Do you have any stories that illustrate the impact that WSC has made on your life and work?
I did not plan to be a legalist. It just happened. For the most part, I grew up as a good little boy—a rule-keeper and the teacher’s pet. In a mainline Evangelical church, my moralistic tendencies were fanned into flames. I was on the honor roll, captain of the football team, volunteering in the local school, and even raised the flag at my high-school graduation. By all appearances, I was in the fast lane to the American Dream.
During my college years, I was introduced to Reformed theology and quickly added “theological guru” to my list of self-pronounced “achievements.” By the time I arrived at Westminster Seminary California, I was a master of self-justification who delighted in dispensing gems of Biblical wisdom to those seeking my help. I leaned heavily on my own record of accomplishments and was generally blind to this self-reliance.
It’s fair to say that this mindset that I brought into seminary was that moralistic mindset that continues to dominate the landscape of American evangelicalism. It’s the one that says, Look preacher, I’ve heard enough about what God has done, just tell me what I need to do. For this reason, when Dr. Dennis Johnson announced that our first-ever classroom sermons would be from the book of First Peter, I eagerly skimmed the text before me even as the class continued—looking for the first imperative verb. With a subtle smile, I succeeded in my quest as I arrived at the transitional verse 13 and that telling word: therefore…. Now, here I’d found some directives for me to boldly proclaim. Interestingly, Peter’s first charge is a call to hope—to keep, in the words of Geerhardus Vos, “our heavenly destiny ever in full view.”
In my zeal to be practical, I missed this most practical of all truth: imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities. In other words, calling people to live like Christ without reminding them that Christ lived, died and was raised for them is an exercise in futility—both for the preacher and his hearers. In seeking to satisfy our souls in obedience to the law, we fail to find the rest promised by Christ.
What, in your opinion, makes WSC a unique and important institution?
At Westminster I learned the necessity of boldly and vividly proclaiming the good news: that Christ was sent “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners—to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is. 61:1-2a). This glorious Gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). In the systematic study of Scripture and the original languages, I began to find and see Jesus with greater clarity. During my studies at Westminster, I also came to understand my calling as one who heralds the person and work of Jesus Christ and invites others to join His family—the church—and His mission.
During my four years in Escondido, I gained a deepened zeal for the local church and a passion for the ordinary means of grace—seeing God’s people delight in the satisfaction and peace found alone in Christ, His Gospel, and His Church. The importance of the Word and sacrament in the life of the local church is a truth that repeatedly came to the forefront in my seminary education. I did not plan to be a legalist. I also realize now that the recovery that began in Escondido continues to this day. The longer I labor in the church, the more I realize the great difficulty of uniting the righteous requirements of the Lord to the reality of sonship in Christ. Christ-centered ministry of the Word, both from the pulpit and in counseling, requires the deep humility and diligent study that I saw modeled at Westminster Seminary California.
As you have labored in ministry and experienced personal growth as a person and pastor over the past few years, what role does your education at Westminster Seminary California play in your life?
One of my highest privileges in ministry is an annual return to Escondido to teach Marriage and Family Counseling class. I encourage the students to master their exegetical skills and hone their ability to find Christ in all of Scripture. I also urge them to diligently feed Christ to others in their preaching, teaching and discipleship ministries—first knowing their sheep and those particular places where sin entangles and suffering hurts. By finding and feeding Christ, our churches can escape the moralism that pervades the American evangelical landscape today. By committing ourselves again to Christ and his Gospel, our churches will become the place of refuge and rest for sinners in need of grace. And then, as J. Gresham Machen said, “from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.”