I cannot really remember the actual first time I encountered the idea of "Calvinism". My earliest recollection is a college history course, but I am sure I had come across the word before. But as far as learning anything at all about it in a focused form, it was that history class. I am not really sure what was actually taught about it because at the time I thought it was nutty and primitive. For some reason (and I am not sure if it was taught this way by the professor) I came away with the idea that a Calvinist was one whom God chose for salvation and He would evidence it by making that one rich. I am not sure exactly why I came out of that lecture with that idea, but I remember doing so.
Sometime soon after, I encountered my first Calvinist preaching individual. I learned that there were more too. I had no idea. It forced me to think and I did not like to think. I was raised in public schools you know, and critical thinking and the idea of an actual right and wrong are just not virtues taught in such a secular setting. And of course my nice Southern Baptist Church in Lawton Oklahoma never mentioned to me that there was a systematic thought out reasoning for our beliefs and also the beliefs of those "Calvinists".
I had encountered the problem of God's election and predestination in my own reading of the Bible. But when I asked my church leaders about it, they basically patted me on my head and told me not to worry about it..."It's not what it sounds like Clay. Trust us." But never was there any explanation of the text. The texts that bothered me were never explained, only ignored. Simply avoid the passage and move to a text that seems to teach the opposite. That is what I got. I wanted answers and I wanted them to be good explanations of why those election and predestination passages were not what they sounded like. I did not want them to be teaching what I thought they were teaching. I did not want to believe in a God who had decided the fate of every individual. But I wanted to know the truth. I would say out loud, "I would not serve a God like that!" but I would go home and pray and tell God if indeed it were true I would serve Him. I was not sure at all. I thought I was on the right side of things. That is why I verbally denounced such a God as would be in total control of our lives. I was standing for what I believed. But I could not shake off those passages when I read them.
I hated those passages now that I think about it. I knew they were straightforward and I knew they taught what they taught. I just hoped there was some secret I was missing. Some sort of explanatory loop hole. I had resolved to just let it go. Until Calvinism came knocking.
I had no idea this formulation had a name. I had no idea what I "wanted" to believe had a name. But they did. What i wanted to believe was true was Arminianism, or better, semi-pelagianism. What I did not want to believe in was called Calvinism.
Like a snowball, calvinists started popping up and I hated everything they had to say. I was abecedarian in theological discussions so my arguments were totally based on feelings and straw men arguments. I would blurt out things like..."Why did Christ have to die then if God was just going to save anyway?" That made total sense to me then but now I look at it and shake my head in humility at how little I understood the atonement. But I was not really interested in learning as much as arguing my way out of having to believe in such a strict God.
I attended the Baptist Student Union on my college campus and the debate found its way there. A few of my friends started a mockery club called the NAACP, i.e. the National Association Against Calvinistic Progression. It was a joke but it made a statement. These friends and I began finding flaws in the system. But somehow, we were all studying more and more in other theological areas and unknown to one another, we were finding that the most consistent form of Christian scholarship we would come across was coming from men who we would discover were...yes...Calvinists.
I will nver forget the day my roommate and i were talking and subtely talking about issues about depravity and the sovereignty of God and God's election and predestination of sinners and how I cautiously said, "You know, I don't have a problem with that anymore...I think it is up to God." To my surprise my roommate looked at me and said, "Me either!" And we laughed. We talked about how God had been teaching us through all of this battling that He indeed is sovereign even over the salvation of His people and it is not an ugly thing but a beautiful thing. then we discovered that every single person associated with that NAACP group had come to the exact same conclusions! We were now convinced Calvinists! And none of us had persuaded the other. We were all scared to admit it to one another.
We began to see lives changed and a revival in our hearts and souls. Suddenly God was not this "old man" whom we could mold into a cool giddy God. He was God. And we loved Him. I never thought I could come to that place but He broke me. I began to understand the atonement and the necessity of it. I began to understand the gospel and imputation and I was truly saved. That started a revival in our town and God sent us to 30 miles a way to a neighboring city to go to church because there were no reforemed churches in our town. God continued that revival through that church and especially the youth group we were granted to lead. What we saw God do in those years was unparallelled for me.
With the Calvinistic system, the Biblical system of theology, comes certain ideas and values. One is preaching the Bible and not mixing it with man-centered methodology and philosophy. It is hard to shake that off. But God did a lot of shaking and we saw what serious Bible study could do to teenagers. We eliminated the pragmatism and made real relationships with our kids. Fun to them became learning more about the Bible. It was amazing. It still is. I will never go back to the god who is too much like us. The Arminian god is a small god. The Calvinistic God is infinitely in control and unlimited by man and man's will.
That is my journey. To my brothers and sisters I hope it encouraged you. To those who read this and hate me and hate Calvinism, I understand. I once did too. I know your arguments. I know your feelings. I hope you will continue to study with a heart that will accept God as God presents Himself to us in Scripture.
So why do we call it Calvinism anyway? That will be a topic I will comver soon.