What is Reformed Theology?

I was recently asked to write about, what is Reformed theology? This is what I wrote:

The distinctives of Reformed theology are best understood historically, theologically, and practically.

First, understood historically: Reformed theology was born from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. When Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the many other Reformers emerged as internal critics of the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic church, they reintroduced and reemphasized teachings from centuries before that had been overshadowed by the traditions of Rome.

As the Reformers’ teachings gained traction, new theological traditions emerged, mainly Lutheranism in Germany and Scandinavia; Anglicanism and later Methodism from the Church of England; and the Presbyterian and Reformed churches of Scotland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The spiritual descendants of the latter group are historically described as Reformed.

Second, understood theologically: The best-known theological emphases of the Reformation are the “Five Solas,” each of which is still central to Reformed theology. Reformed theology is biblical — “sola scriptura”; the Bible alone is the written Word of God and is the only rule to direct us in glorifying and enjoying Him. Reformed theology is Christ-centered — “solus Christus”; there is no salvation apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. Reformed theology emphasizes faith — “sola fide” — in God’s grace alone — “sola gratia.” Reformed theology teaches that we, and indeed the entire universe, were created for “soli deo gloria” — the glory of God alone.

In addition to the Five Solas, Reformed theology emphasizes a big view of God. He is the creator and sustainer of all things; apart from him nothing was made that has been made, and it is in him that we live, move, and have our being. He is fully sovereign over all his creation, even down to the thoughts and actions of all his creatures, and he governs everything for his own glory.

Third, understood practically: Reformed theology’s big view of God means we should respond to him with reverence and trust. We should be reverent because God is not to be taken lightly. His commands are good, and they are the way of life. We ignore them at our own peril, partly because ignoring them means choosing a way of self-inflicted suffering, and further because he is a jealous God who will not allow his creatures to steal his glory.

Reformed theology’s big view of God should also cause us to trust him, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows the paths he has laid out for us. We can walk or wait, depending on our circumstances, in confidence, knowing that the God we follow is both great and good. We can obey him in faith, knowing that even when he leads us through a valley of shadows, he is there with us to guide and comfort us.

While none of these distinctive beliefs are exclusive to Reformed theology, this combination of emphases is unique to our tradition, and we are deeply grateful to those from whom we have received this faith.


Personal Testimony

I was recently asked to write a personal testimony. This is what I wrote:

I was born just two years after my parents became Christians. They had both been raised around the church, but they did not know the grace of Christ until they were recovering from a time of great personal turmoil. One night after they had become engaged, my hippie aunt shared the gospel with them, and they began to follow Jesus. They immediately became members of my aunt’s OPC church, where they were married a few months later.

I was born into and baptized at that same church, where we were members until I was about 13. Along the way, my dad became a deacon and then an elder. He has continued to serve as an elder in OPC and PCA churches ever since.

By God’s grace, I am a child of the covenant: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe Jesus was my Savior. I used to think my testimony was boring, but now I am thankful that I never went through the kinds of grief and pain that make for an “exciting” testimony.

Anyone who walks with Christ over time will be taught the depths of their sin and reminded of their need for Jesus, and I am no exception. He has humbled, corrected, and encouraged me innumerable times. I have seen his faithfulness, and even though I am unfaithful, I love him and will follow him through death and into the life to come.

Recipe: Sopa de Ajo con Huevos

Need a good meal for a wintry day? Try this easy, delicious soup recipe.

Sopa de Ajo con Huevos
(Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs)

Serves 5-6

For soup:

1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
8 cups chicken stock
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
8-10 eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For Rice:
2 cups white rice
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp salt
3 cups water

1) Heat the oil over medium heat in a 6-quart pot. Add the mashed garlic and sauté until golden, 1-2 mins.
2) While the garlic cooks, start rice ingredients in a rice cooker.
3) Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Back down to a simmer for 5 mins. Add salt & pepper.
4) One by one, crack the eggs into a ladle and slowly dip them into the broth. Add parsley. Cook for 5 mins.
5) Put a scoop of rice in one side of the bowl. Add one ladle of broth (scoop low to get the garlic!). Add 1-2 poached eggs. Enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from p. 84 of this marvelous cookbook:

The Cuban Table

An Epiphany Prayer

A prayer for the day of Epiphany, by Karl Barth:

Lord, our God, dear Father, you have loved the world, in that you sent your only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Write this on our hearts and minds now, and enlighten our understanding that in his death, the old person in each of us is also dead, and that in his resurrection, the new person is born in each of us. Teach us to believe and in faith to go from death to life. You loved us first. Do not leave us in lovelessness, in indecisiveness, and in the cold.

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Imagine a New Story

From Rankin Wilbourne, Union With Christ:


Most of us have wondered, at one time or another, if we were switched at birth. “Are those really my parents?”

Now, imagine if your parents are mean and critical, that you have always been a disappointment to them and they to you. But then, one day, you find a dusty trunk in the attic. You quietly pick the lock and open the trunk and discover papers that prove you had, in fact, been abducted as a baby. These aren’t your parents after all–they’re criminals!

You discover your real mom was a painter at the Sorbonne in Paris and your real dad was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a professional baseball player. And you say to yourself, “Of course, this explains everything! I am extraordinary! I knew it all along.” You also read that they are fabulously wealthy and have a lavish inheritance waiting for you.

It’s a fantastic story, but you get it. Such a discovery would cause you to reinterpret everything about your life: where you came from, your true identity, your capacities and capabilities, the resources available to to you, your future, and your destiny. After that day, your life would never be the same. You would come down from that attic with new eyes for everything and everyone. Your whole life would feel new, changed, and invigorated.

But here’s the thing–it had always been true. It was the truth underlying your life even before you discovered it. It was rooted in history, and you had the DNA to prove it. It was true while it was hidden from your sight. But it didn’t change your life until your eyes were opened to it…

Union with Christ tells you a new story about who you are. If you are “in Christ,” you too have been given a new identity. God has called you into a new life, rooted in a history that predates you, anchored in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You discover who you are “in Christ,” and you are given the DNA to prove it, the Holy Spirit. You once were lost, but now you are “found in him” (Phil. 3:9).

This truth can change everything for you, but living in this reality will require your imagination. The Christian message is simple enough for a child to understand. At the same time, the Bible says that because of the new life you have been given in Christ, “from now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16 NRSV). Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses–Wow! Look at that! We see ourselves, and everything else, with new eyes.

Happy Solstice

This time of year, especially on the solstice, I reflect on the days & seasons. God has built into the mechanics of the cosmos a reminder that darkness pivots into light; the cold & quiet of death, in the loss of plants and animals, will lead again to an abundance of life. We are living in a time of redemption. If that doesn’t make you feast and celebrate, even in the darkness, then nothing will.

Yes, I know that the days & seasons are cyclical; summer’s transition to winter is as inevitable as winter’s into summer. The question is always, where will the cycle stop? Will it end with abundance or death?

God has promised that he is a God of life, not death. All the way back in Genesis 1, he set a pattern that he is moving things from chaos and emptiness to order and abundance. Our faith is in that promise.

And so like the lyricists of the Ancient Near East, we believe that winter is temporary and summer is eternal; the wheel stops at noon, not midnight. In that promise we rest and rejoice.