A few years ago, soon after coming to Bristol, I was asked by a godly woman in our church: “What does it mean to be Reformed?”
She had been talking with someone from another church who had snidely claimed that their church did not associate with our church because we were not Reformed enough.
My response to the inquiring woman was that we were not a TR church (Thoroughly Reformed), but we want to be a HR church (Humbly Reformed). What’s the difference? Not substance. Attitude.
Elliot Grudem offers a wonderful encouragement to cultivate an HR attitude, in an article from the Acts 29 Network blog: Elect or Elite? Why Arrogance Has No Place in Reformed Theology. Below is an edited version of Grudem’s message. To read the original, or to hear the audio message delivered at an Acts 29 Bootcamp, click the link.
Keller, Calvin, Predestination – BINGO!
When I was in seminary, my friends and I would occasionally play bingo during the classes: what we’d do is write the names of people in our class in the bingo squares, and if that person spoke in class, you got that square – and if you got all the squares in a row then you got ‘bingo.’ We’d always make sure we filled our squares with a couple of ringers that we knew we could get to talk by tipping off their hot-button issues. So if you needed the ringer’s name, you’d ask a questions like, “can someone please tell me what this has to do with homeschooling?” and you knew that individual would ask the next question – and – BINGO!
We do something similar in Reformed circles. We have our key names and key phrases that fill our “bingo board” in our minds. And if people mention Keller and Calvin, and “the gospel” two or three times, if they say “predestination” then we think they’re orthodox.
And if they miss those things – the key phrases and names that make up what we think it means to be Reformed – then we say they’re not Reformed, they’re not “gospel-centered,” they’re not orthodox, regardless of what they have really said.
Are We Elect or Elite?
We can rely on our theology too much, thinking that our theological precision is the key to our church’s growth rather than the Holy Spirit. We can fall into phrase-righteousness or name-righteousness thinking that a sermon is heretical if it sounds more like it came from the book of James than from one of Paul’s epistles. We can begin to think that the reason our church is small is because we’re right. And we’re the only one in town that’s truly preaching the truth. We can become theological snobs believing that we and our two or three heroes have a corner on right theology. Or that the Holy Spirit stopped speaking to the church on May 27, 1564 – the day that Calvin died.
We have a word for people like that, don’t we? The word is proud.
But unfortunately in our circles we tend to see this type of pride, especially among those who have just discovered the truths of the Reformed tradition. It doesn’t take much to move from elect to elite.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
What Does it mean to be Humbly Reformed?
To be Reformed one does have to hold to a Reformed soteriology. But if we’re not talking Reformed Bingo phrase-dropping, what do we mean by that?
J.I. Packer sums it up: “To Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners.”
Packer is saying that salvation is entirely of the Lord, and sinners have nothing to do with their salvation. That God saves you out of his own good pleasure as an act of his delight. Sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all. Every step is an act of grace. Salvation is entirely an act of God.
What room does this gospel of grace leave you to boast? What room does it leave you for self-promotion? What need do you have to prove yourself to God and others? If what Paul writes is true, you have none.
If you really understand this gospel, this message that “God saves sinners,” and really understand Reformed soteriology, then you should be known for your humility, not your pride. You know that everything you have is a gift of grace.
And the Answer Is…
John Frame is the Chuck Norris of Systematic Theology, and he also is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Once I heard him ask a question of a man when I was with him during a mock ordination exam. I don’t remember what Frame’s question was but the student took a long time before giving a faltering answer. And Frame laughed and said “that is the best answer I have ever heard in any type of theology exam.”
What was the student’s answer to the question? “I don’t know.”
When’s the last time you answered a question like that? Are you really that good? Are there secret things that belong to the Lord? Or is it, like, the Lord and you? How long has it been since you answered a question with ‘I don’t know’?
By the way, when I was in seminary my friend David Zavadil and I also played BINGO during classes. We became somewhat infamous for it. I guess our tradition lived on… and spread.