X-Calvinist Corner Files: A New Addition (Testimony # 49)

, posted by SEA

The X-Calvinist Corner is a page on this website that shares the stories of people who were once Calvinist but have left Calvinism for a more Arminian theology. This series (The X-Calvinist Corner Files) highlights one of the testimonies from the X-Calvinist Corner in each installment.

Today’s testimony is a new addition from a man named David M. Young:

Having been converted and begun to preach in Methodism in the mid 1960s, during the last months of 1970, I was seriously introduced to the doctrines often called Calvinism. Living at Tyndale House, Cambridge, at the same time as I was, was  another student, who was a member at Eden Chapel, who told me he was a Reformed man. Now you can’t hear a capital letter, so, not knowing the phrase, I assumed he was a reformed man and that the Lord had set him free from drinking methylated spirits or some other vice. Anyway, he lent me a book on the doctrines of grace and talked to me about them – the doctrines usually remembered by the mnemonic TULIP: total depravity; unconditional election; limited atonement; irresistible grace; perseverance of the saints. It was a system of teaching which my Methodist heart and mind at first strongly resisted, but my fellow student persisted, and I came to believe that these teachings were indeed found in the scriptures. They fired up my zeal for evangelism, as they gave me assurance that evangelism must succeed.

They reached not only my mind, but also my heart. They told me that God loved me personally (or, particularly, and sent His Son to die particularly for me); and that I was secure in Christ for eternity. Prayer for unbelievers was no longer an effort to persuade God to speak to people, for I saw it as God’s purpose to call certain people to come to Christ, and such prayer is thus in God’s will and may be offered in faith. Whereas evangelism had been a human effort to persuade people to believe, it now became a channel whereby the Spirit of God effectually called people to come, and giving them faith to believe.

I began to worship among the Strict Baptists, and in 1973 I became a Strict Baptist minister, though when I had to move to a part of the country where there are no Strict Baptist chapels, I became accredited with the FIEC, whilst firmly maintaining my Calvinist beliefs. In all I served two pastorates before leaving the ministry and transferring to work with the British side of a missionary society. I also accepted invitations to preach wherever people wished to hear me in my local area.

Thus, in June 2014 I was invited to meet the local Methodist superintendent minister. I had been told recently that I might be invited to take a ‘local arrangement’ service at one of his chapels, and I contacted him to ensure he was happy for me, a renegade Methodist from the 1960s, to do so. He in fact invited me to preach in throughout the circuit, and I have subsequently preached in all the chapels, and continue to preach in the circuit and in other circuits within about half an hour of home, though I am still in membership of a Baptist church.

The interview has an additional significance in this story, as it is the first time I can pinpoint the date to a particular change in my theology. One of the four traditional questions asked of those who would be Methodist local preachers was, “Does he preach our doctrines?” I assured the minister that I both believe and preach all the doctrines in the Primitive Methodist statement of faith that was published annually in their Minutes of Conference. This includes as §e “General redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ.” Plainly I had come by now to a point where my Calvinism had disintegrated and I once again believed that Christ died to make salvation available to all mankind. It strikes me upon reflection that there were at least four influences which brought about this change. I cannot say which one or ones of them weighed most heavily, and I give them in no order of importance.

Firstly, there was a close study of early Primitive Methodism as it was until the 1860s. When I retired from the missionary society in 2011, I decided to investigate how Methodism came to my home area, namely northern Hampshire, but the subject was too vast, beginning with John Wesley’s visits to Dummer soon after his evangelical conversion. As the area was mainly Primitive, not Wesleyan, I decided to focus on ‘the Prims’, and applied to a university to research and write the history for an M Phil degree, as it turned out that no one else had written the story beyond a few scattered and brief references. This brought about an intense exposure to and immersion in early Primitive Methodist writings, which was undoubtedly a channel of one of the influences that restored my early belief that Christ had died for all. It was not that Calvinism was wrong and Arminianism correct, but rather that God was so manifestly present and powerfully working among the early Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, that the denial of their teaching that Christ had died for all became hard to sustain. It is of course equally manifest that God has been present in grace and powerful operation among Calvinists. Nonetheless, to maintain only the one and deny the other seemed no longer possible.

A quite different influence started many years earlier a good deal earlier, without my at first realising or acknowledging it. This was my widespread encounter, in many parts of Britain, with Calvinists whose religion was – or at least seemed – smug, dismissive, bigoted, intolerant, and exclusive. Over the years this began to push me away not only from such people, but from their religion. It seemed too consistent and widespread an effect of imbibing that religion for the effect to be unrelated to the religion itself; but I hasten to add that I also met some deeply gracious, loving, warm-hearted Calvinists.

Then there is the question of mystery. Calvinism, both as encountered in some of its adherents and publications, seemed more akin to a logical, philosophical system of dogmas, whereas other forms of Christianity, not least Eastern Orthodoxy (which I have never embraced), retain a sense of mystery, an acknowledgement and awareness that there are aspects of salvation, and of God’s ways, character and work, that are not revealed. It seemed to me that it is not possible to reduce Christianity, nor even the central fact of the Atonement, to a neat system which leaves no unanswered questions, no ‘loose ends’. I didn’t want a cerebral scheme or a God whom I could understand. Calvinism’s methodical creed was losing its attraction. Also, my ability to assert only the TULIP doctrines and deny ‘the four Alls of Methodism’ was weakened by other early Methodist writings, for example, from Charles Wesley:

Sinners, abhor the Fiend,

His other Gospel hear,

The God of Truth did not intend

The Thing his Words declare,

He offers Grace to All,

Which most cannot embrace

Mock’d with an ineffectual Call

And insufficient Grace.

The righteous God consign’d

Them over to their Doom,

And sent the Saviour of Mankind

To damn them from the Womb

To damn for falling short,

Of what they could not do,

For not believing the Report

Of that which was not true.

What I found especially persuasive in this poem, entitled The horrible Decree (1741), were these lines which seemed to encapsulate so much of the essence of Calvinism’s predestinarian creed:

He offers Grace to All,

Which most cannot embrace

Mock’d with an ineffectual Call

And insufficient Grace.

Fourthly, though not least importantly, there were the frequent statements in Scripture that Christ did indeed shed his blood for all mankind. Even though there is much in both experience and Scripture which points to the Calvinist TULIP doctrines (not least my own conversion: why ever did I believe in Calvary?), these statements cannot simply be expunged from Scripture or explained away: they must be true, they must be accepted. If we cannot fit them into everything we read and believe, and everything we know about ourselves and our conversion, then we are left with a choice of either denying one side in its entirety, or accepting that there is a mystery here which we cannot penetrate or solve, for the hidden things belong to God, and not all has been revealed.

To look now from a pulpit over a congregation and believe that Christ had died for every one of them, and not just for the elect who might be among them that day, was and remains a joyful and liberating experience. It is consonant with T. S. Eliot’s words in Little Gidding: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.”

David M. Young, MA, MPhil