What is a Reformed Theologian?

Reformed theology has been growing in popularity. More and more churches and pastors are applying the term to themselves. Like Junior says to Pappy, “people like that reform. Maybe we should get us some.”

Consequently I’ve noticed that people often come to hear of Reformed theology through some popular preacher or author who has embraced the designation. But not always are those who apply the term to themselves actually Reformed.

So what is a Reformed theologian?

I contend, quite simply, that a Reformed theologian is an advocate of system of belief contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith or that of the Three Forms of Unity. With that simple—and I believe historical—definition, Reformed theologians are easily identified.

Who then is a Reformed theologian? There are many. Some of my favorites include John Calvin, William Hendriksen, Gordon Clark, Herman Hoeksema, J. Gresham Machen, David Engelsma, Jerome Zanchius, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, Robert Reymond, John Gerstner, and R. C. Sproul.

Who then is not a Reformed theologian? Some who are not Reformed but sometimes said to be include John MacArthur, John Piper, Douglas Wilson, and Karl Barth. I’ve even seen people claim the term “Reformed” for such non-Reformed persons as James K. A. Smith and Ravi Zacharias! All of these persons make for quite deceptive uses of the term. No Reformed theologian would embrace their Federal Vision, neo-orthodoxy, or charismania. Why do some persons then apply the term “Reformed” to these men? A hallmark of false teachers is obfuscation.




10 thoughts on “What is a Reformed Theologian?”

  1. I’m just quite a simple man, and I argue that the WCF and the COD (Cannons Of Dort) stamp out RT. If any so called reformed person disagrees with the above two then idk…

  2. My Curiosity abounds LJ as to why you call MacArthur an Arminian?! I understand why you call him a Baptist (which I disagree with) and a dispensationalist but Arminian? To make sure we are using the same basic definition of “Arminian” I mean someone who holds to faith being an effect of free will and not a gift, that Christ died for the whole world and not just the elect and that Christians can voluntarily give up their salvation.

    If you are saying this because he is an infralapsarian and weak on scriptures like Romans 9:18, then you will have to say Sproul was Arminian as well and I believe Mike Horton as well. I am not defending him as he can do that himself or his coterie. Just curious!!

    1. Scott, I based the Arminian label on my memory of MacArthur calling himself a “4 point Calvinist.” As I recall this was back in the early 1990’s. The sticking “point” that I remember him denying was limited or particular atonement, which he denied. Now, my memory may be wrong but that’s why I added the Arminian label. If I’m wrong I’ll gladly retract my statement regarding Dr. MacArthur being an Arminian – I probably should have said semi-Arminian anyway since he’s certainly more Calvinistic than Arminian. If he holds to a solid Calvinism including particular or limited atonement and I’m wrong or he’s changed his former view then I’m glad to hear it and will happily retract the label.


      1. https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/john-macarthur-and-the-five-points-of-calvinism.1701/

        The confusion might come from the tape-ministry of MacArthur himself. I have heard radio broadcasts from him in the last 3 years where he has been critical of Reformed folk who hold to the doctrine of limited atonement. It would appear (I suppose) that he has then changed his opinion on this topic then.

        Scott, this is later than the discussion that I think I remember in the early 1990’s but it shows I’m not the only one doubting Dr. MacArthur’s fidelity to particular atonement.

        Sorry for any misspellings or repetition but I’m on the road and don’t have access to my old notes, etc. I hope that helps. Correct me if I’m wrong!


        1. I’ve been appreciating MacArthur’s work lately against the nonsense coming out of Al Mohler, etc. I acquired a new set of MacArthur’s commentaries also, for free. And, while I favor the views of Calvin and Hendriksen (and others), MacArthur often has good presentation and applications.

          1. Yeah I stopped listening to him when I became a Presbyterian so it’s (thankfully👍) been a while. I think R. C. Sproul had a very positive impact on him and I should retract my labeling him Arminian. In this case I’m happy to be wrong.

  3. Scott, I might add this for further clarification: http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/reformed/macatone.htm

    It is probably more accurate to say Dr. MacArthur was once Arminian or, at least, hypo-Calvinist regarding particular atonement but has grown out of that error and is now embracing historic Calvinism. Again, from my possibly faulty memory, having listened to him daily in my early years after conversion, I recall him making Amyraldian sounding statements. But all that could be charitably chalked up to his growth in faith.

    Anyhow, not to beat a dead horse …


  4. Thanks for clearing that up LJ. I am not happy with either Baptists or Reformed people that hold to the “Lombardian Formula” either but I do not necessarily consider them Arminian. I like Nettles discussion of it in his classic “By His Grace and For His Glory at https://press.founders.org/shop/by-his-grace-and-for-his-glory/ . He holds to the Owen Death of Death view of Atonement unlike Lombardian Formula advocates like Robert Dabney and William G. T. Shedd.

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