It was my first staff meeting serving as a youth intern in my hometown church. My pastor, who had graciously allowed me to test my gifts in the pulpit before I went off to Bible college, wanted to know where I stood after my first year. He called me into his office and asked, “Well, are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?”
He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I quickly gathered that I probably should know. He was an uneducated pastor, unable to afford the training I was receiving…what was he asking?
Fast forward to a year later. I was taking Theology 101 at the same Baptist college, and I heard a rumor that one of my classmates was a Calvinist. To make matters worse, she was the daughter of missionaries! How could this be?!
That winter, I attended a Passion conference in Atlanta. The conference was my first exposure to John Piper. During his message, a minister leaned over and told me, “That’s Piper. He’s a Calvinist.” Hearing disapproval in his voice, I nodded in agreement. After Piper finished preaching, the minister told me that Piper once declared, “God ordained sin!” How could any Christian Pastor believe such a thing?
But I was curious. I returned home and read Desiring God and Let the Nations be Glad. I fell in love with Piper’s preaching and soon discovered Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, Matt Chandler, and a slew of other pastors within the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. I was young and ambitious, eager to “not waste my life” by treasuring Christ above all things. I did not want to be a nominal/carnal Christian like everyone else in the Bible belt. I wanted my faith to stand out.
Like Jim Elliot, Ruby Eliason, and Laura Edwards, I wanted to be remembered for my faithfulness to Christ. I didn’t want to waste my days counting seashells and building a 401k. The first Christians were revolutionary, and I was created to be extraordinary! I began to despise traditional churches with their high steeples and dead orthodoxy. If churches were not active in the community, I mocked them for their unfaithfulness. I wanted to be a Real Christian and pastor a Real church. Finding none, I decided to plant my own with a couple of like-minded friends.
Ironically, this zeal for authenticity had little effect on my personal life. I was a young man enslaved to sin. I was proud, broken, angry, and kept God at arm’s length. Although I taught Sunday school and listened to hours of sermons daily, I was stuck in a rut. I was not committed to the word of God or prayer. I learned everything about the Bible through internet dissemination. If I had a question, I would plug it into Google and hope Desiring God or The Gospel Coalition had an article on it. I would spend many hours arguing with friends and family members on social media about important biblical topics. I was a “Cage-stager” to the extreme.
But the weight of sin and my commitment to “radical” Christianity became more than I could bear. I became disillusioned with the church and began doubting Christianity altogether. It was around this time that Mars Hill in Seattle fell, and I began to question everything. I fell under the allure of emergent church leaders like Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and Brian Zahnd. I also began to read Bart Ehrman and flirt with the new atheist movement.
The cognitive dissonance of living in sin while ministering in the church led to my exit. The church plant I was involved in collapsed, leaving me without a church home. I remember going to the bar one Saturday night, drunk as a skunk, and making eye contact with one of my Sunday School students. The shame of that encounter was quite sobering.
Around this time, I married my best friend. She knew some of what I was struggling with, but she had no idea how spiritually broken I was. She encouraged that we attend one of the “high-steeple” churches in town I disliked so much. I am eternally grateful for her keeping us in church. I began meeting with the pastor, and he seemed to enjoy hearing my profanity-laced rants about the church. He encouraged me to pick up the Bible and read it for myself. He also encouraged me to have open and honest conversations with God in prayer.
I began reading Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. I picked up Luther’s commentary on Galatians and fell in love with the grand reformer. The Lord opened my eyes to the majesty of justification by faith alone. In Christ, I was made righteous, adopted, and free!
“Therefore, we define a Christian not as someone who has no sin, but as someone to whom God does not impute sin, through faith in Christ.”1
In the past, I considered myself a “Calvinist” by extension. Reading Luther made me want to give Calvin a fair shake. I knew Calvin to be controversial, beloved by the YRR, and despised by emergent leaders. I participated in both camps over the years but never read Calvin myself. So, I picked up The Institutes of Christian Religion and dug in. Calvin’s emphasis on the importance of scripture was the much-needed antidote for my apathy toward God.
“If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture.”2
The Lord was kind to me and gave me a desire to become a disciple of scripture. The correlation between my mistrust of scripture and my waning faith was no accident. For too long, I groped in the dark, seeking the things of God without going to the source. I had sub-leased Biblical teaching to popular preachers and evangelists. I was finally being nourished by the words of God.
In 2016, I attended Together for the Gospel in Louisville, Kentucky. T4G was a conference held biannually for pastors and church leaders from a reformed perspective. Speakers and panelists came from various denominations, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. During one of the panel discussions, Dr. Ligon Duncan stated that he belonged to a conservative Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. It was the first I ever heard of the PCA, and when I returned home, I decided to investigate Presbyterianism.
Before leaving the conference, I purchased a copy of the Westminster Standards from Banner of Truth and began listening to John Gerstner’s commentary on them via Ligonier. I also started taking classes online at Southern Seminary. In my first Systematics course, the professor had us read Charles Hodge. I now like to joke that I was introduced to Presbyterianism at a Southern Baptist seminary! Hodge’s eight propositions related to Infant Baptism were instrumental in expanding my understanding of covenant baptism.3
One afternoon I built up the courage to reach out to the nearest PCA church. It was two and half hours away! Hope Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas was pastored by Rev. Scott Davis. I told Scott of my “condition”: I was a Southern Baptist becoming increasingly convinced of Presbyterianism. Scott graciously invited me over for lunch, and we began to discuss Presbyterian ecclesiology and Covenant theology. Scott also provided resources to help further my understanding, including Ligon Duncan’s Covenant Theology course from Reformed Theological Seminary and the Heidelcast series, “I will be a God to You and Your Children.” I also snagged a copy of “An Unexpected Journey” by W. Robert Godfrey out of Scott’s library. Dr. Godfrey’s biographical account of his journey into Presbyterianism was a great comfort to me.6
Fast forward five years, and I am now a Teaching Elder in the PCA. I graduated with an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2021 and began preaching almost immediately at Redeeming Grace Fellowship in Owensville, Missouri, where I now pastor. My journey into the Reformed world has had many ‘peaks’ and ‘valleys,’ but God, in His providence, has brought me through. I am blessed beyond belief, not simply for discovering Reformed Presbyterianism but for being a sinner saved by God’s grace.
© Charles Stover. All Rights Reserved.
1. Luther, Martin. Galatians. Crossway, 1998, p. 89.
2. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Hendrickson, 2008, pp. 145-339.
3. Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1973. Part III. Ch XX- The Means of Grace, pg. 546-558.
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