Today concludes the four-part series on Thabiti Anyabwile’s testimony. Content modified from Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity. Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.
The Doctrines of Grace
My wife and I returned to North Carolina full of wonder and joy. We were changed. The world sparkled with a newness and freshness we didn’t know was available. Everything was lovely.
As undergraduate students, we had owned and operated a bookstore specializing in African and African-American titles. We loved books. And so our instinct told us to visit a Christian book- store and find something good to read. That Monday we visited a local bookstore and browsed the shelves. Being something of a history buff, and feeling the embarrassment of having believed what I came to regard as a complete falsehood, I wandered back to the couple of shelves on theology and church history.
Two titles screamed at me from the shelves: Knowing God and Great Doctrines of the Bible. I didn’t know J. I. Packer or D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Adam, but I left the store with these volumes happily tucked under my arm. I devoured the books, imbibing the great truths of Reformed Christianity unawares.
I giggle to myself when I recall my attitude and margin notes reading these books. When I hit comments on predestination, for example, I’d write, “Who is this guy? The rest of this book is basically pretty good, but this predestination stuff is crazy.” I had no categories for Reformed thought, and so I reflexively defended what I had heard from so many pulpits and televangelists. Surely they could not all be incorrect; we choose God, right?
Nevertheless, Lloyd-Jones and Packer became favorite authors. I read some of their other books, all the while acquiring more understanding of Scripture. Two conversations provided the spark for connecting the dots of my theological commitments.
About three years into my new life with Christ, I asked a church leader what he thought about predestination. He was a long-time Christian worker with a large parachurch organization. I respected his opinion theologically. He sort of laughed and said, “Doctor (he called everybody “Doctor”) . . . that’s that Reformed theology stuff. How God’s sovereignty fits with man’s freedom and stuff. Man, I don’t mess around in that deep stuff.” With that, I was determined to play in what he called the deeper end of the theological pool.
A little while later, a dear childhood friend and I began to study Scripture together. He was an older Christian with Prosperity Gospel and charismatic commitments. Eventually, he raised questions about eternal security. He took the position that a born-again man could “lose his salvation.” That made little sense to me. We corresponded by e-mail several times a week and invited other friends into the discussion. I decided I had better solve this in my own mind once and for all.
Back to the bookstore I went.
I decided to read the best things I could find from both positions. The Lord lead me to:
- Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free
- R. C. Sproul’s Willing to Believe and What Is Reformed Theology?
- Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will
- A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God
By the time I finished Sproul’s books and The Sovereignty of God, I was a convinced advocate of Reformed theology. That is to say, I was convinced that Reformed theology was a nickname for biblical theology.
Sproul’s What Is Reformed Theology? provided the skeletal outline for a more complete understanding of the “five solas” and the acrostic “TULIP.” Pink’s The Sovereignty of God provided the flesh for a big understanding of the nature and work of God. After finishing these works, I was on my knees in awe of the Lord Almighty, Creator and Ruler of all things.
Election and predestination became the grounds for my confidence in God’s rescue of me…
Now the massive glory and awesomeness of God emerged for me as I read the Bible. That God was sovereign in all things meant he was completely trustworthy in all things. That he was sovereign in electing me unto salvation meant that his love was free and my salvation secure. Election and predestination became the grounds for my confidence in God’s rescue of me from sin and wrath and preservation for eternity. Christ’s death accomplished the Father’s purposes for me; he made atonement for my sins and made my redemption certain, not possible.
With the Scripture unveiled and God standing supreme over all things, I wondered how I could ever have believed otherwise. Surely, that angry young man would not have chosen the things of God by his own desires. That angry Muslim opposed to the cross would not have come to Christ by his own devotion and zeal. The fledgling agnostic-atheist could not reason his way to the Lord. My redemption from start to finish was and is all of God—by his grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, in the wonderful Savior Son of God, Jesus Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. And I am grateful, deeply grateful.