What is Reformed Theology?

Recently I was asked “what is your understanding of ‘Reformed Theology,’ and do you embrace it?” While there are loads more to be said, here’s a thumbnail sketch of my take on Reformed theology:

Reformed theology is a sweeping understanding of all of life under the sovereign authority of the covenant God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ.

That last sentence is quite weighty and needs to be parsed out.

Reformed theology is a sweeping understanding of all of life…The Reformed faith is holistic and comprehensive.  It insists, with Abraham Kuyper, that “no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  Whether it is Scripture, sex, or science, exegesis, economics, or education, preaching, painting, or poetry, every thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

under the sovereign authorityReformed theology is well-known for its high view of God’s sovereignty.  It is precisely because God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11) that there are no tidy “religious” and “non-religious” spheres.  But such micro-management of his creation (if we can call it that) should never leave us discouraged, fretting that we are mere cogs in an impersonal system.  On the contrary, God’s absolute rule over his creation is the very ground of human responsibility, value, dignity and worth.  Knowing that God has each hair on our head numbered and accounted for (Lk. 12:6-7) is a great comfort in times of trial and distress (Rom. 8:28).

…of the covenant God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ. The Reformers, such as John Calvin, insisted that to be a Christian is to be intimately united to the story of the Israelites.  To be hidden in Christ is to be a part of the family of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), through whom God promised all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3).  Paul the apostle teaches that all who place their hope in the Messiah, irrespective of their ethnic origin, are ingrafted to the tree of Israel, God’s precious people.  But this covenant God is known fully only in Jesus of Nazareth.  This Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form (Col. 1:19) who lays down his life in order to atone for his covenant-breaking people, taking the punishment that rightly belongs to us upon himself, restoring shalom between God and his people (Rom. 5:1), with the ultimate promise of a renewed heavens and earth (Rom. 8:21, 2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21).

This understanding of Reformed theology invigorates, encourages, strengthens, and drives me to press into all that God is for me in Jesus.

For more, see:

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Posted on June 3, 2010, in Reformed Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks Joe. Do you think it’s telling that there’s no mention here of the Holy Spirit? Is it fair to say that the reformed camp has deemphasized him? Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Honestly, it was an oversight on my part. But it should be observed that part of the Spirit’s work is to glorify and bring attention to Jesus (John 16:14), not himself. While Reformed folks do not talk about the Holy Spirit in the same terms that charismatics usually do, the great Reformed theologian John Owen was known as the theologian of the Holy Spirit.

    The historic Reformed faith has always emphasized the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirt. He regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, giving them new desires, and love for Christ and his people. He empowers, emboldens, and energizes the Christian life. He strengthens believers to fight sin and Satan. He inspired the prophets and apostles to write Holy Scripture, and grants Christians the gift of illumination to understand it. Christ baptizes believers into the Spirit, bringing a deep unity that cannot be broken.

    For a fantastic theology of the Holy Spirit written from a respected Reformed theologian, see Sinclair Ferguson’s The Holy Spirit from IVP’s Contours of Christian Theology series

  3. The Biblical view is that Theology, reformed or otherwise, is completely contrary to personal knowledge of either God or Jesus Christ.

  4. Reformed or otherwise, theology is incompatble with the Scriptures.

  5. Ephrem, I don’t know what your definition of theology is, but clearly it is not the same as my own, nor that of the great teachers which the Holy Spirit has blessed the church with over the last 2,000 years.

    If you’d like to know how I understand theology, you can find my thoughts in the following post: http://wp.me/p30a1-gR

  6. I suspect Ephrem is confusing theology with formal training and tradition. The reality, whether we want to realize it or not, is that every person created in image of God (so all of us – believers and unbelievers) are theologians. We all form and commit to thoughts of God – who he is, how he reveals himself and how we are responsible to respond to that revelation. With this understanding of theology, even training and tradition are acceptable for helping us in forming our thoughts on God.

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