

      Romans 9:19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For(Z) who can resist his will?” 20But who are you, O man,(AA) to answer back to God?(AB) Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21(AC) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump(AD) one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience(AE) vessels of wrath(AF) prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known(AG) the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he(AH) has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he(AI) has called,(AJ) not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

      I find it amazing that you insist that a balance must be found in the word of God and then go through such bizarre lengths to quote non-Christian sources. It also seems you do not understand the position of Calvinism or Arminianism. If you think it’s our job to find a balance between two contradictory concepts in scripture then I would respectfully suggest that you don’t understand scripture.

  3. You reply is typical. If someone disagrees with you-belitle and insult them. You prove my point regarding teh “pride” that surrounds those who believe the Reformed stance. They are forever considering themselves “scholars” and spend every waking moment trying to argue their point. It’s pride, pure ans simply. As for your comment about “non-Christian sources”, the author of teh above text happens to be a Messianic Christian you dumb sh*t. Now post this.

    • randy permalink

      CL-

      I didn’t realize that the TALMUD was a christian source???? Additionally, thank you for demonstrating humility in your reply, it’s always nice when a REAL christian brother accuses me of pride and then to put me in my place calls me a “dumb sh*t.” Is that how you demonstrate humility and brotherly Christian love? Was it the scripture I quoted that Paul wrote to answer your original question that offended you? It is interesting that he anticipated the very question and objection to election that you have with God. You were right, it really is a problem you have with worshiping God.

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