Have You Been Fooled By These 5 Myths of Reformed Theology?
When I was in college I had a friend that was a proponent of Reformed Theology. He called himself a Calvinist and he rubbed me the wrong way when he spoke of his theology. By no fault of his, I developed some terrible misconceptions about Reformed Theology (that’s the proper term for Calvinism). These misconceptions made it easy to dismiss Reformed Theology anytime it was brought up.
Unfortunately, like me, many people have serious misconceptions about Reformed Theology. Whether as a result of a pastor that is a staunch opponent to Reformed Theology, or an experience similar to mine, a lot of folks have the wrong idea about what Reformed Theology is, and what it isn’t.
I appreciate an article by Michael Horton in which he helps to clear up some of the more common myths surrounding Reformed Theology. Horton is a well-respected theology professor and theologian that regularly blogs and discusses theological topics at his podcast, The White Horse Inn. Horton carefully discusses each of these myths and others in great detail in his work For Calvinism.
The above referenced article addresses five of the more common myths surrounding Reformed Theology in a quick, overview type format. The five myths that Horton addresses are:
- “REFORMED THEOLOGY IS ARROGANT AND PRIDEFUL”
- “REFORMED THEOLOGY MAKES US ROBOTS IN GOD’S PLAN”
- “REFORMED THEOLOGY HAS NO GRACE AND LOVE”
- “REFORMED THEOLOGY KILLS GENUINE, HEART-FELT PIETY”
- “REFORMED THEOLOGY KILLS COMMUNITY AND MISSION”
I want to focus on just a couple of these myths rather than try to address all of them. Besides, Horton does a great job with each of these and I would simply direct you to his article to learn more.
As I became convinced of the truth of Reformed Theology, and then a proponent of Reformed Theology, I found myself facing questions over things like grace and love and being a robot. So I want to focus on those and do what I can to help clear up the myths in these areas.
The accusation is often hurled at Reformed Theology that it reduces humans to robots with no free will, unable to do anything of their own volition. This is a terrible misconception. The truth is that humans are, by nature, “robots” already in the sense that they can do nothing but be slaves to their sin. Without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which frees us from bondage to sin, we can do nothing but remain a slave to sin. In this sense, we are indeed “robots” because we have no ability to live without being obedient to our sin nature.
Reformed Theology teaches that by the work of salvation, redemption, and the Holy Spirit’s regeneration in our life, we can truly be free. We now have the ability to resist the sin nature that lives in us and live according to the grace that has been given by our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. This makes us freer than we ever could be apart from Christ.
I like what Horton says here:
“The whole emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is on the work of the Triune God in freeing us—our mind, will, emotions, and bodies—from slavery to sin and death. Apart from this grace, we are indeed ‘robots’ in a sense, slaves to our sinful rebellion, as Jesus said (John 8:34). ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (v. 35). Regenerated by God’s grace through the gospel, we find ourselves loving the God who was our enemy, attracted to the law that once condemned us, drawn outside of ourselves to look up to Christ in faith and out to our neighbors in love and service.”
Only by being set free by the Son can we experience true freedom. This is a point stressed in Reformed Theology from start to finish. So the myth of being a “robot” under Reformed Theology is clearly just a myth.
Another serious myth surrounding Reformed Theology says that there is no grace or love in this theological disposition. After all, since we are all just robots, there’s no way we could possibly do anything out of true love. And since we were “elected” to salvation we couldn’t possibly know anything about grace. Right?
Only the most uninformed or misinformed person could possibly consider this a serious accusation. As someone that has spent the last several years studying Reformed Theology and attending churches where Reformed Theology is preached, I can say with certainty that grace and love are central themes of nearly every sermon, lesson, and service. If you spend even a brief amount of time reading the great reformed literary works you will be overtaken by the amount of grace and love woven into a proper understanding of reformed theology. A cursory reading of the great creeds and catechisms will reveal that grace and love al foundational to a proper understanding of reformed theology and, in turn, the Scriptures.
Every week I hear a sermon that focuses on my great sin, God’s great grace and the Savior’s great love expressed through the cross. I am constantly brought back to Calvary to see the love and grace of God as Jesus took my place and my punishment. I have a more profound understanding of God’s love and grace now than I ever did because of its central role in Reformed Theology.
Here Horton cites the Belgic Confession, which I find helpful:
“In the words of the Belgic Confession, ‘Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned’ (Art. 24).”
The idea that Reformed Theology lacks grace and love is nothing more than a myth.
I hope this has been helpful in clearing up some of the terrible myths of Reformed Theology. For me, the study and conviction of Reformed Theology has brought much joy to my life and a far greater understanding of grace, mercy, sanctification, and many other theological themes. As you study, I hope you can get past the mischaracterizations associated with Reformed Theology and see the truth it teaches fro the Bible. I hope it brings you much joy as well.