Sovereignty as Shepherding – Or Why God Was Never a Calvinist

Ok, the title of this article was a small attempt at humour to hopefully draw you in. I guess it worked if you are reading these words. Having said that, I have recently expressed how, over the past few years, I have moved away from a more reformed Calvinist theological perspective (seeĀ here). Yet, as with most Christians, I have still pondered what might be the most appropriate ways to communicate the sovereignty of God. And this article is one attempt at such.

God’s sovereignty is pretty clear in Scripture. He is God. He is Lord. He is sovereign over all. It’s right there in the good book.

But what does all that mean? What does it practically mean for God to be sovereign? Continue reading

My Journey Away From Calvinism

Fairly soon after my initial salvation experience in Christ, I moved to embracing the theological framework known as Calvinism. You know, the 5 points of total depravity, unconditional election, limited (or particular) atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.

I had come with excitement to this new found system of doctrine. I ate it up, lapped it up like a thirsty puppy. It was a major part of my theological digestion. I began defending Calvinism with the best of them, believing I had very good and reasonable answers to many mysteries of the faith surrounding God’s sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility. I was even willing to accept some of the stronger points such as Augustine’s double predestination.

And anything counter-Calvinism was just not biblical. I was even smug enough to one day comment that Calvinists tend to be intellectually smarter than non-Calvinists.

God have mercy on my soul! Continue reading

Old Paradigms Must Change

As Christians, we have a very long history of faith, one that even exists well before the “New Testament”. To deny such or be blind to such is a dangerous thing, no doubt. I’ve shared on this before and really don’t need to reiterate a whole lot at this point.

But, at the same time, Christ is still preparing his church, his ekklesia, to be what he called us to be. You can see something of this in an all-important passage like Eph 4:11-16 – certain ministries helping the body of Christ move towards unity and maturity. And so, our lot in life is change, continued transformation. That is our call whether we like it or not.

I’m am always astounded that Jesus did not arrive on the scene to simply maintain the status quo. The people of God at that time held to certain beliefs and dogmas and models that were paradigmatic for them, even part of the faith tradition carried on for centuries, if not millennia. But they were not the end all, be all, do all. A new paradigm was about to be set in motion by God’s anointed Messiah-King. The normal status quo amongst God’s people could not remain if God’s greater purposes were to be accomplished.

And such set a precedence for the rest of this age. Continue reading

Calvinism-Armianism: It’s Time to Move On

I remember my early days and years after becoming a Christian. I came to Christ through quite a radical new birth on 30 January 1997, or sometime that week (I just realised it’s almost my birthday!).

In those early years, one of the major things discussed amongst us young adult Christians (and many older Christians as well) is the whole Calvinism-Arminianism debate. I was part of a Southern Baptist church where most held to 3 or 4 points of the 5 points of Calvinism. Most could accept just about everything, albeit the BIG L, or limited (particular) atonement.

Within that church, though of a minority, I found myself embracing a more Calvanistic-reformed soteriology. Goodness me, I remember some of the debates. I don’t think I personally spent a lot of time in huge debates, but I did get involved in deep (maybe emotionally) one-on-one or group conversations.

And I do remember one situation back in the day.

Our quite famous pastor (who had authored a few books) came to speak at our college ministry’s Bible study. That night, the room was packed with somewhere approaching 100 attendees. Everyone awaited to hear what pastor had to say, though I think we already knew his conclusions would not fully embrace Calvinism.

Lo and behold, within a few week’s time, the director of the university’s Reformed Christian Fellowship (RCF) wrote a response paper to our pastor’s teaching. My understanding was that this was not done as an attack, but rather some of the RCF students had been given a tape copy of our pastor’s teaching and they were hoping for some teaching as a counter-response. (I don’t doubt that, somewhere in all of this, things started to flow out of wrong motivations.)

Then, to top it all off, as our college minister’s wife had also begun a study on Romans with the female student Sunday school class, the whispers began to circulate that some of the reformed-Presbyterian or RFC students had made their way into that class to hear what was being taught. And there were even mumblings of outright arguments in the class.

I know! Sounds like something from Dawson’s Creek, or an even younger age.

To think about it now deeply saddens me.

To be honest, I keep asking – When are we going to move on from these things? Sometimes I feel like we have moved on to more important things (yes, there are more important things than this debate). But every once in a while, this ol’ debate rears its head once again, now with the added discussions of Open Theism and the re-entrance of semi- and full-Pelagianism. We sure know how to call names at one another and affix labels (including myself).

I remember when I sensed God’s leading that it was time to move on from that Southern Baptist church. There, I had grown so much with regards to salvation and the foundations of our faith. My passion to study the word of God, reach non-believers, and even move into some form of church leadership was established there.

But, as I said, one day God moved me from the 25,000-member church to that of a smaller, 60-person interdenominational church. And major shifts took place in my life and theology over the next few years. I mean a re-arranging. If it weren’t for my still Calvinist leanings, I might classify it as another rebirth. Anyways….

I really never moved away from some of my more reformed-Calvinistic leanings (that has happened more in the past couple of years). But, remember. I said there are much more important things than the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. And in those early years within my new church community, I learned what some of those things are, even learning of the most important.

What is it?

The kingdom of God.

I learned that this was God’s ultimate intention and the message Jesus came proclaiming – that God’s rule was here and that we are called to proclaim that good news. What better good news to proclaim than that of which Christ proclaimed.

Please know I don’t say this arrogantly, as if I am the enlightened one. God’s rule is not in that kind of thinking. But as I became gripped with the reality of the kingdom rule of God as a reality now in the life of the church and even beyond, many other things fell to the wayside, including the Calvinist-Arminianist debate. I still had to deal with it here and there, i.e., studying some stuff in my soteriology class in seminary. But it just became less and less important. So un-important that this might be the first time I have talked about it in a couple of years.

In all, what I long to see is that more and more leave behind the debates of Calvinism and Arminianism and Pelagianism and Open Theism. Not that I am saying that we lay aside theology and theological study. Nor do I believe healthy theological debate is bad. It’s good when it stays healthy and gracious and focused.

But my hope and desire is that we continue to move away from this overall debate that seems ready to be shaken one day (see Heb 12:27-28) and take up the passion that the Christ himself had – living and proclaiming the good news that God’s reign is here. And from that great truth we will see the captives set free, the sick healed, the blind see, the oppressed liberated, and this group of re-created people prepared for the recreation of the whole cosmos one day.

It’s time to move on.