This might seem like a confusing distinction. People sometimes think that Reformed Theology simply means Calvinism. But when Reformed Theology is referred to in this context, it specifically means adherence to one of the great confessions of faith. On the other hand, Calvinism is expressed by the doctrine that God is the sole cause of salvation; salvation does not await activation by man’s free will. This is typically summarized by the acronym TULIP. As a non-Reformed Calvinist, I believe in TULIP, but do not necessarily adhere to any of the confessions.
One is typically thought to be confessional if they affirm all or the majority of the Westminster Confession of Faith or the London Baptist Confession of Faith. I do not have anything against these articles. I can probably say that I agree with 80% of both of them. My issue would be whether I view the confessions as authoritative or need to be interpreted to determine the doctrine and practice of the church. I do not think they do. This would create a pretty significant distinction between myself and other Calvinists, because most Calvinists are in fact Reformed.
It Is Actually Fine
You can understand how some might be timid about being a non-Reformed Calvinist. They might feel like outcasts, living on the edges of their congregation but with too many significant disagreements to really merge into the body. But I do not think that is the best way to look at it. Most people are not worried about whether you believe in theonomy, for example. Biblical fellowship is supposed to transcend these disagreements. In the body of Christ, we can have these disagreements, voice them and move on. That has been my experience as a non-Reformed Calvinist.
Actually, there are some benefits to being around people who disagree with you about theological issues. This extends even to theological issues that are important to you. If you are exposed to people who think a little differently from you, it can enhance your ability to think critically. It will also help you relate to people who hold different opinions. This will be useful when keeping the Great Commission in a hostile environment.
Overall, I have had no negative experiences as a non-Reformed Calvinist. I have had no trouble merging into a Christian congregation. I anticipate that no matter where I will go, I will find people with whom I disagree. That has significant advantages to being in an echo chamber.
Separating Myself From The Overzealous Piety
If you have followed this blog, you might have noticed that I use controversial titles to express my points. This will include terms such as “earning a seat at the atheists’ table,” “putting God on trial,” and more. This is essentially because I am severely disillusioned with the overzealous piety in Calvinist circles. We often see a fundamental inability to distinguish between a mountain and a molehill. Calvinist theologians will actively look for reasons to accuse other believers.
So for example, if we are talking about presuppositional apologetics (which is the typical apologetic methodology among the Reformed), it is very difficult to have an intellectual dispute. It is more of a pious contest. There is this mentality that wrapping an argument in pious language, it is a better argument. But the fact that you use the term “Lordship of Christ” or “biblical truth” while describing your view does not mean you are right and it certainly does not entitle anybody to a sense of self-righteousness or piety.
What is interesting is that this is just how people see the Reformed. The cage stage seems like it can extend a little longer than many Calvinists suggest. Many non-Calvinists perceive Calvinists in a very negative light. So my reception to incoming ideas beyond the confessions has allowed me to disassociate myself with that sort of negativity.
More Defensible Models of Christian Theology
As an apologist, part of my task entails providing a coherent model of Christian theology. If I want to preach the gospel, that will mean I have to offer a good framework in which it is given. While I appreciate the great confessions of faith, they might be a little more receptive to critique than my model. For example, if modern science makes a model completely implausible, you should find a new model. Theistic evolution would be a model that outstrips naturalism and strengthens Christian theology.
If I were restricted to the confessions, I would have fewer resources for developing models that can evade objections. William Lane Craig’s Christological model is another example. Philosophical objections typically lodged against the incarnation would be unable to touch Dr. Craig’s model. But if he were confessional, he would be more vulnerable to those attacks. As a non-Reformed Calvinist, I can do the legwork of resolving philosophical objections rather than piously declaring my loyalty to the confessions.
Confessions of A Non-Reformed Calvinist
I appreciate the confessions and I have nothing against them. But I do not view them as authoritative and I do not think it is necessary to return to them when I am puzzled over a theological issue. There are answers beyond the confessions. Further, many people are put off by Calvinism and are less likely to listen to what I have to say if I am confessional. And what I say has the capacity to be more robust because I do not live in an echo chamber, and I am not confined to a broad set of beliefs. Overall, I believe that Calvinism is the fullest expression of the gospel, but we should be a little more nuanced than the confessions allow.
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