Several years ago a friend challenged me to read the book of Romans in a way I had never considered. I had been studying reformed theology and was interested in learning more so he encouraged me to read Romans with reformed theology in mind. For a month I read through the book multiple times considering the tenets of reformed theology.
That month would change my theology.
Though I grew up Baptist, went to a Baptist college, and had held to Arminian theology for my entire life, God was working to teach me in ways I have never experienced.
Reformed theology, also known as Calvinism, is a theology that places high priority on the sovereignty of God and His will and good purposes in salvation. The main tenets of reformed theology are often referred to as T.U.L.I.P:
The Total depravity of man
Perseverance of the saints
There is not enough time or room to properly explain these points in detail. But you can click here for a more robust discussion of these points. The very short summary of these points is that reformed theology believes that God, in eternity past, decided who will and will not be saved according to His own sovereign plan and purpose. This is known as predestination, and those that are saved are called the elect. Those predestined to be elect are so based on God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty.
Moving forward I will use the term Reformed theology rather than Calvinism because most Christians adhering to reformed theology prefer the term due to it being a more accurate description of their faith. The term Calvinism, though still used, is not used as often because it doesn’t adequately describe the full theology of reformed Christians like the term “reformed” does.
I’ve grown up in the Baptist church my entire life. I spent my entire ministry in Baptist churches. I have a Master’s degree in theology from a Baptist school. I know Baptist theology more than most due to my life-long desire to study and grow in my theological understanding. And I can say without reservation that I have found more Gospel focus, theological depth, mission’s emphasis, and Great-Commission minded people within reformed theology in the last several years than I have in the Baptist church in my entire life.
This reality of my experience makes the mischaracterization of reformed theology troubling as it reveals most people don’t know enough about reformed theology to make an accurate objection. It also reveals that the persistent myths and false accusations perpetrated against reformed theology are done in error.
Some of the myths and false accusations around reformed theology are:
– reformed Christians don’t care about missions.
– reformed Christians only care about being intellectually superior.
– reformed Christians don’t believe in The Great commission.
– reformed Christians believe you can live like the world (drink, cuss, smoke, etc.)
Let’s take a moment to discuss each of these items.
The Reformed Christian/Church doesn’t care about missions:
What I have found in my experience is that Reformed churches are constantly seeking to plant new churches and send missionaries to foreign soil. They are so missions minded that in the last 10 years more churches have been planted by reformed Christians/churches than any other group. Most people wouldn’t know this because these brothers are planting under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the SBC doesn’t like to disclose this little bit of information. But a vast majority of the SBC churches being planted are also aligning themselves with the Acts29 network. In order to be part of this network you must adhere to Reformed Theology. So it should be noted that far more than Baptists or Presbyterians or anyone else, reformed Christians are driving modern church planting. In my experience, most Baptist churches have never engaged in church planting, and have no vision for planting.
Reformed Christians only care about being intellectually superior. They are arrogant:
Is there a group of theologically arrogant and intellectually prideful people within reformed theology? Yes. But their sin does not represent the entire group anymore than any person’s individual sin represents a group. Attributing the sins of individuals to an entire group is unfair, at best. During the presidential election many Americans were highly offended that the media painted them as racist, sexist, misogynist, just because they voted for Trump. The media was attributing his sins to them and they took great offense to it. Calling everyone that adheres to reformed theology intellectually/theologically arrogant is inappropriate as it makes a heart judgment about people you don’t know.
The Baptist churches I have had experience with could be characterized as lukewarm, shallow, inwardly focused, mean, and biblically illiterate. And while these problems persist in many Baptist churches (as the SBC has made mention of) it would be unfair for me to say ALL Baptist (SBC/independent) churches and those that attend are characterized in this way. Some Baptist churches believe God hates gay people. Other Baptist churches believe using any instruments other than piano and organ is sinful. Am I to assume that all Baptist churches are characterized in this way?
Reformed Christians/Churches don’t believe in The Great Commission:
You might not know it, but some of the most world-renowned, and well-respect pastors, teachers, and scholars alive today are reformed. Men such as: John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Tim Keller, Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, David Platt, James White, and Matt Chandler. The list goes on and on. What make this list so interesting is that these are also some of the world’s greatest missions-focused people. These men emphasize local and global missions more than any Baptist I’ve known. It’s more than the annual “missions conference” I grew up with in the Baptist church. It’s a weekly emphasis on living as missionaries in our communities and engaging in missions efforts locally and globally. These men are so missions minded that they contribute large amounts of their church budgets and ministry budgets to missions in order to set up missions works in their communities and across the globe, they lead world-wide missions organizations, and they continually emphasize the Great Commission. To say that they, or others adhering to reformed theology do not believe in The Great Commission is not only inaccurate; it shows a clear lack of understanding of reformed theology.
Reformed Christians believe you can live like the world:
While I’ve known reformed Christians that abuse their personal liberty and freedom as a cause for sin. I’ve never known one reformed pastor that teaches this, or approves. And I doubt you know one either. The reformed pastors I listen to weekly call people to live a holy life by dying to self, crucifying sin, and repenting. These men regularly remind Christians not to cause others to stumble or sin; they encourage freedom with responsibility, and laying aside our freedom in order to love others and serve them. It’s unlike anything I’ve encountered anywhere else. The difference between the Baptist churches I’ve been part of and my current church (and theology) is that the Baptist church tries to define Christian living. Do this, don’t do this. There is no liberty, no freedom, it’s a very legalistic place where everyone is supposed to be in the same place and if you’re not you’re considered a lesser Christian; and even refused consideration for some positions because you don’t measure up. But reformed theology sees us all as equals, sinners, saved by grace and wrestling with our old sin nature to become more sanctified each day and be a little more like Jesus. Rather than try to be my conscience/Holy Spirit, my theology teaches me to study, grow, wrestle with my sin and kill it in devotion to Christ.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the myths of reformed theology, I want to comment on my experience in the Baptist church. This will be helpful in contrasting my previous and current church experience.
(You can read part 2 of this post tomorrow)