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My Personal Experience with Calvinism

Introduction

There is an infection sweeping our churches today, especially Southern Baptist Churches, regarding the system of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. The virulent impact of this doctrine has been exacerbated by notable advocates such as Albert Mohler, John MacArthur and John Piper. These well-meaning men have wielded tremendous destructive influence over the minds and ministries of young preachers.

There is no desire on my part to disparage these men. My intent is to share my personal experience with Calvinism, how the Lord delivered me from its clutches and what I believe to be its fundamental flaw. It is my humble opinion that one of the evidences of genuine revival, if God should grant it to his churches, will be sweeping repentance by Calvinist pastors and professors for propagating this false doctrine and infecting their congregations and classrooms.

Personal Testimony

I've been a Five-Point Calvinist twice in my life. After the Lord called me to preach in 1971, I began my studies at Miami Bible College (Miami, FL) in the fall of that year. At age 23, like most Baptists, I knew little about theological or doctrinal issues. The professorial staff, however, was almost entirely Calvinist. Little by little I got exposed to election, predestination and the Five Points, and wondered why I had never heard this from my pastor.

I spent dozens of hours in the library pouring through commentaries on Romans, Ephesians and other books looking for consistent interpretations of Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:4, etc. Like all novices in Calvinistic thought, I was in search of something confirmatory to bolster this newfound ‘truth’ that no one had heretofore bothered to teach me. As I came to realize later, NONE of these ‘proof text’ passages was grounded in CONTEXTUAL exegesis or exposition. It was mostly regurgitation of conventional Calvinist thought. Proof texts are seldom used for their exegetical-expository value. Yet Calvinist theory is built almost entirely upon the proof text method that fails to account for the context of the verses it cites.

Well, it wasn't long before I became a 'Predestination' zealot. I was involved with our church youth, and exposed my training union class one Sunday evening to the doctrine of Election. One of the teens told her parents, her parents told the pastor, and the pastor called me into his study for a conference. Out of respect for him, I cooled my jets on teaching Calvinism. I believed I was right and the pastor was wrong. But I also knew my time would come to freely articulate the ‘glories’ of Calvinism from a pulpit of my own.

In the summer of 1973, I went to Alaska for three weeks to help a missionary establish a youth camp. A few months before making the trip, I remember being on my knees in prayer at our apartment. I had been called to preach and had come to realize there might be negative consequences to preaching Calvinism in churches I would pastor. So I told the Lord that no matter the consequences I would preach ‘the whole counsel of God’ (i.e., Calvinism) without regard for favorable-unfavorable responses. But I added: “Lord, if Calvinism is NOT the truth, and there is more light I need to see, please reveal that light to me BEFORE I embark upon my first pastorate.”

A few months later I was in Alaska with Baptist missionary Lindsey Williams. The Lord woke me up about 4 a.m. one morning with this scripture dancing in my mind: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" (Romans 8:33). It was the light for which I had prayed. In that scripture, the Lord showed me that ALL of his elect are justified. In other words, there are NO lost elect men. Since lost, unjustified men ARE chargeable, NO lost man can be among the elect. God’s elect are ALL justified; they are ALL chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4).

The Calvinist tries to make much of the phrase “before the foundation of the world” in Ephesians 1:4 as proof that election took place before time began. In like manner, Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). But in what sense was he slain? He was slain by the Father in the eternal sense as to his redemptive purpose. But Jesus was actually slain in the temporal sense outside the walls of Jerusalem circa 33 A.D.

God’s eternal purpose of election in Christ was to save to the uttermost those who came to the Father through his Son. In the eternal sense, based on that eternal purpose, God first elected Christ to serve as the Redeemer of lost men and then elected believers 'in Christ' before the foundation of the world to serve him as well. In the temporal sense, God actually elected them when they believed. Failure to compare scripture with scripture and distinguish between the eternal and the temporal will cause a Calvinist to break his theological neck.

Election is IN CHRIST and therefore applies to NO ONE who is OUTSIDE of Christ. The Calvinist places himself in the untenable position of having to explain how those who were IN Christ before the foundation of the world got themselves OUT of Christ.

The light from that one scripture – Romans 8:33 – laid the groundwork for my deliverance from Calvinism. After returning from Alaska, I spent hundreds of hours going back over all the ‘proof text’ passages I was using to defend Calvinism, interpreting them in context. God granted more light. When Christ is at the center of one’s election doctrine as THE ELECT of God (1 Peter 2:6, 9), he or she will NEVER arrive at Calvinism. Peter understood that a 'chosen generation' of believers derived its 'elect' status from the Elected One. One of the flaws of Calvinism is failure to put Christ at the center of election!

In the mid-1990's, I reverted back to five-point Calvinism for a short period of time. The reasons are not important. As a result, the Lord granted me more light and clarity on the fundamental errors of Calvinistic thought and made me a better contextual expositor. 

Biblical election has nothing to do with God choosing lost men with a view to justifying them. It has to do with God choosing the justified (1) to serve him according to the gifts-calling he bestows upon them, and (2) to be recipients of the spiritual-eternal benefits to which God entitled them by virtue of their union with Christ, the Elect One. The truths that the Father 'elected' Jesus to be the chief cornerstone of our redemption (1 Peter 2:6) and that Jesus 'elected' Judas to be one of the Twelve (John 6:70) are in harmony with and confirm the view that election is all about service and privilege.

The Fundamental Flaw

Years ago I discovered some websites that provided guidelines to Calvinist pastors on how to migrate their churches into Calvinism over a two-year period. The scripture tells us that the wisdom that is from above is peaceable and easy to be entreated (James 3:17). But there is nothing peaceful or easy about Calvinism for those raised on that old-time religion! Thus a Calvinistic pastor MUST have a strategy to expose his non-Calvinistic church to Calvinist doctrine in a scheming, calculating way. It's almost cult-like.

In my mind, the moment a preacher embraces the doctrine of Particular Redemption, he has abandoned the true Gospel for a 'Half-Gospel' message. I would encourage readers to review my analysis of Limited Atonement in ‘An Overview of Calvinism’. That article deals with many of the flaws in Calvinistic thought, especially Limited Atonement.

The fundamental problem with Calvinism is the Gospel, which has two distinct elements. The first is the PROVISION – "Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The second is the APPROPRIATION – "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). Calvinism virtually strips the Gospel of its provisional element. For the doctrine of Limited Atonement denies to EVERY sinner ANY objective assurance that Christ died for his or hr sins!

The Calvinist can tell a lost person that if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, they will be saved. True enough! But if that lost person is NOT one of the elect a possibility the Calvinist MUST cede and Christ did NOT die for them and atone for their sins, then the Calvinist becomes a LIAR! For God cannot and will not save ANY sinner for whom Christ did NOT die.

The Calvinist preacher is now in a position where he MUST admit that Christ may not have died for HIS OWN sins since he has eviscerated the scriptures of all OBJECTIVE evidence of a universal, all-inclusive atonement. That means the ONLY evidence he has is a SUBJECTIVE experience he had when he allegedly believed. Understand this! It is impossible to appropriate what has NOT been provided. Thus an alleged act of appropriation (faith) CANNOT serve as the evidence of provision. The Calvinist, or anyone else for that matter, can believe on the Lord Jesus as many times as he wishes and still end up in Hell IF the blood of Jesus did not atone for his sins!

The Calvinist argues that it’s not up to him to determine who the elect are, but to preach the Gospel and let God give the results. But what is the Gospel he preaches? It is a Half-Gospel, a Deficient Gospel! If he preaches a message that consists of an appeal to faith (appropriation) without equal certitude regarding the death of Christ as the atonement for ALL (provision), he is preaching half the truth. That is, he is NOT preaching the whole counsel of God. If he truly believes in the limited scope of Christ’s death and his restricted love for the 'elect' only, then any faith appeal made to the ‘non-elect’ based on the love of Christ is purely disingenuous. In the system of Calvinism, God has no intent to save the non-elect. For the Calvinist to represent him otherwise is FRAUDULENT! 

In order for a preacher to be a Calvinist in the pulpit, he MUST resort to intellectual dishonesty! For if he preaches the love of God for ALL when he believes God provided atonement for only SOME, he is a hypocrite of the first order. And no matter how much God may or may not love the non-elect, the 'Sovereign' God of Calvinism is totally INCAPABLE of saving those for whom Christ did NOT die.

It should be a source of outrage for every Southern Baptist to know that Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY and his Calvinist cohorts are training and sending out thousands of 'Half-Gospel' preachers to fill the pulpits of Convention churches. It is simply impossible to harmonize Divine Favor with a Deficient Gospel!

Conclusion

Many Calvinists claim they came to that persuasion by allowing the scriptures to lead them where they would. That's the response of an intellectually lazy man. As we have shown, no student of scripture could possibly arrive at the doctrine of Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption) by following the lead of scripture. And if one cannot get to a limited atonement, the whole system of Calvinism is caput! 

If you’re a preacher of Calvinism, be honest enough to preach what you believe. Don't play the hypocrite! Tell the congregation that Jesus may or may not have died for their sins. Tell them that even if they believe, faith in Christ may or may not save them from their sins depending on whether they’re one of the elect. While you’re being honest, tell them that NO one, including YOU, can be certain that Christ died for their sins since you've obliterated ALL objective biblical evidence to support that assertion. If one cannot have certainty regarding atonement for sins, neither can one have any assurance of salvation in this life!

These are the practical implications of the Gospel and the Calvinism that assaults it. For this reason, NO Calvinist belongs in a Baptist pulpit anywhere…unless it’s of Primitive Baptist persuasion. There he can be consistent: no evangelism, no empty appeals to the lost, no misrepresentation of the Almighty. He can be content to let God bring the elect to the church pews in his time as He sees fit.

There is, however, a better alternative for one who has wandered into the morass of Calvinism. That option is to jettison the system and embrace, or perhaps re-embrace, the true Gospel of the grace of God and his all-encompassing love for sinners. It is my prayer that this personal testimony and analysis will provide the motivation for Calvinists to abandon the system and for the uninfected to avoid it.

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