In the dark days of 2006-7, I began to experience a gradual, theological shift. My online Christian blog reading had taken me on a journey from the dispensationalist prophecy-speculation websites to pages that criticised aberrant movements within evangelicalism – something I was quite concerned about at the time. I ended up becoming a regular reader of the Pyromaniacs blog, which was managed by an elder at John Macarthur’s church in California.
Their fierce cessationism was a bit off putting to me (and still does!), but I was attracted by their frank assessments of contemporary evangelicalism and found it a helpful place to grow in thinking about how to respond to some of the things going on in the church today.
Over time, I noticed that I had become sympathetic to their way of interpreting Scripture when it came to contentious issues like predestination and God’s sovereignty over human affairs. I felt the “Calvinistic” system made sense of the biblical data and narratives more than the interpretations I’d been brought up to hold. While certain teachings like “limited atonement” were a bit hard to stomach and took me sometime to make a definitive decision on, I underwent a gradual shift to Reformed theology, rather than the Arminian assumptions I’d inherited.
This had flow on effects for other areas of theology. For instance, in 2007 or 2008 I was looking for a systematic theology book to read and Wayne Grudem’s was one of the most accessible volumes that was available at the time. So I bought a condensed copy of his work and began reading. A friend of mine who attended a Pentecostal Bible College warned me that his lecturers didn’t use Grudem (a Charismatic) because he “had some funny views on women in ministry.” As I read, I relished Grudem’s theological treatment of baptism, Reformed soteriology, spiritual gifts and a range of other issues I was already quite convinced about. And when I read what he had to say about what he called “complementarianism” I went back to my friend and said: “I read what Grudem said about women’s roles in the church and I think he actually makes some good points!” Despite only ever having positive experiences with female pastors and being in a church that had them, I became convinced by Scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:12 that the complementarian position was more likely to be biblically sound. (I’ll talk more about some of my theological distinctives in another series of posts).
Around this time, I was also heavily impacted by The Way of the Master approach to evangelism via the teaching of NZ-born evangelist Ray Comfort. I joined an outreach team that shared my enthusiasm for this evangelistic method and made what I suppose were my first “Reformed friends” during this time, which was an encouragement to me as I continued to wrestle with a range of theological and spiritual matters.
By 2009 I was finally finishing my degree and had a strong desire to be involved in gospel ministry – full-time if possible. I’d been involved in a range of ministries at my church but wanted to explore a range of different possibilities for the future, which led me to enrol at Bible College for 2010.
College was the place where I could not only sort out some of the questions I had about whether to become a pastor, overseas missionary or student/campus minister, but I’d also have space to work out some of the theological issues I’d been thinking about. I picked Brisbane’s only non-denominational, missions-focused evangelical college, the Bible College of Queensland (now Brisbane School of Theology) because it seemed to be the best fit for where I was at in terms of theology and ministry.
Intertwined with my journey regarding theology and ministry prospects was my recovery as a person and forming of new friendships, following my period of deep emotional and relational wounding from my family situation. It was great to interact with a diverse range of Christian faculty and students and I owe so much in my life today to the influences and friendships of the brothers and sisters in my life at this time.
Some of my theological convictions and personal circumstances (such as my residential location) did change during this time and when I was about to do a field education subject in 2011, I decided to make the difficult and scary move of trying out a different kind of church where I’d be able to learn in quite a different environment to the church I’d attended since high school. Despite the many new challenges I faced in changing congregational settings (something I’d never taken lightly), my ministry supervisor, Steve proved to be a good example of gospel-centered, pastorally tender ministry and I was able to learn a lot by serving alongside him over the next few years.
In my final year of college and first year or so out, I’d become theologically resettled in a lot of areas, but still had a great need for ongoing spiritual growth and personal recovery. I was constantly challenged in areas at the intersection between theological understanding and practical action, such as the realities of cross-cultural gospel ministry and the impetus to take the good news of Jesus to places which lack Christian resources. A beautiful, godly young woman who shares very little in common with me on the surface at first glance, but so much in the depths of Christian identity and gospel convictions became the greatest personal influence and encouragement to godly growth I’ve ever known. A friendly Chinese-born accountant I’d met in 2010, who wanted to serve as a missionary in Asia, became my best friend at Bible College and over time, the only woman I would want to share my heart and life with.
As we celebrate two years of a challenging but immensely rewarding marital relationship, I continue to be stretched to grow as a husband, as a Christian and as a student and servant of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I’ve by no means “arrived” theologically or spiritually! But I’m so very grateful that God has transformed me from the Christianish kid and nominal nodder to the sincere but overly strict and rigid young Christian and now to a broken, but gradually reconstructed and vastly more mature believer in Christ.