God makes use of means, so this is a meditation on the means by which I transitioned out of my United Methodist / Wesleyan-Arminianism upbringing and into Presbyterian / Reformed Theology. I think my pilgrimage into the happy land of Reformed Theology is typical: during young adult/college years it was chiefly through four converging influences that I became Reformed.
Covenantal nature of my childhood intrinsic to the care of my godly parents
My folks didn’t know what covenant theology was (I’m pretty sure they had never even heard of such a thing). They didn’t know the verbiage/vocabulary of covenant theology, but they read their Bibles, aimed to do what God said, and, consequently, they intuitively knew the essence of covenant living. So, by simply trying to be Biblical parents, they demonstrated covenantal, generational Christianity, and at college when I started to read systematic theology I was finally introduced to theological vocabulary and categories for what I had always experienced as a child. I think my experience was like F.F. Bruce’s; as Tim Grass wrote, “when asked on one occasion how he [Bruce] had ‘come to know the Lord’, he replied: ‘I suppose I imbibed it with my mother’s milk.’
Realization of pervasiveness of man’s sin in contrast to absolute Holiness of God
I knew and felt deeply my sin and depravity. Even as a child I had a very sensitive conscience, and was grieved by sin, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I really began to see my sin in contrast to God’s absolute holiness. For the first time I read R.C. Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God, and it really shook me up in a good, sanctifying way. Like Isaiah, I confessed — “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Meditating on the Holiness of God changed me, so that many of the nuances of Wesleyan-Arminian theology and practice began to concern me.
My wife and I were blessed with excellent pre-marriage counseling. Again, it shook me up in a good, sanctifying way. It was during my senior year of college, and it felt like I was taking a couple additional electives. In addition to the ordinary assigned reading, topics like marriage and duties of husband/wife and how to raise children and how to budget and think about household finances, I was also given a stack of theology books: John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Murray’s Redemption – Accomplished and Applied and The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, etc. Again, pre-marriage counseling confirmed I was a meathead and a sinner, and this gift called marriage was only going to work and not go down in flames by the grace of God. Needless to say, my fiance (now my wife!!!) and I got the message: we wholeheartedly threw ourselves and our marriage into the hands of our gracious and merciful Lord.
Studying the Bible (and Augustine)
In addition, my senior year of college I took a couple electives: (1) an upper level theology class where we worked through St. Augustine’s major works (anti-Pelagian writings, On Christian Doctrine, On the Trinity, Enchiridion, Confessions, and portions of City of God), and (2) bib-lit class on Johannine Literature. Augustine was compelling, but studying the Gospel of John in depth for the first time sealed the deal. This is just one example: John 17:9 “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Reformed theology proper, soteriology, and Christology, indeed.