“I think I’m Reformed”

I would not describe the Bible college I attended for 3 years as overtly Calvinistic in its theology. That is to say, if any of my teachers were, they didn’t really wear it on their sleeve. And I don’t recall a class where we specifically tackled the doctrines of grace. Maybe that was a senior-level course. Most of our profs were from the Dallas Theological Seminary camp, and thus were pretty solidly dispensational. I think if I’d stayed for a fourth year, I’d have taken the “Daniel/Revelation” course and have seen that in full bloom. It was a good school, but looking back, it seems odd that while there, I began to have Calvinistic leanings.

It was my 3rd year, and it was while meditating on Ephesians 1:4 – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (NIV) – that I began to ponder the idea of election and predestination. That single, simple statement from the hand of Paul set me on a path toward understanding that the reason I was justified before God was ultimately because in eternity past, God chose me.

I was also attending a Presbyterian Church in America church because I liked the pastor and the solemnity of the worship. My Sunday School class was held in the pastor’s study. Now, when I get in anyone’s study, I’m always interested in their choice of books. I took notice of a set of commentaries that were colorful and small. Just the design was attractive.

They were a small series of commentaries published by Banner of Truth Trust from the epistles of Paul and Hebrews. Written by Geoffrey Wilson, each was identified on the inside cover as “A Digest of Reformed Comment.” At my next visit to a local Christian bookstore, I purchased one, the one on 1&2 Thessalonians. I probably paid $1.50. I shortly bought a few more and eventually completed the set.

I believe that was the first time in my young life that I’d encountered the word “Reformed.” Not knowing what it meant, I’d have to depend on context clues from the commentary to discern its meaning.

I began to peruse the commentary and found that it was indeed a “digest” in that these little books were full of collected observations from various older writers, whom I gathered to be Reformed.

I also discovered that many of those comments were reinforcing the thinking that I had begun with my meditations on Eph. 1:4. The idea that God is sovereign over all and chose and predestined us in love before the foundation of the world was being confirmed in the comments from these ancient writers.

So, sitting there in my study carrel, I leaned back to see my roommate at his seat and announced matter-of-factly, “I think I’m Reformed.” Because he and I were more likely to talk about Jesus Music and Monty Python back then and not particularly prone to theological discussion, that was the extent of the conversation.

“I think I’m Reformed.”

I didn’t yet know all the implications of that declaration, but for the most part it was an accurate assessment of my faith journey in those early years. Shortly thereafter, I became acquainted with R.C. Sproul and his teaching tapes. He and others helped me on my safari.

While I’m not particularly a fan of labels, I’ve openly become an adherent to the doctrines of grace and have written about them and defended them in my teaching and writing. I’ve also learned that apparently according to some people I’m Not Reformed Enough.™ But I’ll write more on that later.

Bowing at the idol of free will

Most Christians recoil in horror at any teaching about the sovereignty of God. Without any attempt to explain the Scriptures that are explicit in their teaching (Romans 8:29-30; 9:11, 16, 19-20; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11; etc.), they know that sovereign grace can’t be true because, you know, “free will.” This one-word retort (yes, I know that that’s technically two words, but it’s spoken as one term) is all the evidence they need.

In the mystery that encompasses God’s sovereign choice of his elect on the one hand and the agency and responsibility of humanity on the other, it is always God’s dominion that is softened and mitigated, and it is always free will that is held as absolute.

This is the objection that is voiced in Romans 9:19 – “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? [human responsibility] For who can resist his will? [human free will]'” We must protect our ultimate, autonomous, unadulterated, precious free will. And to this protectionist complaint, Paul doesn’t answer the question, because he knows the wicked heart from which it proceeds. This is not an honest question of a mysterious truth; it is a rebellious heart cry of substituting God’s reign for our own. And Paul responds appropriately in verse 20 – “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

When we “answer back to God,” we are following in the footsteps of our First Adam, who followed the lie of “Has God said…?” We are bowing at the golden calf of our autonomous free will as we reject the tablets of God’s revealed truth.

Oh may God rid us of this heinous rejection of his Word!