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Is there a distinctive way of being for Reformed Christians and for Reformed Christian churches? That is to say, is there a distinctive style of being Reformed? Consider the following: 

Reformed Style


"There is an intimate but seldom seen connection between a person's thought and his style, which Alfred North Whitehead defined precisely as the 'ultimate morality of mind.'"[1] 

Reformed theology has never been precisely defined, and its boundaries are uncertain. There is no one normative Reformed theology. Here the term is taken in a general sense to indicate the theological perspective that had its origin with Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin in sixteenth-century Switzerland and that has been maintained by such theologians as William Ames and Turretin in the seventeenth century, by Edwards in the eighteenth, by Hodge in the nineteenth, and by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner in the twentieth. In order to sharpen its focus, this paper is based specifically on the theological works of Calvin. The most distinguishing characteristics and emphases of classic Reformed theology as embodied in the theology of Calvin were:


1. The lordship and sovereignty of God

2. History as the working out of the purposes of God

3. Simplicity in style

4. The importance of theological knowledge and understanding

5. The Christian life as the embodiment of the purposes of God and conformity to his will

6. The importance of church organization

The Lordship of God. For Calvin the most important fact is God, and the most important task is the honor and service of God. This is the important truth that older churchmen tried to convey in that strange question alleged to have been put to candidates for the ministry. Are you willing to be damned for the glory of God? However one may judge the merits of the question, it clearly indicated that something is more important than the salvation of one's soul. The question exposed the self-centeredness of those whose own righteousness is too precious and who are excessively concerned with the salvation of their souls. The question also suggests there is something good about the cautious piety of those who seek to do God's will and leave the salvation of their souls to him. . . . 


Calvinism also has been characterized by a passionate conviction that purposes of God are being worked out in history. Predestination, writes Eustace Percy in his biography of John Knox, refers not so much to the ultimate destinies of heaven and hell, but to human life in history.[2] The elect person has been called to fulfill the purposes of God in time and space. For this reason the Calvinists became the great converters of culture and transformers of civilization. Christopher Dawson, the Roman Catholic historian of culture, declares that no Christian community has ever exceeded the Calvinists in their understanding of the cultural and historical role of the Christian.[3] Wherever they went they carried with them the vision of holy community, and they sought to transform society into the Christian community. . . .

A third characteristic of Reformed theology is simplicity. Over and over again in liturgy, in lifestyle, in theological writing, Calvin insisted on simplicity. Calvin's intention was never to use two words when one word would do. He did not gild the lily. He disliked embellishment and ornateness. A sermon, a person, a building should be able to communicate who and what they are without ostentation. Simplicity for Calvin was a synonym for integrity. Reality must not be obscured by words, clothing, craftiness, or pompousness of any sort. . . .

A fourth characteristic of the Reformed theology has been an emphasis on knowledge and understanding. Catechetical instruction was one of the primary means of evangelism in Geneva, and admission to the Lord's Table was based on a commitment of life and knowledge of the faith. While Calvin insisted that the knowledge of faith is existential--more of the heart than of the head--he never trusted emotion or feeling when not subjected to critical reflection and rational understanding. While he rejected curiosity and speculation in theology, he clearly stands in the tradition of those who insist that faith seeks understanding. He knew that any religion that requires the sacrifice of the integrity of the human mind with its critical functions is bad religion, for God is the creator of the human mind.

Calvin was an intellectual, believing that all truth comes from God and that the life of the mind may be an important service to God. As a humanist, he did not disdain rational procedure and disciplined study. He did not reject intuition or the significance of direct experience as avenues to truth, but he insisted that disciplined intelligence and direct experience should never be separated. For that reason, he emphasized that Christians should know intellectually as well as personally what they believed. . . .

A fifth characteristic of Reformed theology is a strong emphasis on the Christian life. The human focus of the Christian life was not self-understanding or the state of the soul or even the vision of God, but a life that embodied the purposes of God. Christian faith was a way of living, deciding, and acting in the world. The Christian person was the responsible person. . . .

The sixth distinctive characteristic of Reformed theology is its concern with the organized life of the church. Calvin devoted more than one-fourth of the Institutes of the Christian Religion to the "external means of grace." One of his most influential books, probably most influential next to the Institutes, was his Ecclesiastical Ordinances for the Genevan church. Private Christianity was no more a possibility for Calvin than it was for the New Testament. To be a Christian is to be the church. Baptism is incorporation into the life of the church. Evangelism is the means by which human beings are related vertically to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and by which they are horizontally integrated into the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. . . .

[1] Roger
Hazelton, New Accents in Contemporary Theology (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 20.
[2] Lord Eustace Percy, John Knox (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1937), 108ff.

[3] Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1942), 44ff. 


So, yes, I believe there is a distinctive way and style of being a Reformed Christian and of being a Reformed Christian church. For more of the essay quoted above, click on this link to the Publications  page on our website, then scroll down to the information for John H. Leith, Reformed Theology and the Style of Evangelism (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2010).

Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
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