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How I became a "Calvinist" (and it wasn't because of Piper or MacArthur)

June 1, 2009

In some respects, I should not call myself a Calvinist. The real Calvinists would get upset. Who can reduce the sum of Calvin’s great theological contributions to five theological axioms dealing with the sovereignty of God in salvation? So for those “real” Calvinists out there, who accept the Genevan’s system to a much greater extent than a free church Baptist, please accept my apologies in advance.

In the heated debate of late, there has been the allegation that all Calvinistic Younger Fundamentalists have become enamored with the doctrines of grace because of the likes of Piper and MacArthur and Mahaney. The point of my post is to say that such generalizations, while likely holding a bit of truth to them, are not in every case so. (It does not offend me that such generalizations are made, for generalizations are inevitable. But at times it is important to see exceptions to the rule.) So what follows is a description of how I became a “4.5ish” Calvinist.

It began in college, at what is now Northland International University, before there were really any big blow-ups there over faculty or students propagating “hyper”-Calvinism. To my recollection, the institution did not teach the doctrines of grace. If anything, they taught a kind of soft middle-of-the-roadism (again, according to my recollection). The college really had very little to do with my initial push towards Calvinism. I had always struggled with the problem of God’s sovereignty; how is it “fair” that God chooses some while rejecting others? But I remember one day in my personal Bible study reading Romans 9, and these words stuck out:

6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

With these words, I began moving towards an espousal of unconditional election. This passage convinced me that in some way God chooses some in a way that he does not choose others. Even if I had problems with this, the words of the passage were plain: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Still, I acknowledged that in some way men were able to choose God. I concluded that both must be true, and the resolution of this tension was shrowded in mystery. I was hesitant to call myself a “Calvinist” (for all the political baggage it seemed to represent), but I was heading in that direction. The Bible, as I understood it, demanded that I confess both that men chose God but that God sovereignly elects. Still, the trump card in this dynamic was that God chose men, not that men chose God. Around this time, I remember a roommate of mine–Jon Hutchens was his name–giving me a volume of sermons by Charles H. Spurgeon and recommended one on Calvinism (this good friend let me keep the book, and I still have it). (This same Calvinistic Jon Hutchens is now a missionary to Brazil–would you believe it?) Spurgeon’s reasoning from Scripture was too cogent to deny. I was still reluctant to take the label Calvinist, as I believed that my vague insistence that both man had a role and God had a role was incompatible with the Calvinist’s scheme. Still, I was also beginning to take great delight in reading old Calvinists. This takes us up through the late 1990’s.

After a couple years, I found myself at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. As I recall, I was starting to muse in my reflection on the subject that one of the important questions in the discussion was what foreknowledge meant in Scripture. Did the fact that God foreknew some to salvation mean that God foresaw in the future that the would-be elect would choose Him (and thereby elected them), or did it mean that God foreordained the elect to salvation unconditionally? Then, in one of my first couple years there, Kevin T. Bauder taught in a break-out at a Foundation Conference (straight from his theology notes, I would late find out) outlining different approaches to the question of God’s sovereignty in salvation. He argued (if memory serves) from Romans 8 that foreknowledge had to mean foreordain. He also said that Calvinists were, as he called it, the true “Compatibilists.” That is, Calvinists recognized that God was independently sovereign and that man had real responsibility for his actions. This was helpful for me and my thinking. One should not underestimate the influence of other seminary students around me. Calvinism was a strong presence among the CBTS M.Div. students in the early part of this decade.

Sometime in the midst of this I further observed that the Peter not only said that the murder of the Son of God for our salvation was “foreknown” by God (προεγνωσμενου μεν προ καταβολης κοσμου, 1 Pet 1:20), but that believers were also “foreknown” (κατα προγνωσιν θεου, 1 Pet 1:2). This helped further confirm that foreknowledge did mean, in fact, foreordain. Certainly Christ’s death was more than merely “foreseen” by God–it was eternal decreed before the foundation of the world. If the same word was used of the foreknowledge of the elect, I could not object that “foreknow” meant merely “foresee.” It was not long after all this that I accepted that it was a matter of theological transparency and integrity to call myself “Calvinist.” (My point here is not offer a defense of unconditional election and the other tenants of Calvinism, but merely to point out some of the arguments that, as I recall, were especially influential in moving me more towards the doctrines of grace.)

Later, after I had become a Calvinist, I began reading and listening to John Piper. But I would rank other factors as far more influential in my turning toward these doctrines: 1) my own study of the Bible, 2) my training in fundamentalist institutions (not just seminary), 3) the influence of C. H. Spurgeon, and 4) the influence of Calvinist friends. I should also note that I am extremely skeptical of the recent “faddishness” of Reformation theology. When a pastor or believer’s theology is the result of a fad, it should be the cause for significant alarm, even if that theology is correct.

My main point with this post has not been to argue for Calvinism, but to show that not every Calvinistic “young fundamentalist” became a Calvinist because of Piper or MacArthur or Dever or Mahaney. Although generalities can at times be helpful, they should always be used with caution and restraint. If anything, perhaps we can learn from my little narrative that if one wants to try to argue against Calvinism with “young fundamentalists,” one is going to have to do a lot more than throw grenades at these men and their ministries. The counter argument will need to be both biblical and theological.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2009 12:08 am

    Ryan, I have no doubt that many come to a Calvinistic point of view via the avenues you mentioned. But I do recall Dever listing “the top 10 reasons” (or something like that) for the rise in Calvinism. One of the 10 he listed was Piper, so he is undoubtedly a huge factor for many.

    With respect to foreknow = foreordain, there are two problems with the view that have never been answered to my satisfaction. 1. God clearly foreknows ALL things. If foreknow = foreordain, how do you escape fatalism? 2. Rm 8.29 uses both foreknow and foreordain (predestinate) as if they are two separate ideas. If foreknow = foreordain, did God stutter in that verse? (For those whom he foreknew [foreordained] he also predestined [foreordained]…)

    For those reasons, I don’t think Calvinism adequately answers the questions posed by the revelation.

    I am not absolutely certain that we have any revealed answers to these questions, so I am not dogmatic at all here.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. R.C. permalink
    June 2, 2009 6:32 am

    Ryan,

    Great post. My own journey to a calvinistic soteriology was begun by studying Scripture, the influence of Doran and McCune, and reading John Frame (somewhat in that order, though it all happened roughly at the same time). This whole latest thing has been disappointing, as if a whole younger generation has mindlessly followed a few popular writers. It could never be that we have found these truths in God’s word and want to be “men of the book.”

  3. Tom permalink
    June 2, 2009 8:36 am

    My journey to the Doctrines of Grace began when I determined to find out who did what in my salvation. Was it what I did or was it what God did or a combination of both. In my study, I came across Michael Horton’s book, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. That book along with scripture convinced me of the Doctrines of Grace. I was in my late 40’s at the time and am thankful that God opened my eyes to His wondrous grace.

  4. Pastor Tim Barr permalink
    June 2, 2009 10:57 am

    Ryan,

    I appreciated your post. As you know, we attended both Northland and Central Seminary at about the same time. I was first exposed to the doctrines of grace as a senior at Northland by a faculty member. Once he realized that I was headed to seminary and that the only exposure I had connected with on these issues was the statement that they were “irreconcilable realities,” he encouraged me to read The Five Point of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented by Steele, Thomas, and Quinn. He spent time with me as I read the book and encouraged me to avoid the notion of limited atonement while seriously considering the other four points. At Central Seminary, I was exposed further to Calvinism. I was expected to articulate and interact with various models for Arminianism and the 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP). I can honestly say that I did not read Piper, MacArthur, Dever, or Mahaney on these topics until after seminary. Thus, my experience is similar to yours.

  5. June 2, 2009 1:10 pm

    Thanks be to God for leading you to the Doctrines of Grace.

    My own journey began just a half step after my father’s. He introduced me to R. C. Sproul, to whom I am forever indebted for his series on predestination. Then I discovered Piper.

    As I preached through Romans 9 this winter, Piper’s book, The Justification of God, was a priceless aid. Have you read it?

  6. Joshua Caucutt permalink
    June 2, 2009 1:51 pm

    Ryan, your story greatly resembles my own path to 4.5ish Calvinism. I was a Calvinist long before I ever heard of John Piper or even knew that John MacArthur was a Calvinist. Enjoyed this post.

  7. a helmet permalink
    June 2, 2009 4:21 pm

    Hello Don Johnson,


    Rom 8.29 uses both foreknow and foreordain (predestinate) as if they are two separate ideas. If foreknow = foreordain, did God stutter in that verse? (For those whom he foreknew [foreordained] he also predestined [foreordained]…)

    That’s an interesting point. Calvinsts will usually say that “foreknew” means the mere election of persons and “predestined” refers to the goal, that is, “to be conformed to the image of His son” and hence refers to the “WHAT” about predestination. What are they predestined TO? To be conformed to the image of Christ. On the other hand, “foreknew” refers to the “WHO?” Who is elected in the first place.

    So that would be the common reformed answer to your question. However, this is problematic. In Eph 1 it says “he chose us IN HIM”. In other words, the election (“foreknew”) is already contingent on being IN Christ and strictly connected with Christ. There is no respect of persons whatsoever OUTSIDE of Christ that shall BECOME “in Christ”. There is no election outside of Christ.

    Thus, what you are saying about the two seperate ideas is comprehensible and Calvinism doesn’t answer this adequately.

  8. June 2, 2009 11:27 pm

    My path was slightly different. Mine started as I preached through Romans. When I got to Romans 8:29, I delayed preaching it for 6 weeks. It didnt mean what I was always told it meant. It was my “downfall” I used a variety of commentaries as i studied. The funny thing is many of the ones I used had a Calvinist bent but they were recomended to me by non-calvinists! Even Matthew Henry was a strong Calvinist! I had read very little of McArthur at this point and I had never heard of Piper, or Dever or Mahaney for that matter.

  9. aborrowedlight permalink
    June 3, 2009 12:50 am

    Ryan,

    Great thots. It seemed most convincing to me from the beginning of my whole shift from Arminian thinking to Reformed theology that most incontrovertible is the reality that Soli Deo Gloria. Salvation can only be of God for it is fully from God and He alone must recieve all its glory from its beginning to its ending.

    thanks,
    Mark O
    aborrowedlight.wordpress.com

  10. June 3, 2009 11:06 am

    Don asks:

    1. God clearly foreknows ALL things. If foreknow = foreordain, how do you escape fatalism?

    (Fred) Because fatalism has no purpose. Things happen because they happen. Foreordination has a purpose: the glory of God in all things.

    2. Rm 8.29 uses both foreknow and foreordain (predestinate) as if they are two separate ideas. If foreknow = foreordain, did God stutter in that verse? (For those whom he foreknew [foreordained] he also predestined [foreordained]…)

    (Fred) I am a tad baffled by this objection. Foreknow has to do with God’s omniscience, knowing all things, past, present, future. But those events that God foreknows was not knowledge he had to learn, the error of open theism. Thus, any thing he foreknows will be foreordained.

    God knows and ordains all things, but all things that come to past have means God has established. That would be the predestination. The idea being how God maps out the entire whole of all events as they transpire in time to accomplish what He foreknows. So even though they are separate concepts, foreordination and predestination are very much related.

  11. June 3, 2009 11:37 am

    Fred, with all due respect, I don’t think you understand what fatalism is.

    I’m not going to get into a debate here, it’s not the purpose of this post. But I will point out that you haven’t answered the objection. If foreknow = foreordain, why is one word or the other necessary in Rm 8.29? One of them is redundant if they mean the same thing.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  12. June 3, 2009 12:07 pm

    Well Don, fatalism as I have always understood the standard definition is the inevitable subjugation of all actions and events to fate or some sort of predetermination. But, that subjugation “just is,” meaning it has no specific purpose, just that the events and actions will happen because they will happen. Christian predestination has a purpose in the end, the glory of God. Fatalism doesn’t care to fulfill any purpose. Perhaps you can explain to me how in your thinking fatalism and predestination are different or related.

    As to Romans 8:29, foreknowledge and predestination are separate but related. I am not sure you followed my break down, which could be my fault. God foreknows all things, but all things God foreknows have to be foreordained, or most certainly come to past, or you risk embracing open theism, the idea God has to gather information outside His knowledge and then plan according to that learned information. But Christian theology affirms that God knows all things, so there is nothing that exists that He does not know. To affirm God foreknowing must entail His foreordination as well.

    Predestination is the outworking of those foreknown things that God has foreordained. As illustration: I have foreordained (from a limited human perspective) the things I will accomplish today. I predetermine the courses I will take in order to accomplish what I have foreordained. God has ordained your salvation, an ordination based upon what He foreknew in his infinite knowledge. God predestined the events, actions, decisions, that would result in you coming to salvation, as well as work out your sanctification, that will fulfill your glorification as God has foreordained. That is the whole point of the chain of redemption as outlined in Romans 8:29 and following.

  13. Greg Long permalink
    June 3, 2009 12:08 pm

    Ryan, thanks for this article.

    I was amused by your description of yourself as a “4.5ish Calvinist.” I have called myself something quite similar, so it’s good to know there are others out there!

  14. Don Johnson permalink
    June 3, 2009 1:02 pm

    The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition of fatalism:

    “The doctrine that all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable.”

    The problem with foreknow = foreordain is that every event, not just the events of salvation, but every event is known by God. Hence, it seems impossible to escape fatalism if you accept this doctrine.

    My point on Rm 8.29 is that if the two terms are different, your understanding if foreknow is wrong, it doesn’t equal foreordain. (That is, to quote a phrase, things that are different are not the same.) If the two terms aren’t different, i.e. foreordain = foreknow, then the two terms are identical and one of them is redundant in the verse.

    I don’t know of any alternatives to that. Either way, the foreknow = foreordain view has a problem.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. June 3, 2009 2:42 pm

    That’s is a standard definition of fatalism, but again, the unalterable events in fatalism have no purpose. God determining everything has a purpose, to glorify Him. That is what Paul’s sister passage on election states in Ephesians 1.

    As for God foreknowing, all things God foreknows must be foreordained, for there is nothing that exists outside of His knowledge. Where I understood you saying a redundancy exists is with the concept of foreknowledge/foreordaining with predestination. Those two concepts are not one and the same. Like I stated up above, predestination are the marked out plans that bring God’s foreknowledge to pass. That would include all historical events as well as just salvation.

  16. June 3, 2009 5:31 pm

    Fred, fatalism is fatalism, purposive or not.

    I think we are seriously talking past one another. Part of the problem, I think, is that you are clinging to the idea of “predestination” as being something other than “foreordination”. They are one and the same thing. The Greek word is proorizw, to order beforehand, to arrange beforehand, to ordain.

    So on the one hand, you keep saying “foreknowledge = foreordination” and then you try to say “foreordination DOES NOT EQUAL predestination”. If you want to rest on that argument, your language means what you want it to mean, not what it actually means. (The Humpty Dumpty approach, “Words me what I want them to mean.”)

    You really can’t have it both ways. Either foreknowledge = foreordination, in which case you have a redundancy in Rm 8.29 or else foreknowledge DOES NOT EQUAL foreordination (predestination), in which case your basic premise fails.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. June 3, 2009 6:01 pm

    fatalism is fatalism, purposive or not.

    (Fred) Perhaps in your mind, but the standard definition of fatalism has fatalism having no purpose. Predestination has an end, the glory of God. I can’t see how you can get around the meaning of the text where this subject is discussed.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that you are clinging to the idea of “predestination” as being something other than “foreordination”. They are one and the same thing. The Greek word is proorizw, to order beforehand, to arrange beforehand, to ordain.

    (Fred) I can see that. I apologize for the confusion. I am thinking in broader, theological terms. However, here in Romans 8, there still is not a redundancy, because foreknowledge speaks to all of what God’s knowledge entails. In the context of Romans, foreknowledge speaks more to God’s elective decree upon those whom He has chosen to love savingly. I don’t have my Greek text with me because I am away from my library, but if my memory serves me correctly from the past times I have taught this, there is a similarity in grammar with Acts 2:23 where Peter states how God delivered Jesus according to his predetermined counsel and foreknowledge. The two terms are equated, because they are similar in the scope of what they present. So rather than being an unnecessary redundancy, they supplement each other in their description of God’s eternal decree working themselves out in time. Foreknowledge begets predestination which are the means to fulfill the foreknowledge of God.

  18. June 3, 2009 6:17 pm

    Don,

    With respect, I didn’t answer your original “silver bullet” questions because I anticipated exactly this response. It’s not that Calvinists have not offered answers to your questions; it’s that you just don’t accept them.

    There are certain distinctions between the definition of “fatalism” you offered from your own dictionary and the definition of foreordination here offered by Mr. Butler. There is nothing blind or happen-chance about God decreeing all things that are. And Scripture reveals Him doing exactly that. If God knows in any sense before man actually acts, can man act in any other way? And if that act is in some inscrutable sense temporally prior (i.e., the prefix fore- assumes this), and God knows that it happens beforehand, how is man able to do anything other than what God already knows that he will do beforehand? If foreknow does not mean foreordain, how do you explain God’s independence and sovereignty? If foreknow does not mean foreordain, in what sense did God foreknow his Son’s death? Was it not by decree? Or did he just see that that was going to end up happening? Did not God, in foreseeing the death of the Son, plan definitely beforehand that he would thereby provide salvation for his people? If the same word is used of us, those whom he foreknew, what makes you believe that it now means something different?

    And why ever would the authors of Scripture tell us that we were foreknown if it merely meant that God foresaw our own choice? What kind of blessed title is that? “You’re blessed, you’re foreknown–God always knew you would chose him.” This is hardly comforting or assuring!

    Mr. Butler has also offered you a distinction between foreknow and predestine: “Predestination is the outworking of those foreknown things that God has foreordained.” But again, you merely say that he is offering a tautology. To insist that the working out of the foreknowledge is the foreknowledge itself is not saying that they are same thing. Romans 8:29 teaches that the ones God foreknown, or lovingly chose and ordained to be His, he predetermined would be conformed to the image of Christ. These two verbs are emphasizing two different aspects of God’s sovereignly gracious work in believers. The first (προεγνω) emphasizes the choosing and electing, the second (προωρισεν) emphasizes the assured outcome of that choosing: conforming to the image of Christ. And, really, if either one refers to any assured result predetermined in any way by God, the “freedom” of men is on very shaky ground.

    That is my first and final word on the subject in this thread.

  19. June 3, 2009 10:24 pm

    Thank you, Ryan and Mr. Butler. Spurgeon was a big influence for me, as well. This, in spite of a few people who claimed to me that Spurgeon was not a Calvinist. For a time, I was in the company of those for whom “Calvinist” was an epithet, and I joined with these sincere brethren. But then, I began re-reading some of my sermons from when we lived in Iowa. There, I re-discovered the texts and my younger self where I clearly articulated four of the five tenets of TULIP. At both times, I had neither heard of Piper nor Dever.

    Later, God showed me the amazing grace of election in Ephesians, in Peter’s writings, in Acts 4:23-31, and throughout both Old and New Testaments.

    Three other people had some influence in directing me toward a Biblical view of our glorious, sovereign God. I learned from two former professors, one at FBBC, one formerly of DBBC, and a past president of Faith Baptist Bible College, Dr. David Nettleton. Nettleton’s book, “Chosen to Salvation”, is an excellent read on the topic, both in its clarity and its charity, especially considering the era in the GARBC from whence it sprang.

  20. Don Johnson permalink
    June 3, 2009 11:17 pm

    Hi Ryan and Fred

    Well, as usual this kind of discussion reaches an impasse. It happens every time. It must be foreordained!

    Ryan, my comments to begin with directly responded to your statement in the original post: “He argued (if memory serves) from Romans 8 that foreknowledge had to mean foreordain.” You stated this as one of the essential points you came to in order to adopt a Calvinistic viewpoint. In responding, I was pointing out reasons why, for me, this is one of the essential points that make it clear Calvinism is impossible.

    We could go on back and forth, but I am sure none of us needs to. It seems to me that one of the fundamental propositions of Calvinism is that “to foreknow” = “to foreordain”, but that has serious attendant problems none of you have addressed. You are attempting to escape the meaninglessness of fatalism by substituting divine purpose. I don’t see how that succeeds, and certainly don’t see how ordained acts bring glory to God.

    The other serious problem you have is Rm 8.29. You keep insisting that foreknow = foreordain, but then you say that in this verse predestinate (foreordain) is something different from foreknow. So you want to have it both ways. The answers you offer just aren’t convincing.

    Regardless, I don’t have to have agreement with someone on this in order to fellowship. If someone wants to make it a constant hobby horse and insist all others agree, then we would have problems. But as it is, we can leave it be and agree to disagree.

    Maranatha,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  21. June 5, 2009 11:37 pm

    Ryan,

    Thanks for writing the article. A quick reflection from the pool side and the comfort of my lawn chair. My own experience is almost the same as yours. I became convinced of 4.5 view because of the Scriptures at about 15. Then I read Calvin and Arthur Pink at 16. I became a 6 pointer (not to worry…my time with “Supra-dupra lapsarianism” didn’t last long). I listened to Mac and liked him because he agreed with me, (Sure that’s odd at 16 but that was the case for me) not the other way around. Same thing eventually with Piper. This idea that guys have become Calvinistic because of men is an odd view. How do you explain that when most of these young fundamentalist grew up under preachers who were not Calvinist(ic)? If they were simply “man-followers” they would have thrown out Mac!

    The only things that Cons. Evang. like Mac have done is expound the Scriptures…..and the Scriptures (not Mac) convince us of truth. By the way unfortuntatly too many of even the “good guys” within Type A fundamentalism back in the 70’s and 80’s simply were not as careful with the exposition of the text. Oh yeah….and what did the young fundamentalists who appreciated the fact that the “Mac’s” of the world where careful with the text of Scripture see that the Type A’s said about Mac…..We saw that the Type A’s passed resolutions against Mac…..” One of the Type A fundy leaders went around preaching to anyone who would listen that Mac and men like him were “enemies of the cross.” Uh….it’s amazing Type A fundamentalism didn’t loose more leaders than they did in those days!

    One more thought about those “anti-Mac” resolutions….the men writing the resolutions where too often not even close in their care with the text as Mac and friends. The fact that hundreds, perhaps thousands of young fundamentalist leaders today have been blessed and are now open to both the “Mac” side of the isle as well as the fund side is because they see spiritual health on both sides….in some settings even more health with the Type C’s then the Type A’s.

    Back to the point…..eventually in my 20’s I fell to the 4.5 view. No one’s perfect! If Mac taught something other than a consistent view of Scripture, my guess is most of us wouldn’t care for his ministry.

    Don, Ryan and the others have already answerd you well. Just an added thought. If God has determined what will happen, that determinism is sealed! You add nothing or take away nothing from the will of God (Eccl 3). There simply cannot be a pure contengency. You can call it fatalism if you want. Most of us just see it as God who has a fixed will and will not be moved. And for the lost who are not elect and refuse to respond to God in faith and repentence, you bet it’s fatal!

    I think that’s the point Ryan was making in the Romans passage. I don’t see how God is in trouble here. He does all things well…..including redeeming and damning. It’s all good because it’s all God.

    Straight Ahead!

    jt

    ps – Ryan forgive the extensive rambling over here. I’ll wander back over to SI or neofundamentalist with “the cause.” Thanks for your patience…..Blessings on you……Shalom and all that!

  22. davenporter permalink
    June 8, 2009 11:53 pm

    I’m a student in Washington state, originally from Seattle, and I can definitely say that curiosity over what Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Seattle was talking about led me to the point of questioning Calvinism and whether it was an accurate interpretation of Biblical truth. Driscoll led to Piper, and I joined an Acts 29 church up here where I’ve been learning a lot about Calvinism through the Men’s study at the church, through watching Piper’s TULIP series, through reading a biography of John Calvin, and other means.

    I think that your disdain for the “recent faddishness of Reformation theology” is directed at people like me, young 21-year-olds who are easily excited by theology, and I realize that’s not necessarily an attack on me, but I’d really like to hear where you’re going with that and what your issues are with people like Mark Driscoll (if that’s who you’re talking about… which I’m guessing you are).

  23. June 9, 2009 11:49 am

    Davenporter,

    Thank you for your good faith comments (especially considering your suspicion that I was attacking young men like yourself). I am not sure I had Driscoll too much in mind, nor did I intend to criticize those who delight in theology. My main criticism would be against any (be they young or old) who are so keen on fads that even their preferred theology is colored by such. Christianity is not a religion of momentariness, and fads by their essence are fleeting, vain, and momentary. Much of contemporary Christianity is a feverish struggle to present itself to the world as hip, trendy and cool. God is anything but these. Our religion and our theology must be built to last, and when someone embraces a system of faith because he or she perceives it to be hip (even if this is a tertiary reason for doing so), it places the system on the most unsolid ground. That is, what happens when Calvinism isn’t cool anymore? What happens when “God” isn’t cool anymore?

    As far as Driscoll himself, I have addressed my concerns with him in the past.

  24. June 9, 2009 12:41 pm

    Thanks for the response. Your words ring true – our culture today is all about entertainment – in church, in TV, on the internet. And it’s pretty “hip” today to watch a Mars Hill sermon because of Mark’s humor, and you even feel good about it too, like you didn’t waste your time, since it’s a “churchy” activity. Which isn’t necessarily a good motivation, but I’d say that it’s better to have your attention drawn to Jesus, even if it’s through someone like Mark Driscoll, than doing many other things that our culture draws us to.

    God uses all sorts of foolishness to draw people to Himself and to a knowledge of the truth. Of course we should strive for maturity, but rest in the knowledge that in spite of my utter incapacity to do anything good in and of myself, God will do good through me as I’m trusting and growing in Him.

    So I’m glad that, even if my motives that led me to Calvinism weren’t purely to interpret the Bible well and know the true God– even if I was partially looking for entertainment or good friends to hang out and have a fun time with, I’m glad that I was drawn to Calvinist theology because it has given me a much better picture of God than I’ve ever had before in my life.

    In my social circles here, I’m involved in an Assemblies of God campus fellowship, so it’s not popular to be a Calvinist there. But what about when I go to seminary at Westminster or Covenant? Then I’ll be in the “cool” circle because I’ll have the 5-point theology they’re looking for. I’ve got to remember that it’s about Jesus and not about how cool we are because we agree on everything and we’re 100% right about theology… I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of pride that might make even John Piper yell at me. So thanks for your exhortation – it’s something I need to be thinking about.

  25. Chris Ames permalink
    June 10, 2009 10:28 pm

    Ryan,

    +1 for the 4.5 pointers. I think we could field a track team or something.

    Your journey is similar to mine. I had not heard of Piper yet and was only familiar with MacArthur’s work on the charismatic movement. I read Romans 9 and got really upset, and the rest is just little providential details.

  26. Van permalink
    June 11, 2009 3:14 pm

    Ditto on Ryan and Chris . . . I came by my Calvinism by reading Spurgeon’s autobiography and comparing it to passages in Romans and Ephesians. All this happened in my junior year of high school. MacArthur was still a young man (40-50) back then, but I rarely listened to him.

    Little did I know then, as I do now, the sense that predestination implied when compared against the late medieval discussions about omniscience, aseity, contingency, and voluntarism.

  27. Micah permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:01 pm

    Ryan

    I’m always excited to hear stories about how God has opened His people’s minds and hearts to His truths and attributes. For me my journey was influenced by my father, Pink, Tozier, Spurgeon, as well as Piper and Washer. Probably Washer’s “shocking message” was the first thing that awoken me, so to speak, and subsequently became hungry for more like him. At the time, I didn’t even realize he was a Calvinist and it was the preaching of all these men that allowed me to kind of “back in” to Calvinism. I, like you, didn’t want to be called a Calvinist, until I realized that it merely saved time to concede that I was indeed a Calvinist.

    The real reason for my post is to take issue with your (and a few of the others on this board) attitude towards “younger fundamentalists”, specifically Piper/MacAurthur/Keller/Mahaney, for lack of a better term, fans. You stated that their ministries are theological fads (faddishness, I believe you called it) yet in the same breath cede that they preach a true gospel. You have this theological snobbery aura about you that is really disheartening; as if someone who came to the doctrines of grace by way of Piper or the like is some how inferior to the way in which you came to believe in the doctrines of grace.

    I assume that the reason you’ve made the distinction is because there are possibly unregenerate people following the ministries of popular Calvinistic preachers, because they’re just that, popular. But we’re always going to be having those in the church that “were not of us”, whether it’s Bethlehem Baptist or the presbyterian church down the street with 50 members.

    I don’t doubt that you esteem the men you spoke about, but you should not minimize the wonderful and powerful ways God has used these ministries to change lives and hearts. You say that Spurgeon was a major influence on you, and I have no doubt that in Spurgeon’s day there was a “faddishness” (note I don’t like that term) to his ministry as well.

    Also, even more upsetting to me than the attitude that your are portraying is this statement:

    “When a pastor or believer’s theology is the result of a fad, it should be the cause for significant alarm, even if that theology is correct.”

    Question: If the gospel is the apex of theology and you have correct theology and thus a correct view of the gospel, then didn’t you just call the gospel a fad? (I’m sure you can find a way to wiggle out of that one, but I just want to encourage you to be very careful about how you speak)

    Was the protestant reformation a fad? When/how do you determine that the gospel message is only superficially reaching the masses or God is doing a major work in our lifetime?

    I hope you don’t feel like I’m trying to just beat you up here. Like I said earlier, I rejoice to hear of the work God is doing in our generation (and the next) and I want to encourage you to do the same. Please try and be more graceous and patient with those who are possibly not as knowledgable or mature as yourself, as I’m sure our saviour has been with you.

    God Bless,

    Micah

  28. November 12, 2009 9:37 pm

    Micah,

    I think (and hope) this may be nothing more than a misunderstanding. This post was in response to a charge made by a “fundamentalist” (and, by “fundamentalist,” I mean those who literally go by “fundamentalist”). The charge being made was that it was because of the popularity of the ministries of these men (who are not “fundamentalists”) that young “fundamentalists” were becoming Calvinists. I was trying to show in this post that this was not always the case. There is certainly nothing wrong if a young believer becomes a Calvinist because of the teaching of these men. I was simply trying to show that this generalization was not always correct. In other words, the context of the post is important; I’m not sure you were aware of it; perhaps that helps.

    Nor I am not saying that the ministries of these men are fads purely and simply. And certainly the gospel is not a fad. A fad is a “temporary fashion or notion.” The draw of a fad is based on its popularity, though fleeting. The draw of a fad, if anything, is not spiritual. But even the draw of good things (not the things themselves) can become “contaminated” by faddishness. People desire it, not for the thing itself and the spiritual (or otherwise) virtue it contains, but because it appears to them that others are latching onto it, and they desire to be a part of the group. And I have noticed is that in some respects there has been elements of this kind of draw among these ministries. Even in saying this, however, I would not go so far as to say that if the so-called “faddishness” is a factor in drawing these young men that it completely annuls any spiritual benefit for them. Nor does it disqualify their Calvinism. It does, however, make the strength of their commitment to Calvinism suspect, if, for no other reason, I would suspect that Calvinism will become “un-popular” at some point and time. The fleeting appeal will wane. In other words, if their confession of the “Calvinistic” doctrines is based on the popularity of the doctrines, one can’t but wonder what will happen if or when Calvinism becomes unpopular.

    In other words, if we latch onto an otherwise good thing simply because it is popular, we are only setting ourselves up for disaster. If anything, our commitment to any doctrine or moral principle should be because of the unending truthfulness of it, not because it is popular or unpopular. Theology should be (as much as is possible) built on an unshakable and permanent foundation, not the whims of the vain age in which we live.

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