The Reformed Stance

Distinctive Commitments and Concerns

in Journal of Reformed Theology
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This article attempts to answer the question what makes a particular theology “Reformed”. First of all, three fairly common ways to answer this question are criticized as being reductionist. Over against such attempts, the authors emphasize the plurality of Reformed theology. Next, however, drawing on a concept introduced by philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen, they argue that Reformed theology can still be described as a distinct phenomenon when it is approached as a stance, i.e. as a particular outlook characterized by specific commitments and concerns, rather than as a unique set of propositional beliefs. Finally, it is argued that many of the concerns and commitments that are typical of Reformed theology can be loosely derived from the traditional Reformed adage ecclesia reformata quia semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei.




Vroom, “On Being Reformed,” 153.


Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 68. cf. Willem J. van Asselt, “Calvinism as a Problematic Concept in Historiography,” International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 74 (2013), 144–150.


Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition, 52; one wonders, however, whether Muller is slightly overstating his point in this quotation—even when we acknowledge that, for instance, Calvin’s Christology was not unique, or at least not meant to be unique (which is not the same), it might still make sense to investigate its special coloring within its proper contexts. In private correspondence, Muller has elucidated that he has “(…) no objection to theologically topical books about Calvin’s thought—just books that work through his theology without any recognition that it has a background and context and treat it as if it arose in a vacuum” (email 10 June 2015).


Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed. A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), xxiii.


Cf. e.g. Herman Selderhuis (ed.), Handbook of Dutch Church History (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), 171–184, 202–204; Calvin’s specific influence can be traced along three lines: Dutch translations of his works, his correspondence with Dutch church leaders (Calvin himself was married to a Dutch woman from Liège) and the contribution of Reformed ministers who were educated in Geneva to the rebuilding of the Dutch church (203).


Van Asselt, “Calvinism as a Problematic Concept”, 145.


Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition, 58; cf. Ken Stewart, “The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 26 (2008), 187–203; Stewart, Ten Myths, 75–96, 291–292.


Allen, Reformed Theology, 16; Allen refers to Roger Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postmodern Approach to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007) as an example of someone who advocates such a formal definition. For an attempt to define Reformed identity in terms of certain ‘habits of mind’ as opposed to certain doctrinal distinctives, see Brian Gerrish, “Tradition in the Modern World: The Reformed Habit of Mind,” in: David Willis and Michael Welker (eds.), Toward the Future of Reformed Theology. Tasks, Topics, Traditions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 3–20.


Cf. Kees van Deemter, Not Exactly. In Praise of Vagueness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).


Bas C. van Fraassen, The Empirical Stance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 47–48.


James Ladyman, “The Scientistic Stance: The Empirical and Materialist Stances Reconciled”, Synthese, 178.1 (2011), 87–98.


Van Fraassen, Empirical Stance, 61.


Cf. Dirkie Smit, “The Trinity in the Reformed Tradition,” Journal of Reformed Theology 3 (2009), 57–75.


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