I don’t think I ever referred to myself as “reformed” before 2014. I grew up in an independent evangelical church; we didn’t even formally associate with an actual denomination until I was a teenager. When I entered the ministry in 1994, to refer to yourself as “reformed” meant roughly “I am Presbyterian” or “I am Dutch”. Since I was neither of those things, I assumed the word had precious little to do with me.
However, in the early 2000’s the old evangelical consensus began to fall apart and thus began the era of the evangelical adjective. People were now Conservative Evangelicals, or Charismatic Evangelicals, Progressive Evangelicals, Emergent Evangelicals or Reformed Evangelicals.
It took me a while to figure out which one I was.
Conservative Evangelical was my first pick, but it rapidly came to be associated with old, white, American, Republican culture and thus became functionally unusable in my context. Reformed Evangelical is where I’ve landed. To call yourself “Reformed” in 2021 means roughly what Conservative Evangelical meant in 2001 and what unmodified Evangelical meant in 1995.
Or it least it does to me.
When I call myself “Reformed” as a 47 year old man I mean exactly what I meant by calling myself an “Evangelical” when I was 21:
I believe in a Holy God, a sinful man, a bloody cross, a new birth, a second coming, a final judgment, an urgent mission and a reliable Bible.
Of course, I know a lot more about each of those things than I did when I was 21 and most of what I’ve learned has come out of the reformed tradition – so in that sense, Reformed is the best of all the available adjectives when it comes to describing myself to other post-evangelical believers. But if I could invent an adjective, I think I would prefer ReformING. ReformED sounds too finished and too fixed. It sounds like I think that Luther and Calvin represent some kind of perfected Christianity that we must all somehow get back to.
I don’t believe that.
I believe that Luther and Calvin were singular minds given by God at a critical time but theirs was just a point in the journey. We still have a long way to go. I still have a long way to go.
I need to be washed in the water of the word. I need to be tuned by the sound of God’s voice. I need to be healed, redeemed, restored and renewed. That’s what I mean by semper reformanda. The reformation has to continue and it has to continue in me.
That’s what this blog is all about.
Most of the reflections will arise out of my daily Bible Readings, following the RMM Bible Reading Plan. Some will emerge out of my supplemental reading, and some out of the leaf mould of my mind. Reading for me is a spiritual exercise. It is the ordinary way used by the Holy Spirit to press upon me from the outside. It is a process I’ve been engaged in since I was a little boy and it is a process I expect to continue as long as my journey continues on this earth. That’s what I mean by Read, Repent, Repeat.
As mentioned above, most of my reflections will arise out of the RMM Bible Reading Plan. To learn more about that see here. I’ve been using that since 2012 and it now constitutes the regular rhythm of my daily devotional life. Skipping it would feel as odd to me as not brushing my teeth in the morning. It is the air I breath, spiritually speaking.
I also try to read at least a book a week. I keep a log every year and try to read within a variety of categories. I used to read more fiction than I do now, and I still think that is important, but my mind now tends to gravitate more towards history, theology, biblical commentary and biography. All of this content tends to get blended up in my brain whereupon it interacts with my morning Bible Reading and overflows in reflections and writings. I have to store them somewhere, and here seems as good a place as any.
Christianity is fundamentally about repenting. Christianity is fundamentally about agreeing that God knows me better than I know me, and his thoughts are higher than my thoughts and his Spirit must have correcting and recalibrating sway over my spirit. Christianity is about submitting to the recreating work of God through Jesus Christ.
In terms of agency, a lot of that work happens in my life through people. My wife, my children, my congregants, my friends and my critics. I try to be quick to repent and to apologize. I generally believe that I am a worse person than anyone knows, so whatever it is that you say to me, you’re probably only seeing half of what is there and that needs to go. So fire away. I’m not embarrassed by apologies – the Bible says that even pastors – especially pastors – will make mistakes in what they say and how they say it. It is an occupational hazard. So I’ve just learned to exist in a perpetual state of repentance. I do wrong. I think wrong. I say wrong. The Christian life for me is about slow and steady progress in the direction of Jesus. That requires external correction and internal repentance. A lot of that for me gets worked out in writing.
As I said above, I don’t like words that end in “ed” – as at least in terms of the spiritual journey. I am not “reformED”, I am “reformING”. This is an on-going process for me. I have not arrivED. I am not finishED. I am a person and a pastor in process. As anyone in my church knows, my go to verse is 2 Corinthians 3:18:
“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NRSV)
One degree of glory to another.
That is the process and writing for me, is an ordinary means.
You are more than welcome to come along for the ride.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.