Sunday, August 18, 2013


So, out of curiosity is the Calvinism argument even still a thing? I think it is. At least here in Alabama it is. I mean, I hear myself on a somewhat frequent basis say things like, "John Piper is such a dillweed and Mark Driscoll is a," well, I can't say that word and keep this family friendly. But suffice it to say, the frequency with which those statements come out of my mouth indicates I am still involved in the Calvin-vs-Saint Arminius debate. And it doesn't take much to see which side I fall on.

Tulips actually never wanted to be involved in the conflict.
But lest you TULIP huffers get too upset with me, here's the deal. The next five days (after today) is all about your precious theology. Stating what it is...what I think it means...correcting any faulty logic on my part...and finally writing if I agree or disagree and why. So...hopefully I will learn something. And lest you think I am being terribly offensive, know that I am just teasing you the way an older, wiser brother teases his wayward brother or sister that will one day learn better. I mean...I am just having a little fun. I don't mean any offense...kind of.

Okay. That said, let's throw out some history and some generalized thoughts. And for full disclosure, I have not started my research and reading yet, so this is tainted in James' initial thoughts, memories of undergrad (because oddly we never touched this in seminary), and battle wounds from the campus of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where they actually let card carrying Calvinists carry battle axes to correct any prodigal Protestants protesting in the religion department. (Nice alliteration, eh?)

First, for those of you who either don't know, or maybe don't care to research it on your own, what the heck does TULIP even mean? Here is a nice little chart for you.

T - Total Depravity
U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement
I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints

Basically, these are the five tenets of Calvinist theology. At different times I would say I was about a 3.5 point Calvinist (agreeing with 3.5 tenets). Now, looking at the list, and relying on a faulty memory of things studied in approximately 1998, I would say I'm maybe a 1-pointer, I could see myself affirming two. I don't know. We'll see at week's end.

So, where did it all begin? Much to the delight of the aforementioned Driscoll, the internet would have you believe with a UFC match as documented here:
To those of you who didn't pick up on this...this picture is photoshopped. Actually it is not likely that Calvin and Arminius ever really met. If they did, Arminius probably was not theologically advanced enough at four years of age to defeat John Calvin on his death bed. That is right. Jacobus was only four (maybe even three depending on the time of year) when old Johnny kicked off. The great Calvin-Arminius debates were actually between followers of both men after their deaths. So...there's that.

And then there is this...these debates actually were a continuation of problems faced all the way back to Augustine and Pelagius in the 5th Century. So, really these dudes were kind of late to the game. They were just some of the first Protestants to delve into that territory. And since Protestants are still kind of skeptical of Catholics, we call this thing the great Calvinist debate.

One final point historically...if anyone really deserves a bad reputation out of the whole ordeal it wasn't John Calvin. Sure...he bore the name and he advanced the theology, but it was Theodore Beza...aka the Bruiser who created the long-standing rift between Lutherans and Calvinists.

So, there is your history lesson.

If these stones could talk of the many battles they have seen
Now fast forward to the late-1990s, early 2000s. The setting is the somewhat picturesque campus of The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. As mentioned above Calvinists are allowed to openly carry weapons. Even nursing students are forced to keep a cheat sheet of the play-by-play revisionist history enforced by the 9th Street Hooligans. We Arminians were forced underground. We knew there were others like us, but the enforcers knew our hidden meeting spots too well.

The biggest problem was that Calvinists also maintained a great spy network. They would use a seemingly friendly dude to approach you, become your new roommate and then keep tabs on what books made it into your room. It was a scary time. Sometimes in order to get that new book you wanted to read you also had to sneak in a book by someone like Donald Miller or Benny Hinn just so your roommate thought you were actually just flaky...not Arminian. Okay...enough hyperbole.

The truth was, there was a big Calvinist thing going on at UMHB when I was there. It was just what happened. Some of the more influential leaders in student organizations, and as such, some of the most well-spoken leaders on campus were Calvinist. There were some people who took it too far. There were people who honestly seemed on the verge of worrying about the salvation of those who didn't adhere to Calvinism. Really. It happened. Granted they were few and far between, but it happened. But the bigger problem was something that caused me a lot of personal pain.

Not all...not even a majority, but enough to carve some terrible memories, of the Calvinists I ran into were just jerks and terribly mean. They would intellectually pound the snot out of you and then call you an idiot. They were abrasive, cocky and not the kind of people you wanted to spend your time with. And because of the influence of many of them, I hit the sideline. I removed myself from all things campus-oriented and invested in the local church. That probably would have happened anyway, because I loved my church...but these jerks and jerkettes sure helped that process.

Fast forward to the late-2000s. I move to Los Angeles. I start seminary. I expect the who Calvinism kerfuffle to begin again...but it doesn't. It really wasn't that big a deal. The only time it became an issue was when talking about leaving and going to a church that buys into anything and everything John Piper, Mark Driscoll or Fancis Chan says. And the deal is, at least Piper and Chan, seem like pretty decent guys. They really seem to love the Church. They just espouse some beliefs I'm not on board with. But dudes like Driscoll frustrate me. Driscoll is like all of my UMHB antagonizers rolled into one. He is rude, he is...well, I'll just stop there. He's honestly not anywhere near Westboro bad, so I don't want to attack him too much. Especially because of this last point for today...

My biggest issue with neo-Calvinism is the divisive nature of it. It's not entirely one-sided, but it is brought on a lot of the time by neo-Calvinists. Unlike Charismatics, who kinda keep to themselves, Calvinists love the public square. Sure, both groups get made fun of, but Charismatics get made fun of more for their eccentricities, and the jokes are generally good-natured. But enter the Calvinism banter and there is usually a bite to it. And that is my biggest concern. More than the theology it is the way that Calvinism fractures the Church. It's more divisive than spiritual gifts, than evangelism, than the Eucharist, all of which I would say are more important issues.

So, that is where this is headed. I hope to kind of define and engage Calvinism in some friendly terms...correct some misunderstood parts...and say why I can agree with the tenets...or not. So...let's start that...tomorrow.


  1. Wow! i honestly don't remember UMHB being that steeped in Calvinism. i actually left there believing that they were a pretty liberal Arminian type of institution. but then again i wasnt a religion major either, so there's that.

  2. I think Baptists in TX are pretty Arminian. I say that after being born and raised in their churches and spending 8 years in their Universities/Seminaries. Calvin was more of a byword than anything. There were some pretty vocal pockets of Calvinism amongst the student population but they were in the minority. I'm interested in reading the rest of your posts, especial since I consider myself a 5 pointer. I didn't make this transition until midway through seminary.

    I think much of the bad reputation that Calvinism gets is more from the age of many believers than from the doctrine itself or from the celebrity pastors that lead the movement.

    Glad to be reading you blogs James.

  3. Hey Stephen. Thanks for the reply. I am really trying to do quite a broad brush here. Not too detailed, but enough to inform why I landed the way I did. I grew up in Texas, went to a Baptist University, but then left and went to Southern California from seminary.

    I would say that for a lot of my friends, the bad reputation had a lot to do with youth...and leadership. When you find someone well-respected saying what you believe you can get a little bold. I think that is part of what happened to/with me. I also have some good friends that were Calvinists that I still greatly love. And once I was able to step back and say, "Wait...this is a minor issue, not the major," I was able to chill down a bit. I just felt rather attacked back in the day and so didn't give Calvinism a true chance.

    All that said...if you see any false representation of Calvinism on my part, please pipe in. Correct me. I tried to represent things fairly. That was the goal here.

    And we know each other? I looked at your profile and couldn't determine that.

    1. We do know each other. Went to high school together. Stephen Watson.

  4. Awesome. I looked on your blogger ID and couldn't figure that out. Dude...good to hear from you man. Hope things are well.