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What Is Reformed Theology?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 23, 2024
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Reformed theology traces its roots to the Reformation in the 16th century, when theologians broke from the Roman Catholic Church in doctrinal beliefs. It is characterized by serious study of the Scriptures, and John Calvin is often considered one of the most important early theologians of the movement. Followers of reformed theology seek to understand the implications of the Bible on their lives and their relationship to God. Reformed Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it is sufficient for all of life. They also believe that God is sovereign in all things, including salvation. Many of the important tenets and beliefs of reformed theology are contained in the Westminster confession of faith, written in 1646. This was the main form of theology practiced by the Puritans.

The doctrines of grace are an important element of reformed theology. Sometimes referred to as Calvinism, these five doctrines are total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Total depravity refers to the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden, while unconditional election refers to God’s salvation of individuals that He chooses. The atonement refers to Jesus Christ paying for the sins of the elect at the crucifixion, and the doctrine of irresistible grace holds that once God changes a person’s heart, that person is unable to resist the call of the Gospel. The final doctrine teaches that once a person has been saved by God, God gives that person the strength to persevere within the faith.

Christians who follow reformed theology often place a great deal of importance on studying the Bible. They believe that the Scriptures hold the authoritative word of God, and therefore they follow its commands as well as they are able. One of the main areas in which the original reformers broke with the Roman Catholic Church was in the belief that Christians should be allowed to read the Bible for themselves. This led to the Bible being translated into other languages aside from Latin so the common person could have access to it.

Reformed Christians also believe that God rules over everything He created. This doctrine is often referred to as the sovereignty of God. It is characterized by the belief that God has control over events and is active in the world and in every aspect of people’s lives today. Reformed theology also stresses a need to spread the Gospel throughout the world and to carry out acts of ministry, such as feeding the hungry.

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