One of the goals of Artery Bloggage is to show how theology permeates everything we do and how we live. It isn't just a heady thing to be done with a wall of Bible commentaries four feet tall around your laptop in the library. How you view God determines just about everything else of who you are and what you do. That goal in mind, I want to preface by saying that the issue of predestination/free will is one of the most controversial in history. It's been even hotter lately with the so-called "Reformed Resurgence" or "New Calvinism", a movement with which I don't mind associating. Far better exegetical and academic explanations have given by others than I could ever give; my favorite is Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. I think Wayne Grudem may be some kind of wizard, since this book often answers questions you have as you read almost as soon as your brain can ask them. Anything I would argue about being Reformed would be a plagiarism of him.
Instead, I want to tell the story of how I came from one very strong view of the Bible and salvation to another. I am not seeking to persuade anybody so much as tell a story that deeply connects a view of God with life experiences. I wouldn't even call Calvinism and Arminianism opposites because of how much the two perspectives share in common. Both are solidly Protestant, believe in a perfect God and His inerrant word, teach the absolute sovereignty of God and the personal responsibility of every man, and glorify God through personal evangelism and caring for the poor and oppressed. I think the reason this debate gets so virulent is ironically because it is one within the family between two groups with a lot of resemblance. I am but one in very big family. So read on and see how a debate which has raged for thousands of years impacts the life of one regular guy even today.
In January 1995, I was sitting in the office of Doctor Edwin Jenkins, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I was here because I was curious about baptism, what it was and why we did it. Baptism takes a particular form in a Baptist church. Baptists only baptize by immersion, meaning children or adults are fully dunked into the water (infants need not apply). At almost-seven-years-old, I wondered why Dr. Jenkins periodically dipped people into a pool in front of the whole church. My curiosity had gotten me here.
The silence was now getting awkward. Our conversation up until this point had been very easy and free-flowing. Dr. Jenkins had talked to me about how we believed in Jesus and how He died on the cross. This was all stuff I'd covered in Sunday School and believed. But now he held in his hand a plastic glove which was printed with the plan of salvation. He said it was a gift for me and asked what I had to do.
Hence the awkward silence; I didn't really know how to answer. After all, he said the glove was mine. Why didn't he give it to me? He just sat there from behind his desk holding it in his hand. He said it was mine. What did he want me to do? He said it was mine. I almost wondered if maybe I had given him the wrong answer somehow. He said it was mine. He reiterated the question, scrutinizing me to see if I understood all that he'd said. But he said it was mine! What could possibly end this? Pressure! Pressure!
Finally, I timidly reached out and took it from him.
"Yes, that's right. You have to accept it," he said.
I was pretty miffed about the whole scenario, though I dared not show it to a grown-up (and the pastor no less). After all, he had said it was mine. The glove had been declared mine by the authority of the giver. That made it mine whether or not I did the right thing and snatched it from his hand. The thing belonged to me by his word. Withholding it from me just so that I would snatch it from him didn't seem quite fair. However, I forgot about my irritated feelings pretty soon as kids do often and adults do rarely.
The thoughts and feelings from that day crawled into hibernation in some deep cavern of the mind. They wouldn't awaken for more than a decade when some very strong passions and tough challenges reignited them. I would return to that desk and the burning tension and the prayer I prayed in 1995 in ten years' time. While I never suspected it in that decade, an unsettled dissatisfaction with the situation lurked. It was no fault of Doctor Jenkins or the example he used, but from the theological perspective underlying the encounter. It was my first experience with soteriology--the theology or teaching of salvation--but it would not be my last.