Parallel to this theology focus in the classroom, Pastor Deets began a discipleship group. The group's focus was discussion, fellowship and ministry. We read and discussed A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy. For the first time in my life I was exposed to the fascinating life of the Christian mind. There is depth to knowledge of God that stimulates the brain and feeds the soul. In theology, mind and heart meet. Tozer guided me into the deep things of God. Once finished with Knowledge of the Holy, I read The Pursuit of God, then The Pursuit of Man. During these years, I was continually reading something by him. No other writer shaped my Christian spirituality like A.W. Tozer. He was and still is my greatest theological mentor. Our discipleship group alternated between study and service every week. One week we discussed theology over Sonic drinks, the next week we were out knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel. For a teenager, this was absolutely terrifying. In Farmington you will be challenged by Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics and Atheists. Each brought its distinct challenges. At times, I stood there without an answer. This inability to answer challenges drove me to desperate study.
In the study of salvation I was first exposed to Arminian and Calvinist thinking. As we studied their views on salvation I was stuck. I wanted to be Arminian, but I did not believe salvation could be lost. At this point, I did not truly understand Arminian Theology. Calvinism was appealing, but I did not believe that Scripture taught God arbitrarily elected individuals to salvation. If that was true, His choosing some to salvation was also choosing the rest to damnation, irresistibly. So I left my initial study of salvation not as an Arminian or Calvinist. I took the label of "Biblicist." Biblicist is a rather silly position. In some ways, it is elitist nonsense. Elitist, because its implication is that neither Calvinists nor Arminians are being biblical. Their commitment is not to Scripture, but to a system. Nonsense, because by saying you are Biblicist you aren't really saying anything at all, there is no description to your view of election or predestination. High school ended with me not knowing what I believed, at least, not knowing what my beliefs should be called, but knowing that it was certainly more biblical than Calvinism or Arminianism. In college, however, things would change.
Calvinism Forming and Flourishing
When I would doubt the truth of Calvinism I quickly reminded myself of its rich heritage. Augustine, John Calvin, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, were all Calvinists. Today, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, and John Piper are all Calvinists. These men were and are some of the greatest and most influential individuals in the history of Christianity. But self-reassurance with these men only lasted so long. Life was beginning to hurt. It was more than theoretical theology in a book, it was real life: experiencing deep pain, romantic heartbreak and tearing loss of death. For me, my theology had to be able to function practically.What I believed brought actual, serious, perspective to the hardships I faced in life. Theology could not be disconnected from life. And life was crushing me. I began to question. What is God really like? Why is there evil in the world? Why does God offer salvation to all if He doesn't intend for all to be saved? Why does he command every man to repent, but purposely withholds regenerating grace from them? Why does He with hold from them the ability to repent, then holds them responsible for not? Isn't that the very nature of cruelty? Are my family members elect? What if God made my precious, little cousins for the purpose of suffering in Hell for His glory? Was God truly good?
That last question was the breaking point for me. I turned to my theological mentor, and hoped he had an answer. He did. John Piper taught that God had two wills. At times the wills of God clashed with one another. This view was taught by Edwards and also held by profound theologian Wayne Grudem. In salvation, God's revealed will was the salvation of all, but his secret determinative will was the damnation of those He wanted to save. God decreed against his own wishes? He willed against Himself? I found no assurance or comfort in the doctrine of the dual willed God. It was John Piper who showed me the glories of the Doctrines of Grace and ironically, it was John Piper who showed me its glaring weaknesses. He both drew me in and pushed me out of Calvinism. One chilly, fall morning I reached the crossroads. I was walking along the campus sidewalks, deep in thought. Is God really for me? I mean, is he really for me? Or is that what His revealed will says, but His secret will decrees against? Again, God's goodness was in question. Remaining a Calvinist meant I would either have to abandon my belief in God's goodness or abandon my belief in God altogether.
As I studied more, I found Calvinism to be lacking in its account of Scripture's whole teaching. The character of God I discovered in entirety of the Bible was one of immense compassion. He is One who describes His relationship with humans as a lover wooing and striving for newly rekindled love with an unfaithful bride. He is One who feels the pain of rejected love. He is One who is actually hurt by the actions of His creatures. This God who is love, made an atonement for every human being and desires the salvation of everyone. This was the character of God that I had known before my conversion to Calvinism. Even Romans 9 wasn't a chapter to be feared. It is in the context of God's dealing with Israel. This discussion spans from Romans 9 and goes through Romans 11. It must be read with Jeremiah 18. My study of Scripture no longer allowed me to remain a Calvinist.
I didn't embrace Arminianism right away. In fact, I wasn't comfortable at all with the label Arminian. Arminians, after all, believed that you could lose your salvation and that man was the primary mover in salvation. At that time I didn't understand what Arminians actually believed. As time moved on, however, I was intrigued by Arminian Theology and so I began to study it for myself.
The first book I bought was Roger E. Olson's terrific Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Olson, a crusading Arminian, clarified all of my misgivings and misconceptions about Jacob Arminius and the theology that bears his name. Here I learned that the primary concern of Arminian theology was not the free will of man but the character of God. I learned that the two biggest proponents of Arminian theology, Jacob Arminius and John Wesley both taught a strong, reformed view of original sin and total depravity. Without God's prevenient grace man was without hope. I was surprised to see that the possibility of falling away from the faith was not a settled topic in Arminian thinking. To be Arminian did not necessitate the abandonment of perseverance of the saints.
I began to read Arminius for himself. To my great surprise, I found much in common with him. My study of Arminian thought continued with Thomas C. Oden's helpful work The Transforming Power of Grace. Arminian theology was an expression, a description of my own interpretation of Scripture. I discovered that I was Arminian. And that was ok.
As it turns out, with the exception of my brief stay in Calvinism, I had always been Arminian. A.W. Tozer, who had so profoundly shaped my theological thinking in high school, was a thorough Arminian. As I read him today, my mind is still fed and my soul stirred. I still love John Piper and John MacArthur. I consume their books. I listen to their sermons. I'm built up by them. I still have deep, deep, sympathies for Calvinism. I still see the glory of God as the motif of my life. My life's goal is to make much of Him. I rejected Calvinism because I could not live life as a Calvinist. I could not believe both that Calvinism was true and that God is good. For me, and Arminius, and Wesley, God's goodness is the central burden of Arminian theology. I greatly appreciate Calvinism, am enthusiastic about the Young, Restless and Reformed, and still read, enjoy, and glean much from Calvinist theology. But ultimately, I'm an Arminian. My soteriological journey has led me here. I'm an Arminian who affirms total depravity. I'm an Arminian who believes in the beautiful, necessary, drawing of God without which no one would ever come to the Father. I'm an Arminian who believes and submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I'm an Arminian who embraces the perseverance of the saints. I'm a Classical Arminian.