The answer to the question is obvious to most people, but often in two different directions.

For many people, John Piper is the most well known and most vigorous proponent of Reformed theology in the evangelical world today. He’s the guy who calls himself a seven point Calvinist. He exults in the sovereignty of God at every turn. He is, according to Mark Dever, “the single most potent factor in the recent rise of Reformed theology.” Of course, John Piper is Reformed.

But for others, it’s just as obvious that John Piper is not really Reformed. Reformed theology is defined by the Reformed confessions and finds its expression in Reformed and Presbyterian ecclesiastical structures, so clearly John Piper—as a credobapstist from the Baptist General Conference—is not Reformed. Why should “Reformed Baptist” sound any less strange than “Lutheran Baptist”?

I understand the point that those in the second category are trying to make. There is a real danger we equate Reformed theology with John Calvin and then equate John Calvin with TULIP, so that “Reformed” ends up meaning nothing more than a belief in predestination. Scholars like Richard Muller have worked hard to remind us that both equations are terribly reductionistic. Reformed churches existed before John Calvin, and Calvin’s thought was but one stream (a very important stream) flowing into and out of the Reformed tradition.

Likewise, anyone who has a deep appreciation for the Reformed confessions and has studied the development of Reformed theology will be understandably jealous to help people see that there is much more to being Reformed than a predestinarian soteriology. As one who subscribes to a historic Reformed denomination and has written a book on the Heidelberg Catechism, I am enthusiastic about all that the Reformed tradition has to offer, from ecclesiology, to worship, to our understanding of the law, to our understanding of the sacraments, to a dozen other things. I sympathize with those who are quick to point out that a college freshman who believes in a big God is not exactly plumbing the depths of what it means to be Reformed.

But on the other hand, it doesn’t bother me when John Piper is called Reformed. Besides the fact that he could likely affirm 95% of what is in the Three Forms and in the Westminster Standards—and I’m not suggesting the other 5% is inconsequential, I’m just making a point that the differences are not as great as one might think—I can readily acknowledge that the word “Reformed” is used in different ways. “Reformed” can refer to a confessional system or an ecclesiastical body. But “Reformed” or “Calvinist” can also be used more broadly as an adjective to describe a theology that owes much of its vigor and substance to Reformed theologians and classic Reformed theology.

Herman Bavinck’s chapter on the history of “Reformed Dogmatics” provides a good example. For starters, Bavinck notes how different Reformed theology is from Lutheran theology, the former being less tied to one country, less tied to one man, and less tied down in a single confession (Reformed Dogmatics, 1.177). Doctrinal development, Bavinck argues, has been richer and more multifaceted in Reformed theology (which may be one of the reasons you don’t hear of Lutheran Baptists).

In particular, Bavinck claims, “From the outset Reformed theology in North America displayed a variety of diverse forms.” He then goes on to mention the arrivals of the Episcopal Church (1607), the Dutch Reformed (1609), the Congregationalists (1620), the Quakers (1680), the Baptists (1639), the Methodists (1735 with Wesley and 1738 with Whitefield), and finally the German churches. “Almost all of these churches and currents in these churches,” Bavinck observes, “were of Calvinistic origin. Of all religious movements in America, Calvinism has been the most vigorous. It is not limited to one church or other, but—in a variety of modifications—constitutes the animating element in Congregational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed churches, and so forth” (1.201). In other words, not only is Bavinck comfortable using Calvinism has a synonym for Reformed theology (in this instance at least), he also has no problem affirming that Calvinism was not limited to one tradition alone but constituted the “animating element” in a variety of churches. Calvinism, as opposed to Lutheranism, flourished in colonial America as the typical orthodox, Reformational, sola scriptura-sola fide alternative to the various forms of comprised Arminianism and heterodox Socinianism.

The reason “Reformed” has not been confined in this country to those, and only those, who subscribe to the Three Forms or the Westminster Standards, is because from the beginning the basic contours of Calvinist theology pulsed through the veins of a variety of church bodies. Does this mean nothing but “the basic contours of Calvinist theology” matter for life and godliness? Certainly not—why else would Herman Bavinck go on to carefully delineate the intricacies of Reformed dogmatics for 2500 more pages. I am gladly Reformed, with a capital R as big as you can find.

Which is why my first reaction to the proliferation of even some of Reformed theology is profound gratitude. Do I think TULIP is the essence of Calvinism? No. Do I wish many who think of themselves as “Reformed” would go a lot farther back and dig a lot deeper down? Yes. But does it bother me that people think of Piper, Mohler, and Dever as Reformed? Not at all. They are celebrating and promoting Calvin and Hodge and Warfield and Bavinck and Berkhof—not to mention almost all of the rich Scriptural theology they expound—in ways that should make even the most truly Reformed truly happy.

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99 thoughts on “Is John Piper Really Reformed?”

  1. Bruce Taylor says:

    The difficulty that I have with so much of the article and the following discussion is the lack of focus on the true source of what we are to believe. I have over the years found myself aligning with many of the labels and groups mentioned here. AS the Lord changed my mind through His Word my doctrine changed. My conviction has become this… We are called to be Biblical, not reformed, baptist, calvanist, arminian , etc… We are not to subscribe to this creed or that ancient form or catechism as our guide. The Scriptures are to be our guide, I know a lot of these documents are in line with the solid teaching of the Word but I hear too many who talk about these documents and not enough about the real source document. If you cannot teach the Word of God as a theology to common people in common language then there is a problem. So I would challenge us to move back to this model, not teaching points of Calvin or creeds or catechisms but instead teach the Bible. I found that the more I did this the more I could understand the places where the creeds of men and catechisms had failed me. The man made systems of theology are not “Cannon” and as such need to be secondary in their use.

    I am sure some will think I am all “high and mighty” about this, I am not please understand I am not. I am one who has walked the road and had to tell people that I have led to not place themselves in a camp or label unless the camp is Christ’s and the Label is God’s and the Source is the Bible. It takes humility and deep sorrow to admit to your people that you taught in-appropriately. My core theology has not changed, I believe I remain faithful to the Word, but I was convicted because I stood more on the pedestal of my Calvinism and Reformed Doctrines than I did on the foundation of the Bible.

    May we boldly proclaim the Truth of the Word of God and teach the whole cannon of Scripture to the sheep we are given. If along the way God uses the study and teaching of the Word to change my beliefs then I say AMEN, no matter if the transition takes me away from what might “fit” with my denomination or camp that I may have placed myself in. The Word is infallible, Modern or Historical Church documents can be flawed.

    Brothers and Sisters, I know that some of what I have said may offend, and if I offended you I apologize. I urge you to contemplate the value of the Word of God, not just in your mind, but in how you teach and disciple and preach. Do you present it as the source and authority? Or is it used to try and backup the other sources that you authoritatively quote?

  2. Mallen says:

    There is NO TULIP in the Reformed faith, only in the Baptist faith. A “Reformed” Baptist is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist. Baptists are Baptists, Reformed are Reformed. I grew up in the Reformed Church before it sadly became the UCC. There is a world of difference between Baptists and the Reformed branch. Baptists may have told themselves they are in the same branch, but they are more like cousins than brothers on the denominational chart of Christianity. “Reformed” Baptist is a modern term to attract new members. It’s laughable anyone with any knowledge of church history would ever think the two distinct streams are the same.

  3. mark mcculley says:

    David: The bottom line is that there is double payment for Calvinists too, unless we accept the erroneous doctrine of eternal justification.

    mark: I reject this caricature of the literal imputation of the sins of the elect. It is not necessary for us to teach “eternal justification” in order to reject the Torrance ideology about “contract legalism”.

    I quote from Carl Truman’s essay on John Owen and the timing of justification in the Westminster Seminary collection Justified in Christ.(ed by Oliphant, 2007)

    p 91–”The Protestant doctrine of justification by imputation was always going to be criticized as tending toward eternal justification. Late medieval theologians (nominalists, occasionalists) had used the distinction between God’s absolute power and God’s ordained power to break the necessary connection between the priority of actual righteousness and God’s declaration that a particular person is justified. In placing the declaration in God’s will, not in the intrinsic qualities of the one justified, it would be argued that any necessary connection between justification and any chronological factors had been decisively abolished”.

    mark: In other words, since “synthetic” (the imputation of another extrinsic factor) justification is not about what’s happening in the sinner now, why not say that all the elect were justified at one time, either at the cross, or before the beginning of the ages?

    This is what Baxter accused John Owen of doing, of simply “announcing in the gospel” that the elect had already all been justified. But that’s not what Owen did, but Baxter said he should do that to be consistent. Baxter wanted to get “chronological factors” into the equation, because Baxter wanted to make “intrinsic conditions” a factor in justification.

    The assumption of Baxter, and the Torrances, and Andrew Fuller, and those who put “Christ in us” in priority over imputation, is that if you remove inner transformation before imputation, then you only have an appeal to God’s bare sovereignty, and then you might as well say that God justified all the elect at the same time, or even all of them before the beginning of the ages.

    But justification is NOT a matter of God’s bare sovereignty but also a revelation of God’s righteousness, and God’s justice demands that God impute in time to the elect the death which Christ earned in time for the elect. If all you have is bare sovereignty, then there is no need for imputation in time, and also there is really no need for Christ to die to satisfy justice.

    John Owen used to agree with the nominalists (John Calvin on this particular question) that the death of Christ was not strictly necessary. When John Owen changed his mind, he concluded that justification is not only a matter of God’s declaring the elect to be just (while yet sinners).

    But neither does justice demand that “justification be imputed” to all the elect at one time, either when Christ’s righteousness is actually accomplished, or when God decrees the death of Christ. Owen concluded that justice demands a connection between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, but it does not demand that the death be imputed at the same time to all the elect. It’s not “justification” which is imputed. It’s Christ’s righteousness which is imputed.

  4. mark mcculley says:

    Carl Trueman, p 93–”Baxter claims that if Christ has paid the actual price for our sins, as Owen argues in The Death of Death (1647), then this payment is not refusable by God, nor is it possible that there could be a chronological delay between payment of the debt and the dissolution of the debt, since it is either paid or not paid, thus all the elect are already justified in Christ, and thus faith can only fulfill a mere epistemological function whereby the elect come to acknowledge that which they are already, namely, justified.”

    mark: Notice that this is not what Baxter himself advocates. It’s what Baxter is accusing Owen of believing, or needing to believe, if Owen were consistent. This is really rich in a way, because Baxter is saying that Owen would not be following strict justice if Owen allows a time lag between Christ’s death as payment for sins and the actual forgiveness of sins, but Baxter himself has rejected any notion of strict justice, substituting a”new law” (neo-nomian) whereby God accepts something less than strict justice, namely, the chronological changes of moral improvement in the life of the one to be justified.

    It’s as if Baxter is saying, let me show you that not even Owen is being strictly just, so strict justice is not the issue. Baxter accuses Owen of not being just, while at the same time Baxter makes no claim that his own view is strict justice.

    Owen would agree that justice demands that “the payment is not refusable” but would not agree that this demands the justification of the elect sinner at the very same time payment is made.

    Carl Trueman, p 95–”Owen argues that it is crucial to understand that God’s desire to save is prior to the establishment of the covenant of redemption, and thus to any consideration of Christ’s satisfaction. Thus Owen precludes any notion that Christ’s death in any way changes the Father’s mind or buys his favor. Owen calls attention to the fact that Christ’s death, considered in abstraction from its covenantal context, has no meaning as a payment. The force of this is to focus attention on the will of God as the determining factor in the economy of salvation.”

    mark: so yes, Owen does affirm the sovereignty of God, and does make a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of Christ’s death chronologically. But Owen never appeals to “bare sovereignty” without any righteousness. Owen teaches that Christ’s death is not merely one possible way that God could in sovereignty save, but the only way, the necessary way, the just way.

    And, even though Owen makes a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, Owen is clear that God must in justice impute (in time) Christ’s death to all for whom Christ died. The payment is not “refusable”. This is not a matter of arbitrary law-less sovereignty, because it’s a question of righteous sovereignty.

    Baxter thinks the only thing that can make justification of sinners just is intrinsic change (not perfection, not strict justice) in the sinner. Owen thinks the only thing that can make the justification of sinners just is Christ’s death and the imputation of that death.

    Carl Trueman, p 96—”Owen claims that that the union of Christ with the elect in his atonement is not actual direct participation but that it must be understood in terms of federal representation. The imputation of sin to Christ is thus not strictly parallel to the imputation of Christ’s death to sinners. This is because it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation of salvation, but the covenant which lies behind the incarnation.”

  5. mark mcculley says:

    David: The reprobate rejects what Christ has sufficiently done for them. Since no sin is actually forgiven until one believes in Christ (again, avoiding eternal justification) this also includes the sin of unbelief, which eventually destroys the reprobate.

    Romans 3:25–”Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…”

    Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

    Mark: Though Andrew Fuller affirms a particular atonement in a certain sense– in that the atonement will only procure faith for the elect–he is not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling the plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense.

    And this universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with propitiation. He denies that Christ in the past made propitiation for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller teaches that Christ died to make an offer of propitiation to every sinner.

    According to Andrew Fuller, this is the nature and design and intent of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the offer of propitiation. This is sneaky and subtle, but Andrew Fuller was a sneaky and subtle man, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to confuse those who had a different meaning for the words.

    What does Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He can do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the offer?

    Andrew Fuller changes the meaning of the propitiatory death of Christ. With the Arminians, he makes the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The sneaky part is that, with the Calvinists, Andrew Fuller also makes the having faith part be dependent on what God (now?) procures by means of Christ’s death.

    With the Socinians, Andrew Fuller ends up putting the emphasis on grace as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to procure faith for sinners with Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been justly propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Fuller is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice in the name of grace.

    Even though those who follow Andrew Fuller want to say that the only way to be consistent in teaching a definite propitiation (what Christ WAS as laying down his life) is to teach an eternal justification, where the elect only subjectively find out that they were always justified, most of us who reject Fuller’s teaching also insist that no unbeliever is justified yet. (Abraham Booth is one good example of a baptist who disagreed with Fuller but very much opposed eternal justification.)

    All the justified elect are people who believe the gospel. Belief in the gospel is an immediate consequence of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect so that they are then justified trhough faith.

    Faith given to the elect is what justice demands when Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them. I do not say it “their right” but it is Christ’s right because of what Christ WAS AND DID.

    So I can and do say to any unbeliever, unless you believe the gospel, you are not yet justified. But I also say to those unbelievers— your believing is not something you can or will do unless Christ died for you, and you will never know if Christ did until you believe the gospel.

  6. Todd F. says:

    http://truthforsaints.com/Christian_Denominations/denomination_history/files/denominations_family_tree_2013_v4.png

    Unless you’re an Anabaptist, all Baptists descended from the the Catholicism schism via the Church of England. The Reformers descended directly from Catholicism. Very different streams.

    http://www.pbministries.org/Theology/Laurence%20Justice/are_baptists_reformed.htm

  7. Rachael says:

    I feel my leanings are like Reformed Baptist even though I don’t go to that exact church. Maybe I don’t understand either on a really deep level, but I believe in Believer’s Baptism, Predestination/Election, God’s sovereignty. I like emphasis on Scripture. My preference for listening to a preacher would be expository – learning from what the Scripture says. I would prefer straight up Bible study than curriculums. I don’t gravitate toward atmospheres that include more on “feelings” and applause and “seeker-sensitive” like atmospheres than I’m comfortable with. I like hymns and would be interested to read more of those and learn more of the thoughts of Believers from centuries before. I like the sense of inter-generational mingling and the sense of community that I feel more in smaller churches.

    But I’ve attended a variety of churches all my life-non-denomination with charismatic leanings, Baptist, CRC, Harvest, Evangelical Free, PCA…Not all of these exactly match up with my current “Christian culture thinking/leanings”… I also suspect it’s possible I’ll again end up at a church that doesn’t exactly match up to my meanings comfortably. For instance, in the near future I may have only one option for a church-like community in a pretty closed country, and I suspect that’ll include people from a spectrum of beliefs found within our family in Christ. If I don’t feel super comfortable there, I suspect even the experience of recently attending a church for a couple years that I didn’t feel completely at home at could be on some level endurance preparation and practice for my heart in what may lie ahead.

    Ideally we should go to a church that values Scripture and Christ, but there is such a huge spectrum of beliefs and practices among those churches. Not everyone has the luxury blessing to find a church that seems like a wonderful fit. Wherever we go, there are relationships that could be cultivated, lessons to be learned, character to be grown, and a Savior – Father of all – to be worshiped and loved.

  8. Mallen says:

    http://truthforsaints.com/Christian_Denominations/denomination_history/files/denominations_family_tree_2013_v4.png

    DIFFERENT BRANCHES ENTIRELY. The Baptists came through the Church of England. The Reformed branch came straight from the Catholic split

  9. The New England Puritans were obviously “Reformed”. But they were nonconfessional and congregational. They were also the fore-fathers of most American Baptists.

    The problem is that the modern identity of being “Reformed” has been owned by confessional “old Lights”.

  10. Chris says:

    Bruce Taylor, that was beautifully put.

    My concern with this article is illustrated in this quote: “Does this mean nothing but “the basic contours of Calvinist theology” matter for life and godliness? Certainly not—why else would Herman Bavinck go on to carefully delineate the intricacies of Reformed dogmatics for 2500 more pages.”

    If I’m reading Mr De Young correctly, a person would be hard pressed to prove there isn’t the suggestion of Biblical insufficiency in there. To my reading, I also need 2500 pages of carefully delineated Reformed Doctrinal intricacies as well. If that’s the case, what then distinguishes the Reformed branch of Christianity from every other sect or cult today?

    I love this quote by Daniel W. Kirk in “A Call For Discernment”…

    “It is becoming increasingly popular in our day to affirm the inerrancy of the scriptures while at the same time inadvertently denying their sufficiency. Whenever extra-biblical “wisdom” is held up as authoritative for life and godliness, the supremacy and sufficiency of the scriptures is devalued and the consciences of men are unnecessarily bound, regardless of the teacher’s noble intent.”

  11. DJ Benjamin says:

    umm ….. the only persons with whom I would want to talk to, now would be Bruce Taylor and John Piper, of course with regard to my walk in Christ, some doubts from the Bible, being good friends with and may be take some of my friends from other religions to them. The rest of you, including Kevin are really missing the point of the Christian life. You should really live in a non-Christian land (especially hostile) to get some perspective. I live in one. Don’t let the opportunity of peace and prosperity to generate deep insightful study material and books go waste by indulging in hair splitting.

  12. JY says:

    What’s the intention of this blog? Just mentioning a big name like John Piper draws attention here. And it seems it’s trying to divide people over the definition of a certain term “Reformed” based on their denominations.

    And I don’t like the tone of this blog..

    “But on the other hand, it doesn’t bother me when John Piper is called Reformed.”

    I’m confused what he’s trying to convey with the phrase “it doesn’t bother me”… Why does he bring this up when nobody has asked of this? Are we going to say with pride to Jesus when we see Him that I’m “Reformed”? What would Jesus say when we’re arguing about who is “Reformed” and who is not?

    Please spend your time on something valuable. We don’t need to know whether John Piper is “Reformed” or not but we need to know how faithful he is to the Word of God and how much he’s glorifying God by being faithful to the Word.

  13. John Thomson says:

    I’m in sympathy with the comments of Bruce Taylor and Chris. I try to eschew labels especially when they are used divisively to either lionise or demonise, to boast or to blame. If pushed to define my position as a Christian within the umbrella of Evangelicalism I may resort to saying I am broadly/basically/essentially/largely ‘reformed with a small ‘r” or ‘calvinistic with a small ‘c”. I think this gives some sense of where I am coming from. Beyond this, labels are invidious.

    I understand the politics behind this post by Kevin and applaud his stance. I understand too the position of Hart/Scott who wish to maintain the tenure of titles in their historical sense (or at least in terms of history as they understand it). Yet there is something anachronistic about such an attempt; definitions change and evolve and were never so precise even in the first place. Worse, such causes appear nit-picking and small-minded to those outside such strictly confessional mindsets. It seems to us divisive and ungenerous in spirit – and I talk as one who holds to the importance of truth, especially biblical truth. Surely, Piper can be ‘essentially reformed’. Surely, confessional believers wishing to maintain the unity of the Spirit (the real and essential unity of believers and the church always broader than denominational and confessional boundaries)will wish to emphasise the ‘95%’ that they and Piper have in common and allow some generous flexibility, even evolution, in the label ‘reformed’, at least with the adjectival small ‘r’.

  14. mark mcculley says:

    II Peter 1:1, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal
    standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus
    Christ.”

    We need to be careful about explaining John Owen’s trilemma because Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel and conversion.

    Of course Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ died for all the sins of all Christians including all those after they arenconverted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows.

    The John Owen trilemma (as often used) does not take into account the time between Christ’s work and the legal imputation of that work.

    Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

  15. “But on the other hand, it doesn’t bother me when John Piper is called Reformed. Besides the fact that he could likely affirm 95% of what is in the Three Forms and in the Westminster Standards—and I’m not suggesting the other 5% is inconsequential, I’m just making a point that the differences are not as great as one might think”

    The problems with this statement are many. At its base it makes the mistake that so many make in thinking the Confession is a bunch of unrelated chapters that can be ignored/scrupled like an ala-carte menu. The Westminster Confession of Faith is a united whole. Take out the section on Baptism, the Church, the Sacraments in general, Worship, and the relevant Catechism questions and you are left with a jumbled mess.

  16. From a Baptist who once considered herself “reformed baptist” until closer examination:

    Theologies (especially creedal ones such as WCF) have to be taken as a whole because they have internal tensions that maintain orthodoxy. The problem with newer ad hoc theologies that select bits and bobs from different traditions and assimilate them into a new one is that they rarely carry over the paradoxes that hold specific doctrines in place. For example, in respect to gender applications, complementarian Presbyterians can actually be more free with women’s participation in church life because they have so clearly delineated the process and bounds of eldership and ordination. Without this framework, complementarian Baptists have to rely on cultural elements to define a woman’s participation.

    In my own experience,”Reformed” Baptists would do better to describe themselves as Baptists who hold a Calvinistic understanding of soteriology. By and large, such groups do not hold to Reformed doctrine about ecclesiological structure or baptism.

  17. JoseRoberto says:

    The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)

    Spurgeon on this topic:

    “But mark thee, sinner, it says, ‘whosoever.’ What a big word that is! Whosoever! There is no standard height here. It is of any height and any size. Little sinners, big sinners, black sinners, fair sinners, sinners double dyed, old sinners, aggravated sinners, sinners who have committed every crime in the whole catalogue, – whosoever.”

    And furthermore…

    That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.

    “If God would have painted a yellow stripe on the backs of the elect I would go around lifting shirts. But since He didn’t I must preach “whosoever will” and when “whatsoever” believes I know that he is one of the elect.”

  18. David says:

    Mark: I love Trueman, but I’d rather stick to Scripture… we have to stretch doctrines to the degree that prevenient grace does to both deny and accept a prior justification. Ephesians 2 is clear, no?

    “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” NASB

  19. Matt Spencer says:

    Kevin, I’ve seen you preach at Covenant Life and at the Next Conference and been very impressed with your biblical sermons, so I don’t want to overstate this criticism, but where is the bible in your analysis? Shouldn’t all christians believe that the bible alone is the source of theology, the place to turn to receive the word of God? You don’t even mention the bible in your analysis, neither do many of the commenters. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3:4 “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Appollos,’ are you not carnal?”

  20. Seth Beebe says:

    Hi guys. Just as some of the other guys have commented in a similar fashion, I was a little bit confused when this blogpost popped up on my facebook page today. I live in Toronto, Ontario and yes there are many Reformed pastors here as well as man other pastors and types of churches. But over 50% of this city was born in a foreign country and then there are the children who are second generation. Most of the caucasians who live here are extremely secular and anti-Christian, new age, or post-modern pluralists. This kind of contextual background of ministry simply makes it hard to understand how this blog is relevant. I know it has some relevancy to the intellectual discussions of those within the camp of Reformed theology, but why is the Gospel Coalition so focused on tertiary issues of the gospel. I love reading Reformed Theology books and discussing the intricacies of theology like all of you do. I graduated from a “Reformed” seminary, but something seems amiss here, when the gospel in N.America is becoming sidelined and the culture is becoming so lost, without Christ. I have talked with pastors who actually think the reason N. America has become this way is because people have abandoned reformed theology, and so we need to get back to discussions like the one here. I find this hard to believe. Yes, the gospel leads us to proper ecclesiology, church discipline, understanding that mere confession of Christ as Lord is not enough without perseverance in the fruits of repentance. All of these are reasons that America Christianity is struggling. However, what about evangelism, what about the thousands of youth who have no Christian foundation in their worldview, many of whom do not really even know who Jesus Christ is? There are so many lost young men out there who are going to be the next crazed gun maniacs. There are so many Miley Cyrus wanna be young woman out there. They are all lost without Christ and do we really need to debate how “reformed” John Piper is? What about all of the unreached people groups who are living in the urban areas of N. America. Should we all really be this concerned that we define “reformed theology” properly? I don’t think so, especially in discussing whether John Piper fits in a historical understanding of “reformed theology”. I’m a little confused at the relevancy of this article. And now I’m ready to be blasted here – haha.

  21. Ryan says:

    I just wanted to give my two cents in defense of this article.

    First, I believe that there are many people in the comments section (so many, in fact, that I’m not responding to any one particular criticism) that have misunderstood the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is the belief that Scripture alone contains sufficient information for salvation and sanctification. It does not suggest that Scripture is the final word in theology. No doubt some of you are going to direct me towards 2 Tim 3:16-17, but the statements “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” and “All Scripture is the only valid source of theology” are simply not equivalent, and indeed are so different from one another that to say that the latter is what the Bible passage is getting at would require some truly Herculean hermeneutical gymnastics.

    In other words, the conviction that Scripture can be the only source for our theology is itself extra-biblical and therefore self-refuting. As a result, while I think it is proper for Scripture to be our primary source for theology, I think it is entirely appropriate for people like DeYoung to refer to their tradition’s respective confessional statements as a source of spiritual renewal and theological enrichment, as well as an exposition upon the Scriptures.

    Second, I think that this conversation is worth having. Again, I’ve seen a lot of comments complaining that “this isn’t advancing the cause of the Gospel,” but there is more to the Kingdom of Heaven (and indeed, the Gospel) than evangelism, and while it is important for us to be out sharing the powerful truth of Christ with others, it does not necessarily follow that theological discussions are thereby rendered meaningless or foolish – even niche discussions such as this. There is, in fact, currently a non-trivial divide between “the New Calvinists” and the “old guard” of Calvinism. As per the blog post, these labels are themselves quite reductionistic, but they will serve. On the contrary, we have just recently seen a highly controversial conference where many traditional Calvinists rallied together to heavily criticize the continuationist theology of many New Calvinists (amongst others).

    Far from an irrelevant conversation, I would argue that the question of what words like “Reformed” and “Calvinist” actually mean is at the heart of many disputes and disagreements in contemporary North American evangelicalism, and that this post from Kevin DeYoung was both timely and well-needed (and it wouldn’t surprise me if it isn’t at least in part an indirect response to Strange Fire).

  22. Todd says:

    “In other words, the conviction that Scripture can be the only source for our theology is itself extra-biblical and therefore self-refuting.”

    Which begs the million dollar question, “What other source for Christian theology do we have outside the Word of God?” Ourselves? Our own personal experiences? Another pathway to God? Arguing from natural theology? Charismatic tongues?

    Sola Scriptura does not mean there are additional sources of theology. It means exactly what the Latin means. ONLY Scripture. We have all we need in this great book for our Christian guidance into truth. The canon is closed.

  23. Tim says:

    Matt,

    “Kevin, I’ve seen you preach at Covenant Life and at the Next Conference and been very impressed with your biblical sermons, so I don’t want to overstate this criticism, but where is the bible in your analysis? Shouldn’t all christians believe that the bible alone is the source of theology, the place to turn to receive the word of God?”

    I think it’s because he’s not aiming this single blog article at the question, “How do we evaluate theology?”.

    Rather, he’s discussing something like: “How do we listen to each other when we’re talking about the theology that we understand Scripture to teach? How do we make sure that we’re not misunderstanding each other? How do we describe theology to each other? How do we helpfully use labels as shorthand for our understanding of Scripture–not to say ‘I am of Apollos’, but to be clear? How do we avoid misappropriating labels?”

    This is all part of the broader question, “As we study & evaluate Scripture for ourselves, how do we properly (of course with discernment!) draw on the work that the Spirit has already done in teaching the Body of Christ to understand Scripture?”

    And that is part of the core question, “How do we evaluate theology?”. The thing is, it assumes that Bible study is meant to be done both individually and in community–lest we say to the rest of the Body, “I have no need of you.” It assumes that understanding the label “Reformed” (and other labels, whether or not you agree with them) is helpful, not divisive.

  24. Ryan says:

    Todd,

    Yes indeed. Our personal experience, the world around us, and our reasoning faculties are all capable of informing our theology – and if we’re honest, they already do. It is true that they are fallible sources of theology, as opposed to the infallible Scriptures, but fallible and useless are two very different words, and we can still glean valuable knowledge and insight from them.

    Also, your definition of Sola Scriptura is in error and is not something any of the Reformers that I am aware of would have held to. Section one, article seven of the Westminster Catechism states: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” The key word being salvation – the doctrine never suggests that Scripture is sufficient for informing us on every theological issue. To simply translate the Latin to the English is to butcher the doctrine.

    Finally, you have yet to resolve the fundamental contradiction of your position. I reiterate: The conviction that Scripture can be the only source for our theology is itself extra-biblical and therefore self-refuting.

  25. mark mcculley says:

    David: we have to stretch doctrines to the degree that prevenient grace does to both deny and accept a prior justification. Ephesians 2 is clear, no?

    mark: I must say–your point is not clear to me. Are you an advocate of eternal justification? Do you get that from Ephesians?

    Many theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy,the Torrances) are using the concept of “union” to say that the “atonement” which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” Thus they teach that CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL POSSIBLY PERISH.

    It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

    John Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

    But some theologians are using the idea of “union” to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse others of denying any need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified.

    If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it, the accusers say. But it’s clear that John Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. Owen makes a distinction between the atonement and the legal imputation of the atonement.

    Kevin Dixon Kemmedy (with many other Southern Baptists) locates the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but instead in the efficacy of regeneration and faith which unites people with that propitiation. This is their argument— “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

    But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. According to them, it’s “union-by-faith” which designates the team of people for whose sins Christ died.

  26. Why should anyone think the Bible has anything to say about what the English word ‘Reformed’ means in our contemporary context?

  27. Chris says:

    Considering that theology is the knowledge of God, I have no problem with the assertion that things outside Scripture can inform my theology. (Romans 1:20)

    However, that was never my contention.

    Contrast the following:

    “Does this mean nothing but “the basic contours of Calvinist theology” matter for *life and godliness*? Certainly not—why else would Herman Bavinck go on to carefully delineate the intricacies of Reformed dogmatics for 2500 more pages.”

    2 Peter 1:3-4 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to *life and godliness*, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”

  28. Jack Brooks says:

    Dear Kevin,

    Thanks for the article. It looks like to me that people are fussing over two distinct issues. One is definitional, the other is purpose. One group is arguing about what the word “Reformed” means. Scott Clark is advocating a definition of the word that is narrow and immutable.

    You are asserting that the word has a range of meaning — not an infinite range of meaning, in which case the word would have no meaning, but a range of meaning. Yours is the broader definition, which includes Clark’s definition, plus more. There is some point at which certain definitions would not correctly represent the word “Reformed.”

    Does “Reformed” include covenant theology? I think so. The idea of a dispensational Reformed person seems impossible to me, rather like a free-market communist. Does covenant theology demand a belief in paedobaptism? I think not. That issue depends (partly) on who you say the New Covenant includes. Limiting the New Covenant to the elect does not mean that “covenant” isn’t still the right lens through which to see God’s historical dealings with mankind.

    The second group is fussing over their belief that this whole discussion is pointless. I can somewhat see what they mean. If someone is pounding the keyboard to correct Rachel Held Evans for calling someone “Reformed”, and not focusing on the pastoral issue of whether Rachel Held Evans is even a believer, or is she a gangrenous element in the body of Christ, that former focus is really wrong-headed.

    But in a lot of ways the griping is nothing more than, “Your post is a BAD post because…well, because it’s not the post I would have written.” As a reader, my reaction to those complaints is, “OK, so go write your own blog.” You felt like writing about this, so you did. The post matters, because words are the God-given means by which we communicate, and we can’t communicate if we don’t use a shared vocabulary. So if this post contributes to better communication, even if people still disagree, then clearer communication is always useful.

  29. Ryan says:

    “If someone is pounding the keyboard to correct Rachel Held Evans for calling someone “Reformed”, and not focusing on the pastoral issue of whether Rachel Held Evans is even a believer, or is she a gangrenous element in the body of Christ, that former focus is really wrong-headed.”

    Though that’s not to say that the latter focus isn’t.

  30. Todd says:

    Ryan,

    I couldn’t be more opposed to your non-Scriptural use of theology outside the Bible, nor your fundamental misunderstanding of the Latin and Reformed meaning of Sola Scriptura.

    Your quote: “Yes indeed. Our personal experience, the world around us, and our reasoning faculties are all capable of informing our theology – and if we’re honest, they already do.”

    If the world around you, if your PERSONAL experience is “informing” your theology, you are not listening to the gospel, you are listening to yourself.

    Your quote: “Also, your definition of Sola Scriptura is in error and is not something any of the Reformers that I am aware of would have held to. Section one, article seven of the Westminster Catechism states: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” The key word being salvation – the doctrine never suggests that Scripture is sufficient for informing us on every theological issue. To simply translate the Latin to the English is to butcher the doctrine.”

    Really? In error, you say? Well, here’s a quote from a Ligonier Ministries I want you to look at: “The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.”

    But let’s go back further to the Church Fathers:

    “These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me” – Athanasius

    “Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture” – Athanasius

    “What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher” – Augustine

    You: “Finally, you have yet to resolve the fundamental contradiction of your position. I reiterate: The conviction that Scripture can be the only source for our theology is itself extra-biblical and therefore self-refuting.”

    There is no fundamental contradiction in my position as you can plainly see. Our theology comes from the Bible, nowhere else, unless it ceases to be Christian theology.

  31. But it’s not just which group they split from. It’s also what influenced them. The London Baptist Confession pretty much just is the Westminster Confession except for stuff on church governance and baptism. There’s no arguing that they weren’t operating with significant influence from the Reformed tradition. There were a number of other Baptist confessions with similar features to Reformed ones. The Puritans were anti-confessional, so the same can’t be said from them in the same way, but it’s pretty clear that they were influenced by the Reformed tradition in many ways in what led them to break from the Church of England. In fact, they seem an even clearer case in some ways for being within the Reformed tradition on any grounds besides confessions.

  32. Ryan says:

    Todd,

    “If the world around you, if your PERSONAL experience is “informing” your theology, you are not listening to the gospel, you are listening to yourself.”

    That’s an interesting perspective, and one that would make interpreting the Scriptures much easier – if only it were true. If what you are saying is accurate, then elements like culture, upbringing, prior beliefs, etc, would have no impact on how we read the Bible. Instead, we would all come to the Word of God as the proverbial tabula rasa, lacking any sort of presuppositions or expectations through which we filter the Scriptures.

    Needless to say, this is not reality. Instead, like it or not, we all have certain assumptions we bring to the table when we read the Scriptures – otherwise everyone would interpret them the same way. Many suggest that Scripture should inform our theology, and not the way around. Perhaps they are right, and that is how it should be. However, that is not how things actually are. In truth, theology and Scripture form a sort of feedback loop – Scripture and theology simultaneously inform one another ad infinitum. When you read a verse, the theology you held prior to reading it determines how you read that passage; once you’ve read it, the passage determines your theology, which in turn will determine how you read that passage and others in the future.

    “Really? In error, you say? Well, here’s a quote from a Ligonier Ministries I want you to look at: ”

    I would expect that the Westminster Catechism is more representative of Reformed thought than R.C. Sproul. While yes, there are certainly those who take a more extreme approach to Sola Scriptura, I would suggest that they are not indicative of the majority of Reformed theology.

    As for the Church Fathers… Surely you don’t mean to suggest that Augustine, one of the earliest and most important figures in the study of Natural Theology, would be a proponent of the idea that theology should be derived from Scripture alone? Not to mention the fact that he and Athanasius both would have affirmed the theological validity of the Creeds, Councils and Catechisms, all of which, needless to say, are extra-Biblical sources.

    Speaking of extra-Biblical sources, that is all you have presented in favour of your position, and as such, yes, your argument remains quite contradictory. Even were every point you made valid, none of them are taken from Scripture and therefore your position would still be an extra-Biblical one. I maintain that since the notion of Scripture being the only source for theology is found nowhere in Scripture itself, your argument continues to be self-refuting.

  33. Richard UK says:

    Some do ask ‘Is John Piper really Reformed?’
    The question needs answering because there are those pointing to his ‘5%’ discrepancies.
    And yes – it is right to answer yes in that way you have

    Others might ask ‘Is Kevin de Young really Reformed?
    The question needs answering because there are those pointing to a moralist streak in him.
    How should I answer that question?

  34. John R. says:

    Richard UK wrote:

    “Others might ask ‘Is Kevin de Young really Reformed?
    The question needs answering because there are those pointing to a moralist streak in him.
    How should I answer that question?”

    You should answer that question by pointing them to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and to the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms (both of which explicate the Ten Commandments at length so that we can give our obedience to them). The Reformed confessions clearly uphold Kevin’s doctrine of sanctification, and oppose those claiming to see a “moralist streak in him” that is somehow contrary to the Reformed faith.

  35. Richard UK says:

    John R – thanks

    I’m thinking of another recent post by KdY outlining 10 essential beliefs of a Christian (okay – I can get 10 from the creeds) AND ALSO 10 essential behaviors of a Christian

    I wondered where – in the WCF, WC and HC you mention – I can find those 10 behaviors, or even 2 of them?

    Would you agree that it is a fine line between doctrinal soundness and moralism?

  36. Thanks for your skilled and effective help.

  37. This really answered my question, thank you!

  38. There are actually lots of details to take into consideration. It is a great idea to bring up.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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