A ‘new Calvinism’
The June issue of Tabletalk, published by Ligonier Ministries, focuses on what is being called the ‘New Calvinism’. Also a popular new book by Collin Hansen, published by Crossway, is titled Young, restless and reformed.
Apparently there is renewed interest in Calvinistic or reformed theology. In this article I want to describe how I came to embrace the doctrines of grace.
At age 21, I was converted through the ministry of a Southern Baptist preacher, Bob Lewis, at the First Baptist Church of Fairfield, California. The theology there was dispensational and Arminian.
Later I attended a Southern Baptist seminary and pastored a Southern Baptist church. I loved evangelism and studied the evangelistic methods of R. A. Torrey and Charles G. Finney. Billy Graham was my hero and the person I tried hard to emulate.
But after 29 years of leading people to Christ using the various techniques I had learned from Torrey, Finney, Graham and others, I began to take another look at the nature of conversion.
This investigation was prompted by two things – first, the reality that so many were not converted after repeating the sinner’s prayer and confessing Christ publicly. I cannot say that all who did this went unconverted, but enough did and obviously so; so I knew something was wrong.
Then second, while studying the debate between Asahel Nettleton and Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening in America – a debate regarding the use of the ‘new measures’ employed by Finney – I realised I had inherited the methodology of Finney. I had to consider the possibility that Finney’s decisionism was flawed.
The prospect that I had headed in the wrong direction, or at least partially so, for the entirety of my ministry shook me to my foundation. I recalled that I had not been converted after repeating the sinner’s prayer with deacon Al Becker, after I had come forward at an invitation; nor was I converted when questioned about my faith in Jesus in front of the congregation prior to being voted into membership on the promise of my baptism.
It was neither of those occasions, but rather nine months later that I was born from above, and during those nine months I went through an intense spiritual storm about my sinfulness and lack of faith in Jesus.
In a way I cannot explain, I was after those months finally truly converted and saved, and knew it instantly. There was a change, the start of a lifetime of changes. Now I believed in Jesus as my Saviour, and suddenly I loved to read the Bible and pray.
Most surprising of all, given my previous attitude toward churches and Christians, I now sought to be in church every time I had the chance.
Some decades later, I searched the Scripture to examine the nature of conversion and slowly came to a new understanding of things. It became abundantly clear to me that predestination and election – the doctrines of grace that I had developed such antagonism to, earlier in my life – were what the Bible clearly and actually taught. I could not get around it. This was in 1995-1996.
At that point I longed for someone to talk to about what I was discovering. Somehow information came to me about L. R. Shelton in Pensacola, Florida, and the ministry of Mt Zion Church and the Free grace broadcaster.
Over the course of many months of phone calls to Mr Shelton, he patiently answered my questions and suggested some authors to read. He introduced me to, among others, Charles Spurgeon and Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth Trust. Little by little I was reforming, starting at probably 2.5 points on the ‘TULIP’ scale; then 3.5 points, until finally I am up to 4.5 points now. ‘Wow!’ is all I can say, and ‘Glory to God!’
As a result of my work in the area of true and false conversion, I wrote a book about my journey of discovery (Are you really born again?). Evangelical Press liked it and the book was published in 1998.
For me, the issue was conversion, since I have always been focused on mission and evangelism. Reformed theology moved me to a more careful proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
My favourite verse had always been: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16). To this is now added Romans 10:17: ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’.
So this must place me as part of the ‘new Calvinists’, of the Baptist variety. I am not young, not restless, but, by the grace of God, I am reformed!
Are you really born again? (ISBN: 9780852346044) is available from Christian bookshops, Cumberland Valley Bible Bookstore (PA), or EP Books