Part of a series of articles, entitled 20 years a Christian, recalling some of the important lessons I have learned in nearly two decades as a believer in Jesus.
Perhaps the single biggest mile marker in my close to twenty years of Christian growth came during the summer before my final year in seminary. By that point I had been a Christian for several years, and had already been pastoring a small rural mission church for several months. I was orthodox on the most elementary truths of the gospel, but still fairly man-centered in my basic worldview.
What do I mean by man-centered? Well, I would have nodded my head in agreement with the biblical truths that God has designed the universe, and even the plan of salvation, for His own glory. I would surely have said ‘amen’ when reading that God is working all things so that His Son “will come to have first place in everything.” I mean, who really wants to argue with that, right? And I wouldn’t have argued with it … in theory, at least. But where the rubber met the road, I so often had man, not God, in the place of preeminence. I thought of corporate worship in terms of what people would like, and what would draw a crowd, rather than what would be pleasing to the Lord. I thought of the gospel primarily in terms of getting people out of hell (a good thing, of course!), but with very little thought about the fact that people are saved, actually, so as to be trophies of the grace of God! And I thought of the salvation transaction as hinging almost purely on people’s choice of God, rather than the other way round. And so, though I wouldn’t have said it this way … man was pretty near close to God at the center of the Christian solar system.
Much of my theology revolved around “the creature rather than the creator.” And, had God not intervened, my track through the ministry would have been a very different (and stunted) one indeed. Who knows how many false converts, and gimmicks, and idols, and pygmy Christians I would have had to answer for at the judgment day (as if I don’t already have enough on my account)! I think I would have been an utter disaster as a pastor, actually.
But, as He so kindly does, God did intervene! He introduced Tobey and me to another seminary couple, Scott and Heather Duley. And toward the end of the second year of seminary, they put a cassette tape in our hands (yes, we still had tapes back then!) of a sermon called Ten Shekels and a Shirt* – preached in the 1960’s by a man named Paris Reidhead (see link below). Reidhead took as his text the story (from Judges 17 and 18) of a young religious professional in ancient Israel who farmed his services out to the highest bidder, and was willing to mix a little bit of Bible with a good bit of his employer’s personal preferences until he had something that resembled worship of the one true God, but was actually just a manmade concoction of whatever worked best for himself and his employer.
Maybe (like me) the Levite and his boss were so knee deep in man-centered religion that they didn’t even realize how muddy they had made their garments. But Reidhead exposed their selfishness and man-centeredness with devastating clarity, and made shattering application to the modern religious scene. And I was looking myself in the mirror! But, after listening to the sermon several times thru over the next few months, the course of my life and ministry was dramatically altered. I could no longer go about exalting man in the name of God! It was like I had been given a fresh pair of glasses when reading the Bible. All those passages about God being first began to make perfect sense … and to delight my soul, and to find all sorts of needful applications in my theology and practice! In those same months, God began sending other teachers and tapes to re-affirm the truth with which Reidhead was bowling me over. And, though I still frequently struggle to put it all into practice (self-absorbed as I often continue to be), I have never been the same. Suddenly, I realized that Christianity really is about God!
In God’s providence, that cassette tape was one of the best gifts anyone ever gave me. So thank you, Scott and Heather. Thank you, Paris Reidhead. And thank you, most of all, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … for steering me into the path of a God-centered worldview. Thank you for teaching me that Christianity (and life, and the universe) really is about God!
*If you’d like to listen to the sermon (and I highly recommend it), you can find it at sermonaudio.com. After further theological development on my own part, I would not say everything exactly as Reidhead says it (for instance, there could be more nuance in describing the positive relationship between God’s glory and our joy). But the main thrust of the sermon (detailed above) is worth every minute you will spend listening (and re-listening!).