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From Non-Reformed To Reformed: A Guide for New Calvinists – Opening Perspectives

I’ve literally been working on this article for about seventeen years. That’s roughly the amount of time I’ve been reformed.  Back then, attending a solid-ish independent baptist church and directing the choir. Now, an ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Long and interesting journey and I’m still growing (as we all should be) in my understanding of the Christian faith as a whole and the implications of reformed theology in particular. During this time, I’ve been privileged to have influenced a few folks to move over to reformed theology after coming out of similar (or in some cases, radically different) church backgrounds.

Before I continue, a few definitions are in order. Throughout this entire series, you’ll see the words calvinistic, calvinist and reformed thrown around more than free t-shirts at a little league baseball game.

By Calvinistic, I’m talking about folks who hold to what are commonly called The Doctrines of Grace or The Five Points of Calvinism. The points were a response to the remonstrants (theological descendants of Jacob Arminius) and their five points of contention with the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. By Reformed, I’m talking about accepting some form of covenantal theology (which includes the five points mentioned above), confessional subscription to a historic reformed confession (Westminster Confession, Belgic Confession, Savoy Declaration, etc…). Main point is that I’m not using Reformed and Calvinistic as synonyms (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t). If you’re lost on either of these terms (or related terms), I’d invite you to head over to Monergism.com and start reading/listening to some of the ‘introduction’ MP3s or articles you find on the site. John Frame has a great one right here.

What’s going to follow are a series of posts on this subject based on questions, problems and issues I’ve seen happen (or have went through personally) over this time period with regard to when non-reformed folks become calvinistic or fully reformed. To get you started, I’m going to share a bit of my journey from non-reformed to reformed so you can get a bit of perspective.

I learned from the lesson (some would better say the error) of Mark Driscoll over the years: don’t try to write a book “too soon” after learning the lesson yourself. As a result, I literally have been sitting on top of doing this series since about 2011 or so. Some of the old posts related to it are on the now-non-functioning LDM message forum (which I haven’t updated since about 2011). Mind you, at that time, I’d literally been reformed in some shape, form or fashion for about a decade.

Anyway, let’s get down to the issue at hand. The reformed resurgence is slowing a bit (at least from my end of the spectrum….the actual numbers may tell a different story), so the ‘flood’ of newly-reformed are slowing just enough for some of us to take a break and breathe.  In taking that breather, we can stop for a moment, look around and see how we got ‘here’.

‘Here’ usually is barebones acknowledgement that there is ample scriptural evidence for “The Five Points of Calvinism”.   After debates on a message board, twitter, e-mail or in person (wait…people actually still talk in person ?) combined with sermons from a particular pastor or reading a particular book or books on the subject, and a lot more time in the Bible than you’ve done before, things you saw that were ‘unclear’ or ‘not there’ are all of a sudden:

– “It’s here! It’s right there! How did I miss it all this time ?”
– “Why didn’t my old/current church teach me this ? I thought my pastor was pretty solid!”

– “I have to share this with everyone!”

The ‘route’ here may have been different for many of you. Some went the ‘traditional’ route; someone challenged you on the T in T.U.L.I.P. and everything else started to make sense once you spent that extended time in Romans 1-3. For some of you, election (the U) was the last thing to make sense. “If God chooses from eternity past without regard to who will choose Him, how does He hold us accountable for our sins and for rejecting Christ ? Who is really resisting His will ?” And then you read Romans 9 and saw that Paul anticipated your question (and gave you an answer that was a non-answer). For many of you, the journey began (or ended) with an investigation into understanding the L, since all your life you’d been taught that “Christ died for everyone” and assumed that this meant He died for everyone in the exact same way or that He simply made a token payment not directed to anyone in particular, but available to everyone like a lost ATM card with the PIN written on the back.

For still some more of you, someone shared a shai linne/Timothy Brindle/Christcentric/Flame/Voice (now known as Curt Kennedy)/Lecrae/Trip Lee album with you and you had tons of questions after listening to the lyrics, started reading more, started listening to John MacArthur, John Piper or R.C. Sproul and that just pushed you onward. Lecrae said he kept a ‘Johnny Mac’ in his backpack, so you went out and purchased one too (a John MacArthur Study Bible), poured through the notes and began to approach scripture in an expository fashion. Somewhere along the line, everything ‘clicked’ and the whole T.U.L.I.P. made more sense to you. Suddenly, you began sharing your reformed ‘stuff’ with everyone….

And they all began looking at you as if you’d grown a third eyeball.

Everything didn’t immediately change, though. While you got a bit more theologically and scripturally discerning, you didn’t immediately change churches. You may have thought that you could affect a change in your church’s teaching (your church was/is probably not reformed or in some cases, may be anti-Calvinistic), change the mind of your church’s leadership (“If I just show them this, they’ll get it! It’s right here!”) or even start a mini-reformation from the ‘bottom up’ (“I’ll teach it to the kids in the Sunday school class/adults in the adult Sunday school class!”). Some of you may not have had any thoughts of changing your church’s views at all (or those of your fellow parishioners). You may have simply treated the ‘five points’ as another set of doctrines you can choose to believe or not believe and they have no real effect on your Christian faith, so you stayed put.   I met a few people like this years ago. They would say “Well, I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t like the term. I like my church and the people there, so I’m not leaving. We all have Jesus in common and that’s all that matters, even if I don’t agree with everything coming out of the pulpit.”

I recall having a huge argument with an ex-girlfriend (she and I were dating around 2003-2004) – one of her college friends had become a local pastor and she wanted us to go to his church one Sunday morning. I was aware that he was a very big fan of T.D. Jakes – an absolute anathema to anything reformed and biblical. I kept redirecting our church visits to churches in the area that were solidly expository in their preaching (our own church at the time was preaching through The Purpose Driven Life….so I was leaving immediately after the last word of the sermon to speed to a reformed church nearby). Though she had studied a bit of reformed theology while in college (she went to bible college), she wasn’t understanding (and I wasn’t explaining very well) why expository preaching was such a big deal.   Finally one day, she asked me why we’d only been going to reformed churches and why we couldn’t go to her “big brother’s church”. “Is it because he likes T.D. Jakes ?” she asked. I said…”well, not just that. He’s really word-of-faith-ish and that stuff isn’t biblical at all. But overall, he isn’t reformed…. So there’s no telling what will come out of the pulpit and I don’t want to waste a Sunday morning.”

Of course, a large verbal argument ensued and this became one of the factors that led to us breaking up. Years later, she explained to me that I was ‘heading in a different direction’ that she didn’t understand, so she wouldn’t/couldn’t follow. I’d learned (by that time) that I needed to spend more time calmly explaining things to her and not just throwing out statements. I couldn’t argue with her in a polemical fashion. In addition, I needed more patience; everyone doesn’t learn at the same pace (you’d think I knew this already, teaching in a public school, but applying it here didn’t come to mind).

This is classic “cage stage” Calvinism, by the way. Full of zeal, a little harsh (or a lot harsh depending on which authors influenced you and how people remember you) and always ready to pounce on a topic that looked even slightly heretical. The 05-09 time period, I spent quite a few days, weeks and months arguing online with folks over the doctrines of grace. Somewhere on a hard drive in my house, I have old copies of posts saved as PDFs from different message boards I was on. Of course, some of my other discussions included things like the Trinity, Deity of Christ and all the other topics that younger Christians at churches without a doctrinal teaching emphasis always ask about.

Understand that prior to this time period, I’d already had an extensive apologetics background. That includes everything from sitting for hours with Jehovah’s Witnesses discussing the Deity of Christ and the reality of hell to sitting with ‘conscious’ black folks (in college) and schooling them on the reliability of the New Testament as well as myriad discussions on AOL, eWorld (Apple’s old clone of AOL – including an extended stint as a the ‘Bible Answers Guy’ in their religions and spiritualities forum), a few conference speaking engagements and some more stuff. So Q&A-type polemical apologetics was already a ‘thing’ with me and not something brought on with Adult-Onset Calvinism. I simply ‘applied it’ once I became reformed (not always in the wisest fashion).

My theological development between 2000 and 2009 was varied as well. My journey toward reformed theology and Calvinism started in 1998 (see this blogpost which has links to the still-existing conversation from that time) when a church of Christ minister on my apologetics list challenged me on the topic of original sin. My friend Bill Kilgore followed up that original discussion with in early 1999 and the ‘trip’ was fully in motion. As I was forced to spend more time in the scriptures, I came to find that what these ‘Calvinist’ folks were saying was true. By December of 2000, between scripture, scripture, scripture, Arthur Custance’s The Sovereignty of Grace , and James White’s The Potter’s Freedom, the case for Calvinism had been burned into my head. I still occasionally go back in the Internet Archive and look at old versions of my site and chart my own theological progress on these and other issues (see for example 12/1/2000 versus 11/25/98 when it wasn’t even on my radar).

As an aside, around this time, I was also studying quite a bit on eschatology (understanding of end times), so I found myself also moving toward progressive dispensationalism in addition to becoming a Calvinist. Your soteriology (understanding of salvation) and ecclesiology (understanding of the church and the people of God) in accordance with scripture, will also affect your eschatology. I didn’t understand it then, but I look back in hindsight and see it a bit clearer now.

So here I was, barely-Calvinistic (the “L” in TULIP was the last thing to fall for me and I was still shaky on my understanding of it). I saw the link between the benefits of the atonement, election and the atonement itself all chained together in Ephesians 1, so I knew it had to be true, even if I didn’t fully ‘get it’ right away. This is one of those important points that believers have to come back to again and again as you grow; truth does not depend on your understanding of it – a thing which is true, whether it be the Trinity, Deity of Christ or Calvinism, is true regardless of whether you believe it, understand it or accept it personally.

Around 2002, I officially abandoned dispensationalism (thanks in part to the Left Behind series….the first of many ironies). Around this same time, my church, which had just done a spectacular job at expositing the book of 1 John, moved over to the latest trend at the time; preaching through The Purpose-Driven Life. I can only relate how it felt going from learning and growing directly from the scriptures to going through a theme-based book with little scriptural exposition (and a lot of misquotes and out of context citations) as the equivalent of Prince Charming winning the hand of Cinderella by fitting her foot with the glass slipper and then on the honeymoon night, you find out that she was wearing a girdle AND a corset, both legs were prosthetic, all of her teeth were dentures, most of her facial features were theatrical make-up and she has the most horrific body odor in all areas.

Survive on podcasts ? Nope. Man cannot live by Sproul, Piper and MacArthur podcasts alone, so after attending the early service, I began leaving immediately after the sermon and speed down the highway to Capitol Hill Baptist or I’d drive like a maniac across town to Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg. They were the two reformed churches I’d been most familiar with at the time (I thought Presbyterian churches were a little too far past where I was at the time, and I didn’t believe in infant baptism back then, so I never gave them a look). Even after the 2 year period of PDL preaching was done, I still found myself having too many disagreements with stuff coming out of the pulpit (if not content, moreso methodology). I felt as though I was not being ‘fed’. I had a talk with my pastor about it. He told me his job (as I recall the convo – I’m being careful here because he is a good man of God and I don’t want to represent what he said inaccurately) was to preach down the middle (not to go too deep as well as not to be shallow – he didn’t want to leave anyone behind). I pointed out to him that one of the best times I’d felt as though I were growing at the church was when I first arrived and he was preaching expositionally through 1 John. I understood his point and left it alone for the time being, though I still wasn’t satisfied.

Let me (in the name of transparency and honesty) point out that I was still personally not the most stable individual at the time. There was an incident where I was placed on church discipline for a bit (no, I’m not going into detail – church discipline did it’s job) as well as a few great opportunities where my former Pastor carved time out of his schedule to meet with me regularly and I neglected those times. I bring this up because while in the process of growing in our theological knowledge, if we neglect the application of that knowledge in sanctification and we’re not honest about ourselves, we may deceive ourselves into thinking our differences with our current church may only be theological and methodological. It’s amazing to see how quick someone addressing you about personal behavior can turn into “well, they’re only saying that because they don’t believe X, Y and Z, not because I have an actual problem”. The lesson here is to avoid deflection during this time. I’ll dig more into this in a future installment.

I eventually left this church; I walked out through the front door on good terms after a talk with my pastor. A mutual friend of my now-former girlfriend (the same one mentioned above) ended up as my new pastor and my new home was in the Evangelical Free Church in America. Going into a church in a denomination was a different feel than the independent Baptist churches I’d been used to all my life.

There was an unfortunate incident with a blogpost that seemed to be bashing my former pastor (it was not, but it was phrased that way), which I had to spend another blogpost and an in-person meeting cleaning up. The lesson here was be cautious about how you talk about your current and former church and its’ members. Even if your issue is a legitimate one, be aware of how your words may be taken.   More on this in a later post as well.

Somewhere around 2005 while reading Robert Saucy’s The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, I ended up being convinced of covenant theology (irony strikes again). While at my new church, I got a lot of solid teaching. The Free Church was interesting in that while the main seminary (TEDS in Illinois) was mostly Calvinistic, the balance of churches in the denomination was about 45-55 Calvinistic to non-Calvinistic. There was a very wide array of beliefs and methodologies that were ‘ok’ to be held in the denomination, provided one held to the basic ten point doctrinal statement of the denomination, which was largely and broadly evangelical. The one main defining and unifying point in the denomination was on eschatology – all churches were required to hold to some form of premillennialism. We had an interesting mix of historic premill, historicist premill and plenty of dispensational premill folks as a result. Of that 45% that were Calvinistic, approximately 25-30% of those churches were fully covenantal (covenant theology and infant baptism like Presbyterian churches). The Free Church was a good experience for me because while there, I learned how a diversity of beliefs (Calvinists and non-Calvinists) could exist in the same fellowship, non-Calvinists could care deeply about sound theology and right exegesis (I was there during the time they were updating their statement of faith) and I saw people debate points of theology respectfully.

Dr. Willem VanGemeren did a few speaking engagements at our church over the years and his talks on baptism were the first time I’d been introduced to the topic in a manner that made sense. Prior to this, I still held to what we commonly call believer’s baptism – that is, only professing believers should be the recipients of baptism. Like many of my baptistic friends, my initial argument was always “but a baby can’t believe!” The argument of continuity from Old Testament rite (circumcision) to New Testament rite (baptism) only kind of made sense to me…but not really. I was still stuck on ‘believe, then be baptized’. One of VanGemeren’s talks on a CD (from one of the Free Church’s Midwinter Theological Talks) actually helped make baptizing the infants of believers make sense from scripture. Prior to that, I viewed baptism first as something we did as an ordinance in response to personally believing. The promises of God in baptism (and circumcision) and the transgenerational approach of God to His people (Genesis 17) started to click. Ironically, John MacArthur making some comments about 1 Corinthians 7:14 in a Grace to You podcast helped push me over the edge (again) on the issue. Dr. MacArthur said:

Look at verse 14, very interesting.  “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.”  Now, wait a minute here.  You know something, folks?  Not only is the believer not contaminated, but what happens?  The very opposite.  You say, ““Well, will I be defiled by the unbeliever?”  No, he’ll be sanctified by you.  Fantastic.  Instead of a Christian being defiled or made unholy, the unbeliever is actually made holy.  Sometimes I ask a person, I say, “Do you come from a Christian home?”  “No – I’m the only Christian there.”  Do you know how many Christians it takes to make a Christian home?  One Christian.  You say, ““What do you mean?”  Everybody else in the house is sanctified by your presence.  Did you know that?  You say, ““John, what do you mean by sanctified?  That’s a very strong word.”  I know it’s a strong word.  Sanctified means set apart, holy.  You say, “But what’s it saying here?”  Well, it isn’t saying that the guy’s automatically converted.  It’s not saying if a husband doesn’t believe, he is saved anyway, just because he’s married to a Christian.  No.  No, it isn’t saying that, and it isn’t saying an unbelieving wife is saved automatically just because she’s married to a Christian husband.  Well, what does the word sanctified mean?

Well, this is what we call matrimonial sanctification.  And what do you mean by that?  Well, that’s just a term to distinguish it from spiritual and personal sanctification.  You become set apart unto God and holy when you believe in Christ, but just having been in a home or living in a home where somebody is a Christian has a sanctifying influence.  Paul doesn’t mean that the unbeliever is automatically made a Christian by marriage, but what he does mean is that the marriage is benefited, and that everybody in the house reaps the benefit.  For example, two people when they get married become what?  One.  If God blesses one of those, one of that one, then the other one is going to get some of the spillover, right?  That’s all he’s saying.  Hey, if you’re a non-Christian, and you’ve got a Christian mate, you ought to thank God, because your home is the recipient of the blessings of God.  God pours out grace and mercy on that home, and just because you happen to be connected to that partner, you are the recipient of those things; short of salvation, but nevertheless far superior to living in a totally pagan home.  Marriage to a Christian creates a relationship to God for the non-Christian; though while it is short of salvation, it is far superior to pagan life.  Listen, one Christian in a home makes a Christian home, and graces that entire home.

Source: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1829/divine-guidelines-for-marriage

Raise your hand if you read that quote in your head and heard Dr. MacArthur’s voice.

Now, why are you raising your hand and smiling ? No one around you knows, but they’re all looking at you weird. You can put your hand down now and keep reading.

Sproul and Piper both had podcasts (Sproul’s is here) at the time discussing each others’ views and both made it a point to state that unless you are able to articulate the other’s view accurately (to the point where the person you disagree with can say “yes, you understand me”), you have not earned the right to criticize the viewpoint. On a related note, Third Millennium Productions has an excellent video discussing this that helped settle things a bit for me (again, as a supplement, not substitute for scripture).

Understanding covenant infant baptism (as I like to call it) helped me to also make sense of the warning passages in scripture (see here and here), so that they were no longer a ‘place to be avoided’. Holding to believers’ baptism and anything else other than covenant theology (even progressive dispensationalism) potentially created severe problems when you come across passages that dealt with falling away and drifting away from the faith. This is one example of how one area of theology heavily impacted other areas.

The late Clark Pinnock found himself also struggling with the warning passages, which eventually led not only to his rejection of reformed theology, but also to a rejection of the inerrancy of scripture and finally an acceptance of open theism and annihilationism. Remember earlier when I mentioned that eschatology (understanding of the end times) had an effect on my ecclesiology (understanding of the nature of the church) ? Contrary to the prevailing notion that all beliefs can be held in exclusion to one another (pick what I like, jettison the rest aka cafeteria christianity), all beliefs have consequences. Some of the consequences are minimal and affect personal opinions. Other beliefs are systemic and can affect entire systems of belief. Some beliefs necessarily place a person outside of the space where they can rightly be called Christian at all (1 John 3:4-10, 2 John 7-11). The believer’s responsibility is to spend time wrestling in the scriptures for clarification. There is an ‘island of stability’ that you may arrive at in time (I believe I’m there now since I haven’t had anymore major theological upheavals in the past decade) and from there, you may simply grow to understand what you believe in a clearer form (the difference between seeing blue and as your eyes get trained, being able to see all the different shades of blue available).

Back to our story. The year is now about 2008. An unfortunate set of circumstances forced the closing of the church I was attending and resulted in me and my then-fianceé (now my wife) needing to find a sound church to attend. Part of our time together as a couple, in addition to reading through pre-marital material, involved going chapter-at-a-time through J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Over this time, I learned that being truly prepared to discuss things theological also involves wisdom, not just knowledge of the subject area. Every discussion doesn’t require nailing 95 theses to the door of the church, or even praying aloud “Give me Scotland or I Die”. Sometimes, it requires introducing people to reformed theology via the ‘back door’. D.A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, in addition to Packer’s classic work are two good and non-confrontational ways of discussing the doctrines of grace and training the believer to interpret scripture well.

Biblical wisdom dictates that we be “the right Jesus for the job”.   A good rule of thumb is not “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD), but moreso “What Did Jesus Do In This Type of Situation In Scripture” (WDJDITTOSIS). Flipping tables over (John 2 and Matthew 21:2) and driving out the greedy with a whip is appropriate at times. But not all the time. You see Jesus being compassionate and gentle with the woman at the well in John 4. You see Jesus being a bit more stern with the crowd in John 6 – they wanted to be entertained and Jesus wasn’t having it. You see Jesus go full out on the Pharisees in John 8. The wisdom to be the ‘right Jesus’ for the situation requires time and experience and you will blow it at times. Thank God for His grace and graciousness toward us. When you blow it, repent (turn from it) and work toward not blowing it again. Apologize to those you offend because of your approach (never because of the content) and try to restate what you meant in a different and less harsh fashion. More on this in one of the future posts.

In 2009, my wife and I got married and settled at my present church, Wallace Presbyterian Church in College Park, Maryland. I occasionally play with the musicians there and was ordained as a deacon two years ago. My plan (and hers) is to die at Wallace 50-60ish years from now if God allows us to live that long.

I bring all of this up to give you a bit of background so you can ‘connect the dots’ on my theological journey to this point. It was extended and varied in many ways; do not expect your journey to a straight line from non-Calvinistic to Calvinistic. Do not expect to move as quickly as mine did; Phil Johnson of Grace Community Church commented that his own understanding of the doctrines of Grace took around fifteen years for him to finally get. My friend Mike became Calvinistic over the course of 3-8 months. Think about that and let it weigh on you.

What I want to do in future installments is to give you a few tips and suggestions based on my steps (and missteps) so that you (and those like you) make wiser choices in your journey toward further biblical fidelity. My ultimate goal is to see you (whomever you are) in a solid, reformed church, growing in the grace of Christ.

And yes, we’re going to tackle the topic of leaving your church – both for those in leadership/teaching jobs as well as those who are just lay people in the pews.

Until the next installment, take care and God bless.

BLOGWATCHING!!! It’s back too!!

It’s been a minute.  Stuff I found an interesting read……

Grace Online Library has a wonderful article entitled Sexual Purity: Restoring My Heart After Sexual Sin. It’s a good read and hopefully, it’ll be a word of encouragement to any believer in the process of turning from sexual sin.  GOL is one of my old ‘standby’ favorite reformed sites over the years. It was around long before Monergism or any of the other ones.

Speaking of Monergism, in their latest links block on the side, an article from Nicholas Batzig over at Feeding on Christ is up, entitled The Insatiable Quest for Greatness. Perfectly appropriate in an era where everyone wants to be YouTube-famous for 15 minutes.

I found Tim Hopper’s compilation-of-material blog over at ReformedDeacon.com. He’s began gathering a list of documents and materials/readings for those in the diaconate.

R.C. Sproul reminds  us of the goodness of being able to address God as Father.

Finally, Jemar Tisby just presented a session at Together for the Gospel 2016 in Louisville. The session is entitled the A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation. He summarizes the main points here.

 

That’s it for now.

Yes, I saw James White respond on the Dividing Line. I have skimmed 30 seconds (approximately) of it and heard the whole racial primacy strawman repeated again (‘ethnic gnosticism’ is even in the title of the podcast, so….). He takes about 35 minutes responding to me, it seems (again…haven’t watched/heard the whole thing). Taking care of work things first before I take some time and dissect his response. Afterward, I’ll decide on either a print response or video response.

In addition, I’m also about to upload (A week late…lol) the preview video/trailer for the all-new TBC (Thinking Biblically Commentary Podcast). It’ll be up alongside a newly revamped Theologically Correct dot Com in a little bit.

Off to work…..

New Series on Reformed Theology…..

Posting up a new series on reformed theology on the main site.

http://theologicallycorrect.com/?p=229

Calvinists attacked… what else is new ?

Over on LDM, someone posted a blogpost from someone who has decided to openly ‘speak out’ against and ‘warn’ folks regarding Reformed theology in Christian hip hop.  The writer says that because of his convictions against RT and the doctrines of grace, he actually went and deleted folk from his friends list on facebook.   More on this in a bit.

After giving it a read (which was a bit painful), I’ve come to the conclusion that this guy is simply another ignorant believer.  Ignorant simply because he doesn’t really have a solid clue as to what reformed theology is – either that, or he doesn’t choose to have a clue. In the case of the former, it’s cool. We can sit down like brethren and discuss these issues without the need for anyone to come off (as he comes off in his article) confrontational, divisive and ‘heated’.  Humility works both ways. 🙂 [side note: ever notice how most of the time, the people complaining about RT are usually the ones typing in all caps with exclamation points, yet they call reformed folks divisive and argumentative ?] Humility is especially useful when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

If the latter is the case, then dude simply needs to reserve his comments. God doesn’t tell people to speak up about things they aren’t equipped to speak on and aren’t able to represent properly.  Remember – we are (according to scripture) to speak the TRUTH in love (Eph. 4:15). Speaking the truth also means properly speaking what is true about what others believe, even when you disagree with it.  To personally and purposefully misrepresent brethren and what they believe is a 9th Commandment violation. I appreciate men like Pricilli and Oden because although they aren’t Calvinists, they do go to great lengths to explain what reformed theology is correctly.  Unforutnately, most of them are set in the shade by people like Ergun Caner, Vance, Dave Hunt and others who spend tons of time attacking Calvinists and Calvinism, but refuse to represent reformed theology accurately.   It’s much easier (for them) to tear down a lie than to deal with biblical truth.

And that brings us back to  Mynista’s post.  He writes:

I believe that man has a free will. Throughout the bible people are directed by God to make CHOICES. Starting with Adam and Eve.

Where’s the disagreement ?  Reformed theology teaches that folk do have a free will and that they do make choices. Reformed theology also teaches that those choices are not forced nor coerced, but the person freely makes them according to his/her nature. Human nature, after the fall, is not the same as it was with Adam and Eve before the fall.  Scripture bears this out repeatedly (Romans 5, Jeremiah 17:9, Eccl. 7:20, Ephesians 2:1-3). Fallen men, according to scripture, cannot and will not choose God of their own ‘free will’.  Their will is enslaved to sin, so their choices – FREELY – are limited. As an example, if I drop a marble in a box, the marble is free to roll around the box according to the shape of the box. It can roll to the corners, along the top, bottom and sides. The marble, however, is entrapped by the box (there’s a lid on it with no hole). The marble is not free to leave the box. The marble has freedom to roll around in the box, but does not have liberty (the marble’s options are constrained).

I think what he’s aiming for is trying to say that man has liberty to choose good and evil – something the bible explicitly does not teach with regard to the unregenerate person (Romans 8:6-9).

His problem with the concept appears to run along the lines of: “God tells us to make choices, therefore, we MUST be able to do what he asks us to do, otherwise, that wouldn’t be fair.”  I’ve seen many a non-Calvinist trip over this question in attempting to understand reformed theology (and/or argue against it).  Truthfully, it’s the same question that tripped up Pelagius in the early 400’s.  The assumption that underlies this question is command means ability to carry it out.

The major question, of course, is this: is this assumption a biblically accurate one ?

The usual answer to this, of course, is that God bases His commands on responsibility, not ability.   No one loves God perfectly (Deut. 6:5), something that we are indeed commanded to do.  What people have done (especially in the Weslyan tradition) is modify what being ‘perfect’ means to include a progressive sanctification that can eventually end in extended periods of sinlessness. Such a modification, however, doesn’t find a root in the biblical text, but in human assumptions. The question of God’s fairness will be addressed a few paragraphs down.

Another quote:

Yes, I believe that God is sovereign, and I believe (according to His Word) that in His sovereignty He will not violate His Word…this is a partnership, not a dictatorship. It’s possible to grieve and quench The Holy Ghost.

This statement’s a bit complex to deal with. Sovereign, by definition, implies dictatorship – at least it did back in ancient times. Folk in Babylon hearing Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:29-37 wouldn’t have understood any part of that to mean ‘partnership’.  In fact, anyone reading Daniel 4:29-37 NOW would have to seriously strain and read foreign elements into the text to get anything of a ‘partnership’ from:

29At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

36At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

A few more quotes:

I don’t believe that His grace is irresistible, Man CAN resist God’s grace.

A common mistake that non-Calvinists make when they run into the term ‘irresistible grace’.   Arthur Custance corrects this error:

If a man by nature always resists the grace of God, then in order for that grace to be effectual it must in some sense be irresistible; for if the grace of God were ineffectual none would be saved, and this we know is not the case.

We know by experience that “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him; neither indeed can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). On the other hand we also know that “to them that received Him gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
Thus to speak of the grace of God as irresistible is not to say that man cannot resist it, for he does. It is only to say that human resistance is allowed to proceed so far and no further than God pleases. The Jewish authorities were allowed to resist the Holy Spirit to the very last (Acts 7:51), but Paul was allowed to resist only to a point when his resistance was suddenly brought to an end (Acts 9:5, 6). The grace of God is sovereign; but it cannot be said to be irresistible, for men do resist it. Loraine Boettner suggested that it might indeed be better to employ the term Efficacious Grace instead, for this is really what the saving grace of God is. This would spoil a widely accepted mnemonic aid, the acronym T U L I P, beloved of catechists for many generations, but in the interests of greater doctrinal precision it might be well to abandon it.
Arthur Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace, Chapter 9: http://custance.org/Library/SOG/Part_II/Chapter9.html

Again, this is simple reformed theology that anyone could ‘get right’ if they actually took the time to read it.

His next statement is one that most people who disagree with reformed theology get ‘hung up’ over:

I believe that Salvation is for ALL, and not only for an elect few. The elect & chosen are simply those who believe on Jesus (John 3:16). He chose to have mercy on ALL! The called are those who hear the Gospel period. ManyARE CALLED, few are chosen (believe).

Aside from turning words on their head (any ENGLISH dictionary shows that ‘chosen’ and ‘believe’ do not mean the same thing). A poster on HCR made this very wise observation which served to answer Mynista’s objection months before he wrote it:

Well this doesn’t help you. YHWH did not warn any of the Egyptians to put Blood on their door post. Thus the symbolic atonement there was completely limited to the House of Israel only. Thus that is an exact picture of LA. So it was a picture of Salvation.

This is also why, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He does not pray for the world, but only for those who were given to Him (the elect) by His Father (John 17:9).  Romans 9 is a very helpful passage in discussing this issue.  First, it directly contradicts what Mynista says – God does NOT choose to have mercy on all. He has mercy on some.  This is what He tells Moses and what Paul references in Romans 9.  It isn’t an issue of injustice with God (which is really what Mynista is objecting to) – God owes no man anything (another hidden assumption).  God didn’t choose to redeem fallen angels when they sinned. He provided no substitutionary atonement for them.  Does that make God less good ?  Of course not!  God is not obligated to provide a way of salvation for ANY of His creatures that violate His law.  His choosing to do so for humans (and not for angels) is a function of His mercy.   Mercy is not obligatory, but voluntary. Why God chooses to have mercy on any is a mystery!

Over the past 10 years of me being reformed, I’ve witness non-Calvinistic folk make horrendous statements against RT, to the point of treating it like a cult.  Some of Mynista’s comments are definitely divisive and downright destructive – much like a child with a nuclear weapon who thinks he knows what ‘the enemy’ looks like.

My personal assessment based on interactions with folk over this time period (especially on Holy Culture Radio during my years as moderator and then head admin there) have equipped me well to answer these same questions as well as give me a ‘heads up’ on things that people usually assume (unspoken assumptions) when it comes to the doctrines of grace.  Brother Mynista is no exception here – just another ignorant non-Calvinist who has problems (huge ones) with the doctrines of grace and isn’t very precise in his theology (or his understanding of others’ for that matter).  He’s also sloppy with his handling of the bible.

But let’s trek back in time, shall we ? How many of you current Calvinists had ‘sharp ears’ and ‘huge amounts of discernment’ so you could spot truth and error immediately, even after a few years as a believer ?  How ‘theologically correct’ were all of us who are now Calvinists when we first heard (and in many cases, heavily disagreed) with the doctrines of grace ?   How many of us reacted to them exactly or worse than this brother is now doing ? How many of us actually understood what we were arguing against ?  How many of us simply THOUGHT we understood (and arrogantly told people ‘you’re just saying that because I disagree with you’ when, looking back NOW, you really DIDN’T understand ) ?

So this brother’s rant has to be viewed also from the position of grace and graciousness. It takes some people years to get out of the muddle of messed up theology they become entrenched in and along the way, they are going to say some stupid things. Indeed, even afterward, there are many ‘new Calvinists’ who say plenty of stupid things that end up turning non-Calvinists off to any discussion, but that’s another blogpost series.

After reading, I felt a little sorry for dude. He’s fighting against stuff that’s pretty clear in scripture and he’s mixed up. I’ve learned to deal a bit gentler with folks over time because just like a kid who swears up and down that they know everything when they really know very little, when that emotional rant gets moving, the person cannot be reasoned with from scripture or otherwise.  Further could be pointed out about his post -  the cluelessness at the fact that most of the REAL (not imagined)  ‘Holy Ghost Fire’ he’s talking about has come as a result of believing (not rejecting) the doctrines of grace (from William Carey, the father of every modern missionary movement) to men like Wilberforce (abolitionist), Spurgeon and Whitefield (powerful evangelists who preached to thousands at a time) and these names could be multiplied a thousand times…. but it’s a small thing for now. The usual response is to accuse the other person of wanting to ‘debate’ and then running away from the discussion.  The reformed person in this equation should be the first person to show grace and graciousness in handling personal shots (and they will come). The reformed person should also be sure to keep the discussion on the Word and not get drawn off-topic into discussions on Calvin himself, the Institutes, Spurgeon, Piper or anyone else for that matter.  I think it’s probably part of the reason why dude said he was dumping people from his friends list – he really doesn’t want to hear biblical truth because he’s comfortable where he is and doesn’t want to be challenged.  And it can be a very difficult thing to re-evaluate one’s beliefs or have them constantly challenged….unfortunately, his reaction, instead of actually ‘defending’ what he thinks is the faith, is akin to turning, sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears, and running away while screaming (much like the Pharisees did when they rushed Stephen in Acts 7).

A lot of his post was a lot of zeal with very little knowledge and a boatload of emotion.  I can’t say it should be a surprise. It’s a bit of the normal reaction….seen it before and it won’t be the last time it happens.  Newly reformed folk should be aware of what to expect.

My advice to someone over on my board was pretty simple….

Let him be.  If you run across people like him (or those of you reading who run across him)…..if they bring up the topic, ask them first and foremost are they willing to discuss the issue from scripture and not divert over to talking about Calvin, Servetus, Slavery, Jonathan Edwards or anything else…but scripture.  Ask them if they are willing to discuss biblical teaching and not simply talk ‘about Calvinism and Calvinists’ (which is what a lot of discussions break down to).  If they divert, ask them again and tell them you aren’t willing to talk about anything else than scripture and whether or not these beliefs are taught in scripture.  If the usual advance accusations of ‘debate’ and ‘argumentative’ come to mind, remind them that right now, all you’ve done is ask them to discuss scripture as brothers (or sisters).  If they are unwilling to do this, tell them you’ll pray for them to one day be open to discussing scripture and not be so ‘defensive’ and willing to divert to other topics.

And walk away.  God will deal with them.

Sometimes, it takes God bringing folks to a point of crisis before they humble themselves.

As an additional resource, if you run into folks who constantly spend time spewing misconceptions on the doctrines of grace and you find yourself having to constantly correct them, refer them to this VERY helpful article on the subject:

http://www.corkfpc.com/criticisingcalvinism.html