I’m not sure when the term “TR” was first coined (35 years ago? More?), but it seems I’ve been hearing it all my life. Sometimes it’s directed at me. Sometimes I must admit it’s used by me in reference to others. But what does it mean and to whom is it referring?The abbreviation “TR” means “truly reformed” or “thoroughly reformed.” If TRs had an official motto it might be: “If ya ain’t Reformed you’re deformed.” TRs are on the theological right. They’re the conservatives of conservatives. Often there’s a certain arrogance and smugness associated with them. They can be viewed as closed-minded and resistant to change of any sort.

I’ve been called a TR before. I’m pretty conservative in my Sabbath views, and I’m one of the few people I know who actually agrees with what our Larger Catechism teaches re: images of God (which makes it very difficult as a parent to find good children’s books for my kids, I might add!). Other times I may have been called a TR for just being a theological jerk. I have to admit: guilty as charged! Though the Holy Spirit is working on me in this area.

On the other end of the PCA spectrum, we have those who some call “liberals.” This is a curious title to assign to anyone who belongs to a denomination committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. I don’t know of a single PCA minister who can truly be labeled a theological liberal. Anyone who thinks, for instance, that a minister who implements contemporary worship in his church is a liberal really needs to get out more. [Instead of “liberal,” some will use the terms “broadly evangelical” or “progressive” to refer to the same group.]

Curiously, I could also be considered a liberal/progressive by some. I enjoy ancient/future worship, which sometimes involves guitars and drums, and I think it’s biblical for women to read scripture in corporate worship.

But wait – how can I be a TR and a progressive? Surely one person can’t be both. It’s easy for us to try to pin people down to a certain point on a theological spectrum, but the truth of the matter is our views resemble a mosaic much more than they do a definable point on a line. Take the views I’ve already mentioned: a Sabbatarian who won’t let his kids view children’s Bibles with pictures of Jesus in them but who also likes ancient/future worship and thinks we ought to have women reading Scripture in our worship services? It may sound crazy to you, but it makes sense in my head.

Instead of having a fixed definition of TR and liberal, I think we all have a functioning definition that is ultimately relative: a TR is anyone to the right of me; A liberal is anyone to the left of me.

Sadly, we often use these labels to dismiss others’ views out of hand. “What does he know? He’s a liberal.” “Meh, of course he thinks that. He’s a TR.” We quickly slap these labels on those with whom we disagree, giving us an excuse to disregard their position without ever carefully considering it. In this sense, these labels become ad hominem attacks.

All too often we in the PCA adopt the worldly stance of American politics and consider the other side wrong simply by virtue of them being on the other side. “How could a Democrat have a good idea? He’s a Democrat after all.” Why do we feel compelled to do this? Shouldn’t believers rise above such demonization of the other side, particularly when the “other side” is still on our side on the most important issues of life? And why are we so harsh towards those in a slightly different position in our own camp when we can be so gracious with those who radically differ from us?My prayer is that we can move past the labels and truly listen. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
(Jas 1:19–20 ESV)