Friday, May 04, 2007

Reformed or Not?

UPDATED:

After spending some time with different people who claimed to be Reformed, i started to get confused what does that term really means. At first impression, 'Reformed' people seem to be those who are serious in sorting out issues regarding their belief. But as time uncovers, this term seems to be more of a dogmatic label than intellectually promising.

I have never seriously considered myself to be a Reformed person. Nevertheless i enjoy the achievements by Reformed heroes; folks like John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, James Smith, N.T Wright, Alister McGrath, Leron Shults, and many others bear this label and due to that, naturally, the label looks good.

On the other hand, this many others who bear this label make it look bad. How? Let me refresh how did we came to where we are now.

In the early 20th century, as modern culture and urbanization brought increasingly secular learning, and especially following the rise of Darwinism and of biblical scholarship that approached texts critically, many Christians developed a set of “Fundamentals,” seeking to rid the church of those who deviated toward “modernism.” Thus was born the term “Fundamentalism.” Heresy trials occurred in several Protestant denominations. In Reformed circles the Five Fundamentals were biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of the body, a satisfaction theory of the atonement, and the literalness of Jesus’ miracles as recorded in the Bible. (Louis B. Weeks, A Brief Look At The Reformed).

The 'Fundamentalists' have slip on the Reformed label. And some Reformed slip into Fundamentalism. Why is this happening? Basically due to the nature of human being. When we find ourselves couldn't answer some serious questions, in desperation, we will turn to the Fundamentalism, wearing its cap.

What do Fundamentalists do? They affirm the biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of the body, a satisfaction theory of the atonement. And they do just that: Affirm. There are traces of such affirmations be found here in this part of the world. That said, i have to add that there are also hybrids. A hybrid is one who embrace both Reformed and Fundamentalism. I consider Stephen Tong, BB Warfield, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen etc as Fundamentalist and Reformed. Some sway more to Fundamentalism and some more to the Reformed. But i think the true Reformed is not Fundamentalist. Not in the least in according to the 7 pointers listed below.

Anyway, my point is that Fundamentalist and Reformed are different species altogether. As i gave one distinction between them is that fundamentalist just affirm. While Reformed do affirm something but definitely NOT the 5 solas, TULIP, and the Westminster Confessions. Meaning a Reformed is NOT someone who recites the 5 Solas and Westminster Confessions for breakfast every morning. What is a Reformed then?

According to Gerhard Sauter's essay Observations on the Current State of Reformed Theology, he listed 7 distinct 'Reformed marks' which are affirm by Reformed people:

... first with the structure of the Sunday service. It should concentrate on the proclamation of the Gospel. According to the order of worship, all hymns and prayers, the call to worship, the confession of sin, the prayer for illumination, the affirmation of faith, the doxology, and the benediction surround the promise of the Gospel and its directives. Reformed preaching has often been very close to mere instruction for Christian life. Mostly preaching and education were intertwined…

The second step: I would like to question the administration of the church, especially the role of the presbytery and the synod.

This leads us to a third marker of Reformed theology. We have to take into account the readiness to revise church doctrines by discovering the inexhaustible richness of biblical witness that is neither harmonized nor systematized. How can we think and act in a way that is shaped by sincere biblical theology, formed by the biblical narrative?

There is, fourth, the rational nature of Reformed theology—a rationality that, for example, comes into effect when faithful people speak of having recognized God’s acting in history and in social affairs, or of God’s providence directing personal life and the fortune of a church or a nation.

...fifth, the awareness of God’s sovereignty, expressed especially in the doctrine of predestination and election. This awareness includes two components: the glory of God as the ultimate direction of human life in all its acting and suffering…

...sixth special mark of Reformed theology, an unusually far-reaching doctrine of the Holy Spirit, especially of his boundless presence.

Seventh, last but not least, there is the difficult and troublesome relation between eschatology and history...

I really did measure myself with this 7 pointers to see whether am i a Reformed. I realize that i dont really care about the first, sympathize with the second, amen to the third (especially the 'revise' part- given my postfoundationalism), alleluai on the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh point. Ohh... i am some sort of Reformed. This said, to differ from Fundamentalism, i don't really subscribe to the 5 Solas and the Westminster Confessions. My Reformed marks are not those but the other 7 pointers listed above.

Well, let me end with Jurgen Moltmann's summary on Reformed Theology:

Reformed Theology is, as its name testifies, nothing other than reformatory theology, theology of permanent reformation...

Reformatory theology is a theology of a constant turning back, the turning back to that future of God's kingdom promised by the Word of God...

... 'reformation' is not onetime act to which confessionalist could appeal and upon whose events a traditionalist could rest.

In essence, 'reformation according to God's Word' is 'permanent reformatory'; one might say, adapting Trotsky's call to revolution, it is 'an event that keeps the church and theology breathless with suspense, an event that infuses church and theology with the breath of life, a story that is constantly making history, an event that cannot be concluded in this world, a process that will come to fulfillment and to rest only in the Parousia of Christ'... As reforming theology, Reformed Theology is eschatologically oriented theology.
(Jurgen Moltmann, Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda, in Towards The Future Of Reformed Theology, David Willis & Michael Welker, ed., p.120-121.)

5 comments:

Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Josh, just looked through your blog for the first time and I am amazed you have so many entries and links! Have you read that many books these few years? Gosh... can't believe it! I thought I've just entered into an online library and I'm quite lost ha ha...

Anyway, reformed theology is not easy to understand. It's so full of paradoxes, so full of truth and so full of stumbling blocks.

I was just told that for a person to understand just the basics right, it will take at least a few years of intensive reading on reformed heritage and long hours of thinking over and over again. I have been pondering over this statement, and yeah I think it's very true.

I also realize that the more I learn of it, the less I know of it. Be patient, brother. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I guess, that will keep us from wrong path in our studies. All the best!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Mejlina, thanks for dropping by. Sorry to be puzzling in the blog. I am trying to compile those who i can learn from. So i link to their websites for reference from time to time. Concerning the books, well, only 50% has been read, 25% can't be read because they are reference book: dictionary, encyclopedia, commentary etc. The other 25% are waiting to be read.

Yes, you are right on reformed theology. It's vast and developing. An elaborate worldview by itself.
=)

Joshua

Ignatius said...

Hi Sze Zeng, the solas and the westminster confessions have been helpful to the formation of my understanding of the bible.For me, the ultimate authority is the bible. Thus, even the confessions and the creeds have to refer us back to the Word of God. I know certain 'reformed' authors use the confessions and the creeds as if these were infalliable. (Many Wesleyan theologians also rely too much on John Wesley's writings, and this is to the neglect of biblical support.)

As to whether the term 'reformed' is more dogmatic label than intellectually promising, I think more importantly is whether reformed theology espouses a doctrine that is life changing.

Btw, though you only 50% has been read, it amounts to 60 books! Considering the nature of the books read, this is certainly not an easy feat.

Ignatius

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ignatius,

Thank you for commenting!
You are right to say that the solas and confessions can serve as a guide for those who struggle to understand Biblical Authority. And i think you also know that they are not the only guides around.

One of the reason for this post is also to make clear that a reformed is not someone who must embrace the solas, westminster and TULIP.

God bless.

:)

Anonymous said...

Mejlina, i can't help but to think you are mythologizing reformed theology with your comment:

Anyway, reformed theology is not easy to understand. It's so full of paradoxes, so full of truth and so full of stumbling blocks.

I was just told that for a person to understand just the basics right, it will take at least a few years of intensive reading on reformed heritage and long hours of thinking over and over again. I have been pondering over this statement, and yeah I think it's very true.

I also realize that the more I learn of it, the less I know of it.


Jack