Lately, I have been asked why I rejected Calvinism after accepting it in 1998. I realized that I don’t have a single post which addresses the issue, which is odd, given that I post so much and so often on the Calvinist-Arminian debate. I’ll give you a brief history of my accepting Calvinism, state what caused me to question and then abandon the system, and then why I continue to reject some of Calvinism’s core doctrines. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive, historically-contextual, biblical and exegetical critique of Calvinism (I don’t really intend to quote Scripture, though I may). This is simply one person’s brief, historical experience with Calvinism. (I encourage you to read other accounts of former Calvinists who rejected Calvinism at Arminian Perspectives.)
I came to trust Christ Jesus in May 1995 in El Cajon, California, after a phone conversation I had with my dad concerning the return of Christ. Having returned to my hometown in Virginia, I, naturally, began attending the church in which I was raised, Union Baptist Church. The pastor we had at the time was not what I expected (he, at the time, had theologically liberal tendencies). I was newly saved and wanted passion. The pastor was not up for passion. I, therefore, sought out a church with passion and found the Church of God denomination: I actually joined the church in 1996.
I’ll make this, what could be a long story, short. I became disenchanted with Pentecostalism after attending Rod Parsley’s then-unaccredited World Harvest Bible College, now accredited Valor Christian College. I then returned to Union Baptist Church, but I was not happy about that. (I did give Pentecostalism two more tries in 2000-2002 and 2009-2010.) I decided to try Island Baptist Church in 1997, which had split off from Union due to disagreements with that liberal pastor. While there I began reading Bible teachers John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul. By Spring of 1998, I had adopted Calvinism. MacArthur’s study Bible was the primer, but Sproul’s Chosen by God was the nail in the coffin, so to put it.
I figured the appropriate step to take was to join a conservative Presbyterian church, and I found a great one called Christ’s Community Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, Maryland (now Providence Presbyterian Church). I traveled an hour to and from Maryland every Sunday morning. I met some great, godly, and humble people in that church. As mentioned in my very brief bio on this site, I argued against Wesleyans and Arminians at every turn, with all the passion and zeal of a cage-stage Calvinist. I used all the same arguments which Calvinists use today, and touted a nasty rhetoric to boot. (Yet to my Calvinist friends I was such a nice guy.) One of those Wesleyan-Arminian types I wrestled against was my dad.
Now, my dad was no great theologian. Oddly enough, however, he would make statements that John Wesley had made, having never read Wesley. I found that remarkable. Anyway, my dad challenged me to put away Calvinist commentaries, and try to read and study Scripture without Calvinism’s hermeneutic (my words, not his). He asked me to explain how, if God really did love all people — people whom He created in His image, as Scripture insists (John 3:16) — and He really does desire their salvation, as Scripture insists (1 Tim. 2:4), then how are those biblical truths demonstrated in Calvinism?
This was the main issue of which he demanded an answer. No matter what Calvinistic-type answer I gave him, he wouldn’t budge. He even insisted that I was admitting a facet about God that Scripture nowhere grants: that God “in some sense” desires the salvation of all people, but not really. “Aren’t you calling into question God’s character and integrity?” he asked. I wrestled with Scripture for about a month or so after this challenge. I had to admit that the notion of God admitting He loved all people salvifically but had secretly, unconditionally chosen to save only some of them did call His character into question — at least it did for me. I realize some Calvinists have presented arguments against this notion, but I find them inept at best, at the very best.
Now, I knew that God did not have to save anybody. But that fact was never in question. What was always the nagging question for Calvinism — what is still the nagging question — is why God would give us the impression that He really does love all people, whom He has created in His image, but He has chosen to monergistically save only some. Again, the answers I’ve read and heard range from inept and insincere to outlandish and breath-taking. Some of you will, no doubt, want me to list the answers which I find inept or outlandish, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
1. Exhaustive or meticulous determinism, whereby God has decreed (not by permission or foresight/foreknowledge but strictly by decree) every minutiae of our existence, including all heinous forms of sin, is, for me, intolerable. In my opinion, this makes God the author of sin, responsible for sin, and the only true sinner. Most Calvinists (there are, believe it or not, exceptions) reject any notion that God could be the author of sin. I applaud them for their stance, but I think they are being extremely contradictory. For God, again, in my opinion, cannot decree and bring about sin, either by primary or secondary means, and pretend like sin did not happen at His behest.
2. Unconditional election is not unfair, so I won’t write like one of those Pelagians who gives way too much credit to sinful man. We sinned, and we sinned freely. For those who insist that we sinned strictly by divine decree, see above comment on exhaustive or meticulous determinism. The theory that God chose to save some people merely by decree and not strictly in Christ, as Scripture explicitly states (Eph. 1:4; God saves “those who believe,” cf. 1 Cor. 1:21), is unscriptural, to say the least. God saves no individual unconditionally. The condition to salvation, according to God Himself in His word, is only and always centered in Christ Jesus. Thus He saves the one who will by grace trust in Christ for salvation.
3. Limited atonement appears so utterly contrary to any plain reading of Scripture that many Arminians are often baffled how the doctrine was invented. Moreover, given that four-point Calvinists agree with us, it only strengthens our biblical cause. Limited atonement might be consistent with Calvinism, and I think it is, but it is inconsistent with the New Testament. (Again, I realize I’m making claims without delving into exegesis. But the point of this post is merely to state my disagreements with the core doctrines of Calvinism, not grant biblical and exegetical reasons for them.)
4. Irresistible grace can be thought of as the theory of regeneration preceding faith. Though that doctrine cannot, in my opinion, be supported by Scripture — as also five-point Calvinist Greek scholar Dr. David Alan Black has noted to his Greek students — I certainly think the theory is consistent with Calvinism. But, again, I’m much less interested in what appears consistent with Calvinism or Calvinism’s hermeneutic than I am with what I believe Scripture teaches.
Yes, I was once convinced otherwise. I was shown this verse and that verse and another until Calvinism made sense. I would certainly never, not in my right mind anyway, suggest that Calvinism cannot be supported by passages of Scripture. But then again, Jehovah’s Witnesses also appeal to Scripture, but have likewise fallen into egregious errors. Of course, Calvinists are my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses are not. The errors I see in Calvinism are not of the variety which places them in the damnable heresy category, such as the false gospel of the Watchtower Society. But some of Calvinism’s doctrines, in my opinion, fall far short of their intended goal, which is the glory of God.
I also admit that I could be wrong. Don’t just breeze over this admission. I genuinely do believe it’s possible that I’m wrong. I don’t think I’m wrong, which should be obvious. But let me state this: if Calvinism is entirely correct, including its theory of meticulous sovereignty, then God “opened my mind” to Calvinism in 1998, and then “closed my mind” to Calvinism by the year 2000. If Calvinists want to wrestle with me over my rejecting Calvinism then they’ll have to take it up with God.
Original post found at The Arminian site.