Saturday, April 04, 2009

Confessional Calvinism

Permit me to venture a brief word about confessional Calvinism. Many Calvinists identify themselves as confessional Calvinists. In a way, that adjective is a bit redundant since any theological tradition, by being a theological tradition, operates with a de facto creed.

My immediate interest is with a subset of the above. By that I mean a subset of the larger class of individuals who identify themselves as confessional Calvinists.

The individuals in question identify themselves as confessional Calvinists because they subscribe to the Reformed creeds and confessions. They seem to think that mere subscription is sufficient to make them confessional Calvinists. They don’t have to actually argue for their beliefs. It’s sufficient to merely recite the appropriate canon or chapter and verse.

What’s ironic about this mentality is that it’s quite unfaithful to the mentality of the very men who originally formulated the Reformed creeds and confessions. For example, Gisbertus Voetius was a delegate to the Synod of Dordt. Yet Voetius was hardly the sort of man who contented himself with quoting the canons of Dordt. To the contrary, Voetius was a formidable polemicist. He knew how to argue for his beliefs.

Or take Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford was one of the Westminster Divines. Yet Rutherford was hardly the sort of man who contented himself with quoting from the Westminster Confession. To the contrary, Rutherford was a formidable polemicist. So formidable, in fact, that his opponents could only silence him by trying to imprison him–for they were unable to out-argue him.

Moreover, quite a lot of debate that went into hammering out these formulations. It wasn’t a fait accompli.

Merely reciting a Reformed confession is not a sufficient condition of confessional identity. That alone is not the mark of true fidelity to confessional Calvinism. For the very framers of our Reformed confessions never restricted themselves to merely citing or reciting Reformed confessions. Rather, they took it upon themselves to make a reasoned case for their position. They were past masters of polemical theology.

If anyone was entitled to quote a Reformed confession, it was men like Rutherford and Voetius. There was, after all, a sense in which they’d be quoting themselves. But they didn’t limit themselves to proof by quotation.

It’s fine to quote Reformed confessions. But quoting the Confession doesn’t a confessional Calvinist make. There’s more to confessional Calvinism than rote memory.

1 comment:

  1. The confessions reflect the teaching authority of the Church. They are one of the ways the church exercises the keys of the kingdom. They outrank us.

    I realize we live in time when many people can call themselves Reformed and mean anything by it. Yet in cases when people are under the same ecclesiastical umbrella, standards are standards. If you get frustrated when people cite them, then the problem is with you.