Nerds are passionate. Really, nerdiness is synonymous with passion. But the nerd label sticks when a person’s passion falls outside the mainstream. When you’re passionate about a football team, you're a fan. When you’re passionate about Dungeons and Dragons or hair metal or sci-fi, you’re a nerd. I didn’t make that rule; I’m just acknowledging it’s there.
Most people don’t care much about the Reformation. So my passion for it can legitimately be called nerdy. And I’m ok with that. I’ll say it loud: “I’m nerdy for the Reformation.” I said in my last post that the Reformation changed the world. But that’s not why I’m nerdy for it. I’m nerdy for it because it changed my life.
Hearing the Wrong Story
I heard a lot of stories growing up in church. David and Goliath. The battles that Gideon or Samson fought. Daniel and the Lions Den. Those stories created a framework for my understanding of God and the Christian gospel. And the way the stories were told to me, the gospel I heard sounded something like this: “God blesses good boys and girls.”
That version of the gospel makes a lot of sense to all of us. When you do something good, you expect to get something good in return. When you do something bad, you expect something bad will happen as a result. What goes around comes around. Christian karma.
But Christian karma never lit my heart on fire. There wasn’t much to be passionate about in that understanding of the Bible. “I am a good boy; God should bless me.” If I was passionate, it was usually because I didn’t think I was getting the good I deserve.
The 56th of Martin Luther's 95 Theses says, "The treasures of the church… are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ." Nearly 500 years later, in a church that could trace it's roots to Luther’s teaching, this was all too true. The treasure of the church—the gospel of Christ Jesus—was hidden from me.
I heard the wrong story in church every Sunday. I heard, “God blesses good boys and girls.” But the gospel story is this: “God saves sinners.”
Getting the Story Right
“God blesses good boys and girls,” means I have to be good to get blessed. Whether the blessings I want are material, social, or spiritual, the responsibility for acquiring them is mine. My good works earn God’s blessings. And if I worked hard enough, kept enough rules, didn’t get into trouble, and used my money responsibly, Christian karma would work in my favor.
When I moved to New York City in 2004, I became part of a small church plant. I think I was member #15. There was a lot about the church that was messy and hard. But through the ministry of that church, God unearthed the treasure of the gospel in my soul. He revealed the good news that “God saves sinners.”
“God.” Not me. I’m not the one who is responsible for getting blessed or finding God. I don’t find God. God finds me.
“Saves.” God doesn’t just bless. He doesn’t improve, or lend a helping hand, or help those who help themselves. He saves. Redeems. Rescues.
“Sinners.” Spiritually, I was lost, blind, broken, dead. I was separate from God and deserved to be eternally so. And through no amount of effort on my part, according to nothing that was good in me, for no reason other than sheer love that I could never have possibly deserved—grace—God saved me. He took me from death and brought me to life.
That is the gospel story. And it had become MY story! Once I realized how good and glorious it was, I began seeing everything in light of it. Life was like a Magic Eye poster for me: once it was all just a random assortment of colors and shapes; now I knew those colors and shapes came together to form something real and good and true! I wanted everyone to discover what I had, to share in that hidden treasure that had now been revealed as the gospel of Christ Jesus.
How I Began to Be Nerdy for the Reformation
Naturally, I began wondering why I hadn’t come to this truth sooner. I discovered there was this thing called “theology” that some pretty important people in history really cared about. I read my first meaty Christian book (J.I. Packer’s Knowing God), and it made mention of this theology thing and this other thing called the “Reformation.” And that’s how my minor obsession with the Reformation began.
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, people used to leave old books out in front of their homes for anyone to take. I began combing through these piles looking for something about the Reformation. I remember going into all the used bookstores in the area, looking for books about Martin Luther. I wanted to know all I could about him and his movement. I thought I’d struck gold when I found one copy of a book on the Reformation at Barnes and Noble. I would ask myself questions like, “Why aren't there more books on this? Why don't more people care?” I crossed from interested to nerdy very quickly.
Over a decade later, I am still fascinated by Luther’s story. The theology of the Reformers still feeds my soul. And I do my best to believe, live in light of, and preach the gospel they rediscovered. I don’t want this blog series to be about nerding out (though I plan to do that a bit). I want it to show the beauty of the gospel. And hopefully it will inspire some nerdiness in the process.