It’s no secret that I’ve been a “conflicted Christian” since coming to this church more than twelve years ago. Perhaps “Fragile Christian” better describes my current state. This faith-struggle emanates from (what are to me) the diametrically opposed perspectives on the nature and character of God. On one side is Calvinism. On the other side is Arminianism. To be blunt, I hate the concept of Calvinistic determination and how I view God through the Calvinist’s lens. Perhaps foolishly, through study and writing, I thought it’d be possible to make sense of Christian doctrines despite the differing perspectives. With a bit of surprise, I’ve discovered multitudes of smart and good-willed people on both sides putting forth persuasive arguments. And the conundrum for me is that many of the same scriptures are used to argue both sides of the spectrum. Christianity, then, is no longer about the “known”. Rather, my faith has devolved into little more than opinion. And I readily admit that my opinion on Christian doctrine is largely based on my antipathy toward Calvinistic thought. Still, having “bad feelings” toward Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong.
Prior to a recent service, I was thumbing through a book given out to first-time visitors; “Things That Cannot Be Shaken”. Page 105 states:
Those given to Christ by the Father are those who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. They are the people of God, picked out from eternity and secured in the work that the Son accomplished in history.
These authors obviously have Calvinist leanings. However, when I couple the concept of Calvinistic election with earlier sermon comments regarding Psalm 139 (being planned, known and wanted), I am suddenly struck with the undeniable reality that God (per Calvinist doctrine) has not only chosen some for grace, he’s intentionally chosen some for destruction. Frankly, if total depravity is indeed true and humans lack the ability to understand their own sin and are incapable of seeking out a savior, then I want no part of a god who intentionally kills off some of his creation that he could otherwise save.
I wanted to speak with you regarding your sermon example of God breaking the leg of a sheep. I’m not doubting what you said. However, in the years that I’ve been aware of this verse, I’ve never once heard anyone explain the rationale from a shepherd’s perspective. Instead, I’ve always understood the verse within the context of God “disciplining those he loves”. To which, if God thinks it necessary, he’ll break your legs. How often have I heard something along the lines of: “How can we mere mortals understand God? He’s omniscient and sovereign. And he’ll [insert catastrophic event here] if he deems it best. And it’ll be for your betterment so just shut-up and suck it up.”
What it comes down to, Pastor, is that I’m nothing more than a pretender. I’m tired of pretending and coming to Woodcrest under what I can only define as a false pretense. I’m tired of pretending to understand that which continues to allude me. I’m tired of arguing with Calvinists – whether at church, at work or on blogs. I’m tired of my inability to discern the truth. For the longest time, I’ve been doing little else but “playing church”.
Sermons ought to be like sweet music to believers – Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. To me, however, the messages coming through my thick skull only seem to bore deeper into the already open wounds of trying to rectify Calvinist doctrine with the notion of a loving heavenly father. The reality is that I’m not attending Woodcrest for worship, or service, or preaching, or small-group studies, etc. Rather, I come for the fellowship. Period. And it would be fair to say that I’m playing avoidance games by not dealing with the issue and hoping my angst disappears. But I’m not fooling anyone – least of all me. I haven’t taken communion in a long time. I’ve often left church after the service has started. I haven’t followed in obedience to believer’s baptism because I have no confidence that I am one of God’s elect. Nor have I assurance of my own salvation. I’m just a big phony – playing a game as it were by showing my face, serving in the greeting ministry and pretending that all is well.
Unfortunately, I believe it’s best for me to step away – at least for a while as, simply put, I’m not comfortable participating in worship-related activities and service at Woodcrest.
Sincerely (and with regret),
4 thoughts on “A Difficult but Necessary Decision”
Hi Bob-I read this again. While attesting to the fact that lacking the intellect of great theologians, not sure who is right on the debate between Calvinist and Armenians, it causes me little concern. Personally I think much right with both and much wrong in both. And no, am not confused. For the real purpose of this email…need to tap into your gift to meet people. When can I buy you a cup of coffee? Blessings Armando
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Que’ tal Armando – thanks for stopping by. I assure that I’m lacking theological intellect. This is just my little way of trying to make sense of that which confuses me. With regret, not sure that I’m actually making progress. But I’d welcome the chance to talk over coffee. I’ll call.
I choose to be neither. I am not Calvinist and I am not Arminian. These two groups insist that you must belong to one camp or the other. I would say I am a Christ-follower, but that has also become cliché. I avoid arguing because I have learned that our greatest weakness is our “god” of being right about everything. Most debate sites exist so that men can flex their theological muscles. I understand what God has clearly revealed to me, and the rest, I continue to trust Him to teach me as he sees fit. But I know this, I could never sit under the leadership, authority, or teaching of a Calvinist pastor. That much is clear to me. Here is the irony, the Calvinists develop their theology through the lenses of sovereignty (their understanding of sovereignty), and that puts Him in a box. Now He must operate within the boundaries of divine sovereignty (their view of dvine sovereight). This eliminates the possibility of creativity, impulse, or spontaneity. To answer our prayers, by definition, our requests, involves God’s willingness to be creative and spontaneous within our lives. I love that God is willing to respond to me. That’s relationship. Anything else is dictatorial control. I am amazed at those who focus on God’s attributes of sovereignty and transcendence because they are the same ones who limit His ability and dogmatically insist that He must work within their theological framework. And I have been told that I limit God’s power, it’s unbelievable to me. Go figure. I hope that I could encourage you in some small way.
Thank-you for your kind and gentle response. I agree that Calvinists unintentionally put God in a box with regard to sovereignty thereby limiting, as you say, God’s willingness to be creative and spontaneous. Still, it’s troubling that so many can have such diametrically opposed perspectives given that everyone references many of the same scriptures.