Reformed Margins is excited to introduce Oldson Duclos, a graduate of Cairn University and church planter in North Carolina. He joins us this morning as a guest contributor and describes his journey into the Reformed Tradition.
I’m glad to finally be joining the Reformed Margins family. When I was first asked to write about how I became Reformed I thought I’d give a snarky comment like “I read the Bible!” I say that facetiously, but truth be told, we often answer other traditions in a belittling tone. We shouldn’t. Some might consider me “moderately Reformed” because of my criticisms, but I assure you I have both feet firmly planted in the reformed camp. I love all things Reformed; I’m serving at a Presbyterian church; seeking ordination in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). But I wasn’t always.
In fact, my spiritual roots began in a Baptist church in Brooklyn, NY. Every Sunday from about the age of 4 we’d slip into the back row after coming in late hoping not to be noticed. Those who attended would be dressed to the nines in their Sunday’s best. Everyone seemed important, and they were. This was a church filled with people who worked in highly esteemed professions, like doctors and lawyers. Mingled among them were the cab drivers and housekeepers – with which my family identified – trying their best to reflect the perceived elite. This church was sought-after, not because of sound doctrinal teaching but because of its assumed status. You were really someone if you attend this church. We lived in New Jersey but would travel 45 minutes with out traffic, to Brooklyn because of the inherit status of being a part of this particular church.
Did I mention it was a Haitian church? It was meant to be an oasis for the Haitian population in neighboring areas, but became distorted by its own ethnicity. This meant that cultural norms and expectations became mingled with scripture. Scripture was manipulated to affirm cultural biases, and legalism came as a consequence. Add to the mix a pseudo prosperity gospel and the fact that the majority of preachers who spoke authoritatively to the congregation were never trained to exposit scripture and… well you get the picture. It was as if all that qualified someone to feed God’s flock was cultural rigidity, a well pressed suit, and a tightly held Bible. This is actually how I got my start in the pulpit.
For fourteen years heresy was mixed with truth; syncretic manipulations of scripture were affirmed as incontestable and genuine. Works based righteousness was the standard of religion. And the “works” more often than not, were directed more toward pleasing the consensus than pleasing the Father. As can be expected, what followed was shame, fear, and judgment. Somehow throughout that time, hints of dispensationalism seeped into my understanding of God. It wasn’t until I attended a Wesleyan college that I experienced grace.
And what an experience it was.
We read the Bible and took God at his word. We prioritized prayer, especially interceding for members of our community. Worship was how we lived life. It was the first Christian community I experienced to be Christ-like. In this safe environment I decided to leave the church I had known and went through my first deep exploration for truth. I held my understanding of Christianity loosely and ask hard questions of my faith. I came through the process committed to the Christian faith, convinced of John Calvin’s TULIP acronym, yet respectful towards Arminianism.
I was unaware of the various traditional lens through which the Bible is commonly interpreted (i.e dispensational, Catholic, reformed). I was oblivious to my fragile dispensational underpinning. It wasn’t until I was confronted unexpectedly by a friend to articulate my understanding of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, that I began to thoroughly question dispensationalism—once I knew what it was called. While discussing this with my friend, who is opposed to the Christian faith, I noticed my inconsistencies on God’s initiative with the nation of Israel, how salvation was offered, and how history would culminate as I went through the biblical narrative. My inconsistencies portrayed God as inconsistent. I became dissatisfied with this interpretation
I didn’t identify as Reformed at this point. No, I went to a historically dispensational seminary for that. That’s right Philadelphia Biblical University, now known as Cairn University, is where the Reformed bug got me. I am grateful to our eclectic faculty and their encouragement to relentlessly pursue the Bible and the God thereof to determine where I stand. Scholarship was king and Reformed currents seemed to go hand and hand with scholarship. My goal was never to become Reformed. My goal was to rightly divide God’s word and know him intimately. As I grew and hungered for that, logic led me to seek out a church tradition that reflected what I understood to be true. That happen to be the Reformed tradition.
My point is, reformed theology came later. It was what I concluded was the most consistent representation of scripture. I’m not discounting other traditions. Rather, I urge you to do one thing: seek God first (Mt 6:33). Your understanding of how things work and come together will form over time and will be constantly refined as you love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Lk 10:27). That being said, be intentional about loving God with your mind. God doesn’t ask you to check your brain at the door. Rather, he wants you to search him out with it (Prb 25:2; Jer 29:13).
I unapologetically identify with the Reformed tradition, but my exposure to various traditions has enabled me to understand a few things. First, despite how well esteemed he is, John Calvin is not the fourth person of the trinity. Calvin was a sinner like you and me. Michael Servetus learned this the hard way as Calvin sentenced him to be burned at the stake. Secondly, though I believe the Reformed view best represents scripture, I hold no qualms about acknowledging its deficiencies. For one, we’re often cessationists, holding that manifestations of God’s supernatural work such as healing has ceased. This quenches the Spirit, places road blocks for all those from a charismatic tradition, and refuses to recognize manifestations of spiritual warfare in non-white western cultures. It is bad theology heavily contingent on a grammatical ambiguity (1 Co 13:8). It alienates and refuses to acknowledge valid means through which the Spirit moves.
Finally, the last thing I’ll pick on Reformed theologians about is our superiority complex. In many ways we have esteemed ourselves too highly. Our academic heritage is likely to blame for this. I don’t ask that we lower our standards but that we realize that other traditions share our academic prowess. Caution that we aren’t naïve enough to assume that, in addition to the exclusivity of Christianity, we are the only ones within the people of God who know what we’re talking about. Rick Warren words it this way, “God uses all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Christ did one better, “he who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:40). Sound theology is essential. But bear in mind that this side of heaven it is always wanting. In any case, it is by our love the world will judge us, not our propositions (Jn 13:35).
So, I’m Reformed. But before I became Reformed, I became a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m still figuring this thing out, and will be for a long long time. I hope you enjoyed this and that it gave you something to think about. I look forward to sharing some thoughts on here from time to time and getting to know you, the reader, a little better. Until next time, grace and peace.