The Rev. William Still, a patriarch of the Church of Scotland in the twentieth century, preaching on Romans 5:5 and the love of God being poured into our hearts, said this:

“I wonder what it is about poring all over a great deal of Puritan literature that makes so many preachers of it so horribly cold.  I don’t understand it, because I think it’s a wonderful literature. . . . I don’t know if you can explain this to me.  I’d be very glad to know, because it worries me.  But I hear over and over and over again this tremendous tendency amongst people who delve deeply into Puritan literature that a coldness, a hardness, a harshness, a ruthlessness — anything but sovereign grace — enters into their lives and into their ministries.  Now, it needn’t be so.  And it isn’t always so, thank God.  And you see, the grace, the grace, of a true Calvinist and Puritan — that is to say, a biblical Puritan and Calvinist — is wonderful. . . . But O God, deliver us from this coldness!”

The problem is not reformed theology per se.  Inherent within that theology is a humbling and melting and softening and beautifying tendency.  The problem is when that theology is not allowed to exert its natural authority.  Instead, in the name of reformed theology, our own native religiosity creates a culture at odds with that theology.  And our religious culture, whatever it is, reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  If we are cold, hard, harsh and ruthless — and can we say this does not occur among those who wave the reformed banner? — if we are ungracious in our relationships and ethos and demeanor and vibe and culture, then we are betraying the doctrines of grace and only using them for covert purposes of self-exaltation.

O God, deliver us from this coldness!

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8 thoughts on “Reformed theology = reformed culture?”

  1. Gary H. says:

    I love the edited Beatles graphic.

  2. Gary H. says:

    By the way, this statement is brilliant, right on: “The problem is when that theology is not allowed to exert its natural authority. Instead, in the name of reformed theology, our own native religiosity creates a culture at odds with that theology.”

    Let’s let the Word of God and the Spirit exert their natural authority.

  3. Nick F. says:

    It’s interesting that this article found itself into my RSS reader at the exact time when another post from a popular reformed theology blog came in. The observation that reformed folks can be arrogant, stand-offish and generally “hard” applied to that post.

  4. shaun says:

    the subject of your post is the central reason why i disagree with labels in general…the hard, works righteousness nature of our flesh inevitably comes through when we take any teaching or doctrine out of God’s word and put our own name to it.

    our flesh/sin says, “This is what I believe, and this is what I do. If you do not believe it and do likewise, then you will be condemned.” the Good News cannot be “believe what i believe and do what i do.” it MUST be, “look what Christ has DONE, believe HIM, and be SAVED!”

  5. Matti says:

    The way I see it is this paradox Total Depravity and Regeneration by sovereign grace.

    Reformed people say that men are totally depraved and sinful, which is correct. But at the same time they think that regeneration is this magical moment when all of that sinfulness is wiped away and they expect people to behave. Then comes in all this navel-gazing and fruit-inspection that leads to suspicion and coldness.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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