Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calvinist No More

In 2004, a pastor friend of mine introduced me to a Minnesota preacher named John Piper. He gave me a book entitled, "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals." As I read that book I was blown away with his candor and a perspective which I had never been exposed. I soon bought other Piper books and devoured them. The message I was hearing from Piper was that glorifying God was our main purpose in life. As a Christian for over 40 years, an ordained deacon for over 20 years, and a pastor more 6 years at the time, I had never noticed this teaching. That is not to say that the churches in which I grew up and the seminary in which I attended did not teach to glorify God above all things; it's just that if they did teach it, I had never noticed it before. Piper also had a way of describing the beauty of God in a way that touched my heart as it had never been touched before. To me, this was new, exciting stuff. My pastor friend invited me to go with him to hear John Piper speak at The Cove in Asheville, NC. For three days I watched and listened to Piper as he described the glory of God with passion, sincerity, and vigor. I was captivated by such preaching. During the three days, Piper also spoke of his beliefs in Calvinism. I was taken aback by some of his Calvinist teaching, but I ended the conference with the attitude that I would investigate Calvinism and see for myself.

I proceeded to read every book on Calvinism that I could find. I read contemporary Calvinist authors such as Michael Horton, R. C. Sproul, Tim Keller, C. J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, as well as the old guard such as John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, A. W. Pink, J. I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and others. I learned that TULIP was the acronym used to describe Calvinist soteriological beliefs as follows:

T - total depravity
U - unconditional election
L - limited atonement
I - irresistible grace
P - perseverance of the saints

I found the Bible to be very clear on total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints. To me, the Bible was less clear about limited atonement and irresistible grace, but I accepted the explanations of the Calvinist authors about these doctrines. And so, in 2006, I began to self-identify as a Calvinist. I read nothing but Calvinist books by Calvinist authors. I used the Calvinist devotional, "Tabletalk," as part of my quiet time routine each day. I met with Calvinist pastors each month for Calvinist fellowship. I attended Calvinist conferences and wrote about and defended Calvinism on my blog. I was totally convinced that Calvinism was the correct view of soteriology.

But about one and half years ago, I began to have some doubts about Calvinism. My monthly meeting with Calvinist pastors began to evolve into a monthly meeting with Reformed pastors. I discovered that my Calvinist pastor friends were not just Calvinists but they were also Reformed Pastors. As I listened to them talk about being Reformed and what that meant in all areas of church life, my heart sank. What I was hearing was basically baptist presbyterianism. These conversations caused me to reexamine everything I had been learning about Calvinism. As I re-read my Calvinist books from Calvinist authors, I began to see that behind the Calvinism was more than just soteriological belief. There was a whole system of belief that affected ecclesiology, preaching, teaching, and daily living. In a word, it was Reformed. I had even self-identified as Reformed because I thought that was a less controversial word than Calvinist. But as I learned what Reformed truly meant, I knew that I was not Reformed. I blogged about this discovery in July, 2010 and met much resistance from Reformed commenters. But that was okay because I knew that I was righting a faith that had been shipwrecked on the rocky shore of Calvinism/Reformed belief.

I changed my reading habits. No longer was I reading Calvinist/Reformed authors and material, but I turned back to non-Calvinist Southern Baptist authors such as Henry Blackaby, L. R. Scarborough, W. A. Criswell, George Truett, John Broadus, Timothy George, David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, Herschel Hobbs, Tom Elliff, and others. I replaced my Reformed devotional reading with the Southern Baptist devotional "Open Windows." It was like opening the window to pure, sweet, fresh air.

Rather than be persuaded by the philosophical arguments of men on limited atonement and irresistible grace, I will stand on what I believe the Bible to teach about those beliefs. I do appreciate the things I have learned during my Calvinist journey. I am more aware of the total depravity of man. I believe completely in unconditional election and the perseverance of the saints. My point of view is, hopefully, more God-centered than man-centered. I seek to glorify God in everything I do. I am grateful to my Calvinist brothers and sisters for helping me understand these things better. It is my hope that we can all work together for the glory of God.

Thus, I am a Calvinist no more. God has led me safely through my journey in Calvinism back to my  Southern Baptist roots with a greater appreciation for His sovereignty and glory. It's good to be home.

23 comments:

Bart Barber said...

Les,

It has been, for me, a beneficial experience to appreciate Calvin and Calvinism, learn some things from the great thinkers who have participated in this tradition, and yet acknowledge the weaknesses of the system as well. You may, perhaps, receive some criticism for this post. May this word of encouragement offset some of that.

Ed Goodman said...

Les,

I loved you as a Calvinist, and I will love as a non-Calvinist. It matters to me not so much where you fall on the theological spectrum (because both "sides" in the SBC have biblical validity), but that you exude the authentic peace that comes with abiding in intimacy with Christ. I'm glad you are experiencing that, brother!

Dave Miller said...

I'm still a Calvinist, but I sure don't feel like arguing about it like I used to.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Les,
Thanks for sharing your journey! I read every word (2x). I am sure your experience has brought a deeper depth to your teaching and preaching. While I am a non-Calvinist ... I can say that Calvinists & Calvinism has challenged me to be a better student of the Bible and theology.

Les, I would be interested in hearing in a future article(s) concerning your "turning points" back to a non-Calvinism position.

Blessings! <><Ron F. Hale

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

Thanks for the encouragement. If I was afraid of criticism, then I would not blog. :)

Ed,

Love you, too, brother.

Dave,

I'm not trying to persuade anyone to be a Calvinist or non-Calvinist. I'm just telling my story.

Ron,

I'm not sure what you're looking for in another article. In paragraph 5, where it begins "But about one and half years ago," I'm explaining exactly that. Are you looking for something more detailed?

Les

Anonymous said...

Les,
In review, your points did touch on all the areas of interest, thanks! <><Ron Hale

Anonymous said...

Les,

I enjoy your blog. Could you explain what you mean by baptist presbyterianism? Thanks.

Les Puryear said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your question. I would appreciate if you would sign your name on your comments. Thanks.

Now to your question. What I mean by "baptist presbyterianism" is presbyterian ecclesiology with the substitution of believer's baptism for paedobaptism.

Hope that helps.

Les

Pastor Scott said...

Wow, Les!

I don't know whether to congratulate you or mourn for you. If you are giving up on the neo-Calvinism/Reformed movement (so-called) that, as you say, merely substitutes baptism for paedobaptism then I congratulate you. But if you are giving up on the doctrines of grace I mourn for you.

I gave up on the "Calvinism" a while ago and call myself a Sovereigntist thereby putting taking my eyes off me and Man and placing them on my God and King. And most recently, being impressed by John MacAthur (best grounded theologian/writer from any side of the argument) and his book 'Slave', I have realized I am His slave.

It seems perhaps you are on a different path than I am however. [don't take this the wrong way] I hope you continue to struggle.

In His Word,
Scott
Hebrews 10:19-20

justapilgrim said...

Les,

I adopted a new label to express where I fall in the spectrum; I am a Calvinist-sympathetic non-Calvinist.

I am perfectly fine in using the term mystery (I swear I heard John MacArthur use it as well!) to describe the "timeline" of regeneration and the concept of election.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you want to retain the focus on God's role in justification and sanctification. If we make much of Christ, we don't have to worry so much of making much of our man-centered methodologies.

That said, Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller will still be my models for Christ-centered preaching!

Les Puryear said...

Scott,

I am at peace with my view of soteriology. I never could say that as a Calvinist.

Justapilgrim,

Nice label. :)

Les

Tim G said...

Les,
I know you have studied and prayed on this. I always had a gut feeling you were heading in this direction. I will pray for continued clarity.

Jim Roebuck said...

I'm glad to see your change in theology. Calvinism is a man made system that gives its purveyors a sense of smugness that is unsettling. They seem to view non-Calvinists as "ignorant", and beneath them theologically. At least that's been my experience with the "sons of Calvin". As for me personally, I don't trust ANY theological stance that quotes & venerates men more than the Bible.

Pastor Scott said...

Les,
For the record, would you please describe your soteriology?

Thanks.

Les Puryear said...

Scott,

Sure. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Matt. 24:13; John 3:16-17; 10:9; Acts 2:21; 16:31; Rom. 10:9; 10:13.

Blessings,

Les

Pastor Jim said...

Now to start fixing your eschatology! :-)

On a serious note, I hope that none of our "systems" stay statically unchanged over the course of a lifetime of biblical study and sanctification. That's one of the reasons I rarely refer to theological works written by young men.

I thank God for the grace and humility He has given you to be transparent in your growth and not be an arrogant slave to your system.

Baptist Theologian said...

Thank you for sharing this journey.

Joe White... said...

Les,

Thanks for sharing your journey.

I know some are saying they are not surprised, but truthfully, I am. Having interacted with you here in the past on posts concerning Calvinism, you always seemed convinced to me.

Pray for me brother. I feel that I am on a similar journey concerning the "Pre-Trib Rapture". After being introduced to Historic Premillennialism on this blog, and reading the section on Eschatology in "A Theology for the Church" and listening to Russ Moore and reading his blog... let's just say I have considerable reservations. (:
Matthew 24:29 and 30 have rocked my Pre-Trib world. I am not ready to forsake the teaching just yet, but I have a strong lean the opposite way.

Anyways, I am glad to read of this change... especially concerning the "L" of the TULIP.

Les Puryear said...

Joe,

Thanks for the comment. I am pleased that you are open to reexamining your eschatology. If my advocacy of historic premillenialism has helped you on that journey, then I praise God.

Les

Mark | hereiblog said...

Les,

What confuses me a little is the mention of W. A. Criswell, John Broadus and Timothy George, who as far as I know would be identified as Calvinists.

What would you say to a person who saw their Southern Baptist roots as having a Calvinistic theology?

Anonymous said...

Hi Les,

I hear a lot of people don't like the Limited Atonement point but do you see that all 5 points hang together? It is taught that you can't really be a 3pt Calvinist logically because all 5 points hang together. So how do you reconcile your 3 Calvinist points with the 2 Arminianist points and still make sense of your theology? I'm not writing at all as a criticism. I truly seek to understand because I used to be a 3 pointer and found I had to choose the 5 Calvinist or 5 Arminianist. I couldn't be half of each. Does this make sense? Thanks!

Jackie

Anonymous said...

Hi Folks, I believe the TULI hang together as a group, but the P can be viewed separately. Thus I can reject the TULI and still embrace once saved, always saved. The linchpin of course is whether we save ourselves, or whether God saves us monergistically. Since it is God who credits our faith as righteousness and places us spiritually "in Christ" we cannot undo His actions.

We are fallen but in our fallen condition are we able to understand some spiritual things, such as the milk of the gospel as men of flesh? Yes according to Paul who indicated men of flesh could indeed understand milk.

We we elected individually conditionally? Yes, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says we were chosen through faith in the truth. Therefore the election before creation, Ephesians 1:4, was corporate, He chose us corporately in Him, as a type, i.e. believers in Christ, then chose us individually during our lifetime based on crediting our faith as righteousness.

Christ died for all mankind, becoming the propitiation or means of salvation for the whole world.

The call of the gospel can be resisted or partially embraced or fully embraced. So cannot even hear the call, i.e. the first soil of Matthew 13.

In summary, the TULI are mistaken views of scripture, but are each partly valid.

janeb 0112 said...

I prayed for an answer about Calvinism and God made it very clear to me to not take that path. It was made very clear to me. The idea that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect and that He did not die for the sins of everyone who ever lived is not Biblical. The Bible is clear and simple about how to be saved, Calvinists muck it up. It's deceit.