During my years as a Pentecostal/Arminian Christian I focused my theological studies on an array of supposedly sound biblical topics. I studied Dispensational Theology (though at the time I had no idea what it was called), learning the different epochs of time Earth’s history had been neatly packaged into. I dabbled with spiritual warfare, waging battle against all principalities and powers of darkness. I learned how to defend my family against the wiles of the devil. I read many kooky books that inspired me to take up the armor of God and stand firmly against the devil’s fiery darts in ways that now make me cringe with chagrin. I danced as King David did (except fully clothed) and anointed everything with olive oil (or Crisco if the former was not conveniently available). I claimed enough territories for Christ during those years that I could have established a whole other country. I scoured the scriptures, scrapping together verses in an effort to discern the times, and determine the signs of Christ’s Second Coming. I agreed with both Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt and the secret rapture of the church would whisk us away while the world would suffer beneath the iron heel of the Antichrist’s reign of terror. I spent hours pleading and wrestling with God at the altar, in the desperate hope that he would grant me an authentic, earth-shattering spiritual experience akin to the ones enjoyed by my brethren, who appeared to get a ‘dose of the Ghost’ on a weekly basis. Continue reading
Precisely nine years ago I embraced the doctrines of Grace (also called 5-point Calvinism). It was a chaotic time, where both the tearing down of my old theology and the construction of this new theology were taking place simultaneously in my mind and spirit. To complicate matters, an old friend, who had faithfully attended my weekly bible study for college students, came to my office one day and begged me to start up a new study group. She had come to a difficult point in her life and had a deep hunger for someone to bring her the Word. I had sympathy for her, but didn’t feel I was in any position to teach.
First, I could no longer teach much of what I had in the past. Many of those doctrines, like a house built on shifting sand, laid in a collapsed heap. I was in the process of bulldozing those aberrant beliefs right off my intellectual property. Second, I still did not know enough about Calvinism to be confident enough to teach it. Third, I still had not resolved all the points of Calvinism in my heart and mind yet. I readily accepted the T, the U, and the I but I wasn’t so sure about the L and the P. Odd, I know, if the U then the P should follow, right? I’ve never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer!
Anyway, against my better judgment, I plunged ahead with the study and presented my understanding of sovereign salvation to that small audience. It all worked out for the good, though. The class constantly presented challenges that helped to sharpen me. In the end though, only one person from the group came to believe in the doctrines of Grace. She came to visit me in my office one afternoon last year and I asked her pointedly, “have you become convinced that Calvinism is true?” My friend gave me an unforgettable reply. In a humble and almost broken-hearted tone, she said, “Yes it has to be true, because I know my own heart.” Continue reading
Almost a decade ago I was involved in a titanic spiritual battle between two opposing theological views. I could feel the once rock solid doctrines of free will slipping through my fingers like fine sand. I begged and beseeched the Lord to deliver me from the relentless reasonings and scriptural bombshells ripping the house I had built on the shifting dunes of man-centered doctrines. My pride and self-respect were on the line.
See, for the first decade of my born-again life I embraced a form of Arminianism that many call Semi-Pelagianism. Simply put, I believed that man’s free will is the deciding factor in salvation. Calvinism, which is the belief that God is sovereign over all things, including man’s salvation, had recently started making sense to me and I was drawn to it. (While at the same time being repulsed by it).
Calvinism was a dirty word in my old church. I considered it to be on equal footing with cultic beliefs.
I used to say such things as:
“Calvinism is a doctrine of demons!”
Or worse yet:
“If God is like how the Calvinists describe him, I would never serve such a cruel, heartless dictator who arbitrarily chooses who will and will not be saved!” Continue reading
I just came across an informative article chronicling the recent resurgence of Calvinism. I agree with the writer’s assessment that this uprising is in response to the shallow, watered down Christianity-lite of modern Evangelicalism. Why? Well, because that’s basically how I came to embrace the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was part of a world-wide movement. I felt like I walked entirely alone for the first couple of years. I battled alienation and discouragement during that period yet I latched on to the teachings of God’s absolute sovereignty with bulldog tenacity. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, agreed my new outlook on the scriptures. I sought refuge and companionship through my blog and found a growing, enthusiastic subculture on the internet where I could work out my theological wranglings among friends, who are also my brothers and sisters in the Lord. Continue reading
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:33-39)
The Apostle Paul asks several important questions in this text. He also gives his readers profound answers.
Who can accuse God’s people of any crime?
No one. God alone justifies the guilty. He answers to no man. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy.
Who has the right to sentence his saints to death and hell?
No one. Christ took our condemnation up on himself. We are free from the sting of death and the punishment of hell.
Who can separate God’s people from the love of Christ, which has been freely bestowed upon them?
Nobody can and nothing will. No circumstance or trial can wedge apart this bond. Through God’s love we have been made more than conquerors. Again, he reiterates that no being (angels nor rulers), thing (the sword, death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth) or circumstance (tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger) can separate us from the love of God. He even goes so far as to say ‘nor anything else in all creation’. I think that pretty much covers everything, don’t you think? Continue reading
I actually read most of the best-selling book, “The Purpose-driven Life” a couple of years ago. At the time I thought it was a refreshing blast of gospel simplicity. I was thrilled at Rick Warren’s approach because, in hindsight, it was reflective of the way my church conducted service. It was a natural synopsis of the philosophies I had been raised upon in my first decade of spiritual growth. Of course I loved it! I heartily recommended it to a friend struggling through a divorce for encouragement, without a moment’s hesitation.
However, my suspicions concerning the state of the modern evangelical church continued to grow from that time until just over a year ago. It all came to a head in a prayer I voiced to God in the cool darkness of my backyard one late autumn night. My prayer went something like this: “Lord, my spirit is troubled over the church and the way it is handling the precious gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I fear that error is spreading like a plague through the churches of our land. More than anything, I desire to know the truth, and to live by that truth no matter the personal cost. Humble me that I may choose to follow you, Lord wherever it is you lead me. Open my eyes that I may perceive, unstop my ears that I may comprehend.”
For 10 years I cruised down the smooth asphalt highway of free-will theology. Gradually I began to take notice that the pristine world scrolling past my vision started to lose its luster. The rolling green hills and bright blue sky had become washed out, dull and lifeless; a barren winter landscape. It was then I noticed it wasn’t the environment that had changed, but it was the Lord removing the rose-colored spectacles perched on the end of my nose. Spectacles, that up to that point in my spiritual walk, I had been blissfully unaware I was even wearing. For the first time in my born-again life I saw the modern church from a perspective outside my own limited worldview. I began to question doctrines and church traditions I had firmly believed in for a decade. I marveled at methodologies that didn’t spring from the pages of scriptures, but were fermented in the minds of well-meaning modern evangelicals. Thump! Thump-Thump! Where did all these potholes come from! Oh my. This highway, I’ve discovered, has a toll booth. The price, I fear, is too high to pay. Continue reading