In my last deconversion entry, I discussed the events that led to my wife and I leaving the Pentecostal/charismatic world altogether and entering the reformed Baptist world. My belief in reformed or Calvinistic doctrine had begun a few months prior by reading reformed books and watching online debates. I especially loved John MacArthur who, while not deep doctrinally, was clear in his thoughts and somewhat hard-nosed. (That’s my style, if you haven’t already guessed). The reformed Baptist church was a shock to my spiritual system. Everything about it was different: the doctrine, the music, the lifestyle. Even drinking, dancing, and even smoking were allowed (in moderation).
Now the five years I spent in the church were fairly uneventful. There were no scandals in the clergy and no fights amongst the saints (at least not that I witnessed). All in all, it was a good place with good folks. What led to my spiritual demise, however, was the doctrine. I had become convinced that cessationism and Calvinism were biblical. I believed that the five points of Calvinism were the best representation of biblical text in the debate of god’s sovereignty and free will. This ultimately led to a form of fatalism, or the belief that everything was already planned out and I was nothing but a chess piece in the hands of god.
Before I get to my leaving the church in early 2017, I feel it prudent to fill in the gaps and explain what Calvinism is so those of you unfamiliar with it will see how it affected my thought processes. Calvinism is made up of five basic tenets, all of which are based upon bible passages. Most of these tenets are at odds with the majority of Christiandom, but, of course, that doesn’t make them wrong in that context. They are often simplified by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. I’m only going to list a few key verses, but if you’re interested in learning more, I can direct you to more in-depth resources.
- Total depravity of man. Man is dead in sin. There’s nothing good in him. He doesn’t possess the ability to do good in god’s eyes, and cannot even approach god. (Ephesians 2:1-6, John 6:44)
- Unconditional election. God chose to save certain individuals – the elect – before the world was even created. Again, nothing that a person does warrants this attention – it is solely the choice of god. The inverse of this is, of course, that god chooses to damn others to hell before they are even born. Now, some folks would say this is Hyper-Calvinism, and is reading into the verse something that isn’t there. It’s really not, though, as it is simply following the doctrine to its logical conclusion. (John 15:16, Romans 9:11-21, Acts 13:48)
- Limited Atonement. Christ didn’t die to atone for the sins of the world. He died only to atone for the sins of his sheep, or the elect. A lot of people balk at this and cite verses like John 3:16. While this point isn’t explicit in the bible, it is implicit, especially considering the “T” in T.U.L.I.P. Remember: none are good, and so god must choose who will be saved. Since he obviously doesn’t choose to save all (I’m an example of that!), then the atonement must be limited. Another way of saying it is that Jesus’ death was sufficient for all, but only efficient for some. If he had died for all mankind, then the possibility exists that all would reject him. This would make his death pointless.
- Irresistable grace. Simply put: if god desires to save someone, there is nothing she can do to resist the grace he bestowed upon her. After all, he chose her to be saved…how can she reject his will? Some might say that it doesn’t make sense for god to save someone if that person doesn’t want to be saved. But, keep in mind that if god wants to save someone, god will make that person want to be saved. (John 6:37)
- Perseverance of the Saints. This is better known by the popular statement, “once saved, always saved.” This is another one a lot of people don’t like, but it makes sense in the biblical setting. If god has the power to save at a specific point in time, surely he has the power to save for eternity. Logic supports this. If someone could become un-saved, at what point would that happen? How many sins would it take to tip the scales? Is god not powerful enough to forgive any sin? (John 10:28, John 6:39, Romans 8:38-39, 2 Timothy 1:12)
So there’s a primer on Calvinism. I believed these five points for about five years. At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, I came to see the simple fact that, based upon this doctrine, everything was set. Nothing I did made a difference. If I was chosen to be saved, I would be. If not, I wouldn’t be. I realized this was just a biblical version of fatalism. Logically, it didn’t make sense to subscribe to a worldview in which I was just a puppet. Yet that what the bible teaches. This realization, along with my frustration with not “feeling” saved and not living the lifestyle I thought lined up with the bible, forced me to conclude that something wasn’t right. I began to write down questions that I needed answered. Thus began my exit.
In my next and possibly final installation, I will list those questions and also discuss some of the resources that made me see my questions were valid and yet unanswerable by the Christian faith.