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9 Great Ways to Learn Reformed Theology for Free
The Internet has made extremely cost effective ways of learning more and more abundant every year. In fact, there are several places you can learn Reformed theology without paying a dime.
Our recommendations below start you off with basic overviews that won’t take a lot of time. Our suggestions than progress into more in-depth and time consuming options for you to pursue.
#1 – Start With the Basics
If you don’t know what Reformed theology is and how it is similar and different to other Protestant systems of doctrine, the best place to start is with simple article overviews that will give you the basics.
- What it Means to Be Reformed (Tim Challies) – Challies provides a fairly brief yet helpful summary of Reformed Christianity
- What is Reformed Theology? A Short Introduction – another short overview of the basics of Reformed Theology including the five solas, the doctrines of grace, and the relationship between the New Testament and the Old
- The Reformed Faith (Lorrain Boettner) – This is an easy to read, 17 page pdf that gives the basics of Reformed Theology and contrasts them with the basics of Arminian Theology.
#2 – Read the Reformed Confessions
Once you get a quick overview of Reformed Theology, you really need to read the most popular Reformed Confessions which are official doctrinal statements of belief adopted by the vast majority of Reformed churches. These doctrinal standards take precedent over any one author’s particular view of Reformed Theology.
- The Belgic Confession (1561) – The Belgic Confession is the earliest of the Reformed Confessions and served the Reformed churches in the Netherlands in the second half of the 1500s as the area came under intense violent persecution by the Catholic King of Spain, Philip II. This confession is used by the Reformed Churches (Christian Reformed Church of North America, Reformed Church in America, Protestant Reformed Church, and others.).
- The Second Helvetic Confession (1564) – The Second Helvetic Confession was written by Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger between 1562-1564 (“Helvetic” is a Latin term for “Swiss”). This confession was used by some Reformed churches in Switzerland, Scotland, Hungary, France, and Poland.
- The Canons of Dordt (1618-1619) – Many understand Calvinism/the Reformed faith by the famous five points known by the acronym TULIP. What many do not know is that these points come from the Canons of Dordt and are a summary of the response of that Synod against the five major objections of the Remonstrants (Arminians) against Calvinism.
- The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) – The Westminster Confession of Faith was produced by the Westminster Assembly of England in 1647 at the command of the English Parliament. The Assembly was composed of ministers throughout Britain and some from continental Europe. This confession is the historical standards of Presbyterian churches and the Puritan movement in England. The WCF is probably the most well-known Reformed Confession.
- The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) – Particular Baptists in England who had some points of difference with the Westminster Confession of Faith (i.e. the nature of covenant theology, church polity, baptism, etc.) modified that confession at points and produced their own version. In many points of doctrine, the 1689 LBCF is virtually identical with the WCF. This is the primary confession of Reformed Baptist churches.
#3 – Read Reformed Catechisms
The Reformed Catechisms were created to teach truths taught in the Reformed confessions. They are structured in question and answer format and are a great way to see how Reformed theology approaches issues of theological and practical importance.
- The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) – Used in churches who adhere to the Belgic Confession. Along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, these documents comprise The Three Forms of Unity.
- The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) – Used in churches that adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a shorter version of the Westminster Larger Catechism.
- The Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) – Used in churches that adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a much longer and more comprehensive catechism.
- The Baptist Catechism (1693) – Used with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Found on p.42 of the pdf in the link.
#4 – Read a Short Book
- Basics of the Reformed Faith (Kim Riddlebarger) – Riddlebarger gives an overview of the major doctrines of the Reformed faith. Available in epub, mobi, and pdf formats. The pdf version is about 74 pages.
#5 – Take a Free Course
If you are an auditory or visual learner, a pre-recorded course may be of great interest.
Take a short course designed for lay people:
- What is Reformed Theology? (R.C. Sproul) – there is perhaps no modern figure who has introduced more people to Reformed Theology than R.C. Sproul. This short video course is about 7 hours long and covers the basics of Reformed Theology including the concepts of Scripture alone, faith alone, covenant and the typical 5 points of Calvinism (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance).
Take a seminary level course:
- Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies (Dr. James Anderson) – This audio course from Reformed Theological Seminary is recorded lecture material from a seminary classroom. In short, you get the same lecture material RTS students get (without all the reading, papers, and tests!). The course is long and thorough – probably around 30 hours in length – and covers the solas of the Reformation, the 5 points of Calvinism, and some historical background to the development of Reformed doctrines. The course can also be listened to via iTunes.
#6 – Read Reformed Systematic Theologies
Systematic Theologies present individual doctrines as a unified whole. If you want to go deeper in Reformed Theology, here are some options:
- The Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin) – When most people think “Reformed” they think John Calvin. This is THE most influential Reformed Systematic theology ever produced.
- Systematic Theology (Louis Berkhof)– Berkhof does a great job saying a lot about a topic in very little space. Given that, this pdf is 833 pages because Berkhof covers a lot of territory. When I study Systematic Theology, Berkhof is often my first stop on most topics.
- A Body of Divinity (Thomas Watson) – Watson expands on the topics in the Westminster Shorter Catechism and makes practical connections to living throughout.
- The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Wilhelmus A Brakel) – First published in 1700, A’Brakel writes this 4 volume work in the Dutch Reformed tradition. The language has been modernized.
#7 – Read Reformed Whole-Bible Commentaries
There are several Reformed theologians who produced commentaries on the whole Bible (or in Calvin’s case, nearly the whole Bible) and are available online for free. Commentaries won’t give you the essential distinctives of Reformed theology in a systematized way like some of these other resources, but they will help you see how some influential Reformed theologians and pastors interpreted and applied key Bible verses and passages.
- John Calvin’s Commentaries – John Calvin (1509-1564) didn’t quite get through the whole Bible but this preeminent Reformed theologian and pastor has left a treasure through his commentaries. Calvin is much more pastoral and less academic and “dry” than most people might think.
- Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary – Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was a popular Puritan preacher and writer. His commentary has influenced countless people including preacher George Whitefield and hymn writer Charles Wesley.
- John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible – John Gill (1697-1771) was a Reformed Baptist preacher and theologian who also wrote a systematic theology along with this commentary on the whole Bible. Gill preached at a church which would later become the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle where Charles Spurgeon ministered.
#8 – Focus on Specific Aspects of Reformed Theology
After you’ve gotten all the essential doctrines down, you may want to take a deep dive into some of the distinctives of Reformed Theology in the following areas:
- Covenant Theology (Ligon Duncan, lecture series) – This is another seminary level course from Reformed Theological Seminary.
- The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (Herman Witsius) – Written in the 17th century, this is a classic work on Presbyterian Covenant Theology.
Regulative Principle of Worship
- Puritan Worship & Regulative Principle (Monergism) – the Monergism web site does an excellent job of cataloguing a multitude of free Reformed Theology resources and their page on Puritan Worship and Regulative Principle provides enough material for days of reading.
#9 – Pursue an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral Degree – For Free!
You can now pursue an accredited degree in Reformed Theology for free from The North American Reformed Seminary (TNARS). The degrees are unaccredited but the educational quality is more rigorous than many accredited schools. You must have a mentor that subscribes to one of the Reformed Confessions, but you can work on the degree at your own pace and all the lectures and books are all freely available online.
- The North American Reformed Seminary Degree Programs – Be forewarned, these courses are not for casual students! There will be a lot of work involved and is really for only the most dedicated and determined students.
If you don’t want to commit to the massive amount of work required in the TNARS course, you can always pick and choose from the free lectures and books listed in the class syllabi.
One central theme in Reformed Theology is the glory of God as the central purpose of all things, often summarized in the statement soli deo gloria. We connect this central theme to your purpose for existing in our article, The Meaning of Life. If you have not thought about how your life connects to the glory of God, we highly recommend you read that article.
When God created everything, did He “become” Creator and thereby change? Or was God always Creator even before things began to exist? This advanced theology lecture touches on God’s unchangeableness, His eternal nature, and how He interacts with His creation.
Fundamental to knowing God is understanding His profound uniqueness as a divine being – there is none like Him and there is no other than Him.
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