Two Recent Testimonies About Leaving Calvinism

musicman707 writes,

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 writes,

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.

You can read other stories from people who have left Calvinism here.

Troubling Trends Among YRR Calvinists

The troubling trend in America’s “Calvinist Revival” 

HT: Dale V. Wayman

Austin Fischer Responds to Kevin DeYoung’s Review of his Book

My Review of Kevin’s Review

An Insightful Review of Austin Fischer’s New Book on Leaving Calvinism

Check out this reflective and insightful review of Austin Fischer’s book, Young, Restless And No Longer Reformed.  John Frye (also a former Calvinist) presents a short and thought provoking summary of the problems inherent in Calvinism that Austin highlights in his book.

John Frye, Review of *Young Restless and No Longer Reformed*

Related Posts:

Glen Shellrude, Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts, Or Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Calvinist Prayer (And Many Other Things) Explained

How Can God’s Glory Be “Diminished” in Calvinism?

Category: Salvation Assurance

Is God Like A Black Hole in Calvinism?

X-Calvinist Corner

 

Great Follow-up Comments by David Martinez on the Recent Conversation Between James White and Austin Fischer

You can read the post at SEA here.

David does a fine job exposing White’s spurious debate tactics.  James White has truly made an art out of poisoning the well as Martinez well points out (See post below for more evidence).  And again, we see the tired old assumption that one cannot possibly disagree with Calvinism on Biblical grounds.  Why?  Because Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, of course.  So any disagreement with Calvinism must be driven by some sort of ulterior motive or disrespect for Scripture.

David also does a great job easily dispatching the horrible Calvinist prooftexting of John 17:9.  I will borrow one of White’s favorite superlative phrases and agree with Martinez in my “utter amazement” that Calvinists still try to use this passage to support Calvinism.  I’m amazed, truly and utterly amazed!

Related:

Those in Glass ivory Towers Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” (Highlights Several Problems With Calvinist Argumentative Techniques and Fallacious Debate Tactics).

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics (14 Part Series on Apologetic Fallacies Typically Employed by Calvinists Like James White)

Is God Like a Black Hole in Calvinism? Ex-Calvinist Austin Fischer Responds to John Piper

Austin Fischer Responds to John Piper About Leaving Calvinism

I think Mr. Fischer makes a valid point about how Piper’s claims do seem to plainly paint God in a way that seems at odds with Scripture and seems to threaten His aseity.

Here are a few other posts that make similar observations:

Dr. Thomas McCall Takes on John Piper And The Calvinistic View of God’s Sovereignty

Big Trouble in Little Geneva

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

Where the New Calvinist Movement is Heading- Hyper Calvinism?

I found this comment after a post by a Calvinist at this blog:

There are three books every born again child of God should read (1) the Bible (2) The Reign of Grace by Abraham Boothe (3) An Antidote to Armianism by Christopher Ness. There is no such thing as a “Reformed Christian” because you are a christian or a non christian and if you have not been led by the Holy Spirit to a belief in the doctrines of grace (which is a being raised from the dead, not a reformation) then you believe another gospel and you are anathama.

It is comforting but not true to believe that someone can believe in free ill [sic.] and be saved

Good stuff.  First, read the Bible (refreshing).  Second, read two Calvinist works so that you can be sufficiently brainwashed into ignoring what you just read in the Bible about God’s love for the world, desire for all to be saved, the possibility of apostasy from genuine faith, etc.  Basically, all those pesky parts that blatantly contradict Calvinism.

Anyway, as long as you read those books “after” you read the Bible, you can avoid the heresy of believing in free will which would make it impossible to be saved (never mind that you have no choice about what you believe in the first place).  Oh, and if God hasn’t caused you to embrace Calvinism, you are clearly not saved.

Of course, this is just one voice among many Calvinists and might be considered rather extreme.  However, it should be noted that this is the first comment in the thread.  One would expect that at least one Calvinist would set this fellow straight on his hyper Calvinism, but  not a single one takes this hyper-Calvinist to task.  It seems that Mr. Owen is really onto something (though I disagree with his claim in his initial article that the old time Calvinists were not as anti-Arminian as the YRR movement.  That is hardly the case).  It does seem that things are trending in this direction of “non-Calvinists aren’t Christians” among Calvinists.  Hopefully, more Calvinists like Paul Owen will sound the alarm before this sort of extremism really does become the norm.

Excerpt From Austin Fischer’s New Book About Why He Left The New Calvinist “Young, Restless and Reformed” Movement

You can read the excerpt here

Here are a few interesting comments left in response to the new book,

Beakerj wrote:

Austin, as one out of church for the last 2 years due to not being able to deal with, nor yet truly dismiss ,the calvinist god, I am reading your book with bated breath. It’s not a journey I have made willingly. So far you are the only person who has ever described what it is like to have the whole Bible become linguistically unreachable & impossible when the tenets of calvinism undermine normal meanings of words like love…for this alone I am grateful, & feel less strange. I can’t figure out why this doesn’t happen for everyone. I get left with an unreachable, unknowable God who frankly scares me to death. We’ll see how I get on. I’m not hopeful but I’m still trying. [Link]

Luke Breuer wrote:

It’s fascinating that AW Tozer both said that our conception of God is the most important thing about us, and simultaneously failed to mention God’s servant-nature (in his Knowledge of the Holy), as expressed by Jesus’ coming to earth to serve and not be served, with Jesus being the “exact representation” of God, per Hebrews 1. It strikes me that truly becoming more like the Calvinist God would make you into someone not many people would want to be around. Someone who meticulously controls everything instead of delegating authority to others? Someone who thinks it is perfectly fine to use some people as a means to an end? I know that a standard response is that when we “become perfect as our father in heaven is perfect”, that this is only done in some respects; such an ‘explanation’ just seems like special pleading. [Link]

Bev Mitchell wrote:

This is a great book. I read it through in a couple of sittings. It’s honest, clear and non-argumentative. Yet you come away understanding that the author has really thoroughly considered, and walked, the Calvinist road until he decided that too many mysteries were piling up in the wrong places. He recognizes, and clearly explains, that his new position (not specifically defined) has mystery as well, but these are mysteries that he believes are more true to the whole of Scripture and, to his thinking, also more reasonable. [Link]

I haven’t read the book yet, but hope to be able to buy it soon.  It sounds great.

Thought Provoking Article on the “Young, Restless and Reformed”

The writer is not against Calvinism, but has a major problem with some of the attitudes, themes, behaviors and side effects of what has been termed the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement.  It is certainly worth reading and considering, whether you are a Calvinist or not.

Excerpt:

People are sometimes surprised to hear me speak of the TULIP cult. What do I mean when I speak this way? By a cult, I mean a sect within the broad landscape of Christianity which takes as its operating center some principle other than Christ crucified. This is certainly the case for the Young, Restless and Reformed. It is obvious that the operating center which holds this movement together is TULIP, not the gospel of the cross. One gets the impression that their sense of identity is inseparable from their sense of superiority, and thus it is tied to their adherence to and promotion of the doctrines of grace.

It is not the name of the Lamb that is constantly on the lips of these men, but the names of Calvin (though I have found most of the YRR have actually read very little of him) and the personalities featured at Calvinist conferences, gatherings and websites. What seems to be of paramount importance to these people is the demonstration of the superiority of the arguments for TULIP and its consequences for thinking out the logic of the Christian faith. The Christian faith, in other words, finds its coherence in the “doctrines of grace,” rather than in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than glory in Christ, and see in Christ’s face the focus of divine revelation, Calvinists these days glory in the doctrines of grace, and see the focus of God’s revelation in today’s preachers of TULIP religion. And just as reflecting on Christ makes us more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), reflecting on these Calvinist personalities seems to shape many Christians into a far less pleasing image.

Some of these Calvinist ministries have been plagued with scandals of a sexual nature in recent days. I can’t say this surprises me. I strongly suspect it is because they are expressions of the TULIP cult. When Christianity is reduced to talking, singing, arguing, and teaching about the “doctrines of grace” and their manifold ramifications, their spiritual well is bound to run dry pretty quickly. This is simply because the TULIP cult is not the time-tested, historic Christian religion. It is no different from the Prosperity Gospel movement, although it operates on different theological principles. In both cases, you have a movement which derives its theological center from something other than Christ crucified. The Christian religion starts at Calvary and works outward from there. The Prosperity Gospel works outward from the principle of material blessing in response to human faithfulness (at best a sub-theme developed in parts of the Bible). And the TULIP cult works outward from the principles of the doctrines of grace, though not as cautiously expressed in Scripture, but as dogmatically expressed in the highly fallible writings and sermons of men who have attempted to popularize Reformed theology for the masses.

The Spirit of God is not going to be present and operative in the promotion of TULIP as the essence of the Christian religion, any more than He would ever participate in promoting the empty “gospel” of the prosperity message. Where the Spirit of God is not present, you will only find the doctrines and myths of men, and where people are being fed on such a diet of spiritual junk food, it should not shock us to see all manner of spiritual diseases and dysfunctions. It is particularly dangerous when the pious-sounding doctrines of universal human depravity, and Christ’s perfect active and passive obedience on our behalf, are distorted by unstable and untaught men, so that the gravity of sin and the necessary obligations of Christian holiness are minimized. No wonder people begin to think that it is normal for Christians to use filthy speech, to adopt the world’s view of sexuality, and to engage in heinous sex crimes. (We’re all just wretched sinners after all!) But thank God for his unconditional grace, and that perfect, imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ! Let’s sing a few cool songs about that…. (What Is Wrong With the Young, Restless and Reformed Movement? An Interpretive Essay by Dr. Paul Owen)

J.I. Packer Calls Arminianism “an intellectual sin of infirmity”

In other words, Arminians are just stupid Christians who refuse to mature intellectually.  Here is the quote:

Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says. (taken from: J.I. Packer and Arminianism)

Roger Olson rightly concludes, “So, to him, Arminianism is sin.”  And we are told that Calvinism is supposed to promote humility in its adherents!?  However, it seems to me, again and again, that Calvinism’s “natural” effect is to promote pride and smugness in those who come to embrace it.  And of course, Packer’s last sentence is demonstrably Historically false (see here for several posts on the subject).  What is truly sad and alarming is that this comes not from misguided internet Neo-Reformed types, but from a mainstream Calvinist scholar.