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Recently I contacted an old friend on Facebook (I only reluctantly created a Facebook account and only visit it once a month or so).
Many years ago (a little longer than a decade ago) I was a staunch 5 Point Calvinist. I attended a conservative PCA Reformed Church. At the time I was excited about Reformed theology and shared Calvinism with my friend. My friend is still a strong Calvinist, though I began having doubts about Calvinism and moved away from it after a few years.
There are still several aspects of Calvinism that I enjoy and appreciate: such as God’s Sovereignty (though I believe this attribute of God is carried to extreme by Calvinists). I enjoy debating theology though I have to admit I did not enjoy this debate much. Up till this point in my Christian life (of more than 23 years) I had never been called a heretic.
I was disheartened to see how my friend had been impacted by Calvinism. While he did not respond much, neither did he contradict or interject when his friends called me and other Christians who are not Calvinists heretics.
I am sending this post and the following link to the actual article to my friend. I pray that he knows I truly love him and do not desire to hurt our relationship.
I feel responsible for his being a Calvinist since I am the one who shared it with him. It brought home to me once again how our beliefs and actions can have both good and bad affects on others.
While he is grateful I shared Calvinism with him, I am sorrowful.
Here is the link to the main (full) article. The names of those involved (except for mine) have been changed so that no one will be offended.
If you have any questions please feel free to post comments below.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.
Thank you for your honest and open question. I have tried to respond below:
“I have had many long discussions with my pastor (Independent Baptist) in regards to the Free Will vs Free Grace debate.”
I believe it is a good thing to have open discussions with your pastor and others as you are doing. I have often it seems attended schools/churches that were different on this issue of Calvinism/Arminianism than I was. I attended John MacArthurs school when I was Arminian/Pentecostal (his school, like him, is heavily Calvinistic). Years later when I became a Calvinist, I attended an Arminian/Pentecostal school! I found both experiences pushed me to understand at a deeper level what I believe and why… and to not just accept what I was being taught.
“For some reason I feel that something doesn\’t seem to make sense with my pastor\’s theology. He is in between, he is not a true Arminian and he is not a calvinist.”
I would agree with you that it is difficult to understand how it’s possible to have a position ‘in-between’ Calvinism and Arminianism. I have always believed that each ‘theological system’ is built from its parts. All 5 points of Calvinism for instance are necessary to each other. If one part is removed, the structure collapses (at least as interpreted through the lens of Calvinism).
“I don\’t understand how he can believe that men are totally depraved but also have the ability to choose Christ at the same time.“
Most Arminians would also say they believe in total depravity, but there understanding of what that means is different than what Reformed folks teach. The crux of the issue seems to revolve around what it means to be ‘dead’ spiritually. For Arminians that means they unbeliever is opposed to God in his nature, separated from God, and desires only to live for himself. Many Calvinists seem to believe that being dead means…. They are ‘dead’ spiritually, just as a person can die physically. If that were true they would be unable to sin correct? How many sins does a dead (physically) person commit? They are not ‘dead’ spiritually in the sense that their ‘spirit’ is dead, but their spirit/nature is completely opposed to God, and bent on living for themselves. They desire sin and not God. In regeneration, their nature is changed (not from the ‘dead’ meaning not living) from being opposed to God, to desiring and loving God.
“He says that it is a mystery that can\’t be understood between the free will of man and God\’s sovereignty. It really does seem man centered when you have that synergistic perspective.”
Since I have been a Strong (5 point) Calvinist and Arminian at different points in my Christian life, I have seen both sides often misrepresent the other side. I don’t believe that the Arminian view is man centered: fallen man could never desire or seek God, if God did not first draw and empower them to believe. For the Calvinist, that means that God must regenerate them first. For the Arminian that means God must personally work in the heart, lives, and draw and empower them through His grace and Holy Spirit before they would even have the slightest desire to believe. Arminians can not claim ‘credit’ for being saved because it is God’s drawing and empowering that enables them to come in the first place.
“ I feel that the more armenian viewpoint can lead one to believe in the doctrine of the carnal christian.”
Whether a Christian is Reformed or Arminian does not insulate them from the possibility of falling into error or missing the truth. I just left a Reformed church a few weeks ago that rarely if ever talked about sin or many other Biblical ideas. The Pastor at the church I have started attending preaches in-depth expository sermons… very meaty… and he is not reformed! (Non-denominational… but closer to Baptist in theology).
“I really would like your advice on how to handle this situation. I read your post and can relate to a lot of what was said.”
I appreciate questions and I believe you are being led by God in seeking to understand how to handle this issue and interactions with your church. How would I respond if it were me?
First, I would not leave your present church. If done in love, you have the opportunity to help fellow believers to think through the issues at a deeper level. Many believers have no idea why they believe what they do… they’ve just been taught it at some point.
Second, keep open communication lines with your pastor. Keep a good/loving relationship with him. When you share your beliefs in Sunday School be sure to do so in love (don’t approach it from a ‘know it all attitude’, but in love). People will be much more likely to be persuaded by your teachings if they are done in love and not just to condemn the opposing view.
Third, (and I’m not saying you would) never be the root of ‘problems’ at your church. I pray that things would go well for you, but if division in the church were to start as a result of your teachings, I would then recommend you move on to a different church more inline with your Reformed beliefs. I have seen several churches in the past were teachers, youth pastors, etc. caused division within the church and the churches split, wounding many Christians. Ego’s and pride get involved when prayer and stepping aside might have prevented a lot of pain and anger.
“I have listened to Paul Washers 10 Indictments and loved it.”
The person I was talking with on Facebook obviously thought I would reject the teachings of Washer when he asked me to read the article. I believe the reason he thought I would reject Washers’s teachings is because he really does not understand Arminianism. Remember, I said both sides often misrepresent the other side. If a person (such as himself) reads only reformed/Calvinistic books, then he will likely not have a true or accurate picture of what Arminians really believe. It’s fine if you disagree with Arminian theology… just make sure it is true Arminian theology you disagree with and not a ‘straw-man’ version made up both those who dislike it.
“How does the super natural regenerative work of Christ take place in a person with the armenian perspective. Are they the cause of their regeneration?”
As I said before, both Calvinists and Arminians believe it is absolutely necessary for God to supernaturally intervene with His grace and power to change a person before they can believe. For the Arminian, God draws, convicts, and gives grace to the unbeliever so that they are enabled (only through God’s grace) to accept or reject salvation. Without God’ grace and empowering they would not be able to choose Christ. Are they the cause? In both Calvinism and Arminianism God must first give the person the ability to believe. For the Calvinist, God must regenerate them first. In neither view can the person say ‘I did it myself.”
I also think part of the problem with discussions (besides ‘straw-man’ arguments) is that both sides often take the extremes on either side as being the average or norm for that position. Clark Pinnock for example is an extreme who denied God’s Omniscience for instance. He was not an Arminian (if you take being an Arminian as believing what Jacob Arminius believed).
While there are many good books by Arminians (to understand their viewpoint from their own ‘lips), the two I would recommend are: 1. “Grace, Faith, Free Will by Robert Picirilli, and 2. “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” by Roger Olson. While you may not agree with their teachings, at least they give an accurate representation of Arminian Theology.
Last, but not least: for me the issue is often phrased incorrectly. For me the issue is NOT God’s Sovereignty verse Mans Free Will, but the issue really is: God’s Love verse God’s Sovereignty. The issue is God’s Nature of Love (the core of His being) verse His attribute of being all-powerful.
Matthew, thanks for your perspective on this topic. I too have struggled with this issue with friends and colleagues alike. My issue with the Calvanist perspective starts with the whole premise that God is “devine” which is absolutely true but is He the author of sin? I have never heard a valid explanation for this. I truly believe only God can regenerate a persons life through the work of the Holy Spirit but man in this current state (one on earth) can choose to believe or not believe or to put it bluntly trust or not to trust in God. Satan and his fallen angels have no ability to trust in God for they are unable to be regenerated.
The sad part is, the Calvanist seems bent on attacking fellow Christians instead of what is at stake, lost souls. We are commissioned by Christ to spread the Gospel to all the world. I have heard many Reformed churches refer to themselves as “a place for mature christians”. Wow now that seems welcoming right?
I believe we must be about attracting the lost through the work of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of Christ must be at the center of our thoughts not John Calvin or Jacobus Arminius. It is disappointing calvinist wish to be contentious about this but I for one have decided that to debate this issue is fruitless. God bless your efforts and hope your debate with your friend ends well for Christ’s sake.
I have not read your article on why I am no longer a Calvinist but that term is used by non-Calvinist that believe in Eternal Security and do not understand that “Preserverance of the Saints” is not the same as “Eternal Security”. The Calvinist view is that if a person lives a sinful life after they allegedly become a Christian that they were not a Christian at all. The Arminian view is that if they were a Christian and then fell into a permanent sinful living pattern they lost their salvation. There is no difference the conclusion is the same “both are lost”. Both need Repentance and restoration. Augustine had a Latin phrase which I have not been able to find. But the English of it would be “A third is given.” Almost all Christian think they must be either a Calvinist or an Arminian. But I do not think either theological system is fully correct.
Calvinism teaches that if a person becomes a Christian he will absolutely, automatically go on to santification and a godly life. Scripture does not seem to confirm this. It appears that there are many Christians that fail in their Christian lives. They do not live faithful Christian lives as we would judge. However, we think that by making this a requirement of being considered a Christian we are going to keep these people on the “straight and narrow” by some church legalist formulation. What we need to do is to teach them how to “walk in the Spirit” on a regular basis.