August 10, 2020

Ground Rules: Is “TR” a mean and insulting label?

whoweare_groundrules.jpgGround Rules will be a series of posts exploring some of the issues raised in my interactions with other bloggers.

Occasionally, I’m criticized for my use of the acronym “TR” as shorthand for “Truly Reformed.” I often use this term in a critical way, and that’s brought regular criticism that the term is insulting.

Why do I use the term “TR?”

1) I didn’t invent the term “truly reformed.” “Truly Reformed” is a term that comes from inter-Presbyterian discussions of matters such as the regulative principle of worship or Psalms-only singing. You would hear the term “truly reformed” applied to differentiate between those with a very conservative view of reformed issues as contrasted with the broader evangelical identifications of other reformed groups. The term might come up in a discussion between strict members of the OPC and more evangelically comfortable members of the PCA.

I’m not aware of any insulting connotation in this use of the term “truly reformed.” I can understand where it seems that the use of the term is pointing out the sense in which one group believes they are true and right, but since that is exactly the case, there is no insult present.

2) I became familiar with Calvinism in the early 1980’s. My teachers were audio tapes, and many of them were from Reformed Baptists like Al Martin. Today, the Reformed Baptist movement is more diverse, but in the days that I was learning the TULIP, the difference was between reformation minded Southern Baptists in the Founder’s conference, Sovereign Grace Baptists (often of an NCT variety,) and Reformed Baptists of the Al Martin flavor. Anyone who knows the distinctions that I am mentioning will know EXACTLY why I say that the Al Martin variety were….”Truly Reformed” in their self-perception and in their approach to other kinds of reformation Christians.

I love Al Martin and I love my limited experience with Reformed Baptist churches of his side of the fence (and I know they aren’t flawless.) While I would call these folks “Truly Reformed” in their approach to, for example, insisting that other churches must have elders to be valid or in their Puritan approach to conversion, I have endless respect for their devotion to ongoing reformation.

3) When I use the term “TR,” I have in mind reformed persons who believe they, and not others, are the true practitioners of the reformed faith. In the blogosphere, one need only read the blogs of those who openly say that they, and not other reformed teachers, are presenting the reformation purely.

It puzzles me why “Truly Reformed” insults someone who believes that they are truer to the reformation than Luther or Calvin. Why is “Truly Reformed” insulting to a Baptist who believes that his way of doing reformed Christianity is “true” and a Presbyterian’s is “less true” and “less faithful?”

If the purpose of a blog is to judge other blogs, churches, ministries and preachers with the assumption that they are the custodians and practitioners of reformed Christianity and other evangelicals are not, what is the problem with “truly reformed?” I’ve never seen a group of people more convinced that they were the “true” “reformed” Christians. If the fault is my tone in using those words, that’s something else, but the words themselves cohere to reality.

4) There’s a never ending irony that Christians who see the Christian life primarily in terms of discernment, rejecting false doctrine, and refining the purity of reformed doctrine react so strongly to being labeled as “Truly Reformed.” The entire implicit and explicit assumption of being “Truly Reformed” is the energy that runs these criticisms of evangelicals, emergents and lesser reformed Christians. What is NOT “Truly Reformed” about these blogs? Do Apprising Ministries and Slice of Laodecia ever post without the assumption that they have the right of discernment and judgment via being “Truly Reformed.”

Here’s a recent description of the Boar’s Head Tavern from a well-known discernment blogger speaking to a BHT member. (The BHT is a group blog of 33 different individuals from almost as many different traditions.):

The neighborhoods of the blogosphere you inhabit are full of people who have renounced Calvinism and adopted epistemic skepticism as the cardinal principle that governs all their thought and doctrine; abandoned Rousas Rushdooney in favor of Stan Grenz; disavowed their Baptist beliefs and embraced a kind of neo-Puseyism instead; or moved away from being (supposedly) solidly Reformed to becoming harsh critics of practically everything distinctive about Protestant history and theology.

This isn’t being “Truly Reformed?”

5) A number of reformed bloggers use the term TR exactly as I do, to describe themselves and their fellow reformed Baptist leaning comrades.

I use the term “post-evangelical” to describe myself. I now see at least two discernment bloggers using it frequently about me, about emerging churches, etc., as a critical, negative label. Since, however, it is exactly how I see myself, not only am I not insulted, I often completely agree.

6) BHT podcast 29 inspired criticsim for saying that someone was a “Macarthur-type.” This was hailed as an insult on my part (and oddly, as a reference to just ONE blog out of the hundreds that identify with Macarthur.) Since I believe Dr. Macarthur represents very well a large portion of the current reformed Baptist resurgence, I completely fail to see how I was insulting someone. The rule seems to be that if I call you anything, it’s an insult. Does this work with “Piper-type” and “Sproul-type” as well?

I’m not sinless in my use of the term “TR,” but it’s not a mean or insulting term.

I’d be happy to answer questions about this term, but it seems entirely reasonable to me and very appropriate.


  1. truly reformed smoothly deformed… really, when it all comes down to it, I must say that your pic on the top right is the best one yet… very very lord of the rings!!

  2. Patrick Kyle says

    TR or Truly Reformed seems like an accurate and only mildly irritating moniker. In some circles these people are referred to as RR’s or Rabidly Reformed.

  3. I’m a member of a smaller conservative Presbyterian denomination and have always heard the term “T.R.” used in a negative way. Of course I have only heard it used by those who don’t claim to be “T.R.” The T.R’s” who are called that never refer to themselves that way. Usually “T.R.” in the context I have heard it refers to what is considered the “hyper-fundies” of reformed circles.

    I grew up first in a Southern Baptist church and later attended an independent Baptist Christian school so I grew up hear and being exposed to what some call “hyper-fundie”. My wife actually grew up more fundamentalist than I did. We are both now what we consider “reformed” but are wary of the “T.R.” side of the “reformed world.

  4. I run into this with the term “liberal” christian. I don’t know what it actually means, but I find it connotates all sorts of bad things, to the point of meaning not being a Christian. Maybe, that is the problem. People don’t know what the term means so they think you are using it slanderously?
    Incidentely, as a literacy specialist, one of the things “lost” through the written word is tone. Consequently readers attribute tone all the time, sometimes mistakenly. This problem is most obvious in are exegesis and hermenutics of Jesus sayings.

    PS If anyone could clarify what Liberal Christian really means that would be great!

  5. dpaultaylor57 says

    It’s a bit rich that some of these people object to “TR.” I think they suffer from terminal touchiness. “With the measure you use…”

  6. I believe it’s ‘Piperite’ and it’s a term that while not worthy to wear, I would do so proudly! So sling about your acronyms and labels. After all – sticks and stones….


  7. Frankly I think what it comes down to is that they know that when you call them “TR” it is meant in a slightly ironic way; and since they would like to think that they really are the truly reformed, they consider that irony out of place.

    The irony demonstrates that you do not take their view of themselves seriously or at face value, and they can’t handle that, probably because deep down they know that their view of themselves is way overstated.

  8. I didn’t have any idea what TR stood for, so thanks for explaining it. The the circles I normally move in use TR for the Textus Receptus.

  9. From a commenter at teampyro:

    The “TR” label is used by those who are just looking for something snarky to say about/to you – whether you are technically reformed or not.

    It’s the Christian/evangelical version of name calling, without resorting to vulgarity.

    Said I suppose with the same amount of self-righteous disgust and contempt when someone says “Arminian” of someone who holds to free will.”

    1) I wouldn’t ever use the term truly reformed about anyone who didn’t consider themselves as holding the truth of the reformation and who didn’t make it clear that those who disagreed with them do not. There’s not one instance of me every using the term in reference to anyone other than someone who says, repeatedly and vigorously, that they are the true defenders of Calvinism, TULIP and the Solas. Saying that one is Baptist rather than reformed is nothing but a word game when you consider yourself and your kind to be the highest expression of the reformation.

    2) If TR is name-calling, then the question should be “where’s the insult?” If someone sneers at my son and calls him a freshman, the problem is with the sneer, not with the term.

    I admit that I have used the term in less than complimentary ways, but I outright deny that I have ever used it untruthfully. If reformed Baptists don’t think they are Truly Reformed, then are they just baptists? But not reformed? Are they just reformed? As compared to Presbyterians?

    The claim that certain parties do not actually claim to be the true interpreters of the reformation is outrageous. This game is called “I’m not any of the labels other people give me. I’m just always right.” A person who is Baptist-esque, sortofkindof fundamentalist, reformed but don’t call me that…..really, should we just abandon all hope of using nouns?

    There’s nothing vulgar about the term at all. On the other hand, refering to people- brothers in Christ- as denizens, drunks, apes, monkees and other derogatory terms having nothing whatsoever to do with theology or the real world comes quite a bit closer to what the commenter is objecting to.

    3) Saying “Arminian” as a term of disgust is common among TRs, and this is the first time I’ve heard someone recognize it might be insulting. My commendations to the commenter.