Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. I have to say we are growing and it’s encouraging to see all the new members coming. Because of that, we have new books, uh, the newest one, Safe in Christ: A Primer on Assurance is now available. You can go to our website and get that. We are working on more primers and books on Law-gospel distinction and Christ-centered preaching. We don’t lack ideas, we lack resources. The more support we get, the more we can do. So I just want to continue to say thank you.
We have some exciting stuff coming down. A big thing is if you’re listening to this right now and you’re not listening to it on your phone through our new feature, which is our own private podcast feed where you can have all of our podcasts on your phone, if you’re not doing that, you need to go to theocast.org/members and do it because you’ll never have to log into the website again to listen to the podcast. It’ll notify you every Wednesday morning that there’s a new episode. You can also go back and listen to all of the previous episodes as well. I want to encourage you to do that.
This was a good podcast; I felt like it was very clarifying. But one of the things I wanted to do is this: sometimes people hear everything we say and then if we can give an illustration of how we made the transition, that sometimes makes the connection. I know it has for me. I’ve always enjoyed listening to people transition through theology. I was even recently listening to how this happened with RC Sproul, which I thought was interesting. I remember talking to R. Scott Clark, and he shared that he made his transition out of a Baptist background. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Michael Horton as well; if you’ve ever heard his story about how he transitioned, it’s just intriguing and it’s helpful to know that you are not alone. Even the guys we look up to also made this transition.
I don’t know which one of you guys want to jump into it, but how is it that you made the transition? I don’t think any of us grew up in a Calvinistic background, so Calvinism and then into a confessional Reformed understanding.
Jimmy Buehler: I’m glad to kind of kick us off here. I grew up in your standard evangelical church. I’m very grateful for that church. The saints at Crosspoint Community Church in Toledo, Ohio loved and served Jimmy Buehler very well growing up and to this day. I call it my Philippians 1:6 church. It’s where the Lord began His good work in me. I’m grateful for those saints who loved me, raised me, and were patient with me. It was not Calvinistic by any stretch. I didn’t even know what that term meant. It really wasn’t until I was in college that I came across what many people call the five points of Calvinism or the doctrines of grace. Then I was insufferable for a couple of years where nobody was a Christian but me because I believed in Romans 9 or whatever have you.
Unfortunately, what happened is I was emphasizing two things: emphasizing the sovereignty of God in salvation, but also and unknowingly, I was emphasizing a pietistic approach to the Christian life. What I mean by that is I was emphasizing the works, the labors, the things that I had to do in order to “be a good standard Christian.” Unfortunately, and this kind of goes back to our means of grace conversation, what happens is when you emphasize the five points of Calvinism which essentially boiled down to Calvinistic or Reformed soteriology alone, you emphasize the sovereignty of God in salvation, but you also and equally emphasize a pietistic approach to the Christian life. What happened is my battle with assurance of salvation exploded because I had this cognitive dissonance of God’s sovereignty and salvation but also my works and sanctification. I could not reconcile those two. It really wasn’t until I began to search out and lo and behold, it was a bunch of Lutherans who began to rescue me from this pietistic approach – and it was also Theocast so thanks, Jon. I began to understand these categories of pietism. I began to read the confessions: I read the 1689, I read the Belgium Confession, I read the Heidelberg Catechism, I read the Westminster Standards, and I began to see that there was a different way to approach the Christian life. There was a different way to approach the Christian faith where it’s not so much about my faithfulness to God, but rather about God’s faithfulness to me in Christ. That’s just a little bit of my story about how I began to transition from this individualistic Calvinistic pietistic approach to the Christian life to more of these external objective corporate realities of the Christian life that the Reformed confessions speak about.
Justin Perdue: For me, I grew up in a church that was liberal theologically and a bit moralistic culturally. I really think that I heard the gospel at a PCA church in the town where I grew up when I would go with school friends on occasion. My mom was sincere in reading the Bible to me and my sister growing up. My theological upbringing was not great just because of the church environment that we were in. I was constantly frustrated and disenchanted with the church as an institution and Christianity as a religion. But I was confident that Jesus was legit and I struggled with assurance mightily. I would just wrestle with all kinds of things that I saw around me through my teenage years, and then even into college. I swung on a bunch of pendulums because I have just never seen the Christian life lived legitimately in front of me. I had never been exposed to sound doctrine really. It was after college that I was exposed to Calvinism for the first time through a pastor who was called to the church where I was a member and this pastor had a great appreciation for church history. He gave me a lot of really old stuff to read. I started to read Augustine, Luther, and Calvin and guys like that alongside contemporary men like RC Sproul. Of course, I was reading John Piper and some other guys, too.
When I encountered Calvinism, the covenant theology came with it for me. It just made sense. I was in a Baptist environment and I didn’t know at the time that Baptist could be covenantal. So I was really wrestling with that for a while, whether or not I was a Baptist or a Presbyterian or something else. That was a real thing for me for a few years. I feel like my journey has been a long one. I think it has been 15 years now that I have been on this pilgrimage to where I am today and it’s just been gradual things that have happened, things that I’ve read, and conversations that I’ve had.
I remember my mentor in the faith gave me BB Warfield and his work on perfectionism. He told me that it was the most important thing he has ever read with respect to pastoral ministry. For me to understand this was key. Essentially what Warfield was blowing up are the notions that we talk about all the time of just this hyper view of progressive sanctification, that you can transform your life through your discipline and your rigor and your sincerity and all these things.
He’s talking about the saint-sinner reality, the ordinary means, and all that. That was very formative for me. I think my constitution and the wrestlings of my mind and heart – for basically my life from 10 or 12 years old and up – primed the pump for me to land and gel and crystallize in this confessional Reformed place. I would say for the last handful of years that I’ve been where I am now where I feel like the theological stuff has settled for me in my mind and heart, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. It’s hard for me to point to one particular moment; it’s just been this steady transition for me over the course of a long time.
I’m with you completely, Jimmy, where I know when I encountered Calvinism, I was all for the glory and the sovereignty of God everywhere but I was wrestling to reconcile that with this pietistic understanding of the Christian life. That was still part and parcel of that Calvinistic worldview and framework.
I found myself constantly coming back to Jesus. The only place I could find comfort was Christ. I also found comfort in passages like John 6, John 10, and Hebrews 7:25 where Christ is just clearly going to be the one to do everything. It was only upon encountering confessional Reformed theology that I began to understand how not only the work of Christ there, but then also this understanding of the Christian life actually fit and go together.
Jon Moffitt: That’s super helpful. I would say where this podcast really came out of was my own experience. That is the reason why I wanted to help people make this distinction. What ends up happening is Theocast gets shared with someone, they start hearing about Reformed theology, and they are realizing there are two parties claiming the word Reformed but they sound different. Why is that? They are confused because they have a lot of people who will claim the word Reformed, yet their theology seems to be so polarizing.
This is what happened to me. I grew up in a fundamental Baptist background. When I became a Calvinist, it wasn’t very hard for me to become a Calvinist because I was so over isolating Scripture. I wanted the entire Bible to be true so I started reading the entire Bible. All of a sudden I realized I must be a Calvinist because this is exactly what it’s saying. I didn’t even know what the word Calvinism was until I started reading John 6 and then I started looking up things online and agreeing with them.
That led me to become a very angry Calvinist because I started to listen to YouTube preachers and to read very prominent people who were known for Calvinism. It turned me into an angry man where I should have been put in a cage – as they said, the cage stage.
It wasn’t until I got into seminary and I started being handed Reformed books that I didn’t know existed. I was actually in a Dispensational school when they were handing me Reformed books that I began to see that Reformed theology should be creating tenderness and meekness. I started to learn language like confessions, confessionalism, means, and ordinary means of grace.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I actually read the confessions. I had a friend who started to become covenantal. He told me he did not see Scripture like a Dispensationalist anymore. He ended up leaving the school and it rocked my world because he was like my best friend in seminary. It was at that point that he sent me a little book on covenant theology that I started reading it and realized he was right. It was at that moment that even my wife said I was different. “What happened? What’s going on with you? Why are you changing? You just seem softer now.” It was because I wasn’t so angry anymore. I wasn’t trying to whip people into shape because they weren’t taking serious the sovereignty of God. They needed to understand that it’s the Jonathan Edwards in me, and my name literally is Jonathan Edward Moffitt though my parents did not name me after him – it’s just a fluke because they didn’t even know he existed. It wasn’t until I began to read covenant theology and truly embrace ordinary means that I realized that it’s not people’s seriousness about the sovereignty of God that whips them into shape, but it’s resting in the means by which God has provided that sustains them and grows them.
I would say today, unfortunately, some of those sermons may still be online. I dread to go find them to see how angry I may have been.
Justin Perdue: I think the role of the confessions is something that I skipped over a little bit in my fly over summary of my transition.
I always loved the Heidelberg Catechism and I was exposed to that pretty early on in my time as a Calvinist. I can just remember certain questions and answers from that catechism being so helpful. Question one is famous for many people: our only hope in life and death. Then there’s question 34 on what God requires of us in His Law. That was big for me in thinking about the summary that Jesus gives: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbors as yourself. Then thinking about what that means and how Luther’s understanding of the first commandment, the great commandment, is that nobody has ever kept it – that was big for me. Then also question 60, on how you’re righteous before God – the language of that answer is epic. Even though I have broken all of God’s commands and I’ve never kept one of them and I still struggle with sin, the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is counted to me by faith. Jesus really has done this. It was things like that along with the 1689 and other Reformed confessions that were really helpful to me, too.
I know we all three have a lot of affection for the confessions because of their role in our lives. Seeing that men had thought about these things for centuries and had really hammered out these issues of doctrine, the confessions are just very clear and helpful, and they reflect the teaching of Scripture. It’s really useful. You find some solidarity with brothers and sisters who have gone before you, and you have that I’m-not-crazy moment. People have wrestled with this before.
Jimmy Buehler: When I was in a Calvinistic world, I reached this place where the five points of Calvinism just wasn’t enough to address all that I needed to address in the Christian life.
Reformed soteriology is a good thing to understand and appreciate, but to boil Reformed theology down to the five points of Calvinism is just extremely unhelpful eventually when that becomes the only thing that you focus on. I just did not have the tools in my tool belt to address the issues of everyday Christian life and faith. When I began to see the greater view of the Reformed Christian life, when I began to read the confessions, I realized I had missed so much of Reformed theology. Where has this been? I think Jon made this analogy where if we were to look at a Ford Mustang and only look at the tires and conclude that it’s a nice car – it just wouldn’t make sense. That’s like the five points of Calvinism and Reformed theology. We’re just looking at the tires very vital to keep the car moving, but they are not the whole car. When I began to come into a Reformed understanding of the Christian life and faith, it was like actually getting in the driver’s seat of the Mustang and realizing this is what this feels like.
Jon Moffitt: I remember specifically reading the confessions for the first time. The Westminster Confession was the first one that I read and it blew my mind. I remember when covenant theology finally clicked; I couldn’t get through the Bible fast enough because it was unbelievable how much it was connected.
Hopefully, this is encouraging. The point of all of this is we are praying that if you feel that Reformed theology and Calvinism is weighty on you, and you’re feeling like you’re getting beat up, our encouragement is that you may not be actually engaging in traditional historic Reformed theology. You may be engaging in Calvingelicalism, which tends to be angry and mean.
Justin Perdue: Personally and anecdotally for me, for lack of a better way to describe it, I know that my arrival in this place where we all find ourselves now by God’s grace has certainly changed my life. It has changed my outlook on the Christian life. I feel like in the last handful of years, I’m beginning to learn what it actually means to have rest and freedom in Christ. That was something that I was always talked to about – being free and Jesus or resting in Christ. I thought that sounded incredible. But nothing that I’ve ever seen or experienced or heard is anything like that because this burden does not feel light. It feels heavy. It was a very liberating thing. My wife and I talk about this a lot: it has changed the tone and tenor of our marriage and our household. There’s just a lot more grace and compassion, gentleness, and seeking understanding.
There is a lot of proof in the pudding when it comes to this kind of theology. It really does change the culture of a church. A church can become a safe place and a haven for sinners where nobody is condoning sin or giving it a pass. But because of our understanding, if you’re a repentant sinner, it’s safe for you. You can come here and talk and confess and pray and plead, and we can all cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and Christ together. That’s what we all need. We understand it. For the young guys in our church and for the men in particular who go through like elder development at CBC, when we have this conversation about the distinction between Calvinism and Reformed theology, it’s very eye-opening; you can just see light bulbs going off everywhere. This is huge in understanding these things and understanding in particular the difference between this confessional posture and pietism, understanding Law-gospel distinction, and understanding covenant theology. It all starts to click and make sense. You can just see it happening before your eyes with people. I know for me it’s been huge, for you guys it’s been huge, and a lot of our listeners are making this transition too. Just keep trusting Christ, keep reading, keep listening, and it’s a good place to be.
Jon Moffitt: Just to your point, Justin, confessional churches or Reformed churches do confess sin. This is what we do. We openly and corporately confess our sins together, which is not what you see in a lot of evangelical churches. We want to talk about the positive, not the negative.
Hopefully this was beneficial and encouraging to you. We pray that we can continue to produce more resources for you. Be in prayer for us. We are working really hard – all three of us are really busy at this season. COVID has added an additional busyness to our schedule, but there’s also church planning and just life in general. There’s a lot going on but we are genuinely excited to participate in this. We do our best to produce as much as we can.
I know we say this a lot, but it is the absolute truth. Theocast would not exist without our members so please know we are thankful for you because we get to continue to see and encourage more people around the world.
Thank you for your support. We’ll see you next week.