Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What is Reformed Theology?: Radical Corruption and Moral Inability (Part 1)

     The remainder of our video study in Reformed Theology gets to the doctrines most familiarly known as Calvinism, the 5 points of Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace.  The 5 points of Calvinism are also known through the acrostic TULIP:
  • Total Depravity 
  • Unconditional Election 
  • Limited Atonement 
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints 
     I sense already some uneasiness and resistance out there from my 2nd office here at Starbucks in Central Oregon!  If so, that is very understandable due to the perception and misunderstanding that surrounds our subject.  In my early days as a Christian, nearly 20 years ago, the church (and movement) that I was affiliated with mostly spoke evil of Calvinism.  In fact, in addition to my zealous brothers and sisters occasionally warning me of the dangers of Calvinism, I remember the book by George Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting being a topic of conversation in the mid-late 1990's.  During this same time in my life, I began to meet other Christians that attended Reformed churches.  In studying the Bible more deeply I also was being incredibly blessed by the preaching and teaching ministries of Reformed men like John MacArthur (here is a must see video by MacArthur on total depravity), D. James Kennedy, R. C. Sproul, and Alistair Begg.  Most importantly, in studying the Word of God I began to wrestle with passages that did not seem to me to be explained adequately . . . especially anthropological (study of man) and soteriological (study of salvation) passages.
     Though I still had the impression Calvinism (it was never referred to as "Reformed Theology," or "the doctrines of grace") was suspect, I was already subtly beginning to move a different direction.  I found my Reformed friends to be especially gracious, grounded in biblical knowledge,  keenly aware of church history, and lovers of theology.  One of these friends gave me a Westminster Shorter Catechism, which I found solid and interesting from a historical standpoint.  Then, in 1998, an act of God's providence radically changed my perspective.  At the church we were attending we would occasionally have a guest pastor fill in and he invited me over for lunch at his house after Sunday service one afternoon.  Wow, I thought I had seen a personal library before, but I clearly had not!  He took me through his study and showed me with excitement, his John Owen's works, Thomas Goodwin collection, Thomas Manton's works, etc. etc (and yes, his collection of John Calvin's works).  After looking at his choice books of theology, we then went out to his garage and he said, "Do you like to study the Bible much?"  I excitedly said something like, "Yes, there's nothing I like to do more!"  He went on, "Well, I'm feeling especially generous and I want to give you some books."  We proceeded to fill to the brim, 4 boxes of mostly Reformed books.  When I got home, my wife and I laughed that the books were bursting out of the boxes similarly to the disciples fishing nets that wouldn't hold the catch the Lord gave them!  Little did I know, how much these books would influence my understanding.
     During the next several years, I dug into these Reformed books almost daily and found them difficult to read at first, but wonderfully satisfying!  I read for the first time John Calvin's writings (and many that he influenced) and found out they were pleasantly devotional, biblically sound, historically sensitive, and especially centered on the Person and work of our Lord Jesus in redemption.  In fact, if I had to characterize Reformed Theology in one way, it would be that it centers thoroughly on the salvation of God.  As Jonah's prayer proclaims, "Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9d).  Rather than salvation being accomplished through going forward at a church or crusade altar call, the saying of the sinner's prayer (still looking for this in the Bible), or meeting with a counselor after a Christian rock concert, these Reformed works pointed to God as the Author and Completer of our faith!  Biblically orthodox, historically sound, devotional, God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, and man-humbling is a concise summary of Reformed Theology.
     In our first video consideration of total depravity we must consider the biblical view of man after the Fall.  With a Reformed anthropology, the remaining 4 points of the Doctrines of Grace are pretty easy to adopt.  Martin Luther called the doctrine of total depravity the most important of all and called his classic, The Bondage of the Will his most important work.  As R. C. points to in the video, this is the crucial question:  Is salvation and redemption in the hands of man's supposed free will, or in the hands of our sovereign God?  The Reformed insist that man in his post-fall nature is neither willing nor able to come to God on His terms and needs the sovereign, monergistic (one-party regeneration), and irreversible work of God in the soul to be converted.  I believe you will find the Bible is crystal-clear on this doctrine, though it is ultimately the most difficult for us to receive.  But when total depravity is acknowledged, it makes what the Lord does in saving us all the more amazing!

1689 London Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will:

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