Micah J. Murray

5 Reasons I Am Reformed

August 9, 2013 34 Comments

I had a bad experience with Reformed theology. But my bad experience is by no means representative of Reformed theology, nor of those who embrace it. Rather, I’ve found that some of the most genuine, humble, and thoughtful Christians I know consider themselves Reformed. Especially Nate Pyle. He’s a pastor/blogger who I’ve grown to respect for his wise and loving words. Because I really like him, and perhaps in an attempt to provide a balanced perspective to my rant against unconditional election, I’ve invited Nate to share the reasons he is Reformed here today. Make sure you check out his blog, and connect with Nate on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a good man. 


by Nate Pyle

Earlier this year I decided to stop dabbling in the blogosphere and dive in.  What I found surprised me.  There are strong opinions (am I understating this?) in the blogosphere when it comes to Calvinism.  I’ve grown up in the Reformed tradition, and while I’ve struggled with some of its doctrines as I’ve grown, I have never felt abused by Calvinism or a Calvinist.  And never did I think of God as a monster as some claim the Calvinist God to be.

That isn’t to say I don’t find aspects of Calvinism objectionable.  I do.  Six months ago my wife and I experienced an ectopic pregnancy.  I do not believe God caused the egg to settle outside the uterus.  Just over a year ago a pastor friend of mine was shot and killed by a lady with mental health problems.  I do not believe God caused his murder.  Those painful experiences do not come from a divine decree God uttered.   They come from living in a broken world where things are, fundamentally, not as they are supposed to be.

For many, their understanding of Reformed theology stems from certain Calvinist voices.  So when they read the above they may question if I am really Reformed.  The short answer is, “Yes.”  Reformed theology is broad and diverse.  What is typically represented by John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Albert Mohler is one stream of Calvinism, but is not representative of all Reformed theology.

This leads to the reason for the post.  Why am I Reformed?


1. Being Reformed keeps me Theocentric

Being Reformed helps me keep a theocentric perspective.  God is the thing around which all things orbit.  My guess is that most Christians would say that.  However, my struggle with other theological frameworks is that God seems to take a backseat.  Perhaps more accurately, God seems reactionary to what humans do.  To make God reactionary to what I do means I am driving the story.  God is no longer the author of the story, He is simply a character like everyone else.

For me, this seems anthropocentric. Personally, this is dangerous.  I already believe the hype about me enough.  I don’t need to feel like God is waiting around me for me to do something before he acts.  Even if that something is me choosing to believe.

The Reformed belief that God is sovereign keeps me from slipping into the narcissistic belief that what happens is about me.  It isn’t.  It isn’t even about humanity.  Making God’s work in the world simply about humanity is to reduce the scope of the gospel and ignore the hope of restoration all creation is groaning for.  It is to limit the glory of God to the response of humanity.  But God’s glory, like God, is unchanging and independent of humanity’s response.

If humanity doesn’t glory in God, the rocks will.

I need that reminder.


2. Being Reformed helps me focus on grace

The Reformed tradition is ultimately about grace.  The doctrine of election is founded upon the grace of God being extended to people who can do nothing to earn salvation.  So it’s grace, grace, grace with a side of grace.

I love grace.

I need grace.

That Jesus loves me is a grace.

That I have done anything good with my life is a grace.

That I have aptitudes and attitudes that can be used for the Kingdom of God is a grace.

And grace is more than just grace unto salvation.  Grace is rooted in creation.  Grace doesn’t make its appearance because of and after the fall.  Creation exists because of grace.  The creation is sustained because of grace.  And the creation will be restored because of grace.


3.  Being Reformed deepens my worship

To be Reformed is to engage in covenantal theology.  Covenantal theology is a framework for understanding the overarching story of the Bible.  For the Reformed, our covenant is rooted in the covenant of Grace – the covenant established between God and Abraham to bless the world and ratified in Christ’s new covenant with humanity.

This understanding deeply impacts my corporate worship.

Each week, when we walk into our building and gather with the church, we are invited into God’s redemptive history.  What is God doing in the world?  He is gathering his people to be a light to all people.  I see that when I gather with Steve and Emily and Bob and Andrea.  We are a people gathered according to the good purposes of God.

When we baptize, we remember the dying and the rising of Christ and our union to Christ for salvation.  We touch and see and hear the waters, and are reminded of our utter dependence on God.

We gather around the table.  We break bread and bless the cup and remember Christ real presence with us in the world.

Worship isn’t just an opportunity for us to sing our favorite songs.  It isn’t just about getting more information.  It is a ceremony in which we replay the covenantal story of which we are a part.  Each week we have an opportunity to renew our covenantal responsibility.


4. Being Reformed matches my experience

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  There is so much going on in this story.  God’s love for the outsider.  The response of the Ethiopian.  Philip’s quick response to baptize this man and to find no reason not to baptize him when so many would.  One could mine the depths of the story and never completely come to the end.

But I also love this story because it matches my experience.  What are the chances that, just as the eunuch is leaving Jerusalem he meets one of Jesus disciples?  What are the chances that the disciple would see the chariot and go to it?  What are the chances that, as the eunuch wrestled with Scripture, at that precise moment someone would come along and be able to help him make sense of it all?

Not much.

God orchestrates events so the Ethiopian can understand the Scriptures and be baptized.  It’s what we see in Acts 17:26 when Paul says, “and He (God) determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”  God is actively involved in saving us.

Isn’t that our experience?  We look back over our life and we see all these events, experiences, and coffee-conversations leading us to see Jesus more clearly than ever before.  Even though we at one point make a cognitive decision to follow Jesus, we look back over our lives and see that Jesus had been pursuing us long before we ever made a decision.  Sometimes, before we were even looking for him we see him looking for us.

That’s God choosing us.  Chasing us down.  Telling a modern-day Philip to go south down the road and saddle up next to the chariot and to stay near it because God is passionately pursuing the person inside.

For all our discomfort with saying God elects some and doesn’t elect other, I think most of us would say that at some point we looked back and saw God working in us and on us.  For me, that’s evidence of election.  It isn’t an arbitrary decision made by an impersonal God.  It is the actions of a ruthlessly-passionate, relationship-oriented God who pursues the objects of his love – you and me.


5. Being Reformed emphasizes my responsibility in creation

Yes, Reformed theology believes in the elect.  Yes, we believe God chooses some to be saved.  Within that is a vast array of beliefs.  Single predestination, double predestination, individual election, election of a people are all different beliefs coming out of the Reformed tradition.

But for me, the most important question surrounding election is this: Elected unto what?

I love the way James K.A. Smiths says it: “Creation is not just a stage for the drama of human salvation; rather, God’s special relationship to humanity – so intensified in the incarnation – is precisely for the rest of creation.”

Humans were created as image bearers of God.  Our creational mandate was to bear the image of God to the rest of creation.  To rule over creation as God rules over it.  To co-create with God, by giving our word to the stewardship of creation as God gave his word in the creating of creation.  Thinking in this light, we can see that humans, from the beginning, were elected to responsibility.  In the same way the elect, which is the church, is elected to the restoration of the original creative mandate.

I do not believe Calvinism or Reformed thought is solely about individual salvation.  It is not less than this, but it is so much more than this.  It is about the restoration of the world.  There is a deep groaning coming from the depths of creation that, one day, will be soothed.  God, in his sovereignty, is ensuring restoration takes place.  God has lavishly poured out his grace over all of creation and watches over it.  This does not mean that God manipulates and dictates every act, every windstorm, every drop of rain.  Yet his Lordship so covers all the earth that there is not one thing that does not escape his watchful eye.

As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a single square inch of creation concerning which Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’”

This gives me great assurance.  This gives me hope and confidence.  It does not lessen the pain or confusion.  It does not answer all my questions.  No theological system can do that.  But this is my boat.  It allows me to sail the seas of a turbulent world.  This boat gets me from place to place.  It allows me to sail towards others with different perspectives and see things I would otherwise be unable to see.  And sometimes to find a new port to spend time in.

So maybe there’s a sixth reason I’m Reformed.  In the Reformed tradition there is room for semper reformanda.

I’m Reformed, and always reforming.

  • Really, really helpful explanation. Thank you for it. And thanks, M for hosting! These are many of the same reasons I moved towards the Reformed doctrine in the last 8-10 yrs. It’s sometimes hard to articulate & not a popular belief system in my community but I like how you kept pulling it out to the bigger picture: it’s not about us. Anyway, great truths here. Thx!

    • Thanks, Grace. I’m grateful for Micah being willing to host and engage as well!

      The Reformed doctrine, in my mind, really only makes sense when I step back and look big picture. The minute you get small it doesn’t make as much sense and frustrates me. That might speak more to the shortcomings of any theological system.

  • racheal1998

    Micah, thanks for sharing your blog space. Nate, thanks for taking the time to share. I grew up in an Arminianist tradition. I was 21 when I was first introduced to the word “predestination” and reformed theology. Very similarly, I looked back on my life and walk with Christ in light of new theological exposure. For me, it just made sense. I spent so much time trying to “work to get to God”. When I learned He was relentlessly pursing me the whole time by grace, freedom in my relationship with Him came. There was a paradigm shift, especially in light of depravity. (Which I know there are several schools of thought on that within all traditions.)
    I spent 10 years in a PCA church in East TN, and it was so great for my relationship with God and with other people. Was it perfect? No, but so liberating and produced so my growth. I went through a couple studies called “Discovery” (WIll Wyatt) and Gospel Transformation, which might be a little too much for some folks. Lol. But they were both great tools of spiritual growth.
    For me, its never been some goal of mine to proselyte people to reformed theology either. I went to a liberal Southern Baptist school and no one even knew I was a Calvinist until the last few semesters of college. (Its bound to come out when you major in religion. 😉 ) I just care more about the unity of the Body, and conversations that make a difference in our relationship with Christ.
    I know guys like Driscoll, Piper, and Mohler get a ton of crap. No, you don’t have to agree with them or the view of God they preach, but you can be sure that those men have spent time in the Word and in prayer. They are fulfilling calls they believe they have. And they do so with a lot of courage.
    As an alternative however, I would definitely recommend Scotty Smith. He’s a retired pastor (I think), but teaches classes at seminaries such as Covenant in St Louis and you can follow him on twitter. He has written a couple of great books, one including “Objects of His affections”. He’s an over looked voice sometimes, but well worth listening for. Tim Keller is fantastic too, especially for those who thriving on being intellectually engaged to grow in faith.
    Nate, thanks again for sharing. :)

    • Thanks for sharing, Racheal. Keller is a favorite of mine as well. I have not heard of Scotty Smith, but will look him up.

      As a recommendation, I would point anyone wondering about Reformed theology to James K.A. Smith’s little but fantastic book “Letters to a Young Calvinist.” It is a wonderful, balanced overview of Reformed theology.

  • Michael

    Awesome post! Came here from Nate’s email subscription. I’ve really enjoyed a fresh perspective on Calvinism, being an Armenian. The more and more I follow these blog posts, the more I realize my understanding of Calvinism is rooted in misunderstanding. Your posts are inspiring, helpful, and have deepened my perspective of the relationship I have and need with God.

    • Thanks, Michael. Honored you came over and check it out and have been inspired.

  • jtheory

    Good stuff. Still a lot I’m troubled with, but I realize that we can work together as brothers in Christ nonetheless (seeing as there’s probably a lot I believe that would trouble you as well!) But that we both believe in the passionate love of God through Christ for all his Creation, that is all that really matters.

    Also I really value the theocentricity of humble Reformed people, as I tend to explore all over the theological map, I like having Reformed people in my life to remind me it’s all about God.

    God Bless.

    Also, this line…”If humanity doesn’t Glory in God, the rocks will.” pretty mindblowingly beautiful thought there.

    Again, thanks for your perspective.

    • Thanks so much! Glad we can find a place of common ground.

  • steve finnell
  • Jesse Pals

    Hey Nate, I appreciate the post! This is my tribe, my people and I take pleasure in reading your gracious words. You articulate a comfort in life and death here that reminds of our belonging to God. Thank you.

    • Your welcome and thanks for reading Jesse!

  • Matt Parkins

    I’m neo-arminian for all the reasons above and more.

  • scotmcknight

    Nate, not to be cute or cantankerous… what I want to know is if it is biblical or not. Does Calvinism represent the direction of theological articulation in the Bible?

    • I suddenly feel out of my league :)

      I have to be honest and say I am not 100% clear what you mean. But, if, by the “direction of theological articulation in the Bible,” you are talking about the unfolding creation-fall-redemption-restoration narrative, I would say, “Yes.”

      If you mean the unfolding word spoken by God in the beginning, enfleshed in Jesus, co-spoken by the church (I use the phrase “we add our word to God’s word), and waiting to be spoken for the restoration of all things, “I would again say, “Yes.”

      I hope that didn’t come across defensive. It isn’t meant to. I will also say I wrestle a lot of Calvinism, and most systematic theology in general. To me, it seems to follow rational argument to extremes the Bible doesn’t allow for. Theology is important, but I am coming to value Biblical theology more than systematic theology. I believe, if I can don my prophetic hat, systematic theology will lose its authority in a post-modern world more given to value beauty than logic.

      All that to say, Reformed theology provides a starting point for me. A hermeneutic to begin reading the Bible from; with a vast and varied tradition that has given much to the Christian world – as have so many other traditions.

      I’d love to interact more. Am I understanding your question? What push-back do you have?

      • scotmcknight

        When discussing what is right in theology for a Protestant don’t we first ask “What does the Bible say?” The point then for me is why is this not #1: Because the Bible teaches Calvinism? The C-R-F-R narrative is no more Calvinist than it is Arminian or Anabaptist … what it is is the soteriological theme of the Bible. (I don’t happen to think it is the driving narrative of the Bible, though. It is a narrative, a vital one, but not the driving one. Christology/theology drives the narrative.) Anyway, when I read the piece Nate that’s what came to mind: Isn’t the first and best reason “Because it’s what the Bible teaches”? One of the great developments in the last quarter of the 20th Century was the recapturing of narrative as the core of the Bible’s “theology” and this pushed hard against so many who have read the Bible for a systematics and then let the systematics shape the readings too much. Calvinism has been pointed at, to be sure, but it is not alone.

        • Thanks for responding. I can appreciate that. When I read your response I was like, “Yes, yes that would have been a great point to start on.”

          The problem is, if you were to say “The Bible teaches Calvinism,” the next question is “What Calvinism does the Bible teach?” Single or double predestination? Infra or supra lapsarianism? On top of that, I wasn’t saying why I am “Calvinist” but why I am “Reformed.” I specifically chose the Reformed label because it is much more broad than “Calvinism.”

          But to your final point, I think the readings of the Bible that have pushed against the systematic theology is great. I love being challenged by it. And really do hold things in tension.

          • scotmcknight

            Good catch… all along I was thinking “Reformed” in a broader sense when I was responding to you, but should have been saying “Reformed” instead of “Calvinism.”
            But it leaves a question: Would we also not be able to say “which kind of Reformed?”
            Anyway, we probably agree: theology either is grounded in Scripture, and it’s story, or it’s not good Christian theology.

          • Absolutely we could say what kind of Reformed. For me, I am more connected to, and informed by, continental Reformed theology coming out of the Dutch Reformed (I am a part of the Reformed Church of America and had J. Todd Billings as a systematics professor).

            I would probably say I am more Kuyperian in that I function with Reformed as a worldview, but also identify a soteriological aspect (as I said in point #4) as it matches my experience and the Biblical witness, but understand that soteriology in a Newbigin fashion – the elect are elected unto something beyond just salvation.

            Risking being cast out of my own tradition, I find the Canons of Dordt least appealing and helpful as they are so contextual and so argumentative in their nature. Heidelberg is more helpful as its reason for being written is unity.

            But as you say, in the end we probably have more common ground than not.

          • scotmcknight

            So what then does “Reformed” mean? Is it a theology (canons of Dordt) or a worldview (Kuyper) or a soteriology (most common perception today)?

  • Martin

    Nate, nice post – I appreciate it very much. Ironically, if I were to write a “5 Reasons I (Lean) Arminian”, I would use almost all the same sub-points. For me, Arminianism keeps me theocentric, focuses me on God’s grace, brings me deeper into worship, matches my experience, and makes me love creation. Interesting how that works, huh? I think God doesn’t care too much about our theological categories – but rather He cares that we love Him and love our neighbor through Jesus Christ as a unified body.

    • Absolutely, Martin. I don’t think God cares. I don’t think our theological categories are necessarily more right than another. I think they identify the aspects of God that most engage and fuel our hearts towards God.

  • Kyle S.

    If God creates people just to destroy them (the unelect), then why wouldn’t he also cause people to murder?

    • Casey Glass

      Actually, according to high Calvinism, he does!

  • MorganGuyton

    Most of my beefs with reformed theology are with the caricatures and the deliberately antagonistic articulations of it. I think my only beef with a decaricatured reformed theology is my concern for always defending God’s mystery per Romans 11:33-34. I don’t want to make claims that are too definite about God’s omnipotence (which of course you’re saying you don’t want to do either), though in terms of my individual life narrative, I live as though there are no coincidences. I get nervous about the word “covenant” because it seems like an extra-Biblical framework that can be allowed to eisegete the text too much. Also I’m very reluctant to postulate a sort of abstract depersonalized “order” to the universe that God is required to defend as opposed to understanding His justice exclusively in personal terms as God’s solidarity with those who live under His mercy. I tend to think of God’s sovereignty as the self-emptying sovereignty of mercy rather than merely replacing the world’s Caesar with a different celestial Caesar.

    I share all these things not as “critiques” of a reformed position so much as sharing where I am in the places where there might be tension and a potential for dialogue and growth.

  • Great piece. As someone who’s recently come to the Reformedish wing of things, this gets to the heart of a lot of why I’ve been drawn into this eminently biblical and beautiful theological tradition.

    If anybody’s looking for a good introduction to a beautifically irenic, catholic, and pastoral vision of Reformed theology, I would suggest J. Todd Billings’ “Union with Christ: Reframing Ministry and Theology for the Church.” It’s simply fabulous.

    • Thanks, Derek! Billings was my systematic Professor in seminary! Unbelievably humble and intelligent man.

  • One thing that puzzles me about this, and I’d invite responses from anyone: These reasons don’t seem to me to be exclusive to Reformed thinking. I don’t identify as Reformed, yet I’d affirm most, if not all, of Nate’s conclusions. What’s up with that?

    • jtheory

      Yeah I think it’s when you get down to the logistics that I start finding some disagreement, like election for instance. I do agree in predestination to a common goal, but not election of individuals, or people groups. But I think that’s the only thing that even troubled me a little in what he said. I even affirm the sovereignty of God and theocentricity though maybe not in the same way. Also I am finding out that you can be an open theist and still believe God is sovereign, this is something I didn’t think you could do a couple weeks ago.

      Anyways, yeah…Reformed and others can agree on a lot more than we think we do.

    • I’ve been in so many different denominations. What I have learned is that often, people believe the same/similar things but they have different words for them. Before I moved to where I live, I met with a Reformed pastor (CRC) to learn what Reformed is all about. He’d say something, and I’d say, “so that’s like the Catholic idea of…?” or “so that’s like the Methodist idea of…?” and he’d say, “yes, exactly.” I’ve also had conversations w/ a theology professor at the local Reformed college. For many people, regardless of denomination, if they only experience one strand of Christianity and never learn about others, they think their strand is right and don’t realize all the similarities with others. Plus, at the level of the “average churchgoer”, most of the people I know don’t have much, if any, knowledge of theology behind what they believe, and may not even care. They just want to know how it applies to everyday life.

  • I live in a very Reformed area and go to a Reformed church (RCA). Most people I talk to have no idea who people like Piper or Driscoll are, and are more familiar with Kuyper. It’s just the loudest and most disagreeable types that get the most attention, it seems, and I’ve been considering writing a post titled “But I’m not *that* kind of Reformed!” Haven’t gotten around to it yet, though. If I do, I’ll definitely reference this one.

    • Casey Glass

      I think that is because when people study Calvinism from an outside perspective, the positions of Piper and Driscoll represent the logical conclusions of the theological starting points Calvin takes.

  • Casey Glass

    Huh. You may want to give the writings of Arminius a read for a reformed tradition that meshes better with your five beliefs than Calvinisim (and I mean this in a positive light).

  • Conservative_Hippie

    I am not a Calvinist, but I can still say yes to all 5 of your reasons. What I mean to say is you don’t have to be a Calvinist for your 5 reasons to be true.

  • Karen

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I found it while doing a Google search for ‘reformed deepen affection for God’. What I am thinking is that if our pain is not from God, where is the personal love of God in it? Are not afflictions tailor-made and personal, from His loving hand, ultimately to bring us to Him if we are His? Perhaps the word “caused” is not the right word, but certainly God is sovereign and infinitely more involved than one who only watches. If we could fully understand this, we would not be finite creatures.