My whole life is finally converging.
The doctrine of Providence states that “God, the great Creator of all things… directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things” (WCF 5.1). Providence means that “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). Occasionally, as you look back over the course of your life and the path God has brought you through to get you to where you are, things all start to make sense. That’s happening for me this week.
(Apologies to the reader: the rest of this post may contain references to people and movements and ideas that are obscure to you. Some more theologically astute readers, or just those who have known me longer, will catch more of the impact.)
Apart from my parents, whose influence upon me has been immense, there have been three shaping influences in my spiritual life: I learned the gospel from Jack Miller, I learned theology from Richard Pratt and John Frame, and I learned church planting from Tim Keller and Steve Childers.
Early on in my marriage and ministry, I was immersed in a missional community around a Bible study called Sonship. That Bible study taught me the gospel all over again. Though I had followed Jesus from my youth, I had never understood that “the gospel is for Christians, too.” Or, to put it more theologically, the gospel does not just justify you, it sanctifies you. It is not just the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. The Sonship material (later revised as Gospel Transformation) was the magnum opus of Jack Miller, a pastor, church-planting missionary, and seminary professor who died in the 1990s. The rich truths of sanctification by faith were deeply shaping to me and have marked my life and ministry ever since. When we talk about being a gospel-centered church, when you hear me talk about heart idols, when we repeat the twin truths that “I’m a sinner and Jesus is my only hope,” we are standing on the shoulders of Jack Miller.
Shortly after my first exposure to Sonship, I began attending seminary. My primary mentor was Richard Pratt, a brilliant teacher who built much of his work on the foundation laid by John Frame (under whom Pratt studied in his early years). Frame had proposed a Bible-based philosophy of knowledge called “tri-perspectivalism.” In its basic essence, tri-perspectivalism holds that there are three objects of knowledge: God, the world, and the self. But when it comes to an act of knowing, the three cannot be isolated from each other. We cannot know God apart from the world and ourselves, we cannot know the world without reference to the God who made it and to ourselves as knowers, and we cannot know ourselves except as creatures who are part of God’s world. So human knowledge involves looking at reality through three interdependent perspectives, or lenses: the normative perspective (what does God’s word say about this?), the situational perspective (what are the facts of the situation?), and the existential perspective (what do I sense?). For God to be Lord means that He is the authority over everything (normative), He is in control of every situation (situational), and He is present everywhere (existential). Frame’s model satisfied all my uncertainty about knowledge and gave me a philosophically rigorous, doctrinally sound grid for seeing the world.
When God began to move me toward church planting, He providentially put me under the tutelage of Dr. Steve Childers, an RTS professor with a massive love for Jesus. Childers often spoke about a church called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, led by Dr. Tim Keller. He told his students, “Get your hands on everything they put out and read it cover to cover.” I spent the spring of 2004 soaking my mind in Keller’s writing and teaching. Besides loving everything he said, I began to notice a strange similarity to both the Sonship material and to Frame’s tri-perspectivalism. Coincidence, right?
Wrong. Providence. Today’s featured speaker at the Acts 29 bootcamp was Dick Kaufmann, former associate pastor at Redeemer in NYC. And he put all the pieces together in a way that made me stand back and laugh.
From 1976-1980, Dick Kaufmann was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He and his friend Tim Keller both attended New Life Church, pastored by Jack Miller. They also both studied under John Frame. Keller and Kaufmann have intentionally worked together over the last decade to do two things: 1) apply the gospel-centered paradigm of Jack Miller to preaching and teaching; and 2) use Frame’s tri-perspectivalism as a grid for understanding how the church should relate to God, the world, and the self. In other words: their entire grid for missional church planting – which is now affecting movements like Acts 29 – rests on the foundation laid by Jack Miller and John Frame.
What has God been doing in the last 10 years of my life? I thought He was simply teaching me sanctification, good theology, and good church planting strategy, and getting me under some good people to learn all that stuff from. Now I’m realizing that He was doing much more than that. He was accomplishing a great divine convergence, preparing me to help plant gospel-centered missional churches. The transformation of my heart, the shaping of my theology, and my calling to church planting were not three things, but one. I’m sort of embarrassed that it took me this long to see it.