The Journey Begins

I have had several people ask me recently how a lifelong Southern Baptist like I was could end up as an Associate Pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. First of all, I must admit that it is a loooooooong story and that it would be impossible for me to document that journey in just one blog post, but I will try, over the next several days, to at least cover the high points (or if you are of a differing opinion, the low points) of my quest.

In my years as a Southern Baptist pastor, I always had an extremely high view of the doctrine of Holy Scripture. There was never any doubt in my mind that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Believing in the inerrancy of Scripture brings about a crisis in a Southern Baptist pastor’s life who also believes it is important to preach through the books of the Bible, because he comes across texts such as Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and John 6 which speak of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Even before I became a thoroughgoing Calvinist, I would tell my people, “Well, God’s Word says we were chosen ‘in Him before the foundation of the world’ and that He ‘predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will,’ and I am not sure how that works itself out, but I know it is true, because God says so.” (At that time, the only Calvinists I had ever met were Dr. Tom Nettles who taught me Church and Baptist History at Southwestern Seminary and one of my New Testament professors, Dr. Curtis Vaughn.)

As I worked through all the theological ramifications of those texts, I began to see the sovereignty of God in salvation throughout all the Scriptures. It took some time, but early in the decade of the 1990s, a friend overheard me saying at a Baptist associational meeting that the “last petal on the tulip had fallen” and that “I had become a five-point Calvinist.” (I couldn’t believe that I had said that loud enough for anyone other than one of my Calvinist friends to hear!) My fall from the semi-Pelagian way of thinking did not affect my evangelism, because although I knew that the end of evangelism was the salvation of God’s elect to the glory of God, the means to that end was through the preaching of the Gospel to all and calling sinners to Christ. So I continued to preach through the texts of Scripture calling men to look to Christ as the only way of salvation.

It was during this time that I was blessed by many groups (and individuals) who helped me to grow in my knowledge of the Scriptures which included ministries such as Founders Ministries, Banner of Truth, and The White Horse Inn. Also, many authors such as R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the English Puritans, and the 19th century Southern Baptists, such as J. L. Dagg, James Petigru Boyce, John Broadus, and Basil Manly, Jr. (Yes, that Broad-man, which was the SBC publishing house for many years) had a profound effect on my spiritual life. (To be continued…)

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7 Comments

  1. Charlotte said,

    July 22, 2009 at 2:49 AM

    Um, what’s a five-point Calvinist?

    • cliftonr said,

      July 22, 2009 at 12:40 PM

      How does one begin in such a short space? A five point Calvinist is someone who adheres to the five points of doctrine agreed to by the Synod of Dordt in 1618. Actually, the statements of doctrine were a response to five doctrines advanced by Jacobus Arminius which have come to be known as Arminianism, and were deemed to be unorthodox by those at the Synod. The decision of the Synod was never meant to be a complete view of Reformed doctrine, but a general statement about soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).

      The five points of Dordt are: 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistible Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints. Thus, the acrostic, TULIP. While these points could be more clearly stated; for example “Limited Atonement” would be better understood as “Particular Redemption,” they are historically known by these terms (plus, it would mess up the acrostic). ;^)

      Once can find a good summary of the meaning of these terms at http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/. The bottom line is that a Calvinist believes that man (and woman) made is made right with God “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”

  2. Sandra A. said,

    July 22, 2009 at 12:31 PM

    Oh, Clifton, this is going to be great to hear of your journey. Thank you so much. Now, to figure how to keep it so I can refer to it since my memory is slipping!!!!

  3. July 22, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    Your story is similar to my own. I tell you how a lot of Baptist ministers handle preaching those tough “Calvinistic” passages: they don’t. They either preach topically (a scourge upon the people of God) or, worse, just tell stories.

  4. Ashley said,

    July 22, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    I’m interested to hear about how you jumped on board with infant baptism. You have to include that!

    • cliftonr said,

      July 22, 2009 at 4:03 PM

      That day will come. ;^)

      • Jarrot Garza said,

        July 23, 2009 at 11:02 AM

        That day might have to come to me over lunch here soon before I go much further!


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