What Is Reformed Theology?

Friends at Ligonier are currently offering a concise teaching series on the subject by Dr. R.C. Sproul. Click here if you’re interested. Good stuff.

In the series Dr. Sproul turns the traditional TULIP acronym to something that is perhaps better defined though it is not so neatly packaged as the acronym. For instance:

T (Total Depravity) > Radical Corruption

U (Unconditional Election) > Sovereign Election

L (Limited Atonement) > Definite Atonement

I (Irresistible Grace) > Effectual Grace

P (Perseverance of the Saints) > Preservation of the Saints

For his rationale you have to watch the series. Again, good stuff.

What Does It Mean To Be Reformed?


What does it mean to be Reformed?

That all depends on the context. But in terms of theology, it generally refers to the doctrines of grace (TULIP) or the five solas. However, to be Reformed does not mean only in terms of soteriology. In fact, Calvinistic or Reformed soteriology is not the end.

I rejoice that there is a wonderful resurgence of Reformed theology amongst many young evangelicals. But I am concerned that many of those same evangelicals who call themselves “Reformed” simply stop with affirming the Five-Points of Calvinism and that’s it. I would argue that true Reformed theology does not merely stop short with soteriology but it leads further to ecclesiology, and ultimately, it has doxological implications. In other words, the goal of Reformed theology is not soteriology but doxology. Or to say it another way, soteriology is not the end but a means to an end. That is to say, we are saved, ultimately, to worship our Creator and Redeemer.

For true Calvinists, not only how God saved us matters, but how God is worshiped matters too. In fact, the heart of Reformed theology is “to the praise of God’s glory” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). It’s amazing how much Calvin wrote regarding “true worship” in his Institutes.

If we would agree that worship is “an expression of gratitude, adoration, and praise after we properly understand who God is and what he has done” (my working definition), then isn’t it safe to conclude that God is not glorified when he is wrongly worshiped?

The real Calvinists would argue that as we grow in our understanding of our Sovereign God, we also need to grow in our worship too (including how we worship). That’s is why those who genuinely hold to Reformed theology would quickly point out that they are “always reforming” (semper reformanda). We need to keep in mind that there is undividable connection between orthodoxy and ortho-praxi (especially, in regards to worship). We must always continue to reform how we do church (because we always have rooms to improve) and how we worship (both substance and style).

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a book that I read last year (2008):

The greatest single contribution that the Reformed liturgical heritage can make to contemporary American Protestantism is its sense of the majesty and sovereignty of God, its sense of reverence and simple dignity, its conviction that worship must above all serve the praise of God (Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed according to Scripture [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002], 176)