Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The "Aha" Moment: Why It's Right to Be Reformed (Part I)

Many great men of far far greater theological acumen than myself have attempted to explain Reformed Theology. In fact, I have absolutely nothing to add that can improve on what has already been done. My hope, however, is to exacerbate that faint notion that someone out there may be having that something just isn't right. That peace-robbing drip in the back of someone's brain that is saying there's something missing in their current walk with God. I'm hoping there is somebody out there who has experienced the fulfilling of the "prophecy", they have seen their debt miraculously removed and they've witnessed the healing from the deadly disease; but they still are not satisfied. I'm praying that these next few posts find their way into the hands of someone who has experienced great victories and yet still feels like something is missing. I'm asking the Lord to allow these weak little seeds to be the seeds of someone's "Aha" moment.

What do I mean by an "Aha" moment? I think the best description that I have heard of it comes from a new book by Rev. Richard D. Phillips entitled, "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace". In this passage he is addressing the doctrines of grace specifically; but I believe his words can be applied to Reformed theology as a whole . . .

"There are moments in life you never forget: the first time you kiss your spouse, the birth of your first child, your favorite baseball team finally winning the World Series. For many of us, the awakening of our minds to the sovereignty of God is one of these unforgettable moments. “It's like being born again, again,” many Christians remark after their faith is renewed by an understanding of the doctrines of grace. Everything changes. It is not that they begin to trust God—all believers must trust God—but that they see the truth about the God they trust" (pg.1).

In my conversations with friends who have received the Reformed faith, "Aha" moments are certainly more the norm than the exception. Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you my "Aha" moment and then from there attempt to explain why receiving the Reformed faith necessarily leads to such a response.

If you have been reading In Submission to Sovereignty for any length of time, you probably know that I am formerly a member of New Birth Miss. Baptist Church(1990-2001). The circumstances of my joining and my leaving New Birth are not truly germane to this topic so I won't venture down that trail for now. Suffice it to say, that a preponderance of events culminating in a farce of a fundraising ploy really let me know that it was time to go. But go where and to what? Everything I knew at that time would lead me back to a church cut from the same cloth.

By God's design, at this same time I had recently been hired (2000) by my current employer (Mesaba Airlines) as a pilot. I was based in Detroit, MI so my wife and I were considering a move north. After my first winter up there, I decided that there was no way on earth I was going to endure those winters so we resolved that we would continue to live in Georgia and that I would commute to work. Commuting to work in Detroit meant long waits in airports and frequent overnights away from home. It was during this ordeal that I discovered books. They were cheap, you didn't need special equipment to operate them and heck, time really flies when you read 'em!

I can't exactly recall how I decided to read it; but, the first book on reformed theology that I read was "Back to Basics: Rediscovering the Richness of the Reformed Faith" by Douglas J. Wilson, et al. That was followed by "Knowing God" by J. I. Packer. And the trifecta was completed by R. C. Sproul's "Grace Unknown" (now retitled-"What is Reformed Theology") What each of these three books consistently teach is the sovereignty of God in ALL things and His rightful place at the epicenter of the Christian faith. They also constantly drove me back to Scripture.

I know many would say that all Christians recognize the sovereignty of God and keep Him at the center of their faith. I would slightly adjust that to all true Christians do exactly that. What these books helped me to realize was that like many professing Christians, I had been primarily interested in the benefits of Jesus Christ rather than Jesus Christ Himself.

While obeying Paul's admonition to examine myself (II Corinthians 13:5), I found that like many professing Christians I had been paying lip-service to the notion than man is a fallen creature; therefore I, too, am fallen. I discovered that God's purpose in all things is primarily His glory; not my happiness. I learned that although the Bible is a "good book" and that it contains "the instructions"; it is God's self-revelation. The Bible is God's story, God's record of His historical plan for the redemption of a mass of fallen creatures all for the purpose of His glory.

Now, to my old way of thinking this information would cause me to recoil from God in horror and disgust. This was because it made God seem like some kind of narcissistic glory hog . . . like us. But what these books also made clear was that as the utterly holy, utterly good and utterly perfect being that he is; God is utterly worthy of all the glory the universe can muster and then some . . . unlike us. They made it clear that there can be no narcissism or glory hogging where God is concerned, because He is worthy. He is all that, the bag, the chips, the t-shirt, the way, the truth and the life! And the realization of this caused my knees to bend and to worship Him in spirit and truth as I never had before.

That was the "Aha"! That God is so so much much more more than guaranteed health, wealth and security. That His glory is the reason for my life. That my sin is no minor indiscretion, mistake or faux pas; it is cosmic treason and rebellion against a Holy God who by all rights demands my death. Yet in a glorious display of mercy, grace and love poured out His just wrath on His sinless Son INSTEAD OF ME! And now sees me as if I had never sinned! And He put a cherry on the top by making me, a guilty sinner, a co-heir with that same sinless Son!!! What kind of God is this?! How do I ever find myself not worshiping Him?

I have observed that our society in this country makes it very hard to admit these things of God. We put men on the moon, we have the Internet, we were personally offended when the USA Men's basketball team was defeated in the world games. Even the Christians among us; do we really believe the "wretch" part when we sing "Amazing Grace" or that "such a worm as I" stuff. Do we not in our heart of hearts ever say, "yeah, but as far as worms go I'm a pretty darn good worm"! What my "Aha" moment revealed to me is that judging by the things that go through my mind when even the most average of young ladies cross my path or the things I sometimes think about doing to my wife when she makes me angry; calling me a worm is an insult to worms.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:4-10).

I leave you with these words by Terry L. Johnson from his great book, "When Grace Comes Home":

" . . . I hadn't really dealt with God except to treat Him as a personal asset. He was there for me. Of course, this is how so much of today's Bible teaching makes it seem. God is portrayed as the Ultimate Helper in dealing with self-image, anger, decision-making, fear, relationships, finances, etc. When I realized that He had saved me and that I was in His sovereign hand, it reordered my perspective. I came to realize both that He was far beyond the little boxes I had constructed for Him and that I was there for Him, not Him for me. It made me bow in adoration before the God who I was made to glorify" (pg.19-20).

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!! (Acts 17:11)

If you have had an "Aha" moment with Reformed theology, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section. I look forward to reading about them!


Anonymous said...


I enjoyed the idea behind this post. I've never considered this. I'm going to think about my reformed "V8 moment" and try to post it as a comment.

Chad E.
Eastland, Texas

Keith L. Tolbert said...

Thanks, Chad! I look forward to reading about it!

John said...

Hi Keith,

I'm with Chad - that was a very enjoyable post.

My "Aha" moment was quite different. I had a hyper-Calvinist, almost antinomian upbringing. My thinking was "what is, is." And therefore I did not pray, attend church, or try to mortify sin. In fact, I did not even really see a personal need
for Christ.
My thinking was "the elect are the elect." Yet most of the Bible contradicted my belief. I had a way of only seeing the sovereignty when I read, but eventually I couldn't ignore the fact that man's responsibility was also taught.

Then I became a complete arminian, even renouncing the doctrine of election.

My "Aha" moment was when I was listening to a radio program. The topic was the fact that man's responsibility (to obey, believe, etc...) does not contradict God's sovereignty and the doctrines of grace.

Aha! What a burden was lifted. For the first time, I could read scripture without having to explain away large portions of it. It was after this that true repentance came.

Sorry, brother, for being so wordy. I'm a big mouth.

Keith L. Tolbert said...

No need to apologize, John. This blog is like the New York Times used to be "All the news that's fit to print"!!!

I praise God with you for His grace toward you in removing the "hyper" from your calvinism and saving you from arminianism!!!

What the critics of calvinism often fail to understand is that the calvinist DOES NOT deny man's responsibity. The Bible teaches BOTH God's sovereignty AND man's responsibility. And so does calvinism! That's why calvinism = Biblical theology, just as Charles Spugeon said.

May God continue to bless you, brother!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Keith,

I haven't had an "official Aha" moment yet - as you know I'm exploring Reformed Theology, reading (or trying to read) and visiting assemblies as the Lord leads.

I haven't "formally" identified myself as a "reformer" (and I don't even know if a ceremony, secret handshake and decoder ring are even really necessary) - I may just end up being a "non-denominational Christian" with a reformed understanding (pretty catchy, huh?).

My "Aha" moment, however, came after God allowed the blinders to be removed from my eyes to see that my complete acceptance of the Word of Faith heresy was in direct contrast to His will. I thought that any number of ceremonial rituals (slap your neighbor a "high 5" and say "money cometh"), "speaking those things that be not as though they were" (notice the intentional doctrinal assault), and allegiance to my "spiritual fathers" somehow reinforced the "better me" I had become in my allegiance to Church, Inc.

When God brought me back to my knees (and my bible) to reaffirm my utter depravity apart from Him through Jesus Christ, the unmerited Grace that He extended (and extends) to me despite my human ignorance, and my job to proclaim His liberating Word vs. "getting all I can get", I sought a return to the foundation of our faith.

I had to go back to Martin Luther's "memo" on the castle door.

I'm finding that reformed theology espouses everything I know I need - sound expository preaching, God-focus vs. man-focus, and the real responsibility of every true believer.

So, I'm still reading and searching...I'll let you know when the next "Aha" moment happens (if you're not there with me when it does)...

Peace brother.

Keith L. Tolbert said...

Speaking Truth,

Well I firmly believe that you are well on your way to the "Aha" moment.

Those things you need (sound expository preaching, God-focus vs. man-focus, and the real responsibility of every true believer) are the bedrock of Biblical theology and Reformed theology is merely a nickname for Biblical theology.

Lionel Woods said...

Piper's Romans series, Desing God book, The Gospel According to Jesus and a splash of the Holiness of God pushed me right into the Arms of the 5 Solas and 5 Points. This was 2004-2005 it was progressive. Then got into the heavier stuff around late 06. But all in all it was God through Piper

小小彬 said...

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