© Copyright 2020, Steve Sabin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Episode 4: Insulation
Several months have elapsed and our acolyte is loving every minute of the fellowship, Bible study, and iron-sharpening-iron discussion that occurs every Tuesday night. He has missed only a single session – the unfortunate casualty of an overnight business trip. On this particular Tuesday, the study has just concluded and the group has presented him with a birthday gift: a box containing a John MacArthur Study Bible with Jordan’s name embossed on the leather cover, The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink, and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul. Inside the box there’s also a tongue-in-cheek laminated wallet card made by X-man that signifies official membership in the six-forty-four bros. Everyone is now making their way from the group’s customary corner table to the pub’s entrance and their respective cars.
Jordan, our acolyte, is in italics. Thiely and the others are in bold.
[X-man] Hey man – you’ve been standing us up for months now. How about tonight you join me and Jake for some cigars in the back?
Guys, the conversation is appealing – and I don’t really want to call it a night yet – but you know I’m not a smoker.
[Jake] Dude, it’s OK. You don’t have to smoke in there. It’s just a quiet place to talk. We like to get philosophical and it’s the perfect environment.
Yeah, but I can’t stand cigarette smoke.
[X-man] I hear you. That’s what makes this place so perfect. They only allow tobacco pipes and cigars – no cigarettes or vaping.
[X-man] No cigarettes.
Only cigars and pipes?
[X-man] Only cigars and pipes.
Well, then. What are we waiting for?
(Jake, Jordan, and X-man make their way to the back – Jordan with his birthday loot in hand. They take their leave of Thiely, Peter, and Andre who head home. The back room is quite full, but there are three overstuffed leather chairs in a quiet corner, arranged in a circle, with a small table in the center. Jordan sets his gifts on top to reserve the spot as theirs. Jake and X-man walk to the humidor and purchase two cigars, prepare and light them in an elaborate-looking ritual, make their way to the circle of chairs, and take a seat. They’ve obviously done this before.)
You know, those things don’t smell that bad.
[Jake] You should try one sometime. It’s not an everyday thing. Just a once-in-awhile thing, like a well-aged single-malt. Besides, Charles Spurgeon smoked cigars. And drank. One of the heavy hitters in our Reformed Tradition, but he understood his Christian liberty to imbibe.
Spurgeon? Really? Did not know that. Never would have guessed. Regardless, I’m gonna pass on the cigars. But you know, a single-malt scotch might be nice.
[X-man] Actually, there’s a bar in here. Why don’t you get yourself one? Better yet – why don’t *I* get you one. It’s your birthday.
YEAH. It’s my birthday. And don’t you forget it!
(everyone laughs; X-man makes his way to the bar and is back a couple minutes later; Jake and Jordan banter in the meantime while Jake puffs away.)
[X-man] A server will bring it over in a few minutes.
That was really nice of you. Thanks – I mean it.
[X-man] Love ya, bro. It’s the least I could do. You’ve been a great addition to the six-forty-fours.
Six-forty-fours? What happened to the six-forty-four BROS?
[X-man] I know. Don’t rub it in. Gotta keep it short and sweet. I hate to admit it, but Thiely was right. Rolls off the tongue better when you drop the “bros”.
I agree. The “bros” make it too clumsy. Glad you aren’t afraid to change your mind.
(X-man nods and takes a puff of his cigar)
Oh, by the way, I bought myself a gift this year.
[Jake] Oh? Pray tell.
(Jordan rolls up the sleeve of his t-shirt, revealing his left deltoid and a tattoo of an intricate and tasteful cross with the words, “Solus Christus” underneath)
[Jake] Dude! That’s awesome.
Yeah, in time I plan to add the other solas. But this seemed to be the perfect one to start with.
[X-man] I really like it. Not too big. Not too small. Perfect.
It’s great for the workplace: no visible ink. Kind of like a concealed carry permit. You know it’s there, but nobody else does.
[X-man] Yeah – tell me about it. I have to wear long sleeves when customers visit our graphics agency. I’m not too proud of what appealed to me BC.
[X-man] Before Christ.
[X-man] I’ve been slowly getting the really vulgar stuff on this arm removed using laser. It does a good job, but it’s still faintly visible, so I’ve been putting Christ-honoring stuff in its place. Right here, for example, used to be totally x-rated.
(he points to a spot on his arm where there is now a tattoo of Christ praying in the garden of Gethsemane.)
Whoa. Your ink guy does really good work. If you hadn’t told me, I never would have known there used to be something else there.
[X-man] It’s an ink lady, actually. Anyway, it reminds me of what Christ did for me. Covered my sin completely, forever.
[Jake] Amen Bro. Amen.
[X-man] Eventually, my arm won’t be the same. But it’s expensive. Like $75 per square inch just to remove them, and then there’s the money on top of that for the new tattoo. So, it’s going to take me a few years to do my whole arm. Sin leaves scars and has a cost attached – know what I mean? My arm is like a self-contained sermon on the wages of sin – it takes not gives – and the power of the cross to cover my sin.
Dude, your whole life is a pretty powerful sermon on the power of Christ to redeem. Have you ever thought of going into the ministry – or do you want to stay in the graphic arts?
[X-man] Actually, yes. I would like to be in full-time ministry.
(points to tattoos)
I’m slowly saving up to not just get rid of these bad boys, but to go to seminary.
I had no idea! What seminary? When? What kind of ministry appeals to you?
[X-man] Whoa. Slow it down a bit. One question at a time. First: which seminary? I’ve got my eye on Pittsburgh Theological and Reformed Theological.
[Jake] Pittsburgh? What’s up with that?
[X-man] It’s where R.C. Sproul studied.
[Jake] A true giant. And what about – what was the other one?
[X-man] Reformed Theological Seminary. RTS has quite a few campuses.
Anything not in Pittsburgh sounds good to me.
[Jake] True that. What about Florida? That’s my kind of weather.
[X-man] Yes – actually. They have an Orlando campus.
Sweet! Any timetable?
(X-man takes a puff of his cigar and blows a huge smoke ring; he’s obviously practiced.)
[X-man] 36 months. I’m gonna save for 36 months and then – Lord willing – be a seminarian. It should take me a couple of years to get my M-Div., because I already have a 4-year undergraduate degree – bachelor of fine arts.
Man, you’re just full of surprises.
[X-man] Where do you think I learned to draw? Anyway, it’s not like I’ll be starting from scratch. I figure 18-24 months max, and maybe some of it can be done online.
[Jake] And then what?
[X-man] I wanna be a pastor, man. I like doing outreach in urban areas.
You know, I can see that in you. I can see that in you.
(Jordan’s drink finally arrives and he takes a sip)
Whoa. What is this stuff? It’s WAY good!
[X-man] It BETTER be good – it cost almost as much as that shiny new study Bible you got there.
(laughter by all three; Jordan looks with newfound admiration at the amber liquid)
[X-man] It’s a blend from two shuttered distilleries in Scotland. The fine establishment in which we’re sitting bought one of the three remaining reserve casks. When they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s 26 years old.
Seems you’re quite the connoisseur. I’m impressed.
[X-man] Don’t be. I just read the drink menu, memorized the impressive verbiage, and settled on their second most expensive single malt scotch.
SECOND most expensive?
[X-man] I love you bro – but not enough to spring for 200 dollars a glass.
200 hundred dollars a GLASS?
[X-man] You heard right. 200 dollars a glass.
(Jake makes a whistling sound)
[Jake] So what about MY birthday? It’s next month you know.
[X-man] You get a diet Pepsi my friend. $1.49 and unlimited refills.
(Jake, unruffled, takes a substantial puff of his own cigar, looks at it thoughtfully, and blows a huge cloud directly into X-man’s face. X-man glares for a minute, then all three burst into laughter.)
[Jake] So let’s get serious boys. Do you ever stop to ponder that God knows not just what we’re going to do, but that He actually decreed it from before the foundation of the world?
[X-man] Yeah. It’s kind of like living in The Matrix. Whatsoever comes to pass was already decreed. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing we do wasn’t already decreed, long before we were born.
You know, I have trouble with that sometimes. I mean, it’s one thing for God to KNOW the future – its a whole different thing for Him to be the ORIGINATOR of all of it.
[Jake] It’s a mystery, man. The mind of God is unsearchable. It’s like it says in the Westminster Confession…
(Jake zips open his camo Bible cover to reveal a laminated index card in one of the inner pockets, and begins reading)
[Jake] “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
[X-man] That’s why I’m going to seminary. To understand that kind of stuff.
(laughter; Jake and X-man take puffs of their cigars; Jordan takes another sip of his scotch.)
Guys, TULIP is easy. You’ve shown me it’s scriptural. But this kind of stuff – well, I have a hard time getting my head around it. How does God author everything yet without being the author of sin? How does God decree even the minutiae yet without doing violence to man’s will or liberty?
(long pause; more puffing. Jake finally breaks the silence.)
[Jake] Remember the website where Thiely often goes?
Yeah. That one with John Piper, right?
[Jake] Bingo. It’s called desiringgod.org. I highly recommend it. I’ve never come across anyone quite like Piper in making this stuff accessible for the layperson. He never shies away from the really hard questions, but he brings it down to our level.
[X-man] Speak for yourself, man. I’m going to seminary!
[X-man] Seriously Jordan. There’s a pretty rich ecosphere of resources to help with this stuff. You don’t have to slog through everything with just you and your Bible.
[X-man] You heard me. ECOSPHERE. I can be refined when I need to be. Don’t let these tattoos fool you. I’m going to seminary baby!
(X-man takes another exaggerated puff of his cigar, looking self-satisfied; laughter by everyone;)
[X-man] I’m telling you. There are so many resources out there when you’ve got these big, philosophical and theological questions. People that have struggled with the same issues and have answers – all from a Reformed perspective. For example, ever heard of Pen & Parchment blog?
[X-man] Apologia radio?
[X-man] The Dividing Line webcast?
[Jake] Ligonier blog?
[Jake] Grace to You program with John MacArthur?
[Jake] Well, FINALLY. Dude, you simply must keep up. So many resources – so little time.
(more laughter; X-man and Jake take hefty puffs again; Jordan takes another measured sip – he wants to make this last – but there’s now only a single sip left)
[X-man] Tell you what. I’ll compile a list of some of our favorite resources. Between me, Jake, Thiely, Andre, and Peter, I bet we can cover about almost all of “the best of the best”. I’ll email it to you later this week. Sound like a plan?
Sounds like a plan.
(Jake and X-man take one last puff before extinguishing their hand-rolled Cubans. Jordan drains his glass – grudgingly accepting the reality that he’s drained every expensive drop.)
[Jake] Shall we call it?
[X-man] Yeah. Birthday boy has finished his cake.
(laughter all around; Jordan gathers his gifts and belongings, the others gather their Bibles and jackets. They walk to the front door together, exit, and pause on the sidewalk.)
[X-man] Jake, See you Sunday?
[Jake] Wouldn’t miss it. See you next Tuesday Jordan.
Yeah – about that. Got room in those pews for one more on Sunday?
[X-man] What – you’re finally gonna make the move?
Yeah – I’m having a hard time getting much of anything from my old church these days. I gave it a few months, but I think it’s time. Besides, it isn’t a Reformed church and I’m starting to feel like a fish out of water. When I hear words like “choose to follow Jesus” and “Christ died for everyone” and “God gave us free will” I know its time to move on.
[X-man] I hear you, bro. You’re gonna find the resources I’m sending are awesome. And you’re gonna love Grace Metro.
[Jake] Two services. One at 8:30 and another at 10:30.
I’m thinking 10:30. Not a morning person. At least, not when I have a choice.
[Jake] 10:30 it is. See you then.
[X-man] We’ll save you a seat. Don’t be late. Fills up fast.
OK guys. God bless. Solus Christus.
[Jake and X-man, in unison] Solus Christus.
Our acolyte is now – as X-man put it – surrounding himself in a Calvinist ecosphere. Although he’ll still be reading his Bible, fellowshipping, studying, and praying, it will increasingly become an echo chamber that presents only a single perspective. TULIP will be treated as immutable fact, and the atmosphere he inhabits will not be a mix of gases but a single gas. The gnawing questions he still has – and which we briefly glimpsed in this episode – will gradually fade from view as he reasons that he must be in good company with so many kindred theologians, preachers, teachers, books, podcasts, and other resources that align with his newly embraced theology. They’ll drown out any lingering doubts – at least for a time – as he seeks safety in numbers.
His choice of church homes is likewise being realigned to agree with his new theology, and indeed there is no fault in worshiping with others that are likeminded. But there is now virtually no exposure to – or interaction with – those that hold to any other theological framework. His world is becoming monochromatic.
But most disturbing is that our acolyte now has not just a Bible, but a study Bible in which one man’s opinion – a renowned Calvinist – has become almost inseparable from the text of the Bible itself. God’s word and MacArthur’s word literally share the same binding. As such, it will become almost impossible for our acolyte to simply read the Bible. When he encounters problematic passages, it will be all too easy to let his eyes move just a few inches across the page to be guided not by the Holy Spirit, but by a man. And whether that man is a Calvinist or not, this is never a wise course of action.
The roots are going deeper, the lenses on the glasses growing thicker. The allegiance to TULIP as the only way to understand God’s plan of salvation is slowly but surely overtaking the Bible itself in precedence, as competing viewpoints are removed from his field of vision. Our acolyte is thus building an increasingly thick cocoon, insulating his Calvinistic worldview from the pure, unadulterated word of God.
Will it take a sudden, seismic life event to shake up his theology, or perhaps a slow and almost imperceptible shifting – waking up one day to see that the continents have drifted and wondering why? Or will our acolyte simply auger in deeper, spinning an ever-thicker cocoon?
Episode 5 holds the answers. Stay tuned.