There is a distinction between the reformed and evangelical world. If it were a venn diagram, the reformed circle would be a smaller circle inside the broader evangelical one. A preferred mode of definition is by genus and difference. For example, a couch would be defined as a piece of furniture. Furniture is more broad, and thus, more inclusive of other types of furniture. But a couch is unique and different in that it accommodates multiple people at once, instead of say, a chair, which is also a piece of furniture.
The modern reformed circle is like the modern evangelical circle, in that, both are looking to the good news of the gospel, and seek to be defined by it. Both seek to uphold justification by faith alone. Both stand in the spiritual lineage of the historic Protestant faith. But there is a crucial difference.
The reformed circle self-consciously does this, whereas the evangelical circle, more or less does so unknowingly. Painting with broad brush strokes is messy; obviously some of the paint will go where I don’t want it to. Some evangelicals will not entirely fit this description, especially the reformed ones!
Yet any honest onlooker will notice an embedded trait among the reformed; a care for continuity. The community of God’s people is understood by these reformed people in a holistic manner. That is, we see the people of God in a more inclusive way (on a practical level). We hold close to our hearts, the idea that the covenant community exists not only among the living, but the dead. We are a part of a giant covenant community flowing back to Abraham and Isaac, to Adam and Abel. But then, are they really dead, having eternal life and speaking to us today? We remember that God is the God of the living (Mark 12:27).
This is why being reformed also means being confessional. I have met many evangelicals who are not confessional and are scared of the idea. I have never met any Reformed who are scared of being confessional.
We reformed deeply believe that wisdom has been given to all of God’s people, including those no longer walking with us. Since theology is such a weighty matter, it should not be born by individual wisdom alone. For we know that there is “safety in a multitude of counselors,” (Prov. 11:14). The collective wisdom of the children of God is an inestimable value over the mere private judgment of one man. Why should the living have the only right to speak?
Put another way, evangelicalism has been more heavily influenced by the spirit of secularism. For the Christian, the present is perceived very differently. The secular mind sees the “here and the now” as all there is. But the Christian mind has a biblically diminished view of the present. It views the present in light of obligations to the past and hopes of the future.
Furthermore, our connection to the past brings more benefits than just wisdom and safety. We know that the path to innovation and creativity, like so many other things, is counter-intuitive. The fastest route to innovation is to study what has already been created, for only God creates ex nihilo. Scripture commands the diligent study of the past. Our care for continuity is but one way we give “all honor where honor is due,” (Rom. 13:7). The voices of the past deserve the honor of being listened to. Yet, evangelicals are Protestants who no longer know what they are protesting. Not so, with the reformed.
Our care for continuity is not a mindless traditionalism. On the contrary, we seek the numerous benefits which such continuity provides; benefits previously listed. This care for continuity marks the key distinction between those two venn diagram circles. As the world increasingly grows antithetical to history and tradition, it is encouraging to be surprised by a new resurgence of interest in church history, doctrine, historical theology, and the like. Perhaps the evangelical circle will join us, as we join Jeremiah, in our search for the “ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16). We would love nothing more.
For Further Discussion:
Tim Challies on “What it Means to be Reformed”
The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.