More from That Bad Dog on the phrase Essentially Reformed

June 10, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

[Kris says:  Commenter “That Bad Dog” (you can check out his blog here) came back and shared more of his thoughts about Jeff Purswell’s explanation for what Sovereign Grace Ministries means when they claim to be “essentially Reformed.”  You can see the first part of his analysis here

Thanks, “That Bad Dog”!]

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3. “Because We Say So!” (Confusing assertions with proof)

In Purswell’s article What does it mean to be essentially Reformed?, “Reformed theology” is reduced to the idea that God is sovereign and we should glorify him. These are great truths, grand truths even, but they are hardly a historic definition for what “Reformed” means.

To justify rejecting/ignoring/minimizing most of what is actually Reformed doctrine, Purswell/SGM plays two cards: 1) the “it’s not biblical” card, and 2) the “it’s a human system of theology” card. Which brings us to-

That Bad Dog’s 3rd Axiom of Theology: “The less actual evidence is given that a doctrine is biblical (or not biblical), the more likely it becomes that the claim will be expressly made.”

In practice this often means that the only argument given for the biblical nature of a doctrine is the speaker or writer/s claim that the doctrine is biblical!

This is to confuse assertion with proof, or, as I like to call it, the “Because we say so” argument.

Let’s say you were arrested, brought before a judge, and charged with a crime. Before you can say a word, the judge says, “having found you guilty of this crime I sentence you to 20 years hard labor.”

You might say, “Hey, wait a sec, there was no evidence!”

The judge says, “To the contrary, the prosectution has stated that you committed this crime.”

You say, “No, but seriously.”

The judge says, “The prosecutor is a man of great integrity, chosen by God himself to pursue this high calling, and would never allege something that wasn’t true. We trust him. You are guilty.”

Sound like a Kafka novel? It’s done all the time, in pulpits.

Countless sermons run something like this:

1. Tell joke or funny story.
2. Make assertion about doctrine/behavior (“The Bible says…”)
3. Reference one or two of out-of-context verses, or say something like “this is what Paul meant!”
4. Raise voice. Repeat assertion. Say how important it is to believe assertion.
5. Tell story about terrible/great thing that happened to someone who did/didn’t believe assertion.
6. Cry.
7. Threaten (sorry, I mean exhort) audience saying you “watch over their souls as someone who must give account”, they “need to submit to those God has placed over them.”
8. Conclude with prayer.

This frequently works on evangelical audiences for a specific reason.

We regard the Word of God as the source of truth. We are taught, correctly, that the Word of God is the ultimate source for doctrinal truth. Being “unbiblical” is a bad, bad thing. Too often, men are able to take a shortcut right through the thinking bits of our minds, simply by using this language. It immediately puts you on the defensive for a host of reasons.

But, saying something is or isn’t biblical is not the same as proving something is or isn’t biblical. Saying it loudly, with lots of hand gestures; saying it with pleadings or warnings; saying it sincerely with tears; none of these make you more likely to be right, or entitle you to be believed.

Getting back to Reformed theology, and the SGM redefinition. The men who wrote the Reformed confessions were not sitting around trying to come up with new doctrines to add to the Bible. The minutes of the Westminster Confession debates are a remarkable record of how closely they examined every word they wrote, down to the prepositions. These men feared God, and feared to teach something He had not revealed.

Now, that doesn’t mean they were right about everything, or anything, for that matter. But, to simply dump the bulk of Reformed theology, while claiming to be Reformed, with no explanation or proof other than “it isn’t biblical”, is absurd.

4. Systematic Theology is from Mars

The other card played goes like this, “We reject ‘X’ (usually some part of TULIP) because it is a ‘merely human’ system of theology.”

This is a silly argument.

a. It is a false representation of Reformed theology, pretending that it consists only of extended chains of logic, rather than specific interpretations of Scripture. As if Reformed theologians mostly reason out their ideas from theological premises, rather than studying the Bible and trying to understand its teachings. People who say this have often read little or no actual Reformed theology, which makes me highly suspect of SGM-ers making this claim.

b. It falsely implies that the theology held by the one making the claim is a “divine” system (once again, with no proof whatsoever, naturally). But unless you are claiming direct verbal revelation, every doctrine you believe is an interpretation of the meaning of the words of Scripture. A human interpretation. Even if you say, “I only believe the actual words of Scripture,” there is no escape. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!” OK, but what does the word “believe” mean? What about the word “saved” or “Christ” or even “on”?

Of course, our human belief may and should, and some day entirely will, align with the truth of God’s word. But trying to cleave a distinction between a so-called “human” system of theology, and your own “divine” one, is a merely a bad bit of misdirection.

All this leaves us with a final question. SGM seems at pains to distance itself from a great deal of the actual content of creedal Reformed theology, while at the same time appropriating the Reformed badge. Why?