Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why I Became an Arminian

This is a personal post that deals with my journey as an Arminian.

I became a Christian at a young age. I remember going to a church service, being convicted of sin, and going down to the altar to pray with my dad. I asked Jesus to forgive me and to come into my heart. He did. I remember the experience. I felt forgiveness, peace, and the personal love of Jesus. This brought me great joy. I was around the age of 4 or 5 when this took place.

I grew up in a Christian family. My parents were committed church goers. If the church doors were open, we were there. My family attended the Nazarene church. Growing up, I did not realize that my denomination was "Arminian". But, I was learning Arminian concepts. John 3:16 was the first verse memorized. In Sunday school we sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children". I grew up believing that Jesus loves every person, that he wants each person to be saved, and that it is genuinely possible for anyone to become a believer. To this day, I believe that these distinctives are the heart of Arminian theology.

Until several years ago, I was largely ignorant of Calvinist theology. I knew that Calvinists placed a lot of importance on predestination. I also knew that they believed that a Christian could not lose his salvation. I thought that "eternal security" was the defining characteristic of Calvinism, thus, in my mind every Baptist was a Calvinist. I was blissfully unaware of the TULIP. I was also unaware of the Calvinistic concept of exhaustive determinism.

There were three events that piqued my interest in Calvinism. They all took place around the same time.

1) I attended Sunday school class where we went through a book by John Piper.
2) I started memorizing scripture, and ran into Romans 9.
3) My brother became a Calvinist, and began to try to convince me and other family members of its merits.

In the Sunday school class we studied the book "The Dangerous Duty of Delight" by John Piper. The discussions were lively. At the time I had never read Piper, and didn't know that he was a Calvinist. However, I knew that I didn't care for his book. Initially I couldn't put my finger on the reason why. In retrospect, I think it was my "stink detector" going off. I didn't really know what Calvinism was, but was still able to detect something amiss in Piper's writing.

To this day, I don't enjoy Piper's work. No doubt he is a godly man with spiritual insight. However, his deterministic theology is in focus in all of his writings. This turns me off. When I read his writings I know that he is using Biblical terms in a way that is quite different from the way I understand them, and the way they have usually been interpreted historically. As a result, I find it difficult to appreciate his work (As a side note, I don't find this to be true of all Calvinist authors.).

Around the same time as the Sunday school class, I began to memorize scripture. There was a man at our church who had memorized huge chunks of the Bible. He said that anyone could memorize large passages, and encouraged me to do so. I decided to give it a try. Over the course of several months I memorized Romans 8 and 12 - two of my favorite chapters. When I had 8 and 12 down, I decided to work on the chapters in between.

When I dug into Romans 9, it bothered me. What I read in Romans 9 did not sound like the God that I had heard about growing up, or had read about elsewhere in the Bible. A God who hates Esau before he was born? A God who hardens hearts, and creates objects of wrath? And to top it off, He tells us not to talk back and question his motives. What did this mean? What kind of God was this? Fortunately, I didn't start or stop at Romans 9 (as I fear many Calvinist "converts" do).

When I read Romans 10, it seemed to me to flat out contradict Romans 9. There I read that that the same Lord is Lord of all. He richly blesses all who call on him. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 9 created a lot cognitive dissonance for me. I didn't understand how it fit in with Romans 10, or with other passages that seemed to contradict it. As I began to research the issue, I found that there were some viable Arminan interpretations of Romans 9. They made a lot of sense to me. I now enjoy Romans 9. Understood in context, it is a refreshing passage (My thoughts on Romans 9 can be found here).

As they say, sometimes life happens in threes. Around the time these other events were going on, my brother became a Calvinist. At the time I was still unaware of the distinctives of Calvinism. I just figured that he had bought into the "eternal security" thing. This didn't really worry me. I had always respected my brother's views and insight. He was (and is) a kind, patient, and reflective person. If he thought eternal security was true, that was fine with me. Maybe it was true.

But, to be sure, I decided to read up on Calvinism - both pro and con. What I read about it bothered me. I discovered that there was much more to Calvinism than "eternal security". There was this thing called TULIP. TULIP contradicted what I knew to be true - that God loves the world (John 3:16), that Jesus died for all (1 Tim 2:4-6), and that God does not desire for anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:9). These were all biblical concepts that Calvinism rejected. I did not believe in a God who damned people before they were born for "His glory". It was at that time that I realized that Calvinism was more than simply a minor variance in theology.

When I read Calvinist authors, I did not find their criticisms of Arminianism to be accurate. They said things like: Arminians deny the sovereignty of God. Arminians believe in a works salvation. Arminians are man-centered. Arminians don't believe in the sinful nature. Arminians worship free will. Arminians are liberal. I knew from personal experience that none of these criticisms were legitimate (As a side note: Roger Olson's book addresses many of these myths.).

Later on my brother convinced my sister and her husband of the merits of Calvinism. Both of their families broke fellowship with the churches that they had been attending, and began attending Calvinist churches. Unfortunately theology is now a matter of division in our family. I have learned to agree to disagree with my brother. I have not discussed the issue much with my sister. We are neither likely to change opinions, and I feel that addressing the matter would only strain our relationship. To my brother and sister: if you happen to read this, I hope you both know that I love you dearly, and accept you as fellow believers.

I have found that my experiences are not unique. Calvinism is in a period of resurgence. Thankfully, there are many godly Calvinists who are followers of Jesus. My brother and sister are among them. However, I also believe that Calvinist theology damages the body of Christ. Calvinism is a distortion of the Gospel. It misrepresents the character of God. It is something that needs to be addressed, checked, and opposed. For this reason I am now dedicated to to promoting Arminian theology.


Jc_Freak: said...

Thank you for that excellent story. It gave a lot of insight into your motivations and convictions.

Pizza Man said...

Thanks Martin. Your recent post got the wheels spinning for me. :)

Crowm said...

'Perciate it Kevin.

I was raised in a Calvinist church and still have family members who are on the "other side".

They don't want to talk about the differences between Arminian/Calvin for some reason :)
I guess it seems safer that way.

Continuing to pray...

Renny said...

I am in the same point of research as you were in your years past. I was raised Arminian, but my interests piqued as well at certain aspects of Calvinistic theology. In studying more, I am leaning back towards my Arminian beliefs. Do you think Messianic Jews who are somewhat removed from this (I think) Arminian or Calvinists in theology?

Pizza Man said...

Thanks for your thoughts Mike.

Renny, thanks for stopping by. That's an interesting question about Messianic Jews. I don’t know what they think of the A/C issues. I would image though that Romans 9-11 would be of special interest to them.

Jnorm888 said...

Wow, thanks for writting this post. It was very personal and insightful.


Jnorm888 said...


Most Messianic Jews are either Southern Baptist or Assembly of God in ethos/Theology.

That's where most Messianic Jews come from.

There are Jews who are Prespyterian, but unlike their Southern Baptist and Assembly of God counter parts, they are not allowed to start their own churches/fellowships. So most Prespyterian Jews are no different from their Prespyterian counterparts.

There is one exception, but I forgot his name. He is seen as controversial in Reformed circles.

But most Messianic Jews are either Baptist or Assembly of God in essence.


Renny said...

Jnorm888, if thats the case then they would more like be included in the Arminian group since Assembly of God is Arminian and Southern Baptist though originally Calvinist in nature has in the last century leaned toward Arminian beliefs or a combination of both.

I was just trying to relate to denominations that try to connect to the more ancient.. to what theology the early fathers and jews suscribed to. I noticed on your blog that you converted to Eastern orthodox. My family actually comes from a Eastern orthodox background last with my great grandfather or so. On my moms side from a catholic background, but we are all pentecostal now. What sort of enlightenment or benefit have you gained upon becoming Eastern Orthodox? and What differences do you see from Roman Catholic or Protestant theology? I've done very little research on the subject so I am just wondering again.

Pizza Man said...

Thanks for the kind comments Jnorm.

Renny, have you read any of Thomas Oden's work? He's a big proponent of Classical Christianity, and also comes from a Wesleyan perspective.

Jnorm888 said...


My own personal experience maybe different from other peoples choices for going EO or Rome.

But it had alot to do with my dislike(at that time hatred) of Augustinianism and Calvinism(because my girlfriend/fiance at the time became a Calvinist...along with alot of my friends. (I don't hate Augustinianism and Calvinism anymore)

It also had alot to do with my high convictions of the Mysteries, what some call Sacraments. (I had a hard time taking communion at other places, my conscience just wouldn't let me)

It also had to do with how I understood the Doctrine of the Trinity. I knew that the way I understood it was Eastern, and I knew that alot of western Churches rejected the Eastern view.

And last but not least, I love Church History, and I love reading Patristic stuff. I'm not an oddball over I was when I was Protestant. But what kept me Protestant over the years was David Bercot. I use to follow him until his fellowship in Tyler Texas fell apart, and when he changed his mind on a few things, I got upset and stopped following him. Also when another movement (The convergence movement, mainly the Charismatic Episcopal Church) broke up, over a scandel they had some two years ago.......that was the last straw, and so I started visiting an Antiochian Orthodox Church, and some months after that, I left the Episcopal Church I was in to become Orthodox.

I was raised Baptist, but after college I joined an Episcopal Church.

But that's what happened.

1.) I didn't like Calvinism & Augustinianism and Rome is Augustinian, and at the time I wanted to get far away from both John Calvin and Saint Augustine so no Rome for me.

2.) My interpretation of the Doctrine of the Trinity was already Eastern Orthodox so I really wouldn't fit in with Rome

3.) Most of my Patristic reading was Pre-Nicene, and Nicene. And the Orthodox view is alot closer in Theology and practice of that no Rome for me.

Plus I was tired of not having a place to rest my head. I knew with the beliefs I had....I would have to argue and constantly defend myself.....if I was Roman Catholic.

Most of my views were already Eastern so I went East, because I knew that if I didn't feel like arguing or was just too tired too argue......then that would be just fine. I could just rest my head and forget about it, because the infrastructure teaches what I believe I don't have to constantly defend myself if I don't want to.

But those are the reasons why I chose to go East instead of Rome. There are other reasons (in dealing with the papacy) But the ones I mentioned above were the main reasons.

I'm sorry for Rambling on your com box Pizza man.

And yes, Thomas Oden has alot of Golden nuggets in the stuff he writes. I think he is the general editor of the ACCS(Ancient Christian Commentary) series.


Pizza Man said...

No need to apologize Jnorm, it's interesting to hear a little of your background and journey. What Patristic authors do you recommend, if I wanted to get my feet wet? :)

Also, you are from Pittsburgh, right? I'm curious, which Episcopal church did you attend? My sister and brother-in-law used to go to an E church when they were going to CMU, and I wondered if it happened to be the same one. I think they attended Church of the Redeemer.

Jnorm888 said...

I attended two different Parishes, but I joined one.

I attended Shepards Heart in Uptown, and I joined an Anglo-Catholic Parish.. "Grace Episcopal Church" on Mount Washington.

Yes, a few former members at my Orthodox Parish told me that they use to go to "Church of the Redeemer". I know of one professor of Pittsburgh theological Seminary who may still go there. I could be wrong about that, but the last time I spoke to her at my Parish, I think she said, that's the place where she goes. But yeah, there are a few former members of that Parish that I know. However, I really didn't know that much about the Parish when I was Episcopal.

As far as Patristics from the Pre-Nicene era........My personal favorites are the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and Justin Martyre's "dialogue with trypho a jew".

As far as books go,

Penguin classics published a translation of the Apostolic Fathers. This one is pretty easy to read. I bought it 3 times and gave it away each time. The next time I get it, I plan on not giving it away. But it's a pretty good read.

The same with Michael W. Holmes who teaches at Princeton, His book (The Apostolic Fathers) has the Greek on one side and the English translation on the otherside. This book is more for the scholar and seminarian who might need to do more exercises in translating Kione Greek into english. This one also costs more than the Penguin classics.

And Jack N. Sparks who is an Orthodox Priest (he came in with Ft. Peter Guilquest's group). He translated his own edition of the Apostolic Fathers. His format is different from the other two, His format seems more like an aid for Bible study for he cites (more than Michael W. Holmes does) where they quoted scripture or at least referenced it.

As far as The term "Apostolic Fathers" go, it just simply mean, the collection of Christian Writings outside of the New Testament from 70 A.D. to about 150 A.D.

Origen isn't considered a Father in the Eastern Christian World, but the way he handled Romans chapter 9 will always be a classic.

Take care and God bless


Tony-Allen said...

I've been meaning to respond to this a long time, but have been busy for one reason or another. IT was an excellent read, and I could sympathize with you in your spiritual journey as you encountered doctrines you did not agree with. Thankfully, the Orthodox Church does not approve of it, although there are claims of a Calvinist patriarch, but those beliefs were condemned by the Church long after.

It always amuses me when I hear some popular Calvinist apologists claim they can prove the Doctrines of Grace with the Church Fathers. They've obviously never read Saint John Chrysostom's take on John 6, or read Saint John Damascene's interpretation of Free Will and Grace.

Pizza Man said...

Thanks Tony, glad you enjoyed it. I think the fact that the early fathers were synergistic is one of the many glaring problems with Calvinism.

Jc_Freak: said...

Kevin, can you do me a favour? For some reason I can't access my email, and the SEA website isn't letting me sign in. CAn you tell Justin so I can sign in and update the blog?

Pizza Man said...

Hi Martin, I just sent an email to Justin.

Arminian said...

Hey JCF,

Since you have been having trouble, I published a Christmas related blog post on SEA, the one on Matt 1:21, and plan to have that serve as Wednesday's post. If you're not yet able to access the site by Christmas day, I plan to publish Ben Henshaw's Christmas post (something like, "Enjoying Christ's Birth from an Arminian Perpsective") on Christmas. With all the holiday activity, we can then let the blog stand until Monday if necessary.

Arminian said...

BTW, Kevin, I hope you're going to submit this post at SEA.

martinsmercurialmusings said...

Thank-you for your interesting and personal testimony. I never really knew of Calvinism until about three years ago. Thanks, too, for the 'stuff' on your site - it's obvious you've put a lot of time and effort into this endeavor.

Kevin Jackson said...

Martin, thanks for kind words. I just ran across your blog the other day and enjoyed several of the posts. God bless, Kevin