Is Reformed Theology A Grand Vision Or Just A Tulip?

We very often hear discussions of the Five Points of Calvinism as though they amounted to the totality of Reformed thinking, John Calvin himself would have been horrified that his theology had been reduced to just five points. Of course, historically speaking the five points are really the five points of the Cannons of Dordt, which in turn were a response to the five points of the Remonstrants. Calvin’s theology and indeed the theology of those who wrote the Cannons of Dordt and also the Westminster Divines and those who wrote the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism had a much broader theology. One has only to read Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” to see this. At this point, I should state that I believe in what the five points state but they are not the totality of my theology. When the five points are isolated from the rest of Reformed theology, it is like taking five bones from a body and claiming that it is the body. The five points by themselves can appear ugly but when they are placed in the broader framework of Reformed thought they function as an important part of the body.

The Grand Vision: John Calvin started his “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” with dealing with the subject of our knowledge of God, Calvin believed that the Christian faith is God centred. He and Reformed thought at its best have always affirmed that the whole of creation is dependent upon God. It has therefore always proclaimed that Christ is Lord of all. When as a young Christian I read Abraham Kuyper’s lectures On Calvinism I was expecting something about TULIP instead I encountered a Christian world view. The more I studied the great Reformed thinkers I began to realise that they were pointing to God as the centre of everything. I began to understand that in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”. In Calvin, Bavinck, Kuyper, and other Reformed theologies I was introduced to the glorious triune God of the bible. The Sovereign God who has all things in his hands. In this wider and deeper view of the Reformed faith, I find a God centred view not only of Salvation but of the whole universe. It is interesting to look at how the early reformed writers ordered their theology, for instance, Calvin does not deal with election until book 3 of The Institutes. Ironically if we narrow our theology down to just the five points we succeed in impoverishing ourselves of much of  Divine truth and therefore a real understanding of what the five points mean in the completeness of God’s truth. When we understand the tragedy of the fall and its implications for this world, we see much more than Total depravity but see also the brokenness of creation as a result of God’s curse upon the world when humankind rebelled against him. At this point, Reformed Theology with its stress on man being made in the image of God also stresses the significance of man It is this knowledge of the whole counsel of God which makes the Reformed faith a vibrant force for good in this world. I cannot hope to communicate the Richness of Reformed Theology in a few paragraphs, but I do think if we really read Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Francis Schaeffer, Berckouwer, Hermann Dooyeweerd and other reformed writers we will begin to realise the true riches of our heritage. Most of all let us get back to the book of books because in the Bible we find God’s infallible revelation of himself.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 25 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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