Friday, December 07, 2007

Streams of Reformed/Calvinistic Baptist Renewal

Clint, of Cowboyology has been writing about the streams from which the new revival in RB distinctives have come out of. It has garnered some interesting discussion. But, what has really come to my attention has been the thinking back through church history, that it suggests.

Streaming History

Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, was founded by an ordained presbyterian. The presbyterian movement itself was an expression of puritanism, or the cause for semper reformanda in England and Scotland. The English reformation, in turn was a result of the great reformation of theology and church life instigated by John Calvin. Calvin himself was not a pure inovator, but learning from Jacques Lefavre d'Etaples and the french reformation wing, which was supremely influenced by Luther and Erasmus. These, although great thinkers who discovered things for themselves, where supremely influenced by their humanistic studies, (ie to study original languages and the Patristics. Luther was able to debate form the views of the Fathers effectively enough to silence his opponents, and admits (to his own political harm) his debt to the works of John Huss a martyr from a previous generation.

All these movements, reperesented a movement of theology, so that not all pre-Dallas where creadobaptists, not all reflected biblically discovered hierarchy before the westminster standards, Luther could harldy be considered a modern churchman. Yet in all these cases we have bretheren who we would not hesitate to learn from, and to cooperate with in gospel mission.

Common Themes

There were central themes that define them all and the so called "formal" and "material" casues of the reformation really do illustrate them. The Bible as the authority, and the gospel as described by the doctrines of Grace, have been consistant. So that while at times, we may feel that a period of Dallas era dispensationalism weakened the Five Responses of the Counsel of Dort to the Remonstrances of the Arminians. They did defend the key elements of Grace, and many Dallas Graduates, such as Robert Thomas are in fact calvinistic, and have been so all the way through.

Certainly my own expeeince at TMS, was that while there was diversity and discussion, the principles of the doctrines of grace were held and taught by the profs and most students. I never came accross any of the so called '3 point' calvinists in leadership there, in distinction from Clint's experience at TMC, but I did come to see that a distinctive dispensational hermeneutic (read as consistant historico-grammatical plain reading, different from a dispensational systematic theology) can and must lead to a reformed view of the doctrines of grace.

More to Being Reformed

There must be however a recognition that there is more to being reformed then the mere affirmations of scripture alone and grace alone. These principles are the core of evangelical committment. But the Reformed view compiles these with the idea of reformed worship according to the regulative principle. (If the bible commands or by reasonable logic implies it, do it. If not it has no place in worship). It sees the world through the either the lense of covenant keepers or covenant breakers. It looks at the social, poilitical and educational activities of our world and seeks to conform those to the principle of covenant fidelity.

Luther in contrast held to a more inclusive normative principle of worship (if not forbidden leav it alone). Yet in view of seeking to bring the world in submission to Christ, socially (see his book On Chrsitian Freedom), politically, (Secular Authority and An Appeal to the Ruling Casses), educationally, (see the quote I deal with in my previous post), Luther is cleary "reformed".

To what do we seek renewal?

I commented on cowboyology:

I have been re-reading Luther lately, and being reminded from his early work, "On Christian Freedom" and his late work, "The Bondage of the Will" Luther could be drawn as a consistent Calvinist (if that weren't anachronistic). Perhaps rather then a reformed renewal (although that is certainly true), the movement we are encouraging and seeing may be broader and really we ought to be discussing a Sovereign Grace Renewal, which is a part of the reforming of Baptistic thinkers bringing them back to their biblical roots.Just a thought, as I looked at Luther's Gospel renewal.

Charles Spurgeon in discussing the gospel wrote "If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, 'He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.'"

The Fundamental Question

Do we seek clarity on a label and form of christian expression, or on the faith itself? This is an interesting question, because our labels are not sinful, but helpful and communicative. But is this a question of mere labels? One thing must be kept in mind. Orthodox Christianity exaults the doctrines of grace, heresy corrupts them. True Arminianism is not a benign alternative label, it is the title of a condemned heresy that challenged the orthadox beliefs of the reformation church and was judged and publically refuted as heterodox. Spurgeon again notes:

  • And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we
    do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach
    the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I

Now there are many modern arminians, who are really wesleyan. That is they are evangelical Christians who claim the label arminian, and yet still preach enough of the true gospel. But like the Puritans of England, we see a church with a pretty good gospel, and a pretty good practice, but we call for more.

Reforming Evangelicalism

We want the ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundu Verbum Dei --The Church reformed, always reforming according to the word of God. We do not want constant change and inovation, nor bare tradition. We want to be reformed, restructured, remolded to God's word personally and corporately.

This is the mission and call of the church. To call all people to reform their lives, worldview and practices to the word of God, to be covenant keepers in that they accurately represent the image of God in the world and interpret the world unde God's authority and glorify Him, enjoying Him forever.

But to do this in isolation would be foolish. Why reinvent the wheel? While we must study our languages (greek and hebrew) and return to the text of Scripture by ourselves, we need also to return to Clement, Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Anslem, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Hubmier, Owen, Bunyan, Keetch, Spurgeon, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Sproul and their ilk, who have proved to be faithful expositors, who have wrestled with culture, education, politics, church governance, soteriology, theology proper, counselling, spirtitual growth, and who have all conscienciously spoke to the church at large and asked them to abandon their current direction in favour of biblical reform.

The call to reform

Perhaps we will never escape fighting over the big "R" Reformed Label... Then so be it. Let's focus on small "r" reformation:

"The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England [and Canada] again."—C. H. Spurgeon

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