Is John Piper Reformed? Or Holding The Coalition Together (Updated)

piper-150x150This morning my friend Kevin DeYoung (listen to the Office Hours interview with Kevin here) makes some arguments in defense of a broader definition of the adjective Reformed. This question is at the heart of why the HB exists and and why I wrote Recovering the Reformed Confession. He raises the question whether John Piper is Reformed and answers in the affirmative. As folk often do, he begins with Piper’s self-identification as Reformed and his affirmation of the sovereignty of God. If self-identity is sufficient, then why did the Synod of Dort bother to meet and to eject the Remonstrants from their pulpits? After all, as Jackson notes in the combox of Kevin’s post, Arminius self-identified as Reformed. Indeed, as I noted in the previous post, he died a minister in good standing in the Reformed churches, yet we don’t consider him Reformed. Is that narrow-minded of us? I don’t think so.

Why is this argument necessary? The short answer is this: If we don’t have an objective definition of Reformed then the word is meaningless, then there are as many definitions as definers. Consider the discussion we’re having right now. Proposed: a fellow who hears directly (beyond Scripture) from God, who says that baptizing infants is not only wrong but necessarily leads to the Federal Vision error, whose covenant theology, as distinct from his doctrine of justification, is at significant variance with that of the Reformed churches. If this were the 16th century one might think that I’m describing one of Caspar Schwenkfeld, not a leading Reformed theologian. That’s how the discussion has shifted.

As I asked in the epilogue to RRC, if Piper or several of the other YRR leaders had applied to be admitted to the Synod of Dort, the French Reformed Synods, or the Westminster Assembly they would have been refused categorically. Why? Because the Reformed are bigots? No, not at all. Are Baptists bigots refusing to allow us to call ourselves Baptists? After all, we believe in baptizing hitherto unbaptized adults who come to faith. “No!” they say, “there’s much more to being a Baptist than that!.” Amen. Bingo. Ding, ding, ding!

The first question is whether affirming the five heads of doctrine of the Synod of Dort (1619) is sufficient to be Reformed? Obviously not. A good number of people who could not be reasonably defined as Reformed have affirmed those points long before the Reformation. There was a vigorous predestinarian theology at different points in the middle ages. Gottschalk of Orbais in the 9th century taught the substance of the five points but we would not allow him into a Reformed pulpit. Thomas Aquinas taught predestination and arguably limited atonement in the 13th century. There were several late medieval proponents of a high Augustinian soteriology from whom the Reformation learned but who would not be Reformed. So it is with Piper. Intersection is not identity. A necessary condition is not a sufficient condition. A race car must have an engine. That’s a necessary condition but an engine is not a sufficient condition because not every engine is a racing engine. There are other components (e.g., suspension, frame, the cockpit) to a race car that distinguish it from other cars.

Second, Kevin addresses my argument that it is the Reformed confessions and Reformed ecclesiology that define Reformed. He mentions Richard Muller and Calvin but he reduces “Calvin” to soteriology. Here he assumes a great deal that is not in evidence. He writes, “[Piper] could likely affirm 95% of what is in the Three Forms and in the Westminster Standards.” This is just the point. Piper hasn’t affirmed those things. We don’t have to guess what Calvin and the rest of the Reformed affirmed because they articulated their faith in public, binding, ecclesiastical documents on whole range of issues. Here Kevin treats the confessions the way many do, as if they were mini-systematic theologies rather than as binding ecclesiastical documents. That’s why Kevin thinks he knows what Piper must think. That “must” is an a priori not a fact. Further, the Reformed confessions as much like the American Constitution as they are like Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. It just isn’t true that denying Reformed covenant theology, our hermeneutic, our doctrine of the church and sacraments is denying “5%” of Reformed theology. That’s like saying, “I love the American constitution but I reject the Bill of Rights.” Would such a person be ideologically American? No.

Kevin calls Piper a Calvinist. Is that accurate? John Calvin taught more than a soteriology. John Calvin was a minister in the church in Geneva. He had a doctrine of the church. He had an ecclesiology, a doctrine of the sacraments to which was organically, logically related his Christology—what is Piper’s Christology? Who knows? Does anyone care? Exactly. Did Calvin care about Christology? Yes! He wrote on it at length to the Lutherans and the Anabaptists who had a heretical (“spiritual flesh”) Christology. Calvin taught and the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism teach that, in the Lord’s Supper, believers eat the “proper and natural” body and blood by the mystical operation of the Holy Spirit (Belgic Confession Art. 35). If you just thought “Eww!” I understand but you’re not a Calvinist. You might be a predestinarian. You might even be orthodox on justification, but you’re not a Calvinist. The Reformed Christology is related to our doctrine of humanity (anthropology), to our doctrine of God, to our doctrine of Scripture, to our covenant theology, and that is related to our hermeneutic. Piper has defended a classical Christian doctrine of God against Open Theism (for which we are all thankful!) but his hermeneutic is not our hermeneutic and thus, his covenant theology is not ours. It wasn’t ago that Piper’s reading of redemptive history was that of Daniel Fuller’s—which is essentially that of Federal Vision.

There were two hills on which Calvin was prepared to die: worship and the doctrine of justification. On this see the essay, “Calvin’s Principle of Worship” in Tributes to John Calvin, ed. by David Hall. Piper now agrees with Calvin on the latter but does he agree with Calvin on the former? Evidently not. He does not confess or practice Calvin’s principle of worship. The Reformed churches at least confess Calvin’s principle even if their practice has generally declined from his. At least the Reformed may one day recover their confession but Piper doesn’t confess what we do about the way the congregation should come before the face of the living God. That’s a big difference. The point is that Reformed theology is a whole. It’s not a pizza that can be sold by the slice. It’s part of a package. The same is true of Baptist theology.

Hart CalvinismFinally, Kevin appeals to Bavinck’s argument  “From the outset Reformed theology in North America displayed a variety of diverse forms.” He argues that the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Baptists et al have roots in or connections to Calvinistic origins. This an argument that Darryl Hart addresses in his recent book, Calvinism: A History—here’s my interview with Darryl on this book. This is a variant of the “Calvinism is the seed of the modern world” argument. It’s a Whig reading of history and it doesn’t work here. Consider the inclusion of the Quakers in Bavinck’s list. Do you know who and what the Quakers were and are? Their theology, piety, and practice has more in common with Thomas Muntzer than Guido de Bres, Francis Turretin, or Louis Berkhof. The original Quaker denial of the sufficiency of Scripture, of the uniqueness of Christ, and their practice of sitting about “waiting” (that’s their word) for the Spirit to move, the denial of ministers, was antithetical to the Reformed Reformation but exactly in line with the mystical (i.e., neo-Pentecostal) theology and piety of the original Anabaptists, who denied sola Scriptura and who accused the Reformed of being “ministers of the dead letter” (Muntzer’s phrase). For more on this see this essay originally published in the NTJ, “Presbyterians and Quakers Together.”

Yes, there are connections between congregationalists and episcopalians to historic Reformed theology. There were congregationalists and episcopalians at Dort and Westminster. There The connections between the Particular Baptists (the original nomenclature for what today are incorrectly called “Reformed Baptists”), however, and Reformed theology are cloudy at best but we know how members of the Westminster Assembly regarded them. They weren’t invited to Westminster and they weren’t recognized as  folk who differed on “5%” of Reformed theology.

We should resist the impulse to broaden the definition of Reformed. It is tempting. It would be great to be part of a broader coalition, to part of the winning team (hence the Whig history) but the facts just won’t allow it. The reality is that since the early 19th century, the Reformed confession (theology, piety, and practice) has been gradually marginalized in North America. I understand that things looked differently to Bavinck, but he (like Kuyper) had his own reasons for reading the American story the way he did. Nathan Hatch is a much more accurate about what happened in the New World. On this see the essay “On Being Reformed in Sister’s America” in Always Reformed (and here for Kindle and here for iBook).

A definition of Reformed that includes Quakers, John Piper, and John Calvin is incoherent. I doubt that Kevin would attend that church. Arguably, however, on essential questions of Reformed theology, piety, and practice, Piper has more in common with the Quakers than he has with Calvin.

UPDATE: Darryl responds to Kevin at Oldlife.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. “He had an ecclesiology, a doctrine of the sacraments to which was organically, logically related his Christology—what is Piper’s Christology? Who knows? Does anyone care? Exactly.”

    What do you mean by ‘does anyone care?’ That seemed unnecessarily rude, but I don’t know if that’s how I’m supposed to have read it so I wanted to ask first before making that judgement conclusively.

    • Cory,

      What I mean is that no one listens to Piper’s sermons or reads him to learn Christology but it’s impossible to understand Calvin without understanding his Christology. It was of the essence of his theology, piety, and practice. It’s not rude. It’s just a fact.

  2. Mr. Clark,

    A necessary post. I admire your firmness. But I have a few questions: (1) Do you subscribe unreservedly to everything that Calvin has ever wrote or taught? (2) Equally, Do you subscribe unreservedly to the Three Forms, Westminster Standards, etc?

    Were you alive in Calvin’s Geneva would he have accepted you as truly Reformed?

    • Rev. Robinson,

      1. Calvin isn’t the standard of orthodoxy. We’re no Lutherans (who, at one point, were asked to subscribe to everything Luther ever wrote). We don’t subscribe Calvin. We subscribe ecclesiastical confessions. I only discuss Calvin in this post because people keep calling themselves Calvin who fundamentally disagree with him on issues he regarded as essential. That said, yes, I agree on Calvin heartily on the two points he considered most essential, worship and justification. I agree with his catechisms for the most part but I dissent from his Constantinianism–as do most Reformed folk today. On the revision of Belgic 36-Heidelcast episode 15.

      2. As a faculty member I subscribe the system of doctrine contained Westminster Standards and the Three Forms ex animo. As a minister in the United Reformed Churches I signed the form of subscription before God and the representatives of the churches at classic. We subscribe the Three Forms quiz (because they are biblical). See the chapter on confessional subscription in RRC.

  3. Thank you for this post. My husband and I are with you on keeping the historic definition of what it means to be not only “Reformed” but also a “Calvinist” although I am not particularly crazy about the latter term. Reformed doctrine and “Calvinism” are much more than 5 points.

  4. Dr. Clark,
    In trying to understand your definition of Reformed, let me ask: Would you consider Zwingli to be Reformed?

    • Dr. Clark,
      I’m basically asking to try to figure out how useful your very narrow definition of “Reformed” is, and Zwingli is maybe a useful test case. As you know, Zwingli began taking steps toward reformation when Calvin was a little boy, so in that sense to not call him Reformed doesn’t make any sense to me. On the other hand, some of his views are substantially different than mainstream Calvinism, for example the Lord’s Supper being merely a memorial.

      • Hi Don,

        Sorry to delay. There have been a lot of comments in the last few days.

        I don’t think that defining Reformed via 60+ Reformed confessions, adopted by more than a dozen Reformed communions over the period of 150 years in the classical period is narrow at all. It’s the antithesis of narrow. Indeed, defined classically, it’s positively “liberal” in the sense that these are constitutional boundaries within which we can live together. I do’t think that it’s too much to expect Reformed folk to agree on essential doctrines such as baptism. Certainly the entire Reformed tradition didn’t think so until about last week. Take a look at Recovering the Reformed Confession where I argue this in more detail.

        As to Zwingli, it’s an interesting case. Certainly Zwingli was Reformed but he died in 1531. Calvin was not even converted to the Protest cause yet. The Reformation had only achieved some form of stability for about a decade. It was very early days. There were things that Zwingli taught that the Reformed Churches, even in Zurich, rejected. E.g., Bullinger did not continue Zwingli’s distinction between original sin and original guilt. He did not continue Zwingi’s view of the sacrament (although he did not get as far as Calvin and the Belgic or the Heidelberg on the nature of communion). The Reformed, including Bullinger, became MUCH more precise about the doctrine of justification sola fide than Zwingli. He was usually fairly vague about exactly how faith works and about the ground of justification. His intent was to be Protestant/evangelical in the old sense but he didn’t arrive at the same degree of precision that Luther and Calvin and the Reformed. He did share the Reformed principle of worship (they did sing Psalms in Zurich) and he shared the Reformed view of Christian liberty. There are some questions about his Christology and he cited the Quran in his defense of divine sovereignty—a rhetoric mistake that has haunted the Reformed ever since.

        So, yes, with a caveat here and there, Zwingli was Reformed. He didn’t deny infant baptism and John does. There’s a major difference there.

    • PS Above comment was written before I saw greenbaggins’ great post on Matheson’s Lord’s Supper book.

    • That sounds right about Zwingli, maybe not Reformed with caveats but that he gets grandfathered in based on his historical situation.

      But regarding your definition of “Reformed,” whether it’s narrow or liberal, it’s not really how the word is used today (as you explain in today’s post on Muenster, which has helped clarify my thinking on this). Whether or not “Reformed Baptist” is a logically self-consistent term, the phrase is out there and can’t be erased. Instead of fighting the uphill battle of trying to return “Reformed” to its original meaning, would it not be better to use another term that makes your intentions clearer? I would suggest something like “confessionally Reformed.” Whether or not Piper is Reformed, he certainly does not subscribe to the Confessions so there would be no argument over whether he is confessionally Reformed. Doubtless, you consider this phrase redundant, but if that’s what it takes to move the discussion from debating definitions to assessing one’s theology, it might be worth it.

      • Don,

        My reply to the argument, “the meaning of words change” is to say, yes and no. In this case the meaning of the word hasn’t changed as much as it has been forcibly seized. I liken it to squatters. The Reformed took a sort of temporary vacation from their confessional identity for a few decades and they’ve come home to find a bunch of broadly evangelical, Baptistic squatters in their house. Yes, they’ve neglected the house, but it’s still their house.

        The second part of the reply is to say that I reject sheer nominalism. There is a more-than-arbitary relation between the thing and the name. My Baptist friends and students steadfastly will not allow me to call myself a Baptist, despite the fact that I believe in the baptism of hitherto unbaptized persons of age. Yet, they want to call themselves Reformed. I don’t see how this works. They argue that they have a great deal in common with Reformed theology, and that is no doubt true, but at certain, crucial points there are fundamental differences such that they are Particular Baptists and we are Reformed and the two are not the same thing.

        Words do change meaning but the Reformed still confess a certain hermeneutic, a certain reading of redemptive history, a certain view of church and sacraments that is quite opposed to that of our Baptist friends.

        Finally, I’m not sure that adding the adjective “confessional” helps because many of my Baptist friends are also confessional. They hold various of the Baptist confessions and they are engaged in the same struggle with their communions in which I am also engaged, helping their folks to recover their confession, i.e., their theology, piety, and practice.

  5. TC- I was wondering the same thing. Looking at it from a contemporary view, what if the RPCNA were to ask the URC to stop using the term?

    Dr Clark has, in this article, implicitly admitted that his communion is heterodox in it’s worship.

  6. It has seemed to me for some time that the most obvious evidence that Baptists are not Reformed is their past treatment in Europe; but the Reformed don’t have a monopoly on this. It’s not best thing to bring up, but it sure seems obvious.

    Who was ejected from Rhode Island by Puritans? Remember Roger Williams? But perhaps someone can explain this away? Were not also Baptists worried of state churches in the U.S. because of past experiences?

    Seems to me, that one Baptist’s own words, James White’s, are sufficient. He has said, perhaps more than once on his Dividing Line program, that if he were in Geneva at the time of the Reformation, he would not have been welcomed; perhaps he would have been drowned. How much clearer can it get? I think the phrase “actions speak louder than words” is applicable here.

  7. Dr. Clark,
    Could you please elaborate on the following quote, “There The connections between the Particular Baptists (the original nomenclature for what today are incorrectly called “Reformed Baptists”), however, and Reformed theology are cloudy at best but we know how members of the Westminster Assembly regarded them.” How did the Westminister Assembly regard them and how does Westminister California regard the Institute of Reformed Baptist, why do they allow the institute to use the name reformed if we’re not “Reformed?” By the way, I’m curious to know your thoughts about those who hold to the original Westminster confession and their perspective on people who don’t, mainly that they are not “reformed.”

    • Hi Gus,

      This question has come up frequently here.

      1. The HB does not represent my employer and I don’t speak for my employer here. The IRBS named themselves and they rent space on our campus but the IRBS and WSC are two distinct entities.

      2. The IRBS are good folk, who love the sem and frankly, I love them. They’ve always been gracious to me. Dr Renihan is a friend and a terrific scholar. The IRBS students and I have a good relationship. Indeed, several ministers in the IRBS read Recovering the Reformed Confession profitably and I’m in regular conversation with folks in the IRBS. They had to me speak at one of their conferences several years ago.

      3. My argument is that the nomenclature “Reformed Baptist” is an oxymoron. One is either Reformed or Baptist but not both. Look at all of the 60+ Reformed confessions in the 16th and 17th centuries. Every single one of them teaches infant baptism and the Belgic Confession denounces in the strongest terms (“we detest the Anabaptists”) the Anabaptists for denying infant baptism. It’s not historically controversial to say that the Reformed did not regard the denial of infant baptism as a light thing. Look at church orders of the Dutch Reformed Churches in the period. They all struggled with the challenge presented by the Anabaptist denial of infant baptism and they never wavered in their conviction that infant baptism is essential to the Reformed faith.

      4. There were Particular Baptists at the time of the Westminster Assembly. They were not recognized as sufficiently Reformed to be invited to the Assembly. That’s a fact. Indeed, several years ago Jonathan Moore published a very interesting article in the WTJ arguing that the confession was aiming at the Baptists when it speaking about the sin of “contemning” (sic) baptism. He argued that, in content, the reference was to infant baptism.

      5. As far as I know—I’m happy to be corrected, I’m still learning Baptist history—the nomenclature “Reformed Baptist” is quite new. I suspect it goes back to the mid-20th century as the predestinarians of various sorts were looking for alliances, some way to work together for the advancement of common interests.

      6. I’m not sure that I understand your last question. I suppose there are some who hold the unrevised WCF and who regard those who hold the revised (on the magistrate) version with suspicion but, as I argued in RRC the old (Constantinian) view of the magistrate is not of the essence of Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Baptism is. It would be odd to say that we can disregard our view of redemptive history, our hermeneutics, our view of the church and sacraments but we must hold the old Reformed view of the magistrate. That seems exactly backwards to me. Take a look at the book. That might help.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    You wouldn’t let Piper in your pulpit? Did I understand that correctly? If so, how in the world is this helpful?

    p.s. I have a question about your blog comment rules; If you are not Reformed, are you not allowed to post any comments on your blog, and if you do will they be deleted? I’m new to your blog so I want to know I’m reading this correctly.

    • Nathan,

      I don’t think Piper would let me into his pulpit, if so, is that helpful? I guess I don’t understand your question. He doesn’t think that our baptized covenant children are baptized. He thinks that infant baptism necessarily leads to the Federal Vision, he denies essential Reformed doctrine and practice as confessed by the Reformed Churches in the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Why would a consistory (elders and ministers) allow any man, who denies these things, into the pulpit of a Reformed Church?

      No, one doesn’t have to be Reformed to comment here. What one cannot do is to use the combox as a forum for attacking Reformed theology. Lots of non-Reformed folk read the HB and comment here.

  9. I was a bit baffled by this post as I read of how Kevin DeYoung is mentioned as to me he is as little Reformed as John Piper is. Sure, he is excellent at his church history and can quote Bavinck in detail. But wasn’t his use of Bavinck a clever way to make a case for equivocation between Calvin and those like the Quakers who had little in common except coming from the same era?

    Like John Piper Kevin is a key and influential member of the Gospel Coalition. It would be safe and right to say the GC is no real friend or advocate of Reformed and confessional ecclesiology as being the primary Biblical model, Even those in it’s leadership who are linked with Reformed ecclesiology are not known for making a robust stand for the Reformed and Presbyterian case.

    Kevin (like John Piper) is a strong advocate of CJ Mahaney, and looking at who is friends with who can tell perhaps much about their true values and beliefs. I know and appreciate Kevin (like John) is passionate about Biblical teaching and discipleship, but his support for Reformed advocacy is likewise patchy and not entirely convincing.

    It is not wrong to question John and in my argument Kevin as both have massive influence world wide through their books and blogs world wide, right down for example to the Reformed church in Brazil using Kevin’s books for men’s discipleship teaching. Will we see Kevin making an unequivocal stand for the priority and Biblical precedence of Reformed ecclesiology in the Presbyterian sense of creeds and confessions? I think not, for while he has written on the Heidelberg Confession he then in practise (the real test of belief or professed faith) he then works hard with those who don’t see such confessions as an integral part of church life. He contradicts what he writes about, at least in the sense of giving credence to those like he supports in the GC and SGM who do not see creeds and confessions like the Reformers did. Odd.

    It is not wrong to critique the supposedly Reformed stance of John and in my instance Kevin, for all their good intentions. I repeat the fact that they have great influence world wide, also in conferences of ministers who take back their models of thought to basically replicate in their ministry. This is not a fable as Kevin will be shortly visiting the UK and those ministers who hear him are already very much keyed into his teaching and ideas; his visit will only reinforce their use of his teaching throughout at least SE England.

    Like in the recent and worth while book by Evangelical Press called Engaging with Keller which details and questions Keller’s theology and ecclesiology in a straight but respectful spirit, it is quite an eye opener to dig deeper into the theology and beliefs of such men. Such a book puts a healthy corrective on how much we replicate the Kellers, Pipers and DeYoungs in their teaching, and how much we need to pray that they will faithfully uphold the Reformed confessions many of them took vows to uphold and principally practise and defend in contrast to that which has now become predominant in church practise.

    • Are you suggesting guilt by association? As if we Reformed should never work on any projects with the non-confessional, for the sake of the gospel?

      • Riley,

        I don’t see how defining Reformed according to the Reformed confessions leads to refusing to cooperate with folks from other traditions. That seems like a non sequitur. Reformed folk can cooperate with folks from other traditions in common/civil projects. We attend and speak at academic conferences (e.g., ETS) and sometimes at religious conferences. We should cooperate where we can but there’s a place between redefining the adjective “Reformed” so as to include those who reject essential elements of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice and separatism. I’m rejecting the first and not advocating the second.

    • I agree with what you have said, Prof. Clark. I was responding to Paul from the UK, who seems to say that Rev. Kevin De Young (a minister in the RCA) is somehow less Reformed because of his association with TGC and the non-Reformed who are a part of that coalition.

    • I agree with what you have said, Prof. Clark. I was responding to Paul from the UK, who seems to say that Rev. Kevin De Young (a minister in the RCA) is somehow less Reformed because of his association with TGC and the non-Reformed who are a part of that coalition.

  10. Riley,
    Sorry for not picking up your question; I wasn’t sure it was for me. I think Dr. Clark has thankfully given a far better and more coherent answer to you than I could give. I agree with what he says, but would still contend that if Kevin is an advocate of the Reformed and therefore Presbyterian ecclesiology then it is odd how he is a strong advocate and leader in T4G and the GC which blur distinctions between denominations and seems to minimise theological differences. Nor does he believe in the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, if I have read him right in his book on the Heidelberg Confession.

    I personally have been best helped in my journey from an evangelical Baptist position by reading those Reformed ministers whose books and ecclesiology has shown the clear contradistinctions between the Reformed historical church and the evangelical movement which sprung up in the wake of the Reformation. I see the need for such contradistinction to come all the more from those like Kevin who have a Reformed tag. But it doesn’t.

    Here in England the need for clearly defined and powerfully lived Presbyterianism is great. Sadly if the evangelical Christian bookshops here from what I see give a snap shot of what the churches have on their wish list it isn’t winsomely articulated Reformed ecclesiology, it’s rather the latest hymn CD by the Getty’s or Townsend and Joyce Meyer’s latest book. Oh, and also the new book by the author of The Shack. Brothers, pray for us.

    • Again, I contend that even one who holds to, advocates, practices, and preaches Reformed and presbyterian ecclesiology and worship, they can be free to unite on projects with other Christian leaders of other traditions where they think appropriate for the sake of the gospel without their stance or adherence to the former being questioned. I don’t like the narrow-minded Reformedness that refuses to have any fellowship with those who are not strictly Reformed.

  11. I don’t know that I have an objection to any of this conversation if the general thrust of your point is that Calvinism=Reformed=Presbyterian=”Holds to all of (instead of most of) Westminster and similar confessions”.
    Piper doesn’t do that (nor do I, for that matter), and in that sense I suppose he’s not truly “Reformed.” If that’s all you mean, then it’s just a question of semantics and one that’s probably not worth much quibbling from the peanut gallery.

    But, I think the broader point that people like DeYoung are getting at (and if they’re not, I’m at least trying to) is if there is something more fundamental to being Reformed than just baptizing babies, if it’s about a way of reading and submitting to Scripture according to the Regulative Principle and a Covenant Theology hermeneutic (unlike our Lutheran brothers) and holding to the doctrines of grace (unlike our Arminian brothers), then it’s hard to see how Piper is any less “Reformed” than John Calvin. They might disagree over what they find there on some points of practice (though not many), but they read the Bible in the same way and have the same goals in trying to submit to it.

    With that said, I think you’re right that the word “Reformed” has to have some kind of meaningful content for it to be of any use. And we also have to acknowledge the historical reality that the bulk of those in the Reformed tradition have held to Westminster et al. But if we’re going to use it as nothing more than a synonym for “Presbyterian”, then we need something else to describe those of us who believe in TULIP, hold to the regulative principle in worship, and think you shouldn’t baptize non-Christians (even as infants–sorry, couldn’t resist the jibe!). I don’t know that I care what that something else is, so long as it shows that we hold more to Calvin than Luther when it comes to reading Scripture, more to Calvin than the Anabaptists when it comes to our views of communion, and more to Dordt than Arminius when it comes to a theology of grace.

    And just out of curiosity, would you consider Jonathan Edwards “Reformed”? (I realize you may have addressed this elsewhere, but I’m new to the Heidelblog.)

    Anyway, great post and great conversation!

    • We baptize infants because they ARE Christians by birth, being born into the visible Church and having the same privilege to the ordinance that you do.

      And Edwards was definitely Reformed. He was Reformed enough to be called as President of the College of New Jersey, a Presbyterian institute preparing students for Presbyterian ministry.

    • Coyle,

      Piper shares Calvin’s hermeneutic? Really?

      I think they have a very different reading of the history of redemption and a very different way of reading scripture. That is why they have reached quite different conclusions on the nature of the history of redemption, on the relationship between Abraham and the new covenant believer.

      Could it be that you’re making assumptions about what piper must think rather than judging by what Calvin actually wrote as compared with what Piper has actually written?

      Ask yourself why Piper thinks it is a good idea to invite the leading advocate of a system of belief, which is been rejected by the confessional Reformed churches, to speak at his conference not once, not twice, but three times? Would Calvin invite such a person to stand in the pulpit in St. Peter’s, in Geneva?

      Remember, this person leads a federation of churches which is officially indifferent on baptism. That alone would keep him out a pulpit in Geneva.

      Remember also that this person teaches a view that says there are two kinds of election, eternal and temporary and that baptism confers on every baptized person a temporary election, justification, union, adoption etc. There is no way to square this with what the reformed churches have historically taught.

      That Piper thinks that Reformed theology necessarily leads to the federal vision indicates that he has a profound misunderstanding about Reformed theology.

      This is no semantic difference. This is a substantial and serious disagreement.

      On Edwards, see the chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession. As Richard Muller and many others have noted, Edwards has a complicated relationship to the Reformed tradition. Charles Hodge noted, in the 19th century, that there were some very quite peculiar features to Edwards theology. There were ways in which he was faithful to the confessions but there were also ambiguities in his thought. There is no consensus, for example, as to whether he was orthodox on the doctrine of justification. That fact alone is telling.

    • I think that ironically, Piper, looking at Presbyterian covenant theology from a Baptist perspective, thinks that Wilson is merely taking some distinctly Presbyterian errors to their logical conclusion. In his mind, therefore, he lumps Wilson’s views on covenant in with Westminster as being in the same general ballpark.

  12. Riley,
    Your points are taken and helpful. Thank you. It has been hopefully constructive to see you and Dr. Clark exchange views maybe as a result of my initial somewhat rambling comments.
    If I have written of anyone in a disrespectful or harsh tone then I trust folks will accept my sincere apologies.

  13. I am high on doctrine, high on grace, high on Jesus, & high on love. I love you guys so I am going to speak the truth in love. When I first became a Christian you guys wouldn’t have accepted me. Every posting I read and the comments I read bother me. Most of you guys on here seem to only care about the Heidelberg Catechism, and Reformed Theology. I have nothing against these things, but what I can’t figure out is why don’t you all talk as much about Jesus on these blogs and comments as you do the Heidelberg Catechism? I would like to see discussions about “grace,” “brotherly love,” & “Christ.” I think that many of you are high on doctrine and low on love. When you get to heaven I think that you will find that you had a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ who never even new about the Heidelberg Catechism.

  14. Hello Dr. Clark.

    i attend a charismatic church(in Accra, Ghana_West Africa) and have recently been introduced to and have come to embrace Reformed Theology through such people as Piper and Sproul primarily and then other Reformed sites and blogs so you can imagine my shock when i read that Piper isn’t Reformed enough or indeed Reformed at all…this leaves me wondering, how much can one disagree in order to still remain Reformed?

    i have been following the conversation and trying hard to understand as much as i can…if you could be a bit more lucid on what you term essential reformed doctrines, i would be grateful…thanks!

  15. Dr. Clark. Thank you for your diligence in writing and responding to many of the comments here. I appreciate your post as a Baptist who calls himself Reformed Baptist along the lines of Dr. Renihan. I must ask a couple of things. The Reformed confessions before the Westminster identified “credobaptists” as Anabaptists. Which is accurate. The writers of the 1st and 2nd London Baptist Confessions prefaced with the statement that they were falsely called Anabaptists. They sought to show their hearty agreement with the Presbyterians and later Congregationalists. Their covenant theology was distinct yet quite Covenantal. Have you read Pascal Denault’s book on baptist Covenant Theology? In it he shows how the Particular Baptists were having to show how they weren’t Anabaptists, Socinians, nor Arminians. They were defending themselves against those who would seek to call them such. I know we “Reformed Baptists” aren’t quite reformed enough in your book because our covenant theology is different, but we are still Covenantal in a way far more consistent with Westminster and Savoy than we are baptistic with the Arminians and Anabaptists. Theirs is simply definitional (baptizo and not rantizo) while PB’s lean far more on the importance of CoW and CoG for understanding baptism. As an aside, I don’t believe Piper could subscribe to 95% of the confession when he can’t subscribe to even the first chapter of Westminster or 2nd London regarding Scripture. Each chapter builds off the previous, and when you err on the first, the rest are on shaky ground. I’m not sure that Piper is as close to “reformed baptist” as reformed baptists are to reformed. Grace and peace brother.

    • JD,

      I’m having this discussion with my Baptist students and friends. They are asserting the very same thing you assert, that there’s a fundamental difference between the ABs and the confessional Particular Baptists. Part of their argument, as in yours, rests of self-identity and part of it rests in historical claims and historiographical methods.

      1. I need to do more reading in Baptist history but right now I have methodological questions about the value of identity as a definer. The Lutherans don’t accept the Reformed self-identification as fellow confessional Protestants. They confess that we are “crafty sacramentarians” so they know we are lying if our lips are moving. I wonder if there is not some analogy in the way the confessional Reformed have regarded Particular Baptists? Might the differences be more profound that some would like to admit?

      2. As I understand things the General Baptists arose after Brownists fled England to the NL and came into contact with Mennonites. The PB claim, as I understand it, is that their movement developed more or less spontaneously. On baptism, however, they came to very similar conclusions as the Anabaptists. As a historian, I’m not much for coincidence. I don’t accept, e.g., the claim that Zwingli arrived at his conclusions independently of and yet simultaneously with Luther. That’s just implausible. Too much of the Reformed response to the Anabaptists (e.g., Zwingli’s arguments for paedobaptism c. 1524; Bullinger’s assertion of the unity of the covenant of grace in 1535) applies to the PB. The Anabaptist critique of paedobaptism.

      3. The little I’ve read by PBs on the history of their movement seems to rely, at times, on special pleading.

      4. As a matter of nomenclature, the Reformed referred, in the 1560s and 70s, to the Anabaptists as Anabaptists and Baptists. This suggests that our sharp distinction between them is a little artificial.

      5. That said, I recognize that the PBs rejected the AB soteriology and Christology but they accepted important parts of their hermeneutic and reading of redemptive history. The relations between the PBs, the GBs, and the ABs seems highly complex.

  16. Dr Clark (or anyone else who knows the answer),

    As I understand it, infant baptism is strongly tied to covenant theology. So to willy-nilly reject infant baptism as a ‘secondary’ issue misses the point of the matter, since covenant theology is necessarily impacted (and that’s no trivial matter).

    I’m sure this question has been asked many times, but how does being in the new covenant via baptism tie into being saved/elect? In other words, while all baptized infants are in the new covenant, this being in the new covenant doesn’t make them saved/elect. I’ve never seen how these two connect, since it would almost render being in the new covenant as nothing special (at least in terms of salvation) if the non-elect are just as much covenant members.

    • Nick,

      You’re exactly right. One’s view of baptism is an indicator of one’s hermeneutic (way of reading Scripture) and one’s view of redemptive history. That’s why Warfield said that covenant theology is architectonic to Reformed theology.

      The answer to your second question lies in the nature of the new covenant. The short answer is that the new covenant is new relative to Moses but not fundamentally new relative to Abraham.

      Here’s a longer explanation.

  17. I propose two further questions.

    1) Is Jesus Reformed (according to the same strict definition you have laid out above)

    2) Is Calvin the Christ?

    God bless.

    • Tom,

      The Reformed Standards (i.e. the Three Forms of Unity) didn’t exist until the 16th century. A better question is, since these Three Documents are not word-for-word identical and say different things, which of the Three is the true standard?

  18. Sir,

    as a Baptist who holds to 1689, I’m wondering how would you then call “Reformed Baptists”? Covenantal Baptists? Particular Baptists?

    As you probably understand, confessional Baptists of 1689 like to be called Reformed for the very reason of our great love for Calvin and other Reformed theologians from his time onwards. So, the title “Reformed” is not something we want to use to spite our Presbyterian brethren but to say: “Hey, we love you guys! Can we cover under the same “Reformed” umbrella so our children wouldn’t forget and drift away from our common heritage (the same way the over-the-Jordan tribes built an altar).

    I’m glad that I found your blog!
    God bless,

    • Miro,

      I’ve discussed this in Recovering the Reformed Confession. See also these posts. The historic designation was “Particular Baptists” as distinct from the General Baptists. There were no “Reformed Baptists” in 1644 or 1689. It’s a very novel designation that relies on a significant redefinition of the adjective “Reformed” by removing the hermeneutic, the covenant theology, and the ecclesiology of the Reformed churches.

      I appreciate the desire to affirm some agreement Calvin et al but it’s akin to Reformed folk calling themselves Lutherans because we (at least those of us who know anything about Reformation history) do identify with Luther in important ways or Reformed folk calling themselves Baptists because they baptize hitherto unbaptized adult converts. It’s confusing. One cannot be Reformed and affirm substantial continuity with the Abrahamic promise (including the initiation with covenant children into the covenant of grace) and deny it and say “We’re both Reformed” any more than people can affirm and deny believer’s baptism as the only baptism and be a Baptist. That would make nonsense out of the adjective Baptist. One cannot affirm and deny “in, with, and under” and be a Lutheran.

  19. Since errors can often have mirrors, has there ever been historical instances of what might be called something like “Communionists”? Perhaps just as there are those who want to claim Reformed but require a professed faith of the recipient of baptism, a group that wanted to claim Reformed but did not require a professed faith of the participant in communion, a form of paedocommunion to mirror credobaptism?

  20. Thanks for this post! I find it odd the DeYoung makes the assertion that he does given the fact that Piper says in the opening pages of “Desiring God” when he talks about the Westminster Standards:

    “Not that I care too much about the intention of seventeenth century theologians.” (P.15- DG)

    This is on the opening page, and this is where he loses me. We don’t ‘reinvent the wheel’ with every generation. To deny the legitimacy of what has counted as orthodoxy in the past is to (at least at some level) deny that God has been sovereignly building His Church throughout the ages. This from someone who so ardently affirms God’s sovereignty.

    Now, there are many ways that I have been encouraged by Piper- oddly enough his book “When I don’t Desire God” had aspects that were deeply comforting to me- and I am greatly thankful for this. But being a seminary student in his twenties- I encounter people caught up in the “YRR” craze all the time that say they are reformed because they read Piper and are a ‘calvinist’ (though most don’t ever read Calvin that claim this). This is problematic- very problematic. Having been raised in the ‘non-denominational fundamentalist bible church” culture- I have become more and more aware of our great to recover that traditional reformed confessions- and the hermeneutic the espouse, in the church in america at large. I have a lifetime of learning to go- but I am really blessed by your work here at the HB. Thanks. . .

Comments are closed.