Well, at least sometimes.
I preach that we should do our best to develop sound theology, which includes reading the ideas of those we know to be Christian, but who may have a different idea on a subject than we do.
My “practice” in this area has led me to, over the years, change my doctrinal beliefs in a few areas. Some that come to mind are Bible versions, conduct of worship, spiritual gifts, and predestination. While I grew in my faith as I explored all of these areas (and would be happy to write about all of them), I believe that my faith has exploded upward and outward in ways heretofore never imagined during and after my full development considering the most recent. Therefore, it is the one I wish to write about first.
I began my life as a Christian as an Arminian. I believe that this is the place where almost everyone in the West begins their Christian life (more on that later). Basically, an Arminian Christian believes the following:
1. Conditional Election - Election is based on the faith or belief of men. God is in charge, and has predestined believers, but has done so based upon his foreknowledge of our decision.
2. Universal Atonement - The atonement is for all, but only believers enjoy its benefits. Christ dies for the whole world, but only those who choose to come to him are, in fact, saved.
3. Saving Faith - Man, unaided by the Holy Spirit, is unable to come to God. Thus, the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in salvation, but…
4. Resistible Grace - The drawing of the Holy Spirit can be resisted. It still requires the free decision of the individual.
5. Uncertainty of Preservation – Because men can choose to follow or not follow Christ, they can continue to do so and can “lose” their salvation.
Because I had been in a lot of Baptist churches, I was actually a 4-point Arminian. I believed in “the eternal security of the believer”, and “once saved, always saved”. The crux of Arminianism is that our future is not chosen for us, we are free to choose, but God knew who would choose before we do.
Then and now, I consider those elements of Arminianism to be intellectually honest. I believe that God could have created men to be totally free and yet he still knew what they would do.
However, after years of not considering these doctrines, I began to think at length about them. People often said that “God has a plan for X”. However, I realized that this could not be possible. If I am really free to choose, and can resist the Holy Spirit at any time, then God could not possibly have a plan. What, did he just keep on making people until he knew it turned out right? I found Arminianism, in its diametrically opposed ideas of a God who is in charge and yet lets us do whatever we want, leading to the “plan”? Thus, in about 1998 I abandoned Arminianism to the small minded, moving instead to become an Open Theist.
An Open Theist follows the “clockmaker” idea of God – God made the world and let it go wild. He really doesn’t know what we are going to do, because in his infinite wisdom and power he restricted himself from knowing what we would do because he wanted us to freely love him and freely choose him. If he knew the bad things we would do, he would not allow us to do them because we should do good things. Thus I thought and thus I preached. Open Theism is entirely intellectually honest, and I believe that it does not compromise the sovereignty, power or wisdom of God. I believed that God intervened in this clock from time to time to nudge us toward the plan, but that, by and large, we were free to choose, good or evil.
However, a few years after that (2004, to be precise), I realized something. Open Theism is intellectually honest, but it is definitely not Biblical. How can it be that the “steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD” (Psalms 37:23) if he doesn’t know what I am going to do? How could God tell Israel’s captive people that he had plans for them, a hope and a future? How could God give any prophecy to anyone if he didn’t know what was going to happen?
In a moment of grace, I snapped from Open Theist to what some call Calvinism and what I and others call the Doctrine of Grace. Well, that’s more dramatic than it really was. I read a lot about the issue, and came down firmly on the side of Grace.
Over the next few posts I will attempt to define the Doctrines of Grace for laymen, of which I am one. I want to thank UK John and Alastair for inspiring me to do this. I think the mass of those who do not accept the doctrines of grace do so because they believe the caricature of it presented by opponents.
Perserverance of the Saints
Where Arminianism Fails
Arminianism's Moral Source
Arminianism's Logical Source and Logical Progression