Reformed theology & My Evangelical/Charismatic church Planting Experience

April 25, 2015 By Al Ngu
Since we joined an evangelical charismatic church planting in 1995 till 2011, I have been immersed in the teachings on the very much “I will…” self-driven, asking from God for church planting kind of theology and teaching. Being much in Pentecostal in thinking, of which I loved the worship, it is much to my dismay that our theological understanding is at best shallow, and much simplified for the sake of practical application in daily life, obsoleting the desire and ambition to learn really the eschatology, theology of reformed theology in their best tradition of Martin Lloyd Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Calvin, and Augustine. The names that I listed have profound understanding of theology that changed my ministry and life forever.
I will address the what? And why? First of all, I have pondered since coming to New York City in 2008, I have learnt much from Tim Keller’s teachings that’s very Christ centered and God centered as opposed to our self-effort theology in much of the evangelical world that I have been accustomed to. Tim Keller’s teaching & full of grace, redemptive narrative of Christ theology that envelops the entire outlook of Christianity, has had a profound influence in my thing, understanding and the inner desire for God. John Piper has also taught me to desire after God. Keller has taught me much, for example, our utmost desire is God himself, and not the blessings, and power from God! Even the ministry that we want to build for God, in the name of Christ, can be very well an idol in our hearts. What does that mean? That means that our delight in our church planting can actually surpass the delight in God himself. I have felt much worn out, and in a sense burnt out in the last 5 years church planting in New York. All the teachings I am getting are “I should …” or Focus on God…or Have faith…Do not wonder…don’t doubt…etc. and the like. It’s a very much man focused, man centered ability, and albeit in the power of the Holy Spirit, but the fundamental theology is flawed. That’s why church planters feel burnt out in the mission field. Even those who succeed in big churches (mostly in Asia) in this pattern of theology, I do not sense the joy of deep satisfaction and desire for God as in a God centered theology church. And you can understand why I am desperate to see this teaching being worked out in my “new” church plant.
For too long theology has been ignored, and seminary training has been scoffed at in the Pentecostal circles, in the name of pragmatism, and hands on. I even heard of words like after the M.Div. degree in Fuller’s the pastor has lost his ability to speak in tongues. I am not against the charismatic gifts like tongues. In fact, I am aiming to combine the reformed theology teaching, which is so refreshing & empowering to me with the charismatic worship, & definitely I believe in prayers for divine healing too. But why do we have to choose between one of the two? Why can’t we have both?
I took on MAR (Master in Religion) with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, a year ago, and did part time basis and I completed like 6 credit hours. I pretty much scored all A’s across the board. I also completed a 2 years (once a month) course with Redeemer-City-to-City “Incubators” course that I learnt so much that blew me away. In comparison, this blew away all my 6 credit hours in the seminary with very analytical hands on deep thinking by Tim Keller. I feel so much more equipped, and pretty much freed me from the inferior feeling of not having a seminary degree in the mission field esp. in a city like New York planting a church. (Though I am definitely going to complete a M.Div. or MTh after I have gone full time). I discovered for the life of me, that there is so much to learn about contextualization, worship, fears, ambitions, anxieties & hopes of humans in a secular world population. And to be able to have better understanding of who they are, and thus bringing our theology of the cross to meet their needs, and challenge them to see the beauty of the cross, is something that is very invigorating in my soul.
Not to make this a long article, but a quick summary of my thoughts in the regeneration and renewal of my personal faith in my God and also the calling of God upon my life and my wife together to plant the kind of Gospel centered church in New York and multiply in church planting in the days to come in America and the world. I believe strongly that many pastors and church planters in the evangelical/charismatic world do not lack zeal, but they lack the right exposure to the right deep biblical theology that can shape their walk with God (as the #1 importance), only then, secondly, their ministry for God. Not that they can’t learn or have a lower IQ, but they’re just not taught the right theology. Yes, we all can do it.
You might produce temporary positive results, but you’ll never produce lasting transformation with your performance.