If we had to reduce Calvinism to one concept, we might be safest to echo Warfield, who said that to be Reformed means to be theocentric. The primary interest of Reformed theology is the triune God, for the transcendent-immanent, fatherly God in Jesus Christ is God Himself. Calvinists are people whose theology is dominated by the idea of God. As Mason Pressly says: “Just as the Methodist places in the foreground the idea of the salvation of sinners; the Baptist, the mystery of regeneration; the Lutheran, justification by faith; the Moravian, the wounds of Christ; the Greek Catholic, the mysticism of the Holy Spirit; and the Romanist, the catholicity of the church, so the Calvinist is always placing in the foreground the thought of God.”
To be Reformed is to stress the comprehensive, sovereign, fatherly lordship of God over everything: every area of creation, every creature’s endeavors, and every aspect of the believer’s life. The ruling motif in Calvinism is, “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1).
In His relation to us, God has only rights and powers; He binds Himself to duties sovereignly and graciously only by way of covenant. In covenant, He assumes the duties and responsibilities of being a God unto us, but that does not detract from His being the first cause and the last end of all things. The universe is ruled not by chance or fate, but by the complete, sovereign rule of God. We exist for one purpose: to give Him glory. We have only duties to God, no rights. Any attempt to challenge this truth is doomed. Romans 9:20b asks, “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” God enacts His laws for every part of our lives and demands unconditional obedience. We are called to serve Him with body and soul, in worship and daily work, every second of every day.
To be Reformed, then, is to be concerned with the complete character of the Creator-creature relationship. It is to view all of life coram Deo, that is, lived before the face of God. As Warfield wrote:
The Calvinist is the man who sees God: God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart. The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will. [The Calvinist] makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life activities; [he] casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of his salvation.
The doctrine of God—a fatherly, sovereign God in Christ Jesus—is therefore the center of Reformed theology. R. C. Sproul puts it this way: “How we understand the nature and character of God himself influences how we understand the nature of man, who bears God’s image; the nature of Christ, who works to satisfy the Father; the nature of salvation, which is effected by God; the nature of ethics, the norms of which are based on God’s character; and a myriad of other theological considerations, all drawing on our understanding of God.” So Calvinists define all doctrine in a God-centered way. Sin is horrible because it is an affront to God. Salvation is wonderful because it brings glory to God. Heaven is glorious because it is the place where God is all in all. Hell is infernal because it is where God manifests His righteous wrath. God is central to all of those truths.