New to Reformed Theology? Here’s Where to Begin.
Posted On June 14, 2022
Written by Dr. Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology
I discovered Reformed theology on my own while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary some 30 years ago. Because I had very little guidance as I began studying this new world, it took me a while to sort through my ideas and questions. If you’re new to Reformed theology, below are four places to start, including reading suggestions that you may find helpful.
Familiarize yourself with the historical context of the Reformation. Reformed theology has a specific historical and theological context. Without some basic knowledge of this context, your first foray into Reformed theological texts can become confusing. Why? Because these texts frequently refer to persons and events from the time of the Reformation. As an entry into the subject, I would recommend volume three of Dr. Nick Needham’s 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power.
**Read the most widely used Reformed confessional standards. **Reformed theology is a confessional theology. In other words, Reformed churches have written down the basic system of theology they believe Scripture to teach. If you want to know what Reformed theology is, go first to the confessions. Read the Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Then, read the Westminster Standards: the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism.
**Begin reading classical Reformed theologians. **These writers explain and defend the doctrines and practices summarized in the Reformed confessions. It may be best to begin with an introductory level text such as Dr. R.C. Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian. From there, you can study larger one-volume works such as Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. Eventually, it will be important for you to read the works of the early Reformed theologians such as John Calvin, Francis Turretin, and Petrus van Mastricht.
Familiarize yourself with Reformed covenant theology. Because there are a number of Reformed theologians with idiosyncratic views on the subject, it is important to begin with a basic introduction. In my opinion, the single best one-volume introduction to covenant theology is Dr. Stephen Myers’ God to Us: Covenant Theology in Scripture. On a related note, get a solid grasp of Reformed covenant theology before diving into the Reformed doctrines of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Reformed arguments for practices such as infant baptism will not make sense apart from an understanding of the covenantal context of those arguments.
In the famous words that encouraged Saint Augustine, “Tolle lege!”