During my years as a Pentecostal/Arminian Christian I focused my theological studies on an array of supposedly sound biblical topics. I studied Dispensational Theology (though at the time I had no idea what it was called), learning the different epochs of time Earth’s history had been neatly packaged into. I dabbled with spiritual warfare, waging battle against all principalities and powers of darkness. I learned how to defend my family against the wiles of the devil. I read many kooky books that inspired me to take up the armor of God and stand firmly against the devil’s fiery darts in ways that now make me cringe with chagrin. I danced as King David did (except fully clothed) and anointed everything with olive oil (or Crisco if the former was not conveniently available). I claimed enough territories for Christ during those years that I could have established a whole other country. I scoured the scriptures, scrapping together verses in an effort to discern the times, and determine the signs of Christ’s Second Coming. I agreed with both Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt and the secret rapture of the church would whisk us away while the world would suffer beneath the iron heel of the Antichrist’s reign of terror. I spent hours pleading and wrestling with God at the altar, in the desperate hope that he would grant me an authentic, earth-shattering spiritual experience akin to the ones enjoyed by my brethren, who appeared to get a ‘dose of the Ghost’ on a weekly basis. Continue reading
Precisely nine years ago I embraced the doctrines of Grace (also called 5-point Calvinism). It was a chaotic time, where both the tearing down of my old theology and the construction of this new theology were taking place simultaneously in my mind and spirit. To complicate matters, an old friend, who had faithfully attended my weekly bible study for college students, came to my office one day and begged me to start up a new study group. She had come to a difficult point in her life and had a deep hunger for someone to bring her the Word. I had sympathy for her, but didn’t feel I was in any position to teach.
First, I could no longer teach much of what I had in the past. Many of those doctrines, like a house built on shifting sand, laid in a collapsed heap. I was in the process of bulldozing those aberrant beliefs right off my intellectual property. Second, I still did not know enough about Calvinism to be confident enough to teach it. Third, I still had not resolved all the points of Calvinism in my heart and mind yet. I readily accepted the T, the U, and the I but I wasn’t so sure about the L and the P. Odd, I know, if the U then the P should follow, right? I’ve never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer!
Anyway, against my better judgment, I plunged ahead with the study and presented my understanding of sovereign salvation to that small audience. It all worked out for the good, though. The class constantly presented challenges that helped to sharpen me. In the end though, only one person from the group came to believe in the doctrines of Grace. She came to visit me in my office one afternoon last year and I asked her pointedly, “have you become convinced that Calvinism is true?” My friend gave me an unforgettable reply. In a humble and almost broken-hearted tone, she said, “Yes it has to be true, because I know my own heart.” Continue reading
A great mystery once surrounded the circumstances of my salvation experience that for a decade confounded all my attempts to unveil its secrets.
Let me start at the beginning. In the summer of 1993 I found a job at the recycling center of a local non-profit agency. They provided a training environment for people with developmental disabilities. The job humbled me, but I did enjoy working with the people. My supervisor lived his Christian faith openly, and stood boldly for his convictions. To make a long story short, he preached the gospel to me for a solid year-and-a-half, slowly chipping away at my granite hard heart. One day he quoted a scripture that flew like a steel-tipped arrow, breaching my great wall of enmity.
Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world’s rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:11-12)
I remember getting into my car at the end of the day with that verse blazing through my mind. I paused in the parking lot as illumination fell on me from above. I realized at that moment good and evil were struggling for my very soul. I could not remain neutral in this war. I had to take sides. I either had to stand with God against all the powers of darkness or cast my lot with the devil and his angels. Another, more sobering thought then dawned on me. I had already spent my entire life aiding and abetting the commander-in-chief of the armies of darkness.
I stewed over those thoughts for several months. One day in late January, 1995 as I prepared to leave for the day, my boss stopped me. He launched into one of his passionate discourses on the goodness and faithfulness of God in his life. At one point he started pounding his desk speaking of the zeal he had for God, quoting from scripture. At that very moment the Spirit of God came upon me with a such a mighty rush that I could sense it in a tangible manner. A great tingling warmth spread from the top of my head to the heels of my feet. I gasped audibly, not quite understanding what had just happened. My boss did not notice my reaction, so I politely acknowledged my appreciation for his word of encouragement and drove home. Continue reading
Surprisingly, my conversion from free-will theology to Calvinism came rather swiftly. It’s shocking really, if only you could understand the depths of hatred I once held toward those doctrines.
I resisted initially, desperately hopeful that some sensible compromise existed between these diametrically opposed belief systems. I figured the Semi-Pelagian flavor of Arminianism fell into one ditch while Calvinism veered clear over to the other side of the road. I searched in vain for the imaginary highway that ran through the middle of both views, but I never found any signs to point the way. After wrangling with Calvinism for about 4 months, I finally beheld its beauty with a clarity only the Holy Spirit could grant.
The ditch I had plowed into, turns out, is really an off-ramp exiting the pothole plagued ‘Free Will’ service road. It flows into a smoothly paved four-lane interstate winding a clear path to the Celestial City. The road first runs through the firmly established townships of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura and finally Soli Deo Gloria, which lies at the very gates of the streets of gold.
You may have already deduced the obvious. My diligent search through the scriptures utterly convinced me of the truth of the Doctrines of Grace.
So, the first and foremost reason I became a Calvinist is the overwhelming evidence contained in the scriptures declaring God’s unquestionable sovereignty over every person, place and event in all of history. Continue reading
Almost a decade ago I was involved in a titanic spiritual battle between two opposing theological views. I could feel the once rock solid doctrines of free will slipping through my fingers like fine sand. I begged and beseeched the Lord to deliver me from the relentless reasonings and scriptural bombshells ripping the house I had built on the shifting dunes of man-centered doctrines. My pride and self-respect were on the line.
See, for the first decade of my born-again life I embraced a form of Arminianism that many call Semi-Pelagianism. Simply put, I believed that man’s free will is the deciding factor in salvation. Calvinism, which is the belief that God is sovereign over all things, including man’s salvation, had recently started making sense to me and I was drawn to it. (While at the same time being repulsed by it).
Calvinism was a dirty word in my old church. I considered it to be on equal footing with cultic beliefs.
I used to say such things as:
“Calvinism is a doctrine of demons!”
Or worse yet:
“If God is like how the Calvinists describe him, I would never serve such a cruel, heartless dictator who arbitrarily chooses who will and will not be saved!” Continue reading
The study of doctrine and theology has declined in God’s visible church over the last few decades at an alarming rate. An ever-increasing number of churches have adopted a seeker-centric approach to ministry in lieu of sound biblical teaching. According to so-called church growth experts, the unchurched masses are generally open to believing in God and accepting Christ. It is the church as an institution that drives them away from commitment. This type of person is called a ‘seeker’. In order to get these people to come to church and make that saving commitment church leaders must lure them in by appealing to their flesh. Learning theology and doctrine doesn’t interest them so it is laid aside as a primary ministry of the church. In other words, entertainment in all of its forms: music, dramatic performances, movie clips, light shows, media montages, etc. can be utilized to make the church a more comfortable, less intimidating place for seekers to find refuge. Psychological manipulation replaces the preaching of the word as a means to salvation. Sermons are often centered around felt-needs messages that ‘meet people where they are at’. Ministers may preach on topics such as strengthening marriages, gaining financial freedom, finding a stress-free lifestyle, even having a better sex life. This is all done to ‘ease’ the seeker into the fold before presenting him the gospel. It is a sandy foundation which collapses upon close scrutiny. Continue reading
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:30-36 ESV)
Let’s break this meaty passage down and start with a well known verse.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
This phrase is commonly referred to as the golden Rule. It may surprise you to learn that Jesus is not the first person in history to express this sentiment. Many great philosophers and religious men of the past have said very similar things. Some would say that this universal sentiment sums up the heart of the Christian faith, but if it is commonly shared among other faith traditions how is it then a distinctly Christian doctrine? My answer would be to say that it is not at all the central doctrine of Christianity, and if some groups make it so, then they have strayed away from the simplicity of the gospel message. The good news isn’t that we should try to treat others with kindness. We are all sinners who will inevitably fail at this lofty goal. We need redemption from our lack of love toward God and men. God has provided this salvation by giving us his Son, Jesus Christ. Now that is good news! Continue reading