Nobody changes his theology when everything is going well. It is coping with trials of different types that brings a man to question himself, and to look more deeply into the Word and into his life. So, I would say that why a man changes his theology is more important than whether he does.
That I believe this is not really a surprise, though, since I am a feeler more than a thinker. I am often reminded that I use lots of big words, but they are just masking the reality that I always want to cry, laugh, shout, attack, run, mope, sing, whine, or any other of a long list of emotions. My vocabulary choices are driven by the things I am trying to say. I'm one gigantic emotion on overdrive that only knows how to express itself in words, so I struggle to find words extreme enough for my feelings.
It was emotion that drove me to into predestination's arms in 1983. I know that particular doctrine is supposed to be able to ice any heart, but it didn't feel cold, dry or dusty to me. Predestination was two of the warmest arms I had ever felt pulling me back from the edge of an awful precipice. Predestination was the Eyes of God softly taking in my shame without surprise or regret, and a gentle finger collecting tears that He always knew I would weep. Predestination was Jesus truly accepting me.
For those of you who have never been hit over the head by a Calvinist with a bible, let me explain that predestination is an overloaded word. Overloading is a computer programming term. It means that a single command can mean any number things, depending upon the context in which you invoke it. Calvinists, Arminians, and a host of others invoke predestination from the context of their particular opinions. Like armpits, we all have a couple of those and without attention they can be quite offensive.
Before go into why I embraced predestination, let me try to give brief (if unintentionally stilted) definitions of the Calvinist and Arminian position on predestination. I really want to get on with the post, but I am afraid that if I start without defining this a little bit, someone is going to get lost.
In a Calvinist context, predestination means that God planned out the most-est perfect-est world that His eternal imagination could conceive, and created it from beginning to end. God ordered every thing that ever happened to you. Not just you, but every person who will eventually be saved and every person to be damned was created by God to a certain destiny, and even the path by which they would arrive was predetermined. To be clear, Calvinists do not believe that God forces anyone to be damned against their will, only that He limits His effective mercy to His chosen people.
In an Arminian context, predestination means that God saw the end of His creation from the beginning. He knew who would be born, and He knew whether each of those people would soften their hearts to accept His Love and Grace. He offered His grace to all, but He knew that all would not accept. Those people whom He could foresee would eventually choose Him, He loved and predestined. Predestination to Arminians (and most believers are Arminians) is more about the "ends" than the "means". God predestined the end that we would be saved, but to make it happen He adjusts His plan daily to deal with obstacles thrown up by sin.
In 1982, my context was hard-corps Arminian. I had been given all the proof texts against the Calvinist heresy back in '78, and I was ready to take on any of those scoundrels who might come my way. Of course, there were not many of them, so it never happened. But that was OK! I was ready. I was armed with every doctrine necessary to the perfect life, and the world was mine for the fixing.
I don't even need to say that this did not happen.
No, instead I fell in love, but it didn't go so well. Mine is a typical tale of teen love, except in two things. 1) I know nothing of half-measures. And 2) I had a boatload of unrecognized emotional problems before the relationship problems even started. Somewhere deep down in my soul, a place that was supposed to be strong just wasn't. Only I didn't know it was broken. I thought that people just were supposed to be the way I was.
When the relationship ended in '83, I was shattered. Shattered is really a pretty weak word to describe the boy who was left. Suicide was never an option, because it would have been too happy. Like getting drunk, suicide was a cheap solution to a very important problem, and I like very important problems too much to let this one slip by so easily.
Most of all, in the midst of my shattering, I knew that I should be rejoicing in the Lord.
But I was not rejoicing in the Lord.
Oh, I was praising Him. I was thanking Him. I was worshipping and waiting. You can say words of praise by pure willpower, but week followed week, and there was no joy.
Instead, I was selfish beyond measure, and morose.
In other words, I was failing God and I could not help myself. I could not stop being so weak. I was where I was because I had failed God in the first place. And now that I was here, I was failing Him again, when He had never failed me.
I wept because of frustrated romance, and then I wept because I was weeping. Gradually, I had to admit that I was depressed, and the fact that I could not pull out of this depression began to really work at my conscience.
If there was a weakness in my soul in the area of romantic love, I was a cripple toward failing God. I was terrified of what God must be thinking of me. My sins piled before my eyes like so many bricks between God and my heart. I had been raised to believe that a man could sin unintentionally after 70 years of faithfully serving God, and still be damned. Unrepented sin was unrepented sin. At 12 or so, in '76 or so, I learned about "once saved, always saved" and that was good news, but OSAS was not enough.
I knew that He was a God Who forgives sins, so I repented. I repented especially of unbelief, unbelief in His providence, and unbelief in His patience. God was faithful and just to forgive my sin. And I repented. And He forgave. And I repented. And He forgave. This cycle gets old after a few weeks or months. As quickly as the bricks were gone I had sinned against Him again, and I was blocked from the haven of His presence again.
I knew the verses that I needed to know, and I knew the Psalms. I knew that it was OK to pour out my heart's grievances to the Lord, but the Psalmist always found peace with the Lord by the end of his prayer. I could do that, too. Given a few hours alone, I could pray the Truth back to God until my heart was at peace, and I could sleep. In the morning, though, it was like I had never heard the Truth in my life. I was back at ground zero.
My body and my mind were breaking.
The weeks became months. And the months marked an anniversary, and there was no healing in sight. I was broken with the Truth in my hands, and I did not know what to do. Every now and again some poor soul will say something to me about how suicide is an unforgivable sin. I forgive them, but I never look at them quite the same way again. That is a person who is willing to talk with authority on matters about which they know nothing.
Anyway, this disturbed youth walked into a Christian bookstore in which an old lady ministered. Turns out she was one of those Calvinist heretics I was so well trained to confront, but confrontation requires strength and I was desperately short of that. Instead, I walked out with a pile of books a good foot high. I don't believe I gave her a penny. Whether I did or not would not have mattered. I love her with all my heart to this day.
One of those books was "The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, Documented". It was fewer than 100 pages, and from page 24 to page 60 it was nothing but scripture. I still have a copy, so I could quote all sorts of great verses on predestination here, but why go off-topic. ;-)
I took that book home with me with all sorts of thoughts in my mind. I had made a friend. I had in my hand a book with which I could argue. That was going to be fun. And I had a niggling doubt.
For almost a year Ephesians 1 had been whispering for attention from the back of my mind. I actually sat in the back of the church one day with some of my Arminian church-mates as they explained away Eph 1:3&4 (Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.) I listened while they made the old arguments, and I had nothing to add. They had done a good job. Nobody was more surprised than I when I said, "Yeah, but it means something. God didn't put those words in there for nothing."
It was like I already knew what it meant for us to be chosen before the foundation of the world, but was not ready to admit it.
I was ready to dig into that little book.
I was not ready for it to dig into me.
I skipped everything and went straight to the scriptures. There were dozens, and I zoomed through them. It was like spinning the dial of a combination lock. I would read a verse, and three or four other verses would come back to mind that seemed to echo or complete the thought of that one. The further I went, the more tumblers fell into place in my mind. Long before I had read the last of those 36 pages, I was a Calvinist and was only settling details.
That was what was happening in my mind.
In my heart, something else entirely was going on.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus was speaking to me directly in those Living Words. He was magnifying the cross to take in much, much more than I ever thought possible. The cross was no longer just the place that an infinite supply of grace was made available if I asked for it. The cross was the place that every one of my sins was known and atoned by Jesus. Remember that sin that I feared I would commit when I was 70? Jesus knew that sin. He foreknew that sin, and 2000 years before I committed it, He paid it in full. It was within His plan, and so it was within His sacrifice.
My weakest weakness was fully accounted for in His atoning work, and in His promises. Jesus knew my every betrayal, and He loved me and paid each debt in full before I was ever born. I was arrested.
In the words of a Merrill Womach song (done by many others, but I only know it by him.)
Jesus stood before me
With His arms held open wide
And I fell down on my knees
And just clung to Him and cried.
This message unravelled all my training.
When I was 7, I was taught to choose Christ in order to be saved. I had to trust Him, and give myself to Him. I did this without reservation, and with great joy. At age 12, though, at the same time that I was taught "once saved, always saved," I was taught that I had to "get serious" about my faith. I was supposed to give my life to the Lord "all the way", and to become a disciple. I was supposed to be 100% committed, and on fire for the Lord.
I lived my first dozen years with an all-seeing, all-knowing police-Lord Who expected discipline of his children. When I failed, I was allowed to confess, but Jesus wept over my failures. He had given so much for me, why could I not just overcome my faithlessness with this girl?
As I read 36 pages of scriptures, I could see that the path of false discipline had played itself out in my life. They called it discipline, but really it was just Phariseeism. I was a dry, empty husk of a child trying to be a man. You will certainly tell me that I was just "trying to do it in my own strength," but it was the only strength I was taught. If I tell you "use the electric power drill" but never tell you about power outlets, I should not be surprised when I find you using the drill as a hammer. I was converted in an Assemblies of God church so they talked all day about doing everything in the power of the Spirit, but they lived something much lower. I learned discipline and fear of God young.
At their core, they believed that God had done His part, and now He had sent His Spirit into our hearts so that we could do our part. We were, therefore, responsible now for our part. If we were not doing our part ... [insert shudder here] ... well, we were obviously not trusting the Spirit, and we were not living godly discipline, and we were at risk of hellfire.
Romans 5 amazed me. The Jesus I saw there amazed me. His grace reached much further than I had ever imagined.
... when we were still powerless ...
Sure, the unsaved were powerless, but so was I. I had been walking with the Lord for 12 years, and I had well and truly come to the end of my power. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I should have been able to walk in the Spirit and take victory over these thoughts that ruled my mind and my life, but I was not that man. I was powerless.
... Christ died for the ungodly. ...
Maybe He died for the godly, too?
...for a good person someone might possibly dare to die...
This truly was not my case. I was not a good person, and not a person for whom anyone should die.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Yes, I thought, maybe. I thought maybe Jesus died for believers, too. I was saved, but I was still a sinner. Maybe God's love was such that even after I was saved, He still loved me. Maybe Jesus went up to that cross as much for me after I was saved as He had gone there for me before I was saved. I had believed (whether I was taught it or brewed it up on my own I don't remember) that God loved sinners, but that He expected believers to do better. He grew impatient with believers. He grew distant from believers. He left believers who would not submit to His providence.
Maybe God was going to dump me.
But Jesus died for sinners, even sinners who were still sinners.
God had predestined not only my salvation, but my life. He had set before me every struggle, and He had set before me a time of overcoming it. Maybe those two didn't have to happen in the same instant. If He had predestined these things that came into my life, and if He had known and paid for every one of my sins before I ever actually committed them, maybe He could do this amazing thing. Maybe, He could trust me with a trial that was destroying me, because He had complete faith in His ability to carry me through it.
You see, the core difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is that Arminians accidently teach that God has to hope that I have enough faith to overcome. God has no basis for such a hope in my experience. Calvinism teaches that God gives me all the faith I need to do all He has asked of me. I cannot go to God until He has first come to me and given me the faith I'm going to need.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
As an Arminian, I was past doubting that I might fail the test of my 19th year. I was certain. I had done failed, and was only waiting to see whether my failure would result in damnation or merely shame. I believed that God was hoping that I would have the faith to get over this girl, but I did not. Yes, I knew that God never lays anything on us beyond what we can bear, but that was scant comfort when I needed faith to bear it, and I had run out. This clearly was beyond what I was able to bear.
That little book, with it's 36 pages of verses, showed me over and over that God in Christ took upon Himself the responsibility for my success or failure. Verse piled upon verse presenting God as wholly and totally victorious. There is not one verse that shows God mourning because He failed to deliver one of His beloved children. I was His, and He would deliver me.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
We were not merely predestined to make it to heaven. We were predestined to be made like Christ. We were predestined to run the entire course, and to run it well. We all don't run it the same, some 100-fold, some 60, and some 30, but we all run it to the glory of the Father.
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
A 19 year old sat in his room, and dealt with the fact that God had accomplished everything for which he was striving. It was hard for me to lay down the pride of someday "overcoming for God", but having utterly failed made it a little easier. I could not overcome, but God already had. I saw that "those" included me, and that God had done everything that needed doing. In Paul's mind, these things were finished. The Father glorified "those" when He glorified Christ. That 19 year old boy was glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
God was for me, and He would never repent. I did not earn His favor before I was saved, and I could not lose it afterward.
All those verses about rest really meant something, finally. If it was God in Christ reconciling the world and me to Himself, then I did not have to take on the load of maintaining that reconciliation. Jesus finished it. God was not hoping that I would live up to His standard, but He had ordained that I would, and He had put the infinite weight of His mercy to work ensuring that I did. Christ was made All in All for this.
I was safe.
So now you know why I am a predestinationist.
So how did the story end? Becoming a Calvinist did not get me over that girl. The trials went on for another 4 years, and were every bit as hot. I thought I had cut the Gordian Knot when I married, but I failed in that, too. The Lord mercifully walked with me through day after day, and I failed over and again. I experienced no more success as a Calvinist than I did as an Arminian, but the nights were not as black.
I finally knew that God was not walking away, and that saved my life. Suddenly it was not more than I could bear. God was no longer the One in heaven Whom I most often disappointed, and least wanted to. He was the One Who had ordered my life before me, and Who could wait patiently while I slogged through each failure. I could rest, knowing that He had guaranteed He would be glorified in what He was doing in me. I did not frustrate the grace of God.
It was almost a quarter century later, on 14 Feb 2006, that I finally gained a little insight into the root of that problem that had afflicted me since before I can remember. (I know because in my excitement I dashed off an overly hasty letter 2 days later that marks the event in my outbox.) If the Lord had told me in '83 how much longer it would take, and how many more people would be hurt, I don't know what I would have done. He knew. He had ordained it. I repent the slowness of my heart, but I nestle more fiercely in His promise, and rest.
I have hardly included any scripture here that defends, defines or documents Calvinism, but I am open to having that discussion. We will solve nothing, but there is value in discussing the Lord and His ways. The fact that we don't understand aright is often used to discourage discussion, but it should encourage it even more.
Don't be surprised if I am no longer a Calvinist per-se. I have never read Calvin (and probably should), but I know that I disagree with some of the conclusions of his recent champions. I am also shamed by the graceless attitudes of many of those who would defend the truths that have done so much to keep my soul.
That said, it would be a fun chat.
Regarding a possible requirement for a doctrine of predestination in the Familyhood Church (did such a figment exist)....
Absolutely, yes. You must believe in predestination. I mean, come on! It's a word right there in the bible! You have to believe in it. :-) Of course, we may not exactly see eye-to-eye when it comes time to define predestination...
I am currently fellowshipping with a church of Arminians (except for a couple who used to be Calvinists and who have rejected predestination) and we all love each other.
Still, I gotta be me. I cannot offer any advice to a believer in time of trouble without reference to God's sovereign plan. If a Familyhood Church existed, and if they would let me be what I have to be, that would be enough for me. I don't need anyone to agree with me, as long as I am accepted by my brothers and sisters. Predestination is one of those mysteries hidden beyond the veil. Discussing it rightly warms our hearts toward God, but requiring anyone to hold one specific theory of how it happens is unjustified. We just don't know enough.