(How God used an Arminian Bible college to make me a Calvinist)
My wife and I were converted in a conservative Southern Baptist church in Sioux Falls, SD. Growing up, I had attended United Methodist and Evangelical Covenant churches where the preaching was very bland and easy-believism was the norm. This SBC church was the first place I had ever heard sound expository preaching, and in my extreme naivety I assumed that all Baptist churches were like this one, standing firmly on the inerrancy of Scripture, preaching boldly against sin and faithfully proclaiming the gospel. So when I “surrendered to preach” I enrolled in the local Baptist college which had a 3-3 program with the North American Baptist seminary in town. It only took a few weeks on campus to realize that all Baptists are not conservative and this college was no place to train for the ministry. So I spent quite a bit of time researching for the most conservative Southern Baptist Bible college I could find. My search led me to Florida Baptist Bible College in Graceville, FL.
Fav Point Calvinist!
Moving from South Dakota to the Florida panhandle in January was awesome! It was -18 degrees when we left and in the 60’s when we arrived. The day after we moved into the on-campus married housing I was enjoying the balmy weather and chatting with my new neighbor in our shared front lawn, when a senior student stopped to say hello. He had just “made the loop”, visiting all the Southern Baptist seminaries in order to decide which one to attend for his post-graduate studies. At some point in the conversation he said to my neighbor, “You’ll never believe what they got for a president at Southern. –a FIVE point Calvinist!” :O (He was referring to Dr. Mohler of course.) I had never heard the term before, so after the senior had driven away I asked my neighbor, “What is a five point Calvinist?” He didn’t know exactly how to define it, and he seemed somewhat neutral on the subject, but he made it quite clear that most students looked at it as a very bad thing.
A few days later we were having dinner with another new student and his wife. When the fact that I liked Spurgeon came up in the conversation I was told “Oh, you must be a Calvinist.” To which I had to reply, “I don’t know what a Calvinist is.” My friend was still in the discovery phase, but his explanation was enough to peak my interest. I was very busy with all the various duties required in the first semester of a new college, a new job and family (at that time we had 2 children), but I knew this was an issue I wanted to learn more about.
I joined the Theology Club, hoping to engage in some additional “iron sharpening” and fellowship. This hope, unfortunately, was very short lived. We had only one meeting that I can recall. At that meeting the decision was made to host a debate: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I was pretty excited, thinking this would be of great benefit to my understanding of these matters. Within a couple of days my excitement was turned to dismay. The college had forbidden us from having a debate on the topic! Their suggestion for a better topic of debate: abortion. I was completely dumbfounded! The theology club isn’t allowed to debate a theological issue? What in the world is there to debate about murdering babies? What a joke! Needless to say, the Theology Club simply disbanded. By this time I had two friends who shared my conservative views, and we spent most of our spare time talking about theology.
Finally, a Definition
It seemed like a day could not pass without hearing something in class or on campus about Calvinism, “five pointers”, or something of that nature. I remember quite clearly when I finally found out what “five point Calvinism” actually was. I was up late, (about 1:30 am as I recall) working on a paper, when I had to look up a term in my “Dictionary of Theological Terms”. As I was putting the book down, it suddenly struck me, maybe the term “five point Calvinist” is in here. Well sure enough it was! Under the heading “Five points of Calvinism” I found the TULIP definition as expressed in the words of J.I. Packer. I eagerly dove in, wondering what monstrous doctrine I was about to uncover.
I began to read:
Total Depravity… well that’s clearly Biblical, all men are born dead in trespasses and sins, why would anyone have a problem with that?
Unconditional Election… Why would anyone disagree with this either? If all men are completely unable to choose God what else could be the case? And besides, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Limited Atonement… Well that’s clearly wrong, 1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Irresistible Grace… Of course, God’s grace cannot fail to accomplish His purpose.
Perseverance of the Saints… Well Duh. How could anyone ever have eternal life temporarily?
Ok, ok, what is going on here? Why is everybody so worked up about “five point Calvinism”? Four of the five points are as plain as the nose on my face. I remember waking my wife up and reading each point to her and asking “This is Biblical isn’t it? What’s wrong with that? Am I missing something?” My wife didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, but she agreed with me that four of the five points were obviously Biblical. What a realization, I was a four point Calvinist before I even knew what the word Calvinism meant. Funny how serious Bible reading and expository preaching can bring that about, isn’t it?
Arminian Antics and Strawmen
My friends and I became convinced that someone at the college was coaching chapel speakers, asking them to deride Calvinism whenever possible. I distinctly recall one speaker, when he came across the term elect in his text, giving a completely irrelevant explanation of its meaning and concluding with the declaration: “And that’s the only place election appears in the Bible!” We looked at each other in disbelief. Did he know he was speaking at a Bible college, to people who have Bibles?
Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Calvinism that I can remember was in my Christian Education class. The instructor had for some reason brought up a question about what you as a parent should do if your daughter stays out a couple hours past curfew. Immediately a voice from the other side of the room piped out, “If you’re a fav point Calvinist, she wuz sposed to come home late!” Of course this was met with abundant laughter.
But this anti-Calvinist atmosphere did do one thing for me and my friends. It drove us into the library. Oh the library, sigh… What a wonderful, peaceful, glorious place. There we devoured everything Calvinistic we could find. A.W. Pink, Ian Murray, Charles Spurgeon and John McArthur were the most helpful to me at first, and J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness gave me a taste for the puritans, and we all know what a treasure trove can be found there!
The Fifth Point
But even though many of the arguments I came across in defense of limited atonement seemed logical, I could not be convinced, not in the slightest. 1 John 2:2 was always ringing in my ears every time the subject came up. I prayed for understanding & spent much time in meditation over that verse. I then decided to do all the research I could and delve as deeply as possible into the meaning of that verse. I had my Complete Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, and I was determined to get to the bottom of every word and phrase. Then suddenly, something amazing occurred to me. It was as though God just switched a light on in the dark room that I had been groping around in. Wait a minute, if that verse means what I thought it meant, then there can’t be anyone in hell! If Christ has propitiated God’s wrath toward every individual who ever lived or will live, then no one can ever suffer under God’s wrath. Scripture is clear that all who die outside of Christ will suffer eternally under the wrath of God. Well what do you know, I’m a five point Calvinist!
I left FBTC after only one semester, it was much more conservative than Sioux Falls College, but it was still far too liberal for me. I think I’ll always have fond memories of my time there, for it was the beginning of my “cage stage” of Calvinism. I wasn’t yet what I now consider reformed, but I was indeed a “Fav Point Calvinist”!
His Throne is Forever and Ever!