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.