Reformed Theology

Doug Ledbetter::Theology Thoughts::Reformed Theology

March 6, 2002

Over the past three years (mostly due to my study of the sovereignty of God) I've slowly come to the realization that reformed theology offers the best understanding of God and salvation. I've just added five short devotional messages that I've pieced together from various writings of R.C. Sproul.

Before I go on, maybe I should discuss what theology means. Theology is not the process of taking extra-Biblical sources or ideas and fitting the Bible into them. Or at least, it shouldn't be! Theology is simply the study of God. It's not even the study of how man relates to God, which is called religion and takes many forms. Theology is all about learning about God. My source of God knowledge comes from the Bible. Although much can be learned about God from nature (natural revelation), nature does not inform us about God's plan for mankind. Now, back to reformed theology:

I must say that my change in theology was a very gradual process. When I first learned what reformed theology (also called Calvinism) teaches, I was very offended. I grew up (in the faith anyway) in Arminian-type churches, where the basic understanding is that each person makes the decision to serve God or not to serve God . . . on a daily basis. You could be a Christian on Sunday (heaven-bound should you be run over by a Mac truck) and then reject Christ on Monday (you'd be headed for hell should you die). YOU are the one who decides where you'll spend eternity. If it were any other way, wasn't free will violated? Wouldn't we just be puppets?

As I previously mentioned (haven't you been listening?), over the last 3 years, as I've been studying to what degree God "interferes" in human affairs (especially salvation), I've become dissatisfied with the Arminian explaination of free will, mostly as it's concerned with the process of salvation. I think we'd all agree that to some extent, God has given us the ability to make choices, although that topic is beyond what I'm describing here. My point to this rambling (oh, yeah...there is a point here somewhere) is to describe my experience of coming from an Arminian background to a reformed understanding.

One of my first questions about reformed theology was, "So, reformed as in what? Are we talking about the reformation in the 16th century?" Yes, in fact, we are. Amazingly enough, reformed theology made up the majority of evangelical Christianity for several centuries. It's my understanding that even though Arminianism started in the late 16th century (based on Pelagianism, which started in the 5th century), it didn't really catch-on until the early 20th century. The creation of several popular denominations happened about that time (Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.) which appears to be the cause of the popularization of Arminianism.

This seems as good a time as any to list the distinctive beliefs of reformed theology (these are distinctives because reformed theology shares the same core beliefs with the rest of Christendom):

1. Total Depravity (added 03/27/2002)

2. Unconditional Election (added 03/27/2002)

3. Limited Atonement (added 03/27/2002)

4. Irresistible Grace (added 03/27/2002)

5. Perseverance of the Saints (added 03/27/2002)

Although there are some verses in the Bible that appear to indicate that it is our choice as to whether we serve God, I believe that there are stronger verses that say otherwise. Not only that, but many of the verses that seem to indicate that we choose God often reveal more when studied in context. You'll find a lot of scripture references in the links above.

One principle of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is that scripture must be interpreted by scripture. This means that unclear passages should be understood by the clear passages. For example, if there are many scriptures that teach that God is soverign in electing those whom he desires according to His good pleasure, yet there are some scriptures that appear to contradict that teaching, we don't set one portion of Scripture against another. If the rest of Scripture is clear regarding election, then we must interpret what is ambiguous by what is unambiguous elsewhere.

RESOURCES

These are resources available from Christianbook.com. They seem to have the best prices on Christian resources that I've found.

R.C. Sproul books *

I'm in the process of reading Grace Unknown and Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.

I also own these from R.C. Sproul: Reason to Believe and Willing to Believe but haven't had time to read them yet.

John Piper books

* NOTE: Some R.C. Sproul materials are only available from the Ligonier Ministries website (such as the excellent video series: What Is Reformed Theology?).