I grew up in a Southern Baptist church that was focused on the gospel. The issues of Calvinism and Arminianism never came up. I had never even heard that there was a debate until 1998 when John MacArthur’s Study Bible came out. That’s when I accepted Calvinism (to the utter disappointment of my parents).
I joined a (PCA) Presbyterian church (Christ’s Community Presbyterian Chuch ~ now Providence Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, MD). I still believed in bapism by immersion (believer’s only, not infants), and the pastor didn’t care one way or the other. I swallowed Calvinism hook, line, and sinker; and I couldn’t believe that everyone wasn’t a Calvinist: it all seemed so clear to me!
Mind you, I did not happen upon Calvinism from a careful inductive study of the Bible. I had to be taught the “doctrines of grace.” I had to be taken to this verse, and then to that verse, and then put it all together in a soup called Calvinism. But I must be honest: it was very convincing.
Moreover, the ministers whom I looked up to were all Calvinists (John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, D. James Kennedy, Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer, etc.). I began reading Luther’s Bondage of the Will and Calvin’s Institutes, as well as John Murray, Ian Murray, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Not only was I a well-rounded Calvinist (having read from Wesley and modern day Pentecostal authors and pastors), but I also had tackled the big dogs of Calvinism. (I have to admit, I was never a fan of Spurgeon ~ and that hasn’t changed! That’s why he is not on the list.)
A little over a year later, after quite a lot of arguments with my dad over Calvinism (I would brashly defend TULIP theology to the death!), I began to study the Bible inductively on my own and later questioned the system as a whole. Sure, I believed that humanity was fallen and sinful, so “Total Depravity” was not an issue for me. What was an issue for me was the character of God, most fully represented by His Son Jesus Christ in the Gospels (Heb. 1.1-3).
How could the same God who claimed to love the world and desire its salvation (Ezek. 18; 33; John 3.16; 1 Tim. 2.4; 2 Pet. 3.9) have pre-selected whom He was going to save, and this by a mere decree and not based on His foreknowledge of who would receive and/or be in union with Christ Jesus? Something was terribly wrong, I thought. What had initially attracted me to Calvinism (focus on the sovereignty of God, deterministically speaking) was now compelling me to run from it. This view of God was, in my opinion, divorced from the nature and character of God revealed in the life of Christ and presented explicitly in the entire tenor of Scripture. I empathize with Ergun Caner’s notion that the god of Islam and the God of Calvinism share some traits (based on the view of God as extremely deterministic).
I called a conference with my PCA pastor and assistant pastor and told them that I would no longer be a member. I gave them my reasons (I had it all outlined on two sheets of paper), and they were very encouraging. The pastor told me that I was in good company (with John Wesley and others), and that he had no doubt that God was the One who was ultimately leading me elsewhere. It was a very positive experience.
Since that time I have studied the issues that cause the greatest tension between the systems of Calvinism and Arminianism, namely, election, reprobation, predestination, and free will. That was ten years ago this summer (’08). The more I study these issues year after year the more I am convinced that though Calvinists are sincere (and very dogmatic in their positions!), they are sincerely wrong and have missed the mark on the character and intentions of God as represented most fully in the life and Person of Christ Jesus (Heb. 1.1-3).
For His Glory,