While at a conference a young man introduced himself to me, we began to chat, he informed me he was Reformed, and he had a few questions for me. I asked him what kind of Reformed, and he wasn’t all that sure what that meant, so I asked it concretely: Presbyterian? No. CRC? No (he had never heard of this). So I said OPC? He said “Not sure what that means.” Then I dropped the big one: Are you Barthian? He gave me a harumph and said that Barth wasn’t Reformed. He did know who Tim Keller was but said he was more like Piper than any so far mentioned. Moltmann didn’t come up.
What is Reformed?
Well, what does “Reformed” mean then? There is a very good article surveying Reformed theology by Dirkie Smit in Expository Times 122.7 (2011) 313-326, an article that I relished for its spanning of the global context of Reformed theology. You see many young ones today think Reformed theology begins and ends with Piper and Driscoll, or in the circumference of The Gospel Coalition or the shifts among the Southern Baptists, but a fair number of Reformed theologians say, “Well, no, not really.” What we need, then, is exactly what Kelly Kapic and Wes Vander Lugt (that’s a Reformed name if ever there was) have produced with IVP: Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition. I’ve read the thing; it’s good and helpful and informed and cautious and accurate though it could definitely use some more entries about South Africa and its theologians and issues. As such, its focus is the UK, Netherlands and the USA. But mostly UK and USA. It’s not just about the historic Reformed folks but scans a wider circle. A friend of mine once told me if you don’t baptize infants you aren’t truly Reformed.
It covers topics — accommodation, Anabaptism, atonement, baptism (good sketch of infant baptism), bondage of the will, Christ and culture, and on and on. It covers names — Barth, Calvin, JI Packer, Hermann Ridderbos, et al. It covers events and movements — Barmen Declaration, Puritanism, etc.. No entry on “gospel.”
In other words, every young “Reformed” theologian and any theological student will benefit from this kind of accessible book. It will prove especially helpful for students who need quick information on major names and ideas.
Of course, there were a number of places I dug in. Like “apostasy.” Defined: “Intentional abandonment and rejection of faith previously professed.” OK, good on intentional, and abandonment, and rejection but the whole focus here is typical: previously professed is understood to be a “real phenomenon” but only for those who have “merely professed faith outwardly” and “have participated in the visible church … making internal realities publicly known” (14-15). The jig is up for me: what this teaches is that “real” apostasy can’t occur because the person who abandons never was saved or regenerated. So apostasy is from external realities but not internal realities. Look very soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow, for an e-book of mine called A Long and Faithful Obedience.
A good sketch of Karl Barth, with sensitivities to his own development. There is nothing here smacking of the old bad guy Barth. Good for the authors. On “biblical theology” they describe what is characteristic: biblical theology is the history of redemption, which in my terms is a soterian approach to the whole Bible, which I have emphasized tells a true and good story but not the whole story. I’m glad they include Don Bloesch and Bonhoeffer, who is Lutheran. On Calvinism, TULIP is not adequate to describe it (good for the authors).
They see evangelicalism through the lens of justification by faith and grace alone. They do recognize its broader scope with the Wesleys. But they also show tension between the Reformed tradition and contemporary evangelicalism.
The featured article is a tad catchy: Reformed theology is canonical, creational, comprehensive, covenantal, Christ-centered, concordant (divine sovereignty and human responsibility), confessional and contextual.