Interview with Dr. Sam Storms

UPDATE
In January 2008, the following post was identified as the 17th all-time most popular post with readers of this blog. The 18th most-read post was Dr. Kim Riddlebarger’s response to John MacArthur’s assertion that non-dispensational Calvinists are not “really reformed.”

Sam Storms is well-known as a Calvinistic charismatic speaker. He writes popular books which express a very similar theology to that of John Piper in an accessible way. It was good to be able to ask him some questions via e-mail.

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Adrian
It’s a delight to welcome Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries to the blog today. Sam, to begin with, would you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry?

Sam
Dr. Sam StormsThanks, Adrian. I’m honored that you would want to interview me. I’m 55 years old and have been married to my incredible wife, Ann, for nearly 34 years. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t ask the question that so many others have, so I’ll come right to the point: Yes, I did propose to her on our first date! I certainly don’t recommend that for anyone else. But after 34 wonderful years of marriage, it worked for us (or maybe it worked in spite of that rather impetuous proposal).

I have two daughters. Melanie is 27 and lives in Kansas City with her husband and two sons. What that means is that, much to my surprise, I’m old enough to be married to a grandmother! My other daughter, Joanna, is 21 and is in her third year at Wheaton College, where I taught Theology from 2000 through 2004.

I left Wheaton in 2004 and established Enjoying God Ministries so that I could have more liberty in what I study, write, and teach. I loved Wheaton. Although Wheaton is mainstream evangelical and not even remotely charismatic, they were incredibly kind and generous to me. I had the opportunity to stay there another two years, but felt the Lord was leading us to leave. I describe in some detail in my book, Convergence, how we were led to Wheaton and again back to Kansas City.

Enjoying God Ministries is primarily designed to be a resource to pastors, Christians, and churches everywhere. I’ve put virtually everything I’ve ever written on the website (except for books still in print), free for anyone to download and use as they please. I’m traveling extensively and trying to write as much as I can. Crossway will be publishing my revised and expanded book, Chosen for Life: A Defense of Divine Election, later this year.

So, I’m staying exceedingly busy, to say the least.

Adrian
Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to become a Christian, and how you got into ministry?

Sam
I was raised in a very conservative Southern Baptist home. We lived in Oklahoma and Texas until I moved to Kansas City in 1993. My parents led me to Christ when I was about nine years old. But honestly, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know Jesus as my Savior. I know there was a time, but I was immersed in the life and faith of my family and the church from as far back as I can remember.

I had a very distinct and powerful “call” into ministry when I was ten years old. For awhile, in my late teens, I thought I might pursue a career as a professional golfer, but even then I envisioned some form of ministry being tied up in it. My golf career came to a fitting end when I realized that I had too little talent and too much of a bad temper!

Adrian
Who, would you say, has had the biggest influence on you?

Sam
My parents and my sister, first and foremost. I had a wonderful Christian home and family. In terms of spiritual development, two men in particular had a powerful impact on me. Dr. Sam StormsRuss McKnight, a lay elder in a church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, profoundly influenced me beginning in my college years. He was the first person to introduce the Reformed faith to me and put up with my Arminianism very patiently. He, more than anyone else, is the reason I’m a Calvinist. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, who was professor of New Testament, and later Systematic Theology, at both Dallas Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, had the greatest impact on my overall theological development. But more than that, he provided me with a model of godly excellence in all of life.

As for those still living who’ve influenced me, certainly John Piper would be at the top of the list. John’s personal friendship and theological orientation have been an indescribable blessing. In fact, I’m answering this question as I sit in the airport on my way to preach for him at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis. John and I first met at a Jonathan Edwards conference in Wheaton back in 1984.

Others whom God has used in my life would include Mike Bickle, Jack Deere, and Wayne Grudem, primarily when it comes to my rejection of cessationism and my broader experience of the Holy Spirit.

As for the distant dead, Jonathan Edwards towers above all others. But there have been others. Calvin, Luther, Owen, the 19th century Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, 19th century theologian, William G. T. Shedd (I consumed his multi-volume, Theology, while in seminary), and B. B. Warfield. More recently I’d have to point to Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Adrian
You recently wrote a book called Convergence. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write the book and the hopes you have for it?

Sam
A lot of people who’ve known my story encouraged me to write it. Up until the late 1980′s, there wouldn’t have been much to write about. But from 1988 through 1993, my wife and I had some amazing things happen to us that we neither sought nor fully understood. My purpose in the book was really three-fold. First, I wanted to provide a case for the convergence or merger or wedding of spirit and truth, of power and principle, of mind and affection. The divisions in the body of Christ along these “party lines” are rampant and grievous. Second, I thought my story and the path on which God has led me would provide a case study for how it is possible to be Reformed and charismatic without going nuts! Of course, a few who’ve read my book are convinced that I failed in that regard. They find some of the stories and encounters to be “weird.” Well, yes, they are weird. But I tried to be faithful in recording them as they happened. People can draw their own conclusions. Then, third, I used the subject of hearing God’s voice in general, and the gift of prophecy in particular, as examples of how one can both affirm the centrality of Scripture and the sovereignty of God on the one hand, and the power of the Spirit and the contemporary revelatory gifts on the o
ther.

As you know, Adrian, the U.K. version of the book is going to be released by Kingsway on June 1st.

Adrian
You speak of wanting to see the best of the Reformed and charismatic “wings” of the Church coming together. Are you hopeful that this is indeed possible? Are you a believer in the notion that the Church will be “restored” before Christ’s return?

Sam
I’m hopeful, but not naive about such prospects. It will take a massive dose of humility on everyone’s part. Recently a close friend of mine who has been a cessationist said that on reading the book he felt I was asking far more of those on his side of the fence than of those on the continuationist side. I think he’s right, if for no other reason than it’s more difficult for cessationists to embrace the contemporary validity of spiritual gifts than it is for continuationists to embrace the foundational and central role of Scripture in the Christian life.

I’m not fond of using “restorationist” language. It’s a bit idealistic. I would rather talk in terms of renewal and revitalization and maturity. I do believe there is hope for the increasing unity of the Church and the possibility of a global revival and harvest before Jesus returns.

Adrian
What examples of individuals, churches, or movements have you seen today that best exemplify what you are hoping to see?

Sam
There isn’t any single denomination or movement that I could point to as doing it perfectly, but one thinks immediately of Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers, as well as C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. In my extensive travels, I come across Southern Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Vineyard churches, as well as a lot of independent so-called “Bible” churches and others that are pursuing a convergence with or without the approval of their denomination or movement. There are numerous independent charismatic churches whose pastors are reformed in their soteriology. The “convergence” may not be well-organized or visible to many, but I assure you it’s there and it’s growing.

Adrian
It is interesting to see that the leaders of many movements in the Church today seem to be forging strong relationships. The Together for the Gospel conference is one example, as is Mark Driscoll inviting Josh Harris to his conference and being invited to John Piper’s. Are you encouraged by these developments?

Sam
Yes, of course. I hope everyone would be. I’ve worked side-by-side in ministry with cessationists and Arminians and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I trust that such alliances will continue to flourish without leading to doctrinal compromise.

Adrian
Do you think all this working together can go too far? What if it meant that people felt they had to stop talking about their theological differences in order to not offend each other—would that be a good outcome?

Sam
The only way it would be going too far is if someone began to feel pressure to violate their conscience or convictions in order to preserve some expression of “unity.” Unity is never served by the sacrifice of truth. Personally, I love dialoguing with others about our theological differences. I find it stimulating, challenging, and extremely helpful in making it possible for me to see my own theological blind spots. I don’t know that I’ve ever grown much spiritually apart from being challenged to think through issues by people with whom I disagreed. The key here is being able to talk and disagree without being offensive and abrasive and arrogant.

Adrian
Do you feel that there should be any boundaries to all this working together? Are there groups or theological positions from whom we should distance ourselves?

Sam
Of course there are boundaries. I couldn’t work with an Arminian who is motivated by a desire to exalt human freedom at the expense of divine sovereignty. But most Arminians I know have no intention of doing so. I couldn’t work with a Calvinist who used divine sovereignty as an excuse for justifying passivity or ignoring the lost and dying across the earth. I couldn’t work with a charismatic who insisted that only people who speak in tongues are saved, or Spirit-filled, or are useful to the Lord. But these are all examples of extreme expressions of each position. There are certainly others in each group who embrace radical and unbiblical beliefs that might serve to undermine orthodoxy. The bottom line is, I don’t embrace “convergence at any cost.”

Adrian
This whole notion of how we honor each other while still disagreeing comes up a lot on Christian blogs. I understand that you read at least a few of them—what is your impression overall? Do you think we do a better or worse job at speaking the truth in love than Christians in the “real world”?

Sam
When the blogging phenomenon first started, I spent way too much time reading them. I’ve narrowed it down now to about a dozen that I regularly check. My concern is that people who need to spend more time reading and studying and praying and serving are overly consumed with seeing their name and ideas on the Net.

Adrian
So which of the blogs that you have read do you feel are particularly helpful for someone who is seeking to live out the message of Convergence?

Sam
Dare I say yours? Yes, by all means! Most of those I read don’t focus directly on the issue of convergence. If you visit my website at http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/ and go to the Recommendations section, I list a few.

Adrian
Do you have any plans to start a blog of your own? Do you think that in the future most Christian leaders or ministries will have their own blogs?

Sam
I’ve been encouraged to do so. Perhaps I should. I suspect the number of blogs will increase greatly in the future. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Can pastors and leaders of ministries really afford to invest so much time and energy in blogging when their people and churches need their personal presence and direct involvement? I would hate to see a time come when pastors and ministers are so busy writing and responding on their blogs that they can’t lead, meet with, pray for, counsel, disciple, visit, and minister to their flock. And nothing is worth taking time away from sermon preparation. So, I’m not overly excited about the expansion of the blogosphere.

Adrian
Speaking personally, I have found blogging to be a great aid to my sermon preparation, but I can sure see how it can also be a massive distraction.

We need to draw to a close, soon, so do tell us, how would you sum up your life’s message in just a few words?

Sam
My life verse is Psalm 16:11, “You have made known to me the pathway of life. In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If
I had only one opportunity in life it would be to persuade people that this is true. Lives would be forever changed, sin would be dealt a death blow, and God would be exalted through the satisfaction of his people in Him alone.

Adrian
Thank you so much for joining us!

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, a writer, and a member of Jubilee Church, London since 1995, where he serves as part of the leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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