Jon Moffitt: Hi, this is Jon. Today on Theocast, we are going to discuss the difference between being Reformed and being a Calvinist. I know many think that being a Calvinist is being Reformed, but they’re actually different. We’re going to explain why we have three major reasons that we believe would be a distinction between those who are Reformed and those who would just believe in the five points of Calvinism. Then towards the end of the podcast, we explain why it is important for the distinction. If you love resting in Christ and the message of Theocast, then this is going to be coming from a Reformed perspective.
In our members’ podcast, the three of us explain our transition out of pietism or Calvinism and into a confessionally Reformed perspective. Hopefully, we’ll share with you some other additional help in the members’ podcast. Stay tuned.
Justin Perdue: In the church, most broadly in the Western context where we’re in America, the terms Reformed and Calvinist or Calvinistic are oftentimes used almost synonymously. In the minds of many people, to be a Calvinist is to be Reformed or to be Reformed is to be a Calvinist. What we thought we would do on this podcast is talk about the differences and distinctions between those two terms: what they mean and what they represent. Just to give a high-level summary here: if you are Reformed, you are a Calvinist. But not all people who are Calvinists – in the sense of being a five-pointer – are Reformed. There is a distinction between those two terms.
The reason that we want to have this conversation is not to be condescending. It’s not like we think that we are a part of some club that not everybody is a part of. None of those things are motivation. What we want to do is bring some clarity to this and help people understand the differences because we think the difference between being a Calvinist and being Reformed is significant for our lives in Christ and in the local church. It has everything to do with the things that we talk about here on Theocast all the time – namely resting in Christ, resting and trusting in his work, our place in his sufficiency and adequacy, and the fact that he has done it all for us and there is nothing left for us to contribute. The distinction between being Reformed and being a Calvinist has everything to do with those things.
A lot of times people, especially those that are newer to Theocast, hear us use the word Reformed. Then they will hear other people use the word Reformed or call themselves Reformed and think that they are talking about the same things that we are. That is not always the case. The purpose of the conversation today is as always to point people to rest in Jesus, but to make those distinctions clear so that people can remove the clutter and eliminate some of the confusion.
We don’t like it when categories are collapsed. Hopefully this conversation will be clarifying and helpful to the listener.
Jimmy Buehler: Something else that I wanted to throw in by way of introduction is to say this: on behalf of all of those who claim the title of Reformed, allow me to sincerely apologize to those of you have had bad experiences with those who have called themselves Calvinists. That’s another reason why we want to have this distinguishing conversation. There are a lot of those who have claimed the title of Calvinist who show very small amounts of grace and graciousness towards those who don’t agree with their views. We think that there are going to be some helpful things that distinguish Reformation Theology from merely what I would call empty or light Calvinistic theology.
Again, we hope that this conversation helps bring some understanding to these categories. I know that there are many people who call themselves Calvinists that I would say are just not my kind of Calvinist. Not to be political but when our current president was elected in 2016, there was this giant hashtag going around that was #notmypresident. You could almost start a hashtag that’s #notmycalvinist. Some of these things that I’ve said fly in the face of classic Reformed theology. Hopefully, as we distinguish these categories, those things become overly and abundantly clear.
Justin Perdue: We did a five-part series on the five points of Calvinism that we could refer people to; if you have total access membership, you can get access to those. Our agenda here today is not to lay out the five points in detail.
One observation I would make before we go further into this conversation is that many people who claim to be Calvinists or who would label themselves as Calvinists are not even consistently five-point Calvinists, as it’s historically understood. What they mean is that they are Calvinistic in their soteriology, or their understanding of salvation, meaning that they believe in predestination, in the sovereignty of God, in election, and things like that. That almost is the extent of their Calvinism. Sometimes those inconsistencies, even within that Calvinistic framework, lead to some of the bludgeoning, the condescension, and the lack of grace and charity that we see manifest itself all over the place – most notably on Calvinistic Twitter. It’s a tough place to be sometimes. I know that’s going to resonate with many people. I myself have thought about getting off of social media for a number of reasons: one of them being just the absolute mudslinging that takes place amongst professing Calvinists.
Jon Moffitt: The listener may or may not know: I love golf. It’s something I enjoy watching and playing. If someone says, “I like golf,” I would think that’s great and ask what courses do they play. They reply, “I play the putt-putt course right down the road.” I would say, “Is that all? Is that the only place that you play?” Putting is definitely a part of golf but it is not golfing. That is not equal to saying that you are a golfer because there’s much more that is involved. There so many technical parts of golfing that you have to own the right kind of clubs and know how to use them. You need to know the rules if you’re going to enjoy the game and not hurt somebody and get kicked off of a course. When it comes to the word Reformed, just like putting is a part of golf but putting is not golf, Calvinism is a part of Reformed theology but it is not Reformed theology; Reformed theology is much broader and much more technical. There is a structure behind what’s going on and Calvinism happens to fit inside of that. What we’re going to do now is walk you through the key points that you must adhere to, historically, if you’re going to hold to the perspective that we have been sharing for the last five years; these are the key points that you need to believe in or hold or understand to legitimately say you hold a historic Reformed perspective of Scripture.
I’ll start with the first one. I would say the biggest one historically would be Covenantalism, which is a covenantal perspective of the Bible. There was a debate a while back, and we did a short podcast on this, as to whether you can be Calvinistic and dispensational. I think there are a lot of guys who probably would fit that, but I do not think you can be Reformed and dispensational because the background of Reformed theology is legitimately covenantal.
First, what do we mean by covenantal for someone who might be brand new to Reformed theology or even to Covenant theology?
Jimmy Buehler: We actually hope to dive into this further very soon, but Covenant theology from our perspective – because even within that there are different views – but at its at its core, there are three major covenants of Covenant theology: first is the covenant of redemption, which is the eternal covenant made between the three Persons of the Godhead to redeem sinners. We see that clearly in places like Ephesians 1. Then you have the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works is the covenant that God had with man that in order to have a righteous standing before God, that you need to have perfect works. You need to have perfect righteousness on your own account. But you also have the covenant of grace, which is the covenant that God also makes with man that is mediated by Jesus Christ, where God does not look to the works of man or the works of Adam, but rather He looks to the works of Christ. He does so by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, and imputes that perfect righteousness to His people. Those are the three major covenants.
It’s important because if you don’t see these categories in Scripture, particularly the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, what happens is as a pastor or preacher, you will typically try to lay a covenant of works back on your people. Here’s what I mean by that: if you don’t make these categories, particularly of the covenant of grace that talks about how it is all of God’s sheer, boundless, unmatched, wonderful, beautiful grace, what you’ll do is you’ll lay a covenant of works back on people and say that in order to be blessed and have this kind of standing with God, you must do this. You must pray like this. You must read this much. You must repent this much by. In essence, you are saying it’s all contingent upon the works that you do. We’ll get into that a little bit more when we begin talking about the means of grace, but I want to let you guys come in and help fill out some of those edges as well on Covenant theology.
Justin Perdue: I would summarize Covenant theology this way: Jesus fulfills the covenant of works in the covenant of grace in order to accomplish the covenant of redemption. That is critical. I hope the listener can understand and connect the dots as to how that is inextricably linked from the rest in Christ that we talk about all the time. We will talk about Jesus being sufficient. We’ll talk about him being adequate. We’ll talk about him having done everything that’s necessary for salvation and how there’s nothing left to contribute. Not only redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture, but the covenantal framework of Scripture dovetails so beautifully with all of these understandings. If you start to pull these things apart, you kill the whole thing.
The sufficiency of Christ and a covenantal framework go together. So when we will point people outside of themselves and to the work of Christ in their place, when we will point people to Christ faithfulness and not their own faithfulness, what we are doing is we are teaching the Bible in a redemptive-historical covenantal way.
You’ll notice that amongst many of the guys in evangelicalism, in particular those who would claim to be Reformed and who are Calvinistic at least in their understanding of salvation, or what we like to call Calvingelical, they will deny the covenantal framework of Scripture – in particular, they will deny the covenant of works. When you deny the covenant of works and you don’t understand that Jesus has fulfilled that covenant in the place of the redeemed in the covenant of grace, this is where you get guys coming back in and putting burdens upon the Christian and giving them things that they must do in order to secure their salvation. It reintroduces works back into the Christian life as a part of the ground of our standing before the Lord; in turn, assurance, peace, and security go away. The covenantal framework and that confessional understanding, that outside-in, the objective realities of the gospel, looking outside of ourselves to say what’s wrong in us, and even that declarative reality that it’s done and it’s finished, and that there’s nothing left to be accomplished – those things are inextricably linked to Covenant theology. So in order to be Reformed, one must be Covenantal.
Jon Moffitt: Right. We talk about this a lot when we are encouraging people to rest in Christ.
Everyone knows the language “second Adam”. Jesus is the second Adam. Where Adam failed, which is to obey God perfectly in the garden, Christ came and was born of a man and fulfilled where Adam failed. Of course, Jesus wasn’t born in a garden and he didn’t have to go through the temptation of receiving the fruit; instead, God established the Law covenant with Moses and Christ went and fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law. He proves that not only is he worthy, but it says in Adam, all died and in Christ all are made alive. So all the Scripture is really about two Adams: it’s the Adam who failed and the Adam who succeeded and you are presented this. Covenant of works is “Adam, if you do what is right then you will be blessed and live eternally in that status that he was with God”. But he failed. So what does Christ earn for us? Jesus doesn’t come in and clean the slate where Adam failed. We are told that not only does Christ pay for the failures of Adam, but he then accomplishes all of the work that we need to enter into eternity. That’s the covenant of grace.
So the whole Bible is what we call bi-covenantal. It’s made up of the story of these two covenants where there are those who have failed to earn salvation rightly by their works, and another where Christ comes in, pays for their failure, and then earns the righteousness. Then he says all can have this by faith alone.
Jimmy Buehler: To have a covenantal view of the Christian life also means to have a covenantal view of the Bible. Doing so helps us to see the Bible as one cohesive unit that finds its culmination and point in Jesus Christ. I can hear people in the background asking, “What about the Noahic covenant? What about the Abrahamic covenant? What about the Davidic covenant?”
Let’s take the Noahic covenant. God makes a covenant says, “I will not judge the earth again in this way.” We have the rainbow; we’re not going to see a flood. But later we see in the New Testament that Peter and the different apostles talk about that wherein our baptism, the waters of judgment pass over us but we are raised again to new life. Then you have the Abrahamic covenant that Christ fulfills that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. You have the Davidic covenant that Jesus is the true and better David who is sitting on the throne. You have the new covenant in Jeremiah that the Spirit in the work of conversion takes out of our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. You have the Mosaic covenant that Jesus fulfills. As we see all of these covenants fit within this frame, I believe, of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
When you see this, it constantly points the believer outside of himself or herself to the work that God is doing. I see this happening in the Calvingelical world often: in the Old Testament we find different passages – Joseph, David, and what have you – and ask what did the godly men of old used to do and how do we bring that back in? Rather, I think a Reformed covenantal view helps us see God is fulfilling his unique promises to his people ultimately in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So how does the story about David or Solomon or Daniel fit into that narrative? That we, as people, can be invited to trust and rest in the promise-keeping God that covenant theology portrays. That is the helpful thing that Reformed theology does.
Jon Moffitt: What Jimmy just described here is you have a covenantal framework. Another way of describing this is the way in which you interpret and read your Bible: the way it is labeled as a redemptive, historic understanding of Scripture, which is a Reformed perspective. That is what the Reformers were teaching and pushing. When we say redemptive, we mean that from Genesis to Revelation, the story of the Bible is redemption: it’s how God redeemed sinners, and it is read, understood, and unfolds throughout history. We are not pulling it apart. We’re allowing it to be seen as it is unfolding in history.
This is the one I always love to point to in Genesis 3: when Adam and Eve fall, what does God do? He makes a promise that of the seed of Abraham one will come and crush the head of the serpent. You immediately have the promise of a Messiah coming and the question is who is he? How is he going to get here?
As it unfolds, there are two major themes: one, the need. As Jimmy said, you get the Noahic covenant and he says, there is none in the earth; they are all evil; they are all doing what is right in their own eyes. If God wipes out all of humanity, He wipes out His promise to Eve and Adam – and of course He doesn’t; He preserves it. As you are reading the Old Testament, you can see that there is none who have ever been able to be the second Adam. The question is, where is that second Adam who’s going to come? It gets clarified through every covenant we know: it’s coming through the Abrahamic covenant; and then eventually through the one who obeys the Mosaic covenant, and then we know through the line of David, through the line of Solomon, he’ll be a King who sits on the throne forever. So it’s this epic story. By the time you get to Matthew, you wonder why the genealogies are there. It’s so you know that you have the right Messiah and that you’re putting your faith in the right guy. Then Jesus’s miracles prove that he’s the right guy. That’s a redemptive-historic understanding of Scripture.
The point of it is not to look for Jesus throughout every verse, but look to see how he’s going to be fulfilled in these verses. It’s not to make your life a Daniel, David, or a Joseph.
Justin Perdue: You get the promise of the covenant of grace revealed in Genesis 3:15, and then we work our way through redemptive history and we see the covenant of grace established and accomplished in Christ in the new covenant.
To pick up where you left off, Jon, when Jesus shows up on the scene as the new and better Adam, as the second Adam who will fulfill the covenant of works, thinking about Matthew’s gospel, it begins with a genealogy. When Jesus is an adult, what are the first things that we read about and hear about him doing? It begins with his temptation and his baptism. Those two things are massive. This is a good litmus test for how a person understands Scripture with respect to this covenantal framework. If we look to the temptation of Jesus and our number one take away is that Jesus used Scripture to defeat the devil, I would argue that that is not a covenantal understanding and that’s not a redemptive-historic understanding of that passage; that’s a decent secondary application. The point of the temptation of Christ is that the first Adam was tempted in a paradise and had everything going for him and fell. The second Adam is tempted in a wilderness, has nothing going for him – everything’s stacked against him – and he succeeds.
Even in his baptism – what does he say to John the Baptist? John the Baptist is wigging out; he’s saying, “I’m not the one who should baptize you. If anything, you should baptize me.” Jesus says, “No, it’s appropriate that we do this in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled.” What is that? Jesus doesn’t need baptism for his own sake. He’s doing it for his people’s sake. Right out of the gate, in terms of his life and ministry, it’s very clear that what matters most is who this Jesus is and what he has come to accomplish – and he has come to accomplish redemption and the salvation of his people, and he’s come to do everything.
Jimmy Buehler: Even at Christ’s baptism, what were the people coming to do at the baptism with John the Baptist? They were coming for repentance, a leaving of their sins in the water. A covenantal view helps you see that when Jesus goes down in the water, what does he come up with? He comes up with the sins of his people on his shoulders and he carries them for three years to the cross. It’s just beautiful that a covenant understanding can give you these big pictures.
We talked about covenant theology that’s a distinguishing mark of Reformed versus Calvinistic theology. I think another thing that is a big litmus test is how we understand the means of grace. What I mean by that is how we understand the ways and means that God uses in our lives to grow us, to mature us, and to conform us into the image of Christ.
I’ll just offer a personal anecdote that in the Calvinistic background that I had, the means of grace that were often given to me are not bad things. The means of grace that were given to me were personal prayer and a personal reading and study of Scripture. Those were the primary means. Again, they’re not bad things. We have the Bible in various translations that are readable, approachable, and affordable. It’s a blessing. It’s a gift. We can have it. We can read it. God does invite us to pray in a private sense; it’s not a bad thing. But when we talk about the chief ways that God uses to grow His people, what are the different understandings between Reformed and Calvinistic?
Jon Moffitt: This is definitely a distinction. I was a Calvinist for many, many years and I had never heard the phrase “means of grace” or knew what it meant. When I began to discover these, I realized it was very different than what I have been told. I can say I’m with Jimmy in that the way in which my faith was strengthened and the way that I sanctified myself was by my personal efforts. Spiritual disciplines is another way of saying this. There’s nothing wrong with disciplining yourself and there’s nothing wrong with reading Scripture. Understanding what the Bible tells us is the primary way in which God interacts with us.
Let me explain it this way: you read God’s word and the reason you read God’s word is that you believe that it’s going to strengthen your faith. Then why don’t we just read God’s word on Sunday morning? Just spend 45 minutes reading the word. Why would that not be sufficient for the church to strengthen their faith? Have you ever thought about this? God does not command the church to read. It does say in 1 Peter 4:13 that until Jesus comes to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture and exhorted to teaching. It doesn’t say just reading; we are actually exhorted to explain. This is why He says He has gifted preachers and teachers. Preachers and teachers are not readers; they don’t just get up and read Scripture, but they are to get up and explain it and then exhort the believer to obey and practice it within the church. If you think that the primary way that God grows you is through the reading of His word, the problem with that is you cannot point to anywhere in Scripture that says this. But I can show you multiple times – Ephesians 4 and Hebrews 10 just as two examples – where when the word of God is appropriately used by gifted people, it says when the body functions properly, it builds itself up in love. We are told that is through the public preaching and teaching of God’s word.
Secondly, we are also told about the sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Table. When we receive the Lord’s Table, we are told to do that together as we gather. It’s not separate from the word. If you were to eat bread and drink wine it will not do anything for you spiritually, because if it did I would have a heavy diet of the two; I would want to be as spiritual as I possibly could. But when it’s presented to us in the corporate body with the word, the word brings the power and it becomes the physical way in which we interact and receive from the presence of Christ. He strengthens our faith. I would say that is a very Reformed view and it is not a Calvinistic view. I would say very few Calvinist evangelicals would hold that perspective of those two means.
Justin Perdue: Historically speaking, the ordinary means of grace most primarily are understood as word and sacrament. Then we could add prayer in the corporate context, the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and then the fellowship of the saints in general.
But a few observations about the ordinary means of grace: they’re called ordinary means because they are in and of themselves ordinary things that we do. Then the Holy Spirit of God takes those ordinary means to accomplish His extraordinary ends namely imparting, sustaining, confirming, and strengthening faith. That’s what the Spirit does through those means.
A couple of other things. Ordinary means of grace only take place in a corporate gathered church context. This is important because the vast majority of evangelicals think that the real stuff of the Christian life happens when they’re by themselves but biblically speaking, that’s not true. The New Testament is very clear that the real stuff of the Christian life and the real growth in the faith happens when we are gathered as a church. The Spirit shows up to uniquely minister in that setting and we are grown and sustained in the faith through the ordinary means in the context of the gathered church over our lifetime. Stuff that happens when we’re by ourselves is not meaningless – that’s not what we’re saying at all. It’s just that the real important stuff that God has promised to do happens in the context of the gathered church.
Last observation on the ordinary means. I think that in evangelicalism, and amongst the Calvingelical type crowd, the means of grace even as they understand it are often made to be more about our faithfulness and dedication to God than they are about God’s dedication and faithfulness to us. This is probably most obviously seen in the Lord’s Table because the Lord’s Table for so many people becomes this place that is just riddled with anxiety. There is this pressure to work myself up into this emotional frenzy over my sin. If I partake of this in an unworthy manner, I’m eating and drinking judgment on myself; if I come and do it rightly, the best that’s going to happen for me is that I’m being obedient. When in reality, what we understand is that God shows up by his Spirit and through faith; we are receiving the merits and the benefits of Jesus Christ in the bread and the wine; we’re being sustained and we’re being confirmed and strengthened through that. There’s a real spiritual presence of Christ ministering to his people at the Table. As John Calvin said, it’s not for the strong but for the week; it’s for sinners who have botched it this week and are coming again to cast themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ in receiving the bread and the cup. Even there, it’s that kind of outside-in reality: you’re looking outside of yourself to Christ to save what’s wrong in you through the ordinary means of grace.
Jimmy Buehler: Lest you think who are these three 30-something-year-old pastors who are making category distinctions like this, allow me to read from the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 14, paragraph one, on saving faith. This is what the framers of this Reformed confession say: “The grace of faith, by which the elect are enabled to believe so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith is ordinarily produced by the ministry of the Word. By this same ministry and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, faith is increased and strengthened.” Justin, I think you hit the nail on the head where you said in kind of a Calvinist mindset, the means of grace – and I’ve also heard of them as the habits of grace – are really these individual works and actions of the believer; that my growth and my sanctification are drummed up within myself. Not to say that individual spiritual disciplines are wrong or bad, in fact it’s quite the opposite, but rather within a greater Reformed understanding of the Christian life, what we see is that the means of grace are these corporate realities.
I love how you emphasize this, Justin, when you talk about prayer as the outworking of faith. That prayer is something we do in a corporate sense. It’s also something we do in an individual sense, but means of grace in a truly Reformed understanding are things that push us outside of ourselves and into a corporate body, but also onto objective realities.
We can even say from a Baptist perspective that baptism is something that God does to us. We can say that when we are served at the Table of the Lord, it is the Lord serving us and not us serving the Lord. That when the pastor stands in the pulpit to preach, to declare, and to herald Christ from the pulpit, it is something that is coming from outside of us into our ears. The means of grace are external realities landing in the place of individual hearts. It is not something that we drum up in and of ourselves.
Now, can we read our Bibles individually? By all means, yes, you can. It is not a bad thing. But these things – the individual prayer and study, they are not the chief and primary means. What we are talking about are these corporate realities, particularly word and sacrament.
Jon Moffitt: Reading your Bible in today’s world should be done for the sake of gaining a greater awareness of the God who saved you, as well as for the use of the encouragement of the benefit of the body. Mostly people read their Bibles because they want to and it’s all inward; I read because of me. I will tell you right now that I work harder on my sermons and I spend long hours on it because I know that it’s going to benefit and needs to benefit the body. We are so introspective and so individualized that we read the Bible because we want to be good little Christians. Whereas Scripture says consider how to build one another up. You’ve received these truths now read your Bible to consider on how to build one another up.
I want to say one last illustration for you. When Christ says, “Take this as my body and eat,” he’s using a beautiful illustration that we sustain ourselves on Christ and that illustration of the Lord’s Table is that. We are eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Just as we need food and water to sustain ourselves, we must have the preached word and the Table to sustain us as how we live. Most non-Reformed people do not see the sustaining of their life in the means of grace from what I have seen historically.
Justin Perdue: Baptism is the sign that points to our union with Christ; we are baptized into Jesus. We’re vitally united to him. Then in the Lord’s Table, we are feeding on him by faith and being sustained by him. So it has everything to do with our vital union to Christ and what he has done for us.
The last thing that we should talk about in this regular portion of the podcast that is a distinction of Reformed theology over and against just merely a Calvinistic understanding of theology would be the distinction between Law and gospel. In order to be Reformed, historically speaking, we would hold to that Law-gospel distinction. We did an entire podcast on this not that long ago that the listener could refer to so that they may get this in a fuller presentation. For now we could begin to talk about the distinction between Law and gospel in this way: anything we see in Scripture that tells us to do something, an imperative or a command where we’re told to do these things and you will live forever, that is Law. Anywhere in Scripture where we are told what Christ has done for us we are to receive by faith, that is gospel. So to do is Law, done is gospel.
That framework is really helpful in understanding Scripture, even the way that God deals with his people, and the way that God saves us. We’re very unashamed here at Theocast that only one person in the history of the world has ever done the gospel, and his name is Jesus. We do not, as Christians, do the gospel; we don’t live the gospel. We receive the work of Christ by faith and receive what he has done for us. We don’t contribute anything in terms of something that’s necessary for our salvation.
Obviously that Law-gospel distinction is something that many people who are Calvinists would not understand. I’ve been in conversations many times with guys who are absolutely Calvinistic but bristle at the idea of Law-gospel distinction and see it as something that we’re reading down on the text. We would just say that no, this actually comes up out of the text and it’s very clear. We’re not imposing it on the text; it comes out of it as we read it, interpret it, and preach it.
Jon Moffitt: I was preaching the end of Hebrews 12 this last Sunday, and its plain right there that he gives them the terror of the Law, even to the illustration that the Law and God’s holiness to adhere to the Law are so terrifying. He points them back to Exodus 19 and 20, where if they would even touch the mountain, they would die. He says, “But you haven’t come to the mountain. You have been brought into Mount Zion. The reason you can be brought here is that the mediator, Jesus Christ, has brought you here.” That’s the distinction between the Law and the gospel. We’ll get into this in the members’ podcast.
I will say that tor the Calvingelical, the Calvinist non-Reformed believer that I have seen in public ministry, the Law-gospel distinction has been the most confusing and damaging part of not being Reformed. It has caused more people to lose rest.
Jimmy Buehler: The ignorance of that distinction.
Jon Moffitt: It is. What happens is they bring the Law, and they add the Law to the gospel and they don’t realize they’re doing it because they don’t understand there’s a distinction.
Jimmy Buehler: As we think about Law and gospel distinction, I think one of the primary differences that you’ll see between a Reformed preacher and a Calvingelical preacher is the tone of the sermon. In my church context, we have a lot of young kids. We have a lot of families that are under a fair amount of stress as they’ve got little ones and diapers and yelling and screaming. Our church is loud on Sunday mornings. We’ve got a lot of kids in there. For me to stand in the pulpit and to use the Law as this whip, to motivate people unto obedience, the only thing that’s going to accomplish is to crush my people. Because most likely the vast majority of my congregants are already feeling the weight of the Law every week.
I said this last week in my sermon that Law is the natural air that we breathe – “do this and live.” We are surrounded by it. We are surrounded by the Law each and every day, barking at us to do this, be this, do more, and be better. Where constantly the banner in a Law-gospel distinction view of the Christian life, the banner under which we live and operate, is “it is finished.” Christ has accomplished these things on our behalf. The purpose of the Law in my sermon is to crush the person; to see that they can not, in and of themselves, accomplish the Christian life, but that Jesus Christ has lived in their place and invites them to rest in his good and gracious mercy and promises.
So in a Calvingelical mindset, the Law is often used in such a tone that it is a whip to motivate people onto obedience, but it never does. Preaching the Law that way never produces what you think it’s going to produce. It’s only going to produce either self-righteous people or crushed people. To truly preach and herald the gospel in Christ, to truly preach the gospel that way, is to preach the Law in all of its weight to crush people, but then to lift them, to resurrect them through the meritorious work of Jesus Christ on their behalf.
Justin Perdue: To put a bow on this conversation, I recently tweeted out something like this: to reduce Reformed theology to the five points of Calvinism is not only inaccurate, but it produces a lot of confusion. What we’ve been trying to speak to today is to try to remove some of that clutter and confusion and make clear the distinctions between Calvinism and Reformed theology.
To sum it up, our understanding, and this is in line with a historical understanding of Reformed theology, would include not only being Calvinistic but being covenantal, being confessional, and then also holding to an understanding of the ordinary means and the distinction between the law and the gospel. If you were going to ask the guys at Theocast what it means to be Reformed, it would mean all of those things. If you’re Reformed, you’re a Calvinist, but if you’re a Calvinist, you’re not necessarily Reformed.
We hope that that some of these things have been helpful to the listener.
Jon Moffitt: Thank you for listening. We are going to continue the conversation over in our members’ podcast. This is a way for us to discuss additional thoughts. 45 minutes is a short amount of time to get an entire podcast in. It’s a varied time; it can be long. We’re going to continue that conversation over there.
If you want to join us on this conversation, know that this is really our support team: those people who support Theocast monthly and get behind us to help be the advocates of pushing us along. We try and do extra things for them like providing books and other additional resources just for their generosity. If you’d like to participate with us, you can do that by going over to theocast.org.
We’ll see you next week.