This page shares testimonies of people who have left Calvinism for a more Arminian theology (these can be seen below). If you were once a Calvinist and have left Calvinism, please share your story with us for inclusion on this page in an email (our email address is email@example.com). We are very interested to know why you abandoned your Calvinistic convictions for Arminianism (or at least a non-Calvinist soteriology). We invite you to include the following information:
How did you become a Calvinist?
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
Our hope is that these testimonies will have an impact on those who are considering embracing Calvinism, contribute to them turning from their Calvinism for Arminianism, and serve as an encouragement to those who may be leaving Calvinism or have recently left Calvinism.
(Note: This page was initially taken from the Arminian Perspectives website where it is still active and open for new additions, which will also be added here. Occasionally, someone named Ben is mentioned in the testimonies below, and that normally refers to the creator of the Arminian Perspectives blog.)
- Godismyjudge on July 24, 2008 at 3:07 am said:
I grew up in Baptist churches, and though I read the bible quite a bit, I didn’t really know about Calvinism/Arminianism. In high school I was challenged by a Calvinist. He pointed out certain aspects of Romans 9 that I hadn’t noticed before and at the time, I didn’t have a better interpretation of Romans 9 than he did. In retrospect, I didn’t really have an interpretation of the passage at all. Although I struggled a bit, I became a reluctant Calvinist. What I found appealing about it was 1) I found total depravity to be biblical and 2) Calvinism was a system as opposed to no system and most importantly 3) the Calvinist view of Romans 9 was the only view I knew of.
One night I was having my devotions when I stumbled across Hebrews 10:26-29. I was shocked and upset. Why hadn’t my pastors/teachers told me there were warnings like this in the bible? I resolved to not declare myself either Calvinist or Arminian, but rather to re-baseline my views from the bible. In some sense, I never stopped digging into the issues, but today I am decidedly Arminian.The key for me was Romans 9. At the time I started studying about predestination, there weren’t many Arminian resources. Calvinists had warned me that Arminianism had been condemned as heresy, so I was very cautious when I read Arminius’ commentary on Romans 9. The first time I read it I probably only understood about 20% of what I read. So I read it again and again and other portions of Arminius’ writings. What I found was Arminius also had a system. So the choice was not a system vs. no system, but rather which system is scriptural. I think coming to understand Romans 9 was perhaps the most convincing aspect of my move away from Calvinism.
God be with you,
- William Birch, on July 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm said:
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 babies), 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.)
About a year later, after quite a many arguments with my dad over Calvinism, I began to question 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.
How could the same God who claims to love the world and desire its salvation (John 3.16; 1Tim. 2.4) 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 Christ Jesus? Something was terribly wrong. What had initially attracted me to Calvinism (focus on the sovereignty of God, deterministically speaking) was now compelling me to run from it. 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 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 two systems, namely, election, 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 on their positions), they are sincerely wrong and have missed the mark on the character of God as represented most fully in the life and Person of Christ Jesus (Heb. 1.1-3).
For His Glory,
- tjoseph, on July 30, 2008 at 1:48 pm said:
I would have to say that I have been a flip-flopper on the issue for years. Now I can honestly say that I am solidly an adherent to the soteriological doctrine of free will and cooperation (synergy).
As a former Baptist, I sought the roots of the faith. That led me to the Calvinist/Reformed movement of the Reformation. During this period I sought out various “reformed” pastors for discussion and read as much literature as I could find (even own a copy of the Reformation Study Bible).
It was Church history, along with prayer and meditation, that led me to probe deeper into the issue. I had to honestly question ALL presuppositions in order to find closure on the matter, even the “Five Solas of the Reformation”.
I found that the matter of Calvin vs Arminius goes back to three main persons in Church history, namely Pelagius, St Augustine, and St John Cassian. There are other players, of course, but I think these three sort of typify the commonly held positions. It was Augustine’s “original sin” doctrine that led to the Calvinist position of “total depravity”. Apart from the words used, they are basically the same concept. John Cassian opposed Pelagianism (though monergists erroneously accuse him of semi-Pelagianism), but was both supportive and critical of Augustine. In his 13th Conference, he makes the case, Scripturally, historically, and philosophically for synergism (much better than I could here).
This is the idea held by Eastern Orthodoxy, most of the Anglican Communion, and Wesleyans, but not so much in the Church of Rome, and definitely not among “reformed” Protestants.
To make a long story short, I am currently a prospective Anglican/Episcopalian. There is certainly diversity among Anglicans in this, but my focus is on being a voluntary servant of Christ.
- Adam, on August 5, 2008 at 5:23 pm said:
I wrote this in 2007 explaining why I abandoned Calvinism. Unfortunately, the comments were not saved since much of my old blog was not salvageable.
This is a post I have been thinking about and working on for quite some time. It is not meant to be an exhaustive critique of Calvinism or an argument for the purity of non-Calvinist theology. It is a response to the genuine inquiries of those who ask why I no longer hold to the Calvinistic “doctrines of grace” and “sovereignty of God.” Confessional intellectual autobiography and polemical discourse are the genres in which I write, and hopefully it will be apparent at which places I vacillate between the two. I have made a concerted effort to downplay the use of technical jargon, though some will be necessary. When words idiosyncratic to the issues emerge I will do my best to explain them, but I plead for grace in advance for any presumed vocabulary that may be foreign to the gentle reader.
I shall begin by giving the argument that persuaded me to embrace Calvinism followed by a critique of that argument. Then I will survey the major intellectual and personal problem I endured as a Calvinist and show how it served to undermine my faith. Finally I will conclude by highlighting the benefits I received from being a Calvinist and identify my own position. Surely, there will be disagreement and I am not naïve to the possibility of inviting scorn. My only request is that this be read with the same hermeneutic of charity that I have tried to extend to the writings and teachings of Calvinists themselves.
Calvinism’s Strongest Argument
Historical theology’s teaching on the freedom and bondage of the human will almost always begins with the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius. Without diving into all of the historical details of the debate, the disagreement was simple yet profound in answering the following question: Do we do righteous works by our own power or by the grace of God? Pelagius argued the former, Augustine argued the latter. History sided with Augustine and “Pelagianism” was deemed a heresy.
And history got it right. The human will is so in bondage to sin that it is incapable of pleasing God in any meaningful way. So much so that it is necessary for God to graciously intervene and “regenerate” our hearts so that we can move towards him. The analogy often given to help us understand this parallels that of resurrecting from the dead: we are dead in sin and God makes us alive in righteousness so that we might have faith in him. Calvinists are wholly and biblically correct to insist that we need divine assistance to draw near God.
From this, Calvinism makes its strongest argument: the argument from grace. Simply put, the argument states that since we are so incapable of pleasing God by our good works he must intervene to save us according to his own power and will. We contribute nothing to our salvation. He is the author and perfector of our faith from beginning to end and any claim we make for the explanation as to why we are saved, be it good works, wise decision-making, or persistent perseverance under trial, in effect “takes credit” for our salvation and renders grace meaningless. God’s glory is compromised and we are able to boast before God. This understanding of salvation is broadly described as “mongergism,” which means that God is solely responsible for our salvation.
When I first encountered this argument I found it persuasive and still find it persuasive in several ways. There is not a Calvinist in print today who does not appeal to this as the first order of arguments against Arminianism or any free will theology that would claim “synergism”—the idea that God and humanity cooperate in bringing about salvation. However, over time certain flaws became evident to me as I persisted in my Calvinistic faith. The way these flaws emerged will be described below, but I will begin with the result of those flaws in formal argument.
Calvinism’s Biggest Weakness
The problem with mongerism, or the argument from grace, is that it ends up taking so much away from the human will that it takes on things it would rather distance itself from. If God is solely responsible for our salvation, then it seems that he is also solely responsible for our damnation. God’s eternal choice to save some and not others is unconditional. Yet if we hold to unconditional election unto salvation, then it seems we must hold to its logical corollary: unconditional reprobation unto damnation. Therefore, in same manner, we are apparently saved by God’s grace apart from works and we are damned by God’s condemnation apart from works (Rom 9:11-13). To be sure, I know of no Calvinist that would accept this, and there are a number of reasons why we shall examine below.
The first reason why Calvinists reject this argument is by distinguishing the natures of election and reprobation. Reformed Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem says “the cause of election lies in God, and the cause of reprobation lies in the sinner.” Another distinguishing feature between the two categories is “that the ground of election is God’s grace, whereas the ground of reprobation is God’s justice” (Bible Doctrine, 292). This reasoning, however, fails for it seems to say that election is unconditional and reprobation is conditional. If election is not conditional, meaning it is not in response to foreseen faith or received grace, then on what basis is God’s decision to condemn made conditional, meaning it is in response to foreseen sins?
Calvinists might try to wriggle out of this dilemma by speculating about the logical order of God’s degrees. God’s decree to permit the Fall could be logically prior to his decree to save some and leave others to judgment. But this is to no avail, because in both cases the decree to allow sin into the created order and the decree to save some and damn the others is found in God. To assert an asymmetry between election and reprobation (as Frame does. See The Doctrine of God, 334) is virtually meaningless, because we act in accordance with God’s “secret will” (or “will of decree”) which, according to Grudem, is made up of those “hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen” (Bible Doctrine, 97). Therefore, the idea of responding to knowledge obtained by divine foresight is nonsense in this system. In Calvinism God cannot be conditioned by his creatures in this way, for humanity’s will to sin is rendered certain by divine decree. God may be conditioned by his own decree, but it is not clear how the following proposition, “A loving God desires to save all and at the same time desires the damnation of many for his glory” avoids logical contradiction.
The second reason this argument is rejected is because Calvinists believe humans are to be held responsible for their actions. In Calvinism, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is reconciled by appealing to a form of “compatibilism”—the belief that our freedom is compatible (or not rendered void) by causal determinism: God is absolutely sovereign over the outcome of human decisions in such a way that we are still responsible for them. In this view God cooperates with human beings in every action, directing their distinctive characters and natures to cause them to act as they do. Thus every event is said to be 100% caused by God and 100% caused by the creature (See Grudem: Bible Doctrine, 145). By this understanding of divine providence Grudem states, “God has made us responsible for our actions.” He says “If we do right and obey God, he will reward us” and if we do not do right we will be punished (Bible Doctrine, 152). However, this seems to create a problem for the argument from grace in that God is no longer “solely” responsible for our salvation. Since the decision of faith was caused 100% by God and 100% by the creature, we must conclude that we are responsible for our salvation in the same way we are responsible for our sin. The argument from grace would have us believe God is 100% responsible for our salvation and that we are 0% responsible for it, for grace alone is causally sufficient for our faith in Christ (See Paul Helm in Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views, 170). If this is true, however, compatibilism is false and we are left with hard determinism. Human freedom, thus, is nothing more than an illusion. Ironically enough, an argument for incompatibilism seems to be given in the end. Of course, the more careful Calvinists theologians deny this and hold that human beings are responsible for their salvation (as we will see below), but in my view this softens the idea that God is “solely responsible” for our salvation and leaves the argument from grace significantly qualified, rendering its rhetorical value greatly diminished.
Therefore, while it is in the view of this author that Calvinism puts forward many interesting and even believable arguments from Scriptural proof texts, it nevertheless leaves us with an illogical and unintelligible construct that is inconsistent and confusing, and in my case, damaging.
My Journey to this Conclusion
My journey away from Calvinism began not unlike other journeys with intense reflection on the last letter of the so called “TULIP”: the letter “P”—perseverance of the saints. The first four points of the TULIP all focus on the order of salvation before the moment of saving faith, the last point deals with the state of the believer afterwards. Many who have not studied “5 point” Calvinism in depth are attracted to the teaching of the fifth point, because it ensures a “once saved always saved” theology of eternal security. This certainly was the case with me. The possibility of falling away is a dreadful prospect, and the idea of God’s sustaining grace guaranteeing my safety was most assuring. How the letter “P” in the TULIP could be said to be the weakest link was not apparent to me.
An Excurse on the TULIP
A common misconception of the TULIP is that it is thought that one can affirm one, two, three, or even four of the points and still be a Calvinist. Hence, the phenomenon of “4 point” Calvinists who commonly affirm all but the “L”—limited atonement (who would want to limit the atonement?). But the fact of the matter is they were designed to be an interlocking logical unit where if you deny one, you deny them all. J.I. Packer argues that if you are a one-point Calvinist, then you are a 5 point Calvinist. If “L” is compromised as “unlimited” then, following from the belief that Christ’s death objectively accomplishes forgiveness on behalf of sinners, universalism—or the doctrine that everyone is saved—is implicated. If “T” (total depravity) is denied then humanity may be able to move towards God without divine assistance. If “I” (irresistible grace) is denied then it is possible for humanity to thwart God’s will to save sinners. If “U” is denied (unconditional election) then God’s choice to save us is conditioned by a foreseen response to him rooting the decision for salvation in ourselves and not in God. And of course, if “P” is denied, then our fallen will is able to overcome God’s saving purposes. All this I learned from good Calvinist teachers before I started to seriously reflect on how “P” could be a faulty premise in the argument.
An Excurse on Relevance
At this point, if the reader is still with me, I would enjoin him or her to remember that all theology is pastoral theology. I do not engage in this logical exercise for the sake of intellectual escapism or cerebral entertainment. Many of the questions that engage these issues are questions of the heart that muse late in the night, or when prayer is not answered, or when a loved one is resistant to efforts of evangelism. I share these logical parameters and arguments to better explain how I encountered and overcame deep psychological dissonance within my faith that was often filled with doubt and despair. I came to the conclusion long ago that we often opt for our theological positions out of pastoral needs rather than by rational argumentation. To be sure, our faith seeks understanding as the head follows the heart in its quest to make sense of deep and enduring questions that perplex and befuddle. This is not to say this is a proper way to do theology (for that would be to work towards ascertaining the true teachings of Scripture), but it is typical and incredibly influential. All of us must be in tune with our pastoral needs before we make any big decisions about these matters.
How Can I Know I Am Saved?
My problems with “P” began late one night after awaking from a dream wherein I vividly stood before God as a condemned man. After confidently thinking I would enter the Kingdom for having trusted Christ for salvation I heard the dreadful words, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” I awoke in an absolute terror and cold sweat as I contemplated the echoing words in my mind. It was perhaps the only moment in my life I could say I felt what it is like to have absolutely no hope. No amount of effort, prayer, faith or repentance could change God’s immutable verdict. It had been decided. Of course, was only a dream and I recovered after a few hours of meditation. Yet the experience elicited a profound theological question: Had my eternal fate already been decided?
As a student of theology who has wrestled with these issues for a good seven years I now can see how there were many other questions that were contained in this question, but as a terrified believer with seemingly no hope such matters were painfully insignificant. Unfortunately, these moments of dread would continue for six months and I developed an incredible fear of death. It seemed to me that the only way I could know I was saved was by knowing the status of my eternal election. Was I chosen by God for salvation or was I eternally damned before I had done anything good or bad? To be sure, the Calvinist theologian in me had responses to this question, yet none of them sufficed. For example, John Frame states God’s eternal decree to damn “does not prejudice our assurance of salvation.” This is because our “assurance is not based on our reading of the eternal decrees of God, which are secret unless God reveals them, but on the promises of God” (The Doctrine of God, 334). Yet as we shall see, one’s ability to believe the promises of God in a saving manner is conditioned upon God’s eternal decree. Therefore, my Calvinistic theology presented my needs for assurance with an epistemological problem: in order to have assurance I needed to know the status of my election, something that by definition is secret and cannot be known.
A Crisis of Faith and Common Sense
After intense study of all these matters I came to doubt many of the core beliefs of the faith. I did not express my doubts to many people, though I often confessed to others that I was struggling with a terrifying fear of death and did not know I was saved. One evening, I had dinner with a friend and confided my struggles with Calvinism and how it had undermined my assurance. In a wry tone he asked, “So why do you keep believing in Calvinism?” I said that I thought it was a correct interpretation of the Bible. He said, “Well, if you are having doubts about your salvation you are missing out on something very basic to your faith.” Suddenly it dawned on me like a ray of light: I had constructed a complex and unassailable system of doctrine that was denying me my birthright. Shortly after this I reassessed my belief in Calvinism and let it corrode under the sweet promises of Scripture: that eternal life is given to all those who believe in the Son of God—Jesus Christ. Studying Luke’s Gospel, an introductory commentary on the text, standard apologetic arguments for the resurrection, and Dallas Willard’s reflections on the teachings of Jesus revived my faith in a personal God who came in universal love to offer abundant life to all who believe in him. It is the most precious news on the face of the planet. Yet I did not simply let my belief in Calvinism die without a serious attempt at preserving it. What follows are my thoughts and conclusions from a engaged study of a book co-authored by one of my professors on the subject of assurance.
The Problem of Assurance
The problem of assurance has a long and checkered history in Calvinistic theology. Perhaps the most devout practitioners of Calvinism, the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries, wrestled deeply with the problem and devised many innovative and ingenious solutions to it. Covenant theology was one idea where God’s immutable nature is said to be bound by a contractual agreement with humankind to never revoke his promise of salvation by faith in Christ through grace alone. Another idea was constructing a theology of discernment that worked to distinguish between “reliable” and “unreliable signs” of regeneration and authentic faith. Many of the Puritan Paperbacks you can still purchase today deal with discerning between true and false expressions of such weighty matters as love, repentance, holiness, and faith. The most famous, and arguably the best treatise in this genre is Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. It is a very good book, one of the greatest in American theology.
Yet each of these “solutions” is riddled with the same epistemological problem. Covenant theology more or less states the terms and conditions of the promises that we must believe in order to be saved. This does not in any way give us assurance that we will be able to meet these conditions, for the ability to meet them, according to the argument from grace, is contingent upon God’s unconditional choice to save. Edwards’ Religious Affections, though powerful and stirring in many ways, often leaves one introspective like every other argument in this genre. Does one truly have the “reliable signs” at work in one’s heart or not? Answering these questions almost always is a subjective exercise. John Owen’s treatment of assurance, particularly the warning passage in Hebrews 6:4-6, makes a number of claims that are terrifying to consider. For example he asserts that an insincere believer (one that is not truly saved) can be “enlightened” yet not changed, renewed, or transformed. He or she may “taste of the heavenly gift,” meaning the Holy Spirit, yet still not experience the regenerating work of the Spirit. We may even experience gifting of the Spirit (like Simon Magus did [Acts 8:15-21]), yet fail to taste “the goodness of God, and the powers to come” (Quoted in Schreiner & Caneday: The Race Set Before Us, 195-96). Thus one can have the experiences of a genuine Christian, yet not be a genuine Christian. Therefore, whatever “evidence” we muster in favor of making our election sure could very well be spurious. As many of us know, we have shared deep fellowship with those who are no longer walking with the Lord. For Owen and company, this means that they did not “fall away;” rather, they never were truly saved. We thought they were saved for the same reasons we think we are saved, yet we are led to conclude they never were saved. Therefore, we have no reason to be assured of our own salvation since our faith, which is seemingly genuine, could in fact be a sham.
A Possible solution?
Perhaps the best book I’ve read on Calvinism in conjunction with a serious study in biblical theology is Tom Schreiner and A.B. Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us. This is a carefully reasoned and trenchantly argued book that is perhaps the best in print on the subject of perseverance and assurance from the Calvinist perspective. The meticulous attention paid to different viewpoints, the thorough exegesis, and the pastoral sensitivity make it a “must read” for anyone in search of real and weighty answers to the vexing problems listed above. The authors do not make the error in the argument from grace that so many Calvinists do in that they treat the sanctification and the perseverance of the chosen believer true to compatibilist terms that dignify his or her responsibility in salvation.
In summary, the book’s argument seeks to make sense of the biblical warnings against falling away (see Rom 8:13; 11:17-24; I Cor 9:27; Gal 5:4; Col 1:23; I Thess 3:5; I Tim 1:19-20; II Tim 2:17-18; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; Jas 5:19-20; II Pet 2:20-22), and criticizes three popular views of perseverance and assurance common among Christians as well as a fourth that is idiosyncratic to certain thinkers in the scholarly world (see here for more my initial interaction with this book). The first of which they repudiate is the simple “loss of salvation” view, which means what it says: genuine believers are able to lose their salvation by failing to persevere. Second is the “loss of rewards” view, which simply entails the loss of certain benefits in heaven, though not salvation, if one walks away from the faith. Third is the “test of genuineness” view which is the view of Owen (above) where a believer devises a system of biblical “tests” that looks for true signs of faithfulness. Falling away proves one never was genuinely regenerated in the first place. The fourth view is the so-called “hypothetical view” that only imagines the idea of a believer falling away, yet maintains the reality of which an impossibility.
Schreiner and Caneday give serious arguments demonstrating flaws in each of these views, if not dismantling them entirely, and present their own view of the warnings: the “means of salvation view” (pp. 38-40). In this view the warnings are the means of eliciting faith in God’s promises, and do not imply the possibility of having salvation and falling away from it. No true believer will fail to heed the warnings, thus rendering them compatible with God’s sovereign election and human responsibility. The warnings, then, function as a means of God’s grace to the elect that only the elect are able to heed via the sovereign grace of God. The solution is ingenious because it directs the believer and unbeliever to the promises of God through the warning passages and honors the responsibility of the believer to persevere in believing them. Yet it is not unlike the other views in that it is not without its own problems.
The Molinist Objection
At this point I must tread carefully since I am waging disagreement with a professor from my school. Though I have not taken one of his classes, I am told Professor Caneday does not suffer fools lightly and is very able in defending his view (his blog is here). Yet I will persist with an objection that he has anticipated and formulated a rebuttal to in the appendix to his book. This objection was articulated in an article by William Lane Craig entitled “Lest Anyone Should Fall”: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings where he essentially argues that the “means of salvation view” is actually more coherent in a “middle knowledge” perspective. Middle knowledge is the view of God’s knowledge that contains what his creatures would freely do in any given circumstances (or “possible world”) before he creates the world. This contrasts with the Calvinist perspective in that it allows for libertarian free will, which is a view of freedom that is incompatible with causal determinism.
Without diving into the details of this highly technical view and how it relates to the issue at hand, Craig’s view of middle knowledge boils down to the following proposition:
1. If the warnings had not been given, the believers would have fallen away.
He asks, Does the [Calvinist] regard (1) as true or not? If he holds that (1) is true, then it seems clear that the believers are in fact capable of falling away, for in the closest possible worlds in which the antecedent of (1) is true, they do fall away.
How do Schreiner and Caneday respond to the question “Are believers capable of falling away?” The answer is not so clear. Since Schreiner and Caneday are Calvinists the short answer is that they cannot. Textually, they argue that the warnings do not imply falling away anymore than road signs warning of slippery bridges imply we will slide off the road; they point to conceivable outcomes, not probable consequences (See pp. 208). However, this seems to miss the point by confusing probability with possibility. A conceivable outcome is not that much different from a possible outcome, especially when we consider the warnings against backsliding and shipwrecking the faith. The supposition, “If you swallow arsenic you will die” doesn’t prove one will or that it is likely one will swallow arsenic. Yet it treats swallowing arsenic as a real possibility. One is capable of swallowing arsenic in the same way someone is capable of falling away (see Rom 8:13). This creates a problem for the Calvinist view since this possibility is exactly what it denies. Schreiner and Caneday’s rebuttal of Craig does not seem to deal with the substance of his proposition and instead gets bogged down in calling attention to fallacies of argumentation and misrepresentation concerning tangent details that lead up to it. While I grant they may be technically correct in naming these, they are not fatal to Craig’s concluding proposition which is the first premise in an otherwise sound argument. As far as I can tell Craig is able to make sense of the real possibility of falling away and the means necessary for guarding against it via God’s middle knowledge, which Calvinism cannot.
The Irrelevance of the Solution
However, even if the Molinist objection is shown to fail, I am not sure that Schreiner and Caneday’s view can transcend the problems of the “test of genuineness” view. When reflecting on “fallen runners” Schreiner and Caneday contrast the lives of Peter and Judas. Both Peter and Judas “failed to persevere” in their own ways. Yet Jesus intercedes for Peter so that his faith will not fail (Luke 22:31-32), and in the end he is restored. The fate of Judas, however, is one of judgment as he goes to his bitter death with much remorse, but no repentance. Schreiner and Caneday conclude that for those whom Christ intercedes (Heb 7:25) they will persevere. Those that have not been “given by the Father to the Son” will eternally perish (pp. 248-49; 251-53). Peter represents the former and Judas the latter. Therefore, we are back to the same epistemological problem: how can we know the Father has given us to the Son and that Christ is interceding on our behalf? Without having the knowledge of our eternal election we can have no assurance that we will persevere, for we have no assurance we will be given the grace to exercise the faith necessary for our salvation. Thus the warnings are meaningless to the unregenerate and the “means of salvation” solution to the problem of assurance is irrelevant.
There are many, many other issues that I could write about, but this post has gone on long enough. However, I want to be clear with my Calvinist brothers and sisters that I do not look back on my time in Calvinism with disdain or regret. While in the end the drawbacks far outweighed the benefits, the benefits were duly enriching. Through Calvinism I came to respect both reason and biblical authority and that neither are properly honored without the other. I came to learn the great truths of the gospel in a deeper way that helped solidify my faith in the grace of God over and against my own works. It taught me that God answers to no one and may do whatever he pleases. I see no reason to hold Calvinism or those who teach it in contempt, nor do I claim to have believed it in the way it has been traditionally understood. This post is simply my intellectual autobiography and concluding reasons from my encounter with Calvinism. As an Arminian Molinist I am not naïve to the problems in my view. However, I think there are less problems in it that serve my faith better. In my view I can rest on the universal love of God expressed through Christ; this is the anchor or my soul. No longer must I speculate about the secret discriminations of a “God behind the God”—for I can fix my eyes on Christ and run the race with joy, scorning the same shame of the world, the same shame it heaped on the crucified God.
- Patti Haider, on September 2, 2008 at 5:19 am said:
I can’t say I was ever a Calvinist, but when I first began attending church after a long absence, I attended a Calvinist charismatic church, quite a combination! I was very blessed by the teaching on the Sovereignty of God, it was a truth that I needed to understand especially at that time, However I almost immediately was puzzled by the hard nature of Calvinist doctrine, and noticed that ” correct doctrine” in Calvinist circles was held in higher importance than preaching the Good News. I gradually began to understand that according to Calvinism the Good News wasn’t so good, actually unless you were one of the” elect”, it was bad news… and the more hardened of a Calvinist that preached or expounded, the more I became concerned about the nature of my loving God.
As with Ergun Caner, I see the Calvinist God as the harsh Molech god of Islam… I began to read Ian Murray, Spurgeon, RC Spoul etc, until I became quite distressed to realize that a simple reading of the scripture was not good enough, what it appeared to be a true offer of salvation to whosoever will, became a muddied mess that only PHDs could understand…I really became distressed over it all until one fine day, the Lord showed me that the Gospel, as He said, is for those who will accept the Good News as a child, what a child can understand about Jesus’ love offer is all that really needs to be known to find salvation.
My own six year old daughter found Christ through the seeing of a picture of Jesus on the cross in a bazaar in Pakistan. She believed on Him that day and has never turned back (she was being raised as a Muslim). I also believe the Lord showed me that there are mysteries about salvation that perhaps the Calvinists seek to apprehend and define, and perhaps both the Calvinists and Arminians have Light, but not complete understanding.
My final observation between Calvinism and other doctrinal slants on the Gospel is this… I looked at the Life of John Calvin, and John Wesley, and tried to consider how did each live, and how did each express the Love of Christ. Without a doubt, John Wesley’s life expressed profound love and determination to win souls for Christ, John Calvin aimed at correcting wrong doctrine and establishing God’s rule here on Earth, He struck me as a hard man. When I read Calvinism it strikes me as the new Phariseeism, all calculation and addition and subtraction. No wasted drops of Christs Blood etc,.. I don’t mean to demean sincere Calvinists, but I do note that there is a tendency to pride of “higher” understanding, and a lesser evangelistic Spirit.
I say this for one reason: to cause people to think about what their doctrine produces in them. I was once in a church service where a Buddhist girl came in, I sat next to her hoping to talk to her about Salvation. Unfortunately, our minister chose to teach the meaning of TULIP that Sunday. I was aghast! The girl’s recently saved sister had sent her to our church. The Buddhist girl stayed through about L (Limited atonement), salvation NOT OFFERED to some. She left then, never to be seen again, she must not have been elect :((. I don’t actually believe that, I am still trying to define what I do believe, but I know that it is not as stated in the unlovely TULIP.
Your site is interesting, I’ll continue to browse. God Bless us all, and give us Wisdom and Light, for His Honor, for His Kingdom.
- Arminian, on October 27, 2008 at 6:40 pm said:
I was a Calvinist for a short time. I had basically been an Arminian. But I came under the influence of a campus minister who was a Calvinist. He convinced me to embrace Calvinism with the usual types of proof texts. But it did not sit right with me. It conflicted with so much that the Bible says. I became depressed as the clear and certain implications of the theology was that God has created most people to torture them forever in Hell, and this somehow is what glorifies him. I found it difficult to pray. But I did come to the point where I truly desired that if it would most glorify God to send me to Hell, then that he do so. It’s not that I was not already at that point as an Arminian, but that such a thought would never have occurred to me. The Bible gives no hint that God would prefer to see people in Hell than save them. But I came to trust that I may not understand it now, but that God was still good, and that it would probably make sense in Heaven. I came to trust that God was good despite what my Calvinistic theology said about him. Well, I came to realize that I did not have to try and sweep the thrust of the Bible, which supports an Arminian view of God, under the rug (for example, that God is a God of love with a true desire to save all), nor did I have to inflict implausible interpretations on to so many plain and obvious passages. But the Bible really said what I had thought it said.
There are certainly some passages that can be taken as supporting Calvinism. And those texts must be dealt with. It has been a great delight to find that thorough and rigorous exegesis actually reveals those passages as typically more in line with Arminian theology. I find that Arminian theology, fully grounded in Scripture and sound exegesis, and enraptured by the goodnes and love of of God, actually brings God the most glory and helps to fuel my love for him and my awe of him far more than Calvinistic theology.
To God be the glory! In Jesus’ name.
- Daniel Gracely, on November 3, 2008 at 5:39 pm said:
I was raised in a Methodist-background church that leaned heavily toward Baptist theology. As a child I attended Sunday School, a Good News Club (held at our house), and AWANA club. The theology was Baptist throughout. I began college at 20 at Philadelphia College of Bible (attending one year), then transferred to Glassboro (NJ) State College, and eventually finished my B.A. at Geneva College in western Pennsylvania; later I attended Duquesne University and SUNY-Binghamton. So having matriculated at a Bible College, a State College, A Christian College, a Catholic University, and a State University gave me a relatively broad exposure to many different philosophical systems, both Christian and non-Christian. Among these, of course, was Calvinism, for while I attended Reformed-founded Geneva College I frequently attended a Reformed Presbyterian church, and there I began to accept Calvinistic belief. Incidentally, by the term “Calvinism” I’m restrictively defining it for the purposes of this testimonial as the strong profession that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass.
Although Calvinism never provided me the spiritual comfort it seemed to bring others, I believed in it for about six years or more. Simply put, I was convinced the Scriptures supported it. I think I was also impressed that Calvinism was rooted in a strong, intellectual tradition. Naturally I felt compelled to defend my views. I remember disagreeing with my Dad or uncle (or possibly with both of them), both of whom were ordained ministers, arguing in effect that God could only have foreknowledge about “whatsoever comes to pass” if He had also predestined all events in all their minutia. I also remember strongly espousing Calvinism during an English literature class years later, encouraged by my fair-minded, agnostic Jewish professor, who believed that all viewpoints had a right to be heard, and that the class ought to hear the Calvinistic viewpoint, since it dominated the culture in which the American Transcendentalist authors (whom the class was studying) were active.
Ironically, not too long after this I began to question my Calvinism. Numerous Calvinists, e.g., Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, James Spiegel (in his book, The Providence of God) have stated that whatsoever comes to pass HAS to come to pass, because God ordained it that way. Thus these authors conclude that every event COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN OTHERWISE. This assumption was the first one I questioned, and it happened one day as I read Matthew 11. There Jesus claimed events could have been different for Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, and Gommorah, because those peoples would have responded differently had they had seen His miracles. In other words, Jesus was saying that other histories could have been possible. Think about that. Yet Calvinists not only claim that God decrees everything, but that He does it FOR HIS PLEASURE. Yet if that were true, why was Jesus upset with Bethsaida and Chorazin, since God (according to Calvinism) was predestining their responses? There are other examples, too. If God’s will was always being wrought during Jesus’ ministry, why did Jesus weep for Jerusalem? Or again, if John Piper is right in claiming that man is “ultimately not self-determinative,” who is it that quenches the Spirit? Numerous other examples could be given.
Indeed, Calvinism is so fraught with these kind of logical problems that Calvinist apologists, without exception, resort to justifying their theology upon these very contradictions, while of course denying that such ARE contradictions. I take a cue from George Orwell, and refer to this approach as DOUBLETHINKING. In layman’s terms, this means that every one of Calvinism’s definitions describing the nature of God, man, good, and evil, actually contradicts itself. This is why Piper, in the end, has to tell Calvinist disciples not to rely on logic or experience to explain Calvinism, but to make the explanation a textual issue every time. More on that in a moment.
Perhaps equal to any gain someone might receive from my particular testimonial would be what I would recommend to anyone evaluating Calvinism. First, REALIZE THAT CONSISTENCY OF ARGUMENT IS NO REAL TEST OF THE TRUTH. You can’t ‘one-upmanship’ a Calvinist to concede your viewpoint by out-maneuvering him with clever arguments. As a general example, a Calvinist and I could look at a pair of salt and pepper shakers, and he could insist, against my objections, that what I recognize as the pepper shaker is really the salt shaker, that the stuff inside the shaker is really colored “white,” and that it is “salt” which, put under one’s nose, causes one to sneeze. Arguments in favor of a false theology operate much the same way, though at a more sophisticated level. Fundamentally, Calvinism always turn meaning on its head. (This is why the debate revolving around Calvinism never dies. Calvinism is able to offer philosophically irrational responses while remaining consistent, and many people assume that consistency of argument proves a position’s truthfulness.) To use another example to illustrate this non-meaning, if I said, “The man ate the apple that didn’t exist,” observe that, besides talking about a non-existent apple, I should not have said that a MAN ate such an apple, nor that a man ATE such an apple, since no subject or predicate can engage a non-thing. In other words, all the grammatical components in the sentence “The man ate the apple that didn’t exist,” have no meaning whatsoever. Technically speaking, such a ‘sentence’ is not even a sentence. Yet here’s the catch: the hearer cannot help but think of a real apple when he hears the vocal-sound “apple” in that sentence. That’s because of an association with real meaning that he has of the vocal-sound “apple” with real apples in the real world. This association was built over a lifetime, such as when a waiter or waitress, for example, might have asked him if he wanted any fresh-baked apple pie, or when his dad told him to go pick apples at the local orchard.
This leads to my second point: REALIZE THAT A CALVINIST AND NON-CALVINIST DO NOT SHARE THE SAME MEANING OF WORDS. This is true even though probably neither one of them realizes they do not share meaning. Remember, Calvinism is merely the invoking of ASSOCIATIVE meaning, not real meaning. For example, when a Calvinist uses the term ‘God’ in defending the absolute sovereignty of God, he is making nonsense statements. This is what I used to do as a Calvinist. I liken these non-sense statements, or propositions, to the riding of a rocking horse. As a Calvinist rider, I would throw my weight forward toward my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God until I could go no further, whereupon I would recoil backwards toward my belief in human freedom. Thus I would go back and forth in seesaw motion, lest on the one hand I find myself accusing God of insufficient sovereignty, or on the other hand find myself accusing God of authoring sin. All the while, there remained an illusion of movement towards truth, when in fact there was no real movement at all. At length I would allow the springs of dialectical tension to rest the rocking horse in the center, and then I would declare as harmonious propositions which, in fact, were totally contradictory to each other. Calvinist riders still ride out this scenario. This is why, among the Calvinistic writings of Van Til, Sproul, Boettner, A.W. Pink, etc., there are no unqualified statements about the absolute sovereignty of God or the free will of man. If one reads long enough, all-forthright statements about them are eventually withdrawn by qualifying each statement with its exact opposite thought. This explains why every book and article advocating the absolute sovereignty of God ends with its terms unconcluded (though of course Calvinists claim them concluded). So when John Piper tells Calvinists to never mind logic and experience but to make the argument a textual issue every time, I must ask: Of what use is a ‘textual’ issue if the text has been deconstructed to a point where words have no definitions, i.e., where the text is not a text? Calvinism is thus revealed as Zen philosophy (I’m not exaggerating), dressed up in Christian-sounding terms which merely evoke ASSOCIATIONS of meaning, not real meaning.
In the same sense, as long as the Bible student asks himself the doublethinking question, “Now how is it that I chose God, though He chose me irresistibly?” he will never arrive at the true biblical meaning of election. Nor, in the same vein, will the Bible student escape other biblical concepts that Calvinists have likewise overrun and redefined in most Evangelical minds, regarding predestination, adoption, or foreknowledge, etc. My personal opinion is that neither Calvinists nor Arminians really escape these kinds of questions (though I think the Arminian shows a certain predeliction of trying to). This is because, technically speaking, while both groups profess a belief in the absolute sovereignty of God and the free will of man, there IS a difference of rhetoric in a relative tipping of scales. That is, the Calvinist speaks RELATIVELY more from the front rock of the rocking horse, and the Arminian RELATIVELY more from the back rock of the same. In other words, Arminians profess more frequently that man’s will is not lost, or not AS lost.
Now observe that another striking example of doublethinking is when Calvinists use the word ‘choice.’ Calvinists will say (in defense of total depravity) “Man has choice, but he can only choose evil.” But readers will note that this is merely a sophisticated way of saying than man has a choice that is not a choice. For obviously if a man can only ‘choose’ one thing, it is not really a choice at all. Yet this is where the Calvinist throws his weight backward on the rocking horse of his theology, insisting that we don’t really understsand his position, and that he DOES believe in choice. Sproul, for example, cites the ‘explanation’ given by Augustine, i.e., that man has freedom, but he had no liberty. Now in the common world the words ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ are synonyms. But in the Calvinist world these two words are defined as opposites to justify Calvinism’s doublethink. This is a trick that has fooled many people into becoming Calvinists. For Calvinists, by throwing aside lexical control groups that properly inform, e.g., a N.T. Greek verb like FOREKNEW, disregard how that particular verb was understood and used by the people of the 1st century in the Mediterranean Basin, and also how that same verb was used in the N.T. besides those instances when God is the grammatical subject of the sentence. Such an attempt by Calvinists to circumvent historicl lexical use is nothing more than special pleading. But in fact verbs don’t change meaning just because God is the subject. Such special pleading by Calvinists is really no different in principle than the method Joseph Smith employed, when he claimed to have special glasses that enabled him to translate the pictorial symbols of hieroglyphics.
Third and finally, know that, WHILE THE BIBLICAL AUTOGRAPHA DOES NOT SUPPORT CALVINISM, THE MAJOR ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OFTEN DO. The examples are too numerous to mention, though I have written a book that includes considerable information on this point (information I hope soon to make available free online). Still, one example, that of Romans 5:12, might be helpful here. Romans 5:12 in Greek is in the format of a correlative conjunction, a point absolutely missed by all the major English translations. This correlative conjunction in the context of vss. 5-12 states that post-Adamic man sinned SIMILARLY to, not IN, Adam (the Greek HOSPER (Eng. JUST AS) finding its obvious grammatical completion in the KAI OUTWS, a two-word phrase that should have been translated ALSO IN THIS MANNER, but was rendered instead AND SO, which leaves the English reader with the wrongful impression of the causative AND THEREFORE, a meaning OUTWS never takes). In fact, because the KJV and NAS don’t recognize the correlative conjunction, they don’t even grammatically conclude the verse, doubtless assuming the verse to be nothing more than another example of Paul interrupting himself before completing his thought. Yet the import of this correlative conjunction challenges the very heart of the doctrine of original sin, which has been used to defend the idea of the lost will of man. [I actually do believe that man inherited something in the Fall, but this, I believe, was an extensive knowledge (not a sin nature), a part, at least, which we allow to distract us from our focus upon God, even unto sin. I believe that Gr. SARX is this knowledge.] As for myself, then, I tire of hearing comments from Calvinists that imply that Bible translation committees obviously know what they’re doing simply because they’re in agreement with each other. This is no more than valuing credentialism at the expense of logic and/or the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. In fact it can be shown that certain later translations subsequent to the KJV frequently defer to the very-influential KJV in controversial passages, such as when the NAS follows the KJV numerous times in translating Heb. CHAZAK as “HARDENED” instead of “STRENGTHENED” in regard to Pharaoh’s heart, or when the NAS mimics the KJV word “raised” in Romans 9:17 instead of rendering it as “fully roused,” which is what Gr. EXEGEIRO actually means. This latter mimicry once again leaves a wrong impression, in this case the notion that God raised Pharaoh from the cradle to the grave for the express purpose of reprobation.
Since there are various positions regarding Calvinistic arguments, I would urge someone who is truly searching the Scriptures to evaluate these arguments carefully. And this should be done regardless of how offensive the speaker or writer might personally appear, and regardless of which side he or she is on. Most persons, myself included, like to read material from pastorally gifted people, because it tends to be more palatable. But I have found that many (I do not say all) pastors, despite their seminary training and general knowledge, are not necessarily gifted by the Spirit for the utterance of especial knowledge as outlined and implied in 1 Corinthians 12, i.e., the kind of utterance that stems from the critical analysis of things difficult of perception. In short, don’t assume some admired commentator or your pastor couldn’t be wrong.
Finally, remember that the Bible says that it is a shame and a folly for a man to answer a matter before he has heard it. This means persons ought to know both sides of an issue pretty well before taking it on. For most of us this will mean exhausting study and difficult work (in addition to unreceptive hearers and persecution from opponents). But to lack diligence here is to not be fair to the general discussion. Could you represent to a fair degree your opponent’s basic position in his absence and his reasons for it? That, I think, is the litmus test before engaging in much discussion on an issue. Let us all strive, then, to be relatively well informed on any issue to which God’s Spirit has directed our attention, whether that issue is Calvinism or any other issue. And may we all find a church (sadly, I have yet to find one) which has a willingness to hear both sides in a genuine group setting, i.e., like that setting provided by my fair-minded, agnostic professor.
Incidentally, if you have found my comments helpful, would you please pray for my own encouragement?
- Richard Coords, on December 9, 2008 at 4:56 am said:
I was attending Celebration Baptist Church, but one which treated the College & Career / Singles Group with little regard. The Sunday school teacher’s name was Chip, and he is quite a character. His former life involved drug abuse, but now pours his whole heart into serving Christ. He is (or was) the lead singer in his Christian rock band. He’s also a very humorous individual. “Crazy” is the way that most people describe him. He surfs, skates, sings and among other things, makes people laugh. His kids all love him, and they are good kids. He raised them well. When he became a Christian, he served as a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church (a mega-church in Jacksonville, FL), but when he dyed his hair green, the Pastor of that church deemed him rebellious, and asked him to change his hair color, or step down. He stepped down. His body is covered with Christian “tats” [tattoos] which he calls his “stained glass windows” for his “temple of the Lord.” Thankfully, when he became a Sunday school teacher at Celebration Baptist, he dropped the “green hair” thing. When he started, his Sunday school class was 4. It soon reached 40. The church leadership didn’t know where to put them all. The idea of an outdoor “tent” came up, but that’s kind of difficult, considering that this is Florida. One day, “Chip” asked the Church leadership if it would be okay to hold a Saturday night service in the main sanctuary. The leadership declined, supposedly on the grounds that it would waste electricity. The church was in the middle of a “building campaign.” Imagine that! The singles group was given low priority. “Chip” gave the leadership a piece of his mind. He told them that he didn’t feel that their music service was truly worshiping God. The leadership was unconcerned. Word had it that the leadership felt that they were not much of a revenue stream anyway, and if they left, it’s not a big deal. What resulted was a succession from the union. Thankfully there were no shots fired. The Pastor even brought them before the Church and asked the congregation to pray for them. Unfortunately, this is also where Calvinism entered the picture.
These were new Christians. The Sunday school teacher had never been to a seminary, but he was amazing at preaching the gospel. The stage was now completely his. He was the pastor, and everyone just loved the Lord, as much as they loved fellowshipping with one another. Each had future plans to attend a seminary. However, things were about to become a little more militant. One person introduced Calvinism into the group, and everything changed. They gobbled up the dogmatic teachings of Calvinist’s, Phil Johnson and John MacArthur, and suddenly they now had a righteous bully pulpit, in which to fire back at the church that rejected them. They initially met in a garage, and then at a tattoo parlor, because one of the members ran a tattoo parlor before getting saved. Next, they found a Senior pastor. He was a Calvinist with a doctorate, and best of all, he also fit the rebellious mold: He was kicked out of his prior two or three churches. It seemed like a perfect fit.
I was ignorant of the whole “Predestination / Free Will” thing. When I joined, I didn’t even know what “Calvinism” was. All I knew was that these people loved the Lord, and needed my financial help, and I was proud to give it.
Chip had been such an amazing evangelist. However, through Calvinism, he had come to an amazing new realization. You see, before, when he went on visitation, and when he led people to Christ, some of them fell away, and yes, some grew as Christians, and that’s when he had an epiphany: Election! Therefore, one day from behind the pulpit, he announced that he didn’t need to put special effort in evangelism, because with Election, all that he needed to do was merely preach the Gospel, and if they are elect, they will come! This soul winner then became the angry, screaming preacher that he swore that he’d never become.
My brother in law, Darrell, had been swept up in the movement, and today he remains a bulldog Calvinist. He is a “Hyper Calvinist,” but only in the physical sense. He’s just plain hyper. Things started out okay. It was a great little church. They left the tatoo parlor and rented a space in a strip mall. Unfortunately, the landlord decided that it would be okay to rent the space next to them to an adult store. The landlord said that he couldn’t resist, because this had been the first time that he had been able to rent out the entire strip mall. But that was about to change, because there happens to be an ordinance against that, and the church was able to legally break its lease. This time, though, they leased an actual church property, which later turned into a purchase. Imagine that. The cast-offs generated enough in tithing to support an entire church! It was a thriving little church. It was a great church. They had the best music ministry that I had ever experienced. It was one of the few churches that had nearly 100% turnout for their midweek service. They were on fire, but unfortunately, Calvinism was about to turn it a *wild fire*. Suddenly, their former Baptist churches were “Arminian heretics.”
I had always avoided the debates between my brother in law and my dad. Both sides seemed to express biblical views, and I couldn’t understand how they could be so far apart. I naively thought that the correct position must be somewhere in the middle. Yes, eventually, I too was swept up in the movement. Romans 9 was pointed out to me. But I thought, “Why would God be ‘patient’ with those that He supposedly predestined to Hell?” I thought that didn’t make any sense, but nevertheless, the paradigm of a God who is in absolute control, who “doesn’t play dice with the Cosmos,” who had everything fixed and orderly, made a lot of sense. Yes, God created people like Goliath for the sole purpose of growing people like David. I envisioned a two-class society of the elect and the reprobate, where the reprobate were seen as fillers & extras on the stage of life. I saw myself as extremely lucky to have been hand-picked for salvation.
When I expressed my new found theology with my dad, regarding those who are predestined to Hell, he threw 2nd Peter 3:9 at me, and I felt, “Well, there goes that theory!,” and that was the end of my stint in Calvinism. I heard the “secret will” explanation of the Pastor, and I read where Calvin taught that too. It didn’t make any sense that God would have a contradictory will, that is, a secret will pitted against a revealed will. I thought even less of the “of the elect” explanation.
That’s when I realized just how opposed to John 3:16, Calvinism really was. And then the flood of verses rushed in, such as 1st Timothy 2:4, but what really amazed me was this: When you look at how obsessed Calvinists are about Calvinism, and how meticulous they are in laying out the 5-Points of TULIP, what really struck me is how the apostles (also supposed to be Calvinists), were NOT so meticulous in laying out a TULIP system, at least, certainly not as aggressively as every Calvinist that I knew. That’s when I noticed that something was seriously wrong. These guys are supposed to be the founders of Calvinism, and they didn’t even talk like Calvinists! So how are they supposed to be Calvinists? Something wasn’t adding up. That’s when I found the website of 4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, who I remembered back when I studied his books on witnessing to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rhodes, albeit a Calvinist, laid out a rock solid argument against “Limited Atonement,” and I felt that I needed to present this information to my church leaders, but it didn’t go well.
I was co-teaching a Sunday school class with my brother in law, and when word got out that I was questioning Calvinism, the Pastor abruptly ended his series on Revelation, and immediately started a new series on Calvinism. I recall sitting in church one Sunday, and listening to the preacher lay out his case for Calvinism, when he stated: “And some people believe in whosoever will!,” to which I blurted out, “Amen.” But he responded with, “But no!, we were chosen!” And that’s when the congregation erupted in a chorus of “Amens!” I felt pretty alienated. From that moment on, I felt that I had become ostracized from my Christian, Calvinist brothers, and it was time for me to go. But I felt compelled to put together a scriptural answer as to why I felt that Calvinism was unbiblical, and that’s when I began putting together a series of verse-by-verse writings, which I eventually decided to put online, to serve as a user-friendly reference. That eventually became: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com
After I left the Calvinist Church, I found out that I had left just before it went really crazy. It had become Orwellian, and “shunning” became their preferred tool of spiritual warfare. After many bizarre episodes, my Calvinist brother in Law who got me into Calvinism, was now being shunned. He had been an elder, but after failing to comply with an unbiblical Church edict, he was expelled and shunned. The church leaders even refused to meet with a neutral third party in order to make an attempt at reconcilation. Yes, even those with whom he had led to the Lord, were now shunning him. But eventually, a breakthrough occurred. After some soul-searching, “Chip” decided to step down. Although he is still a Calvinist, and attending a different Calvinist Church, he has come a long way in trying to humble himself and admit that he was wrong in some of the unbiblical counsel that he had given, and today he is now reconciled with my brother in Law. However, both are still being shunned by the church that they labored so hard to build.
In my assessment, I am no longer a Calvinist because I was sincerely seeking the truth. I just wanted to believe what the Bible said, and I didn’t want to get swept along in the argument of, “How could all of those historical figures have been wrong?” I refused to place my truth in men. I just wanted to believe what the Bible said, without having to assume Calvinism at every step. It then became apparent to me that Calvinists had to put Calvinism *in* the Bible, in order to get Calvinism *out* of the Bible.
- Lionel Woods, on May 20, 2009 at 7:53 pm said:
Here are my brief responses, we can get into details later, but for the most part I agree with many above.
How did you become a Calvinist?
I became a Calvinist through the preaching of the John’s (MacArthur and Piper). Through their preaching ministry I was introduced to the Doctrines (at least systematically). I came to them through a rejection of the Hyper Charsimatic/WOF type churches. I was involved in a few Hyper Charismatic and one WOF church and this pushed me into the arms of the John’s and eventually led me to read all the books on the Doctrines of Grace and so forth. I later became a Monergism fiend and almost a Presbyterian but couldn’t go that far. So I was introduced through them.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
The very simple answers and responses and the fact that those who preached and taught it were very knowledgable of the Scriptures and very good exegetes. I was impressed by the eloquence and the historocity of the system also. It felt good being in the know, you know being different and smart and it easily began to puff me up, that changed but that was very compelling. Not to mention the answers for John 10, Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 1 (not to mention a few times in Acts) were very persuasive. But mostly it was the nice packaged, sytematic approach to Salvation that really hooked me. After that it was just the excercise of proof texting when something contradicted that soteriological system.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
To take Calvinism to its necessary end FAITHFULLY you really have to believe like a Hyper-Calvinist. Though many would say they are not. At the end of the day, we have to ask, does it really matter if we evangelize or not from a proclamation perspective. If all Christians failed to evangelize one more day, those who are saved will be saved and those who are lost will be lost, thus investing in the gathered church is what is important and not so much the proclamation of the Gospel (in deed and word). Many Calvinists would say “no way” but to be 100% truthful it really doesn’t matter because the elect does not change!
Not to mention I struggled with the irresistable grace and eternal security. There are way too many scriptures that outright reject such notions, though I am still a preacher of security but the condition is a real condition and that condition is perseverance and a continual lively faith!
Not to mention the proof texting can get out of hand and I really believe in my hearts of hearts that the Gospel is a real proclamation which gives man a real choice and I don’t believe that choice robs God of any of His glory no more than any other choice. Also after reading many of the Anabaptist, it seems that Calvinism is not void of some political-religous influence as it is shaping the govermental horizon in Geneva and abroad.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
There is still some toughness as it relates to Romans 8-11 (8:27-30 or so), Ephesians 1 and a few other portions of scripture; however, at the end of the day, that is a minorty of scripture compared to the public proclamation and what responsibility that proclamation lays at the feet of the hearers! I also began to meet some brothers like Arminian today who have very persuasive arguements and some brothers from other movements who are beast of Exegetes (Boyd comes to mind).
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
The Gospel being a real opportunity. The fact that my zeal began to be zapped to proclaim this Gospel and the fact that there are way too many unanswered questions to speak in such definite terms.
- Len Gane, on June 11, 2009 at 8:14 am said:
I became a Calvinist when I attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. The force and logic of their theological philosophy was overwhelming to me. About 1 year later I was challenged by a pastor if John 3:16 was a legitimate offer by God or a sham. Studying the passage I had to conclude that it was a legitimate offer. There simply is no other conclusion if one reads the Bible in its plain, normal sense. Calvinists cannot do this; they hold to a philosophy, not the plain, normal understanding of all Scripture.
- Bob Brewer, on June 12, 2009 at 12:04 am said:
How did you become a Calvinist?
To answer this question I feel I should start at the beginning so please be patient with me. I first met my savior at Prospect Heights Baptist church in Illinois. Later my whole family came to saving knowledge in Jesus Christ through the love and care of our neighbor and this little Baptist church. In high school the lure of the world weighed heavy on me and I wandered from the faith. Several years later as a young adult I found myself asking God if He still wanted me, If He could still love me? I heard the answer loud and clear, not audibly but in my heart, “Welcome home my son.” Immediately the flood gates of my eyes were open. I cried until my tears literally ran dry and still my chest heaved and my throat constricted. I confessed sin after sin and asked for forgiveness and He was faithful to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Oh the joy to be so loved and forgiven. I was a grateful follower of Jesus who was forgiven much and loved much. I rejoined my family at our Baptist church, blissfully unaware that there were Calvinists and Arminians in the body of Christ. My view was simple there were Christians, those who believed in Jesus, and there were non-Christians, those who did not believe in Jesus but who needed the gospel message. Through some very trying times financially and otherwise our little body of believers decided to sell our building and join with Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows IL. It was while in HBC that I met a believer who called himself reformed. He was very scholarly and I loved the word of God… so he became my mentor in Calvinism.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
The TULIP it seemed logical and air tight. Total Depravity: That was me and every other man I was dead in my trespasses. Unconditional Election: God’s in control, He’s sovereign. Limited Atonement: There’s no waste, neat and tidy. Irresistible Grace: How else could a dead man respond and believe unless he was first graciously made alive and of course if he was dead he’d have no say in the matter so how could he resist. Perseverance of the Saints: Of course if God unconditionally elected people to salvation and if Jesus atoned for those unconditionally elected and if the Holy Spirit irresistibly applied that atonement through the grace of regeneration then of course they would persevere for all eternity. In short monergism most attracted me to Calvinism.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
The first paragraph of the following was cut from an email I sent to a Calvinist friend of mine and part of an email I sent to Richard Coords to thank him for his verse by verse work at Examining Calvinism.
It was not a doctrinal argument that had me first questioning my Calvinism, but a subjective argument based on my personal experience (most of my Calvinist brothers would say this was my first error but anyways what follows is the argument in a nutshell). I found myself saying that I cared for the lost but in reality I spent no energy on reaching the lost and poured most of my energy into converting my Christian brothers to the reformed and Calvinistic Christianity I had embraced. I began to ask myself, “How important is it that these brothers convert to Calvinism?” The answer that kept coming back to me was “Not very.” Then I asked myself, “How important is it to reach the lost with the gospel?” The answer, “Eternally important.” Then I began to ask myself, “If I do convert Christians to Calvinism will they, like me, focus more of their efforts on converting Christians to Calvinism then reaching the lost?” The answer in my opinion was “Yes most of them would.” Then I was humbled as I remembered Jesus words that he, “Came to seek and to save the lost.” I know the Calvinist answer is that Jesus was not seeking just any lost but only the lost elect, but scripture gave me a picture of Jesus inviting any who would come. I began thinking, “What if John 3:16 is true and that Jesus did die for the whole world that whosoever believes in Him would have eternal life and what if the doctrine of limited atonement was incorrect and that Jesus by his grace gives all men everywhere the power to receive coupled with the power they already have to reject Him would my passion and heart for the lost, whether the lost were unborn or almost expired, be greater?” And immediately I knew the answer a resounding, “YES!” Then I asked myself, “does theology or being like Christ matter most?” I argued with myself that theology matters (and it does) but I could not extricate myself from the conclusion that “Being like Christ matters more.” Needless to say I hated what I had become; A bigoted elitist who looked down on my brothers in Christ and at best I was unsympathetic to the plight of the lost. This may not be where Calvinism leads a better man but it is where it led me. Nor can I say that Calvinism leads men to be less like Christ, for consider Spurgeon, John Piper, D James Kennedy, and a host of others who have reached out to the lost while simultaneously adhering to the doctrines of Calvinism. I can only say that in my experience I became calloused to the lost after all if they died without Christ it was exactly what God wanted and even more He had ordained to happen so who was I to argue with God or doubt His decree?
Another factor that contributed to my questioning of Calvinism was my church search. Let me back up a bit to explain. Shortly after becoming “reformed” I joined a Presbyterian church. It wasn’t “reformed” enough so I joined a church in the Reformed Presbyterian Church North America denomination. Liturgical, Confessional, Regulative Principle of Worship now this church was “reformed”. While at the RPCNA church it became clear that I was a reformed Baptist since I was unable to come to terms with the doctrine of infant baptism. We were moving soon so we didn’t feel the need to leave the church but we had decided that when we got to Indiana we would seek out a reformed Baptist church. For two plus years we attended a reformed Baptist church 80 miles from our home. Needless to say this was too hard on the family so we decided reformed or not we had to find a closer church. In the process of calling churches and asking questions I was challenged to reexamine the core doctrines of Christianity and it became clear that Calvinism wasn’t a core doctrine.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
My family and I ultimately began attending and are gratefully at the church that challenged me to reexamine the core doctrines of Christianity, Church of the Good Shepherd. We were drawn there because of their three concentric circles approach to doctrine. The center circle is salvific doctrines, second circle important doctrines, and the third circle is matters of conscience. The only doctrines to divide over are center circle doctrines. Arminianism and Calvinism are second circle doctrines and ergo not a reason to divide over. This approach to doctrine is not just an idea it is practiced as evidenced by the fact that the senior pastor is an Arminian and one of the other pastors on staff is a Calvinist. Needless to say at church I was welcome to be a Calvinist or an Arminian as long as I remembered that those of the opposing view were my brothers. At first I began defending the Arminian doctrines to my Calvinist brothers from the reformed Baptist church as a Calvinist sympathetic to the doctrines of my Arminian brothers and my Calvinist brothers were very gracious. Recently I have come to realize that my Calvinism was reduced to at best two points and possibly only one point, so I am not a one or two point Calvinist I am a classical Arminian. I have yet to see my Calvinist brothers from the reformed Baptist church since this revelation and I truly hope that they will be as gracious as they were at first.
What primarily led you to abandon Calvinism?
The driving impetus was the realization that as a Calvinist the good news of the gospel wasn’t good news it was only potentially good news and it wasn’t for everybody. This led me to examine the TULIP in General and Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace in particular. As I searched the proof texts (with much help from Richard Coords) that had been the bedrock of my Calvinism I time and time again found that the larger context surrounding the proof text did not support the doctrine in question. The final straw was an article on the Society of Evangelical Arminians site called Romans 9 An Arminian/New Perspective Reading. That was it my strongest proof text fell and with it my devotion to Calvinism.
- Ron C. Fay, on June 25, 2009 at 3:49 pm said:
I was raised in a godly Christian home, and my parents were Calvinists as was the church I grew up in, yet neither group made a fuss about it. My parents encouraged me to read the bible and discover God on my own, something I did at a young age. Since my parents were not oppressive with their Christianity, I sincerely believed and read the Bible as much as I could. My Youth Group was strongly Calvinistic in flavor, more from the volunteer adult helpers than the Youth Pastor, yet it was the one there. I was reading through the Bible on my own while also attending a very Calvinistic Bible study when I reached the book of Hebrews. As I read through Hebrews, I realized that what my Bible study leader was teaching did not fit with the book of Hebrews.
I then went from Hebrews to John, and after reading both of those, I realized that Calvinism could not adequately or accurately deal with the passages I had read. Thus, I began looking for another way. After researching and reading what I could, I realized that I was an Arminian.
I went on to attend Calvin College, majoring in non-biblical areas, yet every student was required to take a minimum of 2 theology courses. I took one from a former atheist who found Reformed theology on his own through his reading of past theologians. I met with him in his office and we talked theology for a few hours. He then invited me (a freshmen at the time) to enroll in his upperclassman seminar for the following semester since he knew I would opposed what he would teach but do so in a biblical and Bible-saturated manner, whereas he contended that most of the other students held to their beliefs because it was from the Westminster Confession and not from the Bible.
As time progressed and I went into seminary, I read widely in theology and nailed down further what I believed. I came across many gracious and loving Calvinists who enjoyed disagreeing with me and many Calvinists who were angry and condescending, declaring Arminians either not saved or barely saved.
My exegetical convictions have brought me further along the Arminian path. After studying Greek for many years and finally getting advanced degrees in New Testament, I am now firmly convinced and enjoy talking with my Calvinist brothers and sisters without rancor since we are all believers.
- James Brown, on September 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm said:
I was raised Independent Baptist and there are theological differences from pastor to pastor. One that was a pastor of the church I attended as a boy was a strict 5 point Calvinist. I gave my heart to Christ, and was looking to fulfill the will of God in my life. I felt Gods call to full time christian service. In my early teenage years. I must admit I was always troubled by the Calvinistic theological expression known as the tulip. As a boy i remember being terrified by the Calvinistic concept of election, and predestination.
You see, my mom was and is a true believer so as a boy i was required to read the bible, and theology from the Calvinistic side. As i read the bible and studied it to the best of my ability at the time, I found far to many bible verses taught different than John Calvin. I went to see my pastor to discuss this with Him. His exact words were “Who are you now a Theologian?” When I brought up verses like rev.3:5 Exodus 32:32 deut 9:14 john 15:1-6, all he could do was to try to explain away the verses. I remember saying, “so John Calvin knows what hes talking about, but the bible doesn’t?” He was upset so we ended the conversation.
I was still troubled about election. A christian friend of mine took me to the public library an introduced me to the writings of James Arminius, and a book called The Work of The Holy Spirit, by Lycurgus M Starkey JR. Between Arminius and the Bible I found the peace that passeth all understanding, and the truth and comfort of God. I later went to bible college, and soon will be pastoring a church. To my Calvinist brothers and sisters I say, don’t take my word for it, study your Bible and ask God to Guide you in all truth. Take a look at Arminius’ writings. Let me remind you of one thing: before there was Calvin, Luther, or Arminius, there was the word John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word.”
To you Calvinists who have been taught that Arminius was a heretic, or have doubts, let me refer you to volume 2 of his writings with regards to his position on scripture. He said it is blasphemy to make any one person or teaching equal to the bible. This does not sound like a heretic.
Any questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for this opportunity
- Michael K., on January 29, 2010 at 10:19 pm said:
I grew up with an Arminian background, although I didn’t know it was called that at the time. I was this way all the way until midway through college. I wasn’t even aware there was any other view until then. I had college friends challenge me with this new concept of Calvinism and eventually I was convinced due to my lack of biblical expertise and ability to properly exegete at the time regarding this area. Even when I was “convinced”, it was still extremely hard for me to accept this because there were still so many loopholes remaining. I had such high respect for my extremely intelligent Godly friends who were Calvinists that I just figured they knew more what they were talking about than I did at the time.
I continued this way after college for the next 5 or 6 years, until the Holy Spirit brought me back to some key issues I’d been overlooking. For one thing, my passion for the lost had been nonchalant as I felt at the time that if someone was God’s Elect, there’s no reason why I needed to be concerned for the salvation of others, nor should I worry too much about my personal witness, after all I was Elect, and the deal was done. I felt more self-centered than I had ever felt and my purpose in life felt extremely vague.
I also began to re-question why would God predestine someone to eternal damnation before they were born. This never made sense to me. Calvinists try to use Romans 9 to back this up, but now I understand they take that far out of context. Predestining people to eternal damnation does not fit with what we know of God’s heart for all people based on the Bible. The Bible says that God desires for ALL men to be saved. Why would God predestine people to Hell, if He desires all men to be saved?
Calvinists like to take the few passages of Scripture referring to God hardening someone’s heart, or certain translations saying God created evil, and run with those verses. A deeper look at the meaning, original language of Scripture, and overall context of Scripture of these verses will show that the Calvinists are deeply in error. Scripture says that people are saved by faith in Jesus accompanied with actions. However some Calvinists will go so far as to quickly point out that faith is an action, and that we cannot be saved by our actions. They fail to see that Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is by “grace” through faith we are saved. in other words, because of our faith, God gave us the gift of grace resulting in salvation. His grace is dependent on our faith. The Calvinist will argue who gave you faith then? To which my response is that God gave us the ability to develop our own faith. The Father draws us to Him, but we have the ability to accept or reject. The Calvinist says that no one can resist the Father drawing men to Him. My response is for them to take a look at the parable of the sower. Some accepted but later turned away. It makes a Calvinist feel better thinking they cannot do anything to lose their salvation because they don’t really have to have any responsibility.
The Scriptures tell us that as believers, we are continually being sanctified, and also tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Jesus also tells us many times to keep watch and be on our guard. He also warns the churches in the book of Revelation, one of which was warned they were going to be spit out of his mouth because the their lukewarmness. I could probably go on, but that’s a little take on my story.
- Skandalon, on February 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm said:
I became a Calvinist after reading a John MacArthur book while on a mission trip in Russia. I was 19 years old and had never dealt with the difficult passages surrounding this topic so I clung to the only viable answers I could find, which were provided by Calvinistic authors. Ten years later, following college and seminary and several years of ministry experience, I was reminded of my experience in Cross Examination Debate from High School and College where I was trained to always be able to debate both sides of a topic. As a joke, I signed on a discussion forum with a bunch of my Calvinistic buddies and picked a name they not aware of and began to debate them as if I was an Arminian. In the beginning I was just trying to be funny by making quoting John 3:16 over and over as if that should end the debate. But after a while I felt like I should really try and figure out why so many smart people (like John Wesley and CS Lewis) would reject what seemed to me to be so clearly taught in scripture. Thus my journey began.
As I came across questions I didn’t know how to answer from the Calvinistic perspective I would post them as arguments to my Calvinistic friends and their responses seemed lacking to me. This got me to really thinking and studying. For the first time in 10 years I was actually questioning these doctrines I had grown to love. I was in a Reformed church on staff and most of my best friends were Calvinistic, so this was no easy transition for me. I wanted desperately to find the answers I was seeking so I could remain a Calvinist. I could not.
If I had to sum up what doctrinal point really pushed me over the edge I would have to say it was the doctrine of Judicial Hardening as it relates to Calvinism’s view of Total Depravity.
When I was a Calvinist I believed that all men were born in a condition where they are “ever seeing but not perceiving.” This is what the doctrine of Totally Depravity taught. Men are born totally unable to willingly believe the gospel…they are blind, deaf, and spiritually dead. I believed, as most Calvinists, that the gospel (apart from prior regeneration) is like water off a duck back…it goes in one ear and out the other…it can have absolutely NO positive effect upon a totally dead and depraved man.
Now, however, I don’t believe this to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I do still believe the condition described above is a real condition, but it is not a natural (from birth) condition of man. It is condition of a “hardened” man. One who has clearly seen and clearly heard and clearly perceived for a period of time, but who has also continually refused to accept the truth (example: the pagans described in Romans 1 who are “without excuse” because they did clearly see and understand the divine nature of God but refused to acknowledge him as such).
Hardened men have “grown calloused” over time, but they were not born that way. This is why scripture warns that we should not allow our hearts to grow hard. (Heb. 3)
Calvinists and I both agree that just because the truth can be clearly seen doesn’t mean that it can be clearly perceived. The difference is that Calvinists believe this to be true of all mankind from birth, I do not. Let me explain why:
Pharaoh eyes had seen all that the Lord did in Egypt, but as the verse goes on to say he did not have eyes to really see it. In other words, he was “ever seeing but not perceiving,” right? Why, you ask?
Was it because he was just born an idiot who couldn’t see something so obvious as those plagues? Or could it be that the truth was being hidden/obscured from him so that he would continue in unbelief? The word “blinded” is often used synonymously with hardening….which is why I refer to it as “the truth being hidden.”
I’m not trying to say the truth was not being revealed, quite the opposite. The truth is always being revealed, but it just isn’t understood/perceived by those who have been hardened or blinded to it.
As I have continually shown, self hardening is a process by which otherwise perceptive men become blinded to clearly revealed truth. When someone is being judicially hardened the truth is being hidden or obscured so that it is not understood, seen, or heard lest it be accepted. God does this to seal men in their already rebellious state. To the unhardened people (like the Gentiles of Christ’s day) it is perfectly perceivable, but to one who has grown calloused (like the Jews of Christ’s day) it is not.
Now, is “Total Depravity,” the condition of being “ever seeing but not perceiving,” the natural (in born) condition of all men due to the Fall?
Hopefully my explanation above helps you to see why I would not agree with this finding. The natural reading of the text explicitly shows that hardening is a PROCESS by which men GROW or BECOME calloused/blinded/hardened over a period of time as they continually rebel. The act of judicial hardening (as seen in the case of Pharaoh) is an active and deliberate action taken by God on one particular individual or group for a period of time and for a greater redemptive purpose. I see nothing in scripture supporting the notion that all men are born in this hardened/blinded condition.
Nothing reveals this more clearly than this passage:
Acts 28:26 “‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
Paul is clearly address Israel as being men who have “become calloused.” And the prophecy clearly indicates what might have been had they not grown calloused. And it goes even further to illustrate the differences between the hardened nation of Israel and Gentiles.
Now, if all men where born totally deaf, totally blind and totally hardened as the doctrine of Total Depravity implies, then (1) how did these men “become/grow” deaf, blind and hardened; (2) why does it claim that they are ones closing their eyes as apposed to them being born closed; (3) why does it indicate what Israel might have done “otherwise” (if they had not grown hardened); and (4) why does it set the Gentiles a part as ones who “will listen”…after all aren’t we all just as equally blind, deaf and dumb from birth in the Calvinistic system?
These question along with many others lead me away from Calvinism.
- Michael, on March 7, 2010 at 7:10 pm said:
I really appreciate this testimony. I have seen some Arminian folks who go so far as to believe that salvation really depends all on them. That view leads to a “works” salvation. Then there are others who believe they can be financially blessed and prosperous by their act of faith (believe more, prayer more, tithe more etc.). That view leads to heresy. I have since had to balance those extremes with an appreciation of those in the reformed camp who stress the sovereignty of God. It doesn’t all depend on me but I do have a free will. God does have grace and I need to respond. I have found Wesleyan Theology to the balance needed between the two extremes.
- Wes Fletcher, on March 21, 2010 at 5:26 am said:
Testimony of one who thought he was a moderate-Calvinist, coming to recognize he was a Classical Arminian the the whole time.
My name is Wes and I work in manufacturing and am a lay teacher in an Assembly of God church in Minneapolis Minnesota. I was saved in the US Navy in Scotland after being raised in a Catholic home. I attended a local Scottish Baptist Church but after getting out of the Navy I went to a short term missions stint with YWAM where it was heavily into MGT and Finney’s version of “Arminianism” which now I recognize as “Pelagian” and “open theistic” in its theology. Sensing a call towards Christian Ed or missions I then went to North Central Bible College(now North Central University), and tended to lean towards what I thought was moderate-Calvinism. Because I believed so strongly in total depravity and grace even my AG friends called me Calvin. At North Central they never emphasized or taught Classical Arminianism so I was under the impression what I believed as Biblical was Calvinism. I then went to Covenant Seminary in St. Louis where I was challenged by true Calvinists and realized that Calvinism did not fit the Bible understanding on the “universal free offer” of grace and salvation. I was trying to fit into the Calvinist camp and felt like something wasn’t right or a duck out of water as they say. I was licensed for a couple of years and was a Youth Pastor. I married a very Godly woman who loves the Lord and after having our first son I could not support my family on a pastor’s income and went back into manufacturing where I have for the most part remained.
Up until just recently I still thought I was a moderate-Calvinist but after further study and heart searching I came to recognize that I am a Reformed or Classical Arminian. I recently joined the SEA and it has helped me immensely in being able for the first time defend my position to others who are either where I was or are Calvinists and deterministic in their view of “election”. It is so great to be a part of a group where these issues can be discussed. Thanks to the SEA and blogs like this in being able to see the logic in the Reformed Arminian postition as well as articulate this position for Christians such as myself or against the Calvinist false caricatures. Thanks and God bless.
- Theresa, on March 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm said:
Hello everyone! This is a bit long but trust me, I left out many, many details so bear with me here:
I was born again when I was seventeen years old (about twenty seven years ago). I attended churches through the years and interacted with Christians that believed a wide variety of doctrinal ideas (a little Calvinism, a little Arminianism, a touch of word faith a dash of dispensationalism, etc.) so I was a walking mixed bag of ideas without any real grasp of pure doctrine or really knowing exactly what I believed doctrinally. But, I have to also say that I, like many others, didn’t particularly find that bothersome. Somewhere along the line, probably about twelve or so years ago, I began to see the importance of doctrine. I realized that I really did need to know what I believed if I were to know Whom I believed. Also, I felt my spiritual life was stagnant and saw little if any fruit in myself and sensed a lukewarmness in me that bothered me a lot.
Somehow I came across the Reformed teachings (I think through RC Sproul’s radio ministry) and began to open my ears. I found his teaching clear, consistent, convincing. Eventually I purchased the book “Chosen by God”. Well, I have to say that I was pretty amazed. Sproul’s ability to take confusing concepts and bring them down to a laymen’s level of understanding fueled me to look further into Reformed theology. I was convinced about predestination and was overjoyed that I was learning “deeper truths” of scripture I hadn’t learned before. I loved that Reformed theology made everything fit like a perfect puzzle and saw it as the truth because of that. I even easily swallowed contradictions as they just did not appear contradictory at all. I saw Arminian teaching as full of contradictions and full of loose ends with no real cohesive doctrine. They just didn’t know what they believed, nor did they care to (that’s what I began believing). I was convinced that there were no Arminians who could successfully refute Reformed teaching because it was the truth.
I wanted to find a church that taught this way so I began searching. I managed to find a small (two couples besides me plus a pastor and his wife) group that met in a small day care for services on Sunday and began attending. I had a lot of questions and spent a lot of time on the phone and in person with the pastor and his wife. But the more they taught me the more the sweetness of predestination turned sour as these people (who I consider hyper-Calvinist) taught me more than I bargained for. I saw a disdainful attitude toward not only Arminians but toward even other Calvinists. They were associated with a Reformed Baptist church and I attended with them. They told me it was once Arminian and when the new pastor came in he brought in Reformed theology and there was a church split. They informed me in cryptic tones that among those who left, many died soon after (I realize now though that IF that were true it would not surprisingly be because the majority of people I saw there were older than Methuselah and would have died had they stayed!) I also sensed a cold, rigid, deadness…..I remember thinking “it’s like a tomb in here” with no feeling of life whatsover just a scary creepy fear like if you sneezed in the “holy sanctuary” God would strike you dead.
I began thinking more about double predestination and what that really meant. The picture they were drawing of the Reformed God seemed dark, cold and very distant (by using pet words and catch phrases like “damnable apostates”, “providence” rather than leading, “damnable heresy”, etc.) It seemed to me that God wanted to, in fact enjoyed, damning everyone and everything. I began to feel frightened of God and began searching desperately to disprove this horrifying ugliness. I won’t even go into all the details of the “hell on earth” I went through, to the point of being tempted to hate and curse God (Praise God He kept me from crossing that line!)
In the midst of all this, I tried attending my previous church and found that a frightening experience (especially after this couples damning attitude toward churches who didn’t believe like them). I saw them as being deceived and didn’t believe they even knew Christ, probably were “damnable apostates”. I tried getting answers from my Christian friends and family but they didn’t have a solid enough grasp of doctrine to be able to help (this is why it is SO important to “watch your life and DOCTRINE closely”) My sister started staying away from me as she felt “There’s something dark and cold about that teaching, Theresa”. In the process, I called this couple and told them I had to back away from all this before I had a nervous breakdown (they informed me at that time that the other two couples in the church were going through the same thing….that says A LOT!).
In the course of time I just came to a point where I had to shelve it all and go on taking care of my kids and living life. I left it to God to lead me into the truth or help me accept this. And over time the torment went away and I just accepted it for what it is with the realization that God is GOOD and if he predestined some to hell, who was I to question? I just preferred not to think about it.
Here and there I would take opportunities to read anything that might disprove this doctrine but, nothing. I didn’t happen to find people or books that had a good enough grasp of scripture or critical thinking skills to poke even a single hole in this system)……UNTIL this website (AND in less than a week of reading!!!!) and I wasn’t even looking to disprove anything, just reading various things and one link led to another! I really didn’t think anyone could convince me otherwise but I see people here who KNOW the scriptures and God’s character, have critical thinking skills and understand how to handle scripture intelligently. People who know the importance of doctrine yet are not Calvinist.
I have been convinced (once again) that man can have free will and it really is not a threat to God’s sovereignty. God isn’t insecure so he can allow his creatures freedom while He himself is still King over and above all and not the least bit threatened by free will. Makes me think of the definition of love in 1 Cor. and that is the summation of Him and to be perfectly those things is the essence of strength and vulnerability (meaning he makes himself open to us knowing that men can and will reject Him) which I think Calvinists wish to deny in God……he COULDN’T be vulnerable or He isn’t sovereign…….but He’s BOTH and that’s what makes Him WONDERFUL! Man! I’ve lost sight of this stuff!
My eyes are opened to the circular thinking, contradictions, word plays and bait-and-switch games that Calvinism really is based on. “Arminians” really DO have brains, and pretty darn good ones at that! I want to say for the record that when I informed this couple that I had to back away, after probably about a year, I found their number and called and left a message just to say hello and to return the books they lent me. They never called me back so I know that I am in the “damnable apostate” category now. BUT, I appreciate all the hours they spent sharing the word with me. He and his wife both are scholarly and intelligent and not everything they taught me was bad. I learned some wonderful things from them. I feel no bitterness toward them, rather the opposite. I feel so sad that they don’t know the sweetness of Christ but only fear and anger and a sense of duty (yes, they opened up and shared with me that they struggle with anger and don’t really have any assurance of salvation, ironic as that is one of the very foundations of their doctrine). I pray for them every time they come to mind that God will bring them out of that twisted system. Also I realize that not all Calvinists are as extreme as they and not everyone who accepts this doctrine goes through what I did. I thank God for this website and believers who understand that doctrine IS important. I am a good example of why it is important. His character is truly at stake here!!! Keep fighting for the truth!!! You’re helping people!!!
In the truth,
- Steve, on May 30, 2010 at 6:12 am said:
I don’t have anything like the length of reply that most of you guys have put forward but I can say that the damage done by so-called Calvinists around the area where I live cannot be glorifying to the Name of the Lord Jesus. I cannot say that I have ever been Calvinist but I have definitely looked at it along with other viewpoints and also because a fellowship I belonged to was infiltrated by individuals who were really hyper Calvinist. These people sort to divide the body and were vindictive to the point of declaring those who would not agree with them ‘unsaved’. The whole thing was an absolute mess.
I have learnt much in a painful and quite unnecessary manner. All objective disucssion disappeared and it became simply a personal vendetta based on the principle that ‘we are right and you are wrong’. I am still very interested in theology and the validity of the various positions as they stack up against the Word of God. Nothing threatens me because I feel it uncecessary to become some sort of card carrying member of any viewpoint. I like nothing more than to converse about these positions but when it takes an ugly personal turn then I am out of there. Its a waste of time.
In terms of the Calvinist view specifically I, like some of the folks above, have real misgivings about the interpretation of scripture with regard to getting it to ‘fit’. I believe much of the prooftexting and out-of-context rendering that occurs makes it virtually impossible to come to support of the Calvinist position. Everything from John 3:16 ‘world’ is the elect to renderings of Romans 9 and double predestination etc etc are fundamental misunderstanding of the scriputre or at worst ‘idolatrous venerations of a theological system’. We had one guy come down to a mens group meeting and try to tell us that ‘God was behind the controls of the planes that flew into the towers on 9/11’. Thats a quote by the way. I challenged these people on this and finally asked them the question ‘is God a rapist?’ This was in response to a discussion where they claimed that God does everything and we do nothing (in fact God authors sin). There answer was ‘yes’. Because I guess it had to be if you follow the logic to its conclusion. TULIPs got a run. I am fascinated with the Synod of Dort and Luther and his insertion of ‘alien’, his trouble with James (and rightly so) etc etc.
I have recently come across some very good objective discussion on all of this and it is really heartening to be in contact with people whoa re not threatened but are willing to discuss this and other matter objectively.
I could prattle on but you get the drift I think.
- Sharon, on March 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm said:
Oh this site is a blessing to me! It’s good to finally be among like-minded believers! We just left a Calvinistic church where the pastor didn’t believe altar calls were biblical. I had never been exposed to Calvinistic teachings and I galled at them. We only went to the church because it is where my elderly Mother goes, and we had left our church and were looking for a new church to attend. Their teachings rankled my spirit. We lasted there for almost a year & a half. They tried unsuccessfully to pressure me to join the church, saying you “only date a church for a little while and then it’s time to make a commitment”. My husband did join and then totally regretted the decision. My Mother is very upset with me, but I am glad to be out of there. We went last Sunday to a new Wesleyan church across the street from our house. We are checking it out to see if we believe the same way. Time will tell….
- Jonathan, on April 8, 2011 at 11:49 am said:
I grew up in the church and had very little convictions all the way through high school. During my sophomore year in college myself, my roommate, and a few other very close friends had a spiritual awakening of some sort. We were very impacted by the reality of God’s holiness and the seriousness of sin. At that point I cared for nothing but the pursuit of God. However, I knew absolutely nothing theologically speaking.
Another friend gave us a sermon by the now infamous Paul Washer. I had never heard preaching of that sort before and I was convinced this is what would “save the church in America.” Naturally, I listened to every message of his I could get my hands on. He preached a message on regeneration which, in my opinion at the time, explained my spiritual awakening. In this message he declared he was a Calvinist. I did not know what that was, but I investigated, and was then sucked into the world of the modern day neo-reformed movement. I was “Young, Restless, and Reformed” at that point, and everyone was going to know about it. I even preached this stuff at my college thinking I knew what I was talking about.
I became a Pre-Seminary student and began taking Greek and classes in hermeneutics. Once I entered the realm of Biblical Studies (not necessarily systematics) I discovered how little people discussed the issue of Calvinisms or Arminianism. It just wasn’t that big of a deal in those circles. That was when I began to de-emphasize Calvinism, though I still adhered to it.
The first year out of college, and the first year in seminary, I had my existential crisis. My grandfather, who had rejected Christ on numerous occasions, committed suicide. He had been depressed for many years and finally decided he had enough. I intellectually adhered to reprobation though never considered it for longer than 10 seconds and certainly always in the abstract. The reality that my grandfather was determined to reject Christ, be depressed, blow his brains out, and spend an eternity separated from God… as a result of some arbitrary decision that, in some way, brought God glory, became utterly repugnant to me. I didn’t even have to think about it… it just was. I was no longer a Calvinist because I could not stomach the idea any longer. The implications had been brought to my front door in a very unattractive light.
What sealed the deal was when I listened to Sam Storm’s reasoning regarding God’s two wills. How can God desire all people to be saved but yet only elect some? He replied, “Sometimes it pleases God to eternally decree his own displeasure for the sake of the greater good, namely, his glory.” I thought this to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard and finally declared my break with Calvinistic thinking.
I’m now in the process of reconstructing my theology, which is spiritually taxing and mentally frustrating. I am not an Arminian, per say, though I would adhere more to the ideas of corporate election and the like. It has been a difficult road but I trust that in time, I will have come to terms with a theology that honors God and honors man.
- JML CASSIAN, on May 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm said:
I was looking for a church that did expository preaching of the scriptures, instead of the pop psychology, feel-good, 15 minute sermonette.
That church was a 5-Point Calvinist church that also held theology classes once a week for 3 hours. I loved it—until I started having serious doubts about the twisting of some of the scriptures I was being taught.
When, in class, I started expressing the way those scriptures were being interpreted, I was, basically, told to shut up and eventually I would “get it.”
I despise condescending attitudes, especially when I am as well read as any Pastor.
I think one of the last straws was John 1:29. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Not complicated at all. I was asked “what do YOU think that verse is saying?” I said, without hesitation, “I think it means Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The response, after all the condescending sneers? Guess! “But he did not take away the sin of the world.”
I replied, OK, then why does it say that. Why are you completely contradicting scripture?”
It was that way on almost all of the universal passages we are all familiar with.
I’ve read all the Puritans,, Calvinist theologians, A.W. Pink and debated the issues.
However, something funny happened to me in the process. I had to be honest with myself and admit that some of the explanations I was putting on the problem verses, were nothing short of absurd.
My story is not unusual, I suspect, but it was a huge decision for me to abandon Calvinism. But I have, and I feel like the weight of the world (not all kinds of worlds) has been lifted off my shoulders. You know, kind of like Atlas Shrugged.
The scriptures have been opened to me like never before. What a concept: read the scripture and understand what it means by what it plainly says.
Back to John 1:29 for example. The Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world—are you ready for this—takes away the sin of the world.
Instead of having to read a 200-page doctoral dissertation explaining that the sin of the world means he didn’t take away the sin of the world, and that world doesn’t mean world, and suffer the idiotic charge “then all most be saved,” I can just use the analogy of scripture and let the scripture interpret the scripture, instead of someone else’s interpretation of scripture interpreting scripture.
Yes, but…but.but….but, THAT verse CAN’T mean that, because….blah, blah, blah. ad nauseam.
I am now being shunned by my church and most “friends.” So be it. My mommy told me there would be days like this!!
Truth cannot be defeated and the Scriptures are God’s REVEALED message to man. A message in plain, understandable language that any 5th grader can understand.
It’s the REVEALED WORD, not some mystical, coded, esoteric message that require a book to explain that the word “all” really means all in those passages referring to salvation. It reminds me of one of our Presidents (I won’t mention a name), who wanted to know what you mean by “is.”
And the bottom line for me is the pure pleasure it has become to read the Word and understand it for what it actually says, instead of having to indulge in all these floating abstractions masquerading as concepts, as “explanations” for what the passage “really” says.
I also have noticed now that I’m on the opposite of the Calvinists, that they don’t like to respond directly to questions or comments on some of these verses or doctrines.
For example, I have repeatedly asked them to show me a verse that says God “decreed” that Eve should fall. I’m not saying He didn’t know that, which is an entirely different matter.
Or, for them to give me just one scripture, get this, only ONE scripture that implicitly states that God died ONLY for a particular group and said to hell with all the rest. Just one. Needless to say, I haven’t received that verse yet. Wonder of wonders, don’t you think!!!
- Nathaniel, on December 10, 2011 at 9:22 am said:
My story isn’t too long, doesn’t involve too much technical jargon (as I’m relatively new to deep theological studies), and is relatively un-impressive. But, it’s a story nonetheless.
I was raised…Baptist, I will say. My family church hopped quite often, and most of the churches had “baptist” in the name (although I can’t attest to the theology) but the first pastor I can clearly remember the voice of is Chuck Swindoll, followed shortly thereafter by Jon Courson. I sat under Dr. Swindoll for a number of years in Texas before moving back to Southern California (from whence I came), and ended up going to Calvary Chapel, and that’s where I’ve been for 3.5 years solidly, on and off prior to that (whenever I would visit my grandparents in Southern California).
Calvary Chapel-ites (or as I like to refer to CC faithfuls as, Dovites) are decidedly Arminian, but I had never taken a soteriological stance. I just knew I loved Jesus and wanted more of Him, but I didn’t want to align myself with any organized theological camp. I enrolled, attended, and graduated from the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry, and during those two years I, ironically enough, ended up taking a Reformed stance. If you’ve ever read or listened to Chuck Smith’s stance on Calvinism (or pretty much anyone of the Calvary Chapel vein), you know why that’s ironic. They hate it. Through my two years of schooling we were taught the different soteriological camps, had studied church history and the synods and whatnot, but I was kind of tired of Chuck answering questions about Reformed theology with his chuckle, a quick verse reference that Calvinists had not read, and zero exegesis on the passage he referenced to. Or a verse that Calvinists lean on, and then zero exegesis on the passage he referenced to. I don’t know if I was genuinely restless or if I was just prideful (or maybe both?) but I ended up running into the all-too-welcoming arms of Reformed teachers and pastors.
I was definitely part of the YRR, as I am currently 21 years old and was 19 at the time, and I’ve got to say: everything about Calvinism appealed to me. The terminology, the emphasis on God’s grace and sovereignty, Tim Chaddick’s hair…it all appealed to me, especially as an impressionable youngin’. I felt I had “been saved again” as many Reformed teachers are fond of saying. All of my favorite YouTube sermons and books were of the Reformed persuasion, and thus I was persuaded, by the likes of: Tim Chaddick, Britt Merrick, Al Abdulla, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, etc., etc. Also, the music of men like Trip Lee, Lecrae, Shai Linne, Hazakim, Benjah and Dillavou, and others of the Reformed tradition had me nodding my head and filling my brain with Calvinistic thought. I’m not saying that their music is “bad” now, it’s better than garbage hiphop from the world, just not what I subscribe to anymore. Between the music, the pastors, the literature, the evidence from church history and Scripture, I was persuaded. And probably most applicable to myself: I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines of theological debates and just resort to, “Well, I just love Jesus”, or be the proverbial nerd on the dodgeball team line-up, being picked last when it came to my knowledge of Scripture and theology. I wanted to know what I was talking about, fit in with guys that appeared to know what they were talking about, and take a stance. And ultimately, I would say that my desires now are similar, but different as well. I want to:
1. Glorify God in my speech, actions, desires, thoughts, and especially what I think of Him
2. Known God in a real and intimate way
3. Take a stance so that when I teach, I am not questioning the very words that are coming out of my mouth, but rather speak words that I am convinced have come from God Himself
4. Represent God in a way that is not disrespectful, questionable, or downright fallacious, but is instead accurate, glorifying, and Scripturally based. (Who I associate with is no longer on my radar, as “white-washed tombs” comes to mind in regards to appearance).
The fourth point really hit home with me when, during a rather deep theological monologue which my loving fiancee graciously endured, my fiancee told me that her God would not do what I was saying God does, and that she couldn’t support me during any ministry God put me in because she doesn’t support that view of God, and that she took God seriously and would break off the marriage if I didn’t represent God correctly. Now, I don’t like to change the way I think or view God based off of peoples opinions about my theology, but that really got me thinking. This was after two years of being a closet Calvinist and I was finally letting it all out, and she didn’t agree. I, of course, was angry, because if this is how God really operates, then I was in no wise going to change my preaching of the “doctrines of grace”. But I realized that I had been completely one-sided in my approach to my soteriological stance, and only…5 or 6 days ago now stumbled across this wordpress as well as evangelicalarminians.org, and not to sound Gnostic in any way, but…my eyes have been opened! I had never been told by anyone but my teachers who I assumed were biased that Calvinism had philosophical and Scriptural holes in it, and I had never been told by anyone, including teachers, that Arminianism wasn’t heresy! Not as it was originally taught, anyway. I have been open to the fact that Calvinism may be wrong for about a month now, but didn’t begin researching Arminianism until about a week ago.
I have quite literally spent hours and hours and hours pouring over articles and blog posts on both of these websites as well as Scripture over this past week or so, and I must say: it is a freeing, burden-lifting, God-glorifying truth that God has come to offer salvation to ALL men. And to know that I can freely proclaim the real, actualized love of God to ALL men without any kind of double-talk is overwhelming, and a couple times over the last week has brought me to tears. What a glorious God we serve!
I hope to learn more from wise men and women such as yourselves, and to represent God accurately to the world. I know it’s only been a week after having been Reformed for two years (I would NEVER have called myself a Calvinist during that time, btw), but I’m rather convinced of the Arminian position, although I have much more study and prayer to labor through, and it’s my prayer that other young people such as myself open their eyes to the fact that in our generation, Calvinism is not the only way.
- Arminian, on July 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm said:
Here is a link to the story of Southern Baptist pastor and author, Ronnie Rogers, who was a Calvinist but has become convinced by Scripture to tun from Calvinism to a more Arminian theology: http://evangelicalarminians.org/interview-with-ronnie-rogers-a-former-calvinist/
- Arminian, on July 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm said:
Here is a link to distinguished New testament scholar Scot McKnight’s testimony about turning from Calvinism to a more Arminian theology because of Scipture: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2011/12/05/calvinism-my-history/
- John Gibbons, on September 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm said:
I first found out about calvinism 4 years ago. I had been a christian for about 6 months. I discovered calvinism by watching videos of John MacArthur and eventually found Paul Washer, I’ll Be Honest ministries, R.C. Sproul(never really got into him really). At first what got me into listening to these teachers was the fact that they really believed the bible and were hard on sin, unlike the other popular movements in christianity. Thru their teaching I got small doses of calvinism at a time until I took the plunge so to speak and fell into the world of Calvinism. MacArthur, Piper, and Driscoll were my new mentors. I accepted Tulip after kicking and screaming for awhile. At first I was happy with my new found theology. I felt I had a higher knowledge than many of my friends at the Calvary Chapel I attended, but at the same time I never spoke about it openly due to it’s controversial nature.
To keep a long story short….after awhile I started questioning my salvation daily. This was due to the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, and a huge emphasis on Lordship Salvation(which I now believe to be works salvation hidden behind a facade of justification by grace thru faith). I lived in a small town at the time so the only calvinistic resources available to me were online videos, sermons, and books. After watching so many videos of calvinists constantly telling viewers to examine themselves and that if your life doesn’t measure up than you might not be saved you tend to sink into a deep depression and fear that you might not be elect. I was highly depressed. I looked at my works and I could never measure up to what these men were telling me a real christian looks like. I was gettting to the point where I wanted to reject God and walk away. I figured if I am not elect I will never be elect and why waste my time with a God who would damn billions just for his glory.
Well eventually I watched a video by Dave Hunt called what Love is this and it changed my whole perspective, although it took reading his book and reading a testimony of ex calvinist Brenda Nickel(her testimony mirrored my own and touched me spiritually) and a statement against calvinism by Mark Cahill that I finally rejected Tulip. I was a calvinist for 2 years and I hated just about every minute of it after the first 4 months. I now believe it is a tool of the devil to cause distraction and division, makes God the author of sin and is not biblical. I have friends who are calvinists and I believe they are saved, but they are WRONG on this issue. I am happier now and know I am saved by my faith in christ and not by my works or fruit.
- Barbara Bazuniuk Chatelain, on November 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm said:
I have been a born again christian with a close relationship with Jesus since 1990. Been to bible college and bible study fellowship. I have moved a lot and been in many churches, denominations and I believe in the unity of churches! A yr ago i met a covenant puritan, reformed presbyterian who tried to indoctrinate me. i spent time in grace reformed canadian church morn and grace reformed baptist in eve churches.
i have never before argued doctrine and was wanting to become one in christ with them.
they kept saying about election that i would get to know a deeper God and truth gradually like them. i am so GLAD THAT THE GOD , HIS NATURE I HAVE KNOWN HAS NOT CHANGED FOR ME AND THE MORE I LEARN ABOUT CALVIN THE MORE I LIKED THE ANABAPTIST early fathers ”The third Way” is a good book.
GOD IS LOVE AND LOVE IS KIND. only the devil could be sooo agressive with man’s doctrine and have such o-tolerance when i don’t agree with them. all and world ,death they should just get a vines dictionary -that might solve everything.
anyway-i am sad as i love that man but i know God said curtis chose that doctrine- be careful who you put yourself under as covering. i guarded my heart and thx be to God He saved me from becoming blinded in that dark doctrine or philosophy. is there any hope for this man named curtis? could u plse pray for him?
those doctrines tulip made me feel like i was loosing my mind for awhile cuz i literally gave up my understanding of God for Him to teach me the truth. well He’s the same yesterday, today and forever no matter what winds of doctrine the devil comes up with!by the way i’ve decided to belong and identify with evangelical mennonite church-a congregational church as opposed to a hierachical one. God bless may Jesus show u His ways, paths and truths!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Now Dimly, on June 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm said:
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.
- B. I. Kennedy, on July 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm said:
I was born again in a Southern Baptist church that did not talk a lot about soteriology, other than how to be saved, and that once you were saved, you were always saved. That was it. I encountered a digest of Calvin’s Institutes while at a collegiate missions conference, and was hooked. The logic made sense to me. From that point forward I was basically Calvinist in outlook, although I did not consider it a high priority to push my views on others.
I went off to seminary for the second time in 2007, and was immediately confronted by the type of people whom one of their own number later referred to as “Calvinist, and a jerk about it,” My school does not have an official position on that specific issue, but the number of students and faculty who are vocal about their Calvinism is growing all the time. The arrogance that unfortunately accompanies many of them caused me to start to question the system, because in John 13:34-35, Jesus declares that all men will know that we are His disciples if we _love_ one another. Theological arrogance is not loving.
I had never been comfortable with the idea of particular atonement, although the rest of the TULIP seemed reasonable. The arrogance I encountered caused me to search for the other side of the story in order to see if the Calvinists’ dismissal of it was warranted… after all, millions of Methodists and other Christians around the globe probably aren’t all deceived. My search in our school’s library turned up Roger Olson’s brilliant and irenic defense of classical Arminianism, entitled _Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities_. His calm evisceration of the idea of particular atonement caused me to rethink everything. If you cannot hold on to particular atonement, the entire system collapses. If you do hold it, you have either just made God the author of evil, or you have twisted the meanings of words in the English language beyond comprehension. I absolutely cannot make God the source of sin, so for me Calvinism went up in smoke.
I consider myself a Baptist who is a classical Arminian.
- Nathan, on August 6, 2013 at 9:58 am said:
I grew up in a church with Calvinist leanings, though I wasn’t fully aware of the debate until I was in high school. I began taking hold of certain Calvinistic teachings (without realizing their roots) during my years at a prominent fundamentalist Bible college (probably just to rustle some feathers). Upon graduating from said university, I promptly gave up on Christianity.
God slowly brought me back, and I began attending one of those “hip, rock-concert” churches that have become ubiquitous down south, but here in the New York metro area, not as much. It was there that I began discovering different viewpoints, but over time found myself gravitating towards the “gospel-centrality” found in the Calvinist circles.
I’m now on staff at a church that chooses to remain relatively silent on the debate (though it’s not lost on the Arminians in the membership that there’s a fairly strong Calvinistic influence stemming from our association with several Acts 29 Network churches). During my first couple of years on staff, I would have probably planted myself firmly in the Calvinist camp (citing guys like Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll as heavy influences on my theology). However, as I began searching the Scriptures more deeply, I became less and less convinced that my views were correct.
I began talking with one of my co-workers and discovered that he is a pretty open-handed Wesleyan. As we learned, read, and studied together, I found myself becoming more convinced of the Arminian perspective, particularly in its soteriology.
As I read authors like Geisler and Olson, I found that my earlier positions were untenable. If I were to follow my beliefs to their logical conclusion, I should have no business being “on mission” for Christ. I should also come to the conclusion that God is the Author of sin and evil. But in order to avoid those stances, I was doing interpretive gymnastics with Scripture.
While I generally avoid labels now (especially in my official capacity as part of the pastoral leadership at my church), I have come to the conclusion that I am truly no longer a Calvinist.
- Jon, on December 6, 2013 at 4:26 am said:
I used to be a Calvinist. I always had the nagging suspicion I was believing something false. I stuck to it because it seemed to leave no stone unturned. But as time went on, I began to think about aspects of the theology that struck me as absurd. For example, how is life real if everything crucial is determined? Then I picked up Olson’s “Against Calvinism,” which tipped the scales for me. He explained how Calvinism makes God out to be the author of sin and tragedy. I came to see that Calvinism renders creation meaningless.
- Deborah Hansel, on January 24, 2014 at 11:27 pm said:
I was raised in a Calvinist town, and I went to Calvin College. I became a Calvinist (solidified/mentally) through listening to R.C. Sproul and reading John Piper. I found it compelling because it seemed logical. I felt that I had done nothing on my own power to choose Christ, so he must have chosen me first. However, over the years, my assurance began to erode, and it came to a head a couple years ago when we started attending a Calvinist church and the pastor asked me, “When did you become a Christian?” I could not give him an answer that I felt he accepted, and I did not know. I could not pin-point an exact time when I felt I had been “born of God.” I believed in Jesus when I was 5 years old, asking him “into my heart,” and had always believed in Christ thereafter.
I began asking myself, If I don’t know the “when”, then maybe it never happened. I started looking hard into the doctrine of Perseverance, and began examining my life. At times, I felt relieved, because I noticed positive change in my heart and actions over the years. At other times, I felt despair, because I still struggle with sin. I could not determine from my own life/heart/actions if I was a true Christian — truly “persevering.” And I was left with no sold foundation to stand on for my salvation. I asked the Lord, knowing it seemed like insanity, to save me, over and over. I knew that had to be wrong, because Christ said he would never turn away any one who came to Him. But I felt I needed to continue to ask, because I really did not know.
The pastor was no help at all. He told me that I could lose my “assurance” because of sin, but that I could not lose my salvation. This did me no good. Then I began to ask myself if it was even profitable to continue to ask God to save me, when I quite possibly was never determined to be saved to begin with, and who could thwart God’s will? I was also struggling with knowing what gospel to tell my lost neighbors. How could I offer them the Cross if Christ had not died for them to begin with? I could not know if they were “elect” or not. And if they were not elect, it would be a lie to offer them the news that Christ had died for them. So my hands were tied. I had no real gospel to proclaim. After several months of inward turmoil — not knowing if I was saved, and not knowing what gospel to tell the lost, somebody said to me that “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, and if you’ve done that, you are saved.” Instantly I felt relief and security. I think this was the Holy Spirit somehow comforting me.
I began reading other perspectives on the passages I always felt were supportive of Calvinist doctrine, and I realized that I had been reading the Bible through a Calvinist lens, and I did not know it. I realized the words I read in the Bible were being defined for me by Calvin, and I had not idea. I will conclude by saying that it gives me far more assurance to know that Christ’s cross is for everybody who wants it — that anybody can come and take the free gift of the water of life. I want it. Therefore, I can have it. It is for all who will come. The gospel is just that. It is a real offer. It is a real opportunity. I can tell my neighbors that, because that is Good News!
- Paul Dean, on March 18, 2014 at 10:06 am said:
My journey from Calvinism came by a circuitous route. I was an non-theological Anglican for many years, eventually falling away from the Church and entering a life of self-imposed exile. I remained apart for nearly eleven years before belief returned, which it did with a new intensity. I studied the bible, books and many audio files, for over a year before returning to any form of corporate worship. My studies, unsophisticated as they were, led me to the only reformed church within range, which happened to be a Reformed Baptist church, where I worshipped for three years, describing myself as Calvinist to anyone who asked.
This highlights the problems associated with self-study, but also leaves unanswered the question of where to get impartial theological help. I suspect the true answer is “Look harder”. There is no doubt that the introduction to systematic theology was a revelation – I just chose the wrong one.
During my stay at the RB church my first and only grandson was born to my son and his wife, fellow worshippers in the same church. As it was a Baptist church it was clear that my grandson would not be baptised. Now, the church new that I was not at heart a baptist, and I was welcomed into membership as ironically, in Baptist churches, baptism is only a secondary issue. For me, the issue became primary upon the arrival of my grandson.
Over the following weeks the issue nagged at me. I started to read about historical views of infant baptism, primarily in the hope that I would convince myself that the Baptist position was correct. In fact, the opposite was true. I knew that I could no longer stay, and made enquiries at my old Anglican church, about my return, and eventually made the move, leaving my son and his family behind.
The Anglican Church, at least in England, is a strange fish. It is both Reformed and Catholic, and I confess that a return to the rich liturgy and minor iconography of the Church of England was a welcome homecoming after the stark, cross-less puritanism of my previous church. I also found that my Calvinistic views were slipping. I undertook to attempt to read the bible without a forensic verse by verse examination, and the overwhelming sweep was of God’s desire that as many of us as is possible should come to him.
This led me in turn to an examination of covenants and election, which in turn led me to a view that election is corporate. The last hurdle to fall was Irresistible grace, and the number of verses in Scripture which warn of falling away clinched it.
Finally, I put everything I had learned together. And that’s why I’m here. As with many others, my overall feeling is one of relief. God had become more than a little despotic under my old worldview and I had been struggling to maintain a Calvinistic stance for some time. My move to Arminianism has brought the God of love into a new focus. He is consistent across Scripture, in that he wants all to come, and through his grace actually allows it. I pray that one day my son and his family will join me, but this isn’t a sad or poignant ending. He lives less than half a mile from me and we see each other a couple of times a week and with God’s help I’ll get him in the end!
- bro.D, on March 31, 2014 at 10:08 pm said:
I only flirted with Calvinism slightly, by way of research, due to accusations from a local pastor who charged me with being a “dreaded Arminian”, and therefore in jeopardy of being a heretic. Thus began my look under the hood.
I feel very blessed from my upbringing in the body of Christ. I had, for many years belonged to a fellowship that put a very high emphasis on identifying the works of the flesh. Not only “Lascivious” flesh, which is a common subject of the average pulpit, but the most deadly flesh of all….”Religious” flesh.
For me, it was not “Lascivious” flesh that murdered Jesus. But “Religious” flesh did so. As Paul says: “The son’s of the flesh do ALWAYS persecute the son’s of the Spirit.
With this as my background, the first thing I examined within Calvinism was its fruits (the behaviors of its adherents). Immediately warning alarms went off.
I saw a strong spirit of arrogance, aggressiveness, and in some cases cut-throat behavior. I quickly concluded: this is a people who do NOT love their enemies. And the most subtle beast in the field. Genesis 3:1.
I then started researching the life of John Calvin. And it didn’t take long for me to observe, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
By that point, I was completely convinced, Calvinism is much more Pharisaical than it is Christ-like. I then got turned on to Gordon Fee, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Jerry Walsh, Roger Olson and others. It was through those studies, that I started to understand that the corner-stone of Calvinism is not Christ, it is Universal Divine Determinism. UDD is for the devout Calvinist, the most sacred of all things. UDD is the canon of canon, and all scripture must conform to it. More and more, I started to recognize that Calvinism’s logical contradictions are for them, a Mount Everest that no Calvinist has ever conquered, though each generation seems to produce self-confident Calvinists who try their hand at it. But alas each one retreats to the safe-haven of inscrutability. (argumentum ad ignorantiam – argument from ignorance).
How God works all things for the good:
When a biological enemy attacks the human body, it forces the body to produce antibodies, which search out and destroy the attacking virus.
I Thank God, he allowed those “enemies within” which prompted the Apostle Paul to write his letters to the Galatians and Corinthians. And similarly, I thank that Calvinist pastor who accused me of being a “dreaded Arminian”. God meant it for my good!
I want to thank you SEA for being a group of thoughtful, kind and Christ-like believers within the fellowship of the beloved. May your lives touch the heart of Jesus more each day.
- Deborah, on April 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm said:
bro,D — thanks for sharing. I was raised in not just a Calvinist home, but a Calvinist town. I’m sorry to say that I have seen the same fruit you noticed. Not all Calvinists are like that, but many are. If you read Calvin’s Institutes, (maybe you have?) you might notice what I have noticed — that he does not tolerate other people’s opinions/interpretations of Scripture. His fierce opposition to Servetus, culminating in Servetus’s being burned at the stake, is not a biblical approach. Paul debated with people, and excommunicated people, but didn’t have them killed (to my knowledge). Having been raised in Calvinism, I can testify that it has taken me years, and I’m still working on it, to undo the intolerant nature I learned.
Another thing that I find disturbing is that Calvinists tend to think of everything that happens — even their own sins — as God’s will. And so we have justified our lashing out at people for being wrong about Scripture or politics as “God’s will.” I’ve done it myself, and my aunt just alluded to this on the phone last night. She lashed out at somebody for their immoral lifestyle and for their politics, and she thinks it might have been God’s will for that to happen, since they needed to hear it. We should realize that we can and do act apart from God’s will every time we sin. But — God works all things for our good. That means (I think) that he can turn sins around for the good of his people. I don’t think it means that he incites people to sin for the purpose of a good end. But because He is sovereign, even sin can be turned around to a good end for His people. If God willed every thing to happen that does happen, Jesus would not have taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on the earth, since this suggests that God’s will is currently NOT being done upon the earth!
Anyway, every Christian tradition has its pitfalls. Pride and intolerance are things I have noticed in Calvinist circles. I hate it, and with God’s help, I’ll root it out of my personality.
- johnschroeder73, on June 5, 2014 at 6:21 pm said:
I grew up in a Lutheran Church which, although it didn’t embrace all 5 points, definitely had a strong Calvinistic lean. It embraced 1 sided predestination (the saved people are predestined to be saved), although it rejected reprobation (the damned are predestined to be damned). I always thought that this was logically inconsistent, especially since according to “total depravity”, hell was the default position for those who were non-elect. As Calvin said, you can’t own election while simultaneously denying reprobation. They are 2 sides of the same coin. But predestination never felt good in my gut. Always seemed to make God out to be a monster….
I had some prodigal son years, and then returned to God in a non denomination church with Arminian leanings. About 10 years ago, my pastor preached a sermon on Hebrews 10:26-31, and said, “I don’t think the author of Hebrews was a Calvinist. I don’t think the author of Hebrews believed in ‘once saved always saved’” I had no idea what “TULIP” was, or what the 5 points really were at that time so I started researching biblically, and quickly came to the conclusion that “once saved always saved was false”. Since I already believed that Jesus died for everybody, it wasn’t hard for me to quickly reject “limited atonement” and “unconditional election”. My gut instinct was that everybody had a legitimate shot to be saved, since “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34-35).
The one sticking point was that many of my Lutheran pastor friends were denouncing what they called “decision theology” and were telling me that my salvation depended entirely on the monergistic election of God. What I couldn’t figure out was why they all had plaques on their wall with Joshua 24:15 (But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord). Seems like Joshua was promoting decision theology in Joshua 24.
The final straw came for me about 5 years ago, with respect to total depravity… I should digress first and mention that on the day I was born, one of my lungs didn’t fully inflate and my parents thought that I was going to die. According to the theology of the Lutheran church they attended, unbaptized dead babies go to hell because of their inborn total depravity. My parents didn’t want me to go to hell, so they made a panicked phone call to their pastor to have me baptized to prevent me from going to hell in the event that I died….
This brings me to 5 years ago. The pastor at my non denominational church was doing a baby dedication. He said, “We don’t baptize babies, because we don’t believe they need to be baptized. First of all, baptism doesn’t save. And secondly, babies are born in a state of right standing with God. If they die, they go to heaven.” I thought my pastor was preaching heresy and needed to repent!!! He was denying total depravity / original sin!!! Didn’t he know that he was exposing a bunch of unbaptized babies to the risk of going to hell if they weren’t baptized?!
So I set out to prove that total depravity / original sin was true, as I wanted my pastor to repent. My research led me to Ezekiel 18 (the whole chapter), as well as Jeremiah 31:27-34. I also read Deuteronomy 1:39, and Isaiah 7:14-16, as well as Matthew 18:1-3, Matthew 19:14, which convinced me that babies are born innocent, and that inborn “total depravity” is false. I also noted how the Calvinist translators of the NIV translated “sarx” as “sinful nature” in Romans 7, Romans 8, Ephesians 2, and Galatians 5, in an effort to build a case for Calvinism. My desire to prove that inborn total depravity is TRUE actually led me to conclude that inborn total depravity is false. Please don’t misunderstand me… I DO actually believe that total depravity exists, but I don’t think people are “born that way”. I think God actually gives people over to total depravity AFTER they have consciously rebelled against him (see Romans 1:26-28).
The final straw came for me when I heard a story about a woman whose baby died at the age of about 2 months. The woman was a Lutheran, but had not taken the opportunity to baptize her baby before he died. The woman’s Lutheran pastor said to her, “Your baby is in hell. And it’s all your fault for not getting him baptized.” This seems to me to not reflect the character of the loving God portrayed in the Scripture, who says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to “little children” (Matthew chapters 18 and 19).
My rejection of Calvinism has allowed me to truly see God for who He is. He is the God who shows no favoritism (Leviticus 19:15 / Acts 10:34 / Romans 2:11). He has compassion on ALL he has made (Psalm 145:9). He truly wants EVERYBODY to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4-6 / 2 Peter 3:9). That’s why the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to EVERYBODY, without exception (Titus 2:11).
One final comment that could help people make a real breakthrough in leaving Calvinism. I HIGHLY recommend the YouTube video entitled, “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” by Dr. Jerry Walls. I consider it to be a “must watch”, and hopefully God uses it to lead many people out of Calvinism.
[Admin. note: It should be pointed out that while many non-Calvinists reject total depravity, Arminians do not. However, I think it is safe to say that most Arminians strongly reject the idea that children who are not yet morally accountable and able to understand and accept the gospel would go to hell if they died. While Arminians hold that our nature is corrupted because of the fall, we do not believe God condemns us for that inborn corruption. So while we hold to “original sin” in the sense of a depraved nature which tends towards sin and rebellion and is incapable of reaching out to God without divine enablement, we reject “racial guilt” which says that we are born guilty of Adam’s transgression. Other Arminians do hold to racial guilt, but believe that this guilt is overcome through identification with Christ in His incarnation until that age of moral accountability.]
- Keith Coward, on July 21, 2014 at 7:22 am said:
When I was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1999, I enthusiastically affirmed my agreement with its Calvinistic/Reformed doctrinal statement, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). That same night, I also vowed that if I ever found myself out of accord with its teaching, I would take the initiative to notify my Presbytery (the regional ecclesiastical body) that my views had changed. I did not expect to have to keep that promise because I had been Reformed since my first semester seminary in 1992 and “knew” that I was right. But fifteen years later, in April 2014, it became necessary for me to notify my Presbytery that I no longer adhere to its confessional standards; I no longer believe that Calvinism is biblical teaching.
I had chosen a Reformed school not because I agreed with Reformed theology (RT), but because a favorite pastor taught there. But I quickly embraced Calvinism because I desperately wanted to understand how Scripture fit together, and my professors were offering me a comprehensive ready-made system that explained 1,200 pages of divine revelation. They were wiser than I by far, and could mount a massive number of verses that appeared to teach TULIP. I had neither the time nor the skill to test their interpretation of Scripture. And besides, God’s knowledge is infinitely greater than mine; so even if his word taught that he ordains whatsoever comes to pass – including the salvation or damnation of all people – I was going to worship him on his terms.
So for the next 20 years I would be a staunch Calvinist, convinced that it was simply the teaching of God’s word. I sincerely believed it, taught it, and defended it. I even wrote a study on the WCF, explaining the intricacies of the system and answering common objections to it.
But several things eventually led to me reconsider the views of almost all my teachers, colleagues, friends, and heros. The first was that an acquaintance gave me a copy of a book written by a “Reformed Arminian”. I read it out of curiosity, and though it did not persuade me in the least it did challenge my prejudice against Arminians. Scripture seemed clear about RT, so I had assumed that anyone who denied it was either ignorant or insolent. Some had not read the Bible carefully enough and others just could not stomach God as he revealed himself to be. But this book offered a clear alternative to Calvinism and intelligently interacted with its favorite proof texts. The author did not convince me, but he did give me a new category: there were non-Calvinists who had taken the Bible to heart and honestly believed that it taught God’s desire to save all.
The second thing that contributed to my journey out of Calvinism is that I became better acquainted with its teaching. In seminary I had accepted RT in principle, but had not had time to work out the details in my own mind. During decade after graduation I had more time to read Reformed theologians like Calvin, Edwards, Frame, and Reymond; I came to understand what RT teaches about the divine decree – that libertarian freedom is an illusion; that God effects his eternal plan by determining and controlling our desires; that we are responsible for sin not because we could have done otherwise, but because we did what we wanted to do (even though God determined that we would want to sin). I accepted this teaching, again, because I thought Scripture taught it. But it introduced tension into my thinking that would weigh more and more heavily upon me over the years to come.
The third thing that set me on the course to reject RT was the thing that had led me into it – Scripture itself. As a pastor I preached through books of the Bible verse by verse. Occasionally I would encounter a common Calvinistic proof text and realize that it did not necessarily say what I had thought it said. John 3 does not necessarily teach that regeneration precedes faith; John 10 does not necessarily teach that Jesus died only for the elect; Eph 1 does not necessarily teach that God ordained whatever happens; 1 Pet 1 does not necessarily teach that God elected individuals for salvation – unconditionally, effectually, exclusively. Once again, these discoveries did not shake my confidence in RT. There were too many passages that clearly taught it; I considered Romans 9 impregnable to Arminian assault. But I realized that the quantity of verses used to support my view did not matter if, upon closer scrutiny, they could not bear the weight that we Calvinists were putting on them on a case-by-case basis.
I remained a committed Calvinist by choice and wanted to silence the issues that were bothering me, so on vacation in October 2012 I decided to shore up my confidence by reading some Reformed writers. But my plan backfired: I began with a small booklet about election; the author opened by stating his case from Eph 1:4 – a verse that I had studied when teaching through Ephesians the previous year. I had been struck by the parallels between Deut 4:37; 7:6-11 and this text: In the former, God says that he chose the Israelites to be his holy people because he loved them for the sake of their fathers; in the latter, Paul says that God chose “us” to be holy in Christ, which may easily mean “for the sake of Christ”. Election was a corporate, vocational, conditional concept for Israel; perhaps it was the same thing for Christians (see 1 Pet 2:9-10). Whatever the case, I knew that there was a lot of room to interpret Eph 1:4 differently than this author did. He was building his case for election on a verse that I knew could not bear that weight, and I began to wonder what would happen to other classic proof texts if examined more carefully, without Calvinistic presuppositions.
I decided to spend my vacation differently: Instead of trying to bolster my confidence in RT I began to work my way through several texts ostensibly supporting the Calvinistic concept of unconditional election. I asked, “Is there another way to understand these passages?” To my surprise and chagrin, I found that there were not only alternative interpretations, but that they actually made better sense of the texts’ contexts.
That was a turning point in my life. For the first time I said, “Whatever it cost me (and I knew it could cost me everything), I want to know the truth.” I spent the next year and a half going back through Scripture, reading books on both sides of the issue, listening to debates and lectures, praying fervently, studying passages, and meditating deeply. Gradually, my questions about RT turned into doubts, and by the end of 2013 I realized that my doubts had turned into disbelief. I had not fully reconstructed my theology, but it was clear that I no longer found Calvinism coherent, much less biblical.
Some were later critical that I explored Arminianism privately, but it was prudent for two reasons: First, I had been exposed almost exclusively to Calvinistic theologians for 20 years; they had given me the lens through which I read Scripture. I needed to test that lens by the word of God, not the words of humans; I needed mental space to examine my beliefs without outside influences pressuring me to conform to an ecclesiastical standard; I needed to widen my intellectual dialogue to include voices from the breadth of Christ’s church and not just from one part of it. Second, I did not know what would happen if my Presbytery discovered my questions before I had drawn any conclusions; I was not ready to recant Calvinism and needed time to think through the issues. Now, from the outside, I have grave concerns about the ways that some Calvinists discourage dissent; and I fear that intimidation will keep most from ever even considering that they may be misguided.
In fulfillment of my ordination vow, I sent notice to my Presbytery in April 2014, and at the meeting that month stood before my professional peers to acknowledge that my views had changed. For the most part they responded as they should: They met with me, prayed for me, and asked me to take a study leave to reconsider the issue in dialogue with Reformed thinkers. I was grateful for that opportunity to “check my work” and used the time well; but 30 days later I could only say that my convictions had not changed. They had no choice, but to divest me of office at their next meeting in July. My credentials as a PCA minister were withdrawn, and I was no longer qualified to pastor the PCA congregation I was serving.
Some of my worst fears were realized, but this journey was for me a simple matter of faithfulness to Jesus. We are called to believe what we think Scripture teaches and to obey what we think Scripture requires, such as keeping one’s vows and swearing to one’s own harm. Sometimes our love for Jesus means that we must lose friends, approval, and job-security; but these are small matters alongside the pleasure of walking with him.
A couple of “friends” turned on me, but the biggest relief in this process was to find that most stood by me. Though they disagree with me, they have heard my heart and continue to love me, pray for me, even socialize with me; and I am grateful for this above all else. Calvinists and Arminians have said hurtful things to each other, so tempers can run high and suspicions can go deep. But I have felt no conceit or contempt in this journey. I disagree with them, but in their numbers are some of the finest men and women I have ever known. By God’s grace, I pray that my love for them will always temper my critique of RT – and keep me open to their criticism as well.
On one hand, I gained much more respect than I lost in this process. Many in the PCA still smart from the dishonesty of men who had lied in their ordination vows before their split from a mainline denomination in 1973; so they welcomed my honesty, even if they did not welcome my departure. But in a subtle way I have had to endure the loss of respect as well. Many Calvinists think as I did – Arminians are either ignorant or insolent. Since no one has been able to accuse me of either, I represent a problem to them. They are not ready to admit that I may have left RT for good reasons, so they have probed for the cause of my apostasy. No one has said this explicitly to me, but several have implied that I was brainwashed by reading the wrong authors and commentaries; and that is a condescending, disrespectful attitude that has been painful. But it has been good exercise for me to practice the example of Jesus “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (see 1 Pet 2:21-23). It is difficult not to demand honor from one’s opponents; but I wonder if this process was a rehearsal for tests we may all face as it becomes more costly to follow Jesus in this culture.
Finally, I lost my livelihood and have not yet recovered it. There have been seasons of desperation and even anger as I’ve asked why the Lord led me down this path that seems to lead nowhere. But he has provided for my family abundantly, and he has reminded me to worry not about how I’m going to pay the bills, but what pleases him (Prov 3:5-6; Matt 6:33).
In the end, this journey has not been about having the right answers, but following Jesus. I differ from some Arminians when I say that if, when I meet the Lord, I discover that Calvinists were right after all, I will fall on my face in worship, savor the sacrifice that covers sins committed in ignorance, and trust him for the grace to love him as he is. I am not seeking a man-centered religion more palatable to my ego, but have followed him down this path because I am zealous for his honor as a loving God, a just God, and a God who is so sovereign that he can make creatures who, like himself, are not scripted . . . but free and thus capable of loving and being loved by him. What I have found is a God that actually lives up to the glorious God preached by Calvinists.
- musicman707, on July 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm said:
I was raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA) (that is, liberal Presbyterianism). The version of Reformed theology I encountered there is probably best described as “Calvinism Lite.” I was trained at Princeton Seminary. “TULIP” or the five points of Calvinism was not taught there except as a historical artifact. Nevertheless, we were schooled in Reformed distinctives such as the sovereignty of God and election, very broadly (and loosely) defined (how election actually works was never specified).
My issues with Reformed theology as I encountered it were less theological than they were practical. Most Presbyterians I knew had a vague notion that nothing happens unless God causes it and that everything is pre-determined. Over time I found that this led to an attitude of fatalism and prayerlessness. As one of the parishioners I pastored actually asked me one time: “What’s the point of prayer if God’s already decided what’s going to happen anyway?” Even in my own life I found that the version of God’s sovereignty I had embraced had a stifling effect on my prayer life. I found it hard to pray believing prayers when deep down I felt as though my prayers didn’t really matter because God had already decided what was to be.
As the years went by in my ministry, I found that my faith was lacking in being able to make a difference in my life or the problems I encountered either personally or in church leadership. This may have had as much to do with the unbelief that is so present in mainline Christianity as it had anything to do with Calvinism specifically. I found myself searching for more.
My spiritual hunger led me to attend an interdenominational prayer retreat for pastors. Though it was interdenominational, I would say the vast majority of pastors and churches represented there were Arminian in their theology (most were charismatics, pentecostals, and Baptists). Among these pastors I encountered a level of urgency and faith in prayer which I rarely (dare I say never?) found among the people of my Reformed denomination.
At that retreat a group of Christian brothers prayed for me, and as they did so, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to them things about me which no one knew but me. Through prayer the Spirit enabled them to release me from things that had held me in bondage for many years. I was also encouraged to ask Jesus into my heart–something I had never done, for they don’t talk that way in the Presbyterian church. I did ask Christ into my heart, and had the experience of being born again (as in John 1:12-13 and 3:3-15).
To be honest, this experience of asking Christ into my heart and being born again came as a complete surprise to me. Prior to that I had assumed my relationship with Christ was settled because I had sincerely professed faith in him. But I had no assurance of salvation and had come to question if I really was saved.
After this experience my entire experience of the Christian life began to change. Before that the concepts of God’s love and of his being my Father had been difficult for me to grasp or believe. After asking Jesus into my heart I came to experience God’s love for me and that He is my Father. Likewise, passages of Scripture about God’s love and grace which had always mystified me before began to make sense. Also, I began to see prayers answered at a level I had never experienced before. The faith I had long claimed became much more real and vital for me.
More than anything, it was these experiences which caused me to question the Calvinism in which I had been raised and which I had embraced as a pastor in the Presbyterian church. It was as if in the PCUSA I had been exposed to the message of Christ but had never experienced the power and reality of that message. It was my Arminian brothers who actually had the faith to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to minister to me in very practical ways which set me free from bondage and brought me into a personal relationship with Christ.
It was almost as if the Calvinist religion I had been raised in was one which had a form of godliness but denied the power, as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3:5. It seemed to be my Arminian brothers and sisters who actually walked in the power of God to set me free from sin and spiritual bondage and into the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
These experiences caused me to re-examine my theology. They caused me to come to believe beyond doubt the truths of 1 Timothy 2:4 that God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and also 2 Peter 3:9 that the Lord doesn’t want any to perish but everyone to come to repentance. These experiences also increased my understanding of the importance and efficacy of prayer, that God really does listen to us, and changes the course of events based on our prayers. I believe Calvinism encourages a feeling of fatalism that causes people to be unbelieving regarding prayer and God’s activity in the world and in daily life, and regarding His responsiveness to our prayers.
I see Calvinism vs. Arminianism as more of a contiuum than as two completely incompatible systems. I don’t know that I have fully embraced Arminian theology, or completely rejected Calvinism in every respect. I just want to be faithful to God and to His Word. At any rate, I certainly have moved more toward Arminianism and away from Calvinism.
I don’t know whether you will find this explanation to be acceptable on your site since it is more experiential than theological in nature, but this is my testimony. Soli Deo gloria.
- Andrew H, on September 1, 2014 at 11:41 am said:
1) How did you become a Calvinist? What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
A few different experiences played into my journey into Calvinism.
I grew up in a family that was moderately reformed (my Dad’s personal library included “The complete works of Jonathan Edwards”, all four of Loraine Boettner’s popular books, as well as a number of books by authors like Pink and Owens, though my Dad would never have called himself a Calvinist). For grades 5-9 I attended a private Dutch Reformed Christian School. This background, though not decisive, did make it much easier for me to accept Calvinism later on.
Growing up our family attended a Christian Brethren church. It was in my mid teens when our group of churches began to become hostile to Calvinism, with the publication of articles like “Born by the railroad tracks: confessions of a zero-point Calvinist” by one of the leading teachers in the Brethren Assemblies, and “What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God” by Dave Hunt who was well respected by the Assemblies. Later books would follow including “John Calvin Goes to Berkeley”. (This move away from Calvinism in the Brethren Assemblies has been noted Mark R. Stevenson in his article “Early Brethren Leaders and The Question Of Calvinism”, online: http://brethrenhistory.org/qwicsitePro/php/docsview.php?docid=1563).
I accepted these arguments at first, but was finally turned off by the lack of exegesis I found in their works. During my undergraduate studies (at a secular university) I especially longed for a deeper theological basis for my faith. The first book where I really found this was reading “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. After that I was introduced to Desiring God and the Gospel Coalition. It was Calvinist’s commitment to the Bible and use of Systematic Theology (which I had very little prior exposure to) which I found especially attractive.
After I finished my Bachelor’s degree I worked in the insurance industry where one of my co-workers was a soon-to-be church planter who was struggling through the same theological issues I was. Together he and I discussed the Bible and our studies in theology every day, and through these discussions eventually both of us embraced the five points of Calvinism. For me, the case was closed when I read “The Justification of God” by John Piper, which I considered to be an air tight exegesis of Romans 9.
Over the next 5 years I was immersed in New Calvinism, complete with new friendships with Acts 29 church planters, and road trips to Bethlehem Baptist.
2) Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions? What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
Last year I started law school. The first year of law school is spent learning how to “argue both sides”, which helped me to think about my arguments for Calvinism in a different way and forced me to face the logical conclusions of these doctrines. The past year also exposed me to the sickening depravity of man, especially through my course in Criminal Law. I had to look full-on at the idea that God had ordained these grotesque acts and was somehow glorified through them.
At the same time, on my mind were passages like Matthew 5:45-48, and Luke 6:35-36, where Jesus shows us the character of God: does God love His enemies (cf Rom 5) only in superficial ways and not where it really matters (their salvation)? How can God be the personification of Love (1 John 4), or be “abounding in steadfast love” (Ex 34, Num 14, Neh 9, Psa 86, 103, 145, Joel 2, Jonah 4), and yet limit the provision of the only thing we really need (the provision of Himself)? I would be confronted with news articles (like this one: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/child-divorcees-of-nigeria-face-a-bleak-future-after-fleeing-abusive-marriages-9570585.html ) that show communities in desparate need of the Gospel, yet as a Calvinist I had to believe the systematic sin they were suffering in was all ultimately ordained by God, and the world is exactly and perfectly as He had created and willed it to be. I couldn’t reconcile that with the character and way of God revealed throughout the Bible, especially in His law and finally in Jesus.
Wrestling with all of this, I finally decided that the only passage really holding me to the Calvinist position was my understanding of Romans 9. So I re-arced (biblearc.com) it and found the inference in v 30-33, which I had never before considered in light of the preceding context. Verse 30 – 32 begins as an inference from what has been argued thus far. Paul does not conclude that Israel is cut of and Gentiles in because of election/predestination, but instead he says it is because of belief vs those who pursued by works. (cf 11:20 & 23) If Paul had just made the argument that the Calvinist’s claim, then these verses should not be an inference at all. This especially made me think I may have misunderstood the chapter all along.
So I wrestled through the preceding verses and realized my interpretation had assumed far too much. In particular, “purpose of election” in verse 11 seems to be connected with God’s purpose in choosing Abraham, and His continuing that purpose through Isaac and then through Jacob, rather than the Calvinistic interpretation of election which I had brought in from outside the context. That purpose was that through Abraham God would bring blessings to all nations (v 4 and cf Gen 18:17-19 and Rom 4:16); a purpose fulfilled in Christ and being fulfilled before the eyes of the Roman Christians as they saw gentiles embracing the Gospel. The question being answered beginning in v 6 then is, has the Word of God failed because God is fulfilling His purpose (bringing blessings to the gentiles) despite the unfaithfulness of most of those descended from Israel (cf Rom 3:3-4)?
The rest of the passage fell into place from there. For example, verses 22-23 made a much better parallel with Eph 2, Rom 2:4, and 2 Pet 3:9 than with any idea of double predestination. (I know this isn’t the place for a full exegesis, though I would love to share mine).
Once I saw that there was an alternative (and I believe stronger) interpretation of Romans 9, I began taking out books and reading articles on alternatives to Calvinism (with full access to the University library and journals). I had deliberately wrestled through the passage before consulting any scholars to avoid making the same mistake I had originally made — I had relied more on “The Justification of God” than I had on the text.
3) What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
I was quiet about my struggle until I was convinced. I’m part of a church planting team on campus at the University where I am studying, so the first step after telling my wife was to tell the rest of the leadership team (who are each 5 point calvinists, and include my former co-worker from the insurance industry).
I had worried far more than I needed to. I’m still part of the launching team (I worried they might want me to step down, but instead they understood that my commitment to the Bible and upholding the character of God has not changed). A few members of the team and I have been emailing back and forth, and I think it has been helping each of us to consider our positions and the various texts. My former co-worker was quick to remind me that it was I who always argued for double predestination and limited atonement – he was never really that committed to those points anyway.
Today I consider myself a Reformed, 4-point Arminian; still holding to perseverance of the saints in the mostly-Grudem sense, and still committed to penal substitution and imputed righteousness (a doctrine I love). I’m excited for the reprinting of Thomas Grantham’s works, which I think I will be in substantial agreement with.
Though I don’t know a single Arminian to discuss with, I have found a number of helpful books and blogs. Some of the most helpful resources have been David Allen’s chapter on the Atonement and Steve Lemke’s chapter in Irresistible Grace in “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism”, “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson (who articulates a lot of the same conclusions that I struggled with as a Calvinist), and “The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election” by William Klein.
I’ve also found David Allen’s blog (especially his review of “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”; a book which I had received last Christmas), the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (at http://baptistcenter.net), and The Society of Evangelical Arminians to be especially helpful.
Ultimately it was the Bible, our world, and Calvinist teacher’s themselves who turned me away from my Calvinistic convictions. I did not even look at an Arminian blog or book until I was already convinced that the middle three points of TULIP could not be reconciled with the character and way of God revealed throughout the Bible, especially in the law and in Jesus.
- Cody Wright, on November 11, 2014 at 6:53 pm said:
How did you become a Calvinist?
It’s a bit foggy to be honest. I’m 21 now, and I’ve been in a reformed environment since I was first going to church (at a very young age). I feel like as is the case for many people, I was much more of an Arminian even before I was aware of the term, and then at some point, through the influence of a group of friends that I began spending time with and still spend time with, I adapted a Calvinistic method of reading the Bible. I wasn’t aware that I was more of an Arminian before this, so it would be more accurate to say that Calvinism was my first system of theology not my second. I also remember the strong flavor of monergism in the churches that I attended throughout my formative years. Point of all this background being: I never so much “became” a Calvinist as I was literally under the impression that Calvinism was the only legitimate way of interpreting the Bible, and, quite frankly, a departure from Calvinism would be a departure from true Christianity.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
To be brutally honest, I hated Calvinism almost as soon as I started thinking about it directly (which was strangely years after I became a Calvinist, probably when I was 17-ish). You’ll have to remember though, that I was in an environment that made the Calvinistic system the only “real” system, so as I began hating Calvinism, in my mind, I was hating God. It was terrible. I felt as if God was a nightmare that I couldn’t escape from. The only real reason I didn’t walk away during this time was fear of damnation. To be fair and try to answer the original question in some way, I do remember enjoying the idea of eternal security. Even this was double-edged though, because there was always the fear that something would come to pass in my life proving that I wasn’t a “genuine believer.”
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions? / What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
I think God blessed me first with a deep unrest over Calvinism within myself. Over its doctrines. Over how convoluted the exegesis seemed to me. Over what it implied about God. These feelings that I had never really caused me to seriously question my Calvinistic convictions or led me away from Calvinism directly though, both because I realized that feelings can’t be placed above what the Bible says, and with that, I was still under the impression that there was no other way of reading the Bible. I think God’s intent for the 3-4 years I struggled through emotionally was that this time made me emotionally ready and desperate for a fresh look at the Scriptures. I was in such a place that eventually, I was either going to abandon God wholesale or something was going to give. God was kind to me. Really the only person that I was honest about these feelings with was my Mom. She happens to meet with a number of young women to counsel them and mentor them, and one of these women wanted to talk about/question Calvinistic doctrines such as predestination etc. Very quickly my Mom began seeing the truth of an Arminian reading of the Bible and shared her findings with me. I’m glad she did because I was so burnt out on God that I’m not sure I would have ever seriously researched alternatives to Calvinism. This was only a couple of months ago, but I’m already learning so much. I call myself an Arminian, and I love how I feel like I’m actually reading the Bible in a clear, consistent manner now. My faith no longer rests on truths behind the truths, but rather on the clear, contextual, holistic revelation of Scripture. I’m excited to see where God leads me.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
I haven’t experienced much opposition mostly because I haven’t told too many people. I’ve had a couple tense conversations with friends, but no serious opposition or unkindness from people I know. I have already experienced a wealth of support. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas and share findings with my Mom. Also, I’ve been very blessed by the website and subsequent Facebook community affiliated with The Society of Evangelical Arminians. I’ve been able to learn a lot from members of the group that obviously know their stuff a lot better than I do. If you read this please pray that God would continue to encourage me through his Word and any other means. Thanks.
- Scott, on March 13, 2015 at 12:25 am said:
I became an adherent to the Calvinistic theological system long after I became a Christian. I guess it was 1996 or so when I started peering into this strange new christian worldview. I say strange because I started out not having any theological understanding (I guess not many do right out of the gate). What I did start out as was more Charismatic, you know the belief that God still performs miracles not just the miracle of salvation, the belief in the power of prayer, visions, dreams, all that. Well the book that was passed along to me by a friend was Lorraine Boettners little tome, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination”.
I think after some of the fluff from Charismatica I wanted more of an intelligent faith, something that would help me make sense of all that I read in the word. I was sold on the Idea that other competing views were substandard. The first part of my inculcation into the Idea of Calvinisim was that God didnt woo people into salvation, he dragged you to the cross, uh but you came willingly. I then saw that God seemded to ordain individuals from all eternity unto salvation; I saw that clearly so I didnt question what foreknowledge was and all that and how it all worked out. Next came all the scriptural proofs of how God is sovereign over all creation: lowing cows, plant life, molecules. And that if God were not involved to that extent it would fall apart (He holds all things by the power of his word).
Scripturally I just thought that Romans 9-11 was unassailable. I reasoned that the whole Jacob and Esau thing was evidence as well (albeit kind of Harsh I thought). God wanted to show his Love to Israel and not another so it was pretty concrete for me. There simply was no other data that was coming that would convince me otherwise. Now all this is very simplified. I did get into R.C Sproul, Piper, J. Edwards, John Owen, and other sundry divines.
The thing that started eating me alive to the point that I was wresting with God and angry was when I began taking Calvinism to its logical conclusion. In my limited layperson way I began talking out loud to myself as to what this all looked like from the damned perspective and the saved. I began saying: ok, ok if God demands all people everywhere to repent and some are saved and some damned, then the ones predestined to death cannot lift a finger to answer the inward call to come (not given faith) yet are eternally lost and are held accountable. Then I would do a mock interview with someone in that horrible condition (hell). I would say, you know if you had only received Christ you wouldnt be here, they would say oh no I was sent here I had no CHOICE, no FREEDOM to do otherwise(on Calvinism). I used to hear some Calvinists seemingly equivocate on this (not all). At once they would say its your own fault all the while stating that God from all Eternity didnt elect you. You would have to say God is the reason you’re in hades.
So it seemed to me that it was analogous to demanding a paralytic to ascend a flight of stairs and then when he obviously couldn’t respond to your request, setting him on fire. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, among other things. Like a lot of people who have journeyed out of Calvinism, they were mad not at God after all but a faulty system of thought that just didn’t seem biblical. I began reading books by Joseph Dongell & Jerry Walls, Roger Olson and Austin Fischer, just anything I could get my hands on. Thank you for the opportunity to share this which is very comforting and therapeutic if you will.
- Douglas Barroso, on September 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm said:
First I’d like to apologize for my poor English. I am a Brazilian pastor and a former theology teacher. I grew up in a Baptist church, but I was member of other churches like Presbyterian and Charismatic churches.
I discovered Calvinism during my Presbyterian time, more precisely when I began my theological studies in the denomination’s seminary. Since that time, I became a strong Calvinist. I loved and taught Calvinism in the pulpit and in the classroom. I can say that I knew Calvinist theology in a deep way. However, I had never been anti-Arminian. I had a good relationships with Arminian brothers. I studied Arminian theology, but It didn’t make sense in my Calvinist mind.
Some years ago I started to feel very uncomfortable with Particular Redemption and see its inconsistency and very weak Scriptural arguments. No one told me that, I just saw it is not the Biblical teaching just reading them. Since that time it happened with Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace. The core of Calvinism began to fall down in front of my eyes just reading the Bible. How could I believe it? How could I teach and preach it? I thank God that no one convinced me, His precious Word alone did that!
It was very difficult to repudiate Calvinism. I didn’t have problems with the church, the church and pastor are independent, we are not associated with a denomination. But I had problems with pride! Yes, I had to fight with myself! To admit that I was wrong, and to deal with a lot of confusion in my brother’s mind when they saw that what I strongly used to affirm was a wrong interpretation of biblical doctrine. I didn’t shock the church and was very cautious, but it was not easy.
Since that time I did the adjust my theological beliefs. I can say that Arminianism is much more Biblical than Calvinism. You don’t have to make a strong mental work to adjust the Bible to a theological view. It is easy and simple, the Bible speaks for Itself. That was Arminius, Wesley and a lot of other great theologians’ conclusion.
I thank God for his precious grace in my life, giving me, in His own Word, this understanding. I have peace in my mind and spirit like never before. I continue to admire the great Calvinist and Arminian men of God of our history. I love my Calvinist brothers and respect them, but I believe that everyone who seeks sincerely in the Bible and without theological preconceptions will turn to Arminian theology. Thanks and God bless you all!
- Lee L Pretorius, on April 30, 2017 at 1:58 pm said:
Hindsight is a nearly infallible gift for us. Looking back on my pre-salvation days I see Arminian theology being the main thrust.
It was never a Calvinist or a Calvinist church that preached the gospel to me and in a clear and loving way.
I was saved as a preteen in a charismatic church which I can safely assume was not Calvinist. I immediately backslid for a few years.
Prior to saying the sinners prayer my little experience with church was neutral Methodism to negative (no one can recall which church made me cry as a little boy).
When my life fell apart my only Christian friend who reached out to me and taught me the Bible and theology was Arminian. The church I attended then was Arminian.
However I felt I needed more scholarly education and someone directed me to there Baptists who were truly great and Bible knowledge.
I was drawn to Calvinism because it was a cohesive theology. With the Reformed Baptists you get Calvinism whether you like it or not. I assumed it was true without thinking it through deeply.
I managed to get through my BA Theology and Honours degrees without having much of either Calvinism or Arminianism pulling me. My interests were always outside of soteriology and I always assumed that there was some amalgamation at hand that people weren’t willing to try.
However I knew that the way Arminians were described as semi-Pelagian was outright propaganda and thought it was strange to characterize them as such.
My church is a member of the Acts 29 church planting network. As part of the assessment to be a church planter you need to lay out your soteriology. They are Calvinist so they do not look well upon Arminian articulations and would probably fail such an attempt.
My church believes in credo-baptism but I found they were willing to accept any Calvinists, even those who practice paedo-baptism, yet Arminianism was not in that category of brotherhood.
This is when I started to see that the soteriological position was actually a hindrance for uniting with genuine brothers, and suppressing (to me) the correct mode of baptism. This is when I saw how bad the situation had become.
I had already had long discussions with my Arminian friend about soteriology and was aware of Roger Olson’s book on the subject and I knew that the truth was being suppressed and misrepresented.
This set me on a journey to investigate Arminian scholarship which I had previously believed weak theologically. After some time and discussions the love amongst Arminians was in stark contrast to the cold feeling from Calvinism, particularly towards mission work or the unsaved.
It didn’t take me long to sign up to the society of evangelical Arminians and begin the process of detoxifying my theology. I did realise however that at heart Arminianism made a lot more sense of the general message of scripture and cleared up a lot of issues for me, particularly since I am primarily an evangelist.
I’m still in the same church but I’m not sure for how long. I feel the urge to explain Romans using Arminian exegesis to help people be free of the parasitic beliefs found in Calvinism.
- art haglund, on May 3, 2017 at 8:27 pm said:
How did you become a Calvinist?
I was born into a Lutheran Home, but upon reading the Bible in parallel with my Catechism, I found that baby Baptism and godparents were unscriptural things. No one can renounce for another person. Since this was taught as biblical, yet obviously was not, what other things did it teach in error? Real presence in communion, sacraments, and a pastorship that followed, not 1 Cor 14 in services, but a Roman Catholic Copy of the Levitcal priesthood in action. I left it and found Calvinism after bouncing around in and out of other ‘churches’, most of which held similar actions and thoughts to the Lutheran errors.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
Well, the firmness and bulk of ‘verses’ that supported all I was taught.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
A Man in my congregation called me a heretic for holding to my thoughts. I started rereading the ‘scripture’ support of Calvinism only to find they were misused and out of context.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
Mostly the same as I see today, just more and more repetiton of out of context things, with people who will not listen nor consider they might be wrong and who refuse to read the context.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
As stated above. Reading the Bible without verses and chapter separations allowed the natural original reading come through and Calvinism melted away. Lately, Having studied the people who did most of the Bible translation work, even until today, I find many translational errors, seemingly done to support Calvinistic doctrine, rather than accurate translation.
- Ashwin s, on March 14, 2018 at 2:40 am said:
How did you become a Calvinist?
Early in my christian walk, I encountered portions in the Bible such as John 6:44 and Romans 9 and started to believe in the concept of unconditional election.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
The two things I found most compelling was the scripture portions such as John 6 and Romans 9 which seemed to teach the concepts of election and grace. At that time I was in college and praying hard for a revival in my college and trying to preach the gospel/get a small group started etc. Being a new convert with little guidance trying to preach in India where most people were not Christians. I was not very successful. It was a time of great frustration and even despair. Because, I so desperately wanted my friends to see God’s glory, but my efforts were not very effective and my prayers seem unheard. The idea of election/irresistible grace/the sovereignty of God became a source of Comfort. I felt, people didn’t get saved because God did not want them to. it also soured my relationship with God as it eroded my trust in God.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
Over the years, I became a 4 point Calvinist, though I was still examining the Bible and found myself disturbed by verses such as in Hebrews 6. I couldn’t accept limited atonement because the Bible was pretty categorical in teaching that Jesus died for the world. The turning point came when I had a discussion online with a Calvinist. Since I was familiar with the counter arguments against Calvinism, I pointed out some of these counters to the things he was saying. Long story short, we ended up having a debate that lasted many days. Two things about the guy stood out, he was extremely arrogant and he frequently reverted to arguments based on authority. So and so is a great exegete and so this verse must mean what I say it does! By the end of our discussion, I had argued myself out of a Calvinistic position and found that it was possible to explain many verses such as John 6 differently, and that the different explanations were actually more true to the context in which these verses were spoken.
The last hurdle was Romans 9. I searched all over to see if there was an alternative explanation to the one the Calvinists gave. The key for me to understand this chapter from a different perspective was John Chrysostom’s commentary on Romans 9 and Arminius’ letter explaining the chapter. I spent a few months wresting with Romans 9 till I finally came to an understanding I believe is true to the text and in context.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
I have always attended Pentecostal churches and am currently attending an AG church. Since the church stand on this subject is Arminian, I find my interactions with the church are far smoother. Though to be honest, i never had any problems when I was leaning towards Calvinism.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
The Bible. There is no way we can believe in Calvinism if we read the Bible in context without presuppositions. I was also appalled when I read the Westminster Confession and how a deterministic doctrine made God the source of every evil ever committed. That is not how the Bible describes God.
- Christian, on April 1, 2018 at 9:40 pm said:
This is a rocky journey.
Being raised in a moderately authoritarian Christian household (eventually revealed to be hypocritical on the father’s side; he had numerous affairs which forever changed my faith) with slight Arminian leanings. Things seemed to go smooth with me and my Hebrew/Greek Bible. That was gonna change fast.
In early ’16, I discovered Calvinism and it was something I wrestled with. It pressed all the right buttons and within a few weeks I was sold. Those weeks were full of despair and shock as to seeing, at that time, that God was the authoritarian dictator that I feared He was.
The whole doctrinal framework, on the surface, made complete sense. It fit together like a coherent puzzle and it was seemingly logical. Being of the logical mindset, I clung onto it like a thirsty clings to water.
Yet I realize it poisoned my faith in God over the next 18 months or so.
I became haughty and prideful in the feeling that I had all the divine truth of the Scriptures and even had the audacity to brutalize my mother’s faith in front of her face in the name of ‘hating heresy.’
I became a ‘no-prayer’ warrior and thought that prayers were meaningless in that everything was pre-determined and therefore praying was futile because of that.
I became extremely paranoid about any teacher who didn’t express at least Amyraldist faith, which is a slightly more biblical stance on Calvinism in my opinion today. I would only listen to Calvinists.
I became extremely self-righteous and would lament churches who even dared to sing modern songs although I’d bicker about it behind people’s backs which made me look odd, I think.
I became very surface-level overall. I actually made it onto the PuritanBoard because my Calvinist beliefs were so staunch at the time. I wanted to fit in most of all and that was my road to it, it seemed.
I started to view man’s works as above God’s WORD. I used to (still have the book but want to sell it or give it to a thrift store) have John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and at one time, would read it religiously. I would also read J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, and would listen to RefNet which is a staunchly Calvinist online radio station.
I became very shallow in my Bible reading. A corollary of the 6th point, I basically used the Bible to verify Calvinist authors’ assumptions on matters of doctrine. The authors became my scripture and the Bible the proof-text for their works. (I realize how twisted that is.)
I began to see God as a very impersonal God. My belief in God started to parallel a lot of Muslims’ relationship with Allah. I would live life, especially near the end of my Calvinist beliefs, with the sarcastic ‘Inshallah’ mindset basically saying ‘whatever God wills, will happen. Not my responsibility’ which was a very fallacious mindset.
I began to value order over substance, in reality. I wanted the churches I attended to be orderly and liturgical in a Reformed fashion but whenever I didn’t get that, I’d get a ‘feeling’ of ‘void in the ”’spirit”” which was simply my ego not being pleased one way or the other.
As a result, my entire belief in the Christian God began to dwindle by early/mid ’17. Slowly but surely, I found the entire Calvinist framework to be crock, personally, and, foolishly, I left Christianity altogether and openly called myself agnostic.
In the transition phase, I started to go from being a Calvinist to being utterly anti-Calvinist, rejecting every sense of morality that I cast upon myself being in the Reformed fold, even if only virtually. (I never attended Reformed churches; there are none in our area.)
As an agnostic and frankly very immoral person, I still had faint glimmers of believing in God, although these glimmers had nothing to do with the Calvinism that I brought upon myself in the months prior.
I, sadly, ignored the very faint tug towards the God I knew from my childhood. I fell far… very far… into the pit of lascivious sins and became the worst I have been… ever. For at least a few months, I was actively contrarian to God’s statutes. I saw myself as bisexual. I seemingly openly embraced the LGBTQ+ community. (My opinions on it are mixed now… not hating like I used to be but do see it as sinful.) I became everything God wanted me not to be.
I started to become popular on Instagram as a ‘poet.’ In an equal but opposite push away from selflessness, I embraced selfishness and actively sought attention. I would use my skills to serve myself and nobody else. I would attach tons of tags to get attention and I was starting to feel confident as an irreligious ‘poet.’
He threw such a roadblock in my face that if I didn’t see God’s hand in that, I’d be blind. At first it seemed like I was being taken away from what was rightfully mine, but then… I realized God was watching over me this whole time…
I was confronted with my egregious sins and ultimately everything I claimed to be. I was a farce in the hands of a loving God finally being reshaped, slowly but surely, into a man of God.
Within a couple days, I deleted my Instagram account completely so that people would know that something happened, although they know not what happened.
This wasn’t John Calvin. This wasn’t J. I. Packer. This wasn’t B. B. Warfield. This wasn’t John Piper. This wasn’t RefNet.
This was Jesus Christ opening my eyes through someone I never met before and man was it something… seeing my filth from the outside and going… ‘I really am just a poor sinner in need of a Savior.’
Within a few days of that, I realized something I’ll never let go of. I am no Calvinist. I am a Bible-reading Christian and thank God for delivering me from Calvinism and ultimately Godlessness itself.
God reached down and touched a sick and early-seared-conscience man, me, and brought me up so I could see Him, metaphorically.
(Now I can’t get MercyMe’s ‘I Can Only Imagine’ out of my head and I’m kinda going cray cray LOL.)
And then I realized something more. Jesus loves me. Even when I went as far from God as I could possibly could go, Jesus still pursued me and caught me with that life-changer.
Rethinking all my theological convictions, I now see that the God I know and the God that Calvinism heralds are most definitely different. I know a God of Mercy and Love while I never had that with Calvinism.
Christianity isn’t a theological playground where doctrines are peered on 24/7, but a spiritual intimacy with our father Jesus. It is a relationship, that through the Bible, we become closer to Him.
As a result, I’ve begun to see our church in a much more graceful light and feel wonderful attending when before I was apprehensive at their enthusiasm at worshipping the LORD.
There was a woman whom I was very, very judgmental towards and, despite my disagreements with her (still, since she’s Charismatic and I’m not, although we’re both Arminian-tending), should’ve shown much more grace and well-meaning towards her. I want to go up to her and tell her that I was wrong because yes I was wrong and I want to apologize for my misinformed, self-righteous ranting.
Ultimately, it’s not about Arminianism or Calvinism but the fact that Jesus Christ is within us and is actively working in us for His greater good and is renewing our minds (LOL that’s R. C. Sproul’s saying but I don’t care) and loving us with a perfect love indescribable.
Now I wonder how I can please Him the most when I cannot socialize. I need my motivation for prayer to be turned up 777 notches, honestly. If anybody reads this, please pray for me. I really need the support!
47. craigb said:
Here’s the short version (I could write a book!)
HOW DID I BECOME A CALVINIST?
Just before Bible College, at the age of 26, I sat under a very articulate and persuasive Calvinistic preacher for about 7 months. Then, during Bible College, I started listening to John Piper and I was overcome by his convincing rhetoric. This heavily influenced me to choose Calvinism over and against Arminianism as the only legitimate biblical option. Piper became my hero – I read and listened to him intensively and he just drew me deeper and deeper.
WHAT DID I FIND MOST COMPELLING ABOUT CALVINISM?
The supposed coherence of the whole system helped me (at least for a while) to eliminate doubt and find certainty. Now, I see this as a trap – certainty can be an idol, whereas doubt can be a useful thing that leads to curiosity, creativity and real learning. So, initially, I found that Calvinism’s answers gave me a sense of security but eventually I found that this led me to being arrogant and suspicious of everything which was actually very counter productive for both personal growth and ministry. I should also add that the influential online new Calvinist community (e.g. The Gospel Coalition) made me feel like an insider – like I was part of something unique and special and superior – which is very sad, I know.
WHY DID I BEGIN TO QUESTION MY CALVINISTIC CONVICTIONS?
I encountered some mean-spirited non-Calvinistic fundamentalists and I had such a bad experience with them that they made question the whole idea “tribalism” in Christianity. As I mentioned, John Piper was my hero, and everyone knows that his two main heroes are Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis. I suddenly realised that what I liked in Piper came from Lewis and what I disliked in Piper came from Edwards. So, I started reading Lewis and found him to be a breath of fresh air. It was then that I started questioning Calvinism and I started to perceive a very unpleasant arrogance in the Calvinism tribe (even against Lewis who is lauded as one of their supposed heroes). Around this time, I loaned Piper’s TULIP videos to a friend and he returned them saying, “If that’s what God is like, I’d rather go to hell.” This really shook me. So, I eventually bit the bullet and read Roger Olson’s book, “Against Calvinism” and I was very surprised to find that he put together a good, well-reasoned and biblical case for non-Calvinism – and best of all, he did it in a very irenic way. To be fair, I tried to read Michael Horton’s rebuttal, “For Calvinism” but I found it to contain nothing I didn’t already know from what I’d learned in my ten years under John Piper. I simply found the arguments no longer compelling. This led me to start reading books and listening to podcasts outside of Calvinism and it woke me up to the reality that Calvinism isn’t the be all and end all of Christianity.
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT OR OPPOSITION DID YOU ENCOUNTER WHILE QUESTIONING YOUR CALVINISTIC BELIEFS?
I found a great deal of support on the Internet but it wasn’t easy to find initially! One important starting place for me was Leighton Flowers’ Soteriology 101 especially h podcast titled, “The 5 Points That Led Me to Leave Calvinism.” This really sealed the deal for me, and I listened to heaps of his podcasts which literally cured me of Calvinism! That was just the beginning of a journey of deconstruction that I am now on and I continue to find support from various people and in various places on the Internet. I’ve kept my change quite private – largely because I haven’t needed to be very public with it for two reasons: (1) I emigrated to another country 5 years ago and so I haven’t really needed to engage the Calvinists in my previous country; and (2) I’ve decided to leave the church I’ve been pastoring for the past 5 years and move to another state to pastor a non-Calvinistic church. I did share my change with one Calvinist friend, and he was quite upset and dismayed. He gave me some reading material to consider. Thankfully, we remain friends – I am pleased to say that our friendship transcends our theological viewpoints. I have realised, having been a Calvinist for 10 years, that it’s not worth debating Calvinists (IMHO). A change in this regard requires a major crisis, which is what precipitated my change.
WHAT PRIMARILY LED YOU TO ABANDONING CALVINISM?
It occurred to me that in the Calvinistic system, the Father could conceivably unconditionally elect everyone, and Jesus could conceivably atone for everyone, and the Holy Spirit could conceivably irresistibly regenerate everyone – so why doesn’t the Father, Son, and Spirit do this? This question eventually bested me for two reasons: (1) The Calvinistic answer is wholly unsatisfying and in congruent with who I understand God to be as revealed in Jesus Christ; and (2) Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus did atone for everyone – and, IMHO, once Limited Atonement falls, the house of cars cannot stand. And so, I now hold to corporate election, universal atonement, and I believe everyone is able to make a real choice (not a choice that has already been determined).
If you read all the way to this sentence, thanks and may I ask you to say a prayer for me?
48. Juan Gill writes:
How did you become a Calvinist?
I’m from Paraguay and I have 25 years old. I was an agnostic until I came to Christ when I was 18 years old, in 2012. 6 months later, the brother who lead me to Christ, teach me how he sees Ephesians 1, and teached me about predestination, and with another brother, he convinced me about an incomplete version of Unconditional Election. So, after resistance, I embrace that doctrine, and then I investigated about it, and that’s how I met the Calvinism and became like that.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
In that time, teached me how the glory of God is everything, and that He can do everything He wants without giving answers. Then, little by little, I embrace everything about everything about Calvinism
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
There was a division in my church in 2016, about Calvinism. The calvinists initiated a “war” between the ones who left my church, and the ones who decided to stay. I decided to stay with my church, even If I was a calvinist, because I didn’t agree with that attitude of the calvinists. Most of the ones who followed those leaders, now are departed o separated from Christ, and are in the world.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
Myself mostly and the wrong perspective about Arminianism that I learned from calvinists. I thought Arminianism was Semi-Pelagianism, until I met classical arminians.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
After the division in my church, I read many books, and not only I was arguing with calvinists about the division, but I was attracted more to Arminian authors than calvinists authors, because I was getting cold in my communion in Christ and David Wilkerson and AW Tozer talked about that and the practice of the Word of God (obedience). Then, I met classical arminians this year (2019), and after arguing with them, I realized that the Holy Spirit was shaking me, and told me that they were biblical, and my Calvinism were not. So, I realized not only that the Calvinism wasn’t biblical, but also I realized that the Calvinism was the doctrine that lead me to coldness in the first place, and other brothers, who were cold or in apostasy. Some of my brothers and sisters that I teached Calvinism, now I teach them Arminianism. Now I know that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, and I know how to live my christian life without worrying if this or that was predestined or not and I take care more of my spiritual life.
Thanks for reading. God bless you all.
49. David M. Young writes:
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
50. This testimony is unusual for the X-Calvinist corner in that the person never became a Calvinist, but shares his story of almost becoming a Calvinist. However, it seems worth including here.
Steve Sabin writes:
How did you become a Calvinist?
I was raised in a series of churches, starting first with Lutheran (ages 0-9), then Baptist (ages 10-12), and then Pentecostal (ages 13-20). My later years were characterized by a variety of churches ranging from Calvary Chapel to Evangelical to Foursquare, and even a brief foray back to the Lutheran church. To the best of my knowledge, none were Calvinist in theology except perhaps elements of Lutheran theology. Regardless, if any of the churches were Calvinist, deterministic theology was never taught or discussed that I can recall. I assumed there was no rational alternative to free will, just like there was no rational alternative to a spherical earth. In fact, I had never heard of Calvinism until well into my 40s.
While at a Foursquare church in my 40s, two friends that I met there were (unbeknownst to me) Calvinists. They began gently challenging some of my beliefs, primarily God’s sovereignty regarding salvation in particular and all events in general. I vividly remember a weeknight Bible study where we were going through a book by Dutch Sheets on intercessory prayer. One of my Calvinist friends was leading the study and the book asked what I presumed was a rhetorical question with only one obvious conclusion: “If Jesus prayed, ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’, does this means that God’s will is always accomplished?” My theology said “no, God’s will is not always done – He is not willing for any to perish, yet some do – so prayer must in some fashion influence the outcome of events in ways that are not pre-determined in advance.” However, for some in the group (including my Calvinist friend who led the study), this simple question created a gigantic and passionate debate. It was so substantial that the Bible study essentially met for a few more session and then disbanded because we could not seem to move past that point. I was frankly surprised that this question stirred such a division of perspectives. I honestly assumed that it was no more controversial than asking if the sky was blue. There was no animosity within the group, but it was as though everyone lost interest at the thought of studying prayer and its effectiveness if the outcome of what you were praying about had already been infallibly decreed and “could not be otherwise”. Each week, attendance dropped until there was no longer a critical mass of people to keep it alive. The Sheets book addresses this basic question directly by asking, “Is prayer God’s equivalent of having people dig holes and refill them, or does prayer meaningfully alter the outcome of events in real ways with real stakes?”
Although the Bible study did not continue, my friend (the leader) continued to challenge my conceptions of God’s sovereignty. To him, it meant absolute control of everything. I instinctively pushed back, because my reading of the Bible as a whole (and the offer of salvation in particular) didn’t seem to make any sense under a fully deterministic scheme.
Not long afterwards, during dinner with my other Calvinist friend, he asked me this question, which I think he believed was airtight logic from which nobody can escape: “Do you believe that God already knows where you will spend eternity? If so, what makes you think you are free to alter that outcome?” It took me awhile to recognize the error in logic: he made the mistake of conflating foreknowledge with causation. Knowing something is not the same as causing something. We do this all the time with regard to the past. We know the outcome of the 1942 World Series with absolutely certainty, without having caused the outcome. The players enjoyed total freedom even though my knowledge of the outcome is total.
Around the same time, I was reading Romans 9 and it puzzled me. I remember being very agitated and having a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach: “What if my friend was right? What if God’s sovereignty is only consistent with hard determinism, and some are elected to salvation while others to damnation? How can God say He “…loved Jacob and hated Esau”? What is a “vessel of wrath prepared for destruction?” I felt there was no other satisfactory explanation for what I was reading than the Calvinist interpretation because, as Peter says, “Paul wrote … some things hard to understand” and I did not understand this section of Romans at the time. I was also struggling with the little “mental puzzle” about God’s foreknowledge that my Calvinist friend had posed. I later worked it out, but until that occurred, I remember feeling a sense of panic and dread. “Is this the God that I have spent my life studying about, loving, and serving?”
Still later, I was in a Christian bookstore, browsing. I picked up something by R.C. Sproul where he essentially said (I’m paraphrasing): “Nobody has trouble with salvation they don’t deserve but everyone seems to have trouble with damnation they don’t deserve.” These types of statements increased that feeling of dread I was having and kept gnawing at me. Was this theology true? It felt more like I was being forced inexorably to surrender to something hateful than that I was running to embrace something wonderful. The gravitational pull toward Calvinism felt liked being sucked into a black hole. It was going to obliterate everything I thought I could rely on and nothing in scripture could be taken at face value any longer. For example, John 3:16 and 2 Pet 3:9 no longer meant what they appeared to say. God had cleverly disguised a different meaning therein and one must have the secret TULIP decoder ring to understand what “whosoever” “any” and “all” really meant. It felt like there was no light within Calvinism because although it purported to give answers, rhyme, and reason to the scriptures, it actually made Christianity pointless. Instead of freely responding to God with love as a child to a father or a wife to a husband, this was spiritual coercion – even rape. Or actually even worse. It was the equivalent of Stepford Wives – automatons that could do nothing other than as decreed.
Still later, I heard R.C. Sproul on the radio where he described his own journey to Calvinism. Again, I’m paraphrasing from memory, but he basically said: “I could not withstand the arguments of my professors. I finally had to surrender to the blows of their logic and scripture.” It pretty well described how I was feeling about Calvinism – a miserable, grudging surrender instead of a joyful epiphany.
I can thus be characterized as somebody that was given the brochure, prospectus, and guided tour for Calvinism. It was accompanied by a sickening feeling of having no choice but to embrace it because there was no other alternative explanation in my mind to Romans 9, John 6:44, and Acts 13:48, yet all the while feeling that the God I knew from scripture was very, very different from the one being described to me by my Calvinist friends and Calvinist scholars. It prompted me to do my own research because I felt I either had to accept it or find an alternative – but the one thing I could not do was ignore it. It kept gnawing at me and would not rest until addressed.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
It seemed to be the only satisfactory explanation for the major proof texts I listed above (Romans 9, John 6:44, and Acts 13:48). Prov 16:33 also troubled me.
In contrast to the proof texts, the sovereignty argument never really resonated with me. I never equated sovereignty with “total control” and assumed that only a truly sovereign God was big enough to create people with free will, yet within constraints and without subverting His sovereignty. A God that controlled every outcome, as in Calvinism, seemed to me to be a smaller, and less powerful God than one that could sustain free will and yet still accomplish His overall purposes. Poor leaders tend to be micromanagers. Good leaders tend to be good delegators and to allow people to make mistakes, with real consequences and real potential for hurting the leader. I guess I reasoned that the same qualities we admire in human leaders are innately planted in us by our Creator and it seemed contradictory for Him to be a micromanager that must control everything. It certainly felt to me from the pages of scripture that this God was not a micromanager. He delegated authority and responsibility to people like Lucifer and Adam and in response, they certainly seemed to exercise legitimate choices with legitimate consequences. The idea that they were actually predetermined blocks of code from God’s equivalent of The Matrix and could thus not do other than as they had been programed / decreed just was not congruent with my plain reading of scripture.
Although I did not find it particularly compelling, I did admire the logical consistency of TULIP and that it was a system of belief – not just a hodgepodge of maxims. I guess it was my introduction to systematic theology. Prior to that, I didn’t know what a systematic was, nor did I realize there were alternative systematics. It only later dawned on me that because Calvin was a lawyer, the harmonization of the ideas that came to be known as TULIP was one of his core competencies. But things can be internally consistent with one another while being consistently false.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
I never accepted Calvinism, but as I said above, a sense of dread that it might be true compelled me to search it out. I felt a lot of unrest during that season, because the logic seemed at first to be irrefutable. Indeed, it instilled a sense of panic. I probably spent 3-4 years reading and re-reading the main Calvinist proof texts, learning about TULIP, exposing myself to its primary proponents (MacArthur, Piper, Boettner, Pink, Sproul, et. al.), and trying to understand whether Calvinist theology was the only suitable way to interpret and reconcile not just the so-called proof texts, but the entire body of scripture.
One of my Calvinist friends in particular would dismissively proclaim that the only objections to Calvinism were rooted not in scripture, but in sentimental (i.e. man-centered) appeals to the character of God. He was pretty adamant that only Calvinism was Sola Scriptura. However, that didn’t resonate with me either, because the very thing that fueled my own research was Sola Scriptura – if scripture really taught what Calvinists assert, then I had no choice but to hold my nose and accept it. But did scripture really teach what Calvinism asserted? Could I ever get to the place where I loved and embraced what it taught, or would I forever have to hold my nose as part of crucifying my flesh and giving God His proper glory?
At the end of the day, for me, it was that the attributes of God I read about in scripture did not match the attributes of God being presented to me by Calvinism. I could not cross the chasm that Calvinism would require me to bridge. It would essentially require me to say:
“Just because the God of this theology seems arbitrary and capricious doesn’t mean that He is arbitrary and capricious. The God Calvinism describes must be the true God, as it is the only theology that ascribes the proper glory due Him and makes Him truly sovereign. If He seems arbitrary and capricious – if He seems to possess the very qualities that would actually damn a human being or an angel to hell – then it is my understanding of love, justice, mercy, grace, faith, equity, and sovereignty that must be adjusted – not Calvinism’s.”
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
I had many discussions with my wife (who is not a Calvinist) and she wisely counseled me to just read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit speak to me. I found a few websites (not yours, unfortunately) that helped, and found some books on the internet that likewise helped. But my wife was probably my biggest support. I encountered no real opposition because my quest was primarily private and internal. I did not try to debate my Calvinist friends, or any other Calvinists for that matter.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
Because I had been taught at an early age to read the Bible without relying on commentaries, and because I had established the habit in my 20s of reading through the entire Bible chronologically each year, I resolved to just read through it again from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, and make a special note of reading with the five assertions of TULIP in mind – and whether I could honestly find support for them in scripture. My Bible now has hundreds of embedded notes as a result of this effort. What I found were many passages that flew in the face of Calvinism. In contrast, there were only a few dozen that seemed to support Calvinism. It came down to two things:
- The preponderance of the evidence – hundreds or thousands of scriptures comprising overall themes of free will, salvation being extended to all, total depravity but not total inability, etc. versus a few dozen “proof texts” – all of which could be interpreted differently than Calvinists asserted, without doing violence to the scriptures, the character of God, or the plain meaning of words and universally accepted grammatical constructions.
- That if God intended to state what Calvinism asserts, He did an exceedingly poor job of it in the scriptures. It is not visible to the naked eye at all and requires almost everything one has learned about the meaning of words and grammatical structure to be turned on their head. There is a very real double-speak going on in Calvinism where the same words are exchanged between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, but with very different meanings. Ironically, Calvinists try to make their theology palatable not by doubling down in the deterministic direction, but mostly by trying as hard as possible to give the appearance of choice, but then qualifying by successive degrees of restriction upon that choice until it no longer exists in any meaningful sense. It becomes CINO (choice in name only). I found the attempt by Calvinists to control the debate by hijacking the definition and plain meaning of words to be especially egregious in my readings and in listening to their teachings and discussions and debates.
51. Dana Steele writes:
I’m finally ready to tell my story. I apologize that my response is longer than most. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with others. Thank you especially Ben for your perseverance in helping me on my journey. Thanks to those who take the time to read my story. My story is not done but it reached a pivotal point yesterday, so I think it is time.
Though I have written out many drafts of this story, I have condensed it and adapted it to fit your suggested format.
How did you become a Calvinist?
I grew up in a Calvinistic Baptist church from age 11. The 5-points of Calvinism (TULIP) were taught regularly with great enthusiasm and Arminianism was spoken of dismissively. But it wasn’t until college that I began to understand and embrace the “Doctrines of Grace” and TULIP more fully. I knew Arminianism was the counter to Calvinism, but I had never studied the doctrine seriously. Why study false doctrines?
I have come to learn that many of my previous views of Arminianism were assumed or misinformed. For example, I thought that Arminians believed that extra-biblical ideas like free will and fairness are more important than biblical ideas like election, predestination and sovereignty. To be honest, this view was sometimes reinforced by uninformed Arminians I met. It seemed to me that Arminianism was the default position of untaught Evangelicals because freedom from God’s sovereignty appeals to the flesh. But once a believer studies the Scriptures, they come to realize their default thinking is unbiblical. Or they remained stubborn by picking and choosing which parts of the bible they agreed with and ignored the rest.
On a practical level I saw problems with the Arminian notion that anyone can be saved. This encourages reliance of fleshly persuasion rather than the Holy Spirit, since God has already done his part and now it is up to us to close the deal. I had heard that Arminian Charles Finney introduced humanistic evangelism techniques like the “alter call” and the “anxious bench.” These became popular tools in Arminian churches to compel unregenerate people to make “decisions” for Christ and thus pronounce them saved. This type of arm twisting assumes that men are no longer totally depraved, they just need a little encouragement to get over their inhibition to come forward. I was therefore openly critical of modern Arminian evangelical ministries like Billy Graham and Louis Palau. Arminians would prematurely invite unbelievers to recite the “sinner’s prayer” and then pronounce them saved when they were not.
Ironically Arminians also believed you could lose your salvation which meant you had to keep earning your salvation, which brought into question whether they even preached the true gospel of salvation by faith alone. Basically, anything negative in Christianity I associated with Arminians. So growing up I had a very negative impression of Arminian Theology. Arminians in my view were well-intentioned but misguided and certainly not serious bible students. How could they be? God’s sovereignty and election are taught throughout the Bible. Romans 9 was a slam dunk for Calvinism.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
Growing up I took great comfort in the doctrine of eternal security. If salvation were up to me, I would certainly be doomed! I also learned to love the doctrine of election because it meant that God loved me personally and specifically in a unique way. Though it made me a little embarrassed to think that God did not love everyone this way, I was content to leave this as a mystery. Who am I to question God? I was just glad I was one of the lucky (I mean chosen) ones.
My church had many mature Christians who knew the Word. They were a praying church, an evangelistic church. We supported missionaries and had a heart for reaching our community with the gospel. I loved my church and knew of none that were doing the work of the kingdom better. OK, I didn’t really know any other churches.
In college I began meeting Christians from different theological backgrounds. Most, I assume were Arminian but when I would mention election they were not interested in challenging my soteriology. Some saw it as a divisive doctrine, others as not important, but I never met anyone who wanted to challenge my understanding of the “Doctrines of Grace”. One of my pastors gave me a booklet entitled “The 5-Points of Calvinism” by David Steele and the volume of scriptures in that booklet really reinforced my confidence that Calvinism was unassailable. I would go back and read its proof texts occasionally like an antidote whenever I started to doubt my Calvinism. The problem was, I had never met a serious bible student who wanted to defend Arminianism from the Word of God. When we did discuss the subject, the debate quickly turned from scripture to philosophy regarding “robots” and “puppets” and “real love”. This was a quick turnoff for me. So my view of Arminians only grew more and more cynical. I concluded that Arminians were either theologically lazy or just in denial of the hard truth of unconditional election. I had developed a sense of theological superiority.
After college I returned to my Calvinist church and began serving actively. I continued to fellowship with my Arminian friends from other churches. I knew they were Arminian but we rarely discussed it. Even as we matured in the Lord no one challenged my Calvinism. When I did try to press the issue I was usually met with little fight. They probably just wanted to avoid conflict, valuing my friendship more than a doctrine, but this just continued to reinforce my view of Arminians.
Our church called a new pastor whose doctoral dissertation was on Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. He grew up an Arminian until his exegesis of Romans 9 forced him to accept Calvinism. Then he grew to love it. I grew a lot siting under his teaching, learning how to study the Word. I became a youth leader, Young Adult Sunday School teacher, and later a deacon.
Unlike most Baptist churches in our area, we believed in a plurality of elders. Our church website promoted the fact that we were “Reformed yet Dispensational”, a curious combination for many visitors. I liked the fact that we were not tied to one tradition but strove to be biblical even if it meant not fitting into a conventional box. I was fully persuaded that I was on the right side of the soteriology debate even though I had never seriously engaged a formidable opponent in the debate.
When our pastor left, the church called the only remaining elder to be the new senior pastor and later called me to be a bi-vocational associate pastor in 2009. Although I never attended seminary, I took the Word of God seriously and had been trained well under my former Calvinist pastors. The problem was not that I didn’t understand Calvinism, the problem was I had never been seriously challenged in my beliefs. I had accepted superficial answers to the debate because I did not recognize there was any substance to the debate. I had approached the Scriptures already convinced unconditional election was true, so it was easy to find it in Scripture when looking for it. I couldn’t see past my Calvinistic lens. Calvinism was biblical and that was the end of the discussion for me. If I were to reconsider Calvinism, the Scriptures would have to point the way.
In my preaching and teaching I consistently defended the Doctrines of Grace, aka, the 5-Points of Calvinism. I had a well-developed sense of superiority over those who held to Arminian theology even though I had never studied Arminian theology! In my adult Sunday School class I had taught A.W. Pink’s “The Attributes of God”. I taught the book of Hebrews and managed to explain away all the warning passages as hypothetical or not addressed to genuine believers. I had heard my fellow pastors for years quote teachers like Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Spurgeon, Sproul, Piper and MacArthur. They promoted Ligonier Ministries and the Gospel Coalition. Although I was not an avid reader, I was familiar with these men and convinced that the vast majority of scholars and theologians were on my side. This “appeal to authority” was encouraging even though I’ve always been more of a “question authority” personality. But since Calvinists were still in the minority of evangelical Christianity, even this desire to go against the flow was satisfied in my Calvinism.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
In 2016 I decided to teach an adult Sunday School series on The Gospel Coalition series called “9-Marks of a Healthy Church.” I started with the booklet entitled “The Gospel” by Ray Ortlund, Jr. From the start, I was struck by his definition of the gospel which he called “the essential message Bible-believing people rally around.” Ortlund put it this way:
“God, through the perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, rescues all his people from the wrath of God into peace with God, with a promise of the full restoration of his created order forever – all to the praise of the glory of his grace.”
What struck me about this carefully crafted gospel statement was the complete absence of faith or any response at all on the part of man. In a word, it was thoroughly “monergistic”. To be fair, Ortlund prefaced his definition by saying this message is to be proclaimed and believed, but he offered no other connection between faith and salvation. Also to be fair, the goal of his booklet was not to provide a robust definition of the gospel but rather to show how the Church lives out the gospel, a worthy subject. I doubt Ortlund was intending to be controversial by neglecting to mention faith, but his overt monergism startled me and got me thinking. What is the role of faith in salvation? Why does the bible talk so much about faith if salvation is solely a work of God (monergistic)? As a Calvinist, I believed that God saves through regeneration. Faith is the result of regeneration. It is only secondarily and indirectly the condition of salvation. That does not mean it is not important. It is necessary for salvation but it is a consequential result of regeneration. Since all who are regenerated believe, the key question in determining who will be saved is not who will believe but rather who will be regenerated. But as I thought about those things, I began to ask, “Is that biblical?” It was that question which started me on my path away from Calvinism.
I began to think about my Arminian friends. Why did they believe in synergism when it was so clear from Scripture that God is sovereign over everything, especially salvation? Since I wasn’t confident any of my Arminian friends could or would want to engage my questions at a deep level, I decided to search online for Arminian websites. I found this website: arminianperspectives.wordpress.com. The first surprise I encountered was that classical Arminians believe in Total Depravity. Why did I not know this? Maybe I had other misunderstandings about Arminianism. I kept reading.
The more I read, the more I came to realize that there are Arminians who are serious about bible exegesis. They did not shy away from the difficult Calvinist proof-texts. I read several Arminian exegesis of Romans 9 and John 6 and it was like a light coming on in my brain. I learned about corporate election and prevenient grace, terms I had honestly never heard before. Suddenly, all the latent concerns and doubts I had about Calvinism began to surface. Does God decree sin? How does prayer change anything in a deterministic universe? Does God in fact love everyone and want everyone to be saved? Why does the Scripture warn us about falling away?
I had become adept at suppressing my doubts in obedience to God’s transcendence. I had bought into the tensions and mysteries that held Calvinism together but now was seeing another solution, one that made more sense of the biblical texts. Even John 6 and Romans 9 which I thought were rock solid proof texts for Irresistible Grace, Unconditional Election and Preservation of the Saints were suddenly opening up to me like I was reading it for the first time without bias. Of course we all have bias but for the first time I was admitting it.
I had so many questions. I began pestering the webhost with questions. I didn’t understand prevenient grace. I wasn’t sure how it worked. Is everyone totally depraved until they are enabled to believe? When are they enabled to believe? Is it a moment in time like regeneration or progressive? I used to think that Free Will was a man-made philosophical construct designed to make us feel better about ourselves. Essentially I thought it was an illusion, but since God is good and he loves me, no problem. I was admittedly not that familiar with the Calvinist compromise known as Compatibilism though thinking back it is clear that my fellow pastors were all compatibilists. Perhaps a more robust understanding of “soft determinism” would have insulated me from Arminianism but I don’t think so.
I began to ask myself, “What if I have been wrong this whole time? Did God really create some as vessels of wrath and damnation to glorify Himself? Was there a better way to understand Romans 9? Maybe sometimes what I consider a plain reading of the text is actually biased by assumptions? What if God really does love the world? What if the reason we proclaim the gospel to all is that everyone can be saved by the gospel? What if Christ really is the propitiation, not just for my sins but the sins of the whole world? You mean the plain reading of these texts might actually be true?” I was blown away.
It is essential that I submit to God always even when I come across “hard sayings” in the Word. I need to humble myself before God and remember that He is big and I am small. He does not owe me an explanation. I am not in a position to ultimately determine what is good and just. So when I don’t understand I just cling to what I know is true. That used to be Calvinism. But it is not Calvinism that I loved, it was God’s Word. I find great comfort in submitting to the Word because it is true even when my thoughts and feelings are faulty and can’t be trusted. So when I considered that the Word might actually be telling me that God loves the world and desires all to be saved, and sent his Son to make provision for all to be saved and invites all to be saved and grants grace and faith freely to the world, it was a wonderfully liberating feeling. I felt like I was being reintroduced to my God.
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
Even as I was thrilled to rediscover key biblical texts, these discoveries at the same time created a pit of fear in my stomach. What would my fellow pastors say? What would my congregation say? What would my family say? I suspected that many of them were in the same position as I had been. Calvinism was all they knew. But I was pretty sure the other elders would say I need to resign my pastoral position. “Pastors must be in hearty agreement with the Articles of Faith,” our constitution reads. I had no intention of leaving my church. I loved the people there. I grew up in this church. I couldn’t imagine worshiping anywhere else. They were my family. But revealing my changed position would undoubtedly lead to disappointment and pain. I was torn.
I eventually broached the subject at an elders meeting in the fall of 2016 and finally came clean as to the extent of my concerns in January of 2017. After over 30 years as a committed Calvinist, I now no longer considered myself a Calvinist! The elders were understandably shocked and concerned. To my surprise the elders decided to allow me to continue in my ministry provided I did not preach or teach Arminian Theology. We had some discussions on the subject but their approach was mainly to let me study on my own with the hope I would eventually come around. My approach was to just preach the Word and avoid the labels. This approach continued for 3 years until ironically, by God’s providence, each of my fellow pastors were called away by various means and I was eventually the only pastor left, an Arminian pastor in a Calvinist church!
When I finally revealed my secret to the congregation there were, not surprisingly, many who were shocked, disappointed and even angry that this had been kept from them so long. As I suspected, the galvanizing doctrinal issue was the P in TULIP, Perseverance of the Saints. I’m convinced that if I had somehow settled on 4-point Arminianism or Traditionalism as many Baptists do, the response would have been much different. But I could not tailor my convictions to a more favorable response. I am compelled to submit to the Scriptures.
Some members wanted me to resign immediately. But most felt it was not an important issue and wanted me to continue as pastor. Others actually agreed with me. But no one wanted to go so far to ask me and my family to leave the church. I did not want to leave. This was my family and families are supposed to work through their differences. But I came to realize that it was wrong for me to have kept this secret for so long. It was also clear that remaining a pastor would split my church family. So I decided to resign as pastor but stay to serve. This Sunday I was elected to return as a Deacon and I look forward to working with my diverse church to determine what direction we should go seeking a pastor to replace me.
These past 3 years I have received a mixture of support and opposition but I am particularly grateful for my understanding wife who turns out came from a 4-point Arminian background! I guess I didn’t properly screen her in the courtship process! I am also particularly grateful for one of my fellow Deacons who remains a strong Calvinist but has graciously engaged me in serious doctrinal discussions. Through our vigorous debates, we have actually grown in our love for one another. This is a model I hope to see repeated.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
Simply put, I became convinced that the Bible does not teach Calvinism. It does not teach that regeneration precedes faith. It does not teach that Christ died only for the elect. I even gave up the one petal that most Baptists hold on to, Perseverance of the Saints. As I said, this was by far the hardest for my congregation to swallow. I just finally surrendered to the fact that the plainest and clearest interpretation of the warning passages is that they are actually warning believers of a real danger and not just loss of reward but the greatest of dangers, eternal death (Romans 6:23). I also take comfort in knowing I still believe in eternal security “in Christ.” While I still believe that if it is totally up to me, I would fall away, thankfully God preserves me as I cooperate with his preservation. I do not preserve myself by my own will or power. I am kept by the power of God!
My prayer is that my church and others will come to realize that soteriology, though important, is not something we should divide over. To grow in our faith, believers need to discuss these differences rather than sweeping them under the proverbial rug for “unity’s sake.” Believers must engage the hard questions if we are to develop a robust faith. Believers can disagree on the finer points of soteriology as long as we preach the same gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and finished atoning work of Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for God’s glory alone. But when we disagree, we must never forget to speak in love with the goal of edification and not insist that our counterpart accept all our perceived logical implications of their theology. Many believers are content with mystery and apparent contradiction and we should be content with their contentment.
As I have observed this debate taking place online and in person the past 4 years, I have concluded the problem lies mainly with our perceived need to defend God’s character. Because each side believes the character of God is at stake (God’s love or God’s power), they rush to defeat their opponent in an effort to defend God. But here’s the thing: both sides agree that God is great and worthy of worship. Even if you can’t see how the “Calvinist God” is worthy of worship or how the “Arminian God” is truly sovereign, accept the fact that many can and do. So get over it and worship Him together!
“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” (Phil. 3:15-16)
52. Xavier writes:
How did you become a Calvinist?
I came to faith in Jesus in the context of an Acts29 church. What is interesting about this denomination is how subtle they are with Calvinism (unlike many Presbyterians or Reformed Baptists that teach exactly what they believe). The church I was a part of even had a motto that stated “we are a church for ALL people to discover and deepen a relationship with Jesus Christ.” In this church context, the “doctrines of Grace” were not really taught explicitly; they were subliminally introduced. Looking back, now I could easily catch the Calvinist language but at the time I was clueless. Because I loved that church so much, when I left (due to job relocation) I found myself looking for other Acts29 churches. The next one I landed in was more explicit in their Calvinist teachings. They even had portraits of John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and other reformers on the walls of their church. I would have to say that I became a Calvinist because all the Christians I looked up to and was close with ascribed their doctrinal beliefs to this system. Every online-resource I was bombarded with was from Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and other reformed-media. I immersed myself in all the voices that my friends did: John Piper, John MacArthur, Matt Chandler, David Platt, James White, Jeff Durbin, Tim Keller, R.C Sproul, and so many others. Even within the Christian Rap culture I got in to, it seemed like so many of my favorite artists were a part of this Calvinist movement (Trip Lee and KB just to give an example). For me, it just made perfect sense to follow what seemed like everyone else in my Christian community was doing. Now looking back, I realize I truly had no clue what I was getting myself into.
What did you find most compelling about Calvinism?
Those within the movement APPEARED to be the most serious about studying the Bible. That really interested me. Unfortunately, I came to believe that based off of my short-lived experiences in some non-Calvinistic churches that seemed to care more about entertaining church-goers and teaching simple “feel-good” messages where Scripture was barely mentioned or exegeted. Calvinists seemed to be more scholarly in their faith and I think my intellectual-wiring resonated with that. I’m not sure how much I actually found the system compelling; but the people who promoted it captured my attention. Calvinists seemed to be the only ones calling out false teachers and false doctrines publicly and I appreciated that. They also challenged the prior legalistic ways I thought about Religion in general which helped me to experience the freedom I have in Christ. I felt like I was truly cared for and safe within this community. Even so, it was interesting to me that they would regularly remind me of how unworthy I was (often making me feel like garbage) and how gracious God is. Calvinism to me, provided the most assurance (at the time) that Christianity is true and that I’m going to go to Heaven.
Why did you begin to question your Calvinistic convictions?
The doctrines of Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement bothered me from day one (once I understood their implications). Initially, rather than telling people my doubts, I’d go online to see if there were at least other Calvinists who rejected these doctrines and favored a 3 or 4 point Calvinism. I wasn’t looking to reject the system completely because I was taught that Arminianism was “man-centered”, works-based, and robbed God of His glory. The problem was that I would read Scripture passages that seemed to imply an unlimited atonement, humans having the genuine ability to accept or reject God’s grace, and that people could actually away from the faith. The Calvinist interpretations to these texts were suspect to me (i.e “all” or “world” was in reference to the elect, if mankind can believe without effectual grace than it means they’re responsible for their salvation, all those who walk away were never saved to begin with, etc.). Once I stumbled upon a video that claimed that Ravi Zacharias (my favorite Apologist to this day) wasn’t a Calvinist, it made me more skeptical of the system. My thinking was, “if someone like Ravi doesn’t believe this stuff, then what other brilliant Christians don’t?” I would eventually stumble into an entire “new” world of non-Calvinistic scholarship that really made it harder to hold on to these doctrines. Some of those men were Dr. Leighton Flowers, Dr. David Allen, Dr. Adam Harwood, Dr. Michael Brown, Dr. Braxton Hunter, Dr. Johnathan Pritchett, Dr. Ken Wilson, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Jerry Walls, Dr. Roger Olson, Dr. Craig Keener, Dr. Thomas Oden, Dr. Tim Mackie, Pastor Mike Winger, Dr. Tim Barnett, Dr. John Lennox, Dr. Frank Turek, and many others. In a sense, it felt as if all these non-Calvinistic voices were hidden from me. I could not believe how much stronger their arguments against Calvinistic doctrine were; even though these men made better sense of the Bible’s teachings as a whole to me, I was not ready to give up the system I “grew up” in immediately. I was very slow to do so. But the more I learned from them, the more I could catch the fallacies in my Pastor’s teaching (on Sunday’s and in small groups) and it made going to church unbearable. I did not want to follow what everyone else in my Christian circle was believing anymore. I wanted to understand the Bible through the lens of the ancient worlds it was written in and through the lens of the earliest Christians; not through the lens of men from after the sixteenth century (I believe people like Arminius and Wesley were simply teaching what the early church already believed in regards to soteriology).
What kind of support or opposition did you encounter while questioning your Calvinistic beliefs?
I never received any support. There was often a vibe from others that I was stepping outside of biblical Christianity. Some people began to distance themselves from me and others would not be willing to engage in serious debate about my doubts and objections. Every time I wanted to discuss these things with Calvinists, many would make it seem like it wasn’t worth talking about. The fact that they could not see the dangerous implications of the system was alarming to me (God doesn’t truly love everyone, God isn’t genuine in His offer of the Gospel, God holds people accountable for things they can’t control, etc.). Unfortunately, my persistence also caused issues in friendships of mine; which I own up to.
What primarily led to you abandoning Calvinism?
Once I discovered the abundance of early church teaching that affirmed things like libertarian free-will and unlimited atonement, it became easy for me to give up Calvinism. I realized that the only reason why the Calvinist world seemed so big and loud was because that’s all I was surrounded with. I originally thought most of the church believed these doctrines (in the past and present). I underestimated how their social media platforms played a big role in spreading their message to me and making it seem normal. Ultimately, I believe God was working to bring me out of Calvinism and I thank Him for it. He saved me in a Calvinistic church; this shows He is working wherever Christians are earnestly seeking Him. I urge non-Calvinists to not think of Calvinists as evil people who are crazy. They are people of God who are in serious error. As for Calvinists, your doctrine brings shame to the beauty of the gospel (in my opinion). Please re-consider your beliefs and check out the names I listed that helped me to see the errors in my ways. To this day I’m still learning and I’ll never stop because I know I’m not perfect in my beliefs; I suggest we all do the same. God will teach those who earnestly seek the truth of His word!
53. Ricahrd Ellis writes:
In 2012 I found myself sitting at Walnut Grove Church asking a simple question:
How did I get here?
Such an inquiry was not without warrant, for in that moment I was an atheist. I had concluded long prior that the contemplation of God was a waste of time, if not a flatout irrational task. I knew there was no God, but here I was sitting in a Church.
I thought back to my friend who asked me to go. He knew that seven months prior I had lost my great-grandmother. He knew that six months prior, I had lost my grandfather who raised me. He knew that four weeks prior, my dad (an alcoholic and drug addict) was murdered in a drug-deal gone wrong. He knew about all of my pain, and because of it he asked me to go to Church and I agreed.
But I knew then, deep down, that these events did not answer my question.
How did I get here… and without thinking too long, I knew the answer.
It was God calling me. I had just heard a testimony of the Gospel, and I knew it had to be God. I remember praying: “God if you are real, I will follow you.” – For in that moment I felt that it was more irrational to not believe in God, than it would have been to believe in Him.
For the next six years I found myself growing little in the faith. I had graduated highschool and college, and knew that I was ready to pursue my faith unhindered. I desired objectivity, and I was going to do everything I could to learn about “what I believed” and “why.”
The first book I found myself reading was Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer. This was my first taste of Calvinism. Packer taught that God’s Sovereignty and Human Freewill was an antimony. But most importantly, I remember reading this from Packers book:
“Because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it [salvation]…You do not put it down to chance or accident that you attended a Christian Church, that you heard the Christian gospel, that you had Christian friends and, perhaps, a Christian home, that the Bible fell into your hands, that you saw your need of Christ and came to trust him as your Savior. “ (Packer 16, IVP)
How did I get here?
This question came back to me, and Packer and Calvinism seemed to make the most sense. It was God who saves, not man.
Thus, not only did I see my conversion story within the quote above, I also saw the totality of God behind my conversion event. Although I later found this book to be criticized by both Calvinist and Arminianist, needless to say I was hooked. From Packer, I found Piper, MacArthur, Matthew Henry, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc.
For me, calvinism became the objective force behind my Bible studies, my music (Shai Linne), and more. God was in control. Everything was ordained. It was the Five Solas, it was TULIP, it was Augustine, and I loved it.
But unfortunately I began to change.
I know many Calvinist will argue against what I am about to say. They will probably state that I got Calvinism wrong. I don’t think so. Either way, I noticed two things about myself that started to creep forward under the influence of Calvinism:
First, I started to take the act of sinning lightly, and second I started to question my salvation.
With sin itself, I had always condemned it, and I still do. God abhors it, and like all Christians ought, I hold dearly and tightly to Romans 6:1 in regards to sin and Grace. Yet, with every sin I committed under the tutelage of Calvinism, I felt myself become more and more fatigued by it. At its worst I began to believe that if God’s will couldn’t be thwarted then even my sin couldn’t be stopped, because I viewed it as His will. From my perspective, God had ordained everything, even my sin. Thus, with the feelings of hopelessness, I started to let sin run its course in my life.
Naturally, as I kept sinning, I started to doubt that I was actually saved.
How did I get here?
I felt incomplete, and I started to reflect on the totality of my faith. From it, I started to ponder darker questions. If God makes certain my sin, did God make certain the death of my family and my pain, all of which He preordained in order for me to be saved? Were such things possible from a loving God- from what I saw in Jesus?
To be honest, I didn’t have the answers. When I read the Bible I could not read it without seeing Calvinism everywhere, and because of that I began to wonder if what I was doing was eisegesis rather than exegesis.
I started googling the issue. I found Roger Olson. An Arminian who doesn’t deny Total Depravity- I got to read more I thought. I bought his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Within a few days I had it done.
Soon, I found the Society of Evangelical Arminians. Like Olson, they hold to the Soteriology espoused within the term Arminianism.
Afterwards, I spent many months reading- Thomas Oden, Brian Abasciano, Jerry Walls, Arminius, Calvin, Augustine, more of Olson, etc. In any case, I was changed. I no longer believed in Divine Determinism as espoused in Calvinism. I also knew pelagianism and semi-pelagianism were wrong. In the end, I was fully committed to the Arminian understanding of Soteriology.
How did I get here?
For me, and every Christian, it has all been God’s Grace- 100 percent. It was God who desired me to be saved. At conversion, God in his Providence used the trials of my life to bring me to a saving Faith. God did not cause my pain, he fixed it.