Two Major Streams of Reformed Theology

Have you heard of the “other Reformed theology”? Many in the Reformed resurgence only know one aspect of the broad historical stream of Reformed theology, and sadly, many stereotypes of “Calvinism” exist because John Calvin’s legacy has been unknowingly truncated.

Too often, Reformed theology is defined merely by the “five points of Calvinism”: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. While this emphasis on how God saves sinners has value, it fails to capture the full breadth of the heritage of Reformed thought.

Two major streams of Reformed theology developed out of the work of John Calvin: the Scottish Calvinist stream and the Dutch Reformed stream. The Scottish tradition has a strong focus on doctrines of salvation and the ordo salutis (order of salvation). But the Dutch Reformed tradition also emphasizes worldviews, cultural engagement, and the lordship of Jesus over all aspects of life. The two streams have not converged as much as you might expect, considering their common source. So let’s take a short tour of the Scottish and Dutch Reformed theological traditions.

Scottish Tradition

In the early days of the Reformation, pastor-theologian John Knox (1514-1572) was part of a group trying to reform the Scottish church; his involvement, however, led to his imprisonment and eventual exile. While in exile, he traveled to John Calvin’s base of operations in Geneva, Switzerland. There Knox became enamored with the doctrine of predestination. Knox eventually returned and became the leading figure in founding the Church of Scotland, the origin of Presbyterianism.

Subsequent generations within the Scottish Reformed theological tradition (including English Puritans such as Richard Baxter and John Owen) gained a reputation (not entirely fair) for being gloomy preachers of hell, for exercising harsh church discipline while delving into the private lives of church members, and for suppressing the arts. American theologians such as the great Jonathan Edwards were also influenced by Scottish theology and philosophy and inherited some of these same critiques. There may be a bit of truth in each of the common criticisms, but such practices arose out of unique cultural situations and should not be the only measures by which Scottish Reformed theology is judged.

Some Scottish Reformed theology drifted into some heavier-handed forms of Calvinism, but its original confession (the Scots Confession of 1560) upheld the missional nature of the church and the evangelistic focus of theology. The Reformed doctrine of the Scots was never separated from practical living. The Scots looked to the Westminster Confession of Faith as their doctrinal standard (underneath Scripture) and sought to implement those great theological truths into their everyday lives.

Dutch Tradition

Calvinism arrived in the Netherlands in the third wave of the Reformation in the 1560s. Dutch Calvinism contributed some of the most important early Reformed creeds and confessions: the Belgic Confession of 1561 gave original definition to the Dutch Reformed Church; the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 fostered unity between the Dutch and German Reformed; and the Canons of Dort in 1619 served as a Reformed ecumenical council.

Over time the Dutch Reformed Church drifted into theological liberalism. Then, in the late 19th century, the work of Neo-Calvinists such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Louis Berkhof shaped what is now known as the Dutch Reformed school of theology (articles will eventually follow on each of these figures).

While Dutch Reformed thought has much in common with the broader Reformed tradition, several features set it apart. Some of the best summaries of Dutch Reformed thought are captured in Douglas Wilson’s phrase, “All of Christ for all of life,” and in the famous words of Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'”

Kuyper argued for the lordship of Christ over all of life and urged Christians not to dismiss certain fields of culture and society as “worldly.” He believed that God established structures of authority in different spheres of creation, and recognizing the boundaries between these spheres maintains and balances justice and order in society.

According to Kuyper, God’s rule on earth is brought about through the faithful cultural presence of his church. This belief led the Dutch theologians to emphasize cultural action on the part of Christians. Kuyper wanted Christians to understand that each worldview has unique philosophical assumptions, and that Christian assumptions shape the way believers should act in every area of life. As a result of God’s absolute sovereignty, Christians experience the grace of God in all aspects of life, not just in church activities and worship services.

The high point of Dutch Reformed theology is arguably Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (full disclosure: I first came to Reformed theology through reading Berkhof when I was 17). Dutch Reformed theology shared important essentials with the Old Princeton school of theology (from the Scottish Calvinist tradition) in the United States, but they differed significantly in some areas. The Dutch believed that people have no religiously neutral, “objective” rational faculty. This meant there was no common ground, necessarily, shared between believers and nonbelievers. This made apologetics more of a clash of worldviews than a debate over evidence.

Complementary, Not Contradictory

It may seem like the Scottish and Dutch streams of the Reformed church are miles apart in their emphases, but it is important to observe the significantly different cultural situations in which each of the traditions developed. The Dutch theologians faced a church giving in to modernist theological liberalism in the 19th century and tried to find a cultural home in their new settlements in the United States. As such, we should expect their emphases on the supreme reign of Christ over the ideologies of the day and their careful conception of culture. In a way, Dutch Reformed theology applied the broad principles of the Reformation.

The Scots focused more on the primary doctrines of the Reformation than on their specific application to new cultural situations. Moreover, the Scottish Reformed took the initial Reformation to the surrounding regions, which explains their emphasis on missions.

Nevertheless, even in these different points of focus, both the Scottish and Dutch Reformed theologians focused on making disciples and bringing the gospel to bear on the world around them. Both traditions offer compelling examples for the Reformed movement today.

  • gas

    oh my… this is an absolutely horrendous analysis.

    • John Carpenter

      why? I think it’s a little odd to subsume the English Puritan movement under “Scottish Tradition” but he doesn’t have the space for all the details.

      • Ian Hugh Clary

        I’m not sure it’s helpful either. Too reductionist. And yes, calling it the “Scottish” stream is quite misleading.

  • Wes Vander Lugt

    On the contrary, I think you have done a great job of mapping out two streams that feed the broader river of the Reformed tradition. It is difficult, of course, to avoid over-simplification and generalization. One might point out, for example, that the more doctrinal ‘five points of Calvinism’ arose within the Dutch Reformed tradition in response to the Remonstrants at Dort: what you have interesting called ‘the Reformed ecumenical council.’ Yet you are absolutely correct that the summary of Reformed doctrine popularly articulated today as TULIP does not capture the breadth of the Reformed tradition, nor does it, I would argue, accurately represent the doctrine delineated at Dort. Kelly Kapic and I attempt to parse out some of these details and represent the whole breadth of the Reformed tradition in our forthcoming Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition, due out with IVP in May 2013. In the meantime, thanks for providing an introduction to the topic, and I look forward to more articles that help us understand the diverse and beautiful landscape of the Reformed tradition.

  • Steve Cornell

    It’s not easy to summarize large portions of history and ways of thinking in a short blog post. The writer usually feels this pain more than most readers understand. I respect your effort and realize that the role of the blog post is often conversation starter not comprehensive treatment.

    I was particularly drawn to this theme because I recently wrote a piece echoing concerns about truncated thinking in some of the reformed emphasis on sin ( Yesterday I started a series of posts (aligning more with the thinking of Kuyper) looking at the weak emphasis on common grace ministries (

    Hesitations (particularly among those committed to reformed theology) to embrace common grace theology in a way that becomes missional is often based in fear (as Mouw stated it) that emphasis on “general revelation, natural law, natural theology, and similar notions … can lead to a categorical endorsement of the moral and rational capacities of human beings in general. Either the radical effects of the fall are denied outright, or they are acknowledged and then quickly modified by the idea of a prevenient grace, an across-the-board upgrading of our original fallen state, so that some significant segment of our shared human consciousness has been repaired and our depravity is no longer in effect” (He shines in all that’s fair).

    James Davison Hunter’s echoed a similar concern when he suggested that,

    “… believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside of the church. Thus, even where wisdom and morality, justice and beauty exist in fragments or in corrupted form, the believer should recognize these as qualities that, in Christ, find their complete and perfect expression. The qualities nonbelievers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace” (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World).

    I think these concerns are needed pieces of focus and discussion and forums like this make it possible.

  • thedpage

    Awwww maaaaan, I was halfway expecting an article on “Reformed Arminianism”. Guess I can keep dreaming. :D

  • John Carpenter

    My quibble is that the entire English Puritan movement has been made a sub-category of “the Scottish Tradition”. It would have perhaps been better to have called it “The British Tradition” and explained it had two wings: the Scottish and the Puritan (and the Puritan in England and New England), including the founding of at least two American states, Jonathan Edwards, and the Great Awakening, which (as was noted about the missionary impulse of Scottish Presbyterianism) gave birth to the modern missionary movement, with John Elliot, David Brainerd, George Whitefield, William Carey and Baptists in early America like Isaac Backus.

  • Dean P

    Actually the subsuming of the Puritans into the “Scottish Tradition” makes perfect sense to me. And I agree with Wes that the presence of the Dutch Reformed Tradition within Calvinism existed long before Kuyper came along.

    • John Carpenter

      I don’t think it makes much sense to Puritan scholars and I certainly don’t think it would make much sense to William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

    • MarkG

      The Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians have different historical roots in America. They had different views of church government which eventually led to the old-side new-side schism which still influences American Presbyterianims today.

      • John Carpenter

        You’re right. That’s why I believe he either needs to rework his paradigm to have a “British Tradition” with two wings (Scottish and Puritan) or have three traditions: Dutch, Scottish and English.

        • MarkG

          And then for the American scene one has for the Scottish the 1) [old] Princeton theology and 2) southern reformed theology. That’s a detail but I think it’s a detail that has a significant effect on American Presbyterianism. At some point one has to bring in broader evangelicalism and how that has influenced the Reformed churches. For example, the old school southern reformed influence seems to get pretty well swamped by broad evangelicalism in the PCA.

          These days one should probably should treat the neo-Barthianism coming out of Princeton since Bruce McCormack claims to be evangelical and there seems to be an attraction there to some evangelicals, perhaps even some of the young and restless.

  • Nathanael

    Well, I would just like to point out that John Calvin was not the source and origin of the Reformed tradition the way Luther is with the Lutheran tradition. The Reformed tradition started with Zwingli and Bucer and Calvin’s contemporaries Bullinger and Vermigli had at least as much influence as Calvin in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    For instance, Bucer and Vermigli were the ones who brought the Reformed tradition to England and in England Bullinger’s Decades were far more popular than Calvin’s Institutes during the 16th century.

    I should also point out that Switzerland was also part of the Reformed tradition, even if they have now fallen to liberalism.

  • MarkG

    …and, even within the Scottish tradition in America you had the Princeton Theology (Alexander, Hodges (Charles tought from Turretin (continental), Warfield) & the Southern Presbyterians (Dabney, Thornwell,Girardaeu). (The Puritan theocracy experiment pretty much collapsed well before this point.) Then Vos went to Princeton & Van Til (both Dutch) went to Westminster (Machen and the OPC). Then in the Dutch tradition with it’s heritage in Christ & Culture (neo-Calvinsm) you get the rise of theonomy. But, even on the Scottish side the Americans revised the WCF regarding the monarchy. We did not have much use for King George. Throw in large dose of good ole American evangelicalism, stir, and you have the PCA and “New-Calvinism.” There’s a little more to “reformed” than 5 points. …and I didn’t even mention the ARP, CRC, etc. etc.

    • MarkG

      Below is a link to an article written by J. Todd Billings arguing that 5-point “New Calvinsim” misses the ecclesiogy, community vision, and comprehensive kingdom view of Calvinism.

      • John Carpenter

        It’s true that simply being a “five-pointer” doesn’t make one truly Reformed. One must also believe in church discipline.

        • Jonathan

          I also vaguely remember some things about confessionalism, covenant theology, baptism, ecclesiology, etc.

          Church discipline is a vital and defining mark of all churches. No Church discipline, no church. If it were missing from a church then that would not be a reformed church (or a church in any sense). It’s presence is not unique to the Reformed identity.

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Jonathan,

            It would be debateable if confessionalism is really an essential part of being Reformed as the New England Puritanism doesn’t seem to me to be confessional. I’ve never read them appealing to Westminster or Savoy Declaration, etc. That’s why, unfortunately, Unitarianism was able to arise out of New England Puritanism.

            You’re right that the Anabaptists held to church discipline. But I don’t know if church discipline was really a functional part of Anglicanism or Lutheranism. I agree, Biblically and theologically that for a church not to have discipline will result in it not being a true church after a while. But historically I don’t see that Anglicanism and Lutheranism practiced church discipline regularly and as an essential part of who they are. Also, I had in mind many so-called modern Calvinist who may love to teach “the doctrines of grace” but don’t practice church discipline (or the necessary emphasis on meaningful membership that makes it possible).

            • Jonathan

              Yes, it should definately be debated (see R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession).

              When did New England Puritanism become paradigmatic for what it means to be “Reformed?” Especially considering the long history of confessionally reformed orthodoxy that predates Edwards. Puritanism existed within Reformed churches as well as outside of Reformed churches. The Puritantism outside of reformed churches was more calvinistic than Reformed.

            • John Carpenter


              There’s no such thing as “Puritanism outside of reformed churches”. And I don’t know what you mean by being “more Calvinistic than Reformed”.

            • Jonathan

              I’m thinking of Puritans like Richard Baxter (not a New England example). He had a non-Reformed view of justification and turned justifying faith into a work. He was a Puritan (and calvinistic in some areas), but he was not Reformed.

              “Reformed” is a historical distinction that best fits those churches with a confessionally Reformed identity. It is the Reformed confession that makes a church “Reformed.” Calvinistic is a broader distinction altogether…

            • John Carpenter

              Yes, Baxter was a late Puritan and not so theologically precise, as I understand it. But I believe that he would qualify as “Reformed”, as the title of his most famous book implies: “The Reformed Pastor.”

              To say that “Reformed” best fits churches with a “Reformed confession” begs the question: what is a “Reformed Confession”? Obviously, Reformed churches created the Reformed confessions. The Reformed movement came before the confessions and define the confessions, not the other way around. And that approach, as you’ve shown, cannot adequately account for the Puritans (especially the New England Puritans) who were not especially “Confessional.” Indeed, one could make the argument that since the Reformed came out of a movement committed to “Sola Scriptura” that confessions can only be secondary and not essential to what it means to be Reformed.

    • John Carpenter


      “The Puritan theocracy experiment” never “collapsed”. It was deposed by King Charles II after the Restoration in 1662. They wanted to restore it in 1689 when Increase Mather was sent to London around the time of the Glorious Revolution but the new King William and Queen Mary — from the Netherlands, not Scotland — were not in favor but did allow more freedom for the Puritans in their New England colonies. The impact of New England Puritanism, especially after the explosion of the Great Awakening, on American evangelicalism, especially on the spread of the Baptists in early America, should not be under-estimated. And it was mostly a English Puritan movement, not a Scottish Presbyterian one.

      • MarkG

        No doubt regarding the influence of New England Puritanism on American evangelicalism. And agree also with you on the Presbyterians. In fact the old side / old school Presbyterians were pretty suspicious of the revivalism / experimental religion.

        There’s been a renewed interest in Jonathan Edwards I think influenced at least in part by “New Calvinism” which is a good thing. However, I think they should also renew their interests in A. Alexander, Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield.

        I guess the southern guys get marginalized at least in part due to the slavery issues.

        • John Carpenter

          Hodge and Warfield may have been fine theologians (except for Warfield’s cessationism) but I’m not aware of them being the impetus behind a movement that is still salient today. I could be wrong but I just don’t see them as instrumental in changing the course of a movement.

          The Puritans, on the other hand, did. Besides actually forming at least two American states, they’ve left behind an enormous influence on American evangelicalism, an influence not fully appreciated because while individuals like Edwards are studied carefully, general church history, like the original article above, has not properly integrated them into the sweep of church history. They’re often studied in isolation from the rest of church history, with the assumption that they just petered out into Unitarianism and the congregationalists (United Church of Christ). They left far more than that.

          • MarkG

            I think the old Princeton influence is still felt in the OPC, for example; Alexander -> Hodge -> Warfield – Machen. At least I’m a sympathizer. :) However, this influence is also tempered by the influence of Van Til. Then of course you also have the influence of Biblical Theology a la Geerhardus Vos. I did mention elsewhere though that the old Princeton (Old School) influence has been largely marginalized. The New School (the New England Men) influence seems to have much more appeal to modern American Christians.

            I’m not sure I would say they changed the course of a movement. I’d think more along the lines of them setting the or securing the foundation. No history of Presbyterianism in America could leave out old Princeton and be credible.

      • Daniel

        Yes, it did collapse. The English Civil War and the Commonwealth effectively killed it. Puritan eschatological hopes (mercifully subtle in the Westminster documents) were dashed.

        • John Carpenter

          I believe he was referring to American church history, regarding the Puritan experiment in New England. It’s debatable whether there was ever really a Puritan theocracy in England in the first place to have collapsed. That in New England was still aspired to and looked back fondly on a generation or two after Charles II replaced it.

          • Daniel

            True enough.

  • Jonathan

    This article seems slanted towards neo-Calvinism. Is this actually an apologetic for transformationalism in the Gospel Coalition members?

    Why no criticism of the Dutch Further Reformation?

    • MarkG

      I felt the same. It seems to favor neo-Calvinist transformationalism which wouldn’t be surprising, and minimize the Scottish tradition when it in fact had a significant impact via Princeton (think for example evangelical views of biblical innerancy) and also through southern Prespbyterianism. However, these do represent “Old School” Presbyterianism which has been pretty well marginalized in American Christianity. I would expect “New Calvinism” (a la Gospel Coalition) to be more sympathetic to Dutch (Kuyperian) neo-Calvinism and “new school” Presbyterianism with its emphases on world view, transformationalism, etc. They don’t seem to have much stomach for things like confessional Presbyterianism, ordinary means of grace, etc.

    • Steven McCarthy

      I too felt like this summary did more to suggest the author’s sympathies with world-view Kuyperianism than to actually give us an introduction to the two wings of the Reformation and what they have to offer towards a holisitic Reformed theology, piety, and practice. The Scottish stream especially received short shrift, but so did the Dutch aside from Kuyper. There was no mention of the important developments in Covenant Theology from some of the early continental reformers down to the Second (Covenanted) Reformation in the British Isles and the Further Reformation on the Continent. Discussing these two movements could have helped to show the unity of the Reformed tradition and its broad concerns. I do not find this a helpful introduction to the Reformed tradition, since almost the only addition it makes to TULIP is Kuyperian world-view apologetics.

  • JR

    It’s been interesting lately to learn that quite a few New Calvinists actually are starting to disassociate themselves with Calvinist doctrine. This must be the fifth article in a week where I’ve read someone associated with TGC make statements against traditional, solid reformed theological concepts like the Ordo Salutis, limited atonement, regeneration, and justification, while siding with doctrinal outsiders on these topics (like Doug Wilson and others). Of course, Wilson and others like him have lots to offer, but not on issues that are in conflict with our doctrine and the historic teaching of the church.
    I’m just making an observation, one that has surprised me quite a bit lately.

    • Collin Hansen

      You might appreciate this article published today, JR.

      • JR

        Thank you very much! Well done. I’ll continue to look forward to following the conversation.

  • Jonathan

    I’m stuck on how the “worldview focus” of neo-Kuyperianism is complementary to the reformed two Kingdoms approach to Christ and Culture. That seems to be an implication of “complementary, not contradictory.”

  • Erik Charter

    Unless Berkhof (1873-1957) wrote at the same age as Calvin we can’t really call him a 19th century theologian.

    Let’s not use Doug Wilson as the authority on Dutch Calvinism (please…).

    You’re crediting Berkhof with an approach to apologetics that sounds a lot like Van Til, who was actually a Presbyterian. Maybe the same roots, though.

    You failed to note that there was not a Baptist among any of the men or movements you cite.

    I guess a view from 30,000 feet has to start somewhere. Hopefully you get to some 2K objections (Hart, Van Drunen) to neocalvinism.

  • Erik Charter

    I agree that lumping the Puritans in with the Presbyterians & the Dutch Reformed is a bit broad. You can’t trace any P&R Churches that exist today back to the Puritans. The Puritans became Unitarians, Church of Christ, etc. They were Congregationalists and much more into experiential religion than the P&R. They did hold to the Westminster minus the sections on church government initially.

    • John Carpenter

      Hi Erik,

      You’re right that there is a lack of conscience attachment to the New England Puritans. That’s what is behind the author’s assumption that he can lump the Puritans under the “Scottish Tradition.”

      But I disagree that we cannot trace any churches today back to the Puritans. I believe the early American Baptists received their impetus from the revived Puritans during the Great Awakening. Many of the New England Puritans became “separatist” as a result of the Awakening and many of the “separatists” became Baptists, like Isaac Watts. Those “Puritan Baptists” caused the explosion of growth of the Baptist in America in the late 18th and early 19th century. So the Puritans not only gave us (sadly) Unitarians and United Church of Christ but the Baptists.

      • Erik Charter

        “You can’t trace any P&R Churches” – Meaning Presbyterian & Reformed Churches. I would say Baptist churches are not Reformed churches.

        • John Carpenter

          You would be wrong to say that Baptist churches are not reformed. They arise out of the same movement — the Reformation, committed to Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, etc. — and have a common confession of faith, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, largely copied from the Westminster Confession. One could make a better case that infant-baptizing churches are not truly “reformed” because they practice something — sprinkling of babies and calling it “baptism” — that is not found in scripture and hence is a violation of Sola Scriptura and the regulative principle of worship. I wouldn’t argue that but someone could make the case and be on better ground than denying that Reformed Baptists are, in fact, really Reformed.

        • Jonathan

          Agreed. Reformed Baptist doesn’t make any more sense than Lutheran Presbyterian or Methodist Baptist. These are historical identities. The 1689 London Baptist Confession does not carry on the Reformed tradition in regards to ecclessiology or sacramentology (among other things).

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Jonathan,
            That’s complete nonsense. Lutherans have a different polity and history than Presbyterians. Ditto with Baptists and Methodists. The Baptists arise out of the same history as the other Reformed denominations and have had essentially the same polity with the obvious exception of baptism. It’s simply that the Baptists carried on the Reformation commitment to “Semper Reformanda” and reformed baptism too according to the Word of God.

            The 1689 London Baptist Confession essentially copies the Westminster Confession and where it departs, on congregationalism, copies from the Savoy Declaration, the Congregational counter-part of the Puritans to Westminster. And, then, of course, it departs on baptism.

            As above, you have less grounds to deny the Reformed identity of Baptists than Baptists do of denying the Reformed identity of Presbyterians. Baptists could insists (probably wrongly) that since Presbyterians didn’t reform baptism that they don’t deserve to be called “Reformed.” But let’s stop the nonsense.

            • Erik Charter

              John – I can point to the United Reformed Churches of North America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as two groups that are thriving today that can trace their churches back to the Reformation. Can you cite a similar body of Baptists (not just one church, a whole denomination or federation)? My criticism of Reformed Baptists, New Calvinists, Three Point Calvinists, and groups like the RCA & CRC is they want to used the term “Reformed” but want to shy away from a lot of what it has meant throughout history to be Reformed – Confessionalism (and actually teaching people the confessions), Covenant theology with infant baptism being a key part, A church polity that includes strong leadership from male elders, the regulative principle of worship with a focus on word & sacrament, etc. There is a lot of false advertising going on. I challenge you to bring your views to for debate. There is a lone puritan-influenced Reformed Baptist debating there of late and he could use some help.

            • Erik Charter

              If we’re broadening definitions couldn’t we say that pretty much every protestant sect arose out of the Reformation?

            • John Carpenter

              The Reformation had three broad “streams”: 1. the Lutheran (a conservative reformation centered in the gospel), 2. the “Reformed” (a radical, though-going reformation also centered in the gospel (Sola fide) and in the authority of scripture (sola scriptura); 3. the Anabaptist (also a radical reform centered in the New Testament, especially the teachings of the Lord Jesus.) Despite the similarity in name, the Baptists are from the Reformed stream, not the Anabaptist.

          • John Carpenter


            Here’s a self-description of a church. Is it a “Reformed” church or not?

            “We believe in the doctrines of grace, that salvation is by the sovereign mercy of God and not by human will or works (Romans 9:16), and that when we gather for worship we do so with God at the center, careful to worship in Spirit and in truth – the truth of His Word (John 4:23, John 17:17).”

            • MarkG

              One could deny the doctrine of the trinity and affirm that statment.

            • John Carpenter

              Hi Mark,

              Since it’s a brief statement on salvation and the church, it wouldn’t normally have an affirmation of the Trinity.

            • MarkG

              What I was inferring was that one might affirm that statement without being Christian, as traditionally and historically understood. One could redefine or deny all together the trinity, the deity of Christ, man, sin, the fall, etc. In that context “reformed” is really irrelevant.

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Erik,

            First, your argument is similar to the erroneous argument of the Eastern Orthodox that organizational continuity is the key. Being “Reformed” is being committed to certain theological ideas, like Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, etc.

            Second, it’s mistaken to imply that the organizations you cite come from the Reformation. The United Reformed Churches in North America is younger than I am! The Orthodox Presbyterians were founded in 1936 by Machen (not in the early 16th century by Calvin or Knox). Of course, both would claim (rightly), to be the theological and spiritual heirs of the Reformed movement of the 16th century. And that’s just my point: Baptists can make the same claim, also rightly.

            Read the Southern Baptist “Abstract of Principles” (adherence to which is required to teach at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.) teach

            Further, I don’t agree that confessionalism is an essential part of what it means to be Reformed. “Sola Westminster” was not one of the rallying cries of the Reformation! The Puritan movement had been arguably underway for a century before they finally wrote the Westminster Confession. The Puritans hardly ever appeal to confessions to make their arguments. I’ve never yet seen a New England Puritan cite Westminster or Savoy of the Cambridge Platform.

            Since “Reformed” is being committed to Sola Scriptura and since scripture doesn’t mention infant baptism, it cannot be a “key part” of what it means to be Reformed.

      • John Carpenter

        ^ I meant Isaac Backus, above, not Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts never became Baptist. Isaac Backus was a Edwardsian, separatist Puritan who became a prominent leader of Baptists in early America.

  • Ryan Fishel

    Thank you, Justin, for your flyby overview. In my reading of various Reformed materials lately I have been a bit confused how to assemble it all in its contexts. This is big step back is helpful! Looking forward to — it seems you hinted at further articles? — anything more you’d have time to offer.


  • Daniel

    All survey courses are convenient collections of lies, I guess. Noting the apologetic “cash value” (by the early 20th century at least) of each approach is helpful. But …
    Edwards’ favorite theologian was German-Dutch Petrus van Maastricht, not a Scotsman.
    I have never heard Bavinck, Berkhof, or even Kuyper referred to as “Neo-Calvinists”. Their Dutch-Canadian heirs at the Institute for Christian Studies, Calvin College, etc. may be but I think they were just plain ol’ Calvinists.
    No mention of the Second Reformation in the British Isles and the Netherlands?
    As others have noted: ecclesiology? liturgy? church-state relations???
    Brother, this is a good off-the-cuff explanation but misleading.

    • John Carpenter

      I have a Ph.D. in church history, focusing on the Puritans and I don’t have a clue what you mean by “the Second Reformation in the British Isles and the Netherlands”. What is that?

      • Ligon Duncan

        John, the “Second Reformation” is common language to use of 17th Century Calvinism in Scotland, in which the meddlings of the Stuart monarchs were resisted in the Church of Scotland. This is the beginning of the Covenanting era. Alexander Henderson would be a major name in the Scottish Second Reformation. The Dutch Further Reformation (which is a better translation than of Nadere Reformatie than “Second Reformation”) runs from roughly 1600-1750. These are standard terms and periods in the field.

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Ligon,

          Interesting. So it’s the covenanters period leading up to (and beyond?) the English Civil War? I can see calling it the “further Reformation”, or something of the sort, but to call it a “second Reformation” (as though they discovered something as important as justification through faith, sola scriptura, etc) seems to me to be exaggerating. In theology, I believe this period is sometimes referred to as one of Protestant scholasticism and that is intended by some to be a pejorative.

          Thank you for sharing with me.

          • Daniel

            From the Netherlands: Teellinck, Witsius, a Brakel

            From the British Isles: David Dickson, William Hetherington, all of the Covenanters, etc.

            This was also the early years of Protestant Scholasticism, and there is definitely some overlap. It is also the period in which the Canons of Dort were formulated (in response to the Arminian Remonstrance). Thankfully even the term “Protestant Scholasticism” is being revisited by people like Richard Muller – no longer pejorative.

            Thanks Dr. Duncan.

            • John Carpenter

              I learned about “Protestant Scholasticism” from Richard Muller. He may not have intended for it to be a pejorative but the student feels some aridity from the theology of the period, in contrast to the life of the Reformation. I think to call that period a “Second Reformation” with personalities and convictions comparable to the Reformation is vastly hyperbolic. Let’s just say it was the out-working of the rediscoveries of the Reformation, which I believe things like Dort were.

          • SeekTruthFromFacts

            Maybe the Covenanters had a creative spin doctor? ;-)

            Incidentally Wikipedia thinks “Second Reformation” means different things in England, the Netherlands, and Scotland

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