Ray's Blog

It’s been a journey

Friends have asked how I came to serve in the Anglican Church in North America. It’s been a journey. A good one.

The Lord has been faithful all along. Not that I’ve always felt him to be so. Some years ago I was compelled to dig back down to the very foundations and ask, “Have I been wrong, thinking God loves me? Isn’t it possible that God hates my guts? After all, look at the facts. Look at this bombed-out, smoking rubble called my ministry. Has God rejected me?” Eventually, I realized I’d been right the first time. God does love me. And I didn’t think my way from pain to joy. I didn’t even theologize my way from there to here. God lifted me up. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2).

Those years of anguish, intense though they were, did not swallow me up. My journey in Christ started long before, and it continues long after.

God put me in a truly Christian family. My dad was a saintly man. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he served for some years as a minister in the PC(USA). Then God called him to Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, which I will always cherish as the nursery of my boyhood faith. It was a mainstream evangelical church, back when the word evangelical meant something positive. It was a Billy Graham, “The Bible says,” “You must be born again” kind of church, with Reformed theology pervasive as an unstated presence throughout. I learned about Jesus. I heard the Bible preached. I sang the hymns. My foundation went deep.

Then in the late 60s and early 70s the Jesus Movement radicalized me. I saw thousands in my crazy generation do an abrupt about-face and run toward Jesus. You cannot imagine the joy of it all. Revival became my lifelong passion.

In 1971 God entrusted to me the most magnificent person I have ever known – my wife Jani. She has been my faithful friend through good times and bad. This December we will celebrate fifty years of marriage. Under Christ, I owe her everything.

After calling me to the ministry, God gave me the privilege of attending Dallas Theological Seminary. My theology is no longer dispensationalist. But I will go to my grave thankful for the seminary’s commitment to the original languages and exegesis. I was marked for life as a biblical scholar, a man of the text.

During my doctoral work in Scotland, the Westminster Standards and Presbyterianism compelled my attention. My friends in the Church of Scotland showed me a depth of pastoral and devotional theology I had not seen before. It was profoundly enriching.

Returning home to this country, the Presbyterian Church in America graciously welcomed me into their ranks. I did a mediocre job planting a church for them. But Mission to North America stood by me, and the church was indeed planted. I will always owe the PCA a debt of gratitude for this and more.

My nine years of teaching Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School relocated me again within mainstream Evangelicalism. Eating lunch in the faculty lounge with such giants as Don Carson, John Woodbridge, Murray Harris, Doug Moo and others – I had to pinch myself. At times we disagreed with one another. It’s what thinkers do. But we all revered the biblical basics, and we all believed in our work together.

After more pastoral ministry in PCA churches – and as I was rediscovering the simple truth of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – the Lord guided me and others to plant Immanuel Church Nashville, an Acts 29 church. The best therapy I have ever experienced is basically simple. It’s just being among Christian friends, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, who like me and aren’t trying to fix me. Adding up the brief greetings, the lengthy conversations, the songs sung, the discoveries shared, the laughter and the tears, sharing Holy Communion, kneeling in prayer, mercy upon mercy for eleven years – the cumulative effect was, for me, life-transforming. It was how the category “gospel culture” came into clarity. I finally saw how the theological truth of the gospel proves itself in the relational beauty of the gospel, whenever the doctrine is allowed to exert its full and intended authority. Faithfulness is more than sound biblical doctrine; it includes shared human beauty.

Now Jani and I serve with Renewal Ministries. We are praying and laboring toward revival, as gospel doctrine creates gospel culture more and more, until it starts feeling like Jesus has come to town – everywhere.

Now to wind this up, one more thought looking back, and a final thought looking ahead, all the way to the end.

Looking back, I am grateful that, in my journey with Evangelicalism, Dispensationalism and Presbyterianism, at no point along the way have I heard any responsible leader say of their group, “We are the people, and wisdom will die with us” (cf. Job 12:2). Through it all, I have heard the leading voices giving thanks to God for the insights they have received, while also giving honor to other Christians who see some things differently. Each theological community has been, at their best, both rightly confident and rightly modest. I respect that.

Looking ahead, as I announced in an earlier blog post, I am grateful for my new theological community:

“The Right Rev’d Clark W. P. Lowenfield, Bishop of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast in the Anglican Church in North America, has graciously called me to serve him as a Catechist and Canon Theologian.”

The Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, my Oath of Conformity, my Oath of Canonical Obedience – these are now my green pastures and still waters in Christ. And I say it in so personal a way for a very personal reason. At 71 years of age, I am in that season of life when I must begin preparing to die. Not that I am panicking. Not at all. I am just being realistic, and even expectant. I want to get ready, more and more. I watched my dad live out his final years in the nearness of God, and he was ready. I can be too. And I am convinced that the best way to navigate this final passage in my own journey is to be where communion with God has been nurtured so richly for so long. That is Anglicanism. Yes, my theology aligns with Anglican conviction and mission; but in addition, my soul needs the depth of Anglican tradition.

I look forward to learning from my new friends in the ACNA, and I hope to contribute to them, as we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42) – all to the praise of the glory of his grace.

This post was originally published on The Gospel Coalition