At Least 10 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Being Reformed

January 18th, 2016

As a person 15 years into reformed theology, I’ve learned a few things:

1. Read MANY reformed authors. Piper gets a lot of things right in terms of understanding God’s Sovereignty, but misses in other areas (i.e. baptism, quasi-pacifism). Sproul gets baptism right, but goes with classical apologetics instead of presuppositional/covenantal apologetics. God has purposely allowed many of us to have blind spots in order to avoid us being arrogant about ‘having it all right’ (for those asking, eschatology is my ‘blind spot’ and I’m more than willing to slow my roll here….).

2. People learn and come to understand at different rates. Phil Johnson‚Äč took about 15 years, I took 4, Michael Armstrong took around 2. If you are new (4 years or less) to reformed theology, avoid arguing about Calvinism over the internet, please. It’s very easy (I speak from experience) to slip into fighting to be right and thinking it’s because you’re fighting for biblical truth. Yes, you can be right (and being biblically correct is important), but the motivation behind being right may cause your good works to turn to wood.

3. Grow thick skin. There are plenty of people who will simply attack you because they have no other Biblical evidence on their side….so they make the discussion about YOU instead of about what the Bible teaches on the subject. Forgive them ahead of time, keep your tone calm and the subject of your discussion on the scriptures.

4. Remember you were once one of those “I don’t care about denominations/I don’t follow man-made systems/I don’t follow Calvin or anyone, I follow Jesus” folks once too. Full of zeal, lacking in knowledge. Be patient in conversation (see #3) and ready to explain yourself at length….repeatedly.

5. If you understand that the noetic effects of sin (sin not only affects humanity spiritually but also intellectually) can cause us to take ‘longer’ to get things at times (sometimes not at all), understanding why some of your non-Calvinistic friends can’t see what’s “RIGHT THERE!!!!” in scripture makes a whole lot of sense. Be patient with them, pray that the Lord will gradually take more of the ‘blind spots’ out of their vision as He did with you. It is the Lord who opens eyes to see truth. He may use you…. He doesn’t have to. It does NOT all depend on you.

6. Hold truth humbly, with mercy. Don’t be quick to shake your finger at folks – you too could have been giving money to Creflo Dollar, thinking it was the Lord’s will to sow a seed. God pulled you away from that mess (see #5).

7. If you are new to the reformed tradition (i.e. you just realized that the Bible DOES teach ‘Calvinism’), get into a consistently reformed church ASAP (PCA, OPC, reformed baptist….in that order would be my preferences). Do NOT try to ‘change’ your church from the bottom up (i.e. a Sunday school class, discussions with other congregants designed to prod the pastor into bringing these issues to the fore and discussing them publicly). You will get branded as a trouble-maker, divisive, unloving and people will turn on you. Leave your old, “semi-Arminian, semi-pelagian, nice-people-who-love-Jesus” church through the front door (in full view and in good standing).

Here’s (hopefully) a nice way of saying it:

“Since I believe the scriptures teach X, Y, Z, I don’t believe I can stay here with a good conscience and I don’t want to be seen as divisive, since a lot of what gets preached, I don’t find myself in agreement with anymore. I’m not saying the people here aren’t Christians at all – we just disagree on some things Biblically and that puts a bit of a problem in the way in terms of fellowship, since we fundamentally approach certain things from different theological assumptions. Therefore, I want to respectfully withdraw my membership from this assembly.”

Why leave ? Simple. The type of growth you experience is directly tied to the type of preaching you sit under. Reformed theology has consequences for Christian living in every area of life. It is meant to not simply be “a few things I choose to believe” or even “a few things I believe because the Bible teaches them” or even “stuff related to salvation”, but an entire worldview. It is MUCH larger than simply “the five points”. You will not get that full worldview-level preaching sitting in the church you are currently in anymore than a child playing on the beach will get an idea of how deep the ocean is by staying on the beach and simply looking at it from a distance.

8. Read more Bible than reformed authors (but read reformed authors). Reformed authors are good for getting ahold of how exegesis and application should work. J.I. Packer is no substitute for Paul. J.I. Packer may help you understand Paul a bit better, as Packer (who is about to turn 90) has been walking with the Lord and dealing with hard passages of scripture longer than you (and probably your parents) have been alive. But nothing will beat the Holy Spirit working to renew your mind as He opens the text of scripture up to you while you read it.

9. Learn from older brothers and sisters in the faith. Learn from older writings (read Calvin, not just Piper and Sproul – see the second half of #8), learn from older brothers and sisters in the church (see #7). The Mark Driscolls of the world come and go. Driscoll’s arrogance at correction from men like MacArthur came back to bite later when it was shown that every single criticism men like MacArthur had against him was true. Beware the arrogance of ‘youth’. Better yet, beware the arrogance of ‘we need to hear something relating to now, not what people did yesterday’ (as if humanity has changed fundamentally). If you aren’t teachable, you’ll become hardened, argumentative and arrogant very quickly.

10. Realize that every true believer is reformed at heart. If you press hard enough and long enough, any true believer will affirm:

– Christ saved me, not just made me ‘savable’.
– It was God who orchestrated events in my life to bring me to a point of realizing my need for salvation.
– No, I suppose that if I was left to myself without God keeping me, I’d probably walk right into hell.
– Yes, at some level, I understand that God is indeed guiding all aspects of my life, though I don’t exactly understand how and ultimately I know that my life is truly and completely in His hands.

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