So You Are Reformed? Is That Similar to Evangelical?

“So you are Reformed?  Is that similar to Evangelical?”

“ John Piper is Reformed isn’t he?”

Good questions. Hmmm.  Yes and no to both questions.  I would like to say that I am not really qualified to answer these questions. So if one of my learned readers would like to correct me on anything I write here please feel free.  I will do my best …with what I do know.

By definition of Evangelical… Reformed Christians certainly are “evangelical.”  But if you are asking if we are like the rest of evangelicalism at large I would have to say no.

I guess the best thing here to do is to define “Reformed.” Simply because someone claims to have a “reformed soteriology” (as John Piper does) does not make one Reformed, just like believing in the trinity does not make one Roman Catholic. As well, being “Reformed” is not defined by movements, which evangelicalism is…it is called the Evangelical movement. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity not a denomination, it is not a church. Being reformed does not simply mean you like the teachings of RC Sproul or JI Packer or belive that TULIP is a biblical doctrine.  Being reformed is defined by a personal and corporate confession that REALLY is lived out personally and corporately – it is all encompassing in your personal life as well as in your life within the Church as a body.  The 3 Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards are the confessions which define what it means to be Reformed.  Churches within the evangelical movement at large have mostly done away with “confessions” for a more “free” and experiential brand of Christianity. These confessions are viewed as outdated by the majority of evangelicalism, but really they are not archaic textbooks that we put away after we “graduate” but they are our confession of how we interpret scripture.  These articles define what it means to interpret the bible as Reformed Christians.

Reformed Christianity is a tradition, like Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism  and others are traditions.  Reformed Christianity is not defined by the doctrines of grace (TULIP), but by a whole system of faith and practice, both personally and corporately – or more correctly, Covenantally (did I just make up a word or spell it wrong?) 🙂  If being Reformed can be simply summed up as believing in the sovereignty of God and election, then yes John Piper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rick Warren are as Reformed as I am.   But Piper is Baptist,  Bonhoeffer was Lutheran and Rick Warren…well I am not entirely sure what he is…but all these men are not “Reformed.”  I am not saying that they are not believers, I value the ministry of John Piper and I have read books by all three men.  However, the Reformed confession is a lot more than simply declaring that God is sovereign.

So why is John Piper not Reformed, he is a Calvinist for sure!?  What is the difference?  There is a big difference in being a “Calvinist” and being Reformed. For one, Piper does not embrace a reformed view of the covenant.  If you want to know if you or your church has a Reformed view of the covenant simply look who is baptized…If you are reformed you will know what I am talking about. As Reformed Christians we baptize new believers… and their children… and the children of all believers as heirs of the promises of the tri-une God. The Reformed view of the covenant gets to the heart of how we interpret the Bible and how we conduct our lives in view of the covneant.  IT does not just define a few doctrines here or there.

Historically the “Reformed” label has included the Presbyterian, and continental Reformed traditions, and some would also include the Anglican tradition.  I am not sure when it happened but it is a fairly recent phenomena that people in other Christian Traditions have taken on the label “Reformed,” from Baptist to Lutheran to Dispensationalist.  Including  those who do not follow to a covenantal understanding of Scripture, which includes baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as many other matters that separate Reformed views from non-Reformed views.

Are you still awake? 🙂

Let’s finish this up…

Evangelicalism isn’t a church.  It is a movement. It isn’t Reformed. It isn’t Baptist or charismatic or Pentecostal. It has both Calvinist and Arminian wings, and within each wing are various traditions.  Now, Evangelicalism as a movement, by and large is conversion centered.  That is most groups within evangelicalism focus on your conversion, you have to know when God chose you or when you chose him (depending which wing – Calvinist or Arminian).  You have to know that you are saved by looking deep in yourself for faith or assurance of salvation.  Whereas Reformed Christianity has a strictly covenantal focus.  Which means it is focused on the promises of God to his people, and our obligation to Him. That does not mean that none of us ever have a conversion experience, it is just not what is of ultimate importance.

So to answer the questions.. Since it is late and I need to sleep. Yes reformed Christians are evangelical, but we are not like all evangelicals.  Piper has a Reformed Soteriology, but not a reformed interpretation of Scriptures as a whole.

I really should have had a theologian answer this one…I hope I did not just muddy the waters even more.

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  1. Dave says:

    And if a Baptist were to subscribe to something like the 1689 London Baptist Confession (basically the Westminster Confession with slightly different wording on baptism). If both the continental reformed and Presbyterians count despite such differences why not count the 1689 confession folks as well?

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment. As I said this is a blog, not a theological journal and I am a layman not a theologian. I have read both the 1st and 2nd baptist confessions. If I recall the section on the covenant – which I am getting at here – is very different from what the Westminster confession teaches. It is our view of the covenant as well as church government (among other things) that determines if we are Reformed. The LBC is definitely a strong orthodox “calvinist” confession, I am not denying that, however the subtle differences in baptism and in the view of covenant and church government etc. would lead me to think that it is not a “reformed” confession. The LBC if i recall also speaks of the “temporary” Believer – which would indicate that it teaches that we can fall away once saved – even though it teaches on the other hand that we can’t..