The Accidental Calvinist

Oh, Calvinism—I don’t know if any doctrinal system has ignited more faith-feuds than this. Relationships have been fractured and churches have been split because believing men and women have allowed differing perspectives of God’s sovereignty to arouse the vilest parts of their sinful natures. Devilish pride and hellish rage have ravaged the hearts of Christians on all sides of this issue, dividing and sickening Christ’s beloved Body. It is for this reason that I have shied away from explicitly communicating my Calvinistic or Reformed (whatever you want to call it) theological position. I love the Church and have been fearful of causing unnecessary conflict within her—even among my little herd of faithful readers.

As I have tiptoed around the topic, I’ve told myself that God’s unrestricted control over all things (including salvation) is low on the totem pole of spiritual importance and not worthy of focused discussion. However, when I’m really honest with myself, I don’t believe that. The reality of God’s absolute sovereignty soaks the Scriptures from beginning to end. It’s not a peripheral theological matter; it shines unashamedly bright throughout the entirety of God’s Word. Additionally, the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty affects how I view everything in my day-to-day life. The way I pray, do my job, interact with other people, fight sin, and rest in Christ are all tremendously influenced by my belief that God is 100% sovereign 100% of the time.

Because of its undeniable clarity in the Scriptures and its comprehensive impact on the intellectually submissive Christian’s life, I am convinced that this Calvinism/Reformed Theology/Doctrines of Grace stuff is very much worthy of our attention, thought, and discussion.

Different people have different terminological preferences when it comes to describing this biblical system of belief. Though I once resisted the idea of calling myself a Calvinist, I now comfortably embrace the label. Am I “worshipping some man” or letting a fallible person—as opposed to the Bible—define my beliefs by doing so? No. I’m simply using the most concise descriptor to communicate what I believe the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty. In fact, I “accidentally” discovered and began to [reluctantly] embrace this theology long before I ever came across the scary C-word.

As a 6-month-old newbie in the faith, I had never heard of Calvinism or Reformed Theology or any of the other terms Christians have coined to describe the limitless extent of God’s authoritative control. I was simply reading my Bible and kept coming across texts like Exodus 9:12, Proverbs 21:1, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6, Daniel 4:34-35, John 6:65, John 15:16, Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-14, 1 Peter 1:1-3, Romans 9 (the entire chapter), and more. I wasn’t groomed by a specific denomination to read the Bible with sovereignty-sensitive lenses on. The truths were just there—in almost every Spirit-inspired book—staring me right in the face.

God controls the human heart.
God draws people to Jesus Christ.
God causes people to be born again.
God predestined some people to become his children.

This rattled me, as I was under the assumption that my conversion to Christianity had been a decision I made purely of my own volition. I mean, I did make a real, non-coerced choice to follow Jesus. That’s inarguably true. But what the Bible seemed to be saying was that God was wooing, influencing, and even changing me to ensure that I would make that choice. There was something—some effectual, divine work—taking place underneath my desires and decisions.

I didn’t know what to do with this, so I ran to my Christian friends for guidance. They initially told me not to worry about it, saying those passages in the Bible didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. My friends explained that some folks—pesky “Calvinists”—believed that God chooses certain people to be saved. However, such theology contradicts what we know to be true about man’s free will. “God is sovereign, but he doesn’t influence or interfere with our personal decisions,” they told me, “Our choices determine our destiny, not some ‘predetermined’ plan of God.” Because they were far more seasoned in spiritual matters than me, I decided to trust their perspective and lay my curiosities to rest.

For about three days.

I couldn’t read the Bible without being confronted by this stuff! I went back to one of my friends with Bible in tow and asked him to explain what these texts “really” mean. I didn’t get an explanation—he shut my Bible and slid it across the table back to me. He said God predestines no one, chooses no one, and persuades no one. God doesn’t decide who is or isn’t saved—salvation is a self-determined matter, hinging solely on our free choice to trust in Jesus. My friend then firmly instructed me to move on and stop thinking about this.

My pastor at the time seemed to share my friend’s perspective. In the weeks following, the doctrines of predestination and election were mentioned from the pulpit multiple times. Those who adhered to such teaching were portrayed as biblically ignorant menaces. This pastor’s fierce opposition to Calvinistic theology convinced me that these things I was seeing in the Bible couldn’t possibly mean what I thought them to mean.

So, for the next month, I read and listened to every anti-Calvinistic resource I could get my hands on. I was dead set on proving (mostly to myself) that God doesn’t predestine, elect, choose, or influence anyone to believe in Jesus. Another friend decided to join me in my endeavor, reading and listening just as fervently. One day, I came across a panel discussion entitled, “Election and Predestination: The Sovereignty of God in Salvation.” This obviously wasn’t the kind of anti-Calvinistic material I was searching for, but I decided to give it a listen. I had never heard of the panel participants—one of which was John MacArthur. I plugged in my headphones, ready to identify all the holes in their theology.

God had other plans.

Though I had predetermined to disprove these Calvinists, I unplugged my headphones with an acute awareness that these things about which the Bible spoke—predestination, election, God’s unrestricted sovereignty over all things—really meant what they seemed to mean. In the gut of my soul, I had known this to be true all along. Regardless of what my Christian friends and even my pastor at the time said, I couldn’t deny the plainness and clarity with which the Bible addressed this matter.

I text my friend/fellow researcher to inform her that I had just “accidentally” become a Calvinist. I expected her to be irritated with me and persuade me to keep digging for the truth. However, her response further convinced me that God was in total control of all things—even the little things—at all times:

“You’re not going to believe this, but the same thing just happened to me! I literally just finished listening to a sermon transcript of Charles Spurgeon’s, and I can no longer deny the fact that the Bible really does teach these things. God is sovereign over all things—including our salvation!”

God opened both of our minds to the stupendous reality of his unrestricted power and authority at exactly the same time. It was a revolutionary day for our faiths. God was big to us before—but now he was gargantuan. Our souls had rest before—but now the foundation of our peace was unshakeable. We had some level of confidence that we would persevere in the faith before—but now we knew with certainty that God would finish the work he began in us.

Why am I sharing this story with you guys? Because I know that some of you are reluctant, like I once was, to embrace a biblical perspective of God’s sovereignty. You struggle to understand how a loving God could choose to save some and not others. You find it hard to reconcile God’s righteousness with his willingness to allow so much evil to exist. You don’t understand how God can be in control of human choices and then judge some for not making the right choices. I get it! I still wrestle with these questions.

However, God doesn’t call us to fully understand him—he calls us to trust him. He requires us to wholeheartedly embrace every truth he has plainly revealed about himself—and his absolute sovereignty is one of the truths he has clearly and unashamedly communicated throughout the entirety of the Bible. God desires that you believe and be liberated by the truth that he ordains all things that come to pass. He desires that you believe and be liberated by the truth that he predestined you to salvation, called you to Christ, and will sustain you to glory. He desires that you believe and be liberated by the truth that he is sovereignly working all things—the good, the bad, and the ugly—for your highest good and deepest joy.

I want to invite you today to search the Scriptures, discerningly read through theological works, humbly listen to preachers who teach about God’s sovereignty, and pray for God to reveal this truth to your heart. God is unlimited and unrestricted in his sovereign control over all things, and resting in this biblical reality will enhance your faith in a million different ways—trust me. Below are a few resources that have greatly benefited me. I highly recommend you carefully consider their contents, if you so wish.

TULIP: John Piper (9 parts; this is the link to part 1)

Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility: C.H.Spurgeon

The Sovereignty of God: A.W. Pink

God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men: Jonathan Edwards

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