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.

Spurgeon on being “legally dead”

Spurgeon explains what it means to be legally dead before God (from a sermon on John 5:40, “You refuse to come to  me that you may have life”).

No being needs to go after life if he has life in himself. The text speaks very strongly when it says, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Though it saith it not in words, yet it doth in effect affirm that men need a life more than they have themselves. My hearers, we are all dead unless we have been begotten unto a lively hope. First, we are all of us, by nature, legally dead—”In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death,” said God to Adam; and though Adam did not die in that moment naturally, he died legally; that is to say death was recorded against him. As soon as, at the Old Bailey, the judge puts on the black cap and pronounces the sentence, the man is reckoned to be dead at law. Though perhaps a month may intervene before he is brought on the scaffold to endure the sentence of the law, yet the law looks upon him as a dead man. It is impossible for him to transact anything. He cannot inherit, he cannot bequeath; he is nothing—he is a dead man…We ought all to weep, if we lay this to our souls: that by nature we have no life in God’s sight; we are actually, positively condemned; death is recorded against us, and we are considered in ourselves now, in God’s sight, as much dead as if we were actually cast into hell; we are condemned here by sin, we do not yet suffer the penalty of it, but it is written against us, and we are legally dead, nor can we find life unless we find legal life in the person of Christ, of which more by-and-by.

Read the whole thing.


Was Anyone Saved at the Cross

A guest post by Jordan Esmay

Below is a link to an article written by James White.  James White is a leading Protestant Christian apologist.  His ministries website is here.  A friend of mine who is not explicitly Reformed in his theology read it and said it was the first time he had thought about the issues discussed like Mr. White presented them.

Was Anyone Saved at the Cross? by James White


The God Who Desires That Everyone Be Saved

In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul writes that “[God]…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants everyone to glorify and enjoy him forever.  This is why we pray for people. However, our prayers are rooted in God’s desire for people to be saved, not our faith or our fervency in prayer. We must say at this point that not everyone is in fact saved. Because of this, we have three possibilities to consider about God:

  • We have a God who has actually has two wills in that he desires all to be saved at one level, and that he causes only some to be saved on another.
  • We have a God who desires that all are saved, yet doesn’t have the power to actually make it happen.
  • We have a God who allows people can actually chose to do whatever they want despite God’s will, and therefore they have the ultimate power in determining their eternity over God.

The Bible does not allow for the second two options. The Bible is clear that God has enough power in salvation, from beginning to end (Phil. 1:6). The Bible is also clear that salvation does not depend on man’s will but on God’s mercy (Rom. 9:16). We must lay 1 Timothy 2:4 beside 1 Timothy 4:10, which says, “For to this end [the end of teaching and modeling good doctrine] we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” So in one sense, Jesus is the Savior of the entire world. But his atonement, or we can say saving power, is only effective to those who confess him as Lord and Savior and believe in him for eternal life. People who do not believe in Jesus receive no forgiveness and no redemption.  Unbelievers will spend a conscious eternity in hell experience the wrath of God.

This issue of the atonement’s extent is hotly debated, as you could guess.  Arminian theologians believe that God’s greatest desire is to preserve genuine human freedom and therefore individuals must chose or reject God’s salvation. This would seem to make God very man-centered.  Calvinist theologians believe that God’s greatest desire is to preserve the full range of his glory (Rom. 9:22-23).  This makes God very God-centered, yet still loving toward his people. I would say the Calvinist perspective is the correct biblical teaching.

You’ve all heard the arguments for both sides, so it’d be good to conclude with a statement all Christians can agree on.  Whatever a person believes concerning the extent of atonement, the phrase, “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved,” shows that a genuine offer of the gospel should be extended to every person. In order for someone to live a gospel-shaped life, they must be told the good news of Jesus.  For faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

Life Theology

Three Reasons I’m a Calvinist

In Christianity there are a lot of perspectives/traditions that people draw from to formulate their theological doctrines.  For the longest time, I was the average Classical Arminian Evangelical American Christian (long name, huh?).  As I’ve learned more Scripture and how to interpret, God has settled me into the Reformed theological tradition.  Otherwise known to most people as Calvinism.  I define Calvinism (or Reformed theology) as that perspective which holds to the five Solas of the Reformation, the the five doctrines of grace (TULIP), and adheres to the Westminster Confession or Heidelberg Catechism.  With that, here are three reasons I’m a Calvinist: 

  • I want Jesus Christ to get all the credit.  Christianity is supposed to be “Christ-centered” of course.  However, before the Reformation, man-centered doctrines had slipped into the church.  For this reason Martin Luther, among others, declared an all-out attack on the cultural Christianity of his day.  Still today, those man-centered doctrines are filtered throughout the church.  People say things like, “God values humans so much so he sent Jesus to die for them” or “God is a gentlemen and doesn’t force himself on anyway — that’s why we have free will.”  Ultimately, following Jesus is about, you guessed it, Jesus.  A quick survey of Scripture will reveal that God is passionate about his glory and that was the end for which God created the world.  From what I have found after looking at countless perspectives within Christianity, the only one that has stood above the rest as radically Christ-centered is Calvinism.  I don’t want to take any of the credit for anything that happens because I am nothing and Christ is everything.  I am but a worthless sinner saved by grace — God’s predestinating, electing, wooing, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying grace.  And he’s the only one who will get credit for everything that happens in this universe. 
  • The doctrine of election and predestination is the only thing I have found that explains the hardness of the human heart and why everyone does not come to Jesus.  I work in ministry full-time as a missionary for Campus Crusade.  I have shared the gospel with literally hundreds of people in my short of being involved with Crusade as a student and staff member.  I have family members who are in darkness and cannot see the light that God offers.  Just a short 18 months ago, I was your typical American Evangelical Arminian Christian.  I believed that people had the free will to come to Jesus or not.  I have learned since then that though our choices are free and non-mechanistic, they are not autonomous or free from a dependence on God.  There are some people in this world who have been given so many opportunities to come to Jesus and yet, despite it all, they refuse.  There are others — murderers, rapists, child molesters, thieves, fornicators, and politicians (I couldn’t resist) — who were so far gone no one thought they’d be saved, but God by his mercy and grace drew them to himself.  Can anyone explain to me that someone does not come to Christ because they are less intelligent, wise, or discerning?  Is it because they are not in the right place at the right time?  Is it because they can do a stronger work than the Holy Spirit by saying “No”?  Or is it because God, in his mysterious and glorious will, chose not to enlighten their hearts, open their eyes and, feed them his grace?
  • The Reformed position that holds that God is the ultimate Sovereign and cause of all things is the only thing that can explain natural evils, moral evils, and all other kinds of evil.  Again, I used to think that God simply knew everything and that he did not cause everything.  When a natural disaster happened, I would say, “God simply allowed it.”  He did allow it.  But he did more than that.  In Hebrews, it says that Jesus holds the world by the word of his power.  Jesus is in Sovereign control and nothing/nobody can do a more powerful work than God.  Can you imagine Satan or a human causing some kind of evil and God reacts thus: “Oh, that’s so frustrating!  I can’t believe they got away with that again.”  God is not a frustrated God.  He is infinitely higher and wiser than we are and for God to do something that would be wrong for us (i.e. to cause a natural disaster that kills thousands of people) is not wrong for him.  Scripture gives him credit for all things, but never blames God for bad things.  (See my article Death, Disaster, Disease and God for further explanation.)  Not all Christian perspectives teach the exact opposite, but perhaps none quite as thoroughly and passionately as the Reformed/Calvinistic position.  This connects well to Jesus getting all the credit, because he is in control of everything

Read the other posts in this series:

Three Reasons I’m a Christian
Three Reasons I’m a Christian Hedonist
Three Reasons I’m a Campus Crusade Staff Member