Am I a Calvinist?

Buckle up, this is a long one.

I was saved at the age of 16. I immediately began to immerse myself in the Bible, and I soaked it up like a sponge. But as a baby Christian, my doctrine stopped at Revelation 22:21. In other words, I studied the Bible, and nothing else.

My first hint that there were labels for the different doctrines, and beliefs referencing things outside the Bible (such as Martin Luther, etc) was when I was on the Talents for Christ tour in 1993. For those of you who don’t know what this is, I will explain. “Talents for Christ” is a nationwide high school competition where Regular Baptist high school students meet in each state of the competition and compete for the privilege of going to the national competition. The categories are varied, and mostly musical, but there is scholarship money for the winners, and the national competition is at the GARBC national conference.

The “tour” that I was on is for winners at the state level. Every 1st place and 2nd place finisher in each category is invited to go on tour, but not every one does. The group of kids is led by a pastor and they spend a week driving across the state going to different churches, using the talents that God has given them to glorify Him. I competed in the “Bible Knowledge” category, where you essentially memorized a passage of Scripture, and then were tested on it. My first year the passage was Luke chapters 13-24, and my second (and final) year it was the book of Romans. Yes, the whole thing.

My first year I came in second (some girl from Forest City, IA beat me), and I went on tour. My second year I came in first (she graduated, evidently), and went to Nationals. I thought, “Alright! I get to travel!” I mean, the year before Nationals were in Milwaukee, I believe. Where were the nationals being held the year I went? That’s right: Des Moines. So I got to travel downtown. At least I didn’t have to pay for a hotel. I went on tour the second year as well. And that’s when I met Christa. I remember vividly sitting in a wading pool of a water park in Ottumwa, Iowa, talking to Christa. I was a teenage boy talking to a teenage girl. She was a theologian talking to a baby Christian. I still remember her question, “Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?” She may as well have asked me what my dress size was, for all I knew about her question. All I can say is that she is her father’s daughter (He is my favorite theology professor, a man I hold in high esteem).

After I learned more about Calvinism and Arminianism, I began to ask myself the same question. As I studied the Scriptures, I began to identify myself as a Calvinist, and if pressed, I will still come down on that label, but….

In 2005 we moved to Indiana and searched for a Bible-believing church that agreed with our doctrine, music philosophy, and worship style. We looked for a GARBC church because that was what we knew as “good churches”, but the only ones in our area that we could find used CCM in their services or had no young people whatsoever. Long story short, we ended up at Trinity Baptist Church, which is an independent fundamental Baptist church. They have a conservative music philosophy (like us), and a review of their doctrinal statement revealed no glaring differences. So we became members and began serving God there.

It wasn’t until a few years later that we found out some members disagreed with Calvinism, while others viewed Calvinism as dangerous and heretical. Color me shocked! I remember the first time I got a clue about it. We had just sung “There’s a New Name Written Down In Glory”, and I mentioned to the song leader that “technically, there are no new names if you believe in predestination” to which he replied, “I don’t.” I was taken aback. I mean, we agreed on everything else, so how could we disagree on something like this?

I have made my peace for the most part with the fact that my fellow church members, whom I love, disagree with my stand in this area, but I have studied the issue, and as Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

I have always referred to myself as a “Four point Calvinist” (the theological term is “Amyraldist”) because I don’t believe in the doctrine of limited atonement. I believe the Bible teaches that Christ died for all human beings. I don’t think you can put a value on the blood of Christ. I believe the phrase is “sufficient for all, efficacious for the elect.” (His blood was sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind, but only actually covers the sins of the elect, since the non-elect persist in their choice against God). But am I a Calvinist? I read things on the internet describing what “Calvinists” believe, and I don’t believe those things. Am I a Calvinist and those people don’t understand Calvinism, or do I misunderstand Calvinism, and those people are right?

Here’s what I believe about the four points of Calvinism (TULIP minus the L):

T: Total Depravity. I believe this means that we are incapable of pleasing God. It means we are all sinful beings worthy of God’s wrath. There is nothing in us that makes God look on us favorably, other than His own gracious choice. Romans 3:10-12 says, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

U: Unconditional Election. In the words of Berkhof, election is “that eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation.” (“Systematic Theology”). The Bible refers to saved people of the Church age as “the elect” twenty-five times. The word “elect” means “chosen.” This means that God chose us. I don’t believe the Bible teaches that God chooses us because of anything He sees in us (see Total Depravity). I believe Ephesians 1:4-5 when Paul says, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” That seems pretty clear that He chose certain people on purpose, and He did it before Adam was created.

Personally, I believe the story of the Great Flood is a good illustration of election. God told Noah in Genesis 6 to build an ark, gave the exact dimensions of the ark, and then said, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” That’s eight specific people, and nobody else. God never told Noah to invite anybody else on the ark, although I’m sure Noah, being a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), warned the people of God’s impending wrath, but God never promised to save anybody other than Noah and his family. Interestingly, his father and grandfather were alive the whole time he was building the ark, and they both died the year of the flood. Whether they rejected God or not, they weren’t promised a spot on the ark.

I: Irresistible Grace. Basically this means that everybody God chose to be saved, will be saved. Just as He chose eight specific people to be saved from the Great Flood, and those exact people were saved, no more, no less. I believe that every single person God elects to salvation will be saved.

P: Perseverance of the Saints. I believe that if a person is elected by God to salvation, and therefore they come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and are bound for heaven, that they cannot “lose” their salvation. Some would term this “Eternal Security” or “Once-Saved-Always-Saved.” I do NOT believe, as some have claimed Calvinists believe, that I am the one doing the Persevering or securing. I am sealed by the Spirit, and God is the one that keeps me saved, so to speak, not myself.

What it comes down to is that some people emphasize God’s sovereignty, that God is in charge of everything. Other people emphasize man’s free will, that men freely choose whether they will trust Christ or not. I believe both. I believe God is in control, and we have a responsibility to respond to His call to salvation. Believing both ideas is not impossible, because there are other doctrines equally difficult to understand, like the hypostatic union, the Trinity, and the kenosis.

I understand the beliefs of others who say that the Bible says “whosoever will may come”, but I don’t know how these people interpret passages like Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 8:29-30. The best explanation I ever heard was that when a believer enters heaven, there’s a sign on the outside of the gate that says “Whosoever will may come”, and when they pass through and look back, the inside of the gate says “Chosen before the foundation of the world.”

Did Noah and the other seven people in his family have to individually choose to obey God by building the ark and getting on board a week before the rain started? Yes. Did God predestine and choose those eight people to be saved from the flood? Yes. Do I understand how these two thoughts can be reconciled? No, but I believe them both.

So am I a Calvinist? I guess it depends on your definition. I trust the Lord Jesus Christ, and if I’m wrong on this doctrine, I’ll defer to His judgment.

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About Steve Picray

I have been many things, but right now I am a registered nurse attempting to pay off my debt so that, God willing, I can be a pastor again someday. I have a wife and three kids. I am a conservative Christian (of the Baptist variety). This blog is about me: the things that happen to me, the things that interest me, and the things that bother me. If you have a question, just e-mail me at spicray AT gmail DOT com. God Bless!
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6 Responses to Am I a Calvinist?

  1. Steve Picray says:

    *This comment was emailed to me by my father*
    ———————————————————-
    STEVE! I am your FADDER!!! You should occasionally ask me things…

    Like – there is no conflict between the doctrine of Absolute Predestination and the doctrine of Freewill. The resolving verse is Gen 1:1. (What I consider to be the most important verse in the Bible)

    The question to ask yourself is “What’s the first thing that God created?” (I love to spring that on unsuspecting pastors!!! ;-D) Most people (so far I’ve only found one person who knew the correct answer – and she wasn’t a pastor.) respond with something like “the heavens and the earth.” Which is incorrect.

    The correct answer is – (per “in the BEGINNING”) – TIME.

    “Beginning” is a function of time – so “In the BEGINNING” God created time, then went on to create the other 3 dimensions (L, W, H) and filled them with substance, that comprise the known limits of our physical existence. (I have reason to believe that we occasionally are allowed to see/experience bits of other dimensions, or different aspects of the basic 4, but that’s another story – :-D).

    Since God created time, He is outside of time – (Gen 1:1 is the basis of the doctrine of His omnipresence in time as well as space). Being outside of time, he sees the entirety of time – kind of simultaneously.

    So the verse that says we are predestined “according to the foreknowledge of God” puts the pieces together – ie He chooses us because He has already seen what we DO with our free will… which is why “predestination” cannot be/will not be changed. So the positions of “freewill” and “absolute predestination” are therefore entirely compatible, and not at all in conflict. Helpful?

  2. Steve Picray says:

    Not helpful at all. My position is that the predeterminate foreknowledge of God is a cause, not an effect. We love Him BECAUSE He first loved us. The order is not merely a temporal order, it’s a causative order.

    Your statement would seem to indicate that since God is outside of time, He sees which of us choose Him, and then He chooses us as a result, making His choice an effect, and not the cause. So no, not helpful.

    • Michael e Picray says:

      “For God so loved the world…” God loves the entire world and everyone in it – yet so few “choose” to follow Him. So much for the effect of God’s love on humans.

      Time is a tricky thing… since we are ensnared in its effects, since it defines our world, it’s difficult to imagine what is cause and what is effect. We see the two as a linear (time wise) progression. To God (NOT constrained by time) events are neither constrained nor affected by time. He has a whole different perspective. Perhaps to God, there would be absolutely NO difference between the two. The very terms “cause and effect” are the result of time-oriented thinking. The Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment only works because of time-constrained thinking. God doesn’t need to speculate – He sees the outcome as He thinks the “experiment”.

      How can you decide which it is (cause/effect) since God saw it all happen “before” (as?) He created man? We cannot determine whether it’s cause or effect. I’ve had women who said they loved me… but I ran away from them as fast as my skinny legs would carry me (metaphorically). That someone or something “loves” you will not “cause” you to think well of them in and of itself. Cause? Effect? In terms of God/human relationships/interaction, although these terms can apply to humans, they cannot be applied by us to a pre-existent, all powerful, all knowing being about whom we know so little.

      Fact: we do not, CANNOT “understand” God or his motivations. So your belief is totally unsupportable… by the Bible or by logical thought. But you are welcome to it, just the same. I doubt it will change God’s decision about your “salvation”. 😀

      Here’s some more linear thinking for you. We are not the self-powerful actors on this stage – we are the acted-upons. Do Baptists not teach that although you make a “decision” to follow God, it is in RESPONSE to His calling? (“Cause – consequent effect.” Thus God gets the “credit” for your salvation, not you.) Despite our arrogance and self delusions, we do not have the power to influence God. We ask – He decided – based on His own knowledge. And (here’s that “image” of God thing again) we are much like Him in that respect.

      If you were at a horse track and were a “gambler” and you KNEW without a shadow of a doubt that the #3 horse would win in 6 lengths, would you bet on that horse? Or would you bet on one of the losers? Picking a certain winner is natural even for humans…. but then that image thing comes in and so many humans would pick a loser. Would God pick a “loser”? Who knows – only He knows why He would do/has done so. (Personally I’d bet the farm – but then I’m just a human. :-/)

      Since God is not constrained by time, the words/concepts “cause” and “effect” do not, CANNOT be applied to God or anything about Him. Thus God’s “choice” of those He calls is not an effect (which would be the result of our action). It just is.

  3. Steve Picray says:

    “For God so loved the world…” God loves the entire world and everyone in it – yet so few “choose” to follow Him. So much for the effect of God’s love on humans.

    If you study causality, you learn about the difference between “necessary causes” and “sufficient causes.” Here is a good summary of these. Logically, necessary causes state, “If x is a necessary cause of y, then the presence of y necessarily implies the presence of x. The presence of x, however, does not imply that y will occur.” In other words, salvation (Y) cannot happen without Jesus’ death (X), but Jesus’ death does not guarantee that Y will happen for everyone.

    Time is a tricky thing… since we are ensnared in its effects, since it defines our world, it’s difficult to imagine what is cause and what is effect. We see the two as a linear (time wise) progression.

    I agree that we can’t understand how God’s mind works. However, I would submit that causality, while it necessarily has an element of time from our perspective, does not need time in order to work. In other words, think of causality as simply events, instead of events in time. The cause (X) acts on the object (Y) creating the effect (Z). I kick the ball. By acting on the ball, I caused it to move. While God is outside of time, He purposefully acts inside time in relation to us. The Bible is filled with references to time, and God understands cause and effect. The word “because” is in the Bible 1426 times. “Because” means “Z happened through the action of X on Y”.

    How can you decide which it is (cause/effect) since God saw it all happen “before” (as?) He created man? We cannot determine whether it’s cause or effect.

    God is the ultimate Cause. As it relates to his predestination of the elect to be saved, there is nothing in any of us that influences God’s choice of the elect. Therefore, He cannot have chosen us based on our choice of Him, which is what your gambling analogy implies: He chose us because He saw we would choose Him.

    Do Baptists not teach that although you make a “decision” to follow God, it is in RESPONSE to His calling?

    Well, there are many different breeds of Baptist, but I can say from my point of view that yes, I believe that my “decision” to follow God was in response to His calling.

    • michael picray says:

      BEOOOWWWWW!!! Maggie’s Drawers!!! (ie term for a clear miss on a target range.)
      You’re not “getting it.” God exists/sees both cause and effect simultaneously because from HIS perspective all time is the same time – simultaneously. From our perspective, the effect could be the cause… but neither term applies to God. So the whole issue of “He called, I answered” is totally irelevent and only has meaning to us!!!

      “He sees which of us choose Him, and then He chooses us as a result, making His choice an effect, and not the cause.” … “He chose us because He saw we would choose Him. ”

      ROTFLMBO!!! If it is our choice to follow that leads to our salvation, an “effect”, then you DON’T believe that He gets the “credit” because He first called us. If the call wasn’t effective, He gets NO “credit”. that would be like making a sales pitch, and making no sale. So it’s really OUR choice, you’re saying, that makes the difference. If it’s our choice that determines the result, an effect, then He gets no credit for the call because He had foreknowledge. So you’re saying that WE control whether we “get saved” or not. Hummm…. I don’t have that much ego.

      I say again:
      “Since God is not constrained by time, the words/concepts “cause” and “effect” do not, CANNOT be applied to God or anything about Him. Thus God’s “choice” of those He calls is not an effect (which would be the result of our action). It just is.”

      “The Bible is filled with references to time…”

      The Bible wasn’t written for God to read – He wrote it for US – so that WE would have a chance of understanding it and Him – thus the time-constrained mode. (Would you try to teach an American who only speaks American by speaking in Bantu?) My goal in this issue is to try to help me and others to UNDERSTAND God better.

      And to me, Gen 1:1 is one of the most important verses in the Bible – because it teaches us so MUCH about God Himself… if we can learn it. (And while we’re on the subject – yes, I know the terms “him” and “her” don’t apply either. 😀 )

      • Steve Picray says:

        You’re not “getting it.”

        I’m not the only one not getting it. I understand that God is outside of time. What I’m saying is that God, being outside of time, operates within time. I’m not the one that wrote “He chose us in him before the foundation of the World…” I’m not the one that wrote “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” The Word of God specifically says in many places that God committed a specific action at a specific point in time.

        “He sees which of us choose Him, and then He chooses us as a result, making His choice an effect, and not the cause.” … “He chose us because He saw we would choose Him.”

        Your paragraph starting with “ROTFLMBO!!!” makes no sense, because the entire paragraph is your destruction of my arguments in the above two quotes. The only problem: you took my quotes out of context. I never said those things as positions of mine. I stated them as YOUR position. So go back and read my statements. The first quote, with context, was:

        “Your statement would seem to indicate that since God is outside of time, He sees which of us choose Him, and then He chooses us as a result, making His choice an effect, and not the cause.”

        The second quote was, “Therefore, He cannot have chosen us based on our choice of Him, which is what your gambling analogy implies: He chose us because He saw we would choose Him.”

        Both of those statements, read in context, should clearly be understood to mean “I think X is YOUR position.” You can’t tell me I’m wrong for believing what I think YOU believe. I don’t believe it, I believe what I believe.

        I say again:
        “Since God is not constrained by time, the words/concepts “cause” and “effect” do not, CANNOT be applied to God or anything about Him. Thus God’s “choice” of those He calls is not an effect (which would be the result of our action). It just is.”

        And I disagree that you cannot apply the word or concepts of cause and effect to God. Why do I disagree? Sit down for this one.

        God Himself uses the word “cause” in relation to Himself over and over. Here is a list of verses in which God causes things to happen:
        Genesis 2:21
        Genesis 20:13
        Genesis 41:52
        Deuteronomy 12:11
        Ezra 6:12
        Job 37:15
        Isaiah 61:11
        Ezekiel 26:3
        Ezekiel 30:22
        Amos 8:9
        Romans 8:28

        And ultimately God caused my salvation, because I know I would have spent an eternity in the lake of fire without specific actions on His part, CAUSING me to be saved.

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