Joyeux Anniversaire

A trip down memory lane.
by Marq Toombs


Once upon a time many years ago, a church elder cautioned me against using the NIV Bible in my ministry “because you cannot defeat the doctrines of Calvinism with it.” When I asked what he meant by Calvinism he said, “You know, TULIP and predestination.” When I pointed out that the word predestination was also in the version of the Bible he preferred, he said, “Not the way Calvinism explains it.” (I loved that dear brother, but to this day I’m not sure what all that had to do with the NIV.) Not long after that I started using and comparing a variety of Bible translations in my study and ministry.

I was interested in thinking worldviewishly, so I joined a book club and ordered books related to that subject. I stretched the limits of my budget to reach for books beyond my own tradition. One night on the way home from a hospital visit I heard a man on the radio talking about worldviews and the Christian faith. It was RC Sproul. The very next morning I called Ligonier Ministries to claim my free gift and join the mailing list. That connection led me to explore other teachers and resources. My philosophical interest in worldviews shifted to a theological interest in the biblical- and systematic theology and Christian history. Then along came the internet and access to the mother lode of theological resources.

One afternoon, before Y2K, I was working in my study, leaning over my desk, preparing notes for a class on the Book of Romans. Suddenly, gripped by fear, I sat up in my chair. It struck me that I was not just vaguely “reformed” — I had become a so-called Calvinist (at least in my understanding of the doctrine of salvation). The thought that I might have accidentally embraced heresy unnerved me for a few days; then came the more troubling thought I might just be escaping other heresies — and experiencing the relief of orthodoxy.

In those days I spent a lot of late nights sitting in an easy chair listening to hard words. Repentance comes to us in many forms — sometimes instantly as a severe mercy, sometimes gradually as a tender kindness.

From that time on the grace and truth of the sovereignty of the triune God started reshaping my approach to life, doctrine, and ministry.

To make a long story shorter, a decade and half after the NIV conversation, I found myself taking Summer Greek at Redeemer Seminary. By that time I had read and learned enough to embrace Reformed Theology and Calvinism as a truer and better option to my former Restoration Movement tradition.

It was July 2009. I had started reading Calvin’s Institutes and using his commentaries for sermon prep a few years earlier. But none of the hype surrounding the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birthday (10 July 1509) could prompt me to invite Calvin into my heart. (Heck, I still haven’t invited Jesus into my heart.)

All kidding aside, I still consider myself just an ordinary baptized Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. But I am thankful for Calvin and the Reformers, and (like many others) I enjoy reading Calvin’s works and prayers. Jacob Arminius, who became the Father of Arminianism by an unintended consequence of his teachings, said this of Calvin:

After the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other … I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read … For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the writings of the Fathers — so much that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, indeed, above all.

I concur with the spirit of Arminius’ opinion on Calvin. Just last night I gave Heart Aflame to someone I love who wrestles with anxiety and depression.

I am not trying to offer any profound insights here. Today is John Calvin’s birthday and that got me thinking about the long and winding theological road I have traveled with the Lord just to get me to this point right here, right now.

Looking back over the mysteries of providence never ceases to amaze me and move my heart to worship.

Calvin’s motto was Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere. (My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.)

Not a bad way to walk before the face of God.


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