by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
Basic Contextual Background of Reformed Theology
John Calvin, the famous theologian and pastor of Geneva, died in 1564. Along with Martin Luther in Germany, he was the most influential force of the Protestant Reformation. His Commentaries and Institutes of the Christian Religion are still exerting tremendous influence on the Christian Church worldwide.
The churches which have inherited the teachings of Calvin are usually called Reformed as opposed to the Lutheran or Episcopalian branches of the Reformation. While not all Baptist churches hold to a reformed theology, there is a significant Baptist tradition which grew out of and still cherishes the central doctrines inherited from the reformed branch of the Reformation.
People grasp these points more easily if we follow a presentation based on the order in which we experience them.
- We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.
- Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.
- Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
- Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.
- And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.
When we refer to humanity’s depravity we mean our natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform our innate condition. It is important to understand that if any part of humanity is tainted by any level of sin….even the smallest amount…then each individual becomes incapable to come to God on their own. They become, by definition, totally depraved.
Remember this theological scenario: there is a glass of pure, clean, crisp water waiting for you after an exhausting athletic event you have just participated in. You are really thirsty. Right before you are about to drink that refreshing glass of water a person walks up to the glass and puts into it one singular drop of poison. By volume the poison is probably diluted enough…maybe.
Do you drink it?
Of course you don’t because the water is now tainted. The glass, theologically speaking, becomes “totally depraved.”
(Romans 14:23) 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
(Romans 3:9-10, 18) 9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 7:18) 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
(Ephesians 4:18) 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;
(Ephesians 2:3) 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
(Luke 18:9-14) 9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(John 3:20-21) 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
(Romans 8:7-8) 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
(2 Corinthians 4:4-6) 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.