One of my book goals of the year was to read more books that will help me grow spiritually - and I realized in recent months that I have kind of neglected theological books in my reading plan this year. Time to catch up! I saw "What Is Reformed Theology?" by R.C. Sproul up for review, and I decided to request it. I have some friends who go to a Reformed Theology church, and I generally agree with them on doctrine, but I really didn't know what was meant by "reformed theology". I was hoping to learn more from this book.
It did not disappoint! The first half of this book goes through points of sound biblical doctrine that I think all Christians agree on, but the part I liked is that it also included the church history that involved each point - including past heresies, and biblically why some of the great theologians came to the conclusions they did.
A Few Negatives
This book got a little sticky here and there. The section on the different views of communion, while educational for distinguishing between different denominations, made the whole subject pretty confusing to me.
I feel like the author had a habit of lumping people together in groups, perhaps not always fairly. He used the term "dispensationalist" in a way that I have not heard before, and I don't agree with how he characterized this group. I have generally agreed with the (traditional) dispensationalist view of how to interpret Scripture, etc, but Sproul seemed to be picking on dispensationalism and contrasted dispensationalism with covenant theology. I have never heard these two terms put at odds with one another like this, and I don't think dispensationalism and covenant theology are mutually exclusive, as he seems to imply. He even says later that dispensationalists think that a person can be completely carnal and still a Christian because a new nature isn't necessarily given (in direct contradiction to Scripture) - I have never heard that and totally disagree. I may have to research more, but I grew up around people who described themselves as dispensationalists and I never heard anyone claim that, so I feel like he was being too rigid by lumping everyone together here. I have always just viewed dispensationalism as a way of interpreting Scripture literally that takes into account historical time periods; not as a complete theological system.
I also felt in reading this book that the author focused too much on intellectual arguments and quotes from the reformers - which were excellent - but I would have appreciated a greater focus on the Scriptures that back up these points as well. There was plenty of Scripture in this book, but I just wished he had connected some of the points he was making to Scripture a little more clearly.
This book addressed the "justice" concern of some who don't agree with Calvinism very well, better than any other piece I've read on the subject. I like this quote:
"The concept of justice incorporates all that is just. The concept of non-justice includes everything outside the concept of justice: injustice, which violates justice and is evil; and mercy, which does not violate justice and is not evil. God gives his mercy (non-justice) to some and leaves the rest to His justice. No one is treated with injustice. No one can charge that there is unrighteousness in God." pg. 187-188
I thought that explained really well why it is not correct to say God is not just when He chooses to save only some. Like I said, this book overall explains Calvinism (and Reformed Theology) better than any other book I've read. Whether you are a Calvinist, or have just been confused by any points of Calvinism in the past, I think this is a great resource if you really want to understand the beliefs of Calvinism clearly.
And as for Reformed Theology, the defining point touches on something I mentioned earlier - the distinction between unconditional election, and conditional election. Conditional election says that God calls those who He foresees will accept Him, and this is where that point gets sticky: who gives those people the ability to accept Jesus? Is it something good in themselves that allows people to accept Jesus? I'd have to say no - based on Scripture (many of the supporting Scriptures are shared in this book), it is the Holy Spirit who calls the believer and enables them to believe, and without the Holy Spirit working in us, none of us would believe. We'd go on choosing our sin. Unconditional election (which is what distinguishes Reformed Theology) says that it is nothing in ourselves that enables us to be saved, but it is by God's grace in working in us to enable us to seek Him and find Him.
In case you think that is a nit-picky distinction, you should be aware that this book is very intellectual and breaks each doctrine down to its elements, which I found very interesting, and very well done (though it perhaps falls into debating things that aren't as important here and there as well). If you have ever wanted to know more about the basics of Christian doctrine and how we get those basics, and what the Reformation was all about, pick up this book for the first half. If/when you want to learn more about where Calvinism gets it's five points, dive into the second half of this book.
I think I'll just wrap up this review with my favorite quote from this book:
"I cannot adequately explain why I came to faith in Christ, and some of my friends did not. I can only look to the glory of God's grace toward me, a grace I did not deserve then and do not deserve now." pg. 177
That's the bottom line, isn't it? For me, this book was a great reminder that it is not through any virtue of mine but only through His power and grace that I am saved, and that is a strikingly beautiful thing.
Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review. This is my honest opinion.
Part theology, part history, part apologetic, and part refutation of Roman Catholic doctrine, Sproul lays out the basic beliefs that define the reformed faith.
The book begins with an explanation of what theology is. From there Sproul goes on to enumerate what he calls the foundation stones of the reformed faith. Those stones as he sees them are: 1) Centered on God; 2) Based on Gods word alone; 3) Committed to faith alone; 4) Devoted to Jesus Christ; and 5) Structured by three covenants. Those three covenants are the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.
Sproul finishes the book with an explanation of TULIP. If you dont know what that is, TULIP stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. The explanation of those five points takes up the second half of the book. These five points have come to be the defining marks of reformed theology although they are far from the only theological statements that define it.
Throughout the book Sproul contrasts reformed theology with other systems of belief. He disagrees strongly with Roman Catholic theology but also takes exception to other Protestant forms as well. The struggle that the early church had with understanding who Christ was and that understandings outworking in the councils appears throughout the book.
The book could be considered a basic primer on reformed theology although it does use a number of theological terms that will take some thought to understand. Sprouls style is easy to read and well though out. He may influence your opinion of reformed theology but most likely those who have at least a casual acquaintance with the belief system will use the book.
The current book is a reissue, having been originally published in 1997. It remains a good introduction to and review of reformed theology, especially for those not familiar with reformed Christianity.
Sproul begins by explaining the ways to study theology and the various ways to obtain knowledge about God. He explores the foundations of reformed theology. It is centered on God. He explains that how we understand God affects our understanding of everything else. Reformed theology applies the doctrine of God relentlessly to all other doctrines, making it the chief control factor in all theology. (31)
Reformed theology is based on God's Word alone. Sproul helps readers understand the various ways God reveals Himself. The Reformers had a high view of the Bible's inspiration and were assured of its infallability, inerrancy and authority. With the same attention to detail, Sproul explores the remaining foundations. That includes justification by faith alone, the person, work, and offices of Christ, and the importance of covenants.
Sproul then takes readers through the five points of reformed theology: humanity's radical corruption, God's sovereign choice, Christ's purposeful atonement, the Spirit's effective call, and God's preservation of the saints.
Sproul does an excellent job of showing how reformed theology is cohesive and firmly rooted in Scripture. With many contemporary theologians straying from long accepted doctrines, it is good to be reminded of doctrine firmly centered in the Bible. He explains the doctrines of reformed theology in an understandable way, even the hard to accept ones like predestination and limited atonement. He also clarifies the difference between orthodox Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.
I highly recommend this book to those who want to understand reformed theology. It is an excellent introduction to the theology. Readers will see how the theology is evangelical, is consistent in logic, and is firmly rooted in Scripture.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
I always think when the title of a book is a question it is going to be full of heavy reading and tons of facts but lately that has not been true. However, the streak ended this week when What Is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics by R.C. Sproul arrived in my mail. I was intimidated to say the least but I did work through most of the book and I think I have more questions than answers on reformed theology. I am hoping Sproul will come out with an answer based kind of book on this subject because that would be a great companion book to this one. I know I should not be lazy in regards to finding out the answer to questions I have but sometimes I will not be able to access the numerous books that are available. Good read I just need more background information. I received a copy for this review from Baker Books and all opinions are my own.
I read the book in 8 days and it was a great read and I definitely learned more about Reformed Theology from it. But when I wanted to get this book I thought that it was filled with Scriptural support for each point, but I was disappointed. The 'Westminister Confession of Faith' is cited frequently, philosophical arguments, Calvin, Augustine, Luther, but I would've loved more Scriptural support for each of the 5 points of Calvinism.