I want to begin with Shakespeare. Hamlet, is one of his many plays. One that most people have heard of or at least read parts of it sometime in their lives. What strikes me about it is how C.S. Lewis used this play to teach about how salvation happens to a human created in God’s world. I know this is a Lewis quote, though I’m sorry to say that the address seems to be evading me right now.
“If Hamlet were to meet and know Shakespeare, it would have to be Shakespeare’s doing.”
So too, if a sinful human being is to meet and know his/her Creator, it would have to be the Creator’s doing. Why? We cannot come to know what is holy and sinless while we are unholy and sinful. This shows the truth that salvation in Christ is God’s doing from the beginning to the end (this means it is not ours). 1 Corinthians 1:30 affirms this, “By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus…”
“What does it mean to be Reformed?” is a good question indeed, but depending on who you talk to depends on what answer you’ll receive because there are currently many different ways to be labeled a “reformed.” “Reformed” has historically meant two things: 1) those who hold and affirm the “five solas” of the reformation, and 2) those who believe in Calvinism. These two things are usually believed alongside each other simultaneously. I’ll go through each of these two in detail below.
I became a Christian in college, and shortly after I switched my major to philosophy from business. In my philosophical studies I was taught to be critical of everything and not just believe anything printed on a page. I was taught to examine the facts, weigh the evidence, and not embrace anything until I’ve thoroughly thought it and it’s consequences out. As I began to grow in my faith and began to study the Bible, for the first time in my life, I felt that I was not the one doing the examination, rather the Scripture was weighing, judging, and examining me. Ever since those days the authority of the Bible has always had a strong sway on me. Let me give a brief word of caution. I am very happy to call myself reformed, and though this is the case, I do not believe being reformed is a prerequisite for church membership, or even a prerequisite for being a Christian. Some people believe being a Calvinist means you are a follower of Calvin. This is wrong. To quote Jonathan Edwards, “I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught.”
I came to hold my reformed convictions through a great deal of personal struggle and angst with God’s Word. It was the Bible that convinced me of these things, not a system. In no way do I want to make you, the reader, feel as if once one becomes reformed you have truly “arrived” at the higher echelon of Christian intellectual thought and practice. But though this is the case, I will try to persuade you all day long that “reformed theology” is just a synonym for “Biblical Christianity” and that if you reject it you reject Jesus Himself. This is no small matter.
I am aware that thinking about Calvinism is heavy. But I am absolutely convinced that Calvinism is precious. These things are not for fighting about, they’re for real life struggles, issues, temptations, and victories. They’re precious to us because they are foundational to who God is, and therefore this defines everything about us because what we believe about God determines everything about us. These things are precious to me, they’re precious to our elders here at SonRise, and we are doing this seminar because we want them to be precious to you. John Piper says it like this, “The knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains the fires of affection for God. And probably the most crucial kind of knowledge is the knowledge of what God is like in salvation. That is what the five points of Calvinism are about. Not the power and sovereignty of God in general, but his power and sovereignty in the way he saves people. That is why these points are sometimes called the doctrines of grace. To experience God fully, we need to know not just how he acts in general, but specifically how he saves us—how did he save me?” A.W. Tozer once said, “The essence of idolatry is to contain thoughts about God in the mind that are unworthy of Him. The man who comes to a right belief about God, is relieved of 10,000 temporal problems.” For Americans this is hard because we’re so self-deterministic, that for us to have a right (or high) view of God is a miracle of grace. We’re praying God would be doing this miracle among us.
One more agenda item before we move into things. Many people say that theology is a bad thing because theologians try to define the indefinable with a foreign system. This belief says theologians try to place “God in a box.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to out children forever…” Did you listen to that? Yes there is profound mystery about God, things that we’ll never know. But that’s not all there is – there are things that are revealed, and what is revealed is for us to know. What’s the difference between what’s hidden and what’s revealed? The Bible. All that is in the Word of God is for us to know, study, and embrace. All that is not in the Bible is not there for a reason – we don’t need to know it. All that we’ll talk about today, you’ll see, are things that are revealed, not things that are hidden. Therefore, to not love theology is to not love the Word of God, and to not love the Word of God is to not love God Himself – lesson? Love theology.
Let’s get onto our venture shall we?