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March 1, 2022 12:01 am
Before we consider what sets Reformed theology apart, we must remember that the theology of the Reformation embraces truths universally confessed by Christians through the ages. Today, R.C. Sproul outlines these foundational truths.
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I was moved to teach on the doxology and the benedictions first of all because of what they mean to me. Devotional. I turned to them in my own private meditations for refocus for worship for self-examination for building up of faith and then as a result of that, I've been looking for opportunities to teach them to our church because I believe they aid to people of God in looking up and seeing the greatness of God in the succinct statements of blessing and/or doxology that are memorable and meaningful. We take them for granted but they are there for blessing, blessing and praise by HB Charles Junior visit Lincoln here.org/teaching series to learn more. Christians are quite willing to affirm the sovereignty of God. But if we push the discussion to the relationship of God's sovereignty. For example, to the doctrine of election in a very short period of time. There will be a very serious controversy about the nature of God.
Welcome to Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday. If you are relatively new to our program, you may have heard us refer to reformed theology and wonder what is reformed theology.
How is it different from, say, an evangelical view of what the Bible teaches the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. What we just heard a hint there from Dr. RC Sproul the sovereignty of God is the centerpiece of reformed thinking, but let's dig deeper.
Here's RC in our first session that reformed theology is a theology and now I want to suggest to you that reformed theology is a systematic theology's been one of my privileges in my lifetime to be able to teach the discipline of systematic theology at the seminary level and I know in this day and age, with the advent of existential philosophy. For example, there's been this growing antipathy or allergy is at war against the whole idea of systems and sometimes there's good reason for that part of the concern that people have is that we know what happens when people take a system of philosophy and bring it over to the pages of the Bible and then try to force everything that the Bible says into that system. Now the idea of systematic thinking goes way back in church history. But even in the period of the Enlightenment. With the advent of the modern scientific method. The philosophers of those days advocated a method for science that they called the analytical method of study which in abbreviated terms and in popular language was called the task of seeking to find the logic of the facts. That is, the scientists would explore the details of the physical universe and point their telescopes into the heavens and gather as much particular data as they possibly could and after they got this data they tried to make sense out of it.
They try to see how all the particular parts fit together now.
Historically, the task of systematic theology is something like that. It is not to come to the Bible with a preconceived system but rather to come to the Bible. Listen to the word of God in all of its particulars in all of its details and then try to discern how all of these individual crews fit together because the assumption of systematic theology is this that the Bible is coherent that though God reveals many things to us that all of his truth is unified in his own person and in his own character actually in teaching sometimes will have seminars where you will be kind of an open ended discussion with my students and will start the seminar by looking at a particular doctrine in the panoply of systematic theology and if I allow the students to interact with their questions in a very short period of time. We run far afield from the doctrine we first started to study and at first glance, it may seem that were just running around chasing rabbits down extraneous rabbit trails, but then I remind them I said these questions that you're asking are questions that we should be asking because they flow out of the doctrine that were studying because every doctrine of Christian theology touches in some way every other doctrine of the faith that is the whole of the Christian faith is intimately and intricately related in all of its pieces.
In fact, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the way the Bible speaks about so many things over so many years, and myriad details and that the symmetry of Scripture is there, it fits together in such a coherent way.
When we say that reformed theology is systematic.
That's what were saying at the outset that we are trying not to impose a system upon the Scripture.
But to find the system of doctrine that is in the Scriptures themselves to see how all of the parts fit together now one of the ironies of reformed theology even use the word paradox. Even though I sometimes joke on that word, I'll say to my students.
When we study systematic theology we usually begin systematic theology with the study of what's called theology proper. That isn't distinguished from improper theology but a theology proper refers to a focus on the doctrine of God, as distinguished from the doctrine of sin or the doctrine of justification, or some other doctrine, but rather our understanding of the nature and character of God himself. And here's where the paradox comes in at the beginning of that study, I will say to my students that if we look at reformed creeds and confessions and read what they say about the nature of God. You'll have to look very very hard to find anything in there that would be distinctively reformed. I mean the confessions of Methodists and Lutherans and Episcopalians and all other denominations have basically the same content and the same affirmations in their creeds. We all say that God is eternal. We all believe that God is invisible that he is the spirit these immutable, omnipotent and omniscient, and all those other things that we speak of with respect to the attributes of God. So I say, on the one hand, there's nothing particularly distinctive about the doctrine of God in reformed theology that makes reformed theology different from other theology and yet again here's the paradox if someone were to say to me RC what you think is the most distinctive aspect of reformed theology, I won't hesitate to answer the question by saying no. It's our doctrine of God's away a minute give me a Excedrin headache.
You just said a minute ago I heard you say it that there's nothing particularly distinctive about the doctrine of God in reformed theology. Now you're saying out of the other side of your mouth.
Paradoxically, that the most distinctive thing about reformed theology is its doctrine of God.
What what are you trying to say when I can see the puzzled looks on people who were sitting in front of me this very minute when I make this seemingly contradictory statement. I accept the word seemingly let me try to unwrap it for you and tell you what I mean by all Christians have a basically Orthodox creedal affirmation about the character of God. But what I think happens frequently in other theologies is that when the attention is diverted to another doctrine. There is a tendency to forget your affirmation about the character of God and the doctrine of God is just one of many doctrines in the faith rather than the controlling doctrine of the faith.
For example, I've never met a Christian in my life who look me in the eye and said I don't believe that God is sovereign, Christians characteristically are quite willing to affirm the sovereignty of God. But if we push the discussion to the relationship of God's sovereignty. For example, to the doctrine of election to the doctrines of grace in a very short period of time. There will be a very serious controversy about the nature of God does God ordain everything that comes to pass. Does he know everything that comes to pass before it happens again, if we just backed up and said do you believe that God is omniscient. Most Christians will say yes. But then we explore what it means that God knows everything.
Are we saying the same thing. Are we saying that he knows it simply because he has some genius perception or do we say that he knows all things, because he ordains all things. That is what is the relationship of his sovereignty to his knowledge in reformed theology.
We constantly test our doctrine by going back to our fundamental understanding of the character of God, and I really think that's the central unique factor of reformed theology is that it is relentlessly committed to maintain the purity of the doctrine of God through every other element of our theology know some of the things I want to say about reformed theology and that is that reformed theology is not only systematic but reformed theology is Catholic hello I mean by that. When I say that reformed theology is Catholic. Usually we think of the Reformation is being I protest against Catholicism, but remember that the theology that emerged and came to the front of the stage in the 16th century was not something that was invented for the first time in the 16th century.
It was a Reformation not a revolution. It was an attempt in the 16th century to recover the historic Christian apostolic faith and at the time of the Reformation. Virtually every church that arose out of it continued to embrace the Catholic truthfulness of the Christian faith. That is the true blues that are embraced and confessed by Christians of all stripes of all denominations and of all traditions that is here. The word Catholic does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church or the Russian Catholic Church or some particular group, but rather the term is used in its original sense, meaning universal, the whole church.
For example, in the early centuries the church had in assembly crucial councils to deal with major theological issues with the threat of major heresies such as the Arian controversy in the fourth century, the Monophysite controversy in the fifth century and so where at these great councils, such as the Council of Nicaea. The deity of Christ was firmly embraced and confessed in the fifth century at the Council of Chalcedon. The church confessed her faith that Christ is truly man, and truly God know the affirmations of historic Christianity about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the atonement of Christ.
Those are affirmations that are shared by all Orthodox Christian bodies. Historically, those affirmations are found historically in all the creeds of the various denominations so that the Lutherans and the Methodists and Episcopalians and the Presbyterians historically have a large body of doctrine that they hold in common with each other and that common essence of Christian thought is the foundation upon which all theology rests.
So when we talk about reformed theology as a distinctive. For example, to differentiate it from say dispensational theology or Lutheran theology or whatever other particular theology were talking about. We acknowledge at the outset that there is a common core of doctrine that is part of all of these different groups. Note the reason I say that is there's a tendency to think about reformed theology as if reformed theology were simply the distinctives of reformed theology. Some people say and they will tell me about reformed theology is not the five points of Calvinism knows they were. Yes, the five points of Calvinism have much to say much to do with the reformed faith and will get to an exposition of those concepts in this series but it would be a very serious distortion of reformed theology to think of it, exclusively in terms of our distinctives. We must remember that those doctrines rest upon a common foundation that we share with a host of other Christian bodies. That is, we have a Catholic faith.
Now, in addition to that, all reformed theology is evangelical unless the second broad heading were using. The first was Catholic.
The second is evangelical all who are evangelical in the historic sense or also Catholic.
Not all who are Catholic or evangelical but all who are evangelical share the common doctrine of the church universal with everybody else know not everybody who is evangelical is Presbyterian or Lutheran or Methodists or in these other distinctives so that not everyone who is evangelical is reformed, but everyone who is reformed in the historic sense of the term also is evangelical we share not only a common heritage of Catholic Christianity, but with our Protestant brothers and sisters. We share a common evangelical tradition now again, the term evangelical is under siege in our day and it's a question of confusion as to what it really refers to in our time. That confusion does not exist. Historically, at the time of the Reformation is when the term will label evangelical was coined and it was coined by the reformers because they believe that with the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They were recovering the a van gel or the gospel of the New Testament, and since the heart of the controversy of the 16th century focused on the doctrine of justification that hold the weight centered on the question what is the gospel so Protestants called themselves evangelicals meaning by that label that they were embracing Luther's definition of the doctrine of justification. Justification by faith now out of that tradition as we know, there were many people in the 16th century who embrace Luther's view of justification as the biblical view and certain different traditions came from that, all of whom shared the central core conviction that justification is by faith alone and that that's at the very heart of the gospel itself, but they went in other directions.
Where they differed over questions of the sacrament over church government and over other doctrines. For example, but they kept this common commitment to that the other doctrine that was common to historic evangelicalism was the doctrine of the authority of Scripture or what is called solo script tour which will take up later on and so historians have said that the material issue or cause of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. The formal cause was the doctrine of the authority of Scripture, and that, though again the Reformation saw fragmentation of numerous bodies of Protestants.
There was a core unity among them of agreement on two central cc one doctrine of justification by faith alone and to the doctrine of the authority of Scripture. So now we go to the third label, which is the label reform. Now when we use that label.
We are making further distinctions in the taxonomy of theology. A taxonomy is the science of classification we do that in the biological world.
We divide kingdoms. The plant kingdom and the animal kingdom.
All plants are in the plant kingdom, and all animals are in the animal kingdom. Then you get into those different kingdoms and you divide them between the file and the genus and the species in the order in all those different things as you begin to refine more and more between mammals and reptiles and vertebrates and invertebrates and all that sort of thing. You just keep making finer and finer and finer distinctions as we seek to understand the world around us. When we do the same thing in theology and in theological traditions. There are many evangelical bodies.
As I've said, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, and so on and they differ from each other at certain points and we talk about a Lucerne we would say the Lutheran is a person who holds the historic doctrines that are particularly characteristic of Lutheranism. They also are evangelical and they also are Catholic. Now as the reformed tradition is defined. We have doctrines that are specific to the reformed faith that are not always shared by other Christian bodies and so when we say that somebody is reformed were saying all at the same time that that person embraces the distinctively reformed creeds of history such as the Heidelberg catechism. The Belgian confession. The Westminster confession of faith and so on. In addition, they share a common evangelical heritage with other believers and the whole thing is based upon the Catholic foundation. So this by way of preparation we have to be careful not to think that this and this alone is the reformed faith because the reformed faith, though it has its own distinctives contains within itself unifying doctrines with other Christians, with all evangelicals and with those who hold the Catholic truths of historic Christianity know what we will be doing in the rest of the series is paying close attention to those distinctives that mark off reformed theology from other evangelical theologies and from the broad heading of Catholic theology. So from now on will be examining the distinctives, but only with this caveat now and this morning I'm going to hold you to it that you remember that when we look at the distinctives the distinctives are not all that's there. The distinctive set on the platform there established on the foundation of Catholic and evangelical and that it really is so important to remember is that we do have things in common with other Christians, but there are important distinctives and reformed theology that will be looking at over the next few days and I hope you'll make plans to join us for making this 12 part series available to you on three DVDs and if you never contacted Ligon her ministries before we like to send it to you free. There are couple of ways you can reach us to make a request. What is by phone at 800-435-4343 or if you prefer to go online or address is Renewing Your Mind.org. By the way, if you have requested resources from us in the past that this series is available to you as well for a donation of any amount to look at her ministries just ask for what is reformed theology.
Again, our phone number is 800-435-4343 and as we see so much confusion within the church today becomes clearer why good sound theology is so important is RC set on the program yesterday.
If the theological foundation is faulty and the structure is faulty as well. That's one of the main reasons this ministry exist to help you know what you believe what you believe it how to live it and how to share it with that in mind, let me recommend that you explore the many resources available on our free mobile app reformed theology is covered in many of the articles and audio and video clips you'll find there. Just search for linear in your app store before we go today. Here's RC with a preview of what will hear tomorrow if you said to me, where would you find the reformed faith. I was a way confined to places you can find it in the Bible where you can look at the confessions that appear in church history that try to give a summary of the reformed doctrine. I hope you'll join us for a lesson titled Scripture alone tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind