Reformed Theology

Karl Barth + Contemporary + Ecclesiology + Forsyth + Newbigin + Reformed Theologians + Thoughts on theology today + Torrance  

Reformed Theology arose out of turmoil in the 16th Century and has developed since in dialogue with biblical foundations, the teaching of the Reformers, and the needs of churches in different circumstances - each of which have added a layer of understanding to the complex whole.

Reformed theology, despite diversity, still places the Bible over the Church even when the Church is the interpreter of the Bible, emphasizes the Sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ over Church and Creation, gives  priority to the grace of God over human responsiveness, values study of the things of God, because getting it right is considered important, and viscerally distrusts any suggestion of earning merit in the sight of God, let alone salvation. 

More than people generally recognise, both the idea of "Semper Reformanda" and the practice of Reformed churches in developing fresh confessions in different circumstances indicates a form of contextualisation, albeit one which gives priority to revelation over context. Context shapes the expression of faith and the organisation of the church. Different contexts may help the discovery, but not the creation, of aspects of the givenness of God's truth.

Across the centuries the theological writings of Calvin have worn better than many others - but try and make sure you have a 20th and not a 19th century translation (for example the Ford Lewis Battles translation in the Library of Christian Classics, SCM/Westminster, 1960 is very readable).

There are other streams flowing into the river of Reformed faith to note as well: Schleiermacher, not just Barth and Torrance, the prophetic voice of Lesslie Newbigin and the teaching and scholarship of David Bosch. There is increasing appreciation of Mennonite attitudes and theological scholarship.

It is interesting to debate the extent to which we might see Methodism as Reformed even if John Wesley sought to distance himself from extreme Calvinism and in some ways defined himself over against the tradition (defining yourself against something often means more connection than the heat of debate admits). Methodists and Presbyterians have frequently come together in church unions yet there also have been difficulties and some have flourished while others have not. Some tensions were due to failure to understand and own the differences in these theological streams and their different cultures of decision making. Whether we are part of union schemes or not it is important to explore the commonalities as well as cultural historical and theological differences.

Alister McGrath is an evangelical Anglican commentator who is usually fair to other streams of tradition and a reminder that the evangelical tradition generally owes a lot to the Reformed tradition, as well as to Anglicans, Anabaptists and (more recently) Pentecostals. That also means that in order to understand itself Reformed theology has also to engage with other traditions, including Roman Catholic.

John Roxborogh