If you ever want to make a barista squirm, walk into an independently-run café and order a “Macchiato”. You may notice some concern on the barista’s face as you’re asked whether you’re looking for a true Macchiato or a Caramel Macchiato. If you’re in an especially cruel mood, you could reply, “I asked for a Macchiato.” The barista will proceed to make your drink with the expectation that it will be returned shortly after handing it to you.
Why the confusion? Throughout the world, this word has traditionally referred to a drink consisting of espresso that’s “marked” with a little bit of foam. But, in America, the term has been hijacked and given a different meaning. With the proliferation of Starbucks in the 90s, the term has also been used to refer to a different drink, one with lots of sugar and milk and topped with a caramel-drizzle, “marked” with espresso. Don’t look for one of these in Italy or Macedonia!
A similar state of confusion can be found in churches and amongst Christians that call themselves “Reformed”. On one hand, you have a particular group of churches, which have existed across the world for nearly 500 years. These have found their distinct identity in a particular confessional tradition, normally articulated in, but always consistent with, the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity. If they’re feeling especially ecumenical, they include those that have been historic, Thomas-Cranmer-loving Anglicans, of which there are probably five still in existence (perhaps this estimate is on the high side – I lived in England for four years and only met two).
But, in modern America, a culture not known for its sensitivity to history and precedent, “Reformed” has started to refer to “a different drink”. As Starbucks re-discovered espresso and popularized it, people have re-discovered Augustinianism (i.e., predestination) and are now marketing it for the masses under the name “Reformed”. Sure, God’s sovereignty in salvation is important to historic Reformed identity. But the presence of espresso doesn’t mean you have a Macchiato – Lutherans and Thomists have been Augustinian for hundreds of years but would never dream of calling themselves “Reformed”.
The ramifications of this trend are far more significant than ordering the wrong beverage. There are many that think they like the Reformed tradition, even identifying themselves with it. They only know of the milky, caramel-infused kind, though. There are others that can’t stand the taste, so when the historic variety comes onto the scene, they immediately reject it, having vowed to never try that sugary thing ever again. Through all of this confusion, the Reformed tradition loses its platform to address issues from its own unique (and we would say “biblical”) perspective.
But, for now, we have to ask, “What do you mean by ‘Reformed’?” and hope that people will engage with what we’re serving, the historic kind.