Thursday, July 24, 2008

Evangelical...and Reformed

Lee Irons:
It’s good to see that there are still some Reformed people these days who embrace the label “evangelical” (see the posts by Stephen Nichols and Sean Lucas on the Ref21 site). I don’t sympathize with the Reformed trend that utterly scorns and detests the label. I have no desire to set myself apart as a “Reformed Confessionalist” who has nothing in common with evangelicalism. This separatist attitude is wrong for several reasons:

(1) It smacks of spiritual pride and elitism. I consider myself to be a Christian first, then a Protestant, then an evangelical, and only then Reformed. To exalt ”Reformed” über alles is to downplay our central identity as Christians. To exalt the Reformed confessions is to downplay the primary New Testament confession that “Jesus is Lord.” I’m not a Reformed person who happens to be a Christian. I’m a blood-bought Christian who happens to believe in the Reformed understanding of the gospel. And I do not view myself as a superior Christian for having this belief. It is only by the grace of God that I understand what I do of the grace of God, and even then I betray it all too often in my practice.

(2) The current disdain for “evangelicalism” in Reformed circles is also wrong because it places the accent on the distinctives of Reformed theology and practice instead of on what we have in common with evangelicalism. But what we have in common with evangelicals (being Christ-centered, cross-centered, and gospel-centered) is far, far more important than our distinctives (our Calvinistic soteriology, our covenant theology, our view of the church and the means of grace, etc.). The distinctives of Reformed theology and practice are useful only to the degree that they undergird and clarify the gospel, the evangel.

(3) Being “Reformed” but not “evangelical” undercuts the importance of seeking fellowship, unity, and love with all Christians who confess the historic ecumenical creeds (Nicea and Chalcedon) and the basics of the gospel (justification by faith alone, substitutionary atonement), regardless of our differences over secondary matters. The apostle John is fairly clear in his epistles that if you claim to know God but do not love the brethren, then your claim is proven to be empty. Confession of Christ as the Son of God and love for the brethren go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other.

. . . Instead of being too proud to call ourselves “evangelical,” we should join with those who strive to uphold the historic meaning of the term.

Read the whole thing.