I love reformed theology.
I love the doctrines of grace.
I love our body of truth.
I love our fathers who witnessed in life (and in many cases, in death) to the truths I hold so dear.
But I have to confess to being a little disillusioned at times when it comes to being in the reformed family.
You see, the reformed family is pretty awesome but we’re not without our issues. I’ve waxed lyrical about my issues with some in the family already but in this series of posts, I want to move past that and think about how it is that we can effectively communicate the great and glorious truth of the reformed faith in our modern context.
I want us to think about how we can effectively communicate the truth of God’s Word in contemporary culture without watering down what we believe and without wavering on why we believe it.
The Reformation was both a historically-rooted and culturally/socially-relevant movement and I believe we can do the same. That’s my heart in this series – to use a phrase that will feature heavily in this extended conversation: a fixed and flexible reformed witness.1
Before we get through the heavy theological and historical lifting required to effectively handle this discussion, I want to begin with a few personal reflections as to why I would take up this series. Why do I think it is so important for us to have a contemporary reformed witness that is both fixed in what it believes and teaches and flexible in areas as well? Three thoughts:
(1) Sometimes we confuse what is fixed and what we can be flexible on
For a theology forged in the fires of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, reformed theology is incredibly relevant to the day in which we live.
However, speak to most folks who have had a cursory brush with reformed people in the past and you’d get the perception that reformed theology is anything but!
To an extent, that cannot be helped. We value the apostolicity2 of the faith we confess – we can trace these truths back to the Apostles and their teaching in the Scripture. We value the catholicity of the faith we confess – that the church is universal in its scope and not restricted by geographical boundaries. We even value the historicity of the faith – this faith is the faith of our fathers, not just ourselves. Faithful men passed these things on to other faithful men who were able to teach others also and we are very standing on the shoulders of giants when it comes to the faith.3
That all being said, there is a danger in our circles which I fear we either don’t believe to be a danger or (even worse) we think to be a badge of honour. The danger is that often we confuse those elements of our reformed conviction that are fixed and those things which, if we are honest, are a little flexible such that in the final analysis, we are simply unintelligible. (More on that to come.)
If we are to maintain a witness to the reformed faith that communicates intelligibly and intelligently to today’s world, we have to do justice to the reality that while the core truths of our faith should never change, our presentation and communication of these things must change to be understood by the people we seek to reach.
In reference to the use of spiritual gifts, Paul laid out a principle we would do well to bear in mind:
There are doubtless many different kinds of languages in the world, and all have meaning. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker will be a foreigner to me.4
What is the key principle Paul teaches us in 1 Cor 14? Communicating in such a way as the things we say have meaning to those who hear us. That’s a principle we cannot afford to ignore or dismiss as reformed people in the 21st century.
I’ll pick up with a second personal reflection in the second part of this series.