Another Thoughtful Calvinist Turns from Calvinism to Arminianism after Thinking through the Issues More Carefully

, posted by SEA

Andrew H. shared this testimony about turning from Calvinism and embracing Arminianism at the X Calvinist Corner of the Arminian Perspectives blog (see here for the testimony at its original location):

1) How did you become a Calvinist? What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?

A few different experiences played into my journey into Calvinism.

I grew up in a family that was moderately reformed (my Dad’s personal library included “The complete works of Jonathan Edwards”, all four of Loraine Boettner’s popular books, as well as a number of books by authors like Pink and Owens, though my Dad would never have called himself a Calvinist). For grades 5-9 I attended a private Dutch Reformed Christian School. This background, though not decisive, did make it much easier for me to accept Calvinism later on.

Growing up our family attended a Christian Brethren church. It was in my mid teens when our group of churches began to become hostile to Calvinism, with the publication of articles like “Born by the railroad tracks: confessions of a zero-point Calvinist” by one of the leading teachers in the Brethren Assemblies, and “What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God” by Dave Hunt who was well respected by the Assemblies. Later books would follow including “John Calvin Goes to Berkeley”. (This move away from Calvinism in the Brethren Assemblies has been noted Mark R. Stevenson in his article “Early Brethren Leaders and The Question Of Calvinism”, online:http://brethrenhistory.org/qwicsitePro/php/docsview.php?docid=1563).

I accepted these arguments at first, but was finally turned off by the lack of exegesis I found in their works. During my undergraduate studies (at a secular university) I especially longed for a deeper theological basis for my faith. The first book where I really found this was reading “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. After that I was introduced to Desiring God and the Gospel Coalition. It was Calvinist’s commitment to the Bible and use of Systematic Theology (which I had very little prior exposure to) which I found especially attractive.

After I finished my Bachelor’s degree I worked in the insurance industry where one of my co-workers was a soon-to-be church planter who was struggling through the same theological issues I was. Together he and I discussed the Bible and our studies in theology every day, and through these discussions eventually both of us embraced the five points of Calvinism. For me, the case was closed when I read “The Justification of God” by John Piper, which I considered to be an air tight exegesis of Romans 9.

Over the next 5 years I was immersed in New Calvinism, complete with new friendships with Acts 29 church planters, and road trips to Bethlehem Baptist.

2) Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions? What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?

Last year I started law school. The first year of law school is spent learning how to “argue both sides”, which helped me to think about my arguments for Calvinism in a different way and forced me to face the logical conclusions of these doctrines. The past year also exposed me to the sickening depravity of man, especially through my course in Criminal Law. I had to look full-on at the idea that God had ordained these grotesque acts and was somehow glorified through them.

At the same time, on my mind were passages like Matthew 5:45-48, and Luke 6:35-36, where Jesus shows us the character of God: does God love His enemies (cf Rom 5) only in superficial ways and not where it really matters (their salvation)? How can God be the personification of Love (1 John 4), or be “abounding in steadfast love” (Ex 34, Num 14, Neh 9, Psa 86, 103, 145, Joel 2, Jonah 4), and yet limit the provision of the only thing we really need (the provision of Himself)? I would be confronted with news articles (like this one:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/child-divorcees-of-nigeria-face-a-bleak-future-after-fleeing-abusive-marriages-9570585.html ) that show communities in desparate need of the Gospel, yet as a Calvinist I had to believe the systematic sin they were suffering in was all ultimately ordained by God, and the world is exactly and perfectly as He had created and willed it to be. I couldn’t reconcile that with the character and way of God revealed throughout the Bible, especially in His law and finally in Jesus.

Wrestling with all of this, I finally decided that the only passage really holding me to the Calvinist position was my understanding of Romans 9. So I re-arced (biblearc.com) it and found the inference in v 30-33, which I had never before considered in light of the preceding context. Verse 30 – 32 begins as an inference from what has been argued thus far. Paul does not conclude that Israel is cut of and Gentiles in because of election/predestination, but instead he says it is because of belief vs those who pursued by works. (cf 11:20 & 23) If Paul had just made the argument that the Calvinist’s claim, then these verses should not be an inference at all. This especially made me think I may have misunderstood the chapter all along.

So I wrestled through the preceding verses and realized my interpretation had assumed far too much. In particular, “purpose of election” in verse 11 seems to be connected with God’s purpose in choosing Abraham, and His continuing that purpose through Isaac and then through Jacob, rather than the Calvinistic interpretation of election which I had brought in from outside the context. That purpose was that through Abraham God would bring blessings to all nations (v 4 and cf Gen 18:17-19 and Rom 4:16); a purpose fulfilled in Christ and being fulfilled before the eyes of the Roman Christians as they saw gentiles embracing the Gospel. The question being answered beginning in v 6 then is, has the Word of God failed because God is fulfilling His purpose (bringing blessings to the gentiles) despite the unfaithfulness of most of those descended from Israel (cf Rom 3:3-4)?

The rest of the passage fell into place from there. For example, verses 22-23 made a much better parallel with Eph 2, Rom 2:4, and 2 Pet 3:9 than with any idea of double predestination. (I know this isn’t the place for a full exegesis, though I would love to share mine).

Once I saw that there was an alternative (and I believe stronger) interpretation of Romans 9, I began taking out books and reading articles on alternatives to Calvinism (with full access to the University library and journals). I had deliberately wrestled through the passage before consulting any scholars to avoid making the same mistake I had originally made — I had relied more on “The Justification of God” than I had on the text.

3) What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?

I was quiet about my struggle until I was convinced. I’m part of a church planting team on campus at the University where I am studying, so the first step after telling my wife was to tell the rest of the leadership team (who are each 5 point calvinists, and include my former co-worker from the insurance industry).

I had worried far more than I needed to. I’m still part of the launching team (I worried they might want me to step down, but instead they understood that my commitment to the Bible and upholding the character of God has not changed). A few members of the team and I have been emailing back and forth, and I think it has been helping each of us to consider our positions and the various texts. My former co-worker was quick to remind me that it was I who always argued for double predestination and limited atonement – he was never really that committed to those points anyway.

Today I consider myself a Reformed, 4-point Arminian; still holding to perseverance of the saints in the mostly-Grudem sense, and still committed to penal substitution and imputed righteousness (a doctrine I love). I’m excited for the reprinting of Thomas Grantham’s works, which I think I will be in substantial agreement with.

Though I don’t know a single Arminian to discuss with, I have found a number of helpful books and blogs. Some of the most helpful resources have been David Allen’s chapter on the Atonement and Steve Lemke’s chapter in Irresistible Grace in “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism”, “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson (who articulates a lot of the same conclusions that I struggled with as a Calvinist), and “The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election” by William Klein.

I’ve also found David Allen’s blog (especially his review of “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”; a book which I had received last Christmas), the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (at http://baptistcenter.net), and The Society of Evangelical Arminians to be especially helpful.

Ultimately it was the Bible, our world, and Calvinist teacher’s themselves who turned me away from my Calvinistic convictions. I did not even look at an Arminian blog or book until I was already convinced that the middle three points of TULIP could not be reconciled with the character and way of God revealed throughout the Bible, especially in the law and in Jesus.