03
Oct
16

What is Reformed Theology?

whatisreformedtheologyWhat is Reformed Theology? is a classic work by R.C. Sproul, reprinted with a simple but attractive new cover by Baker Books.  Sproul wrote this work in 1997 and there really isn’t a need for a new edition of it.  The Scriptures have not changed. The arguments for and against have not changed.

Sproul develops the work around two ideas.  The first half of the book is laying the theological groundwork upon which the interpretational grid called Reformed Theology stands.  This is a commitment to basing understanding theology on the basis of Scripture alone and a commitment to salvation by faith alone.  These were the two most important arguments of the Protestant Reformation and therefore they must provide the framework for any understanding of Reformed Theology which emerged so forcefully from that crucible.

Having established those points, Sproul continues with his characteristic clarity to work through the five “doctrines of grace,” commonly referred to as the TULIP.  This acronym was coined in the 20th century but it stands for five foundational arguments in a Reformed understanding of salvation:  [T]otal depravity, [U]nconditional election, [L]imited atonement, [I]rresistible grace, and [P]erseverance of the saints Sproul devotes a chapter to each of these and explains why the traditional titles are often misleading.  For example, he suggests that instead of “Total depravity,” he suggests the term “radical corruption” which more accurately describes the doctrine.  Throughout the book, Sproul writes for the typical church goer.  While seminary students will appreciate the work, it is meant to be consumed by anybody.

I appreciated this book greatly, but I do have some complaints.  First, a very common criticism of Reformed Theology is that limited atonement and irresistible grace are logically necessary concepts, but they have little to no Biblical support.  Unfortunately, Sproul does nothing to ameliorate these concerns, as these chapters are very light on scripture and heavy on logic.  That’s not because of a lack of Scriptural support, however … it’s a choice of how Sproul chose to frame the discussion.  For a deep discussion of  the Scriptural basis of these articles, I suggest Matthew Barrett, Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013).

My second complaint about this work is that Sproul equates Reformed Theology with Covenant Theology (chapter 5).  This really is not fair given the overall trajectory of the book.  What is Reformed Theology? aims to really answer the question “What are the doctrines of grace?” and Sproul answers that well.  But while Tom Schreiner and John MacArthur would both heartily agree with Sproul on the doctrines of grace, they would not agree that this obligates them to agree with Covenant Theology.  (Schreiner advocates New Covenant Theology while MacArthur is Dispensational.)  Sproul’s work also does not delineate all that Covenant Theology implies; for a fuller discussion of that I recommend Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation, edited by Ventura (CreateSpace, 2015).

Overall, this is a solid book and well worth the time of Christians to read.  If you are already convinced of the truth of the doctrines of grace, this will help you to be able to explain them more clearly.  If you are opposed to the doctrines, you will have a better understanding of what exactly those bloody Calvinists are claiming.  And if you’re on the fence, this lays out very clearly why so many see and embrace the doctrines of grace in the Bible.

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