Life is filled with choices and changes. I am far different than I ever thought I would be. And I have come, in many ways, very far from where I started. My theological journey has not been a static one. I was born into a Lutheran church, raised in a broad evangelical church, and I am currently a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (www.OPC.org). The theological landscapes are vastly different. And I have come here, not by happenstance, but through a series of many changes.
In this post I’d like to address: Why I Changed My Mind: Calvinism.
I didn’t grow up hearing of the doctrines of grace, TULIP, or covenant theology. Rather, I was born into a Lutheran home and at the age of 3 my folks joined a broadly evangelical denomination. It was pretty well assumed for most of my upbringing that people had free will. That is, that it was my job to pray the sinners prayer and accept Jesus into my heart and until then, Jesus stood by as a relatively passive observer. Now to be fair, the church I grew up in knew next to nothing of historic Calvinism or Arminianism. But the slant of the church was certainly in an Arminian direction.
In my high school years I was first introduced to an educated perspective of Arminianism known as open theism. This was an influential theological perspective in my household. Open theism is the basic teaching that God doesn’t know the future. But it was also around this time that I was first introduced to Calvinism–particularly of the John Piper variety. To say that I struggled greatly would be an exaggeration. I was a rebellious young man. And so I came to embrace the five points of Calvinism as a form of rebellion against the theology of my parents.
Though I didn’t necessarily begin with the greatest of intentions, it didn’t take long for me to see how univocally clear the Bible is in defending the doctrines of grace (http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=28). I remember talking at some length with a friend of mine and posing every objection and counterargument I could muster against Calvinsim. And at every corner he simply responded with what the Bible said. And after labeling myself as a Calvinist for some time, I came not only to embrace it for the rebellious streak, but because of its Biblical underpinnings.
First, it was a theology that humbled man and exalted God. Some have said that the biblical doctrine of election is the surest proof of the inspiration of the Bible. Because the doctrine of election casts man, who is naturally desirous of autonomy, at the complete sovereign good pleasure of God. The Reformation principle that all things are done for the glory of God alone seemed very tenable and biblical to me (cf. Exod. 33:18ff; Isa. 42:8; 43:7; Luke 2:14; John 3:30; Eph. 2:8–9).
Second, it is a theology that makes sense out of grace. Rather than grace being a response to something that I have done, I came to see that grace was the completely undeserved favor of God. Calvinism allowed me to see the graciousness of grace (Eph. 2:8–9; see also Rom. 5:8–9). But it also allowed me to see the power of grace, that grace is not an response but it is an power/influence that demands a response (cf. John 5:8–9).
Third, it was a theology that believed in the God of the Bible who is not disappointed or a redemptive failure. It was a theology that saw God for who he is, a God who planned redemption in eternity past, purchased it through sending his Son to die on the cross, and applying it through the effectual work of the Spirit. At no point is God seen to be a proverbial cheerleader; but from first to last, he is seen as a God who saves (Jonah 2:9; Isa. 53:11).
Fourth, it was a theology that made sin exceedingly sinful. The Bible leaves us with no misunderstanding, we are so sinful we can do nothing to please God, merit his forgiveness, or earn our salvation. As I began to study the doctrines of grace, I began to understand how sinful I was. And to top this off, I began to see that Calvinism was a system of doctrine that didn’t shirk from calling sin, sin. And a theology that didn’t cater to sinful impulses or desires of making much out of man (cf. Gen. 5:6; Rom. 8:8; Eph. 2:1–2).
Coming to a conviction of these four points led me to a greater biblical understanding of my sin, God’s plan of redemption, and Christ’s work in securing my salvation. Throughout the years, I have come to see Calvinism as a far more complete and glorious system of doctrine, but when I think back to those formable years, it is these truths that began to impress upon my mind the glorious God of my salvation.