As a Christian studying the scriptures, there was a time I started to struggle with things I had been taught in my denomination for much of my life. I was now a pastor, a college student, and counselor, teaching people of all ages the truth of Gods word on a consistent basis. But this internal struggle was not feeling uncomfortable with what the Bible was saying, rather, it was a struggle trying to find the system I had been taught all of my life consistently in the scriptures themselves.
Every time these feelings came up I would always respond in the same manner. I would usually tell myself this…
“There is no way that men like Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Chuck Smith, and Jack Hibbs can be this wrong about the Bible.”
As as silly as that sounds, this was in fact the way I would respond to these struggles I was having while reading God’s word. It’s almost as if I felt that if I was wrong about these important truths, at least I wasn’t alone in my thinking. In other words, I will just trust in what these men are teaching me and ride or die with that. To be clear, I’m not saying that I was worshipping these men. But what was happening was that when I was being challenged with Gods word, either in my personal study or my other brothers in the faith, I was not searching the scriptures to see that it is so.
If I would have continued on behaving in this manner I would never have listened to someone clearly express to me the wonderful truths of scripture. I would have avoided reading the works of dead men such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, B.B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, and the recently diceased R.C. Sproul. I wouldn’t have read about them because my denomination encouraged me not to. Some contemporary men of the faith like James White, John MacArthur, R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and James Renihan would have been strangers to me as well. I have learned that often we can take an ear plugs approach to things that challenge our traditions. We can even do this when it comes to brothers/sisters in the faith that challenge our interpretation of scriptures. Whether it be on social media, podcasts, recent scholarly work, or even behind the pulpit, we face these challenges everyday. I’m not trying to make the argument that we should listen to every single challenge that is coming our way. As a father of four young children, and a husband to a wife of seventeen-years, I have to choose the way I spend my time wisely. But to completely ignore something that challenges my faith, or better put, to simply defend my own tradition by saying that men who think just like me in no way could have been wrong, is a very dangerous and unhelpful position to take.
“These men who think like me can not be wrong. Surely then couldn’t have missed this.”
As a Reformed/Particular Baptist, I have found great joy in reading recent scholarly work done concerning my own Baptist tradition. Reading works such as Samuel Renihan’s “From Shadow to Substance,” or Pascal Denaults “Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology” to name a couple have been extremely helpful. Not only because it’s sound doctrine, but finding out that the struggles I have now concerning a certain type of Covenant Theology are not new at all. In fact, there were men like me in the 17th Century that struggled in the same manner. This has been very encouraging. But on the flip side, when I receive direct messages asking me what is a good systematic theology that a Reformed Baptist like myself would recommend to someone who thinks just like me, I have no problem referring people to many of the names I have mentioned above (Calvin’s Institutes, Berkhof, Horton, etc.). I can do this not only because I share so much with these men, but also because I’m confident in my own tradition and am not afraid to be challenged by others who thing differently than I do.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
~ Proverbs 27:17
Being challenged by other men/women of the faith can be a good thing if done with gentleness and respect. We shouldn’t turn every disagreement with our own tradition as some kind of barfight, bullying, or divisiveness. Rather, we should be encouraged by one another despite our differences. We should not be prideful by thinking there’s no way I or the men that think just like me can be wrong here. This sort of thinking can be the result of a prideful heart. It was for me at least. I would also argue that it can be a clear sign that you’re not very confident in your own tradition. The reason for this being that you’re fearful that it might just be that; a tradition.