Written by: Dan Stump
Have you heard the term “Calvinism” before? I remember the first time I ever heard it. I was at a family gathering and overheard the last part of a conversation between a few relatives. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were talking about, but I sensed one relative wasn’t a fan of whatever this Calvinism was. I was in my late teens at this time and decided to explore it.
This will be the first in a series of posts where I want to share a bit of my exploration with you. Perhaps you have heard the term thrown around but don’t really know much about it. Maybe you have strong feelings about it one way or the other.
I want to write about my story and explain the theological distinctives of Calvinism, which I hope will both inform, and bring clarity to what these doctrines are.
When I began to look into Calvinism, named after the 16th century theologian John Calvin, I was far from a fan. In fact, I remember searching out all of the counter arguments against it. Since I was uncomfortable with these ideas, I wanted to know all the reasons why they were wrong. The problem for me was, as I read the counter arguments, I didn’t think they were all that compelling. The doctrines of Calvinism had definitely shifted my understanding of God, and I didn’t like that. It had pushed me out of my comfort zone in the way that I saw and interacted with God. But what if I wasn’t sold on the alternative? I decided to try my best to give an honest look at Calvinism. Is it what the Bible taught? If I felt it lined up with the Bible, I would wrestle with it, even if it was hard or out of my comfort zone.
What happened next was about an 8 year journey. It didn’t take long for me to see it in the Bible. Words like “election” and “predestination” had never really been explained to me. I was left to decide what they meant, and now I realized my understanding of these terms was quite a ways off. The problem was, even though I now believed these doctrines to be true and biblical, they had rocked my entire belief system. How I viewed God and related to him was different. How could I love a God who only chose some people to go to Heaven? I now understood the doctrines, (sometimes referred to as the Doctrines of Grace, and also known through the acronym TULIP, which we will explore in future posts) but I still didn’t like them. One thing I had done though is decide to wrestle with whatever I uncovered and believed to be true. It was time to wrestle.
It was probably 3-4 of years of struggle, where I would continue to press on and try to learn as much as I could. I didn’t feel particularly close to the Lord, but didn’t want to use that as an excuse to neglect what I now believed to be the truth. Over this time period I moved from believing these things to be true but not liking them, to slowly over time becoming okay with them. They were like a shirt given to you as a gift that you would never have chosen for yourself, but you still keep it in the rotation, and it grows on you. The closeness to the Lord was returning and I felt like I knew Him better, but I still hoped for more.
There was no specific moment that changed things for me. I continued just plugging away, reading the word, and walking with Jesus. But somehow I moved from being okay with the Doctrines of Grace, to loving them. The gifted shirt had become my favorite. It was a long struggle, which at times didn’t feel worth it, but in the end was the best thing. I wasn’t believing things without reason. I had grappled with ideas that I didn’t care for to start with, became convinced they were true, and had grown to love them. There was no “Aha!” moment. There was just a slow and steady plodding until I realized that these doctrines had become dear to me. I couldn’t imagine life without them.
Over a handful of posts, I want to unpack what these doctrines are. In the end you may not agree with them. You may see things differently than I do. That’s okay. Many dedicated Christians who love Jesus and his word, understand the Bible differently. We are all on the same team. I want you to come to this with an open mind and eager for the truth. The great G. K. Chesterton said,
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
If you come with an open mind, and are convinced that this is the truth of the Bible, grab hold and wrestle with these truths for as long as it takes for them to settle in your heart. I think you’ll be glad you did.