Why I Don’t Push Reformed Theology
The title may seem strange for a site that speaks from a Reformed perspective. I do find it is quite common for Reformed folks to express Christianity from a Reformed context including verbiage that is distinct to the Reformed tradition. And this makes sense if you have embraced Reformed theology.
But I’m sensitive to it, because I have not always been Reformed. In fact, my Christian journey began far from it. Right off the bat, I was introduced to a hybrid of Word of Faith, neo-Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. Though I had a love for God’s word from day one, lack of instruction regarding the nature and framework of Scripture caused me to read it with fragmented and inconsistent theology.
My Introduction to Reformed Theology
Eight years ago, that all changed when I made an acquaintance with a theologically astute brother. He challenged my reading of Scripture, particularly the way I imposed my hybrid Word of Faith and Charismatic philosophies unto the biblical text. I began looking at the passage context, the author’s audience and theme, the genre and the passage’s relationship to the other 65 books. Once I started doing this, some of the distorted and inconsistent doctrine I was embracing began to unravel.
I ended up at a small Bible teaching church taught by Dallas Theological Seminary alumni. It gave me the fuel and fresh air I needed. With fresh eyes, I continued to study Scripture and was also introduced to the discipline of theology through the church’s Bible institute. I began to realize the importance of methodology – why you believe what you believe. We all have a methodology, but the question is if that methodology is faithful to the witness of Scripture and the historic witness of Christianity.
Although I was not yet Reformed, the seeds were being planted. And before even knowing who John Calvin was, I embraced Calvinism. The mark of Calvinism – God’s sovereignty and predestination – came naturally and with little struggle.
Seminary was my next step and there I began to embrace a fuller expression of Reformed doctrine from a covenantal perspective. This also coincided with a move to the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).
When Others Are Not
I’ve learned a critical lesson from my eight-year-old paradigm shift and recent transition to the PCA. The correction to wrongly held beliefs or a changed theological perspective might produce an unhealthy zeal causing you to find yourself on a soapbox.
In some ways, it can be like a bad break up where you bad mouth the ex, and want everyone to know the wrong that person caused. In the case of theology shifts, it’s not so much a person but a system of thought that can turn you into zealous spokesperson, marketing a particular brand. And we can be quick to blast those who contradict.
Ultimately, when you express your Christianity in a very specialized way, it will most likely produce a couple of undesirable outcomes. It will either turn you into a clanging gong that deafens the ears of others, repelling them away. Or even worse, it can disable you from seeing the value that others may have to offer. Often this can result in treating our brothers and sisters as inferior Christians who haven’t been so enlightened. That’s arrogant.
I’ve been in conversations with those who are so wrapped up in a Reformed box that it becomes a fruitless exercise to speak outside of that box. In fact, I have observed that often disagreements are exaggerated simply because of semantics and poor attempts to reconcile differences. To me, this is a sure sign that one has elevated their theological system over the rich fellowship that we should have as brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I consider the doctrinal splintering that has occurred over the past two thousand years, I think the natural tendency is to divide and speak from our particular paradigm. In that case, it’s easier to correct others than to embrace them when they disagree. Unity takes more effort, because it’s harder to work through differences with deference towards the other. It’s hard to be slow to speak and quick to listen, seeking understanding and speaking graciously when we’d rather blast the other person for not believing as we do.
We Are One Body
But I contend that our Christian witness demands such effort. If we take Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 seriously, we must intentionally relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ as those with whom we are united for eternity. Out of love for the other, we should seek to understand where the other is coming from, including their presuppositions. It also means that if ‘Reformed’ is a stumbling block, we should seek to rephrase language in a way that others can understand. It doesn’t mean letting go of theological convictions, but rather seeking common ground to the extent possible, creating places of understanding and attitudes of invitation.
I appreciate the example that RAAN sets in their welcoming a variety of voices to the platform. This speaks to inclusivity within Christianity that I think is warranted if we are to strive for unity and value our family members as fellow co-heirs of Christ. I can only commend that readers do the same.