A Summary of Reformed Theology and Its Doctrines?

What is reformed theology?

Reformed Theology is less than a series of doctrines on a page, but more of a worldview in which we read Scripture and perceive the God of its pages. However, when asked, “What is reformed theology?” a wide array of answers can be given. Some would say that reformed beliefs find their footings in certain confessional statements such as the Westminister Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism, or the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Others would just mention the teachings of John Calvin, Martin Luther, John MacArthur, and John Piper. It’s also not uncommon for reformed theology to be described as a summary of the doctrines of grace or the Five Points of Calvinism. No matter how it is described, you are left still asking the question, “What is reformed theology?”. In all of the history of reformed theology, many efforts have been made to simplify its definition. Here is mine.

Reclaiming The History of Reformed Theology

Reformed theology takes its origin from the Protestant Reformation. Most scholars belief that the reformation began when Martin Luther, a German monk, published his 95 Theses in 1517 and then nailed them to the Catholic Church doors in Wittenberg. It is true that the timeframe of the Reformation is when these theological views became popular, the history of reformed theology had an earlier beginning. The reformers didn’t create anything new. It would have been just as appropriate to be called the Restorers instead of the Reformers. The word “reform” means to “to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses.” They wanted the Catholic Church to revert back to Biblical teachings. They wanted to rid the church of error.

What was the issue?

It was the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church that was the “material” cause in the debate between the reformers and the established church. Indulgences were a form of payment for the partial remittance of sin. Payment would be made from “merit” earned from good works. This payment would be made in order to reduce another’s time spent in purgatory. The “formal” cause, or bigger picture at stake during the Reformation, was the reformers’ view of Sola Scriptura – that the Bible and the Bible alone has authority. To the reformers, the church’s work-based merit completely went against justification by faith that the Bible clearly teaches. From the Reformation came the printing of the Bible into many languages and this, once again, reiterated the reformers’ desire to take the interpretation of scripture out of the hands of the Catholic Church and give it to the people.

How is Reformed Theology Viewed Today?

Reformed Theology was widely accepted shortly after the Protestant Reformation. It was the doctrine the most Christians subscribed to once scripture could be read by the individual and not by the church. However, with the Arminianism (from the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius) movement beginning in the early 17th century, a newer view on the doctrines of predestination and election begin to take form that gives credit for the first step in salvation to the choice of man. This new view varied differently than the reformer’s doctrine of grace where God takes the first step in regeneration. Today, most Christians now hold on to the Arminian view of salvation. Today, reformed churches are harder to find than your typical evangelical church.

What Are The Beliefs of Reformed Theology?

Although there is too much to cover under this one section, to answer this question in the shortest way, we must first question of the Westminster’s Shorter Catechism – “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

“Viewing scripture through the lens that glorifies God most” would be another way to describe reformed theology. In all of the history of reformed theology, one consistent truth is that it makes much of God and less of man. Most forms of theology in today’s culture likes to give too much credit to man. Sermons are filled with motivational bits of man-promoting one-liners. A reformed worldview can only see the depravity of man. The glory of man pales in comparison to the glory of God.

The Five Points of Calvinism is also considered a simple summary of reformed theology, but it isn’t all inclusive. This summary includes the acronym of TULIP that includes Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Each one of these is a vast study on its own.

A Challenge To Go Further

Even though I have just scratched the surface as to what Reformed Theology is, I challenge you to dig deeper into all of the aspects of it to see how it impacts your faith. Most opponents to reformed doctrines have typically never researched it for themselves. The reformers believed in an exegetical view of the scriptures – to read them in the correct context and To conform your mind to what it says. The world today does the complete opposite. We take our preconceived thoughts and like to bend scripture to match our own ideas. A reformed worldview takes more out of scripture than what we bring to it.

Additional Content

John Piper – The Difference Between Calvinists and Arminians

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