When I first embraced Christianity, Calvinism was a bad word. I didn’t know much about it but I knew that in my circles Calvinists were talked about as being uncaring, lacking compassion and smug. I knew something about them believing that God only elects certain people and everyone else goes to Hell. This seemed unloving to me and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I had a friend who I served with in Japan. He and I were Christians at the time, neither of us were Calvinists. We had reconnected on Facebook many years later and I learned that he had embraced Calvinism. I didn’t think much of it but I started to notice his posts were very contrary to the things I had learned about Christianity. “God choosing people”, “God predestined people for a purpose” and “God’s sovereignty” were all things I had read in my Bible but never really gave much effort to understand. It wasn’t until my friend has said something to me about a video I had posted that set me off. He claimed that the people in the video (who were speaking in tongues and being slain in the spirit) were not Christians. I was enraged…
I blocked him from Facebook and moved on with my life, but something inside of me didn’t understand how someone could say what he did, and why a guy who was a believer in Jesus could become a “hateful Calvinist”. I soon learned that one of my favorite preachers to listen to, Timothy Keller, was also a Calvinist. I felt like I had been deceived. How could someone who serves a loving God, think that this loving God isn’t loving? I began my spiral into the deep realms of theology in this moment. I had to understand what this was all about and why I couldn’t believe in it myself.
My very first disagreements with Calvinism were simple “why evangelize?” If God chooses, then evangelism is fruitless. The next natural argument was “why pray?” Even if God has in fact chosen me, He already knows what I would pray about. I couldn’t fathom the idea of being a robotic servant of God. Then I realized that was just my own pride.
Some of you will read this and immediately dismiss this post. Either you don’t care enough to know the difference in theologies or maybe you already feel frustrated at me for my stance. Either way, I understand both sides. My friend for many years made me feel this way and at one point I felt like I just needed to “love God and let Him love on me”. As if my doing nothing was sufficient for spiritual growth.
I believe that within Christianity we are experiencing a new awakening in reformed thought. I don’t track trends but I would be willing to bet that due to previous generations denial of sound theology we have purposefully sunk into our current spiritual cultural situation. We have seen the lawlessness of those before us and we desire a religious view of a God who is bigger than us and is worthy of worship. I’ve yet to meet anyone who worships their friend. More and more people have been digging deep into the works of Spurgeon, Calvin, Wesley and other of the great voices of the reformation. The mistrust of those in authority has led to a desire to go back and discover these things for themselves.
It was a conflagration of these moments that led me to ask the right questions. It was in an attitude of learning and an open mind that I was able to see the world view that was so different from my own. An earnest desire to see God in a way that maybe I had missed. As an Arminian I saw God much smaller and man much bigger. I saw a God who was lonely and waited on my decision to believe in Him. Much like how I picture my dog when I am away from home. It was never intentionally disrespectful, but I didn’t know there was any other way. What I am not saying is every Arminian has this view, this is my story.
I felt like I was doing God a favor by serving Him, as if He couldn’t do all He needed to do without me. I would say “if I don’t praise Him the rocks will cry out” and lived in this idea of self and unjust self-worth. Understanding God’s sovereignty brought me to my knees in a way I have never experienced in humility. For the first time in my life I felt like I was out of control, and I couldn’t have been more at peace. The pressure that had been placed on me by leaders and church doctrines in the past was now gone. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, not me. God does everything according to His will and purpose, not mine. When something doesn’t go the way I thought it should, it made sense in God’s sovereignty.
I now desire to keep God Holy because I want to, not for fear that I will somehow misstep and fall out of grace. God’s grace is not only irresistible but sufficient to keep me for eternity. I have such a longing to understand scripture that I never had before. When I read scripture I read it with a deeper respect and understanding of God’s character. I cannot accept loosely blurted scripture carelessly tossed out for the benefit one’s odd doctrine.
It took me a very long time to embrace reformed theology in Calvinism, and now that I have I have never felt more secure in my standings with my creator.