Over the past several months, I have reflected on my journey toward a gospel centered, Reformed theology. It’s fascinating to me to listen to other people’s conversion-to-Jesus stories. But I also love hearing stories of theological development, particularly, what God used to draw them to one theological persuasion or the other. That’s what this post is about: my theological journey, or conversion, if you will.
In the summer of 2006, I went on a mission trip to San Diego (rough place for a mission trip). Before that, I would have never called myself a Calvinist. I grew up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, had a healthy fervor for “free will,” and generally had no knowledge of what Reformed theology was all about (but knew it was wrong, obviously!). On that fateful mission trip everything changed. I was given a copy of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. This book came with a weight of glory that is still hard for me to describe. I was also given a CD (yes, a CD) of a Piper message from Passion 2000. The book and sermon motivated me to be centered on the person and work of Jesus in everything. I wanted to hear more from this Piper guy, so I dug into his blogs, sermons, and other books when I got home. Desiring God showed me that glorifying Jesus by treasuring him was the point of Christianity. God Is the Gospel opened my eyes to see that the gospel is not just about the gift of forgiveness, but about the gift of getting God himself. If you know anything about Piper, you know everything he writes or says is saturated with Bible and God’s glory and sovereignty. I feasted on it. By God’s design, John Piper is the main reason I am persuaded by Reformed theology and Christian Hedonism.
During my senior year of college, 2006-2007, I was preparing to join staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Our campus director, Bill Kollar, encouraged me to buy a book to help me understand the grand narrative of the Bible. I loved systematic theology–I had been given a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem earlier in the year–but this idea of biblical theology (big picture narrative stuff) was foreign to me. The book was by Vaughn Roberts, a British Anglican. I had thought Anglicans were weird (and wrong), and Brits even more so. The book was called God’s Big Picture. I devoured it, finding joy in one-plot storyline of Scripture. Today, it’s probably one of my most-recommended beginner resources.
As I shopped for Roberts’ book on Amazon, I found one in the “related” section called Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by another Anglican, this one an Australian named Graeme Goldsworthy. I was intrigued by this “gospel-centered” phrase, thinking, That’s what I want to be. So I bought the book. Yet unlike with Roberts, I was devoured by Goldsworthy. I couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t until some four years later in 2011 that I finally finished–and loved–the book. Happening upon Goldsworthy’s text was the first time I had seen or heard the term “gospel-centered.” The Gospel Coalition had not been founded yet; but Goldsworthy, as I found out, was one of scores pastors and scholars, dead and alive, who were “gospel-centered” before it was cool. I wanted to learn from them. Luther. Calvin. Edwards. Spurgeon. Stott. Lloyd-Jones. Packer. Sproul. Bridges. Keller. Carson. And, of course, Piper.
Finally, two major things shaped me during my short time as a Campus Crusade staff. First, my Cru staff team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We weren’t a “Reformed” campus ministry, but we might as well have been. This team was committed to a high view of God and a low view of man, deep theological reflection, and a greater understanding of the gospel and conversion than the Four Spiritual Laws (what Cru is often known for).
Second, I was asked to write a series of Bible studies on 1 and 2 Samuel. Crusade (now called Cru) was making a theological shift at the time to be more Christ-centered in their discipleship material. Keith Johnson, director of theological education and development for Cru, Tim Henderson, Cru director at Penn State, and Bill Kollar, were so gracious to disciple me to see Christ and his gospel as the solution to every Scripture passage. Keith had me read a few chapters in Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching—a book that changed my whole approach to preaching a teaching. In the end, writing those studies proved to be one of the richest theological and practical exercises I have ever done.
By the time I went to South Africa with Cru in 2009, I was at home with Reformed theology, and the gospel-centeredness was beginning to settle. This gospel element, thankfully, taught me to not be a Reformed jerk (I am not immune, but I am growing!). It was either immediately before or after that trip (I can’t remember), that I read Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods. Both books were helpful for diagnosing the heart-source of my jerkiness and gave me biblical, gospel-centered ways of dealing with it.
There’s so much more, but I am sure 900 words is enough for you. God has been so gracious to lead me theologically (and practically!) and the journey is not done–which is the most exciting part of all!
What about you? How has God shaped you theologically, and what did he use to get you to that point?