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 from a man writing under the pseudonym “Now Dimly” from 2013:
I was introduced to the Christian faith as a teen, though it’s doubtful I was saved at that time. I believed myself to be saved in college, though I turned away from God in 1996 and began pursuing a dark life of drugs, alcohol, etc. During the course of those years I attended Alcoholics Anonymous in a few attempts to get sober, with some success. On May 26, 2003 I finally gave up, after a drug-related car crash and a separate heated brawl with a friend.
Back in AA, a dear brother in the Lord introduced me to the Way of the Master, and I realized the fullness of the gospel and God’s righteous wrath on sinners, especially myself. I repented of my dubious faith and reckless living, and began to earnestly seek God. In the course of studying Scripture, I came across some teachings on Reformed theology. At first, I had a very hard time accepting all of Calvinism for it certainly seemed unfair and at odds with Scripture that God would predestine some for hell and only some for salvation.
Mainly due to the teachings of R.C. Sproul (The “What is Reformed Theology?” audio series), I accepted what seemed to be the inevitable: that man was totally unable to come to Christ in faith, that God had predestined some but not others before the world began, not because of anything they had done, and that Christ had died for those elect only and that if one was chosen by God he or she would definitely come to faith and persevere until the end. Sproul explained from Romans 9 that some got justice and others got mercy, and who were we to answer back to God? I was told that God sadly passed over the reprobate.
While it didn’t all make sense and there was much that seemed confusing or doubtful, the arguments and interpretations of Reformed Calvinist teachers seemed reasonable enough at the time. I couldn’t accept Arminianism! It made no logical or biblical sense the way Sproul, MacArthur and others talked about it, so I completely dismissed it as a viable option. Mind you, I never once read anything by an Arminian teacher or theologian.
From 2007 on, I listened to a lot of sermons and teachings on Calvinism, read books, articles and participated in a reformed forum online. I even debated Ben and some other Arminians online! Near the end of 2012, I began to go back and forth with a non-Calvinist on the topic of election. I got pretty irritated and, while he wouldn’t really debate with me, I set out to prove him wrong at least in my own mind. I began to read the gospel of John at the same time as Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” particularly his chapters on soteriology.
The first thing I saw which immediately stunned me was the emphasis on regeneration preceding faith in the Ordo Salutis. Apparently I had forgotten this or maybe never understood it to begin with years ago. But as I read through John’s gospel, I saw a clear discrepancy. John says that those who believe will receive the new birth and eternal life (John 1:12-13, 3:1-15, 16, 36, 5:24-25). Further study of the Scriptures brought me to the understanding that we are raised from our dead state in sin to life, all by faith in God (Eph 2:5,8; Colossians 2:11-13). While many of these verses are used by Calvinists to defend their order of salvation, I simply could not agree with their interpretations. The raising of dead sinners to life is always through faith, not prior to faith. I’m no student of Greek, but the word “through” is another way of saying “by means of.” So faith is the means by which we are raised, and being raised is not the means by which we come to faith.
I had long believed that people came to Christ freely as the law and the gospel went out and the Spirit convicted people of sin, righteousness and judgment to come (John 16:8). God sent Jesus because he loved the world (John 3:16). Apparently though, I had just embraced the tensions of Calvinism: while God wanted to save the world, the world rejected him; he had predestined some, and not others (Ephesians 1:1-11; Romans 8:28-30), and he would judge them for their sins. Rather than trying to do an in-depth study for myself (which I tried and found very overwhelming), I took the easy route and just accepted what I was told. Who has the time to study deep theological topics that seem to evade even the top scholars? Besides, I respected R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Curt Daniels, John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, and many others. I still do. They are some of the finest Bible teachers and their love for God and devotion to his Word are evident.
But after reading Grudem’s Systematic theology, I began to see all sorts of stuff that didn’t make sense. He even contradicts the logic of his Calvinism at certain points. After reading such things, his remarks about Arminianism seemed skewed. So in January of this year I decided it was time to get the truth about Arminianism from an Arminian. Ben answered all my questions here and I began to understand the Arminian position better. It was quite a different picture than had been painted by my Calvinist heroes and friends. I reread about Arminianism in the book The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele, Thomas and Quinn, and found that what they said Arminians believed was totally different than what Arminians said they believed. Then I stumbled upon quotes from my heroes and found their descriptions of Arminianism and Arminians to be at best slanted, and at worst outright lies (they are called semi-Pelagians, blamed for essentially saving themselves apart from the grace of God, denying total depravity and the sovereignty of God, and more). This really angered me because I had believed them and now found it to be clearly false.
It has been about six months since I began to study both sides again, often with the fervor of a madman. It has been very difficult because I attend a Calvinist church and have some close friends who will not budge on what they see as the truth. Perhaps it could be said that Calvinism is a nickname for the gospel to them. I have tried to be open and have asked some questions of them. But I have been reluctant because I know what Calvinism teaches and I know what answers I can expect. Since I have been taught to put biblical texts through rigorous questioning and study, I have asked some hard questions of Calvinistic interpretations and, personally, I find them wanting. For those reasons I can no longer call myself a Calvinist.
I received much help and encouragement to seek the truth from Ben and others here. The links to other Arminian sites have been a great resource. While my church leadership disagrees with my position I have been told that there is room to disagree on such things so long as I am not divisive. At the same time I’m still unsure if I will be able to remain at this church since I can’t be as open as I’d like to be among friends. I feel as if I am having to keep up a charade. The entire process has been very uncomfortable in many ways, but comforting in others. One comfort is that I am getting to know the Lord much better, and it has caused me to pray more.
I have come to the conclusion that for whatever reason, we in the body of Christ will probably not agree on everything until the Lord returns. It dawned on me recently that I am commanded to maintain a loving and patient attitude toward those with whom I disagree. I must not let this very old debate cause division within the church as far as it is up to me. I think that is what the Lord wants from us as his followers so that the world may see our love and unity. And I will continue to seek him and to understand his Word as much as I can with a pure heart, no matter what doctrines he leads me to believe. I do not want to put my trust in men, but in Christ and his word.