Like Which Jesus?

Ray Ortlund says that Reformed people need to be more like Jesus. That’s doubtless true! All believers need to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. That’s sanctification. The issue isn’t so much whether Reformed people need to become more like Christ as much as it is this: to which Christ are we to be conformed? After all, the Reformed churches believe that they are seeking to be conformed to Christ. We confess a doctrine of sanctification (to which, certainly, we do not conform) but one wonders whether Ortlund is telling us to be conformed to the Christ we confess or to another confession of Christ. Darryl explores this problem.

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  1. Yes, it looks like a well meant Kumbaya moment is happening over at the Gospel Coalition, regarding that post by Dr. Ortlund.

    I do not doubt the doctor’s good intentions. In fact, to the extent that Dr. Ortlund intends to stir up mutual love for Christ’s body, and the unity we have in faith, I am thankful for his initiative. However, I too am frustrated at the assumptions and ultimate consequences embedded in his reasoning.

    Please bear with my quoting Dr. Ortlund,

    “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.’” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.”

    I am forced to wonder, is the doctor serious? This generalization borders on absurd and reveals incredible lack of perception towards his Reformed brothers as a whole. I am not Reformed in the historic confessional sense of the word, but even I can discern their energetic desire for others to share “their view” is not because they consider it theirs at all, but to be that of scripture! They rightly believe Christ’s commission, to teach “all things whatsoever I commanded you,” includes subsequent Apostolic revelations. Does it not? And to the minds of these Reformed men, by an large, I believe they are only acting in continuance with Christ’s decree to the best of their knowledge. They believe Christ instituted infant baptism and the Apostles preferred Presbyterianism, and thus the Reformed are conscience bound to confess, teach, and urge their brethren to these views, and others.

    Again, I am not confessionally Reformed but in God’s providence I have spent three years in one of the most distinctive of their American churches, that of (pardon name dropping) you, Dr. R. Scott Clark, and Rev. Daniel Hyde, respective authors of “Recovering the Reformed Confession” and “Welcome to a Reformed Church. Needless to say, I have experienced much exhortation, and some friendly ribbing, to give more thought to the scriptural basis for your positions, but have never in the least traced it to a selfish desire to build a club. I recognize and affirm your belief that Christianity is not so mysterious as we cannot confess and teach it.

    Doesn’t Paul instruct Titus to “stop the mouths” of opponents, not only in matters directly pertaining to the gospel, but also in regards to other essential elements of the Christian faith? Or am I to believe there are no other essentials?

    I am concerned the underbelly of Dr. Ortlund’s argumentation, however well-meant, relies on indistinct sentimentalism that cannot contend for the faith in any lasting form. He seems to think that one cannot both vigorously defend and promote his beliefs and maintain a charitable attitude towards dissidents. Thus he minimizes contending in order to prevent contention. Historically, the long-term results of such tactics tend toward broad-minded Liberalism or mysterious, truth-negating Pietism in a generation or two.

    May Christ bless His Church as they seek to arrive at the unity of the Faith, and not just the most stripped down remnant of the greater whole.

  2. It’s not the Reformed who need to need to be more like Jesus, but it’s the Presbyterian Reformed! There is so much fighting among brethren and the branded sectarianism that has been propagated from blogs like this have cut off who and who cannot be truly reformed using North American Presbyterian distinctive(s).

  3. There were a couple of things that concerned me, personally, about this post.

    1. The tite, “Truly Reformed.” In our current theological culture, you cannot entitle a post that and then say ‘if the shoe fits.’ TRs are the Reformed confessionalists. For that reason it is hard to avoid reading this as a blanket criticism of Reformed confessionalists.

    2. The problem in Galatia was not sociology (isn’t that the NPP view?), it was soteriology. Unless there are Reformed folk saying that you cannot go to heaven unless you are confessionally Reformed, the comparison is not analogous.

    It just seems like this is merely one more piece of evidence showing (what we already know) that there is real identity crisis happening among students of Calvinism– pietism v. confessionalism, lower church vs. higher church, etc. In my opinion, using the Galatian heresy as a paradigm for thinking through this crisis is not helpful and will only make us all more shrill when defending our take in the debate.

    My two cents.
    Brandon Wilkins

  4. I came into the confessional reformed camp after growing up in the PCUSA, the Word of Faith Movement, the SBC and the Christian Church (Stone Campbell but not Disciples). I now attended a reformed church because I do happen to think it is better than all the others. I appreciate their respect for the confessions of the Protestant Reformation because I am convinced that it is important to get the Gospel right.

    While evangelicals generally subscribe to justification by faith alone, I have observed a huge chasm between confessional churches and other evangelicals, particularly with respect to sanctification. Preaching the Gospel to Christians is almost nonexistent in many, many evangelical churches. Instead, we have what John Fesko calls, “Jesus shingle preaching.” The pastor lists 6 steps to this or 8 steps to that then wraps it up with a reference to Jesus. Yet Paul begins and ends his letter to Romans by stating the importance of the Preaching Christ for the “spiritual strengthening” of Christians.

    The issues of assuming the Gospel and preaching as a means of Grace unto sanctification are pretty important. With the stakes this high, someone should write an article and ask the question, “Why aren’t more people yelling and screaming about this?”

  5. Scott, your title says it all!

    Ray’s follow-up (pathetic):

    My first reply (that Ray allowed on) to Rev Dr O:

    To say that Calvinists are “Galatians” (i.e. “Judaizers”), is to turn the argument inside out. It’s actually the free-willers who are adding (a “decision” to believe) to the gospel of God’s free, sovereign love & grace.

    I’m sorry that any of you have had bad experiences with ungracious “grace-men,” but let’s not confuse the issue. There may be ungracious sovereign grace folk,* but to imply that an overly-zealous & strong adherence to the gospel is Judazing is misguided.

    There are many who could no doubt testify that their Arminian or charismatic pastors were quite abusive, deceptive, Judaizing.

    The gospel is at stake. It is not a foolish or ignorant controversy. We need a certain sound. We need to define the gospel, Christianity, & tell who the Judaizers are. Paul warned the Galatians against the Judaizers. He issued apostolic anathemas and denuciations (Gal. 1:8f; 5:4-12; cf. Phil. 3:2).

    The Arminians would probably have answered at this point, “We love Jesus too. But how can you be a first-rate believer, really set apart to God, without making a decision for Christ, and being completely yielded to Him, so plainly commanded right here in the Bible? This isn’t an add-on. It’s the full-meal deal. God says so.”

    The Charismatics would probably have answered at this point, “We love Jesus too. But how can you be a first-rate believer, really set apart to God, without the baptism of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues, etc., so plainly commanded right here in the Bible? This isn’t an add-on. It’s the full-meal deal. God says so.”

    * 2 Tim 2:23ff: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

    Hugh McCann

  6. And my second reply*:

    Rev. Dr. Ortlund,

    “The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians.”

    Fine point! I wish you had stuck to that, quoted 2 Tim 2:23ff, and rebuked mean sovereign grace guys for being mean.

    But instead you veer into making slanderous and false allusions to the Judaizing heresy.

    “That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.”

    You wouldn’t charge Paul with that, would you, as he blasted Judaizers and others by name?

    As I have tried to remind us at this blog, the Arminians are functional Judaizers (if they hold to the 5 stinkweed adjectives).

    The Dordt Synod Calvinists (et. al.) were (and are) defending the true gospel against a false one. Of course that should be done winsomely and with grace. Paul answered the Galatian error with warnings & anathemas.

    You open saying, “I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed.”

    Spurgeon said that “Calvinism IS the gospel,” so he, you, and I are not adding to the gospel (as did the Judaizers), we are simply preaching and defending it! Of course that should be done patiently and gently.

    In your critique of flawed truth-bearers, are you not in danger of doing the very thing you accuse them of doing, of putting something above Christ & the gospel?

    And to say, for instance, that holding to sovereign grace in an “oppressive” way is “Judaizing” (legalism) is to border on heresy, brother. Please don’t turn a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians! 😉

    In other words, are you not in danger of misjudging brethren to be legalists, when they may actually be simply telling forth (albeit poorly) the glories of the gospel, God’s work for sinners in Christ, the sovereignty of God, the five points of Calvinism, the solas of the Reformation, that grace precedes faith in regeneration, and that these are non-negotiable scriptural verities?

    Theologically, I am Reformed. 🙂

    Hugh McCann

    * I’ve since been quietly banned, which is fine, as TGC guys (like T4G) are losing it.

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