When I say I’m Reformed, I’m associating myself with the Gospel doctrines as recovered in the Reformation that I believe to be true for all people, whether they assert the truth of these doctrines or not. Reformed theology is the understanding of Scripture I believe to be the clearest systematized explanation of the faith.
What is it exactly that was recovered in the Reformation? To put it in no uncertain terms: the Gospel was recovered. This is what Luther fought for at the Diet of Worms, which is the picture I have posted along with my entry here. I have no reservation with affirming myself as Reformed for that reason alone, the Gospel, on top of the hundreds of other reasons.
In addition to the Gospel, when I say I’m Reformed, I’m also saying that I’m a unreserved five-point Calvinist and Covenantal (as opposed to Dispensational). These things are extremely important because I believe they affect where we stand on a host of other doctrines. But at the same time, I want to be careful to also say that I do not hold out at arms length those who disagree with me who also love the same Lord and God, Jesus Christ, who through faith alone in Him are saved.
With that said, recently, Lee Irons in this entry made comments that on the surface can seem like they are not a big deal. But upon digging through the surface to see what the heart of the issue is, there are things that I cannot assert with him.
I classify myself in this manner: Christian > Protestant > Evangelical > Reformed. There is a reason for this, which I have explained in this entry before, so I won’t go into it here. This is the same manner in which Irons classifies himself as well. However, I do not classify myself in this order for the same reasons that Irons does in his entry, nor do I share his explanation.
Steve Hays brought these issues to light recently in his blog entry found here. Seeing that Irons had the same classification system I did, I responded to Hays and asked if my ordering along with the explanation of it sounds right. The issue at hand with Irons entry, as Hays says in response to me, was this: “The problem is that Lee Irons sets these [labels-that is Evangelical and Reformed in particular] in potential opposition,” as if being Reformed is an accessory to being an Evangelical or being a Christian. As Irons says, “I’m not a Reformed person who happens to be a Christian. I’m a blood-bought Christian who happens to believe in the Reformed understanding of the gospel.”
But my question is this: is the Reformed point of view merely our opinion, or is it what the Scriptures have said? Are we not asserting that the Reformed understanding of the Gospel is the clearest, Scriptural articulation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints? That’s not to say Reformed theology itself is infallibly authoritative, whereas only the Scriptures are, but it is definitely authoritative as claiming to assert the truth of Scripture. Is it not?
Here is what I wrote, commenting on Hays’ blog entry:
“I classify myself in the same order as Lee Irons has in his post: Christian > Protestant > Evangelical > Reformed. But not for the same reasons he asserts. Each label is equally important to who I am as a believer in the Gospel. As my distinctions progress as noted, each further refines what it is I believe doctrinally to be true from the Word of God. I do not consider being Reformed an accessory as you explained, but as essential, the quintessential point that explains the Gospel in the clearest manner. Regardless, in distinguishing myself as such, I am making distinctions over against other streams of theological thought within each one of these groupings.
There are 2 billion-ish people in the world who consider themselves ‘Christian’. Someone I know is a Mormon and considers himself a Christian. So I must go further than this because that label, unfortunately, does not go far enough in our culture in explaining what it is I believe to be the truth.
Many theological liberals (‘practical Christian atheists’ and such) consider themselves Protestant. This label also has been hijacked. So I must go further.
Many Oneness Pentecostals consider themselves evangelical yet they deny core tenets of historic Christianity itself [such as the Trinity]. So again I must go further than this even, unfortunately.
That is when I say that I am Reformed. And this is the pinnacle of what I believe to be the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It is the doctrinal point of view through which I view all the other distinctions as noted above. However, this does not negate the fact that there are believers with whom I am tied through faith alone in Christ alone that are not Reformed. And I join hands with them in unity to the glory of God. I take these labels not as a badge of pride (excluding those with whom I disagree), but I take them to distinguish, in our modern day, what it is I believe to be the truth of the Scriptures, as applying to all believers, whether they believe it or not.
So I guess my question is this: do you feel the order of my classification along with the explanation of it is different than that of Irons? I believe that it is, but wanted your input.”
And Hays’ response to me:
“David, Your classification scheme is fine, given how you interpret and relate the terms. The problem is that Lee Irons sets these in potential opposition.”
That is definitely a problem, because there seems to be no confidence on the part of Irons that Reformed theology is accurate. For him it’s just, “useful,” or an, “accessory,” to the faith. I beg to differ.