During my study in the seminary, students are confused about the term “reformed.” We asked our professors and they gave us different answers. I went to the library and I found two things. One, that there are core common beliefs among those who adhere to Reformed tradition. And two, I also find creative Reformed thinkers who vary among themselves in minor matters in their verbal formulation. But what confused me was to find books and authors claiming to be “reformed” and yet, the distinction from other thinkers who also claimed to be “reformed” is so vast. And this time it is no longer on minor details but in fundamental ones such as view about the Scriptures and salvation.
So many attempts are made to define what “reformed faith” is. Since there are numerous sub traditions within the Reformed tradition itself, it is not surprising that the definition of the term also abounds.
Coming from theological institution, I find this definition sufficient for the members of the church:
However, in a community of theologians, one must adopt first an acceptable method in defining Reformed theology. I designate my method as looking at Reformed theology from an initial Van Tilian perspective. This is how I look at it. I do not claim that these Reformed theologians are conscious in defining what reformed theology is.
Let me share what I gleaned:
1. There is a liberal way of looking at Reformed theology. Liberal here is employed in the sense of having a loose, free and open way of seeing Reformed faith or theology not as people usually understand the term.
- Under this liberal perspective, Karl Barth is perceived as a Reformed theologian though the main stream would deny it. As i know Barth himself claimed to be Reformed and Berkouwer affirmed it. I have several acquaintances who followed Barth and claimed to be reformed. They also have their own definition of reformed faith. They may utilize similar words but the content is different.
- Berkouwer also will fall under this category. If my assessment is correct for Berkouwer and his followers to be reformed would mean a synthesis between Dutch reformed theology and the theology of Barth.
- Dooyeweerd’s reformed theology focused primarily on cosmonomy.
- Theologians are also divided about Paul Tillich. There are theologians who claim that Paul Tillich is reformed.
- Anglicans like J. I. Packer and J. Stott, Calvinist Methodist like D.M. Lloyd Jones, and others will also fall under this category
2. Main Stream Reformed Theology
- Calvin is claimed to be the father of reformed theology though Luther and Zwingli were ahead of him. His Institutes of Christian Religion presents a Trinitarian framework of theology: Father Son, and Holy Spirit. For him, there are two major branches of the knowledge of God: Creator and Redeemer. Attempting to define reformed theology from that framework, to me, it would mean unity between nature and grace.
- For Abraham Kuyper, reformed theology is a life-system
- For Francis Schaeffer, reformed theology is an integration of all kinds of specializations
- For Kistemaker, reformed theology is a “dynamic movement” that embraces the totality of human life. “Sovereignty of God” and “sphere sovereignty” are the primary ideas.
- For John Bolt, to be reformed means to be “trinitarian in theology and catholic in vision.” “Trinitarian in theology” refers to the sovereignty of the Triune God over the entire cosmos. “Catholic in vision” pertains to a universal perspective concerning the kingdom of God, which is scope is the restoration of the total fallen creation.
- There are those who define reformed theology as simply a theology that adheres to the Westminster Standards
- This is my favorite, “semper reformanda” the Latin for the church must always be reforming
- Theonomist and reconstructionist like Bahnsen, North, and Rushdoony will also fall under this category
Main stream reformed theology can be approached from three angels: confessional, philosophical, and doctrinal. This explains the variety in definition. The primary critique against Van Tilian approach in defining reformed theology is that Van Til himself is not an exegete but an apologist, philosopher and theologian (Berkouwer). The main influence in the mind of Van Til is his apologetical method designated as “presuppositional apologetics” and his philosophy described as “Christian Theism.”