If you fell out of my family tree, on your way down almost every branch you would hit would be Baptist (or at least Baptistic). At the top of that tree, you would find my beloved great-uncle Charles Broadhurst who is a retired Baptist pastor and the unofficial patriarch of our extended family. And as you look at the lower branches, you would find me—the only other pastor in the Broadhurst family. Like my Uncle Charles, I was ordained as a minister by a Southern Baptist church and have ministered in either SBC or other Baptist ic churches (e.g. non-denominational, Acts 29, Evangelical Free). I am eternally grateful both for my familial and church influences growing up. It was in this environment that I came to faith in theLord Jesus, was discipled and cared for, and ultimately pursued a calling to ministry. Yet, by the Lord’s kind leading and an ongoing study of Scripture, I now hold to Calvinistic, confessional, and covenantal views more in line with Reformed theology than with my Baptist upbringing. And it is my hope that by reflecting on this journey, 1) there would be a greater understanding of how one could make such a theological shift and 2) perhaps my story will help those wrestling with Reformed theology and Reformed covenant theology as I did.
The First Step: Leaving Behind Left Behind
Early on in my theological journey, though I could not have articulated it, there was a sort of assumed default towards dispensationalism. In many ways, as a young teen I had been influenced more by the Left Behind books than by the Bible, itself. In fact I remember being particularly concerned by the concept of the rapture, not out of some deep personal reflection about the state of my soul so much as a genuine worry that Jesus would come back before I could grow up and enjoy more of what this present age has to offer—sex, marriage, the freedom of adulthood, and other adolescent aspirations. As you can tell, it was certainly not an informed Dispensationalism, but nonetheless my biblical understanding was influenced by this hermeneutical stream more than I realized—including a strong discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New, as well as between Israel an d the Church.
As I entered college I started questioning some of these presuppositions without realizing it. I began to be bothered by how I saw many Christians claiming the Jews today were still the “chosen people of God” because of their ethnicity. Even then, I could not quite square that with how Jews, who do not have faith in Jesus, could be God’s chosen people if salvation was only to be found by faith in Christ alone? It was around this time that as a freshman in college I received two books from my Grandad that proved to be more formative than I realized at the time. One was my very first book containing Reformed theology, though neither menor my Grandad had categories for that at the time. It was Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul. Second, he also sent me a book called The Apocalypse Code by Hank Hanegraaff. Though I cannot recommend Hanegraaff today, this was the first book I read that articulated a direct theological argument against the Dispensationalism of Tim LaHaye. My journey into theological reading and reflection had begun.
A New Calvinist
Another key event happened the summer after my freshman year. I met my first real live Calvinist. My friend Bradley quickly became an influential voice in my life. He loved the Lord, knew the Scriptures, and was more well-read than anyone else I knew at the time. He gently encouraged me to consider Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and the like and to wrestle with the idea of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It was not long thereafter that I found myself in the midst of what has now been coined the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” or “New Calvinism” movement, and people such as John Piper, Al Mohler, and Mark Driscoll became my go-to authors and preachers from afar as podcasts first began to be popularized.
As I reflect back now (especially with the latest episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast still ringing in my ears) I could probably write a whole other essay on the good, the bad, and the ugly from this period of my theological journey. Suffice it to say, in the mysterious providence of God I owe much to Driscoll, in particular, when it comes to my theological shaping at this time. I found myself Calvinist, continuationist (regarding the spiritual gifts), and Baptist but in a season where my peers were being swayed by emergent voices, such as Rob Bell and Brian McClaren. I am thankful that the Lord used these Calvinistic preachers and authors and friends such as Bradley to point me to the doctrines of grace.
Truthfully, the Lord used my “Calvinizing” to humble me and help me realize that I did not know the Bible as well as I thought. It was clear that I would need theological training if I was going to pursue the calling of ministry on my life. After college, I followed Bradley’s example and attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I loved every aspect of my time in seminary and remain to this day immensely grateful for my professors and experiences during my time in Louisville. It is important to note, however, that this not only grounded me further in a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture but also Baptist ecclesiology and the so-called New Covenant Theology and/or Progressive Covenantalism, which is prevalent amongst the professors there ( E.g., See: Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant). I knew I was no longer as Dispensational, so I clung to this as the only real alternative I had been taught.
From Confused to Confessional
After I graduated from seminary I would go on to work at a couple of churches. I maintained my Calvinist, Baptist, and continuationist convictions (under the influence of Grudem et al.) but it was not until a few years later that I would be introduced to a more robust covenant theology. Two significant things would happen during this period that were instrumental to me thinking more confessionally: 1) a friendship grew between a local PCA pastor (Scott) and me, and 2) another friend, Billy, became convinced of Reformed covenant theology and left my Baptist church to go join Scott’s Presbyterian church in town.
Billy tried his best to explain how he had come to embrace infant baptism and the only ammunition I had was the same old biblicist argument from my seminary training. “Show me the verse!” For the life of me, I could not figure out why he kept asking me what I thought about Abraham and Moses and how that could possibly affect my doctrine of baptism but these friends and others got me listening to and reading about historic covenant theology and Reformed confessionalism. I listened to the Heidelcast series “I Will Be A God To You And Your Children.” I read J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit. Some of it started to make sense, but in reality, I simply did not have the categories to understand the arguments being made for Reformed covenant theology.
In all honesty, there was also a part of me that was scared and confused. I needed a Baptist rebuttal to these things, so I began reading about 1689 Baptist Federalism. Finally, I felt like I had something I could cling to that was making sense out of the Westminster Confession and Heidelberg Catechism influences I had started to consume. I found myself embracing confessionalism for the first time—moving away from my New Calvinist and continuationist impulses into a settled 1689 conviction. Further, a Particular Baptist figurehead like Charles Spurgeon was exactly the kind of pastor I could seek to emulate. As a big-bellied Baptist with a beard myself, in Spurgeon I found theological (and physiological) affinity and felt settled in my covenantal convictions.
COVID-19 And Covenantal Baptism
Flash forward to 2020, I began my reading list for the year (like any good 1689er) with Pascal Denault’s The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. And when the impact of COVID hit in early March, I found myself, like many pastors, trying to figure out how to best serve our congregation in the midst of a pandemic. During this time, the other pastors and I led a Zoom course on ecclesiology for our church—covering topics such as church membership, church leadership, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. It was as I began studying for this that I kept feeling I had never really given the paedobaptist arguments fair shake. I came to realize there were two particular arguments that kept me a Particular Baptist. The first had to do with the newness of the New Covenant; specifically my interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31–34. The second, interestingly enough, had to do with mode of baptism.
As a life-long and seminary-trained Baptist, it was drilled into me that the word baptism signals immersion. The Greek word for baptize, Baptizo (βαπτίζω) could only mean to dip, plunge, or immerse. In seminary, I even had one professor go so far as to say there’s as many modes of baptism as there are of circumcision) but I knew there had to be good arguments for why the many Reformed and Presbyterian pastors and scholars I admired disagreed with this. So I found myself reading a short book called William The Baptist by James M. Chaney which finally helped me to see that the semantic range of this word could go beyond immerse. Jesus was “baptized” with the wrath of God, which was poured out (Mark 10:38). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a pouring out (Luke 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; etc). Mark 7:4 uses this word to speak of washing (literally baptizing) various items, including dining couches, which not likely not immersed. Even the typical argument from Romans 6:4 of baptism being tied to Jesus’ burial began to fall apart as I realized Jesus was not placed underground but was entombed. These arguments and more started to come together to cause my strict stance on baptismal mode to crumble.
Though the mode of baptism is not the primary argument that moved me away it was the starting point that caused me to re-examine Reformed covenant theology as a whole and Jeremiah 31 in particular. After much discussion, study, and prayer, I finally came to see that I had an over-realized eschatology as it related to Jeremiah 31. Like all prophecies, this has multiple fulfillments. Though Jesus came and inaugurated the New Covenant, we still await the day when the New Covenant will be fully consummated. It is only in the New Heavens and New Earth that there will no longer be tares among the wheat and when the people of God will finally be composed solely of regenerate believers. This was the linchpin for me that sent me headlong into Reformed covenant theology.
In the midst of a pandemic, I had more time than usual to spend reading and researching these things. So, I read back through Fesko’s work and re-listened to all of R. Scott Clark’s “I Will Be A God To You And Your Children” series. (Apparently, my thick skull needed to let wash over me, as it were, once more). Additionally, I listened to Ligon Duncan’s Covenant Theology lectures from RTS and read other works such as The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson and as many stories of former Baptists turned Presbyterian and Reformed as I could find online, just like this one on The Heidelblog. Along with my wife, I had finally reached the point where I was convicted of Reformed covenant theology.
The Lord’s Kind Providence In Our Next Steps
These last several months have involved talking to my elders at my current (Evangelical Free) church about this theological shift, all of whom responded with grace and understanding. And in God’s kind providence he has opened up an opportunity for me to minister at a PCA church right here in Cincinnati. A rarity in my ministerial journey—my family gets to stay put. I have accepted a call from the session at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) to come as Assistant Pastor beginning January of 2022. This was an unexpected kindness from the Lord for our family of six, especially as we love this area, the relationships we have built here, and the private school our oldest children attend. And yet it is just one more reminder that the Lord has indeed promised to be a God to us and to our children.
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