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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christian Romance: What Is It?

"By far, the best book in the Bible on this romantic and agape type of love is the Song of Solomon. An oft-quoted and many times favorite of romantics, this book demonstrates the parallel between the agape love Christ has for His church and the deep, abiding love a husband has for his bride. The lover and beloved exchange dialogue with each other, and the beloved speaks with her friends. Every passage attests to the deep and abiding love between the lover and beloved. The two are so consumed with that love that it fills them and gives them strength to face each new day. They find comfort and solace in each other's arms and are incomplete without each other. Being together excites them, and when they're apart, they anticipate their reunion.
But, above everything else that is demonstrated in God's Word, it's important to keep in mind that love/romance is an action. It's not passive, and it's not a feeling. It's a verb. It requires you to do something in order to bring it to pass. It also requires that you put the other person's wants and desires above your own. Whenever you need a reminder, go back and read 1 Corinthians 13. And remember, you don't have to do it alone. God's Spirit will work through you. All you have to do is ask."

The above quote is from this website: http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-romance.html

I've been chomping at the bit to say something about this for a good while now, but haven't been able to because I am still visiting my sister. But, I figured I'd post a little something for now, and write a more complete piece later.

For now, let me say this. I think that the secular world's ideas and view of marriage and dating has so infiltrated the church that for many Christians, they do not realize there is any real difference. I really think that. Beyond not going all the way, still going to church, and saying you both love Jesus, there isn't much of a difference. And much of that is just lip service anyways. How much Bible study did I do with the girl I dated in high school? About zero. How much did I do that was inappropriate? Much. So there wasn't a whole lot of difference there, and both me and the girl were considered some of the more "Christian" of the Christians.

The unbelievers find dating and marriage for selfishness primarily. Sure, they would deny that. I would too. Yet that's simply the truth. If you don't have the Holy Spirit, you do everything invariably for yourself. Maybe that just means the good feeling you get when you make someone else happy. That is still selfishness. It is only once we are born again that we will do things for others, regardless of the potential good, or ill, that may come our way for doing it. Our motives change .We do good simply because it is good, and because it glorifies God.

Now I am not going to lay out all my biblical support for my positions in this post, simply because I don't have the time to do so right now. I will later tonight or tomorrow. Check out the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. I don't see anything there about guys being allowed to have a high standard for the physical appearance of the girl before he is willing to date. That would be what the world values, and that would be selfish. I don't see anything there about girls being allowed to demand guys be the most suave man in the world, that the very way he walks and talks could melt their heart away. That too is selfish, and what the world values.

So my convictions? That Scripture is clear. Our criteria alone should be whether or not a person is godly, and if they are someone we can live with. None of this "it's not the ones you can live with, but the one you cannot live without business," that's absurd. Nobody is like that. We are all sinners. That, again, is the way the world thinks. We are broken shards of hardened clay. The point of marriage isn't to be beautiful from the outset and marvel in each other's beauty. The point of marriage is to see each other's true needs and weaknesses, to unveil the ugliness that is there, and by the grace and power of God clean each other up, so that the end product, when both man and wife are old and gray, is the closest thing to a beautiful painting, a masterpiece, that we will ever see this side of heaven. That is because this true beauty, this true love, is not a mere feeling that cannot be explained, but a desire to grow each other in Christ, to kill sin in one another, to help grow one another, to find comfort and pleasure in one another, to raise children, flesh of your own flesh, with one another, and to ultimately, in all ways, become one flesh with one another. And it is all aimed upward, its focal point towards the glory of God. That is the destination, and that is the motivation. That is where all the good warm fuzzy feelings should come from. Not outward appearances, not common interests, not personalities, not wealth or fame or talent. Those things aren't what marriage is about, plain and simple. Reflecting Christ's love for the church, and the church's love for Christ in return, is what marriage is all about.

Does that mean that we must seek out the poorest, ugliest, smelliest, lamest, dumbest people to marry? Of course not. What it does mean is that we should seek those who love God the most, and those who we can get along with. Meaning, we must realize that as sinners we will never find someone who is perfect for us. For one, that person does not exist. Two, if that person existed, you would no longer have a purpose for marriage. The point of marriage is two imperfect, unsanctified people coming together to find in each other a sharpening tool that gets them closer to God. And THAT IS VERY ROMANTIC! It should be at least, that is what true Christian romance is. To think of a girl who wants nothing more than to help me grow in the ways of the Lord, and to be helped by me to grow her in the ways of the Lord, and to be flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones... that's the kind of girl I seek. That's the kind of guy I know I am supposed to be. Should we keep ourselves presentable, our bodies fit, our teeth brushed? By all means, both for God and our spouse, if we love them. But when we raise physical things, or personalities, or compatibility outside of growing in holiness, to the level that we won't date someone simply because they aren't quite what we envisioned, then we have created a false and unbiblical dichotomy. How much more compatible do you need to be when two people come together to sharpen each other and become more like God, more like Jesus Christ? That IS all the compatibility you need. Common interest is not, and should not be, a prerequisite to dating someone and marrying them. The only common interest that matters, is that both want to do everything for God's glory. And once that is the case, then you have everything in common!

Grant it, if one person feels called to be a missionary in Africa and the other person feels called to minister in San Francisco, you probably aren't called to marriage. But aside from things like that, what is holding our Christian young people from dating and getting married?

Sin, and a secular worldview of the purpose of marriage. That's what.
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