It was the fall of 2003, and wildfires had engulfed much of Escondido. The seminary was forced to shut down for a few days, and many fled to the coast for fresh air. That was my first semester at Westminster Seminary California. It was also the first time I stepped into a Reformed church. Having grown up in the land of stoic Swedish Lutherans known more for Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion than for confessional Reformed churches, my Minnesota accent stuck out almost as much as my ignorance of historic Reformed theology when I arrived at the seminary.
Three years of rich teaching at Westminster Seminary California brought me to love the Reformed confessions. I am deeply grateful for the quality of teaching I received, as well as for the kindness and patience of the professors who spent countless hours in lectures and one-on-one conversations with me during my time at the seminary.
As I reflect on the three years I spent at Westminster Seminary California, many professors come to mind. I recall Dr. Godfrey’s challenging lectures in church history as he reminded us that through the trials, errors, schisms, and heresies of church history, God preserves his church through the faithful preaching of the Gospel. I remember Dr. Clark and his passion to recover the Reformed Confessions. And I continue to hear the voice of Dr. Jones, imploring us to “preach more often on the atonement.” Through courses in exegesis, systematics, church history, and practical theology, each professor explained to us that Christ is the center of the Scriptures.
In the fall of 2010 I completed my fourth year as a pastor at Cloverdale United Reformed Church (URCNA) in Boise, Idaho. Then, in November 2010 my family and I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where I now serve as a mission work pastor with Redeemer Reformed Church (RCUS). The training I received at WSC has impacted my preaching, teaching, and pastoral counseling through my time in Boise and now as a church planter in Minneapolis.
First of all, my preaching has been shaped by my time at Westminster Seminary California. As Dr. Horton wrote in his article “Interpreting Scripture” in the July/August 2010 edition of Modern Reformation magazine, we are to read the Scriptures redemptive-historically, covenantally, and with a proper understanding of the law/gospel distinction. We are to avoid missing the forest for the trees, and on the other hand missing the trees for the forest. We preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) from all of the genres of Scripture. As I proclaim God’s Word to God’s people, I continue to use the tools given to me by my professors at the seminary.
Secondly, my teaching has been impacted through the training I received at Westminster Seminary California. Opposition to the gospel will always come, yet having a firm foundation in the creeds and confessions of historic Reformed theology has enabled me to point skeptics to a theology that has historical grounding. Challenges abound in the ministry, but some moments stand out more than others.
For the last number of years, a group of men from the church I formerly served in Boise have taught a Bible study at a local prison. I was thankful to have been a part of this group. It was a blessing to be able to teach a robust Reformed covenant theology to the prisoners, many of whom have never heard the word “Reformed.” While most of the prisoners were thankful for the Bible study, at times there was a harsh resistance to our teaching. For example, one resident Dispensationalist sarcastically mocked Reformed theology. An Armininan prisoner harshly attacked a “straw man” version of election. Another equated the Reformed view of covenantal, infant baptism with the baptism of the Mormon cult. Thankfully, my professors at Westminster Seminary California helped to prepare us to face these kinds of challenges and criticisms as we teach God’s Word.
Third, the time I spend counseling individuals in the church has been influenced by my professors at WSC. Enslavement to pornography is prevalent in our culture, and I have had numerous young men come to me over the last four years who are in bondage to sexual sin. As I meet with these men, I seek to ground my counseling in a biblical understanding of justification and sanctification. Luther’s simul justus et peccatore (simultaneously justified yet sinful) has been crucial as I point these men to Christ, reminding them that it is the Gospel that justifies and the Gospel that sanctifies.
Hardly a week goes by in my life as a pastor without looking back at my class lecture notes or at a book written by one of the many gifted professors at Westminster Seminary California. I continue to be challenged and to grow in my understanding of what I believe and why I believe it through the resources of the seminary. By God’s grace I seek to preach, teach, and counsel Christ’s sheep in the rich promises of the gospel. I am truly grateful for the men who taught me how to tell others of the precious truths of confessional Reformed theology.