What is Reformed Theology?

Reformed theology is one expression of historic Christianity. Dead theologians like John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon represent this stream of evangelicalism. Modern day theologians and pastors like John Piper, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and J.I. Packer fall into this tradition as well.

In his book Bloodlines, John Piper writes how he loves the legacy of Reformed theology:

I speak of love for this legacy the way I speak of loving a cherished photo of my wife. I say, “I love that picture.” You won’t surprise me if you point out, “But that’s not your wife, that’s a picture.” Yes. Yes. I know it’s only a picture. I don’t love the picture instead of her, I love the picture because of her. She is precious in herself.

The picture is precious not in itself, but because it reveals her. That’s the way theology is precious. God is valuable in himself. The theology is not valuable in itself. It is valuable as a picture. That’s what I mean when I say, “I love reformed theology.” It’s the best composite, Bible-distilled picture of God that I have (129-130).

I agree with Piper, and I find myself “at home” in this legacy. What exactly is this “Bible-distilled” picture of who God is? It is very simple—especially if you remember the number five.

The Five Doctrines of Grace

  1. Total Depravity. Man inherits a corrupted nature from Adam. We are conceived as sinners and every thought, word, and deed falls short of the glory of God. Therefore we are unable and unwilling to turn to Christ.
  2. Unconditional Election. Before the foundation of the world God sovereignly choose people for salvation by his free grace apart from any merit of our own.
  3. Limited (better: Particular) Atonement. The death of Jesus secured the forgiveness and redemption of only those whom God had predetermined to save.
  4. Irresistible Grace. By the Holy Spirit, God overcomes all obstacles to draw elect sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints. Those who are truly saved by God’s grace will endure and never lose their salvation.

The Five Solas

  1. Sola scriptura (scripture alone). The Bible is the only inerrant authority (and therefore the highest authority) for governing life and doctrine.
  2. Solus Christus (Christ alone). Salvation is only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. Sola gratia (grace alone). Salvation and justification are only by God’s sovereign and free grace, not by man’s effort.
  4. Sola fide (faith alone). Our justification before God is only by faith in Jesus.
  5. Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). All glory and honor belong only to God.

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