He called me a “TR”.
If you’ve never encountered the label “TR” before, it means “Totally Reformed” or “Truly Reformed”. This wasn’t the first time I had encountered the label, but it was the first time I had been called one. (And the last, as far as I know.)
When someone is called a TR, it doesn’t really define a clear meaning of who they are, what they think, or where they stand on a position. Rather, it is a judgment waged entirely on one person’s thoughts relative to another person.
So many will use the label TR as a pejorative term: “He’s such a TR” (meaning, “he’s more ‘Reformed’ than me). Others will use it with a sense of theological hubris: “I’m a TR” (meaning, “I’m more ‘Reformed’ than you”). In neither case is the term helpful.
For years, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have had clear and straightforward associations. Over that time,
they have served as categories that we might safely place ourselves (and others) within, which lends great understanding of what we (and others) think, believe, agree or disagree with, etc.
I believe that time has passed us by. I think these labels, like “TR”, are no longer helpful, but are simply used in either pejorative or haughty ways.
As I recently read a book entitled, A Handful of Pebbles: theological liberalism and the church, this idea (that the labels no longer serve a useful purpose) kept coming to mind. It wasn’t unclear what the author meant by it, but it was clear that he supposed that what he described as “theological liberalism” was all that there was to it.
Is it possible that there are liberal ideas and ideals that (so-called) conservatives might also embrace? Or that there are conservative ideas and ideals that (so-called) liberals might embrace? Whether we are discussing theology, politics, social issues, or economics, I think the lines are blurring.
For example, we have any number of people in political office today who are called “conservatives”-- yet these people are not “conservative” in every way: some may be fiscal conservatives, but social moderates and theological liberals. Similarly, there are many who are categorized as “liberals” who are socially and theologically conservative, but are politically liberal.
And, of course, there is the matter of degree. Whether a person assumes the mantle of conservative or liberal, or more or less “Reformed”, they are doing so in comparison to others. And the problem with association by degrees was best articulated by Tim Keller:
No matter what you believe, there will always be someone to your ‘right’, as it were, who thinks you sold out the Gospel.
Keller went on to illustrate by talking about living in community. So you think you know what vulnerable community is? he asks. Look at the Amish-- they blow us away when it comes to living in an intimate community.
But, Keller says, a people-group like the Auca indians (the group that Jim and Elizabeth Elliot sought to reach as missionaries) will look at the Amish and write them off. You think you know intimate community? How can you-- you have walls! It turns out that the Aucas live in dwellings with no walls, and everything that anyone does is announced. When Elizabeth Elliot left her dwelling to go to the bathroom, someone would announce, “the white woman is going down to the river to urinate”.
We have many, many categories and labels that are quite useful-- but we have a good number (more than we should) that aren’t. So, how can we evaluate our labels? Here are a few questions to ask:
- Am I labeling an idea, or a person? If I am labeling a person, am I being hasty in casting them into a group that they do not deserve to be in?
- Why do I feel the need to apply a label or category to this person or idea? Will applying a label or category truly help me (and others) understand their point of view?
- Is my use of labels or categories gracious and kind, giving credit where credit is due? Or is it something that tears another down or builds me up (or both)?
- Is the label or category I am using an objective qualification of a particular view or idea? Or is it simply a means of comparing myself or someone else to others?
- Does my use of labels or categories drive myself and others to Christ and to orthodoxy? Is speaking of someone or some idea in this way a credit to the Gospel?
- Is my use of labels or categories something I would gladly say to the person I am speaking of? Could I say this to them without embarrassment or qualification? Would the feel honored and understood by my use of the label or category I am applying to them?