I grew up attending a Church of God of Prophecy in Sparta, TN with my parents and three sisters. My parents still attend Shiloh Church of God of Prophecy today. My dad is a deacon, and my mom has taught Sunday school and Children’s Church. It’s a small family church, made up of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other believers. I first heard God’s word and understood His grace and love for me in Christ at this church. Members of this small church loved me. Some of my fondest memories of observing the genuine constant repentance and faith in Christ of Christians originated here.
When I was fifteen years of age, I started attending another church, a Southern Baptist church with a friend. I publicly repented of my sin and trusted in Christ at a youth lock-in when I was 17 years of age. I had heard the gospel for years, but I had never grasped the concept of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. My good works could not save me. I needed God to save me. I surrendered to preach a year later when I was 18 years of age. This church put me through an internship, and they ordained me once another church was willing to call me into pastoral ministry in an official capacity.
When I was 20 years of age, I started my first paid pastoral ministry position. I was a part-time youth pastor. Unfortunately, I had not read a book to completion that can I remember, other than the Bible. I was against using commentaries in sermon preparation, for the Spirit would tell me what the text meant and I would give this truth to God’s people. These arrogant presuppositions were not helpful, but left me largely unteachable. Nevertheless, I was enamored with other preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention. My only understanding of Calvinism came from the negative sermons of Southern Baptist preachers. The result was not good. I understood a caricature of Calvinism instead of the doctrines of Grace as espoused by Calvinists. The result was tumultuous. At a low-point in my ministry, when I was 21 years of age and in my first full time youth pastor position in a Southern Baptist Church, with the pastor out of town I held an altar-call during morning worship to pray for the SBC because there was a heresy sweeping the convention. This heresy was called “Calvinism.” The altar was full of people praying. My diatribe against Calvinism continued as I wrote often on Baptist Fire, blasting Calvinists for their heresy. I was an Anti-Calvinist. Calvinists were anti-evangelism, fatalistic, deniers of free-will, blasphemers of God’s holiness, etc. Boy, was I wrong…
To make a long story short, there were several factors that made me repent of my Anti-Calvinism:
1) A friend was converted from a life of drugs and other forms of immorality to Christ when he was around 17 years of age. At the prodding of his non-Calvinist grandpa, he began reading and listening to John Macarthur. He adopted the five points of Calvinism, and we had many theological conversations discussing Reformed theology over several years. He pointed me to several verses that demanded contextual interpretation. At the very least, he showed me why Calvinists believed what they believed. Scripture was the reason. Thus, I had to rethink my caricature of Calvinism as heresy.
2) Around the same time, I was working on a B. A. in Biblical Studies at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary out of Newburgh, IN. There were several Calvinists that taught here, even though their President and Staff Evangelist were not Calvinists. We used the textbooks of Calvinists, and I heard the lectures of Calvinists. They taught me that God was 100% sovereign and man was 100% responsible. They explained why Calvinists believed their doctrines and why Arminians did as well. I learned, at least, that both groups were trying to understand and explain Scripture. Calvinists were not heretical, but historically orthodox and textual.
3) Around the same time, I was studying the Bible every day through devotion books. Since I was preparing sermons often and teaching Sunday school, I needed something short and refreshing for daily study for my relationship with the Lord. I was tired of the shallow devotions. I wanted something “deeper” that would make me think. I searched on Amazon, and John Piper’s devotions came up–A Godward Life and Pierced by the Word. I read some of the reviews, and I decided to buy some. I found Piper’s devotions very comforting and enjoyable. They helped to answer my own wrong-headed separation of the secular and the sacred in my daily life. He helped me to understand that savoring God is the reason humanity exists. Once again, I heard Calvinists in their own words, which made me repent of the heretical caricature I had placed in their mouths.
4) Around the same time, I was starting to minister as a youth pastor. Before I entered the ministry, I had the naive idea that all Christians would be happy to be involved in the Lord’s work. I was wrong. I found that many Christians often needed something more than God and Christ and the truth of Scripture to motivate them–like fun, games, food, excitement, and clicks. I found this reality discouraging, but eye-opening. Pragmatism was not only propagated in the church, but it was expected by the church. Yet, I found myself disagreeing with the methodology of those who shared my non-Calvinist soteriology. The Calvinists that I was reading and listening to at the time, however, agreed with me concerning methodology. Macarthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel was earth-shattering for me. He was arguing contextually what I believed and helping me to clarify my views on biblical methodology. How could a Calvinist–a fatalist–argue so strongly for the church’s responsibility? Yet again, I found the methodology of Calvinists to be more biblical than other non-Calvinists near me in the SBC (This largely isn’t the case today; Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike are pragmatic in the SBC today; and to be fair, many Calvinists and non-Calvinists are not pragmatic as well.).
5) Also at Trinity, I had a class on hermeneutics that changed my method for interpreting Scripture. Previously, I asked, “What does this text mean to me?” And, whatever the “Holy Spirit” gave me, was what I preached. My hermeneutics class helped me to rightly divide the word of truth. I needed to do much work before I jumped to my own thoughts about the text–like understanding the author’s meaning, his recipient’s understanding, the historical and literary contexts, and how to apply these truths to the lives of Christians today. The Holy Spirit was active in this process from beginning to end, but I must be in under the text, not forcing my opinions upon it. In reading Calvinists, they tried to understand and say what the text said. I also listened to John Macarthur’s sermons, Alistair Begg’s sermons, and the White Horse Inn many times in my early years of ministry. These three programs helped me to see historical-grammatical hermeneutics applied and appropriated in a manner that was faithful to Scripture. Yet, these men were all Calvinists. How could heretics be so textually sound?
To summarize, once I understood that Calvinists were merely arguing that salvation belongs to the Lord from beginning to end, that He provides all that He requires for salvation, I repented of my anti-Calvinism. I am no longer an anti-Calvinist. God is 100% sovereign and man is 100% responsible. Southern Baptists need to listen to Calvinists explain their positions before they place a “heretical caricature” in the mouths of Calvinists like I did. I am still against Hyper-Calvinism today, but so is every other Southern Baptist Calvinist I know. Hyper-Calvinism is not the Calvinism that primarily exists within the SBC. Calvinists in the SBC affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, after all.
I wonder if there are any Southern Baptists out there who are anti-Calvinists like I was. If you are a Southern Baptist anti-Calvinist, please listen to Calvinists in their own words before you condemn them for something they don’t believe. All Calvinists in the SBC affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and many of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were 5-point Calvinists. Let’s not put words in their mouths. Instead, let us seek to understand their position before we condemn them. Let’s converse and debate back and forth while realizing that this is a debate between brothers, not a debate between Southern Baptists and heretics. Praise the Lord!
What are your thoughts?