OK, here is part 3 of my ongoing story of how I came to describe myself as a “reformed charismatic” (read part 1 and part 2 first). If you are interested in hearing my normal ‘testimony’, then Tim Challies has pretty much covered what I would need to say in his excellent post here.
Diversity at University
In 1994, I went to study a four year masters degree in electronic engineering at Southampton University. I quickly got involved in the Christian Union there, which I thoroughly enjoyed and kept me extremely busy particularly leading various hall groups and cell groups, leading worship and doing the PA. It was also a good learning experience as I came into contact with other Christians from church groups I didn’t even know existed. Despite our wide variety of backgrounds, there was a real sense of love and unity amongst the 300 or so members, and it seems a shame that once everyone leaves university they head back into their separate denominations and rarely do anything together again. It is not as hard to worship and witness together as we sometimes think.
Going to university in a place I had never been to before also gave me a chance to search for a church. I tried some of the charismatic churches first, but it was the height of the “Toronto Blessing” and many of them had put preaching on hold. I wanted to hear some good expository preaching, and also wanted a church that wasn’t making a big deal of whether you were ‘for’ or ‘against’ the ‘TB’. Portswood church, an evangelical (noncharismatic) church fitted the bill perfectly, thanks to the pastor John Symons, a man I have the utmost respect for, and whose warmth and wisdom were a real blessing to me throughout my time there.
Two notable things happened while I was at university, that would result in changes to my theological outlook; both were unplanned. The first happened when one day, feeling bored with my electromagnetism studies, I ventured into the theology section of the university library. There I picked up Calvin’s “institutes” and Hippolytus’ “The refutation of all heresies” (the sheer audacity of the title attracted me). I was already an occasional reader of devotional books (I liked biographies) and loved listening to my large collection of sermon tapes, but had never delved into anything like these books before. They encouraged me to start thinking more deeply about what I believed and why.
The second thing was I met Steph, who is now my wife. Steph was from a Pentecostal church in Bromley, and the Christian friends who had witnessed to her and discipled her could only be described as “nuts for Jesus”. For them, a Saturday wasn’t for shopping and watching TV – the morning would be spent praying and the afternoon evangelising strangers in the high street. It took some getting used to, but I learned to appreciate their zeal for God. It struck me as odd that the two groups of people I knew most bold in evangelism were those hyper-charismatics from Bromley and the anti-charismatics fron UBM. They would get on well together if they could understand one another.
Steph and I didn’t argue much, but when we did it was always about theology. I wanted her to stop listening to Kenneth Copeland and she wanted me to stop listening to Hank Hannegraaf. We argued passionately about the possibility of an outer court in heaven, the trichotomous anthropological nature and of course Calvinism and Arminianism. Most of our differences are now resolved thankfully – she has seen the error of her ways (hope she doesn’t read this!), but she did have one (typically Pentecostal) question that I couldn’t answer to my satisfaction. Why don’t you ask God for the gift of tongues? It bugged me that the honest answer was that I didn’t want it, mainly because it was weird, but I prayed about it anyway, not so much seeking the gift but just talking over my confusion about it. A breakthrough came one day when quite unexpectedly I started praising God in tongues after passing my driving test! I was shocked, and didn’t do it again for a number of years.
Well done if you’ve managed to stick with my story this long. Only one more part to go.