Reformed theology includes a system of belief that traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation over 500 years ago. It also contains many of the doctrines taught by Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries.

A brief history

The Reformation was an extensive religious revolt against the abuses and authoritarian control of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers included Martin Luther in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and John Calvin in France. These men protested the unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged a return to sound biblical doctrine. The triggering event of the Protestant Reformation is generally considered Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on 31 October 1517.

The Theses focused on sin and forgiveness, mainly how people were to seek pardon and salvation. They protested against the Roman church and how it was selling forgiveness and pardon through indulgencies (A letter of indulgence was given in exchange for a monetary gift or a charitable deed). Indulgences often led people into poverty and reduced the amount of charity people could do. People experiencing poverty, Luther said, should be helped.

A copy of the Ninety-five Theses was sent to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune, but he refused to keep silent.  In 1521, Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. The Reformers, their followers and successors, formed a theology that they believed better represented the original intention of scripture and Jesus for his church.

Reformed theology

Reformed theology is not a new belief system but seeks to continue apostolic doctrine. In summary, reformed theology holds to:

  • The authority of Scripture.
  • The sovereignty of God.
  • Salvation by grace through Jesus Christ.
  • The necessity of evangelism.

Reformed theology is also called Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Doctrines of Grace, or Augustinian theology. It is alive and well in Reformed Churches, some Presbyterian churches, some Baptist churches, Lutheran Churches, and the Acts 29 movement, a global family of church-planting churches that adheres to Calvinist theology.

Recognising the good

There is much in reformed theology that is good. I appreciate the high regard for scripture, the focus on Jesus and salvation, and the desire for others to experience the gospel. I acknowledge that there are various streams of reformed theology and that not all reformed theologians hold to all its tenants of the faith.

In addressing my concerns about reformed theology, I am not critical of individuals or churches. I acknowledge that people who hold to reformed theology love Jesus and are part of the Christian family. Christians have and do differ on all sorts of doctrines. I appreciate the words of 17th Century Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Having said that here are my chief concerns with reformed theology:

* Reformed theology denies people’s free will

Augustine wrote, “By Adam’s transgression, the freedom of the human will has been completely lost … we have lost the free will to love God.” Martin Luther said, “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” I believe reformed theology has an unhealthy emphasis on sin and people’s lack of free will not to sin. Their doctrine of total depravity states that human nature is thoroughly corrupt and sinful due to the fall.

While I believe the Bible teaches that “all have sinned” and that no one is righteous outside of God’s grace, we witness human beings exercising their free will to do good. Most people are NOT depraved. Scripture also attests to people’s inherent goodness. The Bible starts at Genesis One, not Genesis Three, with people created in God’s good image. While the image has been marred, it has not been destroyed.

Reformed theology denies personal accountability

The blame for every person’s sinfulness is placed on Adam. John Calvin noted, “Adam drew all his posterity with himself, by his fall, into eternal damnation.” Whether we like it or not, we’re all going to hell, and it’s all Adam’s fault. Reformed theology buys into the blame game of Genesis Three – Adam blamed God and “that woman”. Eve blamed the snake, which didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Reformed theology has a harmful obsession with original sin. Scripture teaches that each person is responsible to account for their sins.

Reformed theology denies Christ died for everyone

Aussie evangelist Joshua Williamson said, “If Christ died for everyone, everyone would be saved.” And yet, the New Testament is replete with verses that use words like EVERYONE and ALL. The New Testament affirms that Christ died for all people. God’s boundless atonement does not make salvation automatic but available for everyone. **

Reformed theology teaches an unhealthy view of predestination

There are some horrific statements made by reformed thinkers about the destiny of the “unsaved”. Consider John Calvin, “not only was the destruction of the ungodly foreknown, but the ungodly themselves have been created for the specific purpose of perishing.” Let that sink in. Author Alan Kurschner said, “God desires that his people are saved. He does not desire that every single individual who has ever lived live in glory with him forever. If that were the case, we have an incompetent, unhappy, and impotent God.”

Erwin Lutzer (former Senior Pastor Moody Bible Church, Chicago) said, “The revealed will was that all men be saved, but the hidden will was that the greater part of mankind be damned.” Seriously? Does God have a hidden will? And John MacArthur comments: “[God’s] patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all of His own …” The rest be dammed.

Have you noticed that people who say these things are always in the “saved” category? How easily we condemn people who are not us. Contrast the above quotes with Jesus, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The apostle Paul wrote, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.

For in-depth teaching on Romans 9:12-21 and why I believe those who embrace reformed theology misinterpret these verses, listen to my podcast on predestination.

Reformed theology pushes the sovereignty of God too far

Martin Luther believed, “God worketh all things in all men, even wickedness in the wicked …” John Calvin stated, “Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God.” It reminds me of the meme, “You’re telling me that when God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit that he really wanted them to?”

While it is true that, because of free will and the laws of nature, God created the potential for bad things to happen in the world, to say that God works wickedness in the wicked is to deny the heart of God, who is LOVE and GOODNESS. *** James is especially concerned that we’re not misled: Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Reformed churches diminish the role of women

Reformed churches are invariably complementarian, believing that men and women are equal but different. Valid, except in these churches, men are usually more equal than women, to misquote George Orwell.

Complementarianism holds to exclusively male leadership in the church and home, and women should not have church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men. Women are expected to support and submit to male authority. I recently saw a Facebook post where a pastor shared his joy about a retreat with his fellow pastors (all men) and thanked the wives for “holding the fort”. I have written about complementarian elsewhere and recorded a podcast outlining my views that complementarianism does an injustice to scripture and women.

For these reasons, I believe Reformed Theology could do well to experience another Reformation.


* Lev. 18:29; Deut. 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4; Eze. 18:2-6; Eze. 18:20; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:5-6; Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Cor. 11:15; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:11-12; Rev. 22:12.

** Heb. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Jn. 2:2, Jn. 3:14-17; 12:46; Acts 10:43; Rom. 10:11; Rev. 22:17, Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Pet. 2:1.

*** Gen. 1:31; 6:5-6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Jer. 19:5, 32:35; Isa. 5:4; Zeph. 3:5; Ecc. 7:29; Matt. 6:10; Lk. 7:30; 1 Cor. 14:33; Heb. 1:9; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5

We’ve heard a lot about free speech over the past few years. The restrictions and lockdowns during the pandemic heightened people’s concerns. Those whose narrative is conservative or conspiratorial, especially from a futurist reading of Bible prophecy, are particularly susceptible.

People have protested on the streets the world over against restrictions and mandates perceived to limit freedom. One Christian organisation asked, “What do we do as we see increased attacks on our freedom of speech and association?” A plea for donations followed the question because inciting fear is a great way to get people to give money to support a cause, even if that cause doesn’t exist. I blogged on that last week.

So, let’s define and explore freedom of speech and what the Bible has to say.

Defining Freedom of Speech

Webster’s dictionary defines freedom of speech as “the right to express facts and opinions subject only to reasonable limitations.” This right is enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by the 1st and 14th amendments in America.

In Australia, freedom of speech is not a protected right except for political discourse, which is safeguarded from criminal prosecution at common law. However, Australia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Australian Law

Freedom of speech was limited in Australia by the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. Just over 20 years ago, Section 18C was added to the Act stating, “It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

Some have tried, unsuccessfully, to have 18C removed from the Act, but why would they? Who would want to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin?” Moreover, if they did, why should they get away with it?

It should also be remembered that 18C is modified by Section 18D, where much free speech is protected. The original Racial Discrimination Act was (and still is) primarily concerned with situations in which racism produces a material disadvantage for someone.

Freedom with Responsibility

So, in Australian law (as well as American), we see freedom of speech protected within certain boundaries, reflecting the Bible’s view on free speech. In the beginning, God gave human beings free will but then set parameters: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but …” (Genesis 1:17). There are limits to your freedom, and there are consequences if you go beyond those limits. In fact, it’s impossible to define or experience true freedom without clear boundaries.

The publishers of Charlie Hebdo Magazine would have been wise to heed that advice. While I disagree with the actions of the terrorists who killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo in 2015 if you’re going to move into territory that inflames religious extremists, there are most likely consequences. Free speech comes with a great responsibility not to offend unnecessarily.

Freedom with Wisdom

Consider Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders’ Prophet Muhammad cartoon competition which was cancelled in August 2018. Drawing the Prophet Muhammad is seen as blasphemous in parts of the Islamic world and is deeply offensive to some Muslims, so why would someone use their freedom of speech to offend deliberately? It reeks of political opportunism.

The same could be said of Chelsea Manning, who, it should be noted, was convicted of six breaches of the Espionage Act. While President Obama commuted her sentence, the punishment remains on her record. Ms Manning is not just some whistle-blower; she was convicted of espionage and given a lengthy prison sentence. The Australian Government was fully entitled to deny Chelsea Manning a visa and keep her out of the country. Freedom of speech must be modified by wisdom and common sense.

Biblical Boundaries for Free Speech

The Bible limits free speech. As a follower of Jesus, you are NOT free to say anything you like. Neither are you entitled to express whatever is on your mind. Consider Proverbs 29:11, “A fool utters all his mind, but a wise person holds it back.”

Contemplate Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” “Seasoned with salt” is a metaphor that communicates “the adding of value” to others by our words rather than offending, sniping and criticising. Discretion limits freedom of speech.

We are also not free to gossip (Proverbs 25:9). Well, we are, but remember those consequences? The Bible also discourages swearing, dishonesty, lying, and insulting. Christians must speak the truth in love and use their words to build others up rather than tearing them down. But that doesn’t mean we can’t respectfully present views that differ from those held by others.

A lost art?

Society needs to learn the art of respectful and robust debate once again rather than trying to win arguments by making personal slurs or trying to silence our opponent.

The Christian church flourishes when it takes its eyes off itself, its rights and its demands and uses its freedom of speech to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 It’s that kind of free speech that others sit up and listen to.


Main image: “Free Speech” by Newtown Graffiti

The shootings at Charlie Hebdo are inexcusable.  Resolving a disagreement or offence by ending the life of another is never right.  The outpouring of grief and demonstration of solidarity with the French at this time is inspiring and brings out the best in humanity – although we obviously don’t feel the same level of grief over the hundreds of people killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria this week or the 37 killed by al-Qaeda in Yemen.  But I’ll save my thoughts on that for another blog.

Not only were the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo vicious, but they were also stupid.  Muslim extremists killing people over insults to their Prophet and what were they trying to achieve?  Justice for Islam?  Honour for Muhammed?  The end of Charlie Hebdo?  None of these things was achieved.  You see Charlie Hebdo was already in serious difficulty.  In fact last week they were in danger of folding.  But not now!  Before the attacks, they printed 60,000 copies of each edition.  This week they’re printing over 3 million copies in 16 different languages.  Charlie Hebdo is now a household name around the world.

In addition to that The Press and Pluralism Association donated $360,0000, ordinary citizens through crowd fundraising gave $150,000, while French Culture and Communications Minister Fleur Pel­lerin pledged $1.45 million to the magazine.  Charlie Hebdo now has more power, reach and influence than ever before and they will continue to do the same work of satirizing religions, cultures and politics.  Nothing will be out of bounds.  So, stupid terrorists, you would have been better off ignoring Charlie – just like those of other faiths did.  Sure, there may have been blogs and media articles expressing concern at the distasteful cartoons in the magazine.  Even Barrack Obama condemned them in 2012 and the French Government itself asked them to be more restrained.  But it took two Islamist extremists to make sure Charlie Hebdo now has a bright future.

In 1988 there was a Canadian-American film released called The Last Temptation of Christ.  I never saw it but I know people who did.  It was an average movie that would have been a Box Office flop except for the free publicity given it by “Concerned Christians” who protested about the perceived blasphemous themes in the film.  The movie should have been ignored.  Hollywood must have sat back and rubbed its hands together in glee as the money rolled in.  Incidents like this have occurred far too many times.

It reminds me of a quote by Elbert Hubbard: “Never explain – your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.”  In other words, there are times when ignoring something or someone is the best course of action.  Jesus did it.  Sometimes he just remained silent.  Other times he answered a question with another question.  He was never defensive, he never tried to justify himself and he certainly never resorted to violence to prove a point.  He overcame evil with good because good is more powerful than evil and he encourages us to do the same.

This morning we awake to the news of yet another terrorist attack – once again inflicted by Islamist extremists. In Paris, twelve people are dead and eight are injured (four critically) by the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo; a weekly French satirical newspaper. The newspaper has become well known throughout the world over the years for featuring cartoons, reports, jokes and aggressive attacks on religions, politics and culture.  It seems nothing was held sacred or out of bounds.

For some English translations of their more provocative material click on this link:

Two thoughts immediately spring to mind when I consider the horrendous events that took place in Paris yesterday.

Firstly, how far should free speech go?  Now I’m not suggesting the extremist anti free speech of some Communist and Muslim countries. What I am asking is where does self control, respect and decency limit what we say, write and publish? If I know that saying something is going to offend or hurt someone else I practice self control out of respect for that person.  Jesus encapsulated this when He taught people to “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  The French government had requested restraint of Charlie Hebdo several years ago when it published drawings, some of which depicted Mohammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses.  These were met with a swift rebuke by the French government, which warned the magazine could be inflaming tensions, even as it reiterated France’s free speech protections.  Charlie Hebdo went ahead and as a result France had to increase security at its embassies across the Muslim world.  Protests occurred across the Muslim world like the violent protests that targeted the United States over an amateur video produced in California that left at least 30 people dead.  In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people. Many innocent people have died because of the sacred cow of freedom of speech.

This leads me to my second thought. As I’ve watched reports on various news networks it is almost laughable to watch reporters side-step the “M” word.  One reporter said it was too early to attribute this attack to any particular ideology. Really?  The assault was carried out by two masked men brandishing AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, with at least one shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.  When are the media going to rise above some distorted sense of political correctness and state the obvious? Several reporters also went to extremes to explain that Charlie Hebdo also mocked Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and various political persuasions.  And that is true.  But other religions don’t riot and shoot people.  We don’t hear about Buddhist suicide bombers.  Jews don’t put car bombs outside hotels.  Christians turn the other cheek although we are just as offended by the constant mockery and insults to our faith by the media and Hollywood.

It is true that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, pious people who suffer more from terrorism and violence than non-Muslims. Ninety-three percent of Muslims do not support extremist views of terrorism according to a conservative Gallup poll.  But that means that 7% do.  Current estimates suggest there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  That means there are about 112 million Muslims who hold extremist views – and they are obviously living among us, as has been made painfully clear by the recent events in France, Australia, Canada, America and many other nations.

So, out of love and respect for others let us limit our freedom of speech but, at the same time, let us call Islamic extremism what it is and work in unity with all peaceful people to see an end to it.