Several gracEmail subscribers have asked for some explanation of the difference between “Reformed” and “non-Reformed” theologians as mentioned in a recent piece.
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“Reformed” sometimes means “Calvinistic” but I use it in the broader sense to refer to the general framework of understanding held by the principal reformers Luther, Calvin and Cranmer as well as Augustine long before them. It includes a belief that the human race fell in Adam and that all humans since then (except Jesus Christ) are born “sinners” with an aptitude toward sin. The Reformed view holds that Jesus actually accomplished the salvation of those for whom he died (though they had not yet heard about it or experienced it). It understands that before the world began God chose for salvation those for whom Christ died (which I believe includes everyone except those who knowingly reject God’s fellowship and grace). It believes that God will preserve through faith everyone whom God has saved and that none of them will finally be lost.
“Non-Reformed” refers to the understanding held by the reformer Zwingli, Arminius the counter-Calvinist, Pelagius much earlier in Augustine’s day (more extreme wing) and John Wesley long after the Reformation. Many non-Reformed people believe that all people start out morally “neutral” as Adam did and are not predisposed toward sin. The non-Reformed view holds that Jesus didn’t actually save anyone at the cross but that he made salvation possible for everyone. It understands that God’s choosing before the world began was based on what he saw in advance in those whom he chose. It believes that those who are saved can later be lost unless they persevere in faith until the end.
These are important differences that deserve serious study and concerning which both sides appeal to Scripture for their respective views. We need not be overly disturbed by such differences of understanding, however, so long as we remember the fundamental truths which both sides hold in common. For the fact is that Reformed and non-Reformed Christians agree on points about which Scripture is crystal clear: that we all are undeserving and helpless sinners; that God loves us profoundly; and that because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, whoever trusts in him enjoys God’s favor now and will live with God forever.