The Institute seeks to fulfill its mission in a manner that is in keeping with the character of the Reformed tradition. This means:
Learning for Mission
Believing that God gives human beings minds to develop to the fullest of their ability, Reformed Christians have always prided themselves on their respect for knowledge and learning. But they have also believed that God expects human beings to use the knowledge and skills they acquire to be of service in the world. In keeping with those convictions, the Institute seeks to fulfill its mission in a way that combines reliable, up-to-date information about the history of the Reformed tradition with a concern for the challenges currently facing Christians in the performance of their ministry. The Institute aims to equip those who make use of its offerings with a clear understanding of what it means to be Reformed, and to help them make creative use of the Reformed tradition's resources in addressing contemporary problems and concerns.
Honoring the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition
Reformed Christians have always been diverse in their beliefs and practices. Even in Calvin's day, when his influence turned the Swiss canton of Geneva into a gathering place for Reformed Christians from many countries in Europe, the movement had multiple leaders, and it took diverse forms as it developed in different places. Even the most fundamental theological issues were decided locally, as Reformed Christians took it upon themselves in one place after another to construct creeds and catechisms that reflected their own ideas and concerns. The churches they created in different countries consulted with and learned from one another, to be sure, but they never sought to create anything like a supranational body with the authority to establish (much less enforce) a common body of doctrine. So diversity of belief came to be accepted as a fact of life in Reformed circles, and it only grew as the movement spread and spawned new ideas as its adherents found themselves confronting new challenges.
The Institute seeks to be faithful to that tradition and the rich diversity it has produced. Its work is not based, therefore, on any single view of the nature of Reformed belief and practice. It does give special attention to the current teaching and practice of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA). But it does not privilege that teaching and practice, and it seeks to make clear in all its offerings that the version of Reformed Christianity which tends today to be most influential in the PCUSA is but one version among others. The Institute is committed to making its audience aware of the fullness of the Reformed tradition, and in the process, enabling them to appreciate that mainstream American Presbyterianism in its current form is part of a much larger-and quite diverse-movement with a global reach.
Recognizing the Worldliness of Reformed Christianity
No theme is more central to Reformed theology than the idea of the "sovereignty" of God-which means, among other things, that the Gospel is relevant to all of life (public as well as private, institutional as well as personal, etc.) and that God expects human beings to do God's will in everything they do. As that idea has usually been interpreted by Reformed Christians, it has also been understood to mean that God is constantly at work in the world, seeking to bring the created order into conformity with God's will, empowering human beings to serve as agents of constructive change in human affairs. Reformed Christians have always felt a responsibility to be engaged in the affairs of the world, therefore, and as they have sought to fulfill that responsibility, they have developed a whole series of innovative ideas and practices designed to bring the Gospel to bear creatively on the practical challenges facing their societies. Not only have those ideas and practices enabled Reformed Christians to play an important role in shaping the destiny of the societies where they have been active, but some of those ideas and practices--the famous "Protestant ethic," for example-have been so influential that they are now commonly recognized to have been among more important factors in determining the character of modern life.
The Reformed tradition has to do with much more, therefore, than just matters that are of ecclesiastical concern. The worldliness of Reformed Christianity means that the tradition it has spawned has to do every bit as much with worldly concerns-politics, economics, culture, etc.-as it does religious ones, and the Institute aims to do justice to that part of the Reformed heritage as well in its work.