Friday, January 14, 2011

Thinking Outside the Reformed Box

About seven years ago I began to embrace the biblical truth of God’s sovereignty over salvation. Prior to that, I had always believed that man has free will and therefore ultimately makes the decision about whether or not to surrender to Jesus Christ. After searching the scriptures for several months in 2003-2004, I came to see and love God’s sovereign choice in salvation.

I still love the doctrines of election and predestination. I also continue to embrace the Doctrines of Grace and the 5 Solas of the Reformation.

Something else has happened to me, however, during the last few years. I’ve realized that in this country amongst the Reformed there are certain topics that dominate conversations. There are also certain topics that are basically ignored. This is not healthy or balanced (and it's especially dangerous and prevalent among seminary students).

If you hang out with folks who sort of wear being Reformed on their sleeves, you will probably end up talking a lot about God being sovereign, about man being completely corrupt, about passages like Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, about what grace truly means, about the Reformation in general, about Calvin, about the Puritans, about Edwards, about Spurgeon, about Pink, about Piper, about MacArthur, about Sproul, etc.

Some of the above things are great. Some are O.K. However, if we emphasize these so much that we end up becoming a sort of one-trick-pony, then we start getting unbiblical.

Reformed folks in general don’t tend to talk quite so much about passages like John 3:16 and Romans 10, about man having a real choice, about the early church fathers, and about men like John Wesley.

I realize that I’m making some generalizations in this post, and for that I apologize. I’m simply trying to say that we often fall into boxes of different sorts that we struggle to see out of. I’ve been in a sort of Reformed box for a while, but I’m glad I can now see outside it.

Let me give another example of Reformed foci. If you attend a conference such as Ligonier (I’ve attended twice), you will hear a great deal about right doctrine. This is defined as what you believe about God, man, sin, salvation, etc. Doctrine is not defined as how we should make a difference in the world today through our service of others. This frequently leads to folks who have minds like a systematic theology but who at the same time hardly make any influence for God’s kingdom in this world.

In this same vein, the Reformed read lots of books. It tends to be that the older and thicker the book, the better. Reformed people also like various confessions of faith. There is also a tendency to elevate pastors and theologians to almost rock star status. Just go to a conference where Piper, MacArthur, or Sproul is speaking and listen to some of the attendees fall all over themselves just to get a seat near the front.

We must all be careful whenever we embrace a specific way of thought or label within Christianity. When we do this, we can begin to adopt some ways of thinking and acting that fall short of biblical standards. We can focus on some important things to the exclusion of others. For example, right now I need to not get caught up in a “House Church Box” that might cause me to automatically reject all the practices of traditional churches.

Let’s all try to take a look at our lives to see if we have fallen into any boxes that have led us to be imbalanced or even unbiblical. Once we do this, let’s peer out of the top to look at a wider world.


John Notestein said...

Eric, I read your posts all the time and really get a lot out of them even if I don't comment. This one is especially good. I was a Christian for quite awhile before I had even heard of Reformed Theology. And which I see God as saving me rather than me choosing to save myself, I confess I don't have all the answers and that God won't disclose everything to me. I have seen th extremes of Christian belief, such as people who pour themselves into helping the poor and needy physically but not spiritually. I have also seen Christians who spend all their time reading and studying and have almost no impact or witness for Christ in the place they are living. I agree there is a balance.

Eric said...


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

As Christians, we tend for some reason to gravitate in certain directions and emphasize what is most important to us. Too often I find myself thinking in terms of "either-or" instead of "both-and." I hope to be more balanced. I hope we will all try to be.

Jonathan said...

Great thoughts. What often happens when we reject a box is we jump into a completely different box... one that is furthest away from the first box. Also known as the pendulum swing.

I used to be in the reformed box. There's a good chance I've at times swung too far the other way. Balance is good. Recognizing the tensions between different verses, or different interpretations of verses is a balanced way to go.

If Christianity was about answering all the right questions on some multiple choice entrance exam... I think Jesus would have left us with a catechism.

Yes, there is much to be studied. But more importantly, there is someone whom we should be following.

The Pharisees loved to study and debate each detail of their understanding of God. But they missed the point when it came to recognizing God when He stood right in front of them.

Steve Scott said...

Believe it or not, Eric, I could have written this very post almost word for word, except for the house church part. I've found that there's that same celebrity pastor mentality, and it's as if the weekly sermon is the focus of our lives.

Okay, I'll be a wee bit snarky here, but I really want to create a bumper sticker that reads, "John Piper said it, I believe it, that settles it." I went to a Reformed church once close to a conference I attended with some friends, and the people after the service were buzzing about Reformed theology this, Reformed theology that. I never heard anybody talk about Jesus Christ. It was a little on the strange side.

Eric said...


I agree with you. Too often we get so wrapped up in having all the answers that we don't even see the hurting and needy people around us. This is so far removed from Jesus' call for us to serve instead of being served.

Eric said...


I really think the celebrity pastor thing is becoming a serious problem in the Western church. I don't know why, but this seems to impact the Reformed more than some other groups. The ironic thing is that the ones who are celebrities don't seem to really want to be considered so. Despite this, their followers shove them onto a pedestal. I saw this happen last year at a conference where John Piper spoke. People were almost in awe. I like Piper, but that was ridiculous. We need to reserve that adulation for Jesus alone.

Jeffrey said...


I find it fascinating that, in several scriptures, God instructs the writer to not record what he just saw. In my understanding, God reveals his nature, plan and works, not necessarily so that each individual, in the time-line, will understand all of it, but so that we will 1). stand in awe of Him and 2). by the power of the Holy Spirit, understand what we need to.

As history unfolds, we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to understand thing earlier believers debated fiercely. I suspect we cast stones back and forth today that are a total waste of time, if we'd just be patient.

I am very encouraged that the tone of these posts is that of reconciliation. Good heartfelt discussions sharpen us, divisive debate fractures us.

Executive summary: Right on brother


p.s. glad to hear about the interviews; still praying on that.

Eric said...


I think we all as humans have a tendency to form little groups of people who are like us. This then alienates others. I've fallen into this before, but hope to avoid going forward. Reconciliation is the key, along with humility.

Thanks for your concern and prayers about the job situation.