I recently received this e-mail message from a total stranger. This is why I wrote Against Calvinism–simply to show that Calvinism is not the only Christian option and to point away from it to alternatives (primarily classical Arminianism). This is not the only testimony I’ve received like this; it’s just a very recent and especially poignant and satisfying one. I have only lightly edited it.
Here is the message:
I’ll try to be brief. The first person who really discipled me was my uncle, a staunch 5 point Calvinist. I remember the very car ride where I learned of TULIP, I was 19 then (29 now). Anyway, it was the thick theological alternative that I was looking for at the time. He encouraged me to buy The Works of Jonathan Edwards. You could say I was a “piper cub” but more directly fed from Edwards perhaps himself than most.
I then went and did my undergraduate work, as well as an MA in Theological Studies. So, for years I wrestled back and forth. If I was being honest I did not really like Calvinism or Calvinists. Yet I desired to be a slave to the word, as one teacher phrased it. What other choice did I have?
After college I spent several years in Reformed churches (my current is a Bible church with Reformed leanings). During this time I experienced the full fruit of “Reformed” (in the high Calvinism sense) theology. It nearly brought me to spiritual ruin. For several reasons; first, a lack of clarity about the gospel. They robbed me of the simplicity of believing. I remember internal struggles where I knew I was sinful and evil, but did not have any power to create in myself regeneration or saving faith. At times I seriously wondered whether I was non-elect, somewhat like William Cowper. I wish I had clung to “whoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Rom 10:11).” Second, it was a community that focused inward, on the inner circle. The lack of evangelistic zeal, confidence of salvation, focus on sin, and marks of election while always making your calling and election sure are exhausting and spiritually destructive.
I ended up sadly walking away from the faith. I tried living like a secular person. I never truly could, but I tried. You see … I was mad at God. I was angry that I did not have power to believe or cause the supposed necessary change in myself. I had faith but that was clearly never enough to reform some old sinful ways so I just got tired of waiting for God to zap me and gave up with the whole ordeal. I see now, I was not mad at God, but the god of Calvinism. I hated him.
Eventually I got back to the Bible. I missed God. One day I decided to just look up all the references of Romans 9 – 11. I was quite suprised that on every occasion the OT passage in context really had a non-Calvinistic meaning. The baal reference simply says there were 7,000 that did not bow the knee therefore they were not destroyed. Jacob and Esau is clearly about nations and roles, and the hardening of Pharoah’s heart has a broader evangelistic purpose of making his great name known throughout the world. The pottery & clay analogy passage seems like an obvious illusion to Jeremiah 18. I have never heard someone make the connection but I knew I could not have possibly been the only one.
Then I picked up Walls & Dongell Why I’m not a Calvinist, and then a friend introduced me to your work. I was on my way. Thank you for providing a thick alternative and for hopefully starting a trend of good scholarly Arminianism.
You have my permission to share this letter publicly if you wish. Maybe my journey can be of help to others.
[Editor’s note: Some typos have been corrected in this post, including the letter cited in it. Here is a link to the original post and comments at Dr. Olson’s blog.]