My Stories, Part II: Reformation Theology

As I said last time, I’m starting to take a close look at the narratives of my life. Stories define us and shape us, and we in turn engage stories and shape some of them to an extent.

One of the more prominent narratives in my life is a conflict between dispensational evangelicalism and Reformed Calvinism. My personal journey from the former to the latter is as much a cultural shift as it is a theological one. I was raised by a Southern Baptist mother and a Messianic father (who currently claims no sort of faith in Jesus). Growing up I was taught to regard the Old Testament as Scripture–even if I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant. I was taught that the modern state of Israel was God’s reconstituted people in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and that the Palestinians were mostly Islamic terrorists bent on destroying the “apple of God’s eye.”

When I went to PBU, it was still a Bible college aspiring to be a university in more than name. I was taught to read the Bible carefully and passionately as God’s Word. But I was also taught mostly the same perspective I had always been taught–although now it had a name: dispensational premillennialism. The strange thing about my PBU experience is that it pushed me toward a Reformed understanding of soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology.

My story is a conversion to the Reformed perspective. My situation in the Reformed camp differs from my friends who grew up in the camp. First, I tend to have a soft spot for folks on the fringes of the Reformed camp–folks whose teaching and writing won me over, such as Tom Wright, G.E. Ladd, and some in the Federal Vision. Second, my Messianic upbringing means that dispensationalists’ talk of a millennial future for ethnic Israel in the last days makes my blood start to boil. This is a sore spot for me; I have had to struggle to empathize to any degree with the modern state of Israel, even when they may be in the right and the Palestinian leadership in the wrong.

Third, because I “chose” Calvinism (ironic), I feel more freedom to question different parts of the tradition. When I talk to some of my friends who grew up Reformed this makes me seem liberal or less committed. I’m either free or unanchored, depending on your perspective–and this is both a blessing and a bane.

Right now I feel quite engaged in this narrative as I minister in various ways in several different evangelical churches, Reformed and non-Reformed. Rather than a fence to keep out bad theology, I hope that my adopted tradition will always be a solid place to stand and dialogue with neighboring traditions.

Reformed Calvinism seems to be a central narrative in my life, at least at this point. God has used the teachings and writings of Reformed people and the doctrines of Reformed theology to show me His grace and His mercy, which continually shape who I am.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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2 Responses to My Stories, Part II: Reformation Theology

  1. Ben T. says:

    I always find it interesting that the label “Reformed” means such drastically different things to different communities.

    I remember while at PBU being first exposed to the likes of Piper, Carson, and Grudem. I would have considered myself “Reformed” as a result of my changing views on end-times, salvation, and the people of God.

    Having been at WTS for three years it has come to my attention that I’m not even close to being Reformed.

    So confusing…

    I dunno, is there such a thing as “Progressively Reformed” to account for a non-Confessional appropriation of Reformation theology? Not to disregard confessions — we all hold to something — just the sort of strict adherence that characterizes certain segments of our faith community.

    I really enjoy your reflections on these issues, Benj.

    • thinkhardthinkwell says:

      But isn’t it ultimately faithful to the Reformed confessions if we say, “We agree with this confession insofar as it is an accurate representation of the system of doctrine found in Scripture”? It’s not like an RCC dogma which must be affirmed simply on the basis of church authority. So, if I agree with Reformed Calvinism as stated in the WCF, I’m *confessional*.

      To attribute more authority than that to the WCF seems to me to be * confessionalism*, which I think subverts the original purpose and spirit of the Reformed confessions.

      Great comment (as usual)…

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