Have you ever had a great idea that you just couldn’t shake? But then when you finally get the chance to see it realized, you come to find out that it was a terrible idea that only made sense in your head? That’s sort of how it went for me and Calvinism. It made sense on paper when when I start to apply it in real life, it began to fall apart.
I remember sitting in a church service and the pastor said something to effect of, “every person you have ever seen is a person who Jesus loves, who he died for.”
Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I realize that plenty of self-described Calvinists differ on this point. But in that moment, inspired by the Calvinist pastors and theologians who were most influencing me, I could not agree with the claim that Jesus loves and died for everyone. Or at least I couldn’t agree that he loves everyone in the same way.
And that scared me.
I mostly worked with students at the time, and I found myself wrestling with what to tell them, how to pastor them. The God I believed in was great. But I wasn’t sure he was good. If good meant something different for God than it did for us, then good didn’t actually mean anything at all.
But as far as I knew, Calvinism was the only intellectually rigorous game in town. And beyond that, I was pretty convinced the Bible taught it.
So I was stuck.
Quite ironically it was a blogger at The Gospel Coalition, the prior-discussed Calvinist super-site, who (inadvertently) bailed me out. This particular blogger, Trevin Wax, liked to live on the wild-side. And by that I mean he actually engaged with non-Calvinist theologians and authors and wasn’t entirely critical in his engagement.
At the time, Trevin was working his way through Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel. And he actually (mostly) liked it! With Trevin’s implied endorsement, I figured this McKnight fellow must be alright and decided to dig a little deeper. I soon found myself perusing McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed on a daily basis.
Now, McKnight is a pretty avid blogger and he covers quite a bit of ground on his site, reviewing numerous books, offering copious (adjective: abundant in supply or quantity) amounts of theological and social commentary, and bringing in a lot of interesting guest writers. He even devotes two days a week to posts about science and faith!
My blog roll at the time still mostly consisted of a laundry list of Crossway authors. But in McKnight I had found more than a smart, intellectually stimulating non-Calvinist.
I found an inviting gateway to an entire world of compelling Christian thinking that I never knew was out there.
My shift away from Calvinism didn’t happen over night; it would be a few more years before I stopped self-identifying as a Calvinist. But it definitely began with my disenchantment over how to pastor well as a Calvinist and my subsequent discovery of the wide world of non-Calvinist history and theology.
People often ask me how I came to a more progressive expression of Christianity. I usually reply that I just kept reading. And while there is obviously more to it than that, in the case of my Calvinism, that’s more or less exactly what happened.
The more I read from historians, scholars, theologians, and pastors outside of the popular Calvinist movement, the more I realized how narrow my thinking had been and the more sure I became that there are better, more life-giving articulations of Christianity.
Becoming convinced that a Calvinist interpretation was not the best reading of certain key biblical passages played a big part as well.
I maintain a great appreciation for many of my old Calvinist influences. Tim Keller remains a pastor and preacher I greatly respect. And I’m still a big fan of John Calvin himself.
But my post-Calvinist faith is so much more vibrant, so much more hopeful, and so much more willing to embrace the mysteries of God than the icy certainty I had before.
And so in an ironic sort of way, I am incredibly grateful that God in his sovereignty led me away from Calvinism.
There are a lot of reasons that people embrace Calvinism. For some it’s as simple as the accessibility of the resources which promote it. The new Calvinist movement that so enamored me has done a truly remarkable job of making their theology practical and accessible for the masses. They have leveraged social media, blogging, and their influence with prominent publishers to maximize the reach of their written work. Meanwhile, events like the Passion Conference serve to pass Calvinistic theology onto masses of young people.
And that’s all before we even get to some of their celebrity preachers like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and the ever-controversial John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Many an aspiring pastor has drawn from (or straight up copied) the sermons of these four men.
Even those who vehemently disagree with their theology would do well to take a page out of the Calvinist promotional play book.
Others are attracted to the certainty that a Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty offers in an increasingly chaotic world. It’s no coincidence that the rise of Calvinism in America followed soon after the September 11th attacks.
But for many, an adherence to Calvinism is as simple as being convinced it’s what the Bible clearly teaches. Passages like John 3 and 6, Romans 8 and 9, and others can appear, at first glance (and often out of context) to clearly teach a Calvinistic notion of salvation.
Unpacking why I think the Calvinist’s reading of these passages is faulty deserves it’s own post. So I won’t attempt to make that argument here.
But I would encourage anyone who is convinced of Calvinism on the assumed strength of some of the aforementioned passages to explore the work of Roger Olson, Greg Boyd, Austin Fischer, David Bentley Hart, Brian Zahnd, and the countless other Christian pastors and thinkers who, though they respect it, have chosen to reject Calvinism. The aforementioned Scot McKnight and previously highlighted Richard Beck would be great resources as well.
So don’t take my word for it. If this topic interests you, dig into resources on both sides and see what you think for yourself!
And don’t forget to contribute to this discussion by commenting and sharing!