I had a bad experience with Reformed theology. But my bad experience is by no means representative of Reformed theology, nor of those who embrace it. Rather, I’ve found that some of the most genuine, humble, and thoughtful Christians I know consider themselves Reformed. Especially Nate Pyle. He’s a pastor/blogger who I’ve grown to respect for his wise and loving words. Because I really like him, and perhaps in an attempt to provide a balanced perspective to my rant against unconditional election, I’ve invited Nate to share the reasons he is Reformed here today. Make sure you check out his blog, and connect with Nate on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a good man.
by Nate Pyle
Earlier this year I decided to stop dabbling in the blogosphere and dive in. What I found surprised me. There are strong opinions (am I understating this?) in the blogosphere when it comes to Calvinism. I’ve grown up in the Reformed tradition, and while I’ve struggled with some of its doctrines as I’ve grown, I have never felt abused by Calvinism or a Calvinist. And never did I think of God as a monster as some claim the Calvinist God to be.
That isn’t to say I don’t find aspects of Calvinism objectionable. I do. Six months ago my wife and I experienced an ectopic pregnancy. I do not believe God caused the egg to settle outside the uterus. Just over a year ago a pastor friend of mine was shot and killed by a lady with mental health problems. I do not believe God caused his murder. Those painful experiences do not come from a divine decree God uttered. They come from living in a broken world where things are, fundamentally, not as they are supposed to be.
For many, their understanding of Reformed theology stems from certain Calvinist voices. So when they read the above they may question if I am really Reformed. The short answer is, “Yes.” Reformed theology is broad and diverse. What is typically represented by John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Albert Mohler is one stream of Calvinism, but is not representative of all Reformed theology.
This leads to the reason for the post. Why am I Reformed?
1. Being Reformed keeps me Theocentric
Being Reformed helps me keep a theocentric perspective. God is the thing around which all things orbit. My guess is that most Christians would say that. However, my struggle with other theological frameworks is that God seems to take a backseat. Perhaps more accurately, God seems reactionary to what humans do. To make God reactionary to what I do means I am driving the story. God is no longer the author of the story, He is simply a character like everyone else.
For me, this seems anthropocentric. Personally, this is dangerous. I already believe the hype about me enough. I don’t need to feel like God is waiting around me for me to do something before he acts. Even if that something is me choosing to believe.
The Reformed belief that God is sovereign keeps me from slipping into the narcissistic belief that what happens is about me. It isn’t. It isn’t even about humanity. Making God’s work in the world simply about humanity is to reduce the scope of the gospel and ignore the hope of restoration all creation is groaning for. It is to limit the glory of God to the response of humanity. But God’s glory, like God, is unchanging and independent of humanity’s response.
If humanity doesn’t glory in God, the rocks will.
I need that reminder.
2. Being Reformed helps me focus on grace
The Reformed tradition is ultimately about grace. The doctrine of election is founded upon the grace of God being extended to people who can do nothing to earn salvation. So it’s grace, grace, grace with a side of grace.
I love grace.
I need grace.
That Jesus loves me is a grace.
That I have done anything good with my life is a grace.
That I have aptitudes and attitudes that can be used for the Kingdom of God is a grace.
And grace is more than just grace unto salvation. Grace is rooted in creation. Grace doesn’t make its appearance because of and after the fall. Creation exists because of grace. The creation is sustained because of grace. And the creation will be restored because of grace.
3. Being Reformed deepens my worship
To be Reformed is to engage in covenantal theology. Covenantal theology is a framework for understanding the overarching story of the Bible. For the Reformed, our covenant is rooted in the covenant of Grace – the covenant established between God and Abraham to bless the world and ratified in Christ’s new covenant with humanity.
This understanding deeply impacts my corporate worship.
Each week, when we walk into our building and gather with the church, we are invited into God’s redemptive history. What is God doing in the world? He is gathering his people to be a light to all people. I see that when I gather with Steve and Emily and Bob and Andrea. We are a people gathered according to the good purposes of God.
When we baptize, we remember the dying and the rising of Christ and our union to Christ for salvation. We touch and see and hear the waters, and are reminded of our utter dependence on God.
We gather around the table. We break bread and bless the cup and remember Christ real presence with us in the world.
Worship isn’t just an opportunity for us to sing our favorite songs. It isn’t just about getting more information. It is a ceremony in which we replay the covenantal story of which we are a part. Each week we have an opportunity to renew our covenantal responsibility.
4. Being Reformed matches my experience
I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. There is so much going on in this story. God’s love for the outsider. The response of the Ethiopian. Philip’s quick response to baptize this man and to find no reason not to baptize him when so many would. One could mine the depths of the story and never completely come to the end.
But I also love this story because it matches my experience. What are the chances that, just as the eunuch is leaving Jerusalem he meets one of Jesus disciples? What are the chances that the disciple would see the chariot and go to it? What are the chances that, as the eunuch wrestled with Scripture, at that precise moment someone would come along and be able to help him make sense of it all?
God orchestrates events so the Ethiopian can understand the Scriptures and be baptized. It’s what we see in Acts 17:26 when Paul says, “and He (God) determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” God is actively involved in saving us.
Isn’t that our experience? We look back over our life and we see all these events, experiences, and coffee-conversations leading us to see Jesus more clearly than ever before. Even though we at one point make a cognitive decision to follow Jesus, we look back over our lives and see that Jesus had been pursuing us long before we ever made a decision. Sometimes, before we were even looking for him we see him looking for us.
That’s God choosing us. Chasing us down. Telling a modern-day Philip to go south down the road and saddle up next to the chariot and to stay near it because God is passionately pursuing the person inside.
For all our discomfort with saying God elects some and doesn’t elect other, I think most of us would say that at some point we looked back and saw God working in us and on us. For me, that’s evidence of election. It isn’t an arbitrary decision made by an impersonal God. It is the actions of a ruthlessly-passionate, relationship-oriented God who pursues the objects of his love – you and me.
5. Being Reformed emphasizes my responsibility in creation
Yes, Reformed theology believes in the elect. Yes, we believe God chooses some to be saved. Within that is a vast array of beliefs. Single predestination, double predestination, individual election, election of a people are all different beliefs coming out of the Reformed tradition.
But for me, the most important question surrounding election is this: Elected unto what?
I love the way James K.A. Smiths says it: “Creation is not just a stage for the drama of human salvation; rather, God’s special relationship to humanity – so intensified in the incarnation – is precisely for the rest of creation.”
Humans were created as image bearers of God. Our creational mandate was to bear the image of God to the rest of creation. To rule over creation as God rules over it. To co-create with God, by giving our word to the stewardship of creation as God gave his word in the creating of creation. Thinking in this light, we can see that humans, from the beginning, were elected to responsibility. In the same way the elect, which is the church, is elected to the restoration of the original creative mandate.
I do not believe Calvinism or Reformed thought is solely about individual salvation. It is not less than this, but it is so much more than this. It is about the restoration of the world. There is a deep groaning coming from the depths of creation that, one day, will be soothed. God, in his sovereignty, is ensuring restoration takes place. God has lavishly poured out his grace over all of creation and watches over it. This does not mean that God manipulates and dictates every act, every windstorm, every drop of rain. Yet his Lordship so covers all the earth that there is not one thing that does not escape his watchful eye.
As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a single square inch of creation concerning which Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’”
This gives me great assurance. This gives me hope and confidence. It does not lessen the pain or confusion. It does not answer all my questions. No theological system can do that. But this is my boat. It allows me to sail the seas of a turbulent world. This boat gets me from place to place. It allows me to sail towards others with different perspectives and see things I would otherwise be unable to see. And sometimes to find a new port to spend time in.
So maybe there’s a sixth reason I’m Reformed. In the Reformed tradition there is room for semper reformanda.
I’m Reformed, and always reforming.