The thing that amazes me most about the Reformation period of the 1500s is the passion and knowledge that nearly every European had about their faith. Conversation about theology and doctrine was not remanded to the intellectual elite, but as the Bible was printed in the native languages of the people, it truly laid the groundwork for the “priesthood of all believers,” a concept that was no more true than it was then.
I have been discouraged as how little people in our churches know about their faith. It would be easy to chalk it up to efforts to be relevant, seeker-sensitive and the like. Yet there are many well-intentioned people who have become distracted from the core truths of God and in doing so neglect the point, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What follows is my story and how those good intentions, one of which was thoroughly educating me on the stories of the Bible, nearly killed my faith.
The Book of (Bible) Virtues
I grew up in church. I learned all the stories from the Bible when I was a small child. I was that kid that would raise his hand when a question was asked and then told, “Aaron, let other children have a chance to answer.” The stories were taught like Aesop’s fables, but with the twist that these were true. Otherwise, they were historical stories that were intended to teach me how to stand up to my giants, pray bold prayers, and do the right thing.
I can honestly say that at a certain point I gave up; why bother learning more if I didn’t even get to apply my knowledge by giving correct answers? I was a good kid (my mother may beg to differ in reference to my earliest years) and thought that I was morally upright. Why, then, do I need these moral stories week in and week out?
At the age of 13 I first read the Bible cover to cover. As I read the story of Scripture I began to see all those stories come together kind of like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle make a picture. Unfortunately, the picture was one of those “magic eye” graphics so it was hard to make sense of it on my own. However, there seemed to be a dastardly lack of people who could talk to me and address my questions. The attempts by my teachers, youth leaders, and pastor were to drive me back to moralistic explanations for the stories or other insufficient ways to understand the truths that the Bible taught.
By the time I was in high school, I had concluded that free will was a myth. I could not see how God, who had decided everything from the beginning, could be sovereign if He had to run around and compensate for every human choice that would threaten his divine plan. Simply look at the genealogy of Jesus and imagine how if even one of those people had not married the right person or lived in a different place or died too early that Mary would not have been born to have given birth to Jesus. It boggles the mind to consider otherwise. (Click here for more discussion on this specific point.)
The Missing Piece
My conclusion that free will was a myth did not help my situation at all. On the contrary it further alienated me from my Arminian brothers and sisters and added to my own mounting confusion. The only thing I was taught about Calvinists was that they should be avoided at all costs, which set me adrift on a raft like Pi with only a tiger for company.
Fortunately, God showed his mercy and grace to me. As I fought for the life of my faith, the Holy Spirit helped to further give me insight into what I had been learning from my further search in the Scriptures. A liberal university experience started a monsoon of nearly catastrophic ideas, speculations, and doubt, but looking back I can say that I was never abandoned.
Oddly enough the missing piece was not a piece at all. I had been given the whole box, had begun to connect the pieces together, and even nearly completed the puzzle. Even with all that effort, the picture did not become clear. It was indeed a “magic eye” image that I found, but still did not know how to look at it. Within the picture itself were the instructions on how to see it:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
(Matthew 5:17 ESV)
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
(Luke 24:27, 32 ESV)
Suddenly it all made since! As I was being tossed on that unforgiving sea, fervently trying to piece together those oddly shaped pieces of cardboard I thought that I must have been insane. Nothing made since and I had no one who could understand my distress. Except He who was always with me and guiding me.
The stories were all about Jesus. They tell us what he is like, they tell us where our need is. They tell of witnesses to God’s power to save, they guide us into the arms of the only one who can rescue us from our death in sin. As Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Every story whispers his name.” Eventually I found myself washed up on shore; I had survived the voyage across the sea and, as GK Chesterton put it, found that I had discovered orthodoxy.
In the introduction to his book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, Alister McGrath says that among the sparks that started the Reformation was getting a Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language. It gave them a passion to study the Word of God and to learn about our Lord. I pray that God grants us such a simple spark today.
This journey has no doubt enlivened and colored my passions for Christianity, theology, and the Bible. So many of the storms were caused by the four winds being untamed by the five solas. The ravenous way a man-centered theology (Arminianism) sought to undermine God’s sovereignty nearly had my faith for lunch. Now our faith makes sense (as much as it can to our finite human minds) and I can rest in the assurance of my own salvation which frees me to now share the gospel with those who are yet lost.
Jesus is on every page of the Bible. Listen for his breath. Look for his finger prints. Taste and see that the Lord, our God, is your all in all. If you can’t see Him right away then dig deep, ask questions, find commentaries, but I urge you: don’t miss Him.