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Meet A Student/Graduate

Jeff Oliver

Jeff Oliver

It was almost ten years ago that we arrived in San Diego with only two suitcases in order for me to start my seminary education at Westminster Seminary California (WSC). We left family and friends in the UK, successful careers, and familiar surroundings, and travelled over 5,000 miles to take up this challenge because we sensed a call to the Gospel ministry. We believed that theological education and training for the Reformed pastoral ministry is best pursued in community at an institution that is self-consciously and unashamedly confessional and Reformed.

What particular truths or experiences that you gained from WSC do you find most important and valuable now?

My time at WSC gave me the invaluable opportunity to study and prepare for the ministry with pastors and scholars, whose constant aim and desire was to help me, by God’s grace, to become a pastor-scholar and for that I will be forever in their debt. They inspired in me a greater love for the Word of God in the original languages, a commitment to reading the Holy Scriptures and doing theology with the church, and the unshakeable conviction that all who are called to be ministers of Word and sacrament in Reformed churches need to be taught thoroughly the Reformed faith and be able and ready to confess, proclaim, and teach the faith once delivered to the saints.

What I have found in practice is what I was taught during the years of my studies: The church needs pastor-scholars, who are not only trained to read God’s Word as it was written in the original languages, but who have also been trained in the confessional Reformed tradition. This is not something that can be done quickly, easily, or cheaply. It required personal sacrifice for us and for many others, particularly friends of WSC who, as generous and faithful donors, gave me the opportunity to become a pastor-scholar and answer my calling.

How did your education at WSC prepare you for your present responsibilities?

I entered WSC as a confessional, Reformed Baptist, who fully subscribed the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, and I graduated still a confessional, Reformed Baptist. My theology of baptism and use of the term “Reformed” were constantly challenged in a robust, but gracious, manner throughout my studies. I expected no less, knowing and appreciating the theological standards of WSC, and was glad for the opportunity to have my convictions tested. Throughout the ongoing, vigorous engagement, no quarter was sought or given by either party. Nevertheless, the debate was amongst brethren, who cordially respected each other and recognized that what united us far outweighed what divided us. So, is it a problem for a Reformed Baptist to study at WSC? No! Will your Reformed Baptist distinctives be challenged? Yes; and you will be a better Reformed Baptist for it. What about instruction in Reformed Baptist distinctives? The presence of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) on the WSC campus provides the opportunity to further study Reformed Baptist distinctives as an integrated part of the M.Div. program. So, even for Reformed Baptists, I believe the theological education you will receive at WSC cannot be bettered. 

What I learned at WSC enabled me to articulate and affirm to those to whom God has called me to minister, my commitment to confessional, Reformed doctrine and praxis. Churches may claim to be confessional and Reformed, but, in reality may not be or may begin to drift from their confessional moorings. Ministers may claim they are Reformed, but judged against the confessional, historical standards of the church, may turn out not to be. This is where I discovered the value of confessionalism in practice. A confession provides clarity of definition with regard to our theological identity and it defines our relationships. It brings together who we are and what we believe and provides the objective means to dialogue with those with whom we differ.

Also, on the personal side, the friendships and relationships I developed over my years at WSC are an ongoing blessing in my ministry. I am constantly grateful that members of the faculty are still available to me when I need to discuss exegetical and theological issues, as well as practical pastoral matters. They are a constant source of encouragement. 

I am thankful that WSC exists “for Christ, His Gospel and His Church.” I trust, by God’s grace, that in their provision of a distinctly Reformed theological education, I too, through my ministry in Placerville, join them in glorifying Christ, promoting His Gospel, and serving His Church.

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