In a post at Euangelion, Michael Bird responds to R. Scott Clark who responds to John Piper who responds to N. T. Wright who responds to the Apostle Paul but none of that is important right now. What is important is Bird’s correction of Clark’s usage of the word “Reformed.” It wasn’t long ago that no one would get anywhere near the word but now in the year where folks are throwing birthday parties for Calvin there are some like R. Scott Clark who want to guard it like it’s their “precious.”
Probably like you I run into this all the time. Folks ask me, “Say aren’t you guys reformed?” or I venture off the reservation in a sermon and they say something like, “what a minute that’s not ‘reformed’ theology, how can you be ‘reformed’?” I don’t think all the confessional recitations and birthday celebrations this side of Geneva will ever settle such an issue but I do think Bird offers a few helpful thoughts here:
On “Reformed”, Clark objects to this description being applied to those outside the Presbyterian and Confessional churches. This is why Clark writes: “Are there as many definitions of ‘Reformed’ as there are definers or is there is fixed, stable, public, ecclesiastical definition of the adjective? I say the latter is the case.” Now every time Clark writes the word “Reformed” I feel like quoting the movie the Princess Bride – “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means!” Now far be it for me to lecture a historical theologian on adjectives of the Reformation, but surely, just from usage alone, we can observe that “Reformed” is a polysemous term. From my fallible experience and limited readings, I think that “Reformed” has three primary usages: (1) it can be used historically to signify those Christian groups that emerged during or from the Reformation (Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.), (2) it can be used theologically to describe those who hold to a Calvinistic and Covenantal theology (though we could ask which part of Calvin is essential and whose covenant theology – e.g. Kline or Murray – is pristine?); and (3) it can be used ecclesiologically to describe those churches that stand in the Continental/Scottish Presbyterian tradition. To say that Piper is “Reformed” it is to mean it in the sense of (2) not (3). I suspect that many do not like applying the term “Reformed” to Calvinistic and Confessional Baptists because it lowers the currency of the term “Reformed,” which they feel should be reserved exclusively for themselves (I have to confess that this entire discussion reminds me of Paul’s debate in Romans 2 about who is a true “Jew” and Philippians 3 about who is the true “circumcision”). I can resonate against making the term nebulous, but I doubt that Clark’s own idea of “Reformed” matches the historical and public reality of how the adjective is used.