Trivium Pursuit

Reformed = Classical?

Dear Harvey,

I am new to classical homeschooling. I have heard a lot about Reformed theology lately and was wondering if they are one in the same with classical education.

My answer is probably more than you are asking for, but I don’t know how to show you what I want you to see without taking you down the trail with me.

There are several different ways to understand the expression, “Reformed theology.”

1. From a strict historical perspective, “Reformed theology” would refer to theological positions held by a certain group among the Protestant reformers in the sixteenth century who distinguished themselves from the Lutherans. The Reformed differed from the Lutherans on their view of communion, saw less distinction between the law and gospel, allowed less independence to the role of the civil magistrate, and they emphasized the doctrine of God where Lutherans emphasized the doctrine of salvation. The Belgic Confession (1561, revised 1619), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dordt (1619) are a good summary of Reformed theology.

2. In a more modern sense, “Reformed theology” might refer to theological positions which prevail among “Reformed” and “Presbyterian” churches today. These are not necessarily the same as the theological positions of the sixteenth century, though most of them would be derived (or at least claim to be derived) from that tradition.

3. In a looser sense, “reformed theology” is commonly used as a label for belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation — otherwise referred to as “the doctrines of grace” or “the five points of Calvinism.” The Canons of Dordt are actually the earliest systematic expression of what has come to be known as “the five points of Calvinism.” These “doctrines of grace” are only a part of traditional “reformed theology,” and other denominational-traditions hold to these same doctrines of grace, so they are not uniquely “reformed.” Nevertheless, the doctrines of grace have become a “rallying flag” for those who call themselves “reformed,” and they consider these doctrines to be an integral part of their beliefs, so they sometimes loosely refer to people who hold to the five points of Calvinism as “reformed” in their theology.

4. Finally, some Reformed and Presbyterian personalities like to use the expression “reformed theology” to refer to whatever they happen to believe, regardless of whether it is a traditional belief, or a modern prevailing position.

So you have 1) the older tradition of “reformed theology,” 2) the modern positions of “reformed theology,” 3) the rallying flag of “reformed theology,” and 4) those who want to capture the flag of “reformed theology.”

What is the connection between this and classical education? Well, if you are one of the “capture the flag” Reformed theologians, and you happen to believe in a classical style of education, then you might claim that classical education is “Reformed.” That’s something like saying, “I’m an American, I like broccoli, therefore liking broccoli is American.” Well, it may be nice that I have such a loyal attachment to America, but I really have no right to push myself off as THE American, projecting my specific preference for broccoli upon all others of the same general classification. Maybe most Americans like broccoli, and maybe most “reformed” people like classical education (I doubt both propositions), but I don’t think we can honestly make that strong of a connection.

I suppose someone might think this way: “Classical education is Biblical. Reformed theology is Biblical. Therefore classical education must be Reformed.” We will lay aside the questions of which form or what part of classical education, or of Reformed theology, he might be referring to, or whether any of these is actually Biblical. We only want to point out the error in reasoning, which goes something like this: “Oranges are fruit. Apples are fruit. Therefore oranges must be apples.” Well, the only legitimate conclusion is that fruit includes oranges and apples.

Historically considered, because the Roman Catholics have adhered to a form of “classical education” more closely than anyone else, “classical education” might be considered more Roman Catholic than Reformed. So should the Roman Catholics claim “classical education” as their own? I don’t think so, though perhaps there are some forms of it which are more closely associated with catholicism.

In my estimation, all such claims are rather carnal and childish (First Corinthians 1:12; 3:1-4), and create unnecessary barriers and unfair pigeonholes. The only important question is whether a classical form or style of education can be brought into conformity to Biblically revealed truth. We are satisfied that the classical Trivium can be made to conform with Biblical truth. If it is made to conform, then it will be in resonance with anything else which conforms to Biblical truth, including anything in “reformed theology” which happens to conform to Biblical truth. We think there are OTHER parts of what is traditionally considered “classical education” which DO NOT agree with Biblical truth, and therefore will NOT be in resonance with other things which DO conform to Biblical truth, including anything in “reformed theology” which happens to conform to Biblical truth.

So the answer to your question is: No, classical education and reformed theology are not one and the same, but there are parts of each which are compatible. Those who claim a close connection would seem to be overly zealous for their cause.

Is your book written from the viewpoint of Reformed theology?

I believe that those who hold to some form of “Reformed theology” will find much resonance and agreement with our book, not because we are strictly “reformed” — because we are not — but because we agree with “Reformed theology” on many things, hopefully because we both agree to the same Biblical truths (though it is possible that we both agree to the same unbiblical errors, yet I hope not.)

You will notice that in all of my answers, I want to bring the matter back to the Bible. I believe it is unwise to compare ourselves with ourselves (First Corinthians 10:12). We must compare ourselves to the one true standard. It doesn’t matter whether we are Reformed, or classical, or whatever the label, but whether we are honestly following the Word of God.

I am studying this theology because, as of a few days ago, I had never heard of it. We are Southern Baptist, but very fundamental in our beliefs. I am looking for a classical education book from a Christian point of view, but I don’t know about reformed theology.

We would agree with reformed theology regarding the fundamentals — full inspiration and authority of Scripture, trinity of God, deity of Christ, justification by grace through faith, etc.

We would agree with reformed theology regarding the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, and regarding the unity of the people of God of all ages.

We believe that the reformed doctrine of the church and of the covenants is not fully consistent with Scripture — not that we have it all sorted out ourselves and we have somehow arrived at a full and mature knowledge of the truth. In our estimation, Reformed theology teaches some things with more confidence than Scripture warrants. Scripture is the rock foundation upon which we must carefully build all other truth, deductively, brick upon brick. Scripture is not a launching pad from which we may project our speculations, inductively, imagination upon imagination. Men can spin some beautiful doctrines, but beauty can be deceitful, and is no sound test of truth. Truth must be deduced from other truth which can eventually be traced back to the only source and test of truth — Scripture. Whatever is speculatively induced from truth can never be tested for its truth value unless it is brought back and deduced or disproved from Scripture. Otherwise, no matter how beautiful it may seem, it is simply imagination, vain philosophy, and the doctrines of men after the elements and traditions of the world, and to build upon them is to build upon sand.

I hope my questions are not imprudent. I am simply looking for a book that supports my Biblical view point of “Saved by Grace” and instructing our children to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.

We are in complete agreement with salvation by grace alone, and we hope our book is consistent with the goal of instructing our children to live a godly life. We are open to any suggestions as to how to improve our book in pursuing this goal.

Harvey Bluedorn

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