Are Calvinism and Reformed Theology the Same Thing?

 Does Jesus Ever Turn Anyone Away? Answered by Justin Perdue



Hi, this is Justin. Here at Theocast, we get a lot of questions about Calvinism and about reformed theology and questions about whether or not Calvinism and reformed theology are the same thing. The short answer to that question is no. Calvinism and reformed theology are not the same thing.

Calvinism is certainly a major tenant of reformed theology, but it is not the whole of reformed theology. So, in other words, everybody who is reformed is a Calvinist, but not everybody who is a Calvinist is reformed.

So I want to take just a minute and outline several of the major tenets of reformed theology that would sort of distinguish it from simply being Calvinistic. So, you can remember the three C’s of reformed theology: to be reformed is to be Calvinistic, covenantal, and confessional.

To be a Calvinist means that we would hold to the five points of Calvinism as they have been described historically: total depravity, unconditional election, limited or particular atonement, irresistible grace, and then the perseverance or preservation of the saints.

To be covenantal in our theology means that we understand the covenantal framework of the Bible. There was a covenant made amongst the persons of the Godhead in eternity past, known as the covenant of redemption. There was a covenant of works that God made with Adam in the garden that he broke, and thereby plunged humanity into ruin, and sin, and death. Then there is the promise of the covenant of grace that’s revealed in Genesis 3:15 and is accomplished consummately by Jesus in the new covenant. So a good summary, I think, of covenant theology is that Jesus accomplishes the covenant of works in the covenant of grace in order to accomplish the covenant of redemption.

In addition to those things, we can talk about confessional theology, being not only that we hold to a confession from the era of the reformation, but it’s a posture, even theologically, where we understand that there are truth claims – in particular, truths about Jesus – that are to be believed in, trusted, rested in, and confessed. It’s a very objective understanding of theology. We are looking outside of ourselves to save what’s wrong in us. In particular, we are looking outside of ourselves to Christ to save us, and we are looking to the work of Christ that is finished. There is nothing left to be contributed that’s necessary. Jesus has done everything that is necessary to save his people, and so we trust and rest in him.

In addition to being Calvinistic, covenantal, and confessional, two other significant things to point out about reformed theology are an understanding, first of all, of the ordinary means of grace. Those ordinary means are just that, as the name implies, they’re ordinary things that we do that the Holy Spirit of God uses to accomplish extraordinary ends, namely the imparting of faith and the sustaining, strengthening, and confirmation of faith. The ordinary means have been understood historically to be the right preaching of God’s word and the right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s table, and prayer is another ordinary means that is often added in, as well as song, in the context of the gathered church. It’s important that we understand that the ordinary means, properly understood, are corporate realities. These are not things that fundamentally happen when we’re by ourselves, but they happen when the church gathers and assembles. The Spirit of God shows up to use these means, and these means are the primary and fundamental means of growth and sustenance in the Christian life.

Finally, to be reformed in our theology would be to hold to an understanding of the distinction between the law and the gospel. Anything that we see in scripture that is a command or an imperative is law, where we’re told, do these things and you’ll be rewarded, do these things and you will live. That is law. There are proper uses of that law as reformed Christians have understood through history. The first use being to drive us to Christ by showing us our sin, the second use being to restrain our corruption, and the third use as a perfect guide for our lives in Christ. I’ve actually done an ask Theocast on the uses of the law before. The distinction there between that law and then the gospel is that the gospel is anything in scripture where we are told that Christ has done things in our place in order to save us. So when we’re told, do these things, that’s law, when we’re told that Christ has done it for us and we are to receive it by faith, that is gospel.

So in summation, in order to be reformed in our theology, we are Calvinistic, covenantal, and confessional. We would have an understanding of the ordinary means of grace in the context of the gathered church, and we would hold to a distinction between the law and the gospel. I hope that’s clarifying for you and shows you some of the differences that would exist between some people who would claim to be Calvinistic and maybe even reformed, and then those who would hold to a historic understanding of reformed theology.

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