Below, is an article I had written during a difficult transition in my life. I had resigned as a pastor from my seeker-driven church, watched the Mars Hill bus that had helped me leave that movement come to a crashing halt, and would continue to struggle to adapt to life as a civilian after serving most of my adult life in the military. I wanted to share this time in my life because it was during this journey that I would discover the Doctrines of Grace, and by His grace continue to Reform my theology. I will build off this article with an ongoing series in the weeks to come. My hope is that this can serve as encouragement to those refusing to stop at the Doctrines of Grace, and see who truly has a seat at the Reformed table.
Have you ever made a purchase, only to receive something that wasn’t as advertised? I remember watching the movie Falling Down as a kid. It was about a man who was at the end of his rope, just looking for that one last reason to go off of the deep end. There is a memorable scene in the beginning of the movie where after his car breaks down, he arrives at a hamburger joint in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. When he orders the Macho burger that is shown on the menu, things go from bad to worst in about three seconds, when the hamburger he receives looks nothing like the picture on the menu.
I mention this scene because you often see the same sort of thing take place when it comes to Reformed Theology. You, by Gods grace, come to embrace a doctrine, and you think you have become reformed and that all is well. You then take the next necessary step, which is to return to your nightly cage to protect you and the relationships you share with the rest of the world. Lightly joking there.
But, wait just one minute; are you even reformed, bro? I could imagine a guy at the gym looking down at me with my neatly stacked 10 lb. plates asking if I really even lift. You see, what you think you just ordered (or received in this example), was in fact, something not quite as reformed as you originally thought.
I remember having a theological conversation with a pastor friend of mine, one day at his residence. As we talked about a certain megachurch pastor (whose theology and philosophy of ministry has come into question, as of late) my friend responded by showing me a message board comment written six years prior, from the pastor in question. It was here that this pastor seems to have made a positive statement regarding God’s sovereignty over salvation. When I read the comment, I was already mentally preparing my response (which would include all of his recent non-reformed actions, statements, and work), when my friend beat me to it by saying, “He’s Reformed, bro!” He then gave me this pastor’s best-selling book to read and encouraged me to, “give the guy a chance.” Obviously, my friend was misinformed, but I just ended the conversation as I realized just how confused people really are on this subject.
This is the very reason I wrote this post. What does it mean to be Reformed? As a former pastor, who resigned from his seeker-driven church, studied the Bible at a Wesleyan University and grew up going to an Arminian church, it was the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement that challenged me to examine my traditions. Yes, the Driscoll’s, the Acts 29’s, and the Mars Hill bus were rolling through my barrio and I jumped on for the ride. This would result in me leaving the traditions I grew up being taught as gospel. But everything wasn’t okay. I am not only speaking of the poor leadership that totaled that Mars Hill bus, either. I’m speaking of the Calvinistic, Charismatic movement that this ultimately ended up being. It just seemed so emotional, unstable, and in my opinion, very inconsistent.
So after many years of referring to myself as a Reformed Baptist, I continue on my quest to allow others to challenge my traditions and hope to gracefully challenge their own. I have listed a few simple steps that I will use to aid in my study. I hope that these steps might encourage you, if like me, you also struggle with this reformed smorgasbord we see in our current times.
1) Continue to be saturated with Gods Word.
This is a must, as eyes to see and ears to hear can only be given from the Father above, and can only be understood through His revelation in His Word.
2) Study hard.
Learn from the ones who came before you. If you don’t embrace infant baptism, read sources that support your position, and those that are on the other side. If you sense inconsistencies in Covenant Theology, for example, read scholarly work from those that have a passion for the Word, an understanding of church history and a firm grasp of that respected tradition. If you only surround yourself with others that think just like you, talk just like you, and already hold firm to your position, you’re likely missing an opportunity to be encouraged by another brother or sister in Christ.
3) Don’t be afraid!
Don’t be afraid to leave the traditions you have such a firm grasp on. Treat people with respect. Understand that despite our differences, we are likely brothers and sisters in Christ and should treat each other as such. When someone disagrees with you, don’t perceive it as being divisive. Instead, maybe some more listening and praying, and less ego and pride, can actually allow us to learn from our brothers and sisters. Maybe then we can actually be encouraged by each other’s faith (Romans 1:12).
At the end of the day, I am not defined by being an Arminian, Reformed, Paedobaptist, Credobaptist, Baptist, etc. I am defined by being one in Christ. As we attempt to maintain the main things, I am encouraged, motivated, and looking forward to my quest at recovering the Reformed tradition. In a world where everyone and their uncle calls themselves Reformed, I agree with many in searching for clarity concerning this matter. I have decided to start reading What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul and Recovering the Reformed Confession by R.Scott Clark. I figure reading these books might be a good place to start. As one of my heroes of the faith, James White, says on just about every episode of the Dividing Line, “Theology Matters.” If we take this seriously, we need to allow our traditions to be challenged and search the scriptures to see if these things are so.