My personal history with Calvinism

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calvinism

I am not really sure when I fully embraced Calvinism, but I do know that by the time I was in my early 20s, I was a five-point Calvinist.

Since Calvinism was so inherently logical and apparently biblical, I was fully persuaded in my own mind that “Calvinism is the Gospel, and the Gospel is Calvinism” (as some Calvinists claim). I vividly remember debating Calvinism with many of my non-Calvinist friends, trying to convince them of what was eminently obvious to anyone with a working brain.

Losing Limited Atonement

However, it was not long after this that one of my Calvinistic friends declared that he was no longer a five-point Calvinist, but was now a four-point Calvinist. He no longer believed in “Limited Atonement.”

I told him that he had begun to slide down a slippery slope, for the five points of Calvinism are like five links on a chain: they stand or fall together and if one link in the chain breaks, it is only a matter of time before the whole system unravels. My friend assured me that nothing of the sort would happen to him, and he was still fully convinced of the other four points of Calvinism.

I was skeptical, but he and I talked about it, studied the Scriptures, and read numerous books.

It was not long before I too had given up on Limited Atonement as well. But I was convinced that I would remain a four-point Calvinist, just like my friend. As it happened, what I told him about the links in the Calvinistic chain turned out to be true—at least for me.

Shedding Perseverance of the Saints

Later that year, I sat through a Bible College class on the General Epistles in which the professor, Dr. John Hart, had us read numerous books which challenged the fifth point of Calvinism: the Perseverance of the Saints.

Among the books he had us read were two that really challenged my thinking and helped me see certain key texts in a new light: They are The Epistle of James by Zane Hodges and The Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph Dillow (a revised and updated edition of the book is now titled Final Destiny).

There were numerous other books I read and the class lectures of Dr. John Hart were influential as well, so within a year I had abandoned my belief in the Perseverance of the Saints, and was now a three-point Calvinist.

Calvinist No More

I remained a three-point Calvinists for quite a while, until, after Seminary, I began my first pastorate in Montana. It was there, where the rubber of theology hits the road of life, where the final three points of Calvinism finally fell.

Calvinism 5 point

The sources of influence were numerous and varied.

One elder named Bob Weaver challenged me to view God differently than I had before. I read some books which were recommended to me by others. God’s Strategy in Human History was helpful, as were various books by Samuel Fisk, Harry Ironside, C. Gordon Olson, Laurence Vance, and Dave Hunt.

Also, I was preaching at this time through the book of Ephesians, and my research and study on Ephesians 1 helped me to see that this chapter does not teach Unconditional Election as many Calvinists claim. Somewhere during those first five years as a pastor, all three of the remaining points of Calvinism crumbled in my mind.

Coming to Terms with non-Calvinism

It was an exciting but scary time.

It was exciting because my theology was changing and I was discovering new vistas on about the grace of God and the role of faith and works in the life of believers.

But it was scary because I kept wondering how deep the rabbit hole went. I didn’t want to be an Arminian, but at the same time, I knew I could no longer be a Calvinist.

In an attempt to stay true to my quickly fading Calvinistic beliefs, I read every Calvinistic book I could get my hands on. Not only did I read John Calvin, I also read John MacArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Philip Graham Ryken, A. W. Pink, Edwin Palmer, and dozens of other such authors, all of whom vigorously defended Calvinism.

In the end, though, none of them wrote anything in their books which persuaded me that my new belief system was wrong.

In fact, it often seemed to me that these Calvinistic authors themselves had never heard of the views which I myself held. They kept arguing against non-Calvinistic beliefs which I, as a non-Calvinist, did not believe!

It seemed to me that they had not read any of the books I had read, or even knew anything about the way of reading Scripture which I had adopted. At the time, I did not know exactly if these Calvinistic authors were trying to refute Arminian beliefs (which I had not read much of), or if they had simply erected anti-Calvinistic straw-man beliefs which were then easily knocked down. Looking back now, and having read many books on Arminian theology, I have to say that it was the latter.

Most Calvinists, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are not Calvinistic.

It is exceedingly rare to find a defense of Calvinism which actually deals with the documented beliefs and ideas of Calvinistic opponents. A typical Calvinistic defense seems to consist of stating the Calvinistic beliefs, quoting numerous Calvinistic authors, and referencing several biblical texts which seem to support the Calvinistic perspectives.

This pretty much brings me up to the present day.

Over the past fifteen years, I have continued to read both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic authors, and study biblical texts from the various perspectives. With every passing year, I am more and more convinced that Calvinism reads Scripture incorrectly, distorts the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has ultimately abandoned the roots of the Reformation.

All this will be seen in later posts.

So what about you? What is your history with Calvinism? Are you Calvinist now? Have you ever been a Calvinist? Do you know what Calvinism is? Share your stories in the comment section below.

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Comments

  1. Stephen Butler says

    I never fully embraced it, but I saw the good in being balanced on God’s sovereignty and mans free will. Now, I see that the majority of those that are fully invested in Calvinism are really negative and judgmental. That is what I used to be too. I know there are always exceptions, but I really thoroughly appreciate your willingness to be honest about the theological issues instead of always placating the party line. Keep it up. love reading your works and thoughts.

  2. Victor Somers says

    Thanks for this Jeremy. I seem to remember your Calvinistic leanings during our FBC days. I have never fully embraced Calvinism so I so appreciate your learned perspective and look forward to hearing more on this topic.
    I am currently church planting and many in my network are 5 point. They often prod me about being less enlightened which is an attitude which seems to come with the territory.

    Thanks again for sharing your work with us. It is much appreciated.

  3. Kevin Hansen says

    I have a simple belief. There is s Creator of the universe, God. God loved us so much that He sent His son, Christ, to die for my sins. For even if everyone was perfect before me, I would have chosen to sin. Christ is the Word. He was and is God incarnate, in the flesh. I believed through Christ and in Christ and am indwelt with the Holy Spirit. I am sealed in Christ’s work. I am a follower, a believer, a disciple of Christ. I am His ambassador in this world. Apart from Christ I am nothing.

  4. Brian P. says

    “Most Calvinists, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are not Calvinistic.”

    And likewise and perhaps more so…

    “Most Evangelicals, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are not Evangelical.”

    And likewise and perhaps more so…

    “Most Protestants, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are not Protestant.”

    And likewise and perhaps more so…

    “Most Christians, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are of other faiths and non-faith.”

    Personally, starting about fifteen years ago, I started out on a quest to understand why I believed what I believed. And I did so without guardrails.

    To me, this:

    “A typical Calvinistic defense seems to consist of stating the Calvinistic beliefs, quoting numerous Calvinistic authors, and referencing several biblical texts which seem to support the Calvinistic perspectives.”

    In substantial ways generalizes this:

    “A typical [___] defense seems to consist of stating the [___] beliefs, quoting numerous [___] authors, and referencing several [centrally defining] texts which seem to support the [___] perspectives.”

    Have I been a Calvinist, Evangelical, Protestant and Christian? Yes.

    Do I know what Calvinism, Evangelicalism, Protestantism, and Christianity are? Yes, and as well or better than most adherents from both inside and outside.

    Am I Calvinist now? Uh, no.

    Am I Christian now? Don’t ask me! Ask a Calvinist. They know everything about who’s in and who’s out.

  5. Mike says

    Most who disagree with Calvinism do a poor job defending what they believe. I have read some every good essays defending free grace and pointing out the errors of Calvinism. The problem is that most and I realize how this sounds, but most believers who disagree with Calvinists cannot say why in a convincing way. When I was a Calvinist, I owned the theological debate every time because those who disagreed didn’t know why so they lost the debate.

    Most Calvinists I know are kind, compassionate, giving individuals who give generously to the spread of the Gospel. They know their Bibles very well and are active in their church community. John Piper and John MacArthur for example are doing some incredible things as are other Calvinists and though I no longer teach Calvinism I still acknowledge their enormous contribution to the church community.

    That being said, men like Charlie Bing, George Zeller and others like Drue Freeman provided another perspective to the issue of Calvinism and I am grateful to them for their kindness and for their teaching ministry.

    MK

    • jonathon says

      >because those who disagreed did not know why so they lost the debate.

      I’d go a step further, and say that most people do not know why they have the beliefs that they have. Arguably, people do not even know what they believe, much less why.

      Calvinism qua TULIP is much easier to delineate, articulate, and defend, than the Arminian, Lutheran, Catholic, or pre-Reformation Anabaptist equivalent.

      • Mike says

        You are correct on both accounts and that is the reason for much of the anxiety when it comes to belief systems like Calvinism. Much of what he taught was correct and he was often brilliant. The problem I faced and sometimes still face is when I say ” I know…”

        When you “know” and the other person doesn’t “know” anxiety sets in and then the invectives begin to fly and the discussion is lost. I disagree w Jeremy 98% of the time and I remain silent because I like him and I think I understand what he is trying to do. I still read Calvin too

    • says

      Mike,

      Yes, I agree with you and what you have found. Of course, there are many hateful Calvinists who condemn all non-Calvinists, and there are many hateful non-Calvinists who condemn Calvinists.

      I might get a bit passionate in this series on Calvinism, but I *hope* I can write with grace.

      • Mike says

        I hope so too Jeremy. It was Calvinists who condemned me as a heretic and threw me out of the church but I did not and will condemn them. I came to free grace years afterward so I was still a Calvinist for years when I was outside of any fellowship. I have many fond memories of their fellowship, I learned the bible and I saw first hand the depth of their commitment to what they believe.

        They are wrong on some points but not all and like it or not God is sovereign, regardless of your theology. :)

        MK

  6. says

    I know this will sound condescending, but words fail me: people really rest their faith on five points? Is this really how Calvin would have envisaged his ideas playing out over the centuries?

    • jonathon says

      TULIP dates to the mid-nineteenth Century.

      Prior to that, one argued in favour of, or against _The Five Articles of the Remonstrants_ or Wesley’s adaption of them, or _The Formula of Concord_, using the entire theological plane.

      _The Five Articles of the Remonstrants_ was written for government officials who were utterly clueless about theology.

    • says

      No, I really doubt that this is how Calvin wanted his theology to end up. He taught so much more than just these 5 points (and much of it is quite good!). But these 5 points were developed in reaction to the followers of Arminius, and so somehow they have come to summarize what Calvin taught.

  7. Darryl says

    I was raised in an evangelical church that never explicitly stated their theology was Calvanism, yet it came through in their teaching; ironically however, when it came to eternal security they were Arminian (believed you could lose your salvation). As an adult at a Christian university working on a religious studies degree, I was unsettled with both sides, not realizing there was alternative until coming across Free Grace Theology and discussed my concerns with Dr. Radmacher–who said it was the Holy Spirit who caused me to be unsettled.

    To put it bluntly, thre Calvanist caricature of God is satanic. A god who chooses people for eternal literal fire (Romans 9) and causing/allowing evil (rape, torture, child abuse, etc) means he looks more like Molech than the God of love revealed in Jesus.

    • says

      Dr. Radmacher was influential on me as well… Most people do not know there is a mediating third position.

      You certainly are blunt there at the end! I don’t disagree, but I will probably try to stay away from statement like that in my own critique of Calvinism because of how they tend to just escalate the argument.

      • Darryl Van Dyke says

        “…I will probably try to stay away from statement like that in my own critique of Calvinism because of how they tend to just escalate the argument.”

        Sounds like wisdom :)

      • Mike says

        You agree with Darryl Jeremy?? Really?? In your next post about Calvinism just say what you mean. Satanic, really? This is why the discussion never gets anywhere. Grow up Darryl adn Jeremy, what a disappointment.

        MK

        • says

          Mike,

          Weeeellll, please note first of all that Darryl did not say that Calvinism itself is Satanic. He said that the “caricature of God” is satanic. I think Calvinists would agree that since any caricature of God brings dishonor to His name, and as a caricature of God is opposed to God and is anti-God, a caricature of God is therefore satanic. Calvinists would not say that their view of God is a caricature of God, but that is what the argument is all about, isn’t it? The debate over Calvinism is not so much about theology, but about this question: “What is God like?”

          Having said this, it must also be noted that there are scores upon scores of quotes from well-known and noted Calvinists who have said similar (and worse) things about those who are opposed to Calvinism. That doesn’t mean we should make such statements in return, which is why I tend not to make them. I try to remain civil, loving, gracious, and kind, because that is how I see God behaving toward me… (which also tells people what I think God is like).

          Having said all this (if you really want to know exactly where I stand)….. it is not too surprising that I agreed with him because I also think that “Christendom” is “satanic.” Both terms require definition.

          Christendom: I think that Christianity as a religion, which purports to call people to follow Jesus, but uses money, power, and political prestige to force “Christianity” on others, is nothing other than the adoption of all the things which Satan promised Jesus in Luke 4, but which Jesus turned down. Christendom, meanwhile, accepted the satanic offers with both arms held wide. Since Calvinism (with its Augustinian roots, and Augustine was the great justifier of the marriage between the church and state) is a belief system within the stream of Christendom, it falls within these same critiques.

          Then, of course, you need to understand how I read the word “satanic.” Satan, of course, simply means “accuser” and so “satanic” is an adjective meaning “accusatory.” To say that something is “satanic” is to say it is “accusatory.” Much that falls under the Calvinistic title is also quite accusatory.

          Am I accusing Calvinism of being accusatory? I am, I suppose, which makes me “satanic” as well. So even though I may point the finger at my Calvinist friends, I always try to remember that when I do so, three fingers are pointing back at me (to recall a truth we all learn in Kindergarten).

        • says

          Jeremy,

          You are right about the three fingers pointing back at you, unless of course you are Count Rugen, the man with six fingers on your right hand then it would be four fingers, and then I would also have to say
          “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

  8. Aaron says

    I used to have heavy leanings toward Calvinism….

    A friend of mine once said:

    A Calvinist believes God can save whomever He intends to, but He only intends to save His elect.
    An Armenian believes God desires to save all men, but allows the will of man to override this desire.

    I now believe a mix of these two…

  9. Ward Kelly says

    Well I may be the odd ball here as I am not a pastor, have not gone to seminary, and was never taught the principles of Calvinism vs Arminianism. So in an effort to get up to speed I did a search and read the point by point breakdown of both camps. http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/reformed-theology/arminianism/calvinism-vs-arminianism-comparison-chart/

    As described in the above chart I am definatly not a Calvinist. I agree with almost all the Arminian points except their statement on eternal salvation “Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith.”.

    I will be eagerly awaiting Jeremy’s breakdown of these points. I am curious if this two camp system is really of import in most Christian circles? In 30 years of sitting under church teaching have had very limited exposure to this system.

  10. says

    I have never been a Calvinist. I am a very hard leaning Arminian. I have explored, studied and debated about Calvinism and have never been able to overcome a God who chooses to condemn someone, before that someone exists. That is unfair, unjust and unmerciful-unlike the God of the Bible.

  11. says

    I started this journey as a 4 point Calvinist, having learned that POV from a pastor who later became a friend and mentor.

    But the real linchpin in Calvinism is their doctrine of total depravity, which actually means “total inability.” Once you begin unpacking the OT concept of death (starting with Genesis 2 and 3), you discover that “completely unable to respond to God” is not part of the biblical field of meaning for that term.

    Once total inability falls the whole system collapses.

    I tell people I am a Zero Point Calvinist. That always generates interesting conversation.

    • says

      Great input, Bud. For me, Total Depravity was one of the last points to fall (for the reasons you state), but as you say, it is the linchpin which holds the system together.

  12. Joel Kessler says

    I literally made people cry (my little brother included) with the ferocity of my debates and theological “know-how.” Then I read Donald MIller’s book ‘Blue Like Jazz’ and it flipped my trajectionary around from trying to know and debate a perfect arguement and win people over through theological submission, to wow, God not only Loves me, but He likes me? It was SUCH a relational breath of fresh air. It inspired me to pursue ‘love,’ philosophically from Shakespeare to romantic “chik-flik’ type movies. Finally what really broke the straw was finding a website about Christus Victor vs. Penal Substitionary Atonement. The person who wrote the piece totally left Penal Substituationary Atonement looking so weak in comparison to the Christus Victor view. It was what gave me the energy to move forward and look beyond Calvinism.

    • says

      Yes! The first time I tried to read Blue Like Jazz, I literally threw it across the room against the wall, then tore it up and tossed it in my trash can. Later, after my theology started to shift, I read it again, and like you, I found it to be a breath of fresh air.

      Then, as you say, Christus Victor helped as well, though I am relatively new to that perspective (only the last two years or so).

  13. jeremy edmondson says

    Do you happen to have any of the notes you accumulated from your study of Ephesians that you would be willing to share?

    Love the blog! Keep up the sound work!!!

  14. says

    I have migrated in the opposite direction from most expressed here, but that is beside the point. Most of the objections to “Calvinism” seem to boil down to expressions of preference (gut feeling, if you will). I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t consider that sort of thing as a sound basis for deciding difficult questions when we have actual scriptural evidence to use instead. Based on my understanding of scripture, Calvinism is aligned with what the word of God actually teaches. Of course, it is possible to extrapolate from Calvinistic principles and arrive at erroneous conclusions (like there’s no need to preach the gospel), but that is not a necessary consequence of those principles as much as an example of faulty reasoning.

    • says

      Vic,

      I am glad you know where you stand.

      Do you really think that most who object to Calvinism do so only because of a gut feeling, while those who teach and hold to Calvinism do so because they have studied the Scripture? I think some in both camps hold to their beliefs out of a gut feeling, while some in both camps hold to their beliefs for exegetical reasons. This is what makes the debate so difficult (and heated).

      Regardless, I hope you will stick around and see that I left Calvinism because of a very careful and detailed study of the Scripture, and will be sharing many of the results of this long study here on this blog.

  15. gerriemalan says

    I too, was raised in a Calvinistic tradition – in South Africa’s mainline Dutch Reformed Church. Looking back today, I conclude I was just a cultural Christian and that the Christian faith that I professed was little more than doing what I was supposed to do. My true faith conversion came much later in life.

    For the past few years my wife and I have been reading the Bible again, as if for the first time. Now we are simply called by other -isms. I have yet to find – even among my friends – someone who disagrees with my views and does so with the Bible as their source. Whatever happened to Sola Scriptura among them?

    • says

      We do tend to exchange one label for another, don’t we?

      I think almost all Christians think they hold to sola Scriptura. I mean, maybe not those words, but almost all Christians think they use the Bible as the main or final authority for their practice. Even Catholics, who give great authority to the Pope and Tradition, do so by appealing to various Scriptures which seem to support this practice.

      • gerriemalan says

        In my childhood and teenage years (and perhaps even way past them) I solidly believed the members of other churches than our group of 3 reformed denominations were going to hell. I mean, they practised the sin of baptising adults instead of babies! In fact, I would not even accept an invitation to attend a service in the Baptist Church.

        “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” – Hosea 4:6. It is such a true principle even if it was spoken to Israel. Many people regularly quote that, but how many read the rest of the verse?

  16. Terry Jones says

    I just happened across your webpage and found it interesting. I do not consider myself to be a Calvinist but also certainly not an Arminian. Mostly, I try to better understand the Word without trying to rely too much on other’s commentary unless it is dealing with a fuller understanding of the original languages or culture. I have tried to gain a better understanding of Calvinism mainly so I would have a basis of understanding when listening to other’s viewpoints. I had heard about Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his dealing with the points of Calvinism. If you get time you may enjoy reading this: http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/2012/06/dr-danny-akins-article-on-calvinism/

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Terry. I hope you will stick around and provide input about what you are learning from Scripture. There is so much to learn, and so many people to learn from!

      • Terry Jones says

        Thank you. I find the more I learn from God’s Word the more there is to learn. I only desire to be consumed by Jesus. We can indeed learn a lot from one another. I’ve always liked the saying, ‘Knowledge is knowing where to find the answer.’ I know the Bible has all the answers we need to know. It does, however, also say there are some we cannot know. I look forward to being sharpened.
        Proverbs 27:17 (ESV) Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

  17. says

    Thank you for this post. It confirms many things in my own experience. I have never been a Calvinist but prefer to say that certain aspects of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are mysteries to us here on earth. But one thing that has made me more repelled by Calvinism is the rudeness with which many Calvinists express their doctrine. I have sat in church services where Calvinist preachers said all non-Calvinists believe in a “works” salvation and believe in “nonsense.” I’ve been told by Calvinist preachers, who weren’t even born when I started my faith-walk with Jesus, that as I “matured” I would see the truth of Calvinism–that only immature Christians are non-Calvinists.

    I have always been amazed that a belief that teaches total depravity produces so many arrogant followers and teachers.

    Having said that, I appreciate the contribution Calvinists have made to Christianity apart from their fixation on Calvinism.

    • says

      Thanks, Gail!

      Of course, many Calvinists are kind and gracious, and I have known many rude and arrogant non-Calvinists, and I often fall into rudeness and arrogance as well.

      But there does seem to be a fair number of out-spoken and loud Calvinists in the Christian sphere today…

  18. Darryl Van Dyke says

    Your comments above explaining what “satanic” means is bang on and exactly represents my intentions in my previous statement re Calvanism’s charicature of God. Thanks.

  19. walter says

    goodness me….where to begin? how about i’m a Calvinist and I find this post equally as in-accurate as the comments you guys have lashed out at the theological system. I never quite believed someone might sunk his teeth into calvinism fully then soon after attack it as a faulty theology. Doesn’t calvinism answer or the least make sense of paradoxes which you have such as how free-will might co-exist with omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresent? doesn’t it stretch out God’s sovereignty as wide as it stretches His Love? doesn’t it make the main point of the bible the main point of the bible by screaming out Lord “to God be the glory”??!! isn’t it consistence with any translation of Proverbs 16:4 that God created some for destruction or Romans 9 along with a summation of Paul’s messages throughout the 13 letters?? the only thing i can sum up from all your views is that you dismiss calvinism for its political incorrectness and note in the same fashion Jesus was dismissed by religious leaders of His days. I could write a library of books in response to every thought or idea against calvinism you have raised but alas!! at the end of the day one will believe and see what one wants to believe or see, just try not to do it in a manner that screams out “we don’t care about the truth”!!!!

    • says

      Walter, how can my personal history with Calvinism be inaccurate? It’s my personal history.

      And I think I sunk my teeth pretty fully into Calvinism. I was taught it in Bible College and Seminary. I read scores of books on Calvinism from Calvinists. I taught it for years as a pastor.

      The “you didn’t study it enough” argument is commonly used, but quite weak.

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