There’s been a lot of discussion in the last year (and the last week) of what it means to be winsomely reformed. And, sadly, the loudest voices have been undeniably against the idea of being winsome. It has been critiqued as wishy-washy, a failed cultural strategy, or as an expression of weakness rather than strength.
While this is certainly an important conversation for any evangelical right now, it is particularly relevant for Reformed Theological Seminary because we have historically emphasized the importance of being winsomely Reformed.
Indeed, I can still remember that I was asked about this issue in my original faculty interview, back in 2001. The concern was not just that we hold firmly to historic Reformed theology, but that we do so with a posture of grace, warmth, and respect—especially with those we disagree with. It was clear to me at the time that this value extended back to the earliest days of the seminary.
So, whatever one might say about the desire that we be winsomely Reformed, I don’t think it can be chalked up to recent cultural pressures. RTS, at least, was concerned about this back in the 80’s and 90’s (and before)—long before social media, Trump, and recent divisions in evangelicalism.
So, I thought it might be helpful to lay out what it means to be winsomely Reformed, and why that matters.
What Do We Mean by “Winsome”?
The English word “winsome” is not a biblical word, per se. That is, it does not appear, for example, in the ESV. But it is typically used as more of a catch-all term designed to summarize the kind of Christian character emphasized in the Bible.
Consider, for example, Paul’s exhortation in Col 3:12-14:
Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . . And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Similar sentiments are found in other places. Christians, particularly Christian leaders, should not lord it over, but be a servant (Mark 10:43–44); not be a bully, but gentle (1 Tim 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7); not domineering, but setting an example (1 Pet. 3:3); and not quarrelsome, but kind (2 Tim. 2:24).
When Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit he includes similar traits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
So, the word “winsome” is just a way of summarizing what these verses are describing. In more modern terms, to be winsomely Reformed is to be Reformed but not boorish, curmudgeonly, or quarrelsome.
With a little bit of a definition behind us, we turn to the question of why this all matters. Let me offer a few reflections on why I think winsomeness is important for us to emphasize. [Read more…]