What is Reformed Theology?

 In some circles being “reformed” is a badge of honor, elsewhere bearing that name is enough to get you blacklisted.

So what does it mean to be “Reformed?” R.C. Sproul unpacks this in this 2016 edition of a theological best seller. In this book he contrasts “God-Centered Theology” and “Man-Centered” theology, claiming essential that Reformed theology is the most “God-Centered” theology there is, it is a theology driven by a particular understanding of the character of God.


What is this sort of theology committed to? First, it is committed to being centered on God. Second, it is based on God’s Word alone (in a non-reductionistic sense). Third, it is committed to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (though faith does not stand alone). Fourth, it is Christocentric. Finally it is structured by three covenants: 1)Works, 2)Grace, 3)Redemption. He does a fairly decent job of not just explaining Reformed doctrine but moreso giving a feel of the reformed mindset, which in my humble opinion is the best way into getting into what “Reformed” actually means. After he covers these 5 Reformed distinctive he moves on to TULIP. You know… THE DEFINITION of REFORMED THEOLOGY:

T: Total Depravity

U: Unconditional Election

L: Limited Atonement

I: Irresistible Grace

P: Perseverance of the Saints

What bothers me the most about this, isn’t that he believes in TULIP, it’s the fact that he makes TULIP the standard of Reformed theology. Not everyone who signs on to Reformed theology follows the cannons of Dort. At the very least there is certainly dispute over the L of limited atonement. Second, I believe that by defining Reformed Theology in light of TULIP,  Sproul rather reinforces certain stereotypes and a certain reductionist form of Reformed theology which boils it down to one doctrine, namely predestination. Reformed theology is certainly much more than this! I believe that if Sproul had ended the book after the first 5 chapters we would have gotten a pretty good understanding of what the Reformed Tradition as a whole is, but given that he chooses to use the stereotypical definition to define this tradition he ends up, at least in my opinion, reducing “Reformed” Theology to one particular brand of it.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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