The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Journey Into Calvinism


This was originally posted at The Voice

My journey to Calvinism is an unusual one. I went to a Presbyterian (PCA) church my whole life, went to a Christian school, and yet never learned the doctrines of grace. If they were taught to me at all as a child in my church, I do not remember. Once, as a senior in high school, I remember our new pastor talking about the five points of Calvinism. We went through them briefly, but for various reasons, including the lightness with which we studied the points and my own failure to see their importance and understand what was being taught, no real impact was left on me.
Evangelistic Methods Hit Rock Bottom
A few months after that, my senior class went on what can best be described as a senior trip where we do some ministering to the locals in the Dominican Republic. We fed them some, played with them for an hour or so, sang silly songs, did a few silly skits, gave a testimony or two, and then gave an invitation for the Dominicans to ask Jesus into their hearts if they would like to be forgiven of their sins and go to heaven. Yes, we said Jesus died for them. No, we did not explain what that meant, or even why we needed a Savior in the first place. Repentance was not preached. It was simply A-B-C evangelism. Admit you are a sinner (what being a sinner actually means wasn’t important enough to discuss, except perhaps to say that everyone does bad things sometimes). Believe Jesus died for you (how did He die for us, the issue of justification, wasn’t really presented). Confess your sins to Jesus (you would think this might mean repent, but no, it basically meant to tell Jesus you wanted to go to heaven, and wanted him to come into your heart).
So of course, “hundreds” of souls were saved on this trip, because we asked them to pray that prayer that would magically save them. Now I had been skeptical of the evangelistic methods of my Christian school for quite some time at this point, but this reached rock bottom. And I wasn’t alone. Two of my other friends saw the manipulation, the absence of repentance being preached, the skimming over of our sinfulness and what Christ did to save us from sin. While we decried these things privately, a few other students overheard us and scoffed at us, saying we were simply suppressing the Spirit, denying what God was doing down here.
It was at that point that I finally realized, in full measure, how this type of evangelism was ruining the Church. It dawned on me that most all mission trips done by my Christian school were likely very much like this, and that many of the students were imbibing this shallow evangelism as if it were gospel truth. The desire to experience and see God move so radically resulted in an unbiblical, sinful way of bringing about those desired ends, where now the willpower of man, coupled with a shallow, less offensive gospel was confused with the power of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Christ on the cross. A very serious error indeed.

Getting Involved With the Baptist Student Union
Still, even after graduating high school, I had no desire to attend Christian college. I figured most of them were all like my Christian high school. After all, the colleges that came during chapel to pitch themselves seemed no different than what I had grown accustomed to. I didn’t realize at the time that it only made sense that a Christian school with free will theology would invite like minded Christian colleges to try and lure students to their campuses. I decided on attending a public university and major in English. To be honest, I just liked writing; I liked reading too, but not Shakespeare or poems. English was really my only option at the time, and I knew I would have to wade through the bits I didn’t care for.
I also wanted to involve myself with the Baptist Student Union, not because I was Baptist, but because it was the only Christian organization at the college. I didn’t know what to expect, if there would be many students there or not, if they would be serious about their faith or not. What I found, oddly enough, was that most everyone who went to the BSU were very sincere about their faith. I know this is because, at a public university, you have to seek out Christians and that godly atmosphere. At Christian schools, and even in Christian college, it is expected, it’s supposed to be the norm, and oftentimes parents are the ones who send their kids there, more so than the kids actually wanting to be there.
I talked to a guy named Lars at the BSU, who was a student in his last semester and headed up the Bible studies. I wanted to lead one, but that wasn’t something that a freshman usually did. He asked me what denomination I was, and I told him I was Presbyterian in the PCA. He said he liked Presbyterians, and then asked me if I was “reformed.” Reformed? What does that mean? I had no clue. I was about to tell him that I wasn’t sure what he was asking, but then I remembered my father, who went to Westminster Theological Seminary, sometimes talk about being reformed, and I thought maybe I had heard that once or twice at church. So, I decided to nod yes, I was reformed, because I was pretty confident that was what I was supposed to be, even though I had no idea what the word meant.
This very much pleased Lars. It turned out that he was reformed too. Then we started talking, and I really connected with the guy. To this day, he remains the most influential person in my Christian walk, and was the key person that God used to bring me to Calvinism, even though I only knew him for one semester. I still remember how, on that first day I met him when he asked me if I was reformed, he told me to check out Paul Washer on YouTube. I did so, and found the famous shocking youth message.
Paul Washer's Message Changed My Life
Paul Washer’s message changed my life. More than any sermon, any praise and worship song, this hour-long message turned my world upside down. The Spirit moved in my powerfully. Everything that was wrong with Christianity and the Christian school I went to, Paul Washer addressed. Not only did he rightly diagnose and point out its problems (some of which I had yet to realize myself), he gave a solution to them. That solution was the gospel, the true gospel. Particularly, it was the supernatural nature of the gospel, how God alone grants faith and repentance through regeneration. This passionate, gospel centered, monergistic message had a profound effect on my thinking. I had an 8 AM class the next morning, but watched that hour long message three times, back to back to back, the first time by myself, the second time I called a friend and made him watch it from his house with me, and the third time I called my Dad and made him watch it with me from his home.
It was through Lars and a few other Calvinists at the BSU that I was introduced to the doctrines of grace. Really, I studied them for hours as soon as I heard of them. Quickly I accepted them, in less than a month. I was missing classes because I was staying up all night learning from the Word of God and from gifted, reformed teachers.
Lars Suggested I Start a Blog
At the end of the first semester, Lars was set to graduate, and I was set to take his place as Christian growth coordinator. I knew I wasn’t ready for that. I was a Calvinist for only about three months, and now I was to lead the other Bible study leaders, who would in turn lead the masses. That was too much responsibility for an ignorant freshman. On top of that, I had a strong yearning to quit college, to take a semester off and simply study the Word of God, and to return home and share this new gospel, the true gospel, with some of my old high school friends.
That is precisely what I ended up doing. The way I did it, firstly, was through blogging. Lars suggested that I start a blog, so I did. Actually, I just used notes on Facebook and posted on there. I cannot explain to you the madness, the anger, the vitriol with which my blogs were greeted. Granted, I was angry, and I wrote angry at times. The tone more than suggests that. At the same time, I was challenging very fundamental beliefs of many of my Christian friends, and they didn’t like it. I was getting blocked by the dozens, and had a major fiasco when I wrote about a former student who I said was outright lying about many things, and yet was on his way to becoming a pastor at the age of 20.
Over time, I have learned to season my words with salt. I blog much more evenly now, trying to speak the Truth in love, which simply means speaking the Truth boldly in such a way that everyone understands you are not doing this because you want them to see how wrong they are, but because you want to show them how concerned you are that they are wrong. I try to write so others can see that yes, we are getting many things wrong, including the gospel, in Christianity, but also that this stuff matters, that it is rightly understanding God that increases our love for God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and if our love for God is increased, our lives will be increasingly lived out for Him, not for ourselves.
Calvinism Increased My Evangelistic Zeal
In the end, it’s about glorifying God, and Calvinism does that, because Calvinism is simply what the Bible teaches. When I first understood that I never would have chosen to trust in Christ as Savior unless He made me willing to do so, and that the difference between me the believer and the unbeliever was nothing but the blood of Christ and the grace of God, this actually increased my evangelistic zeal. Before I was a Calvinist, I was too afraid and too ignorant to share the gospel. After I became a Calvinist, I shared the gospel as if it was the secret to curing cancer (because it is, and then some). The one thing that changes you more than any other when you understand Calvinism, is that Christ alone melts our hearts of stone. We have no willpower, and thus, we are totally reliant on the grace and mercy of God. I don’t get heaven because I asked Christ to give it to me. I get heaven because Christ died for me, and His sacrifice secured my belief. When you understand that, you understand that you didn’t sign a contract with God, that you didn’t administer salvation by your own willpower, healing your cancer, but rather He made a covenant with you before the world began, and He applied the saving ointment, the blood of Christ, by giving you faith as a gift, not something you create by your own will. He chose to save you, to change you, to make you willing to grow you in the faith.
I finally realized what it meant to be called. I understood that salvation had a purpose, and that purpose wasn’t that God couldn’t bear the thought of sinners getting what they deserved, but rather, God’s purpose was to glorify Himself, through His grace and mercy as well as His wrath and justice. That difference is profound- it is the difference between having a man-centered view of God and His purposes, and a God-centered view of God and His purposes. I began to see that everything we do, should be done to glorify God, and indeed that there was a way in which we must understand God in order to do things for His glory.
God-Centered, Not Man-Centered
In short, Calvinism taught me that God wasn’t saying “Will you please do this for Me?” but rather, “I chose to save you, I will do this for you, and for my name’s sake, for my glory, and for your greatest joy .” I became God dependent, not self-dependent; more God-centered, less man-centered. I trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit, not the power of my own will. I realized that in myself, I have no power of will to do good. Ever since then, I have been staying in that lane. I think the narrow road is trusting in the power of God, his sovereignty, His Spirit, and giving up on self altogether. How else will we resist the sinful flesh? How else will we resist the wiles of the devil? How else will we stay on the narrow road that leads to eternal life? We are to live and walk by the Spirit. The flesh profits nothing. God is shaping and directing the entire course of human history according to His predestined plan. I have been called as a vessel, a means by which He shapes the world, and shapes me.
It is to this end that I strive, by the grace of God, and it is to this end that I hope you will strive too, by the grace and power of God.

-Thomas

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. My own story is similar in regard to becoming a "Calvinist."

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  2. I agree with you about Evangelicals, to go around blessing people without any real intention and meaning behind it, without any explanation, has no significance to either person. This is something that I feel is a big problem in the Christian community at large, is that it has made its outreach to our fellow man increasingly as an advertisement, a cure-all in a word of God without actually speaking its meaning, its symbolism, context and morals. However I would argue that life is a long journey, full of people that we may care about who we never may have expected to when we look back at ourselves, do not fear to love your fellow man, for sin and action are only bound in the arms and eyes of men reading their god's own stare. I'm not trying to convince anyone here to leave behind the words of the TULIP maxim, I know I wouldn't if I tried. Rather I am a reverberation alone. You are who God made you, he hath given you eyes and ears to be used for all time on Earth, n't for that lone thing that first instilled gratification in one's existence. As catching the first wind in your sails will rarely get you across to your destination, we will never know our decisions well unless we have known how others have lived, I only ask this- do keep an open mind. If you find that Reformation is what you believe, that God has given you, then do follow it as the rest of your life if it remains so. However, if you should find that it does not suit the magnanimity you intend to express in your life, do not fear being true to oneself, for God speaks in many ways. I thank you for reading, and again for posting this blog, even if our views may differ, I know we share a common aim.

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