A Common Reformed Sin: Intellectual Pride

 Reformed theology is robustly biblical and it echoes the truths of Scripture so very well and clearly.  I’m not Reformed because it’s cool or because I grew up that way.  I believe Reformed truths like God’s sovereignty, total depravity, definite atonement, presbyterian ecclesiology, infant baptism, and the regulative principle of worship because they’re rooted in Scripture.  I want to be part of the historic Christian church that has submitted to and followed God’s word.

Reformed and Calvinistic Christians and churches, however, are not perfect. [I’m far from perfect!]  One major blemish found in Reformed and Calvinistic circles is the sin of intellectual pride.  Or it might be called doctrinal pride.  This is when someone who is well-versed in Reformed doctrine lets it go to his or her head.  This person becomes a self-proclaimed expert theologian who begins to look down on others who do not know as much doctrine or who have “inferior” doctrine. Sometimes this kind of person can even become unteachable and very critical of and impatient with other Christians and their views.  It’s even worse when someone who is self-taught gives himself an honorary doctorate in theology!

By contrast, the person who lives a truly Reformed life with a Reformed heart and mind will not be arrogant, but extremely humble and patient.  One essential aspect of Reformed theology is that our sovereign God alone deserves all the glory, honor, and praise and that people are finite, sinful, and completely dependent upon him in every way.  No one who is Reformed or Calvinistic should be doctrinally arrogant at all!

Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) made an excellent point on intellectual humility when he applied the doctrine of God’s omniscience (omniscience is the fact that God knows all things in a divine way that is far, far beyond our understanding).  Here’s a slightly edited excerpt:

[The doctrine of divine omniscience] offers us an argument for being humbled by a comparison of our ignorance and folly with the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, after the example of Asaph (Ps. 73:22) and Agur (Prov. 30:2-4).

…Here, therefore, what will more effectively batter down our arrogance than to think how much there is that we do not know, especially when we compare our superficial wisdom with the abyss of God’s knowledge and wisdom? What will more effectively invite us to humility?

God instills this humility (Jer. 9:23), teaching us

1) To think that God is most wise since he is the one who made us wiser than brute beasts (Job 35:11).
2) To exclaim to ourselves, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you brag as if you did not receive it?’ (1 Cor. 4:7).
3) To take what you have freely received above others and to render it to God with submissive gratitude, and in that way ‘to cast down thoughts and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.’ (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) To think about God’s dreadful judgment upon the arrogance of worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-20).

Again, it’s worth noting that Reformed and Calvinistic Christians are sinful like other Christians. And sometimes we Reformed Christians don’t live out the theology we believe and confess. Sometimes we believe a doctrine but do not apply it to ourselves and live accordingly.  May God help us live out the theology we believe and confess with humility, patience, and a strong desire to see his name be glorified – not ours!

The above quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 272-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Theology Is An Eminenty Practical Affair (Vanhoozer)

Christian doctrine is not an end in itself. In other words, the Christian doesn’t learn doctrinal truths just to learn doctrinal truths and brag that he knows quite a bit of doctrine. Instead, Christian doctrine helps the Christian live for God; it helps him or her live a life that pleases God. I appreciate how Kevin Vanhoozer explained this in the intro to his 2019 publication, Hearers and Doers:

Discipleship has never been a cakewalk. To follow the cruciform way of Jesus is to wander in the wilderness, as Israel did for forty years, a precursor of Jesus’ own forty-day desert trial. There are streams in the desert, to be sure, but no rose gardens. Yet the church is upward bound because its members’ citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). If we keep in mind Augustine’s image of the church as the city of God, then theology – the teaching that undergirds living for God as his city – is part and parcel of the Christian’s civic responsibility. Theology teaches how to live the good life in light of the good news to the glory of the God alone who is good (Mark 10:18).

The Puritan theologian William Ames defines theology more as ‘that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy life whereby we live to ourselves.’ Of course, the truly happy life – blessedness – is the good life lived unto God, in friendship and fellowship with the blessed Trinity (1 John 4:13-16). The crucial point is that theology is an eminently practical affair, more ‘living with’ than ‘writing about’ God.

Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, p. xix-xx.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Governed by Our Own Logic: Hyper-Calvinism (Lloyd-Jones)

 There are various ways to define hyper-Calvinism.  For example, we might explain it as a system of doctrine that rejects the free offer of the gospel based on a low view of man’s responsibility.  We might also explain it in terms of biblicism or rationalism.  Some have rightly called this the quest for illegitimate religious certainty.  This approach is the avenue Lloyd-Jones took in his discussion of learning and believing the doctrinal truths of Scripture:

I must not hesitate to believe a doctrine because I cannot fit it in; neither must I reject a doctrine because I cannot understand it. If this is the truth of God, and the thing is clearly taught, then I am to accept it whether I understand it or not.

…We must never allow ourselves to be governed by our own logic or by our own desire to have a perfect system. It is a danger to which we are all exposed. We instinctively like to have a complete system; we do not like gaps or ragged edges. It is again because we are all philosophers. It is because the philosopher always wants a complete whole, wants to be able to understand everything, wants to be able to state everything, and we are all like that. The danger is, you see, that we press our own logic and our own schemes to a point which goes beyond the teaching of the Scripture. At that point we are again guilty of sin and of error. We must give full weight to every statement of Scripture. We must never minimise one or ignore it in order that our scheme may be complete.

I could give you many illustrations of that. There are people, for instance, who have always been described as hyper-Calvinists, and that is their trouble. They go beyond the Scripture and are driven by their own logic and by their own arguments, and they claim things which cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures. They are so anxious to have a perfect scheme that they fall into that very subtle and dangerous trap.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Father, God the Son (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 39.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Attributes of God and Application (Van Mastricht)

 Learning about the attributes of God from Scripture is not purely an academic enterprise.  As we learn about God’s characteristics, his people are also comforted, ecouraged, and refreshed.  What Scripture teaches us about God is practical for day-to-day Christian living.  In other words, the attributes of God and application go hand in hand.  Here’s how Petrus Van Mastricht said it (I’ve edited the structure):

“…For when this God is our God, and for us (Rom. 8:31), will not all these attributes be for us, and ours?  Individually, for example,

  1. Will not his immutability render us certain that he will remain our God to all eternity (Mal. 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:19)?

  2. Will not his truthfulness make it so that we can rest unmoved upon his promises (Josh. 21:45; Is. 34:16)?

  3. Will not his goodness and love make it so that we may be secure, in adversities of whatever sort and however great, that all these things will serve to our advantage (Heb. 12:6; Rom. 8:28, 38-39)?

  4. Will not his mercy give us hope that he will graciously remit our sins (Ps. 103:8-10; Ex. 34:6)?

  5. Will not his wisdom persuade us that his governance of us will be most beneficial (2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Sam. 15:25-26)?

  6. Will not his omnipotence persuade us that he can furnish all the things that he has promised, and that will benefit us (Eph. 3:20; 2 Thes. 1:11).

    And so forth.

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Vol 2, p. 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Doctrine and Practice Walk Together (Van Mastricht)

 I recently got a copy of Petrus Van Mastricht’s newly translated Theoretical-Practical Theology: Prolegomena (vol. 1)I agree with Michael Horton: this is a remarkable gem!  Van Mastricht was a Dutch Reformed theologian who was quite influential in his day and beyond.  Not only is his work solidly theological and biblical, it is also very practical, as you can tell from the title.  It is true that sometimes Reformed theology is taught in a dry manner with little or no application.  However, I very much agree with those like Van Mastricht who say that theology is eminently practical and applicable.  Below are a few quotes of his that show how theology and practice go hand in hand.  It’s also worth mentioning that Van Mastricht often referred to Paul’s words to Titus in 1:1, where the apostle mentions the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness (NASB). 

…Theology must be taught according to a certain method, and it must be the kind of method in which theory and practice always walk in step together.  In fact, they must walk together in such a way that theory precedes and practice follows in every one of theology’s articles. (p. 67)

We approve, out of all methods, the one that the apostle not only commends in this text to Timothy, when he wishes that theological matters first be taught and then admonished, that thereby practice be perpetually joined to theory, but also employs everywhere throughout his epistles, especially those he wrote to the Romans, Ephesians, Hebrews, and others. By this method, I say again, practice should be joined to theory, not only in the whole corpus of theology, in such a way that the first place is especially reserved for the things that must be believed and the second for the things that must be done, but also that in each member of theology, practice should walk in step with theory in a continuous agreement. (p. 69)

He [Paul] also commands that what can be taught should also be applied, adn that doctrine should be according to godliness, that is, theoretical-practical.  He prohibits Timothy from teaching in any other way. (p. 73)

Christian theology unites theory with practice, and is ‘a knowledge of truth that is according to godliness’ (Titus 1:1). (p. 79).

Indeed, the study of theology, to the extent that it is true theology, is not sufficient, unless… it is earnestly devoted to practical theology and to practice. (p. 95)

In fact, here’s how Van Mastrich defines Christian theology:

…Christian theology is best defined as the doctrine of living for God through Christ. (p. 66)

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 1: Prolegomena.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WIm 54015