Sitting around a table I was enjoying some post-dinner conversation with three theologically eclectic and charming people when I was startled by an unexpected question: “Kyle, what is the attraction of Reformed theology?” It was a sincere question and I was grateful for the sudden opportunity to give an answer. As all eyes turned to me I hesitated for a moment and then said the first four words I could think of: the glory of God.
Simply defined, Reformed theology is that stream of thought summarized in the great confessions of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches such as the Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These confessions are not minimalist bullet-point statements, but neither are they so exhaustive as to exclude a place for charitable disagreement. However, when taken as they are, they present a coherent and consistent system of belief in doctrine, worship, and piety that I am convinced is faithful to the Bible.
I wasn’t always convinced of that. I grew up far from some of the commitments of Reformed theology, and when I was first introduced to it (nearly twenty years ago) I adamantly resisted it. In time, I grew to appreciate many of its emphases. For instance, Reformed theology has an unwavering commitment to the necessity, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible. It is a theology that informs all of life, is intellectually satisfying, and exhibits a warm and experiential piety. It stresses the sovereignty of God and maximizes his grace in the salvation of sinners. It maintains a high view of the ordinary means of grace in preaching, sacraments, and prayer. But the real attraction of Reformed theology–the magnetic center–is that it gives a captivating and compelling vision of the glory of God. As B.B. Warfield once wrote: “It begins, it centers and it ends with the vision of God in His glory.”
I don’t remember where I first heard it but there’s a story about the famous Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini. His orchestra had finished a perfect recital of one of Beethoven’s grand symphonies when Toscanini, pointing at the orchestra said, “Ladies and gentlemen, they are nothing and I am nothing; but Beethoven is everything.” That is what Reformed theology declares: you are nothing and I am nothing; but God is everything.
In saying that, I am not saying that other traditions don’t seek to promote the glory of God. After all, Soli Deo Gloria—glory to God alone—is a cherished Protestant principle. In that sense it is not unique to Reformed thought. But I am persuaded that it is in the theology of the Reformation where the glory of God works itself out most vividly, substantively, and with the greatest consistency. Why? Because in its doctrine, manner of worship, and piety, Reformed theology resists the tendency to make God man and man God. Rather, it esteems God to be who and what he is, and puts man (especially sinful man) in his rightful place.
I have long been convinced that every detail and nuance of our theology must terminate in God’s glory. That is, after all, the sum and substance of all of our knowledge: “For God, who said, ‘Let shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). If Reformed theology is worth knowing, keeping, defending, and living out, it must end here; it must give full validity to those few words: Soli Deo Gloria.