Distinguishing the Effectual Call, Regeneration, and Definitive Sanctification

Distinguishing between these various aspects of our redemption is a high delight of the soul, whereby we are moved and induced to joyfully praise God for the glorious salvation as we behold the beauty of the salvation He has wrought and conveyed to us in Christ. Thus, the purpose of this short article is to distinguish between three intimately related concepts in Reformed Theology – the effectual call, regeneration, and definitive sanctification. 

The argument is as follows – (1) the effectual call, regeneration, and definitive sanctification are all parts of the same substantial act of God wherein He, effectually and without a mediator, turns the soul of man from sin to Himself in conversion. (2) Though each of these aspects of conversion happen at the same time chronologically, they do admit of a logical order – i.e. the effectual call precedes regeneration which precedes definitive sanctification. In a word, the elect soul is called to life by God in God’s good timing (effectual call), and so necessarily comes to life (regeneration), and is thereby definitively freed from sin in an irrevocable fashion (definitive sanctification). 

The Effectual Call: The effectual call is the converting act of God in the soul considered from the perspective of God’s own evoking power. Evoke comes from the latin evocare which means to call out of. Evoke, therefore, as I use it, refers to God’s powerful calling forth of the individual soul to life and to trust in His Son thereby. As God called forth the world by His own power, so too He calls forth life in the elect soul by the Spirit through the Word of His power (John 11:42-44; Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 10). 

Regeneration: Regeneration is the converting act of God in the soul, considering the result of the effectual call on the soul itself, wherein it is moved by God from a state of death to that of life. The Bible repeatedly refers to the human soul as born dead in sin; regeneration refers to the fact that said soul has been made alive by God alone and so disposed to see Christ for all that He actually is – in short, glorious and desirable. (Ephesians 2:4-5; Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 13, 1). 

Definitive Sanctification: Definitive Sanctification is the converting act of God viewed from the perspective of the now regenerated man’s relationship with sin. He is now definitively set free from the sin which formerly enslaved him. Sanctification is derived from the Latin sanctus “Holy.”  Sanctification means to “make holy,” or to consecrate as holy. Though progressive sanctification is a lifelong process of being transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness, definitive sanctification refers to the freedom from sin’s dominion that all believers share in definitively being effectually called and regenerated by God. (Romans 6:18). 

He has called us with the powerful preaching of the Gospel, not only outwardly but also inwardly, according to His own will and pleasure (effectual calling). Through His call, our souls have been made alive. Christ, who was formerly repugnant to us, has become to us the pearl of great price (regeneration). And sin, which formerly reigned over us in such a way that we could never overcome it, nor wanted to overcome it, has been laid to rest by the serpent crushing, bond breaking power of the risen Lord Jesus (definitive sanctification). May His name be praised.


It is the responsibility of every Christian to understand and actualize him/herself as an individual. One cannot properly serve God without understanding what it means to be, what a self actually is, biblically speaking; but we also have to “actualize” this information by putting it into practice. In other words, for all of our philosophizing, it does us no good if we cannot apply it to our lives. This is precisely why existentialism is the most necessary starting-place in philosophy, if I may be so bold; and we find the same emphasis in the Scriptures, when man is constantly “called out” of his context, his sin-saturated situation, to walk by faith. The primacy of individuality does not negate the call to community, but it is on the other side of the invitation’s divide that we come together; one cannot truly belong to the body without first having been separated from former binding ties.

One of the steps towards this necessary individualizing is recognizing the importance of facticity, in both a positive and negative sense: how it helps us make sense of God’s purposes, and how it can prevent us from obedience to Jesus Christ. 

What is facticity? Simply put, it is the concept of an individual’s context. It is the sum total of the facts about myself, the situation I find myself “in the middle of” when I engage in self-examination. These facts are my race, my gender, my age, my family situation, my particular point in the timeline of my ancestors and descendents. Facticity is the “factualness” of my existence in the world. I cannot change its facets, cannot alter them except through some kind of violence to my body or mind. 

We see facticity in the Scriptures when God approaches humans and speaks to them in their context. These details are always mentioned, sometimes to demonstrate God’s mercy, sometimes to show the faithfulness of the called. But they are unalterable realities in each case.

Facticity is heightened through the Incarnation. When God enters the world, He enters into a particular context, born to a certain family, taking on a particular occupation. Jesus was not a Chinese farmer or an American businessman, but a Jew living in the shadow of Rome’s occupation. It was as such that He lived and died. 

We see facticity, too, in our everyday lives. So much of our context simultaneously liberates and limits us. Many decisions — our birth parents, our initial geographical locations, where and how we are educated — are outside of our control. Even when we enter into the relatively wider freedoms of adulthood, we still find ourselves confined: our race and gender, for instance, may preclude us from certain privileges, or our intelligence may limit us from comprehending particularly difficult concepts in certain academic fields. 

It is worth noting that facticity is different from the concept of “intersectionality,” (1) which essentially reduces all socio-political interactions to degrees of oppression. Facticity is not inherently negative, as intersectionality is often perceived to be (and usually is): it is simply a “tallying up” of facts about myself that exist despite my decisions. 

With all of that said: what of it? Facticity at first seems to be a fancy way of pointing out the fairly obvious, and hardly seems like a concept worthy of stealing our time. However, a more detailed examination will evidence how facticity has some powerful theological and philosophical implications for the understanding and actualizing of the self. Particularly, we need to look at how facticity interacts with freedom, God’s sovereignty, and our obedience to him.

Facticity and Freedom. The first important lesson of facticity is a negative one: it exposes to me the limits of my freedom. Despite the abilities of the human spirit to exist beneath incredible psychological and spiritual pressure, the lengths to which people have gone to grow and gain new abilities, facticity stands as a guard against the autonomy which would have man become a little god. There are certain doors that remain slammed shut and locked against my endeavors, no matter how hard I strive. I, for example, would never succeed as a nuclear physicist; my brain is wired to tackle more linguistic, literary, and philosophical matters, and I struggle with material that is (to me) excessively technical, mathematical, or scientific. This is because of facticity, the genetic make-up of my psychology that I cannot escape. 

Of course, facticity must not be used to negate the power of choice. I always must choose: I have the responsibility to do so, before both God and people. What facticity does is establish the limits. There are not “boundless choices” in every moment, even if there are several, including those which I cannot properly perceive. 

Facticity and Sovereignty. The relation of facticity to God’s Divine purpose is closely tied to its relation with freedom: it is because of His sovereignty that my freedom is limited. We could even say that facticity is the “human” side to God’s sovereignty: we are in our particular context because He has so decreed it, always without explanation to us, for we are owed no answer from Heaven. All of Scripture, as said above, points to this contextualization of existence: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman…”

Recognizing facticity, then, is recognizing His sovereignty. It helps me to see the context into which I have been placed as my context, in which God desires to use me for the furtherance of His kingdom. Rather than complaining and kicking against the limits of my existence, I accept them, even with gratitude, as the lines of demarcation which implicitly guide me through my life. Of course, in this sense, facticity is difficult to understand “in the moment.” One can never step outside his or her context, and can only review it from a healthy distance. What may seem like a limit established by my facticity at the time may simply be a missed opportunity which, if approached again, would yield different results. 

What should also be recognized is that facticity does not equal fatalism, and should not lead to a state of infinite resignation. The person who takes facticity as a resounding cosmic “no” to his or her endeavors has misread the limitations of context. Humility should flow from us when we realize that God, in His wisdom and unalterable purpose, has fashioned the boundaries of our lives; but we should not take this as a sign to avoid action.

Facticity and Obedience. With all of that said, there is a negative side to facticity: if a proper attitude towards it is not cultivated, it can become an excuse to avoid obedience, to justify compromise and spiritual laziness. It can even lead to a loss of passion for life itself, a lack of drive, and contentment with that loss and lack that sediments and becomes integral to one’s personality. 

Any good hermeneutics will demonstrate that all of the ethical demands of the Gospel are situated in a context. Of Paul’s thirteen letters, only two of them appear to be unprompted by a specific crisis with the believers to whom he was writing; in the Gospels, Jesus is always speaking to a particular audience, in a particular time and place. With all of that said, however, the moral imperatives of the New Testament are just as applicable to us as they were to the original readers because they are concerned with the kinds of people that God has called us to be, regardless of our circumstances. While the situation in which I am called to be patient, for instance, may be quite different from the situation of a first century believer in Thessaloniki, the characteristics of patience as a virtue will look remarkably similar because patience as an eternal quality of genuine faith has not shifted in its appearance or characteristics. 

Therefore, facticity can never be wielded as a weapon to obedience. In fact, the call of Christ specifically transcends facticity, as we see in the Gospels when He calls the disciples and they leave their careers, their families, and their hometowns to follow Him. I must consider my context when I am considering obedience, because ethics always interacts with the environment. But the environment is not a true barrier to obedience. God always calls me in my context, often out of my context, in order to transform it. He who is Eternally Unfactical became facticity itself, that we may transcend the facts our existence, that which is merely earthly, and walk in the Spirit, undetermined by anything but the Divine will. 


(1) This is not to say that there is no legitimacy to some ideas put forth by intersectionality. Societal oppression is a reality for many people. The Scriptures constantly address caring for those who are at a disadvantage. Intersectionality becomes problematic when it only wants to view a person in terms of how they are oppressed. It is, in that sense, a negative spin on facticity, and does not recognize the ability to obtain freedom despite one’s circumstances. Not everyone who argues for intersectionality takes this line of thinking, but it is a danger, and it does occur.

PC: Photo by Michael Emono on Unsplash

TGP Podcast: Ecclesiastical Dogmatism: Abuse in the church 1

This episode features host Aaron Lague, Dirk Petterson, and Patrick Steckbeck. Unfortunately, it does not contain an introduction due to processing problems and the editing is sub-par. Nonetheless, we hope you benefit from the discussion about Dogmatism, particularly in the church, and Dogmatism’s practical outflow in the form of manipulation and abuse.

Eclectic Empiricism

I often wonder at the intuition of man. By intuition, I’m not referring to an impression made upon the mind without rationale. Quite the contrary, I refer to an impression made upon the mind, the rationale of which is not immediately apparent; one which is drawn from several sources of experience and formed into a singular impression, upon which one believes and acts. This intuition is similar to Aristotle’s sensus communis, his “common sense” which refers to the unifying capacity of man to trace impressions from his various senses into coherent wholes of intelligiblity. Yet, the intuition I’m speaking of here is even deeper than the sensus communis (though it includes the notion). Rather, it is the ability of the rational soul to apprehend and “hold together” all forms of information available to him in order to make judgments, be formulated, and guide his life. This eclectic intuition is, therefore, able to account for truths derived from emotions, as it systematizes emotions. It is also able to account for past experience, seeing as it contains the memory. Yet, it is also able to account for coherent reason within experience (personal logical inconsistencies, theorizing, and ext). In this regard, the eclectic intuition is of ordered priority to explicative reason (the provision of a rationale for any given assertion or belief) because without it the desire and ability to “give a reason” would be impossible. Intuition precedes rationale.

I am also amazed at the ink that has been spilled in the history of Philosophy regarding the “rationally explicable” faculty of man as the source of knowledge and certainty; it seems to me, rather, that the discursive, deductive, explicating, and ordering, “consciously mental” faculty of man is always secondary to his rational capacity to intuit using all his capacities as a rational soul. Yet I don’t find as many philosophers insisting on the primacy of intuition which to me seems to be a key resolver of some of the problems of certainty, practical living, value theory and the like. If the doubting soul accepts eclectic empiricism, it seems to work toward the resolving of the problem of “transcendental” certainty in their daily lives. If they accept it, the “problem” of seeking certainty is turned on its head into a methodology; intuitive psychological certainty seeking mathematical certainty (Aristotle seeking after Descartes as a method, not a Lord).  I think it is due to a fast and loose reading of Philosophers like Descartes and Bacon that a lot of people beginning in Philosophy live their lives in perpetual doubt and uncertainty a lot of the time, most particularly when they begin to reflect and philosophize (As did I). Philosophic certainty, in general, is a delusion of grandeur by pompous systematists (I am a systematist. I love systematists). In other words, contingent, derived, fallible beings shouldn’t live their lives expecting deductive certainty in most matters; certainty, rationally construed, is not in every way necessary for psychological, mental peace regarding action and life. In a lot of matters, I don’t even think an “absolute epistemic certainty” is preferrable. Remember friend, it’s the Progressives that think they should rule the world by their absolutely certain and objective “science.” It’s the Conservatives which admit of the utter finitude of man and hence revere custom, tradition, order and the like. Purported “epistemic” certainty, at many times, is the mother of oppression, though it clothes itself as a virtuous good.


In this regard, my thoughts as to the epistemic priority of man as a totality – mind, heart, emotion, sensation, memory, systematization – and his capacity to “hold” all of these together in singular intuitions – is a brand of Empiricism not Rationalism. In every way, the subjective apprehension of truth is formed primarily (if not exclusively) by experience; it is important, though, to state at the outset that this “experience” is not simply sense experience – rather, it is all forms of experience, sensation, memory, systematization, emotion, and ext. Ultimately, whether all knowledge begins in such an experience, I don’t claim to know (though I am very skeptical of the idea of innate ideas), but I can claim to know that priority for rational justification, as to living our lives,  epistemically, seems to be at what I call the eclectic intuition, not any one of the purported faculties of experience (reason or emotion). Sure, some men prefer to speak and talk about sense experience, others rational systems, and others emotions – yet in all their actions, there exists a harmonious (or disfunctional) interplay between the whole; and it is on the sum total of this whole that they actually act, believe, and value.

If this is true, it obviously has an impact on the type of “reasoning” which is valued by the persons who believes as I do. Preference isn’t given to “deductive” reasoning in the majority of cases, nor slow-hearted experiential “empiricism” on the other; Descartes and Bacon are both out when it comes to daily life (though either method may be adopted as a method, like they did, for certain purposes – though I would strongly advise curtailing your Cartesianism along Thomistic lines; one Catholic over another as it were). Rather, abduction is seen as the actual structure of personal epistemic life in the broad contours of his mental life; abduction is the ability of the rational soul to make judgments based upon various sources of information. As I see it, abduction is the faculty of the rational soul, working on various sources of apparently unified sources of knowledge (intuition) in order to formulate a singular “impression” (belief) regarding the whole, from which he then goes on to explicate the parts and the whole (reason). In this regard, it cannot be maintained that such an abduction is the abduction of a scientist dyadically “acting” as though he is passionately disinterested from the object at hand; rather, the relation is triadic, the individual’s self interest is always “tied up” with his perception of facts; and both of those also relate to his own “explicit mental conception” (the story he tells himself about what he believes) and these three, the individual’s self-interest, the subjective and explicit thought-world, and the facts are always at play with one another in any given act of the rational soul. Mind over matter; no (Plato). Mind in the service of matter; no (Hume). The totality of all faculties working in relation to itself harmoniously or non-harmoniously; yes.  

Again, for the sake of clarity I make a distinction regarding eclectic empiricism; when I posit that in the majority of your life you live by intuition as I’ve defined it here – the rational substructure of which is abduction – I am not stating that such a way of living and thinking is what, for the majority of time, you talk about, think about consciously, or what pleases you; I’m saying it’s what you’re doing and the structure of how you’re doing it mentally (thus I’m not denying the reality of habit nor the vegetative and animalistic aspects of man. Quite the contrary, I’m affirming aspects about the rational faculties). Many men love to talk of practical reasoning and sense impressions, others prefer the study of the humanities and of books, still others enjoy more than these conversational intercourse with others, yet some others prefer aesthetics. All well and good, I am not here referring to personality nor pleasure preferences, I am referring to the mental structure of the rational soul of man in the world in general; and I am positing that he acts in his volitions, thoughts, and values as a unity (or a disunity in unity in the case that various informational capacities disagree yet still relate to one another within one person). I am also arguing that though man puts on various methodologies (Cartesianism, Baconianism, Scholasticism, Existentialism), he acts in the greater whole of his life, according to unified intuitions and as a unified person (though, as stated, he may be disunified in this unity of relation). We tend to overlook this unity of man and focus on personality preferences because the unity we share is so normalized to us; what is abnormal is someone who focuses to a large extent or degree on any one of his given faculties more than the majority of other persons within his community (which is what we refer to such a person as an individual with a “personality” – the bookworm isn’t a bookworm because he doesn’t act, in the majority of his life, as other men do but mentally; rather, he is referred to as a bookwork because he acts, in regards to books and learning, more particularly in that regard than most men do. Yet when he acts, even as a bookworm, he acts as a totality and primarily according to abduction).  

Another facet of my theory (I call it a theory because I believe I have evidence) is that it is intimately related to another epistemic notion which I think is practically beneficial and resolves some Theological conundrums that I, at-least, wrestle with. It posits the general epistemic reliability of the person; more particularly, it posits the general reliability, epistemically, of mankind. Even more particularly, it posits the general reliability, epistemically, of fallen mankind. The general I use here is very general. Men are everywhere afflicted by and afflicting epistemic blunders; Bacon talks about it in his idols, any given logic textbook can tell you about the various errors that humans make; yet even our ability to find errors really proves my point. If our race is able to understand it’s errors in a consistently reliable way, then it proves that general reliability in matters pertaining to our lives is preferable to generally erroneous. Biblically speaking, in Romans 1, if you recall, Greek idolaters are representative of mankind in their right and true and rational perception of God, yet are given over to a debased as a consequent to their idolatry. Yet, in order to be guilty in an epistemic sense, they must first know. And if they know, their faculties have to be at-least generally reliable in terms of the perception and understanding necessary to render them guilty. Thus, it is proven from experience and revelation that man is generally reliable at-least in the general course of his life, epistemically. Again, the general I speak of is very general; any given man might be terrible on any given matter (indeed, you should expect such), yet the general reliability of man’s rational soul should not be doubted; totally depraved, but not absolutely foregone. Mentally corrupt, but not inept.

Lastly, I want to explain what I believe to be another legitimate deduction contained within the brand of Empiricism here stated. Personalistic Empiricism, an Empiricism which views the entire human person, and the totality of his experiences, as adequate to epistemic justification, is inherently democratic. I don’t use the word democratic to refer to a political party but as an analogy to the manner in which knowledge is apprehended, which, in the vast majority of humans (exempting invalids for example) is substantially one. Thus the distinctions we make regarding the “intellectual” ability of one man to another is really vastly overstated in my view; to be a human means you’re a rational animal. To possess rationality means you possess the same “faculties” as the man who you regard as “smarter” than yourself. Thus there is a fundamental equality between you, the clergy, the scientist, and the mathematician, regarding the vast majority of knowledge about life. Sure, one man may study and focus on mathematics, another philosophy, and another cars, but these humans are really not all that different. Their eccentricities are only noted by us because they are predicated on such a regularity of uniformity; the irregularity is only noted because of a substantial regularity, which is actually, in my mind, more ultimate (though I have a hunch sometimes that there is a total equity and interplay between unity and diversity within the world, predicated ultimately on the Trinity). What I’m really driving at is that this epistemology is a working system for Protestantism; since it affirms the general equity of mankind epistemologically, it preserves for the individual the right to interpret the Scriptures for himself. Lords, Popes, and capital T teachers are a facade utilized by the devil in order to control; helpful ministers, lower t teachers, and others who differ from us not so much as to the form of their reasoning but as to their dedication to the craft and their propensity toward certain information, that’s what differ the Theologian from the layman. In my experience, those who get regarded as “smarter” than other people are people who spend alot of time studying the source material and educating themselves as to the grammar of their subject. I don’t actually think my favorite discipline, philosophy, is unable to be comprehended by the common man. I believe that the common man doesn’t care much to learn the grammar of philosophy and utilizes the excuse that he is “incapable” of learning it, when really he is just, generally, lazy (there are, though, some people who really cannot learn or grasp some philosophical concepts. I’m not here referring to them. I’ve read Hegel. I can’t understand all of Hegel). The same thing goes with the judgments of councils, creeds, individual elderates and presbyteries, husbands and wives, and ect. In principle, they have no infalliblity and all parties before they are separated according to their various stations are united in their common rationality a humanity. In principle, one man can stand with the truth against an entire array of men biased towards evil.

Though in the preceding I’ve written more musings than a scientific exposition I will end with more philosophic clarity (less popular level perspecuity). As to the epistemic question of origins of knowledge, I am uncertain but I am inclined to think that knowledge begins in experience and is related to the self through the maturation process. In this regard, I don’t believe in a doctrine of “innate ideas” in the Platonic or Leibnizian sense. I am more inclined to the Aristotelian notion that man is a “rational soul” who is endowed with an epistemic “apparatus” which is concurrent with the world he lives in and through which, eclectically, he come to true knowledge. Thus I believe innate forms, not innate ideas. I don’t believe man is a “blank slate,” but that through experience he learns of his own forms which are innate (logic, for example). As such, I reject the primacy of deduction and induction respectively, when it comes to the majority of life; deduction and induction refer to systems of reasoning, the likes of which are utilized by the totality of the rational soul. Thus induction and deduction are both valued, but are subservient to a total abduction in the majority of affairs. Such a statement, epistemically, is, in my mind, a correlate to a properly “Critical Realist” philosophy which believes in and rationally justifies our true conception of our world and in that finds a deeper form of peace than in Idealism and Naive Realism. Idealists tend to favor deduction (Plato, Hegel, Leibniz) whereas Empiricists tend to favor induction (Bacon, Locke). A Critical Realist would logically value both induction and deduction seeing as he really believes that his knowledge of the world is true knowledge, but that his belief in his senses can be justified, critically by reason. Thus, his form of reasoning is logically abductive and eclectic, not deductive or inductive principally. Further, ethically, such a position yields, practically and epistemically, a form of psychological peace with regard to beliefs, but not a dogmatic impositionalism (as in Fundamentalism); yet it does not deny, at times, that men know things certainly, at other times they have a hunch, and at other times they’re sure but not philosophically certain – in fact, it posits that the majority of time, their philosophical “beliefs” fall in that latter category. As it stands, my position is somewhere between Aristotle, Pyrhonnian Skepticism, James and Kant – It is Realist (with Aristotle), critical (with Kant), open to new information (with the Pyrhonnians), and pragmatic as it is an epistemology for life (with James). Yet, unlike Aristotle I find justification for my belief in the intelligibility of experience within the Christian Scriptures (thus it is transcendental), unlike Kant it affirms that Idealism and an absolute antithesis between subject/object is irrational (thus it is Realist), unlike the Pyrhonnians it affirms the potential for real, true, and certain knowledge of Metaphysics (thus it is, in part, dogmatic), and unlike the Pragmatists it is concerned to justify the apparent, rationally.

PC: James L.W.

10 Popular Misconceptions of Reformed Theology

1. Reformed Theology is a Biblicism

In the discipline of Philosophy, epistemology is the study of knowledge: what knowledge is, what counts as knowledge, and the mechanism through which the person apprehends knowledge. The assertion of Biblicism is an assertion of epistemic (mental) authority. Biblicism contends that the Bible only is the rule for faith and life for Christians. Neither science, nor church tradition, nor conventional wisdom are our authorities in life, only the Bible. Biblicism is expressed in catch phrases like, “we have no creed but Christ and no authority but the Bible!” Reformed Theology, in distinction to this, posits that the Bible is the only infallible authority regarding the most necessary matters of faith and salvation (Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone). Here, infallibility means impossibility to err. Thus, Reformed Theology is not Biblicism in that it does not readily throw out the creeds, councils, and confessions of the church – nor science or history. It simply doesn’t place subordinate authorities (creeds and confessions) on the same level as Scripture. Whereas the Scripture alone is the norm of norms without norm (it cannot be subject to any higher authority), the right interpretation of Scripture is a providential concurrency between the individual and the church, the former generally submitting to the latter. Scripture alone is infallible but it is not the sole authority; God providentially guides the church into the correct (though not infallible) interpretation of Scripture.

2. Reformed Theology is Calvinism

In modern usage, Calvinism has been reduced to a system of salvation (which answers to the question of how men get saved). Historically though, Calvinism referred to the entire substructure undergirding the written corpus of John Calvin. Thus it included not only his doctrines of predestination, providence, and salvation but also a view of the church, Sacraments, creation, and ext. Reformed Theology is not co-extensive with either of these two definitions of Calvinism; so-called “mere Calvinism” is an essential aspect, but not the whole of full or broad Calvinism (the structure of Calvin’s thought). And the structure of Calvin’s thought is not the whole of “Reformed Theology” though Calvin and his thought were necessary, historically, in order for the full budding of Reformed thought to flourish. Calvin’s thought, therefore, furnished the ground for later confessional developments (the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Synod of Dort, and Helvetic Confessions, and ext). In other words, Calvin is an indispensable Theologian within the Reformed tradition, but he is a part not the whole. Likewise, the doctrines of grace (mere Calvinism) are indispensable doctrines with regard to the whole of the Reformed system of Theology, though they are not by any means the whole. Reformed Theology encapsulates an entire worldview, not just a view of how someone “gets saved.”

3. Reformed Theology is a Manicheanism

If you recall, Catholic Theology is a “Sacerdotalism.” Sacerdotalism contends that God “deposits” grace into the Catholic church for the salvation of persons. This grace is then dispensed via the co-operative act of clergy and layman through the Church’s various Sacraments (The Lord’s Supper and Penance for example). The individual, therefore, is always dependent on the will of the priest and Church in order to attain salvation. Reformed Theology repudiates such dogma. According to the Reformed there is, in fact, no mediator between God and man except Christ; and Christ is not apprehended through works done in righteousness but through the act of gracious reception (i.e. faith). The individual sinner apprehends God through faith due to of a prior act of grace on the part of God (regeneration) which is caused, not by his own “free-will,” but by free-grace of God. Due to Reformed Theologies’ total rejection of man’s works as primary in salvation, many opponents have accused Reformed Theology as being a “Manicheanism” wherein, salvifically, one simply waits upon God to effect his work being unable to do anything within the process. The “Manicheans” advocated a passive approach to God’s grace, hoping Him to simply “effect” his grace upon them. Reformed Theology, against Manicheanism, posits that man is always to attend to the various “means of grace” which God has appointed. The “means of grace” in Reformed Theology refer to the primary means alongside which God has promised to do His work of salvation (the reading of Scripture, the hearing of the preaching, prayers, and the Sacraments). Thus, Reformed Theology states that God is not bound to the church, her sacraments, the Bible, and ext. as a universal, necessary rule; rather, he has bound us to them consequently and as by promise. Though God is free to transcend the means of grace (the church, her sacraments, preaching, ext), He has willed, according to His promise, to come to do His work of salvation alongside them. Reformed Theology posits that God does not work through various channels (as in Sacerdotalism), (as in Manicheanism) but alongside these various means, mysteriously, at His own pleasure.

4. Reformed Theology is anti-sacramental

Similar to the objection above, many accuse Reformed Theology as being anti-sacramental. This is understandable due to the implicit rejection by many evangelicals of a full and robust Reformed Theology in favor of a “mere” Calvinism. Accordingly, these so-called “Reformed” people have nothing in common with the Sacramental heritage of our confessional documents. The Theology of these so-called “Reformed” people is more akin to the Zwinglian and Anabaptist wings of the Reformation, less so with the other magisterial reformers (Luther and Calvin). In short, a sacrament is a rite wherein the grace signified in the rite is really conveyed by God alongside that rite at His own discretion, in His own time. In other words, the thing which is signified in the rite (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) is really conveyed to the person who apprehends the sign by faith according to the Spirit’s work. In Zwinglian Theology, the sacraments are mere instruments for remembrance (God does not utilize them in a mysterious way to convey that which is signified). Likewise, in the London Baptist Confession, the particular Baptists use the language of “ordinance” to describe Baptism, whereas the Westminster Confession uses the language of Sacrament. All of this to say that in Reformed Theology, the Spirit works alongside the Scriptures and the sacramental rite in order to mysteriously effect that which is signified. In the case of Baptism, the salvation signified therein is not tied to the moment of it’s administration (those infants that are baptized are not necessarily saved at the time of their Baptism). Nor is the grace signified in the Lord’s Supper given to those who partake of it by a mere act of eating; rather, the Sacrament, in God’s providence, arouses faith through which God sovereignly bestows the grace signified in the rite. Reformed Theology, therefore, retains the high regard for the Sacraments without making them Lord’s as in Lutheran and Catholic Theology.

5. Reformed Theology is anti-ecclesiology

Similar to the objection above, it is supposed by some that Reformed theology is anti-ecclesiological (in other words, Reformed Theology has no place for the church). This, again, I believe is due to the practical reduction of Reformed Theology to merely the place of a system of salvation (the five points of Calvinism). The Reformation, before it was a reformation of our view of salvation, was a reformation of worship. As the story goes, the Roman magisterium was knee-deep in idolatry and the Reformers wished to rid the church of human traditions by introducing worship according to the Word of God alone. In this vein, the Reformed tradition by and large has recaptured and pioneered doctrines such as the regulative principle of worship (we worship only as God as explicitly and implicitly commanded us in His word), the reality of the Lord’s day Sabbath (the command of God to worship Him on His appointed day, weekly), and the providential care that God has shown to His people in giving them church officers (ministers, elders, and deacons). In addition to this, Reformed Theology places primacy on the preaching of the Word of God as the Word of God and the setting-apart of the Sacrament as a sacrament by the Word of God. In short, the Word of God, in Reformed Theology, is never divorced from the church of God. The Word of God rules the church; the church of God ministers to her own according to the Word of God.

6. Reformed Theology is anti-philosophical

This objection is a by-product of the Biblicist revolution spoken of above. If the Bible alone is the sole authority for faith and life and an implicit rejection of tradition and human philosophy is contained within that doctrine, then we must repudiate both tradition and philosophy. This is erroneous because it fails to distinguish between the traditions of men and the tradition of God and because it fails to distinguish between the philosophy contained within the Word of God and the philosophies’ of men. Scripture itself contains it’s own tradition (a body of doctrines which constitute a whole), which together constituted form a worldview (a philosophy). What is rejected in the Scriptures is man-made tradition and man-made philosophy. This is not to say that the structures and true findings of man-made philosophy cannot be apprehended by the people of God in order to better serve our flourishing (Moses learned from the Egyptians; Paul and Apollos from the Greeks). Rather man-made philosophy, like church tradition, is always subject to the Word of God as God clearly speaks in Scripture. To this point, there is an entire trajectory within Reformed Theology which utilizes the philosophical categories of Aristotle in order to clearly set forth the totality of Reformed Theology (this school is the Reformed Scholastics; their greatest representative is the Theologian Francis Turretin).

7. Reformed Theology is Revolutionary

Having in large part inherited much from Luther’s reformation, Reformed Theology is categorized as revolutionary in a way similar to Marx, French Revolutionaries, and Enlightenment Philosophers. According to this line of thinking one must dare to think for oneself, trust no tradition of those come before you; burn it to the ground if it doesn’t make sense to you. In contradiction to this, Reformed Theology is largely a Conservatism and a Humanism. It is a Conservatism in that it looks upon the fathers of the church with high regard, only throws out custom when contrary to the Word of God and seeks to preserve the inheritance which it has received from those who’ve come before. As a Humanism, it adheres to the mantra Ad fontes! Ad fontes means “back to the sources.” The Reformers were attempting to go back to the Scriptures as the infallible authority and retrieve the doctrine of the early church fathers (Iraneus, Tertullian, and, most notably, Augustine).

8. Reformed Theology is a Determinism

Reformed Theology is deterministic, but it is not a determinism. To be clear, Reformed Theology emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God, not only in our salvation, but in the total array of human affairs. God is absolute and from His absoluteness He predestines, governs, and guides all things which do come to pass, even and especially men’s salvation and damnation. Yet Reformed Theology always insists upon the mysterious unity of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility; all that is necessary to predicate man’s responsibility is contained within the providential sovereignty of God. How this works is admittedly a mystery but at-least this much is certain: men are not computational machines (robots), who are effected by God as though He were a puppet master; rather, God has so constituted the universe as it’s sole primary and ultimate cause but has instituted secondary causes in order to effect his ends. In addition to this, and contrary to natural determinism, men are not mere animals. Men are rational animals. As such, they have the implicit ability to transcend their natural impulses according to higher rational standards (unlike the birds, bees, rocks, and trees). Further, regenerate men are definitively free from sin and thus have the capacity to transcend (though not perfectly) the sin nature (unlike the unregenerate). Men, in other words, within Reformed Theology, are in all the best ways free; and being free, they are radically responsible for their actions.

9. Reformed Theology is an Intellectualism

This may be one of the saddest errors in our circles today. Anthropologically, people who categorize themselves as “Reformed” practically relegate emotional life of Christians to a secondary status. “The heart is wicked, so don’t trust it!” they say. Their doctrine is that heart refers to the emotions of persons, whereas in Scripture the heart refers to the fundamental-personal commitment of individuals which undergirds their actions, thoughts, and feelings. Thus, it is not the feelings that are bad rather it is the fundamental disposition of the person. Again, it is not actions “as such” that are bad, rather it is the heart that is bad. Mind is good, but an unregenerate mind is bad. For this reason, Reformed Theology has been categorized as an “Intellectualism.” The intellect is good and immaculate; it is the body, the emotions, and the will that are evil. Reformed Theology states that undergirding all phenomena of the human person is a fundamental heart commitment to either God or the Devil, the flesh or Christ, the kingdom or the world. To be fair, there are intellectualists within the Reformed community, but it is by no means a fundamental doctrine to the entire system – they could be wrong.

10. Reformed Theology is fully codalized

There are a significant amount of Christians who act as though Reformed Theology and thought is fully codalized. They treat it as though it admits of no error in principle and any deviation from the confession of faith is, as a transcendent principle, an error. Though this may in fact be an error (and usually is). It is an error in consequence, not an error in principle. It is an error because the system of the confessions is true, not that the origin of these confessions is such that the confessions are incapable of error. We revere the confessions of the Reformed tradition because of their faithfulness to the Word of God and because they are our fathers whom we honor. Yet in our own day, as in days past, there are disagreements between aspects of the Reformed Confessions and even more-so amongst Reformed Theologians. Thus, treating any one of the confessions as absolute is the contradict the spirit of the whole; rather, they should be seen as subordinate authorities which work together as a wide pond which many different brethren swim in. Contradiction to the greater mass of the confessions, though, should be definitively regarded as outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy (which is not the same thing as catholic or Christian orthodoxy, nor Protestant Orthodoxy). Doctrines which are contrary to Reformed Orthodoxy would be those which contradict the mass of our confessions and Theologians or which strike at the vitals of our system as a distinct interpretation of the Word of the Lord.

Photo Credit: J.J. Jordan