Monday, February 14, 2011

Because I Wasn't Always: Why I Am Reformed Part 2

My first experience with Lutheran/Calvinist soteriology (beliefs about salvation) came when I was fifteen. I was on a mission trip to New Orleans to work on a week-long project at the Baptist seminary there. (This was before the hurricane.) I was getting awfully bored on the drive so I picked up an issue of Breakaway, a Focus on the Family magazine for teen boys. They were going through a series where they compared and contrasted different Christian denominations. There they laid out in a very simple diagram the five points of Calvinism and Arminianism. This first taste of Reformed theology was not particularly positive.

Upon comparing the two charts, I found that I agreed with four out of five Arminian points. I believed that people could do good apart from Christ. After all, wasn't it good when people who didn't know Jesus fought for justice and freedom? I believed that only those who made the conscious, adult, free choice to follow Jesus were truly saved. I believed that Jesus died on the cross for all people, but that not all choose to follow Him. He couldn't force them to follow Him or else it wouldn't be willing. Thus, those who went to Hell went because they wanted to be there. I believed God would never force someone to go to Heaven who didn't wholeheartedly want to.

In fact the only thing the Calvinists seemed to get right was the issue of eternal security or perseverance of the saints. Classical Arminian theology teaches that people can lose their salvation through habitual sin or choosing to leave Christ. I have quite frankly always been convicted that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I don't need to look very far to find justification for that conviction. The notion that Jesus' sacrifice does not cover over sin once and for all is so offensive to me that I don't know that I can actually hold a conversation at once civil and serious on that point. "Jesus saves you, but your good behavior keeps your ticket to Heaven valid!" Revolting.

So I was what I called a "Baptist Arminian". I said "Baptist" versus "Classical" because I had never met a Baptist who denied eternal security. This was an opinion that I not only found to be very self-consistent and easy, I also found it to be the majority opinion of adults I knew. Most folks my age were not particularly conversant on the subject. Thus, I found a lot of grown-ups who affirmed my conclusion. In fact, I found none to dispute it.

At the root of it all, I thought that a love wasn't love unless you were free to choose it. A free choice is one which is based wholly on free will. Therefore, God can't force people into anything; they have to freely choose. We're not robots, after all. How could a loving God overwhelm our freedom?

Some of these opinions I would hold, some I would shed, but most I would simply modify when I switched teams a few years later...

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