Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

12 Aug 2022

The Trouble with Being Reformed and Baptist


The words Reformed and Baptist mean something and they are and always have been mutually exclusive. 

So begins one of Scott Clark’s several diatribes on the paradox of Reformed Baptists, the latest of which hit the fan a couple of weeks back with a provocative description of Reformed Baptists as “squatters in the Reformed house.” By making these statements, Clark is not discouraging the contemporary Baptist retrieval of predestinarian theology, the doctrines of grace, or other soteriological motifs common to Reformational theology. Rather he is asserting that the mere adoption of these doctrines cannot of itself render a Baptist Reformed

He could not be more correct.

As Clark goes on to explain, “The Reformed Baptist project entails significant revisions of Reformed theology which change our reading of redemptive history, the way we read the Bible, and our view of the church and sacraments, and our eschatology.” Most significant, however, is the Baptist adulteration of the Reformed’s one covenant of grace and of the corresponding homogeneity of their singular covenant community. 

Try as they may, Reformed Baptists cannot successfully equate OT Israel with the Christian Church. Too many stark differences remain. The former is an ethnic community (a member had to be a Jew), the latter a regenerate community (a member has to credibly express faith in the Christian Gospel); the former is entered by physical birth into the proper family (and by the sign of circumcision for male children); the latter is entered by a profession of faith and the corresponding sign of believer’s baptism (whether male or female). 

There have been, of course, a great many attempts by Reformed Baptists to close the gap with various forms of hermeneutical intrigue, starting in the 1680s and persisting today in 1689 Federalism, New Covenant Theology, and Progressive Covenantalism. Some are willing, even (and almost as if on cue), to bend on believer’s baptism and establish “open membership” in their churches in order to establish greater “catholicity” with their Reformed brothers. But then they’re no longer Baptists, are they? Why not simply abandon their Baptist identity entirely?

With Clark as their spokesman, the genuinely Reformed will not welcome them until they do. Because until Baptists relinquish their identity by dropping several of their “distinctives” (most especially credobaptism and a regenerate church membership), there can be no commonality of biblical (much less systematic) theology between Reformed and Baptist.   

The good news is that the dispensational Baptist ranks have slowly but surely been shoring up their theological credentials, with growing warmth for predestinarian theology, the doctrines of grace, and other soteriological motifs common to Reformational soteriology. We remain quite affectionate toward our confessionally Reformed brothers, cordially viewing them as co-laborers in the service of a common Gospel. But alas, formal or ecclesiastical communion will likely remain elusive until our Lord Christ returns to settle the salient questions.

16 Responses

  1. Brandon Crawford

    The term Calvinistic Baptist is much preferable, but the Reformed “brand” is trendy at the moment, and many contemporary Baptists want to cash in on it. I even know young traditional dispensationalists who call themselves Reformed Baptists, likely for this reason.

  2. For those of us who accept the doctrine of the covenants which gave rise to the First and Second London Baptist Confessions, would you prefer that we call ourselves Particular Baptists? Many of us who hold the substance of such confessions use the term Reformed Baptist to indicate the degree of continuity which we and our Baptist forefathers have with the Reformation and the Puritans, even in our federal/covenantal theology (though credobaptists are trying to have a more consistent covenantalism than their paedobaptist brethren). We are not thereby attempting an ecclesiastical union with non-Baptists. As for R. Scott Clark, he is trying to portray the founding fathers of the Baptist movement as theologically mongrel. He simply detests a Baptist theology of the covenants. Here is a dispassionate and sympathetic description of the Reformed Baptist identity:

  3. Joel Tetreau

    Indeed…. I love the more Reformed guys but as one
    very thankful for the more Anabaptist in the room (Think Zurich River…. )… Well…. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my mouth shut. It’s interesting to see how we use various terms. I actually have good koinonia w a variety…. Baptist+ or Baptist – who are more or less Reformed, Dispensational… or a combination of both…. Great article…. Straight Ahead!

  4. I get the point of Snoeberger/Clark. But whether or not the term is consistent with historical usage, there has been enough modern usage to give some context and usefulness to what terms like “Reformed Baptist” or even “Calvinist” (in more exclusive regards to soteriology) communicate to us today.

    Terms and labels have historical value, but they also take on current context and practical value to gather like-minded people. It’s like “Fundamentalist”–one of the reasons it’s being used less is because it isn’t useful in gathering people around ideas compared to scaring them away because of militia/terrorist images, etc.

    We can quibble over precision (like has been done in conversations over “dropping Baptist from the name”), but for good or ill, you’re not going to alter the developments in how these terms are used or not. There are discernible organizations of “Reformed Baptists” as they employ the term. They even have a Wikipedia entry

    So what exactly is the goal of Snoeberger or Clark in pieces like these? To get them to embrace another more precise term? I certainly don’t see “Particular Baptist” coming back into widespread usage (said the “Regular Baptist” )–too many mental images of finicky people (like RBs have with “fiber in your diet” images and comments). If it’s to critique their theologies, OK… but I don’t think someone is going to seriously change their position because you’ve pointed out how their chosen label is nonsensical.

    The term isn’t chosen to set people in line with the past. It’s an identifier to distinguish in the present.

  5. Mark Snoeberger

    Greg, Let’s create a more scandalous scenario. Suppose a group of people decided to take the label “Christian Islamist.” I am sure, as a Christian, you would be as concerned as I. “Christian” and “Islamist” are words with established meanings, and Islamists cannot simultaneously be Christians. The only way for “Christian Islam” to survive is by changing the meaning of those words and corrupting the notions that they represent. And every faithful Muslim would concur.

    I can’t speak with certainty for Clark, but my concern is syncretism and the corruption of the Baptist identity (which I suggest Rigney is doing by making credo baptism optional). Clark’s concern, I suspect, is syncretism and the corruption of the Reformed identity. And we both think that it’s worth fighting to keep those ideas from blurring.

    1. One could observe that while no one has identified as a Christian Islamist, John Piper did make the term Christian Hedonist mildly popular.That did modify the popular notion of what a hedonist was.

      While there is a historical significance to terms like Baptist and Reformed, true liberals have corrupted the terms far greater than the target of these posts.

      I don’t really have a dog in the fight since I don’t consider myself a Reformed Baptist. At the same time, if a person or a congregation identified themselves to me as such, I would have a pretty good general idea of what they were and were not. I think you and Clark would, too. And in the end isn’t that what a label is for?

  6. David Elie

    I do know a good many people that consider themselves “reformed” based solely on the doctrines of grace. Obviously their consideration is not of “reformed theology” in all its tenets, but reformed from their perspective of enlightenment from scripture regarding soteriology. The association of the doctrines of grace from the reformed camp is often all they know of “reformed theology”. So, when asked, they view themselves as “reformed”. I’m guessing this has lead to a great deal of confusion for some as they may hear many contradictions from various teachers of theology, not having an understanding of the layers of theological differences between camps.

    The reality is (shamefully) that most teaching in churches will never get deep enough for there to be any real notable differences (except the few visible practices I.e. pedobaptism).

    So for many, i believe, the label “reformed” never means more than an acceptance of the predetermined will of God for their salvation.

    …which brings us back to the need for definition and clarification.

    I agree with the author. We will continue to love our brothers across the isle, but presuppositional differences and an entirely different approach to scripture severely limits cooperative work.

    One question for the author.
    “… until our Lord Christ returns to settle the salient questions.”
    Are you saying that the answer is not settled?

  7. Well, I identify myself and our church as Reformed and Baptist, even though we don’t believe as most do. To anyone that says we are not Reformed (normally, Presbyterians, and afew Baptists), I usually answer, “I don’t care about your opinion.”
    I don’t even care to explain myself. My responsibility is to our church and we have no problem with what we are: a Reformed Baptist and Dispensational church.

  8. Traever Guingrich

    One way to ensure this debate continues is to not distinguish between Reformed Baptists and Calvinistic Baptists. Being Reformed is certainly more than being Calvinistic.

    Reformed Baptist have greater justification than anyone to use the term “Reformed.” Reform is an act. I recognize it can be used as a proper noun, but if we hold to that exclusive use then only the continental Reformed churches get to use the title and the English Presbyterians are likewise infringing on their nomenclature. But since reform is an act that must always continue (semper reformanda) and was largely recovered in the Reformation, then it is rightly applied to Reformed Baptists. They are the ones that took the principles of the Reformation to its logical conclusion. They are the ones who fully reformed the sacraments (credobaptism). They are the ones who fully reformed covenant theology (1689 Federalism). They are the ones who fully reformed church government (independency & interdependency). They are the ones who rejected a state church, advocated religious freedom, and fenced both sacraments consistently. They are indeed the truly reformed.

    Being reformed is about being genuinely biblical and seeing that recovery in the 5 solas and the Reformation itself. We very much appreciate the work done by the early reformers and even the biblical positions of the P&R churches of today. But they have not completed the work of reform. No one should campaign that they cease and desist from using the moniker “Reformed” just because of their ongoing error. But neither should they insist Reformed Baptist drop the title. It is rightfully ours because we have done the actual work of reform; thus, we are “Reformed.”