Five Myths About Reformed Theology: Part 4


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Are Reformed folks the “frozen chosen”?

During the Reformation, the Reformed faith quickly spread from Martin Luther’s Germany to all of Europe through Reformed pastors and teachers. John Calvin’s church in Geneva sent missionaries to Brazil, and the first Protestant missionaries to Indonesia were from the Dutch Reformed church. The first successful mission to American Indians was accomplished by John Eliot in the 17th century and later by David Brainerd. In the 18th century, William Carey established the first Protestant mission in India, and in the 19th century, David Livingstone gave his life to African missions. All of these pioneers were confident that God has chosen people wherever they went. Great preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon were Calvinists as well.

So historically speaking, Reformed Christians are not the “frozen chosen.” Thus, you should live by the reputation of Reformed believers as zealous for the gospel of Christ. They were on fire, not icy, because of Christ’s commands to his chosen ones. (From “Chosen, Not to be Frozen, But …”)

Michael Horton weighs in on the difference between evangelical piety and Reformed piety.



First, this impression is contradicted by the logic of Reformed faith and practice. How can a theology that reorients us to a God-centered view of reality kill genuine, heart-felt piety? Whenever the Apostle Paul teaches the doctrines of God’s sovereign, electing, redeeming grace, he typically erupts in praise (see for example, Romans 8:31–39; 11:33–36).

Second, precisely because “salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), we are free to trust and obey without the selfish motive of trying to save ourselves or score points. As Luther put it, “God doesn’t need your good works; your neighbor does.”

Third, Reformed piety is sometimes a little different from what many Christians have come to associate with “genuine, heart-felt piety.” The whole point of the gospel is to turn us outside of ourselves, while much of contemporary piety drives us deeper into ourselves. Many of us were raised in backgrounds where missing a private quiet time was viewed with more suspicion than missing church. Reformed piety includes the personal aspect, including private prayer and meditation on Scripture. Yet it emphasizes the importance of growing together: as covenant families in daily worship and instruction (catechism) and in the communion of saints gathering each Lord’s Day for the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper aren’t our means of commitment, but God’s means of grace, as he sweeps us into his unfolding drama together with his saints. Because God is at work here, we are at work there, in the lives of the others around us. Growth in grace is a team sport, not a private hobby. Reformed piety emphasizes the importance of setting aside the whole Lord’s Day for being refreshed in the communion of saints by the penetrating powers of the age to come in Christ and by the power of his Spirit through his word and sacraments.

Fourth, this emphasis on piety as a life lived in relation to others extends to our callings in the world. We don’t offer our good works to God, but to our neighbors who need the gifts—temporal and spiritual—that God has given us to share with them. Reformed piety embraces the world. We aren’t trying to score points or to transform culture, but to relate to particular neighbors right in front of us in very particular ways each day (see 1 Thess. 4:9–12). So the horizon of Reformed piety is not merely the individual heart or a personal relationship. Of course, it is that—but much more. Christ’s saving work includes the whole created order—not only souls, but bodies, and not only human beings but the natural world (Rom. 8:18–25). We are not looking for “the late, great planet earth,” but “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Fifth, the criticism that Reformed theology kills genuine piety is contradicted by history. The leading theologians of the Reformation were often pastors who also wrote devotional guides, hymns, prayers, and catechisms. They were also often scientists, artists, poets, and linguists, who also founded orphanages and poor houses on the side. When Calvinists founded the early Ivy League colleges in America, they did not imagine that they might have to make a choice between the Bible and classical pagan literature or between theology and science or between piety and the arts. In their view, it was all of one piece. As Wilhelm Niesel reminds us, “The much discussed activism of Calvin is rooted in the fact that we belong to Christ and thus can go our way free from care and confess our membership in Christ; but it does not arise from any zealous desire to prove one’s Christian faith by good works.”


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