Anatomy of a Church Split: Part 4

Part 4: My Testimony as a Member of Arab First Baptist; Full Disclosure

What follows is my personal testimony, interspersed with my commentary, of the events occurring at Arab First Baptist beginning on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 and continuing to the time of this writing. Testimony from Jack Dixon regarding her experiences beginning in November of 2022 are also presented. This testimony includes the evidence that I possess to corroborate my story. I have blacked out all names with the exception of mine, my son’s, Jack’s, and David Kizziah’s. However, where necessary for the understanding of the narrative, I have labeled the position of the party involved.

August – September 2022:

After the Wednesday night Bible study on August 10,2022, my 17 year-old son, Kane, found a box of books against the wall in the youth room and asked the youth pastor what they were and if he could have a look. The youth pastor explained that they were the books David had chosen to use as the curriculum for the upcoming youth semester and readily passed him a copy. The book was Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.

Knowing that Wayne Grudem is Calvinist, Kane asked if he could take a book home to look over. The youth pastor had no problem with this.

Wayne Grudem is a well-known and highly respected Calvinist theologian. I personally hold him in high regard and agree with numerous stances that he takes, with the exception, of course, of his staunch Calvinism. In the “Preface to the First Edition,” Grudem states:

“This book is a summary of twenty basic beliefs that every Christian should know.”

“It is a condensed version of my book Bible Doctrine (528 pages), and that itself is a condensed version of my Systematic Theology (1,290 pages). My son Elliot Grudem, an MDiv graduate from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, has done an excellent job in saving the most essential sections from those earlier books…”

After looking the book over himself, Kane brought the book to me on that same Wednesday night. He explained that this book was intended as curriculum for the upcoming youth semester and told me that he thought I should have a look, adding that he didn’t think I’d be happy about it. I recognized Grudem immediately, but since the title seemed to indicate that this was simply a teaching on twenty beliefs that are basic for every Christian to know I was not alarmed. That changed when I realized that this book was actually a condensed version of his systematic theology, and that the twenty “basic beliefs” included several explicitly Calvinist distinctives such as the Calvinist version of election and predestination; irresistible grace, including a break-down of the “general” versus “effective” Gospel call; compatibilism presented as the “Biblical” definition of free will; regeneration preceding faith; and original sin as inherited guilt. This list is by no means exhaustive.

In all honestly, I was shocked and more than a little confused. The youth pastor seemed to be completely fine with this text, yet I was all but certain that he was not a proponent of Calvinism. I also believed that the majority of the youth parents were not Calvinist. Historically, Arab First Baptist has been a non-Calvinist church, though I was aware that there were a few Calvinist or Calvinist leaning members. The following day, August 11th, I sent the email below to the youth pastor.

YP = youth pastor

 

 

I did not receive a reply from the youth pastor. However,  Pastor David Kizziah sent me the reply below on Friday, August 12th.

 

 

 

As you can see, the tone is direct, yet friendly and respectful. Notice that I have outlined in red where David readily told me that he agrees with Grudem on every Calvinist point of contention I raised. I understand his following statement (“How do I articulate what the Bible teaches about free will? Original sin? Etc… This is our hope for our students. This is what is ‘basic.’”) to mean that it is his hope to teach the Calvinist view of free will, original sin, etc to the youth as doctrines that are “basic” to Christianity.

However, he also follows that by indicating that the youth will be able to “work that out on the anvil” of discussion and good hermeneutics. I was both encouraged and troubled by that last statement. On the one hand, I was happy that Kane would be allowed to question these teachings and explain the non-Calvinist interpretations of key Scriptures, which was something I felt reasonably confident in his ability to do. On the other hand, I was uncomfortable that this scenario could potentially come across as my 17-year old being pitted against authority.

That same day, I sent the following reply to David.

 

My tone is very friendly and respectful, and I obviously hold a high view of his character. I answered his questions clearly, and clarified that I have not personally had any negative experiences with Calvinism.

At this time I did reach out to my friend Jack Dixon, who was a youth leader, because I wanted to have at least one person that was aware of the situation other than just David, myself, and my son. I brought her the book, showed her my email correspondence with the youth pastor and David, as well as the Word document I attached to my original email to the youth pastor. I didn’t think that she and her family were Calvinist, and I wanted to show her what was planned for the upcoming semester. I told her that David and I would be scheduling a meeting. In later correspondence we set a meeting time for the following Thursday, August 18th, at 10:30 am.

The tone of our meeting was also friendly. I re-stated much of what is in the email above. He was nothing but genial and forthcoming in explaining his doctrinal views to me, confirming that they are in alignment with what Grudem presents in the text he selected for the youth. I explained that I had become aware from his sermons that he was Calvinist shortly after he arrived. I told him that during the time when we were searching for a pastor, I had asked the Associate Pastor (who had since moved on to a different congregation) what he thought the odds were that a Calvinist pastor would be hired, and that he told me he didn’t think that was likely considering our history as a non-Calvinist congregation. However, I told him that I was content to remain, despite the fact that I did not support the use of the Grudem text as a curriculum for the youth.

He asked me once again if I had had bad experiences with Calvinists or Calvinism in my past. I reiterated to him that I had not personally had any negative experiences with Calvinists or Calvinism. I expressed to him that I did not think it was fair to the non-Calvinist youth leaders to expect them to teach Calvinist doctrine. He indicated that they’d be free to teach the lessons as they liked. I told him that I thought this might put them in an uncomfortable position, and I also told him that I was concerned that some of them might not be equipped to articulate non-Calvinist interpretations of the passages the book presents Calvinistically. I asked if he would consider supplying a non-Calvinist resource of his choosing alongside the Grudem text. He declined to do so.

He did express his desire for us all to be unified in our diversity. The meeting lasted for about an hour, and at the end David asserted that he would not consider pulling the text, or supplying a non-Calvinist resource. However, he asked me if there was some other measure that would allow me to leave the meeting satisfied. I asked if he would at least make the youth parents aware that the curriculum is Calvinist so that they could prepare responses to give their children, rather than being taken completely off guard. He said that he did not want to use the word “Calvinist,” because he considered it to be inflammatory. However, he said that he would tell the youth parents that the curriculum was “Reformed.” He confirmed to me at that time that he uses the two terms synonymously.

It did bother me that he was unwilling to even consider supplying a non-Calvinist text despite the fact that he acknowledged that the majority of the youth leaders and parents are not Calvinist. Despite that, David was never rude or angry during the meeting. I was at least relieved that he had agreed to make the parents aware that it was a “Reformed” text, although I was concerned that some parents might not know what that meant. Honestly, I hoped this measure would be enough to cause other parents to voice the same concerns that I had, and perhaps we could get a non-Calvinist resource added to the curriculum. Overall, I would say that I left the meeting uneasy, but not yet concerned about his character.

On August 23rd, the youth pastor sent the following email to the youth parents in announcement of the upcoming semester.

 

I was upset. Although the name of the book was included, there was no mention that it was a Reformed text, which was the one thing David had told me that he would do. I also noticed that some of the youth parents had been left off the email list, and that of those left off, some were individuals I knew to be non-Calvinist. I am not saying that I believe this was intentional. I’m just stating that these parents did not get the heads up that I had been promised they would get.

Most youth parents have absolutely no idea who Wayne Grudem is, much less than he is Calvinist. Furthermore, the title seems to indicate that the book is a primer on basic Christian beliefs. I doubted that this would raise red flags for anyone.  As parents, we trust the Pastor and the Youth Pastor to provide materials that we would find acceptable. In the context of our historically non-Calvinist church, not a single one of us would expect our youth program to be teaching Calvinism 101 as basic Christian doctrine.

I wasn’t sure what to do. In hindsight, I should have gone back to him and asked him why he didn’t disclose that the book is Reformed as he had agreed to do. But I didn’t. Instead, I reached out to a deacon that I respected, and that Kane particularly looked up to. Kane told me that this deacon had given a presentation at some point in the past detailing why he disagreed with Calvinism. He has a child in the youth program, so I believed that he was a good choice. He also happened to be one of the youth parents that was left off the announcement email recipient list. I sent him the email below on August 25th.

 

 

He replied to me that day with the email below.

 

 

I didn’t hear back from him for quite some time, but I had also told him there was no rush, and that I had mainly wanted to make him aware.

In the interim, I had decided to let some of the parents that I knew for sure were not Calvinist know about the book, which had already begun to be taught by this time. I agonized over whether or not this was the right thing to do, but I truly felt like I had been painted into a corner. If the situation were reversed and I was a non-Calvinist parent who had no idea that my child was being taught Calvinist doctrine as basic Christianity, I would certainly want to know, if for no other reason than to allow me to have my own conversations with my kids about the topic.

This amounted to 2 parents at the time. I just hadn’t had conversations with the others that would indicate to me where they stood.  I mentioned it (very awkwardly) to the children’s minister’s wife in between Wednesday night children’s service activities.  I was certain that they weren’t Calvinist, but her response made me think perhaps they were okay with the material (they have kids in youth too). I didn’t say anything else to her about it. I now know that she really didn’t pick up on exactly what it was I was telling her. I had been super awkward about it. No to mention the fact that I had brought it up when there were quite a lot of distractions going on around us. I told one other parent, who was also displeased, and asked me to keep her updated on the reply from the leadership I had reached out to.

In the meantime, the book was being used for the curriculum, and Kane would report to me what he had said at each meeting and how it was received. It wasn’t a great situation, but so far nothing earth shattering had occurred.

On September 14th, I received the following reply from the deacon I had made aware of the situation.

 

 

I was encouraged that he said he would be bringing this to the attention of the deacons and ministerial staff. However, I never heard anything else about that. I replied to him with the email below on September 21st.

YL = youth leader

 

 

November 2022:

The Sunday School Lesson

This is the month that everything went south. The lesson in the curriculum on election was coming up, and the youth pastor reached out to David to ask him to come give a “two views” style lesson in which he would give both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist views of election like he had done for some of the youth the year before. The youth pastor told Kane that he thought he would be pleased, because David had agreed to present both views of election in the upcoming lesson. Kane was encouraged by this news. I told my friend, the children’s minister’s wife, what Kane had been told so they’d be aware.

On November 6th, David gave the presentation to the youth during Sunday School. He did not give two views; he gave only the Calvinist view. There was a lot of confusion. The youth pastor had not been present, however there were a few youth leaders in attendance, one of which was Jack Dixon. Below is a picture that Kane took of the white board that David used in teaching the lesson.

 

 

If you are unfamiliar with Calvinism, you may need to refer to Part 2 of this series in order to get a better understanding of what is being taught on this board. David has listed the Calvinist order of salvation, which places God’s choice of the “elect” first. According to Calvinism, He chose the “elect” before Creation, not based on anything He foreknew about any individual. Calvinists don’t like to use the word “arbitrary” to describe the choice, but it does get the point across accurately nonetheless.

After that comes the Gospel call. If you are elect, your Gospel call will be what is called “effective,” meaning He will regenerate you, thus enabling and ensuring that you will respond in faith/repentance/belief, and be saved . If you are non-elect, the Gospel call you receive is what Calvinists refer to as “general.” God will not regenerate you, and you will not be able to even desire to have faith, repent, or believe, so your call will not be “effective,” and you will not be saved.

The umbrella of “sovereign will” over “free will” denotes the Calvinist definition of both God’s sovereign will and man’s free will. Calvinists view God’s sovereign will as equivalent with exhaustive divine determinism (though many don’t like to use the word “determinism”). Instead of defining free will in the libertarian sense (one can choose to do or not do a particular proposition, i.e., choose to either accept or reject the Gospel), they define it in the compatibilistic sense (you’re “free” because you choose to do what you want to do; however, you cannot want to accept the Gospel unless you have been regenerated).

Kane explained to me that David opened the lesson by citing Deuteronomy 29:29 which reads:

“29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (ESV)

Calvinists cite this verse as corroboration that some of the ways God interacts with us are mysterious and difficult to understand. Kane says he used the example of the Trinity (i.e., it’s difficult to understand how God can be both 1 and 3, but we know it’s true). In my opinion, this is an unconvincing argument. It’s perfectly reasonable to accept that my finite mind is not capable of grasping the details of the metaphysical existence of the Creator of the universe. It’s not reasonable to convince myself to accept two mutually exclusive truths as true at the same time and call it a “mystery.” Especially, when there are valid reasons not to accept that those two mutually exclusive truths are simultaneously true. As Calvinist Paul Helm has cautioned, that “could be license to accept nonsense.”

Kane says that David then began to go through the usual Calvinist proof texts: Ephesians 1:11, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 8, etc. During this time, Kane says that David explicitly taught exhaustive divine determinism and compatibilist free will (but neither by name). Next, Kane says that he explained that God has decrees and He has desires. You can see those two words written on the white board. (see the Calvinist view of the two wills of God in Part 2).

Somewhere around this point, Kane tells me that he raised his hand to counter some of the points David was giving with a non-Calvinist perspective. He said he literally only got one word out: “Well,” before David stopped him and asked him to hold all questions until the end, after which Kane did not speak or raise his hand again until the end.

Kane says at that point, David “strongly implied” that some people disagree with this theology for emotional rather than rational reasons, and that some consider it “unfair.” To illustrate all of this, David gave the common Calvinist analogy of God as author and humans as characters. He gave two examples here: one of Star Wars and one of Harry Potter.

With regard to Star Wars, he explained that God is analogous with George Lucas. He pre-determined absolutely everything that would occur, down to everything each character is and everything each character does. He then said something to the effect of: But when you’re watching the movie, and Darth Vader does something horrible, who do you blame, Darth Vader or George Lucas?” He answered his own question saying that, of course, we blame Darth Vader! David further explained that as author, God has decrees that will certainly come to pass. However, he also has desires that appear to be contrary to those decrees. For example, God does not desire that Darth Vader be evil and do evil things, however, as author, He has unchangeably decreed that Darth Vader will indeed be and do both.

When David ended his presentation, Kane was allowed to respond. He says that he picked the random starting place of explaining the non-Calvinist interpretation of Romans 8. He says David said that he was unfamiliar with his argument. Kane tells me that David then shut down his questions, saying that it would be better if they continued their discussion in private because Kane was using words that the rest of the room didn’t understand. Kane said he had merely used the word “soteriology,” which he followed by defining as “doctrine of salvation.”

Kane was angry. More than a few kids were completely confused. Some kids and even one of the youth leaders were coming to Jack and asking her all kinds of questions she couldn’t answer at the moment. Apparently they did feel comfortable asking David these questions. Jack has given me permission to supply the text conversation that took place between her and the youth pastor immediately after the meeting.

 

 

I want to point out that Jack’s attitude toward David here is certainly one of respect. She says that David handled everything with respect, and she clearly believes that David will agree to come address the youth again to clear up confusion. She also expresses concern that David not “feel attacked.”

There was a church picnic scheduled the evening of November 6th. Kane was still so upset about the day’s events that we didn’t attend. By evening, the children’s minister had also become aware that some children and parents were upset. He approached David at the picnic and encouraged him to clarify to the parents what had happened. David told him that there was no issue; only a couple of people had problems with the lesson.

The following Tuesday, November 8th, the youth pastor meets with David and requests that he come address the youth again, allowing them to ask questions and to clear up the confusion. David told the youth pastor to have the kids submit their questions in writing, then David would provide him with a script of his answers to read to the kids. The youth pastor did not agree to this, and continued to request that David come and address the youth in person. David relented and instructed the youth pastor to have the kids submit their questions in writing.

The next night, at the Wednesday night youth meeting, Jack and the youth pastor encouraged the kids to submit questions. Ultimately, Kane was the only one to submit questions that I am aware of. In my opinion, this was not because the kids didn’t have questions. Jack sure had fielded plenty. Ultimately, David refused to come address the kids again, saying that since only one had submitted a question, he would just meet privately, one-on-one, with any youth who expressed the desire to do so.

At this point, I was beginning to re-consider my view of his character, but I was still admonishing myself to give him the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, and to wait and see how things played out. He had not reached out to me or to my son at any point.

The following Sunday, November 13th, Jack got to church early to speak with David herself. It was not a scheduled meeting. When she went back to see him, the youth pastor was there as well. She expressed that she was disappointed in his handling of this situation so far. She explained that kids were addressing questions to her about his presentation, and that she felt that put her in a bad position. She is not Calvinist, therefore, any explanation that she gave would be from a non-Calvinist point of view. She felt that this placed her in the position of appearing disrespectful of his authority. He replied that he didn’t know what she meant. She answered that the kids had questions, but he would not agree to come answer them personally. He replied that no one had come to him with questions, she appeared to be the only one. Additionally, he told her that if she was feeling this way, he believed that she must be experiencing spiritual conviction over what he had taught during the lesson and that they should have a one-on-one meeting at a later date. This upset her, and she told David that she was not convicted, that she knows what she believes, and that she did not need a one-on-one with him. She added that if people weren’t coming to him with their questions, then it seems that he has an authority issue, not that she had a conviction issue.

At this point, she saw that he was angry. He asked her what she thought should happen? She answered that she believed he should schedule a meeting with the youth and youth parents in order to discuss what happened and clear any confusion. He told her to go find people that wanted to meet and he would do so. She countered that she was not going to allow him to put that task on her, because it would give the impression that she was the one orchestrating this whole thing. She indicated that he and the youth pastor should schedule a meeting and invite the youth and parents. Ultimately, the youth pastor sent out a text to the youth parents with the date, indicating that David wanted to meet with us to clarify recent events. The texts below are from the youth pastor to Jack after the meeting with David described above.

 

 

It is clear that by this point, I was not the only one questioning David’s behavior. David’s treatment of Jack in the meeting was understandably a turning point for her. A youth parent had even reached out to Jack with suspicions that David could have ulterior motives.  It is also obvious to me that the youth pastor already seems to believe that David will not be forthcoming with the youth parents unless someone is present to ask questions that he can’t skirt. Again, the children’s minister reached out to David to encourage him to address the situation. He was told again that there was no situation.

It should also be noted that when Jack talked to the chairman of the deacon’s wife about this, she sent Jack a PowerPoint presenting the doctrines of TULIP. She and I knew that the chairman of the deacon’s family were Calvinist, because Jack had asked his wife directly at our kids’ robotics tournament earlier that weekend. She replied that they were 4-point Calvinists. This took me a little by surprise since she had not been Calvinist when we attended Tuesday women’s Bible study together in previous years, though I had not discussed the topic with her in quite some time.

She and I talked and both agreed that since there was so much confusion about what Calvinism is, it would be beneficial if we could arrange to have David present the Calvinist view clearly and a respected non-Calvinist pastor present the non-Calvinist view.  After that discussion, the chairman of the deacon’s wife sent that TULIP PowerPoint to another female church member that had been sitting with us during this conversation, and to the children’s minister’s wife. I don’t know who else, if anyone, she sent a presentation to. I did not receive one.

At this point, I started to consider the fact that her husband had been on the pastor search committee. I remembered that she had told me back then that he had been tasked with delivering a presentation to the committee on Calvinism. I do not know if they had already become Calvinist at that time. At this particular time, I still believed that David’s character was such that he surely would have disclosed his doctrinal persuasions to the committee. With the information I had at that time, I made the assumption that the pastor search committee as a whole had known that David was Calvinist and had chosen not to disclose that to all of the deacons or to the congregation. I felt betrayed by this.

The conversation between Jack and the youth pastor continues below.

 

 

Here, the youth pastor expresses that he feels guilty, saying that he should’ve skipped the lesson. It should be stated that this fiasco was in no way his fault. This is a curriculum book that his pastor selected for him to use. He should not be in the position of having to censor information from the pastor’s chosen curriculum. Additionally, as Jack points out, David did not teach the lesson the youth pastor asked him to teach. It is also clear to all involved that without Jack’s persistence, David would never have agreed to hold this meeting. In truth, he had intentionally endeavored to avoid it. You can also see that Jack and I are already aware that we are, to some extent, being characterized as disgruntled women causing problems.

 

The Parent Meeting

The parent meeting was scheduled for November 16th. I had come prepared with my question typed up so I would state it properly, and some rebuttals to a few Calvinist claims in cases I needed them. I also brought my copy of Harwood’s Christian Theology. I felt sufficiently put off by this stage that I intended to be very direct with my question. I knew that most of the parents in the room were not aware of the interactions between myself and David at this point, nor were they aware of Jack’s. Therefore, I believed it was important for me to set my question in the proper context by explaining some of the backstory. I, personally, had no interest at all in discussing Calvinism. I wanted to hear him express actionable intent to facilitate unity in our congregation. So many parents attended that we had to move from the youth room to the much larger fireplace room downstairs.

We had been told previously that the meeting was only for parents, but I brought Kane. There were five deacons in attendance, one of which is also a youth leader. This night is like a blur to me due to the intensity of the emotions, the number of people speaking, and the length of the meeting. It was just a lot of content. I’ve don’t the best I can to recount what happened.

After everyone was seated the chairman of the deacons passed out a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message section on election, which is section V, “God’s Purpose of Grace”.

David then told everyone that he wanted to call this meeting to discuss and clear up any confusion from the lesson he had taught the youth. In actuality, he had been all but forced to have this meeting against his will. He began by giving a vague presentation of the Calvinist view of election, which he referred to as the “Biblical” doctrine of election. Since we had all just been handed a copy of the election section of the Baptist Faith and Message, it seemed clear to me that his intent in this style of presentation was to imply that if anyone disagrees with the doctrine of election as he had just explained it, then they are not in alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message. This is false since numerous non-Calvinist scholars and theologians affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. He used very vague terms and indicated that he thought the kids’ confusion was due to their “misunderstanding” of his lesson, nothing more. He then opened the floor for comments.

I raised my hand and told him that I had a question, but that it wasn’t related to Calvinism as I already understood quite well what Calvinism is. I stated that my question was phrased in a very direct manner,  because I felt that was best to get my point across, but that I hoped that it wouldn’t be interpreted as disrespectful since it was certainly not intended to be so. At the time, I didn’t realize that many in the room still did not know that he is Calvinist. In fact, at least one of the deacons that I’m aware of became aware for the first time that evening. I then read aloud the following question, which I have copied and pasted from the same Word document I had typed up for that evening:

“You expressed to me in a private meeting that, despite the fact that our church membership includes individuals who hold to Calvinist doctrines (or, to use the term you prefer, Reformed doctrines, you indicated to me that you use those terms synonymously) and those who do not, it is your desire that we be unified as a church body, being respectful of both historically traditional streams of Baptist belief. When I became aware, sheerly by Kane’s accidental discovery of the box of books the church ordered, that you had selected an explicitly Reformed text as a guide in teaching this semester’s youth program, which was billed to parents as a unit on “basic Christian beliefs,” you declined to accept my suggestion to provide a non-Calvinist text so that both views could be presented to the youth and so that the youth leaders would have a resource to rely upon to accurately articulate non-Calvinist views. It is not only that the Grudem text presents Reformed theology as basic Christian belief. The book goes further by functioning as an apologetic in which dissenting views are presented as inferior or less true to Scripture.  You did agree to inform all youth parents via mass email of the book being used and to directly disclose to them that this book explicitly teaches a Reformed systematic. However, while the email that was sent out did list the name of the book, it did not state in any way that it taught a “Reformed” systematic.  I also noticed that several parents were left off the email list and didn’t receive this information at all. If Kane hadn’t noticed those books and asked if he could take one home, I would have had no idea that he and Ella were about to be taught Reformed doctrine as “basic” Christian beliefs in Sunday School. Despite my efforts to go through the appropriate channels of authority with the goal of informing other parents, most have ultimately been put in the situation of being taken completely by surprise. Additionally, I have noticed that in both terms of the women’s Bible study, a Reformed text was chosen, and no one was informed of this fact. Admittedly, this has altered my initial overall perspective of our meeting and led me to the following question:

In what way are you facilitating unity in practical application by:

1. Intentionally choosing to present explicitly Calvinist doctrine to our youth as “basic” Christian belief, providing solely Calvinist resources while refusing  to provide non-Calvinist resources when requested, and

2. doing so in what appears to be an intentionally secretive manner?

David said a lot of words, but none of them had anything to do with answering any part of my question. He said a lot about what a respected theologian Wayne Grudem is, and how great the women’s Bible study books were. He insinuated that I was saying these materials were authored by individuals who weren’t respected, and went on a long monologue about various respected Calvinists and their deeds. I have no doubt that he knew that was not what I was saying at all.

He said that leaving parents off the email was unintentional. I replied sincerely that I had not intended to suggest that it was intentional, only to note that several had not received it, and were therefore uninformed. He never attempted to explain why the email had not stated that the youth curriculum is Reformed as he had assured me he would do. Overall he seemed to portray a sense of incredulity that anyone would consider any of those things an issue.

He also gave the impression that he didn’t  understand what I was asking him. I must not have been the only one who thought so, because two individuals spoke up to re-state to him my question so that he would respond. The first individual was a deacon’s wife and the second was a deacon. Other than this, no other deacon in attendance made any contribution to the discussion the entire evening, except when the chairman of the deacons called the meeting to a close a couple of hours later. David still did not answer the questions after they had been re-stated by the two individuals.

Many parents spoke up expressing their concerns about the confusion their children felt after his lesson. Some mentioned that their children were upset that it sounded like some people never have an opportunity to be saved. He maintained that the kids misunderstood his lesson and reverted to talking about the doctrine of election in such vague, watered down terms that I, to this day, cannot rationally believe he did not intend to be misleading and placating. To me, he seemed downright patronizing.

Kane kept shooting me shocked glances. David had been nothing but forthcoming about his beliefs in our private emails and in our private meeting. It completely took me off guard to hear him be so evasive to this entire group of people who had gathered with the expectation of honestly and transparency. Some were becoming even more confused than they had been when they arrived,  and it was written all over their faces. Frankly, I was disgusted with David’s handling of this situation by this juncture.

At some point someone asked a question about man’s responsibility. He replied that, of course, man is fully responsible. I knew that he was using the same vocabulary with a different dictionary, so I spoke up and said so. I stated that he had told me he held to a compatibilist definition of free will when most of the people in the room understand free will in the libertarian sense. I asked to explain what he meant by compatibilist free will. He went on for a bit saying things that had nothing to do with my request. I had no intention of making it easy for him to evade yet another important question, so I interrupted him and began giving the definition of compatibilism. At this point he raised his voice and attempted to cut me off several different times to prevent me from explaining the differing definitions. I defined them anyway.

Then, he asked me why I had “so much angst,” and asked me for the third time since August if I had had a bad experience with Calvinists that caused me to feel this way. I was furious. He knew well the answer to that question. I had answered it with abundant clarity twice before. It is my belief that he asked that question in order to make me appear as if I had irrational feelings toward Calvinists due to some mistreatment in my past.

Another youth parent explained that her daughter struggled with self-esteem issues. She asked David how he would recommend that he council her; how could she assure her daughter that she is valuable in God’s sight based on the view that only some people are “elect?” David went on for some time about God’s love for all. David’s youngest son had recently been born and he discussed how he was comforted about his son’s future. He seemed to me to be phrasing his response in such a way that the parents would be understanding him to say that all parents can indeed ensure their children that they are “elect.”

I spoke up and asked him how in the world he could suggest such a thing to any parent. According to the view he has confirmed to me that he holds, no parent has any reason to automatically assume that their child is elect. The look on his face after this statement was one that I interpreted as genuine shock and confusion. To this day, that is one of the most perplexing memories I have from this meeting. I don’t know if that look was feigned to give the impression that what I had said was ludicrous, or if he had genuinely never considered that one of his children would not be elect.

The youth pastor attempted to take responsibility for the whole ordeal by saying that he should never have asked David to teach the lesson, and that he should have been present. A parent quickly came to his defense, saying that this was not his fault in any way. A youth pastor should be able to have complete trust and faith in his pastor to teach a simple Sunday school lesson.

A couple of parents tried to give David a graceful way to reclaim the evening. One mentioned that she had given a lesson to kids before that they completely misunderstood, and she had to clarify later what she meant. He maintained that the kids had misunderstood, but still did not offer to provide any real clarifying remarks.

Another parent mentioned that if the kids misunderstood, they had all managed to misunderstand in the exact same way. David became quiet, sat on his stool and just listened to all the parents speaking. A deacon’s wife spoke up and said that her son had come home extremely upset after his lesson and told her and her husband that it felt as if there was evil in the room the entire time. One parent after another spoke up. He broke his silence to say that maybe he just wasn’t the right pastor for this church. This seemed a bit melodramatic to me since all he needed to do was apologize, agree to offer additional resources, and call it a day.

Shortly afterward, the chairman of the deacons called an end to the meeting, and went to bat for David in his closing remarks. He said that David had a true heart for missions and that he himself had been to Africa with him. If anyone has ever questioned David’s heart for missions, I am unaware of it. He then said that he had been on the pastor search committee, that he had been the one to ask David “the hard questions,” and that he knew exactly where David stood on doctrinal issues. He said that we should give David some time to consider what had been said and come up with an appropriate response.

The meeting was truly disastrous. Parents were no less confused, nothing about his views had been clarified, and some parents later expressed to me that they felt he had done nothing but be evasive and shift blame to the kids’ “misunderstanding.”

For me, the meeting was a watershed moment. I had entered with serious misgivings about his behavior,  but willing to hear him out and give him the benefit of the doubt if he would agree to detail actionable steps to promote unity. A stated assurance of commitment from him to foster unity and trust in light of recent missteps would have been all I needed to hear to put this behind us and move forward. Not only did I not get that, I lost a lot of respect for him.

Going forward, my issues with David no longer centered on his baffling refusal to make parents aware of the Calvinist youth curriculum or supply non-Calvinist resources alongside the Calvinist resources the church was providing.  What had once been isolated incidents that gave me pause, I now viewed as an established pattern of behavior that I recognized from my prior experience as one to distance myself from.

 

Fallout After the Meeting

 I didn’t know what I was going to do. Jack and I began hearing through the grapevine that we had been responsible for what was being called a “firing squad.” N o one at all reached out to me to get any clarification of what had happened. Some women that Jack had considered to be close friends did not reach out at all and appeared to be believing the things that were being said about us without question. It was incredibly hurtful. We said nothing, although we were hearing of texts going around from various people that seemed to serve the purpose of fostering the perception that we had unjustly attacked David and that he was heartbroken. We didn’t defend ourselves. We were still trying to go through proper authorities to address the issues, as we have continued to do this entire time. At no time did David attempt to reach out to me, Kane, or Jack to make anything right.

Also of note, in the weeks preceding his youth lesson and this meeting, there were three new deacons set to be initiated. I know that one of those deacons is Calvinist (he joined our church because he knew David’s views). I am not including that information to disparage that individual at all. He’s a great guy and I have no known reason to hold him in anything other than high regard. If David had a plan to stack the deacon board in order to push through future changes, I have no reason to think this man knew about it. All those initiations were put on hold while deacons met to work out these issues. If these events had occurred even one week later, the composition of the deacon body would have been much different than it is.

 

The “Choked Up” Sermon

On November 20th David gave a sermon on I Timothy 3, focusing on verses 1-7 which discuss the character requirements for church leadership. At first, I thought maybe he was going to take responsibility and apologize. He did not. From my perspective, with all the events from the last three months combined with the things that I knew were being said about Jack and me, this sermon came across as an attempt to emotionally manipulate those in the congregation who had heard that something was going on, but didn’t have details, which was the vast majority of the congregation.  That sermon may be accessed by selecting the November 20th sermon at the following link. The relevant portion is located at the 33:30 – 36:00 mark.

https://www.arabfbc.org/propping-up-the-truth

After church Kane was upset. He runs tech during service, and he was struggling with acting in the capacity of David’s support staff while he was engaging in what we both viewed  as overt emotional manipulation from the pulpit. I began to feel that the authorities may not intervene, and started to feel that we may have to leave the church. I wrote an email to David that day detailing my feelings and the situation I felt I was in, but I didn’t send it.

I did reach out to the chairman of the deacon’s wife. I had not spoken to her since the night of the meeting, and I was devastated to think that she thought that I would attack David in such a way. I knew that she and her husband were completely unaware that I had been talking to David about this since August and that I had reached out to another deacon during that time as well.

The text that I sent to her is below.

 

 

The Acapella Sermon

Our meeting was scheduled for after church. That day, November 27th, David gave a sermon that I now call the “Acapella Sermon” because he dramatically sings hymns acapella from the pulpit for four minutes straight. If I had harbored any doubt that I may have misjudged David’s character,  it evaporated that day. After hearing this sermon, Jack and her family decided they were done. Her husband said he would not return and she called the church office to have her name removed from the role.

If you would like to view that sermon it can be accessed by selecting the November 27, 2022 video at the following link:

https://www.arabfbc.org/propping-up-the-truth

Below is a listing of selected content:

32:45- 34:10:

He compares the issues that the church is currently experiencing with a time that his wife misunderstood a comment that he had meant as a compliment. He told her she looked like an elf. In his mind, he meant a Lord of the Rings-type, gloriously beautiful elf, she thought he meant a Keebler elf.

34:12 – 34:51:

“We were using the same vocabulary, but different dictionaries. When you use the same vocabulary, but you have a different lexicon by which to translate those words, let me tell you folks, you are prime for an eruption. […] … it can happen in a local church.”

35:10 -35:38:

He explains that he’s talking about this because this has happened at our church and he’s going to take responsibility for it.

35:40 -36:02:

“A few weeks ago I taught a youth Sunday School class on the Biblical doctrine of election. It was done haphazard. Not enough prep. And it wasn’t the right time. And therefore an eruption happened.”

[In retrospect, I believe the statement in red is the key to understanding what he’s actually saying. I believe, considering what he had been teaching from the pulpit for two years with no push back (see forthcoming part 5 of this series in which I explain with examples from his sermons why it is so difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with Calvinism to pick up on it), that he was confident that it would be fine to proceed with the youth in the manner that he did. He’s not expressing regret for his presentation. He’s saying that he now realizes that he jumped the gun. (See Part 1 which discusses published strategies for covertly reforming churches.]

36:27 -37:52:

“So today I hope to clarify, and I hope for us as a local body, that we can begin to clarify so that the enemy will not get a foothold. […] The confusion erupted and labels were used, terms were used, centering around this doctrine of election. Terms like Calvinism and Arminianism…Well, we’re not gonna do a deep dive into those terms because it’s not helpful, it is not going to help the clarification process.”

[Frankly, clarifying those terms is the only thing that would have been helpful in this process. That is, if your goal is to be clear with the congregation. It is my opinion, which I believe this evidence demonstrates, that he had different goals. He goes on for several minutes saying there are great theologians from both sides and we should all be unified because this is an intramural debate. This would be great if he didn’t follow this statement by asserting that Calvinism is the “Biblical”view. He has an odd strategy for promoting unity. See below.]

39:07 –about 50:00, then picks up again from 1:03:00 – 1:04:30:

He says we need to bring some clarity and the only way to do that is to go to Scripture. He says to get clarity on the doctrine of election, we need to go to the book of Acts chapter 16, which is the story of Lydia.

[This is a Calvinist proof text. The interpretation the he gives is the Calvinist view. Non-Calvinists disagree that this text teaches what David is saying that it teaches, and have their own interpretation which I believe is a much more coherent understanding of the text. The point is, he just spent several minutes telling us this is an intramural debate and that we need to be unified and not argue over secondary issues, only to proceed to “clarify” things to us by explaining that his view is the “Biblical” view of election (and he adds a side of compatibilist free will in there too), which, by default, insinuates that the opposing view is not Biblical. This is not promoting unity. It’s patronizing to those in the audience who understand what he’s actually doing here and it’s gross.]

52:00- about 56:00:

4 minutes of almost constant acapella singing.

1:09:45 -1:10:35:

“Church let’s put the daggers away. […] Let’s leave the Calvary communion table and battle together as a united front in this dark and unsavory world. See, we already saw in Acts 16 the enemy’s attempt to deceive and destroy. You say, what about his attempts to divide? Well, just a very few years later an argument arose in the Philippian church. And there were two women, Euodia and Syntyche, you can read about them in chapter 4. They were the camps. I don’t know. Maybe one was Arminian and one was Calvinist…”

[He might as well have just called out the names “Tiffany and Jack.” That’s the point I believe he intended to get across. Now that you have the full context, you can come to your own conclusions about the actual transparency and intent of David’s message.]

 

My Private Meeting with the Chairman of the Deacons and His Wife

After church, I met with my friend and her husband in a private room. I told my friend that I had been distressed to think that she might construe the events of the Wednesday night parent meeting as an unprovoked attack on David’s character. After all, she was my very first friend when we moved to Arab, and the reason I had worked up the nerve to join with a body of believers again.

Though I had mentioned at the Wednesday night meeting that David and I had been in conversation months prior, I knew that she and her husband could not understand the weight of it and the reasons that I had come to the conclusions that I had without seeing it with their own eyes. I had brought printed copies of my correspondence with David as well as the correspondence I had with the deacon back in late August/September so that they could see I had reached out to an authority.

They read it all, and I explained that I felt to my core that David’s actions were undeniably wrong. I told them that I knew that they were on the same page with David theologically, but that had nothing to do with the way he was treating me, Kane, Jack, the youth, and frankly the youth parents as well. I also noted that I felt that David’ statement at the end of his sermon that day telling the church to “put the daggers away,” followed by his telling of the story of the two women in the Philippian church who stirred up division, was a not-so-veiled reference to Jack and me.

In all transparency, I was also upset with both my friend and her husband, because I believed at this point that they, along with the rest of the pastor search committee,  had both known that David was Calvinist when he was hired and had intentionally withheld that information. However, I did not bring it up at this meeting.

They expressed sympathy for me, agreeing that David had undeniably handled the situation poorly from the beginning. However, the chairman of the deacons said that he did not intend to involve himself in the situation. They asked if I thought there was any way that I could see myself staying at AFBC if perhaps David offered some kind of apology, and I replied that I just didn’t know at that point. I’d have to give it a lot of thought. It would be hard for me to trust his sincerity.

They both said they wished that our congregation as a whole could better understand what Calvinism is and I agreed with them wholeheartedly. I explained to the chairman of the deacons that another issue I had with David was his lack of clarity about his views from the pulpit. I believed that he had a responsibility to make his beliefs known. The chairman of the deacons told me that if David were to clearly tell the church what he believes from the pulpit, half of the congregation would get up and walk out. This casual statement took me aback, because it seemed clear to me that he didn’t mean that he thought that David should take the necessary steps to be clear. I understood him to mean that David should not do so: an ignorance is bliss sort of situation. There was really nothing left to say. My friend and I both shed tears and hugged.

I didn’t leave the room angry. At the time, I was just sad. It wasn’t until I had time to reflect on the conversation later that I got upset. Based on their statements, I came to the conclusion that they both knew he was intentionally obscuring his beliefs from the pulpit because our church would not accept him otherwise. I also concluded that while they seemed to express sadness that his treatment would likely result in my leaving the church, and while they agreed that his behavior was not appropriate, they were somehow okay with it all and continued to hold him in high regard. Despite all he had done and was continuing to do, they had chosen to support him anyway. I lost a lot of respect for them both that day.

To top off my meeting, I returned home to find Kane still furious from the day’s sermon. He had decided he would no longer support David and officially resigned from the tech team. I know this was hard for him, because being entrusted with this responsibility was very important to him.

Sometime in all these events, the youth pastor was struggling with how to address the issue of his confused youth after the abysmal failure of the parent meeting. David had refused to come back to clarify anything to the youth, and he was left holding the bag. He ended up giving a lesson on the Calvinist versus the non-Calvinist view himself, and apparently without David’s blessing.

 

I Send David My Email

The “Acapella Sermon,” David’s refusal to take any steps to promote unity, the meeting with the chairman of the deacon’s and his wife, and no indication that David was going to be held to account for any of it. I felt done. I opened the draft of the email I had written thoughtfully and with a clear head the week before, updated it to reflect my thoughts on his message from the pulpit that day, and hit send.

 

 

Jack Sends Her Email

A couple of days later, on November 29th, Jack sends her email to David, copies the chairman of the deacons and asks him to distribute it to them as well so that they can see what is going on. The chairman of the deacons does as she asked.

 

 

Jack also sent a text to the youth pastor requesting that she be allowed to come say goodbye to her youth group.

 

 

Frustrated with David’s refusal to allow her to say goodbye to the girls, Jack reaches out to the chairman of the deacons.

 

 

Jack and I had assumed this group of leaders he was referencing were the deacon body. Jack later discovered that it was not the deacon body. We do not know who comprised this “church leadership” the chairman of the deacons met with to levy this decision.

For Jack, this was a gut punch. She had been the only youth leader to consistently go to bat for the confused, distraught youth with regard to this issue. If not for her sheer persistence, David would never have consented to meet with the youth parents. He had actually tried every avenue possible to avoid it. Jack is the only reason he failed. Let’s not forget, at this time,  Jack and I were the only ones putting ourselves on the line, fighting to get David to take steps toward true unity by calling him out for his refusal to even facilitate the presentation of non-Calvinist views to the youth- the majority position of our church! We were being painted as aggressors and he as the victim. Some people who knew this to be untrue did not speak up to counter the narrative being perpetuated by David and those sympathetic to him. It was truly unbelievable.

 

David Calls a Meeting with the Children’s Minister

At some point in the previous days, I had become aware that a deacon meeting had been scheduled. David had forwarded them the email I sent him and it is my understanding that many deacons were angry.

Since most of them were completely unaware of my interactions with David since August, and since (to my knowledge) the deacon I reached out to that same month and also spoke with in September did not disclose to the deacon body that I had done so, I was eager for the opportunity to present my side of the story. I still cannot fathom this, but at this point, there were still several who were not aware that David is Calvinist, much less how he had treated Jack and me.

I had tried unsuccessfully the week prior to get an email list of deacons. I didn’t want to reach out to the chairman of the deacons, because I didn’t trust him anymore. I asked the children’s minister if he would present my email correspondence with David to the deacon body if I forwarded it to him along with an explanation of my feelings. He was happy to do so. That email is below.

CM = children’s minister

 

On November 28th David called the children’s minister in for a meeting to discuss me. The deacon meeting had still not taken place. At that point, the children’s minister had been able to view the evidence that I sent him. He also brought the email that I had sent him to distribute to the deacons for David to view. I had served in the capacity of Sunday school teacher for a few years, and David wanted me out of that position immediately.

David asked the children’s minister what he thought of my email. He answered that he disagreed with my opinion of David’s character,  but was on my side of the aisle with regard to the theological aspects. The children’s minister asked David why he did not present both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist views of election as the youth pastor had asked. David told him that he had intended to do that, but that Kane interrupted him so much that he ran out of time.

To this day, this is one of the most repulsive things that I believe David has done. Not only was it a completely different story than he had previously told, it was a blatant lie. He looked his children’s minister in the face and blamed a 17-year old kid for his mistake.

The children’s minister told David that he was not going to tell me that I couldn’t teach, and if David wanted me to be fired that he’d have to instruct him directly to do that. David asked the children’s minister, “Should I just leave?” He replied that that was not a decision he could make for him. David then asked him a few different times something to the effect of, “Are you saying it’s you or me?”

The children’s minister refused to say that. Then, David said that since I had stated in my email to the children’s minister that I could not “in good conscience continue to be a part of First Baptist Arab as long as Bro. David remains its pastor,” he required the children’s minister to tell me that I couldn’t teach. To this day, I believe that the reason David asked the children’s minister more than once in that meeting, “is it me or you?” is that he wanted grounds to fire him. That is my opinion.

Later that day, Jack told me that she had asked the chairman of the deacons to forward her email to the deacon body and that he had. I contacted the children’s minister’s wife and asked if he’d prefer that I do the same so that the responsibility was not on him to distribute my email and forwarded evidence to the deacon body. We agreed that was best. I sent my email to the chairman of the deacons.

He sent me the email below confirming his receipt of all my emails and affirming that he was distributing them to the body. He did not know that the children’s minister was also in possession of the same emails.

 

 

 

I Reach Out To the Chairman of the Deacon’s Wife Again

With my continuing revelations of David’s character, I was struggling to understand how my friend, the chairman of the deacons wife, could continue in her unwavering support of him. I reached out to her again on November 30th. That conversation is below.

 

 

 

My response to her was too long for a text, so I emailed it.

 

 

There have been many times in my life that I wish I’d extended more benefit of the doubt. This may be the only time I’ve regretted extending as much as I did. When I discovered later what her husband was in the process of doing that day (and I have no doubt she knew of his plans), I lost the respect I had for them both. The chairman of the deacons did not forward any of the emails to the deacon body. He lied to me. I believe he did so to hide what David had done and the admissions that he had made to me. The chairman of the deacons had no idea that the children’s minister, who is also a deacon, knew that he was supposed to forward that material to the deacon body and that he had come to the meeting with copies of the same material.

Also on November 30th, a church member (I’m not sure who), sent out a mass text inviting the whole church to hold a prayer vigil in the pastor’s yard. The text was addressed to the “church family,” and said that, “Our pastor, his family, and our church need our prayers” followed by a citation of Ephesians 6:17-18. Jack and I were not on the recipient list for that text.

Ironically, a church member who apparently wasn’t “in the know” (a lot of people weren’t at this point) noticed that Jack didn’t get the text and forwarded it to her,  no doubt in a well-intended effort to be inclusive. I believe it was clear that whoever planned the vigil intended to portray the pastor as an innocent victim of an attack Jack and I were waging.

 

The Youth Pastor Reaches Out to Kane

The youth pastor reached out to Kane on November 30th as well. Their conversation is below.

I was upset because the three of us, myself, Jack, and Kane, were the subject of any number of ugly and untrue accusations I had heard floating around the gravevine. Some people that had evidence at that point to know better were leading others to believe that we were attacking David, and that this was primarily a scuffle about secondary theological issues that we had blown into epic proportions .

Kane was being painted by some to be a trouble-maker in youth for simply defending his views, which is something the reader may recall David promised me the youth would be welcome to do in his very first email to me. As far as I could tell, the deacon that I had initially reached out to had not ever breathed a word to anyone letting them know that I did. I now question whether he ever mentioned anything I said to any other deacons like he told me he would do. If he did he must have mentioned to one of the deacons who is of the opinion that questions should be buried, not addressed. I was exceedingly hurt that those who knew better, like the youth pastor, did not appear to be coming to our defense in the slightest.

I felt betrayed. I felt that they had betrayed Kane. I felt that if they couldn’t find they courage to defend the truth, they could find the time to train Kane’s replacement. Probably not my most proud moment. The conversation continues below.

This was the first we’d heard that we were being defended by anyone other than the children’s minister.

December 2022 – January 2023:

The Deacon Meeting

The deacons met on Thursday evening, December 1st. Jack and I were both hopeful that once the deacon body was able to see the situation in its entirety, we would be defended, and appropriate actions would be taken. I was waiting on the results of this meeting to decide if I was going to remain at AFBC or leave.

I know that the children’s minister was taken by surprise when he arrived to find that none of the deacons had the materials that the chairman of the deacons told me he had distributed to them. This put the children’s minister in the difficult position of having to relate the information from his own copies that he had brought. I know the meeting was several hours long.

 

The Verdict?

The morning of December 2nd, Jack and I both received the text below from the chairman of the deacons.

 

I probably don’t have to explain that I was confused, angry and disgusted.  I immediately forwarded my text the children’s minister’s wife. I could not understand how her husband could have put his support behind David with all that he knew. There are a few others in that room I was having trouble reconciling that verdict with as well.

Kane made the comment to me once that every time he thought he had come to rock bottom with respect to his assessment of David’s character, David busted out a jackhammer. That is a completely accurate articulation of my feelings. After all, David knew well what he had done, and he couldn’t even be bothered to reach out to us himself. Instead, he had his chairman of the deacons send a text for him and say that he would be willing to reach out to us IF we agreed to be willing to reconcile.

To me, this expressed a level of arrogance, condescention, and utter disregard for a sister in Christ that would be difficult to match. If any good leader thought that the conclusions I had come to about his character were based on complete misunderstanding, he would not rest until he had exhausted his ability to explain and repair the relationship, regardless of if I was willing to reconcile or not.

David’s character was becoming clearer to me by the day. I truly believe that the chairman of the deacons worded the text this way in hopes that Jack and I would feel so alone, hurt, discouraged, and angry that our departure from AFBC would be certain. To date, I have been presented no evidence to cause me to question that conclusion.

It wasn’t long before the children’s minister’s wife reached out to me and explained that the text was incredibly misleading. Some of the deacons were so concerned that they arranged a meeting for Jack and me to attend at the children’s minister’s house to more clearly convey the feelings of the deacon body. There were three deacons and their wives in attendance at this meeting. The best way that I know to describe this meeting is that these people made us feel that we were wanted, that they cared about us, that we mattered to them, and that the church body was incomplete without us. They let us know that they were not okay with how things had happened, and our valid concerns were not being dismissed. They told us that the number of people who felt that way about us wouldn’t fit in the room we were in. I felt all the emotions, and I’m pretty sure Jack did too. It was the first time in a long time that I hadn’t felt that AFBC considered me and my family completely disposable.

The deacons present explained that they wanted us to continue at AFBC, but at the same time, the deacon body wanted to give David the opportunity to make things right. We discussed Bible verses about forgiveness and extending grace in all circumstances, and it was explained that to go forward we’d need to participate in a reconciliation process with David. The reconciliation process would consist of David owning and apologizing for his errors, and Jack and I apologizing for some things we said in our letters, particularly accusations we had made about his character.

Full transparency: that stipulation gave me pause because I had no reason at that time to believe the conclusions I had come to about his character were incorrect.

It should be pointed out at this juncture, that the entire deacon body was now aware that David is Calvinist. Never once was this considered a reason to demand his departure. Instead, the goal was always to reconcile and move forward.

It had also come to my attention at some point prior to this (I cannot remember when), that the pastor search committee did not, in fact, know that David was Calvinist when they recommended him to the congregation. This came as a surprise to me, but it also cleared up some confusion that I had. I had assumed previously that David had been forthcoming with the pastor search committee. It turns out that that was not an accurate assumption.

I also knew that the chairman of the deacons, who was also on the pastor search committee (though not chairman of the deacons at that time), had known that David was Calvinist. As of this writing, it appears to me that the only member of the pastor search committee that knew David was Calvinist was the chairman of the deacons. If you’ll recall, it was also the chairman of the deacons who went alone to interview David initially, and the one responsible for asking him the “hard questions.” I felt horrible for accusing the pastor search committee as a whole of intentionally withholding that information. I now believe they had that information withheld from them as well.

I did feel convicted that as a Christian, it is my responsibility to extend grace even when it does not appear to be extended in the other direction. Jack felt the same and we agreed to comply with this reconciliation process which involved giving David the benefit of the doubt. Jack and I both expressed that we could do this, but that it would be on a trial basis with the expectation that we would see David act in tangible ways to support unity going forward.  These were viewed as acceptable terms.

As a sidebar, I disclosed to the deacons present at that meeting that the chairman of the deacons had failed to distribute correspondence that I had sent to him for that purpose. They were not happy, and I was asked to forward evidence of this to one of the deacons there, which I did. I have not heard anything come of that to date.

 

Meetings, Meetings Everywhere

December 1st became  the first of MANY deacons meetings. Judging from the frequency and length of the meetings, unanimity was not something easy to achieve.

Throughout this process a deacon (designated as “deacon 2” in the text below) I trust was assigned the role of communicating with me. This man and his wife have truly been a blessing to me. They have gone above and beyond to ensure that my family feels that we are considered valuable members of AFBC and to keep us informed to the best of his ability.

Also of note, on December 10th, David informed the children’s minister that they would not have worship kid’s style for the remainder of the year. (At AFBC, after Sunday school the kids (K5 – 6th grade) come to the sanctuary for announcements and worship. Afterward, the children’s minister and his wife take them back upstairs where he presents a kid’s level sermon of the same text David is preaching to the adults. They return at the end of service. Every 5th Sunday, there is a break from this and the kids sit with their families during service. )

 

My Reconciliation Meeting

My meeting was scheduled for Monday evening, December 12th, and my husband attended with me. In the days preceding my meeting, I received two bothersome reports. First, the pastor’s son asked Kane at school if we had found another church yet. Second, in the Wednesday night kid’s worship class, the kids had noticed my unexplained absence and asked where I was. David’s daughter answered quickly and confidently that I would not be back. This seemed to indicate to me, based on conversations his children were hearing at home, that David knew the outcome of my reconciliation meeting before I did.

The text detailing the meeting agenda is below.

 

Everyone went out of their way to make us feel comfortable, despite the fact that this was an unavoidably uncomfortable scenario for every person present. When the floor was opened for David to speak,  he apologized for “being dismissive” of my concerns about the book initially. He also said that he should have pulled the book immediately.

He said that he intended to reach out to Kane and that he’d like to meet with him one-on-one if that was okay with my husband. To date he has never reached out to Kane for any such meeting.

His demeanor did appear to be one of genuine sincerity. I did not discern any hostility.  That was it. He made no apology about anything else.

The floor was opened to me, and I apologized sincerely for falsely accusing the pastor search committee. However, that didn’t really help things because my apology to the committee entailed an explanation that I had realized they weren’t aware because David hadn’t been clear with them. I didn’t mention the chairman of the deacons. This meeting wasn’t about him.

I explained that I knew my letter was hurtful, but that I did not come to any of those conclusions about his character lightly or purely due to emotion, although coming to those conclusions surely involved feeling emotional. I told David that if I was mistaken in my interpretation of any of the events I had listed in my letter, then I was open and willing to hear him explain to me how I had misunderstood and I would offer my wholehearted apology.

What followed were a LOT of words from David.  However, similar to the youth parent meeting, I felt that there was precious little substance in them. One thing he did clarify was that in handing out the Baptist Faith and Message section on election at the outset of the parent meeting, he had not intended to indicate that if we disagreed with his presentation of election that we were not in alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message (as I had interpreted), but to assert that his view could be encompassed under the umbrella of the Baptist Faith and Message as well. This sounded plausible to me, so I apologized for misunderstanding him and accusing him of being misleading there. That was the only event in my letter that he gave any sort of plausible explanation for,  in my opinion. His tone remained friendly throughout.

It was clear that I was expected to apologize for accusing him of being misleading or gaslighting in other instances mentioned, but as I had not been given an explanation for those events, I could not alter my view of them. There was a lot of discussion about my using “labels” such as “Calvinism,” etc. Deacon 3 was particularly concerned with that. To be completely honest, that particularly objection is tiresome and irrelevant to me for reasons I’ve already explained in my email to the deacons. Generally, objections to the “labels” are for public relations reasons, not because they assign views that aren’t accurate. Despite this fact, a lot of time was spent discussing labels.

Deacon 3 told a story about how he had approached a pastor at one point in his life and asked for him to explain the sovereignty of God, which kept jumping out at him in his reading of Scripture. He said the pastor had told him that you can’t speak of that in a Baptist church, “you’ll get run out.” This was appalling to me, and I told him so.

Deacon 3 is also a youth leader. It did not occur to me in the moment, but when I was reflecting on the meeting the next day I realized that he had just perfectly illustrated my argument to David that the youth leaders desperately needed non-Calvinist resources to be able to accurately articulate non-Calvinist views. He had just shown that if a youth asked him to explain the non-Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty, he would be unable to do so.

At one point I explained that I have considerable difficulty with what I view as a lack of transparency about his beliefs with the congregation. Again, David said a lot of words, but nothing of substance. He seemed to be indicating that he was clear with me about his views because he thought we could “talk shop.” However, other people didn’t need to hear things “on that level.” I disagree, mostly because I believe this is insulting to their intelligence. Of course people can understand it if it is explained to them clearly, which as a pastor,  is something he should be capable of doing. Therefore, I couldn’t grant him the acceptance of that explanation that I know he wanted me to give.

Toward the end of the meeting, David began speaking about his choice of book for the youth again. Remember, at the beginning of the meeting he had said he should have pulled it immediately. Now, he said that he still stood behind the book. Then he looked at me directly and said that at some level there needed to be an attitude of submission to his authority as pastor on those matters. This was said with absolutely no tone of malice in his voice, so it took me a bit to process what had been said. My husband looked at me, but David was already continuing on talking about something else. By the time he finished, my brain had moved on.

This was another instance that I was able to see more clearly in retrospect. Not only was it an incredibly tone-deaf thing to say in the context of a meeting in which he was supposed to be apologizing for breaching precisely that trust, he had actually just walked back the only thing he apologized for at the beginning of the meeting!  Furthermore, I had submitted to his authority and said absolutely nothing else until the youth fiasco ensued.

Eventually, someone called a close to the discussion. It was very late and we hadn’t even started eating the meal deacon 2’s wife had prepared. It was agreed that progress had been made, but that we still had work to do. It was clear that David expected more from me, but I felt that I had extended all his responses had allowed me. I did make clear that I was willing to return to church, extending him the benefit of the doubt that things would improve over time. (Prior to this meeting, Jack and I had been told that we could not attend church.)

It should be noted again that David has not reached out to me at all either before or after this meeting. This seems to me to indicate that he has never had any true interest in reconciling with me. I believe he was doing what he had to do to appear “acceptable” to the deacon body.

 

Jack’s Reconciliation Meeting

Jack’s meeting was far more eventful than mine. Things occurred that were shocking to me, even after all the shocks we seemed to be getting on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. However, that is her testimony to tell.

Events After the Reconciliation Meetings

More and more deacons meetings continue to be held. Despite our cooperation in the reconciliation process, Jack and I were both informed that the deacon body as a whole would not consent to allow us to return to our teaching positions. I was told that while some deacons were happy for us to return to our roles, others were not. They wanted to see us return to church on a regular basis and join an adult Sunday school class.

Jack was told that David desired this because he felt that we had breached his trust. We both thought this was ridiculous. He had been the one to breach our trust, not to mention the trust of every youth parent in the congregation, not the other way around.

Considering the trajectory of Jack’s meeting and several other weighty factors, Jack decided for the final time that she was done. I don’t blame her at all.

On December 24th, David sent out an email letting the church know that he had decided to extend the hiatus for worship kid’s style at least through the first quarter of the new year. He had not discussed this with the children’s minister at all. It was a unilateral decision. The only notice that the children’s minister was afforded was an email that David sent him a matter of minutes before he sent the announcement out to the congregation. This trial basis of improved behavior was not starting out on a positive note.

At this point I could tell that something had changed within the context of the discussions occurring within the deacon body, because no one had breathed a word of any continued reconciliation meeting on my part. Deacon meetings continued to occur and the results shared with me were typically: hold on; it’s not over.

At the end of January, one of the adult Sunday school classes compiled a 16-question document that they requested David publicly answer. He refused to do so, but said he would speak to individuals one-on-one. Yet another deacon meeting was scheduled for the next Sunday, the 29th.

 

The Resignation

Sunday,  January 29th, David resigned as senior pastor of AFBC. He gave the following reason for his resignation:

“Theological confusion over secondary doctrinal issues has escalated into a situation that makes this move the best for our family and this faith family.  Please hear me clearly: I am neither assigning blame nor seeking to evade any blame that might justly be laid on my doorstep. I am simply trying to state, summarily,  the reason for this heart-wrenching decision.”

Even at the bitter end, David seems not to be able to bring himself to perform any action to unify AFBC. To me, his words appear to be crafted with the intent of continuing to  sow division with half truths and misleading statements. There is an element of truth in his statement that “theological confusion over secondary doctrinal issues has escalated into a situation that makes this move best for our family and this faith family,” but it obfuscates as much as it reveals, which is par for his course.

He seems to insinuate that he is having to make this “heart-wrenching” decision due to:  1) several individuals being confused about what he  believes with regard to secondary issues (i.e., Calvinist, or “Reformed,” as he prefers to call it, doctrine of salvation), and 2) a significant enough number of members of our church being unwilling to accept him as pastor due to those beliefs. The preponderance of evidence that I have provided shows that this is a gross misrepresentation of the nature of the issues.

It is my opinion that David has never been willing to promote unity between the differing views in our church, because his goal has been to “reform” our church. I believe that he has gathered and groomed certain individuals to help him in this endeavor. I believe that once it became clear to him  that he was not going to be able to run out or get rid of the individuals who would hold him accountable in promoting unity rather than continuing his attempt to reform the church via stealth strategies, he decided that it was no longer in his interest to remain here. I do not believe that he ever had any desire or intention whatsoever to reconcile with either Jack or myself. I believe that he intentionally promoted and encouraged a false narrative to be spread about both Jack and me, painting us as aggressors and himself as a victim. I believe he has continued to engage in these reprehensible behaviors despite the fact that he is destroying friendships and dividing our church into feuding factions.

 

Go back to Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Church Split Part 3

Part 3: My Testimony as a Member of Arab First Baptist; Background Information for Context

 

Isn’t This Sort of Discussion Out-of- Bounds?

I can honestly say this is a blog post I never would’ve believed I’d write. When bad things happen in churches, we all seem to live by this unstated rule that we are to keep silent about it. For almost 6 months now I’ve been mostly silent with the exception of the few church authorities I’ve reached out to. I have attempted to follow the Biblical steps laid out in Matthew 16:15-17 for resolving conflict via the proper chain of authority. That has been a long, arduous process, but in the end (or almost end, this really isn’t completely over), it has been effective. I believe that the deacon body as a whole has done the absolute best they can to address the situation in accordance with Biblical principles, extending grace to all parties involved.  David Kizziah resigned last week as senior pastor of Arab First Baptist Church, which was a decision that I believe was the right one to make under the circumstances he had created.

If that’s the case, why am I writing this? Currently we are at the stage in which church members are deciding whether they will remain at AFBC or leave. There is a lot of confusion, because there has been absolutely no transparency with the congregation as a whole to date. Frankly, David and some of those who support him have been intentionally perpetuating the false narrative that my conflict with him, and the additional conflict that has arisen pursuant to that, is primarily regarding disagreement over secondary theological views (i.e., Calvinism). This is absolutely, unequivocally untrue. It serves only to damage personal relationships and cause division. I have evidence to corroborate that this is false. A few of those who are supporting David have this evidence, yet have made the decision to facilitate this falsehood anyway. Some of those who are supporting David do not have this evidence and likely have no idea that it exists.

Therefore, I find myself between a rock and hard place. I know there are people groping around in the darkness, trying to make good decisions. I’m standing here with a flash light, but I haven’t turned it on. There are other people who I love and greatly respect who will not agree that I should provide this information in such a public forum, and may be angry that I have chosen to do so. Ultimately, my silence, while appropriate at first, now only serves to enable David to continue in what I view as his attempts to mislead and divide.

 

A Little Full Transparency of My Own

Our family moved to Arab when my children were 10, 6, and 3. I was struggling internally about joining a church. I really didn’t want to. (I have a complicated religious background that involves being raised in a doomsday-type cult up until the age of 14 when the group split.) I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit to put myself out there again, but I was still resisting. I had been my kids’ Bible teacher for several years and I really wanted them to have the experience of growing with a church family. For all its warts, that is something that the church I was raised in did exceedingly well, and I will always treasure those memories and relationships.

When my youngest turned 4, I enrolled him at AFBC preschool, and later signed him up for the Upward Basketball team. That year, I met a wonderful woman whose son also played Upward ball and went to school with my youngest son. We had some great conversations about the Bible and she invited me to AFBC’s Tuesday morning women’s Bible study. She was really my first friend in Arab. After two years of attending this women’s Bible study regularly, I finally began visiting for worship on Sundays, then we began coming for Sunday school as well. Within a few weeks, the pastor announced that he was leaving, and after that we had several guest pastors, followed by an interim pastor. My children were really thriving in the church’s children’s and youth ministry programs. Honestly, at the time, this was enough to really attach myself to this body.

I was nervous about joining without knowing who the incoming pastor would be, but I didn’t think the one they had when I arrived was Calvinist. I ended up attending a potential member orientation class, and I asked the Associate Pastor who was teaching the class directly what he thought the odds were of a Calvinist pastor being hired. (While I’m not anti-Calvinist, of course one prefers to join with a body as closely in alignment with ones views as possible.) He explained that prior to the pastor who had just left, the pastor they had had for 20 years was staunchly non-Calvinist. This encouraged me, and shortly afterward we joined the church.

 

David Kizziah is Hired as Pastor of AFBC

At one point during the pastor search, the friend that I mentioned above told me in Sunday school that her husband (who is a deacon and was also on the pastor search committee) had been tasked with presenting a paper explaining Calvinism to the rest of the committee. I did know that there were a few members of our church who were Calvinist. She and I had had conversations about Calvinism in our years together in Bible study, and she knew my stance very well. I no longer know what her stance was at the time of this particular conversation, but I do know that in our previous conversations she had been in agreement with me.

Later on, during the infamous Covid chaos of 2020, pastoral candidate David Kizziah was introduced to our church. The pastor search committee had landed on him after a lengthy search. He had familial connections with the pastor who had been with AFBC for 20 years prior to his retirement, and apparently had that pastor’s recommendation as well. Due to the out-of-the ordinary circumstances Covid caused, the entire pastor search committee did not get to meet with David in person. My friend’s husband went alone to interview him and recorded the interview. When David and his family were introduced to the congregation via video, I instantly liked them. They seemed open, honest, sincere, and were genuinely likeable.  I did wish that the congregation had been kept more in the loop on his views, and maybe even have had the opportunity to ask him questions directly, but I didn’t go to any steps to ask anyone if this was possible. I’m sure that I could have if I had asked, but I did not. He was affirmed by the congregation.

I eagerly listened to his sermons, trying to see if I could pick up any clues regarding his soteriological persuasion. There were various inconclusive remarks that gave me pause, but by his third month in the pulpit I was positive that he was, indeed, Calvinist. In all honesty, I was bummed. However, I truly believed that he was one of the most sincere, genuinely caring pastors I had known. I never considered leaving due to my discovery. The kids were happy in their thoroughly non-Calvinist children’s and youth classes, and I was content to use the content of his sermons that I disagreed with as a tool to teach my kids what we believe and why we believe it. I didn’t say a word to anyone in the congregation.

At the time, it did not even cross my mind to consider why the pastor search committee had not disclosed to the congregation that he affirmed Calvinist doctrine. Why? I have no idea. For some reason it just didn’t. This general state of things continued for about two years. During that time, I began serving in the capacity of children’s Sunday school teacher. My oldest son, Kane, developed a passion for theology and studied it and the Bible like it was his job. Now, at the age of 17, he’s literally my favorite person to have deep theological conversations with. He also joined the tech team and became one of the primary tech guys for the youth as well as the main worship service. I believe this back story sufficiently sets the stage for a proper contextual understanding of Part 4 of this series. We weren’t disgruntled. We were happy overall, and I (we) will forever be grateful for how the children’s and youth ministry staff and volunteers have poured into my children. They have grown in the Lord under their discipleship and my two oldest have been baptized at AFBC.

 

Disclaimer

A lot of people are hostile toward Calvinism. I completely empathize with their reasons, and I’d be lying if I said this experience with David Kizziah has not altered my perception going forward. However, I am still not hostile. When I re-devoted myself to study of the Bible after years of being disaffected with religion in general (but not God), I was very attracted to Calvinism, although I would not have recognized it by name.

David Platt was my favorite pastor for years. I loved to listen to Matt Chandler, Paul Washer, and Voddie Baucham. I took several free, online classes from Credo Courses, which is Calvinist Michael Patton’s organization. When I had Bible questions, I was reading online ministries such as John Piper’s Desiring God, R.C.Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, and GotQuestions (yes, they’re Calvinist leaning). That’s probably why I was Calvinist leaning without even realizing it! Almost all theological internet searches are going to land you on primarily Calvinistic resources. Calvinist scholars are prolific writers and Calvinists are excellent in supporting those ministries. I appreciate those ministries and I greatly value all that I have learned from them.

The deeper I got the less satisfied I became with Calvinist answers to certain questions. Whew, some of that doctrinal fine print is a doozy. I became less convinced that their interpretation of certain passages was accurate. Alarm bells went off for me when I realized that I was having to engage in the same cognitive dissonance to “accept” Calvinist interpretations of certain Scriptures that I’d had to employ to follow some of the Scriptural interpretations promoted by my childhood church. By the time of my first associations with Arab First Baptist, I was thoroughly non-Calvinist.

I don’t consider Calvinism to be heresy. I think we’re far too quick to use that word. At this point it is used for just about anyone who disagrees with us in the slightest. That’s not to say that I don’t have very serious disagreements with Calvinism. It is apparent throughout this series that I do. So apparent that I believe it necessary to write this disclaimer before anyone gets the wrong impression. It is my belief that Calvinism, or Reformed doctrine, or the doctrines of grace, or whatever anyone wants to call it, defames the character of God in large part due to its misunderstanding of the Biblical definition of sovereignty.

It is also true that protestant Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree on a whole lot more than we disagree on. I do believe Calvinists and non-Calvinists can worship happily together under the same roof. I think it takes practical, intentional action to foster unity in such a scenario. I want to make abundantly clear that while David’s Calvinist views play center stage in the recounting of this story, they are in no way the reason for the opinions I have come to hold of him. I was content for two years to sit under his leadership knowing full well his theological views, and at no time did I attempt to cause division in our church. Any claims to the contrary are simply fallacious, and without ground.

 

What Else Do I Hope to Achieve?

It is my sincere desire to use our experience to help other non-Calvinist churches within our own Southern Baptist Convention to avoid this, now all-to-common, Calvinist take-over occurrence.

Go to Part 2

Go to Part 4

 

Anatomy of a Church Split Part 2

Part 2: What is Calvinism and/or Reformed Theology?

 

Are Calvinism and Reformed Theology the Same Thing?

Many people use these terms interchangeably. It is currently popular to do so. I believe that it can be convincingly demonstrated that many Baptists who qualify as Calvinists prefer to use the word “Reformed” instead due to the fact that the term “Calvinist” comes saddled with a lot of negative baggage they’d rather avoid. I believe their desire to avoid the label “Calvinist” has very little to do with rejecting doctrines that are accurately identified as Calvinist, and much more to do with public relations.

In reality, the two terms are not at all identical. To be Calvinist in the strictest sense (a 5-point Calvinist) indicates that one affirms the doctrines of the TULIP acrostic:

T = total depravity

U= unconditional election

L = limited atonement

I = irresistible grace

P = perseverance of the saints

We’ll discuss each of these more thoroughly below. You should also know that Calvinists are not a monolithic group, meaning that they hold differing views on various points within the system itself. This is why giving a general overview of Calvinist doctrine may draw criticism from Calvinists who claim that their view is being “misrepresented.” Clearly, it is impossible to account for each and every stripe of Calvinism in an introductory article. For example, some call themselves Calvinists even if they reject the “L.” These can be referred to as Amyraldian, 4-point Calvinists, or moderate Calvinists.

What does it mean to be Reformed then? Prolific Arminian scholar, Roger Olson, explains:

“To historical and systematic theologians this rise of identification of ‘Reformed’ with ‘Calvinism’ and vice versa is annoying. Even many theologians strongly embedded in the Reformed tradition have scoffed at the idea that being Calvinist in soteriology is enough to make one historically-theologically Reformed. The two are related but distinct. And, in fact, many Protestants are Calvinist but not Reformed and many others are Reformed but not Calvinist.”

“Historically-theologically, being ‘Reformed’ means holding to the ‘three symbols of unity’—the Heidelberg Confession and Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort.”

“A case can even be made, and has been made, that Jacob Arminius and the early Remonstrants were Reformed but not Calvinist and that many non-Wesleyan Arminians since the seventeenth century belong to the wider Reformed category—historically and theologically.”

“…But unless you believe in infant baptism as the New Covenant equivalent of Old Covenant circumcision you are almost certainly not Reformed in the classical sense. And you really ought to stop calling yourself ‘Reformed.’ It’s like someone who doesn’t believe in or practice speaking in tongues calling himself/herself ‘charismatic’ just because he/she raises hands in worship (while singing contemporary Christian songs).”

To the average layperson, the term “Calvinist” may come with a lot of negative baggage. The Gospel Coalition is a Calvinist organization, yet they discuss one common stereotype in their article, Why Are Calvinists So Mean?:

“The stereotype of the mean Calvinist exists for a reason. There’s a reason, after all, that clichés become clichés. If you spend any time in evangelical social media or have a more traveled experience in evangelical churches, you’ve been on the receiving end of a mean Calvinist before. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered at some point, “Why do those who subscribe to the doctrines of grace frequently seem so graceless? Is there something in particular about Calvinism that makes people mean?”

The article goes on to explain a number of reasons for why Calvinism has earned this stigma and a call to action to repair the damage.

As mentioned earlier, some higher forms of Calvinism (which may more accurately be referred to as more consistent forms of Calvinism) are known for particular positions that more moderate Calvinists may soften or reject all together. These moderate Calvinists may feel offended and misrepresented when a non-Calvinist assumes a definition of high Calvinism that they don’t hold.

To the contrary, the word “Reformed” may avoid triggering those negative connotations for the average layperson. Instead, they may associate the term “Reformed” with merely what it means to be Protestant as opposed to Roman Catholic, with a key focus on salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, not a result of good works, so that God alone receives all the glory. In other words, it raises no red flags.

I think it is clear at this point that when a new or prospective pastor prefers to refer to himself as “Reformed,” it usually means that he affirms Calvinist doctrine, but is loath to associate himself with the term “Calvinist.”

 

Calvinism’s TULIP

Let’s talk about TULIP. When learning about a particular belief system, I like to go straight to the source in order to let actual adherents of the view detail what they believe. In fact, I’m pretty adamant that that’s the best way to learn about a belief system rather than coming to conclusions about what someone believes based on sources that are negatively biased against it. The definitions of each doctrine of TULIP listed below are those of the well-respected and capable Calvinist theologian, R.C. Sproul. In my experience, Calvinists tend to keep their introductory presentations of TULIP restricted to the bare basics. Unfortunately, this contributes to confusion regarding the entailments that go along with each. Therefore, below Sproul’s definition, I am going to add additional information that I’ve noticed generally gets omitted.

 

T is for total depravity:

“As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, the entire human race fell, and our nature as human beings since the fall has been influenced by the power of evil…. The idea is that we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners….the idea of total in total depravity doesn’t mean that all human beings are as wicked as they can possibly be. It means that the fall was so serious that it affects the whole person.”

Additional Relevant Information Regarding Total Depravity

Beyond the definition above, what Calvinists mean when they say “total depravity,” is actually more clearly stated as “total inability.” A common analogy they use to illustrate this is the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Lazarus was dead. He was completely incapable of hearing or responding to anything at all. All a corpse can do is lie there. This, says the Calvinist, is the state we are all in from birth. Jesus calling for Lazarus to “come out” is viewed as a parallel to the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual, enabling him/her to hear and respond positively to the Gospel message. The problem with using the story of Lazarus as analogous with our salvation is that the Bible doesn’t define “dead in sin” that way. In his article, Dead Means Dead!, Leighton Flowers points out that not even the Calvinist applies the word “dead” that consistently. Calvinists, “all affirm that the ‘DEAD’ are at least able to respond negatively to the gracious truth of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).” The question is can they respond positively? Flowers lists five examples in which “’dead’ doesn’t mean moral inability.” I’ll cite the first three:

  1. “Jesus referred to the church in Sardis as ‘DEAD’ and called them to ‘wake up’ (Rev 3). Given Christ’s use of the idiomatic term ‘DEAD’ in reference to this church, should we presume that his hearers cannot respond positively to Christ’s appeal in this passage as well?”
  2. “The Prodigal was ‘DEAD/lost’ then ‘alive/found’ demonstrating that the term ‘DEAD’ is idiomatic for ‘separated by rebellion’ not ‘innate moral inability’ (Luke 15:24).”
  3. “’When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15).’” Flowers asks, “Are we born ‘DEAD’ according to James? Or is DEATH birthed in those who sin after its ‘full grown?’”

You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Total Depravity at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcOscF8UfNydYTG_1Z8WL4lkgQcvFbw1y

 

U is for unconditional election.

“God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.”

This is a much toned down definition of unconditional election. Therefore, I am going to cite the more comprehensive one provided by Wayne Grudem:

“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” (emphasis mine)

Additional Relevant Information Regarding Unconditional Election

A logical question which arises is, if God only chose some people to save before creation, didn’t He, by default, also choose the rest of the people to be tortured in hell for eternity? The answer to that question is going to depend on which Calvinist you ask. There are those that answer affirmatively, meaning that they acknowledge that this indicates that God had to have also chosen those who would go to hell before creation. This is referred to as “double predestination” in that God both predestined the elect to salvation and the reprobate to damnation.  John Calvin taught double predestination. Examples of Calvinists following him in this are Jonathan Edwards and John Piper.

Other Calvinists, such as Emil Brunner, holds to “single predestination,” meaning God predestines the elect to salvation, but doesn’t predestine the non-elect to damnation. Brunner argues that while he believes the Bible does clearly teach the first, it never clearly teaches the second so we just shouldn’t go there either. If you’d like a more full explanation of Brunner trying to square that circle you can check out R.C. Sproul’s article, Is Double Predestination Biblical?

Then there are the Calvinists (probably the majority position) who prefer to straddle the fence between the two positions above. Sproul is one such example. They hold that single predestination isn’t tenable, but double predestination needs to be carefully nuanced. In the article linked above he writes, “The distortion of double predestination looks like this:

“There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. […] This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.”

Sproul says this is not the case. He argues:

“In this view [the classic Reformed position] predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.”

What Sproul is getting at is that, sure, double predestination is the only position one can hold without choosing to live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance. However, while God is certainly 100% responsible for the salvation of the elect, He is simultaneously 0% responsible for the damnation of the non-elect because He deals with these two groups differently.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking: What in the world? Speak English Sproul. Daniel Hyde, writing for Ligonier Ministries in Predestination: What Does it Mean for the Non-Elect, breaks it down for us:

 “Preterition is God’s passing over some when He choose others. Condemnation is God’s actual consigning the passed over to eternal punishment. Condemnation, therefore, is subsequent to preterition. In other words, election and reprobation are not precisely parallel, as God’s positive choice in grace is what makes us elect, while His withholding of grace by passing by means that others will be left in their sins and because of that are therefore condemned by God.” (emphasis mine)

Therefore, it’s not that God has actually made the non-elect reprobate before creation, it’s just that He completely “passed over” them such that He would never enable them to have faith, repent and believe. I can’t imagine feeling any better about this than original double predestination.  In fact, it sounds an awful lot to me like they’ve inserted God in the role of the priest and the Levite who pass by the man lying half dead in the ditch in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Unconditional Election at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcOscF8UfNyebiIlI81pwdRqYwEgdkemi

I also highly recommend Dr. Adam Harwood’s sections on predestination and election in his Christian Theology  book.

 

L is for limited atonement.

“Did God simply send Christ to the cross to make salvation possible, or did God, from all eternity, have a plan of salvation by which, according to the riches of His grace and His eternal election, He designed the atonement to ensure the salvation of His people? Was the atonement limited in its original design? I prefer not to use the term limited atonement because it is misleading. I rather speak of definite redemption or definite atonement, which communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him.”

Additional Relevant Information Regarding Limited Atonement

This is the doctrine many moderate Calvinists reject. According to limited atonement, God did not die for the non-elect. I like what David Allen says about it on p. 71 of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique:

“Limited atonement is a doctrine in search of a text. No one can point to any text in Scripture that states clearly and unequivocally that Christ died for the sins of a limited number of people to the exclusion of others. Most Calvinists admit this. Alternatively, a dozen clear texts in the New Testament explicitly affirm Christ died for the sins of all people, and another half dozen indirectly suggest it.”

Essentially, limited atonement is a doctrine that Calvinists deduce due to the presuppositions required by their systematic.

You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Limited Atonement at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcOscF8UfNycgNZ-tAxVjEGBedMqdvcVo

 

I is for irresistible grace.

“In historic Reformation thought, the notion is this: regeneration precedes faith. We also believe that regeneration is monergistic…. it means that the work of regeneration in the human heart is something that God does by His power alone—not by 50 percent His power and 50 percent man’s power, or even 99 percent His power and 1 percent man’s power. It is 100 percent the work of God. He, and He alone, has the power to change the disposition of the soul and the human heart to bring us to faith.”

Additional Relevant Information Regarding Irresistible Grace

Sproul did not flesh out the “irresistible” part of irresistible grace. It means exactly what it sounds like. Calvinists do not believe individuals have the ability to resist this grace, meaning once you are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (which is required for you to be able to demonstrate saving faith), you will be saved. So what about the Gospel call that goes out to all? Don’t some resist this? Calvinists break that down into two distinct types of calling: a “general calling” that goes out to all, and an “effective calling” that goes out only to the “elect.” Calvinist scholar Wayne Grudem explains this in his condensed systematic theology book, Christian Beliefs.  He defines “effective calling” on p. 96-97:

“This calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith. Because it comes from God and always results in saving faith, it is sometimes referred to as effective calling.”

He defines “general calling” on p. 97:

“But there is a broader sense of ‘calling’ that refers to any preaching of the gospel to anyone, whether they respond or not. In distinction from effective calling, which always brings a response, we can talk about the ‘gospel call’ in general, which goes forth to all people, and which is sometimes referred to as external calling or general calling.”

Dr. Lemke treats this topic extensively in his section of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique. He cites numerous Old and New Testament texts which affirm resistible grace; he cites examples of resistible grace in the ministry and teachings of Jesus; he cites resistible grace in the all-inclusive invitations in Scripture, all-inclusive invitations in the prophets, all-inclusive invitations offered by Jesus, all-inclusive invitations in the proclamation and epistles of the early church, and all-inclusive invitations in John’s Revelation; as well as resistible grace in descriptions of how to be saved in the teachings of Jesus (pp. 136-150). Specifically regarding the Calvinist distinction between “effective” and “general” calling, Lemke writes:

“These verses mention no difference between a ‘general call’ and a ‘specific call,’ or between ‘common grace’ and ‘enabling irresistible grace.’ Therefore, when we see the same all-inclusive invitation over and over again in the various genres of Scripture, the question must be asked if the Calvinist theological system is doing justice to the text. Calvinists should take seriously Paul’s admonition in Rom. 9:20 (NIV): ‘But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?’” (p. 147)

Regeneration precedes faith? You may have noticed that this Calvinist doctrine also comes pre-packaged when the Lazarus story is used as a salvation analogy (an application the Biblical text does not make, by the way). On p. 99 Grudem writes:

“After the invitation to respond to the gospel is given, God must bring about a change in an individual’s heart before he or she is able to respond in faith. That change, a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us, is sometimes called regeneration. We play no role in this regeneration; it is completely an act of God.”

In his article titled, Does Regeneration Precede Faith, Flowers cites 16 passages that list faith as logically prior to being granted “new life” (regeneration). Even the beloved Calvinist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, could not get behind this Calvinist teaching. He says in his sermon titled, The Warrant of Faith:

“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.”

Another logical question that arises here: where is man’s responsibility in all of this? Sure, we don’t “earn” salvation. No non-Calvinist believes that. But where is our responsibility to believe? Calvinists view salvation as a pie, and any size “slice” that man is responsible for, reduces God’s “slice” of glory by an equal amount. For non-Calvinists, salvation isn’t viewed as a zero-sum game (the pie analogy). Instead, 100% of an individual’s salvation is God’s gift, and 100% of an individual’s salvation is his/her responsibility.

On Calvinism, God’s pre-creation decree determined who He would elect to salvation. Also, if God decreed before creation to “pass over” the non-elect, thus not enabling them to have faith, repent, and believe, then how is it just for God to cast them into hell for eternity? What is the role of man’s free will, if any? Most modern Calvinists have an answer for that called compatibilism.

If asked what man’s free will is, most people (who aren’t familiar with Calvinism) will assume a libertarian definition of free will. Leighton Flowers gives an excellent definition of libertarian free will (which he shortens to LFW) as it relates to man’s salvation in his article The Doctrine of Free Will :

“…the categorical ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action.” He continues, “So, in relation to soteriology, LFW is mankind’s ability to accept or reject God’s appeal to be reconciled through faith in Christ. Given that mankind is held responsible for how they respond to Christ and His words (John 12:48), there is no biblical or theological reason to suggest that mankind is born unable to respond to His powerful, life-giving words (Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Rm. 10:17; John 6:63; 20:31*). It makes no practical sense to hold mankind responsible (response-able) to Christ’s words, if indeed they are unable-to-respond to those words, nor is it ever explicitly taught in Scripture.”

Libertarian free will is very different from compatibilist free will. Compatibilism. The very name indicates that it is an attempt to posit that man’s free will can indeed be compatible with God’s deterministic decrees. Grudem explains compatibilism on p. 87 of the book cited above:

“Many believe that if the doctrine of election is true, then we aren’t really free. The difficulty in thinking this way is that many different definitions and assumptions surround the word free, and these differences easily lead to misunderstanding. In this case it is helpful to use a term other than free so as to communicate more carefully what we want to say… We aren’t forced to make choices contrary to our own will. We ultimately do what we desire to do.” (emphasis mine)

Did you see what he did there? You’re free because you’re choosing to do what you want to do. Since you’re actively choosing to do what you want to do, it is just for God to condemn you to hell for those decisions. The catch is, unless God has chosen before creation to elect you to salvation, granting you regeneration, you cannot desire to have faith, repent or believe. This is a desire God did not decree you the ability to have. Compatibilism as a concept cannot be found in the Bible. It’s a philosophical construct conceived to rescue God from shouldering the responsibility for man’s decision to reject Him, even though the rejection was decreed before creation. In my opinion, it isn’t successful.

You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Irresistible Grace at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcOscF8UfNyeh8RT2GjuQgvDbNm0DhEm3

 

P is for perseverance of the saints.

Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, ‘He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end’ (Philippians 1:6). Therein is the promise of God that what He starts in our souls, He intends to finish. So the old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance of the saints is this: If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.”

Additional Relevant Information Regarding Perseverance of the Saints

This is very similar to what non-Calvinist Baptists would refer to as “once saved always saved” or “eternal security.” Flowers has this to say in his article Can You Lose Your Salvation? Once Saved Always Saved?:

“Those of us who hold to ‘The Corporate View of Election’ (the most widely held view of Southern Baptist biblical scholars), likewise affirm the Calvinistic doctrine that ‘those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation.’ Some Calvinists feel it is inconsistent for those of us who deny any part of the TULIP doctrines to try and maintain the doctrine of perseverance. This accusation, however, is misapplied because it fails to recognize that we affirm the effectual work of regeneration, just like our Calvinistic brethren.  We disagree as to the ‘ordo salutis’ (order of salvation) in that we do not affirm the concept of pre-faith regeneration (irresistible grace). Instead we believe as John clearly stated, ‘These are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. -John 20:31”

You may access Dr. Flowers’ playlist of videos regarding Perseverance of the Saints at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcOscF8UfNycmtPp8BbMVC1aaqMWdM_gn

 

Hidden Terms and Conditions

Did you notice the magnitude of the additional relevant information baked in, but not clarified, in most of Sproul’s definitions of TULIP? In my experience, these get glossed over in Calvinist presentations, and that includes the vast majority of the ones I’ve heard preached from the pulpit. To me, the latter often comes across as dizzying double-speak, which is precisely why I believe laypeople unfamiliar with what Calvinism teaches can sit under a Calvinist pastor for quite some time and never actually comprehend what that pastor is actually teaching. As with so many other scenarios in which someone selling you something wants to get you to sign on the dotted line before too many specifics are examined, that fine print can be a doozy.

Will the Real Contradiction Please Stand Up?

Let me be clear: the fact that a Calvinist is employing what the non-Calvinist clearly discerns to be double-speak, does not also mean that the Calvinist is lying. Calvinists frequently appeal to mystery when simultaneously holding views that are mutually exclusive. There is not anything necessarily wrong with appealing to mystery. When it comes to the Bible there are certainly going to be mysteries that our finite minds can’t grasp. From a non-Calvinist perspective, I consider it perfectly reasonable to appeal to mystery when a Calvinists asks me how God knows everything. I don’t know how He knows. The Bible says He does and I believe it. Most Calvinists do not accept that particular appeal to mystery, and argue that God knows everything by virtue of the fact that He has determined all that will come to pass.

By the same token, the non-Calvinist does not recognize some of the mysteries Calvinists appeal to as valid. The non-Calvinist often views some of the mysteries Calvinists appeal to, not as valid mystery, but as an acceptance of a state of cognitive dissonance in that they have accepted that two mutually exclusive claims are simultaneously true. (In the opinion of the non-Calvinist, of course. It’s certainly fair for the Calvinist to disagree with this assessment and provide a defense.) However, it would be unfair to say that the Calvinist is lying, because in the mind of the Calvinist, they’ve decided to suspend reason to hold a particular view. Therefore, for them, making two contradictory claims is not a lie. For example, Grudem makes the following statement regarding God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility:

“Therefore, if we respond to Christ’s invitation in a positive way, we can honestly say that we chose to respond to Christ while also saying that it was (in ways we cannot fully understand) ordained by God. If we can’t fully understand how these two things can be true at the same time, then we must acknowledge that there is mystery here. At least in this age, we cannot completely grasp this mystery.” (p. 88)

From the pulpit, this commonly gets illustrated using Charles Spurgeon’s famous train track analogy:

“Just as the rails of a train (track), which run parallel to each other, appear to merge in the distance, so the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, which seem separate from each other in this life will merge in eternity.”

The non-Calvinist may rightly point out that the merging of train tracks in the distance is an optical illusion. They never do meet in reality. The problem for many non-Calvinists is that Calvinist leaders often leave the issue there, and don’t continue by expounding on the fact that accepting this concept at face value entails the acceptance of an underlying philosophical construct many people would be less willing to adopt when applied to theology, if they understood that they were embracing it.

In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Calvinist J.I. Packer’s offers a defense of this accepted cognitive dissonance, which he calls an antinomy:

“The whole point of antinomy- in theology, at any rate- is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can be true together.” (p. 18-19)

In footnote number 24 of Clay Jones’s book, Why Does God Allow Evil, he challenges the wisdom of this reasoning:

“The trouble for Packer and Sproul and other determinists is explaining how we know when a contradiction between two theologies is only an apparent contradiction and not a real one. Obviously, if it were a real contradiction, then one of the views would be necessarily false. What would we say to a cultist who, when we pointed out a contradiction in his or her theology, replied, ‘It is only an apparent contradiction, not a real one’?” (p. 221)

Calvinist scholars also realize this is a potentially dangerous thought process. In his book, The Providence of God: Contours of Christian Theology, Calvinist Paul Helm notes that “appealing to an antinomy could be a license for accepting nonsense.” (p. 66) The non-Calvinist may argue that is exactly what the Calvinist has done. Have you ever heard this fleshed out from the pulpit? I haven’t.

There are a few more Calvinist views that I believe are important to clarify: original sin as inherited guilt, a definition of God’s sovereignty which entails exhaustive divine determinism, and the two wills of God.

 

Original Sin as Inherited Guilt:

On p. 63 of Grudem’s book he writes:

““We received not only Adam’s sinful nature, but also his sin-produced guilt. Adam’s action resulted not only in his own guilt, but also in the guilt of every other human… Therefore, when Adam sinned, God thought of us all as having sinned.”

Dr. Adam Harwood addresses the topic of original sin in his section of Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique, and describes two basic Christian views of original sin:

“Inherited guilt is the view that all people inherit from Adam sinful inclinations, mortality, and the guilt of Adam’s sin. Inherited consequences is the view that all people inherit from Adam sinful inclinations and mortality, not the guilt of his sin.” P. 17

Why does this matter? It impacts ones answer to the question of where babies go when they die. Calvinists have differing views. Some argue that all babies are saved with a variety of explanations. There is the age of accountability argument. Some say that God has providentially ordered the universe such that any baby that dies was indeed one of God’s elect.  Some, like Luther, believe that babies of believers are all saved. Some, like Augustine, believe that babies may possibly be saved if baptism is administered before they die in order to cleanse them from the guilt that is imputed to them from Adam’s sin. All of those are guesses since the Bible doesn’t speak explicitly to it. In my opinion, it’s one of many unnecessary problems that the non-Biblical doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt creates.

It also creates major Christological issues. How did Jesus, born of Mary, escape the stain of original sin as inherited guilt? Two weird doctrines have been devised in an attempt to address this complication: the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception (that Mary herself was born sinless due to God’s special intervention), and the Protestant idea that sin is passed sexually through males, but not females (therefore Jesus couldn’t have inherited it from Mary). In any case, I highly recommend Dr. Harwood’s The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal.

 

A Definition of God’s Sovereignty Which Entails Exhaustive Divine Determinism:

In his article, A Non-Calvinist, Relational View of God’s Sovereignty, Olson explains the Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereignty:

“Anyone who has studied Edwards or Piper knows they have a distinctive view of God’s sovereignty. It’s enjoying great popularity, especially among twenty-something Christians. According to it, whatever happens is planned, ordained and governed by God. Another way of saying that is that God foreordains and renders certain everything that happens without exception. As John Piper has said, according to his view, if a dirty bomb were to land in downtown Minneapolis, that would be from God.”

“Many people simply believe this view is what is meant by ‘God’s sovereignty’ and anything else is a denial of God’s sovereignty. If God is not the all-determining reality, then he is not sovereign. Or, as Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul likes to say, if there is one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not God. Or, as British Calvinist Paul Helm says, not only every atom and molecule but also every thought and intention is under the control of God.”

“According to all versions of it [divine determinism], all events are traceable back to God who controls history down to every detail according to a blueprint. God has never taken a risk. God micromanages history and individuals’ lives. Nothing surprises God. Nothing can happen that is contrary to God’s will.”

“Now, of course, there are many versions of divine determinism. Hardly any advocate of that view likes my label for it. Sproul, for example, adamantly rejects ‘determinism’ as a descriptor of his view. However, a quick look at any major English dictionary will reveal why it’s a fair descriptor. By whatever means, even if through ‘secondary causes,’ God determines what will happen and that determination is as Helm says ‘fine grained.’ Nothing at all escapes it.”

In his article, Reformed, or Calvinist, or Both? An Important Distinction, Olson makes one more clarification, “Some Calvinists will deny divine determinism of all events, but they usually mean that God does not cause sin and evil; he only renders it certain (the words of Charles Hodge).”

Olson is a proponent of what he refers to as a “relational” view of God’s sovereignty that I believe far more accurately represents God’s revelation to us through Scripture:

“Oord, one of the editors and authors of Relational Theology, defines it this way: ‘At its core, relational theology affirms two key ideas: 1. God affects creatures in various ways. Instead of being aloof and detached, God is active and involved in relationship with others. God relates to us, and that makes an essential difference. 2. Creatures affect God in various ways. While God’s nature is unchanging, creatures influence the loving and living Creator of the universe. We relate to God, and creation makes a difference to God.’ (p. 2) Another author, Barry Callen, says of relational theism (or theology) that it focuses on ‘the interactivity or mutuality of the God-human relationship. God is understood to be truly personal, loving, and not manipulative. The interaction of the wills of Creator and creature are real.’ (p. 7)”

Another component of God’s sovereignty Olson incorporates into his view is called “mediating.” Olson writes:

“These are views that attempt to combine, usually with some appeal to paradox, divine determinism with relational theism. An excellent example is the late evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch. Throughout his career Bloesch boldly expressed and defended the paradoxical nature of Christianity following Kierkegaard and Barth. In his book The Evangelical Renaissance he declared that:

God knows the course of the future and the fulfillment of the future, but this must not be taken to mean that He literally knows every single event even before it happens. It means that He knows every alternative and the way in which His children may well respond to the decisions that confront them. The plan of God is predetermined, but the way in which He realizes it is dependent partly on the free cooperation of His subjects. This does not detract from His omnipotence, for it means that He is so powerful that He is willing to attain His objectives by allowing a certain room for freedom of action on the part of man. (p. 53)

This may sound relational or deterministic and Bloesch reveled in that ambiguity. ‘The plan of God is predetermined’ is deterministic; ‘The way in which He realizes it is dependent partly on the…cooperation of His subjects’ is relational.”

I’ll conclude this section with the following two citations from Olson’s article:

“The key insight for a non-process relational view of God’s sovereignty is that God is sovereign over his sovereignty. The missio dei is God’s choice to involve himself intimately with the world so as to be affected by it. That choice is rooted in God’s love and desire for reciprocal love freely offered by his human creatures. None of this detracts in any way from God’s sovereignty because God is sovereign over his sovereignty. To say that God can’t be vulnerable, can’t limit himself, can’t restrain his power to make room for other powers, is, ironically, to deny God’s sovereignty.”

“Finally, in sum, then, a relational view of God’s sovereignty is one that regards God’s will as settled in terms of the intentions of his character but open and flexible in terms of the ways in which he acts because he allows himself to be acted upon. Only such a view of God’s sovereignty does justice to the whole of the biblical drama, to God as personal, to human persons as responsible actors and potential partners with God in God’s mission.”

 

The Two Wills of God:

In much the same way as the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt creates a completely unnecessary issue which must then be resolved, a view of God’s sovereignty that entails exhaustive divine determinism creates its own crisis of consistency in the Biblical text when attempting to reconcile what God has revealed to us about His will. Due to their doctrinal presuppositions, Calvinists must deduce that God actually has two wills. The first is called His secret will, or will of decree, and the second is called His revealed will, or will of command. Dr. Harwood has published a review of John Piper’s book in which he attempts to defend the Calvinist understanding of the plural wills of God. The following are excerpts from Harwood’s review:

“Piper explains his aim ‘is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for all people to be saved and his will to choose some people for salvation unconditionally before creation is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion’ (13). Piper begins by labeling 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:8–9, Ezekiel 18:23, 32, and Matt 23:37 as ‘perplexing texts’ (13). He assumes as true the view that ‘God chooses unconditionally whom he will save’ (15). Piper then deduces that because God desires to save all but elects to save only some, ‘there are at least “two wills” in God.’”

“The strength of this book is that it seeks to address an Achilles heel in Reformed theology, namely the charge that affirming unconditional election requires a denial of God’s desire to save all people. The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people by appealing to a theological framework of two wills in God, which is deduced then imported into one’s reading of the Scripture. The result is that Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”

“Piper commits the error D. A. Carson specifically warned against in his dissertation, pointing to a hidden will to negate God’s revealed will.”

“For readers who seek to reconcile unconditional election to salvation with God’s desire to save all people, Piper’s brief treatment provides an argument which may prove satisfying to the already convinced. But readers looking for an unambiguous answer of ‘yes’ to the question in the title of the book [Does God Desire All to be Saved?] are advised to look elsewhere.”

 

In Summary

To be Calvinist is not necessarily to be Reformed, and to be Reformed is not necessarily to be Calvinist. However, it is true that the two terms are very commonly used synonymously to indicate that one holds to the doctrines of TULIP. It seems that many Baptist pastors prefer to use the term “Reformed” rather than “Calvinist” even though they mean the exact same things when they use those terms. More than anything else, this appears to me to be a public relations tactic.

Ron Hale provides the following definition of “Calvinism in a nutshell:”

“…God the Father choosing a people (a certain number of persons before creation), Jesus the Son of God died for them (them alone, the elect- not the whole world), and God the Holy Spirit works to make Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect (only those chosen before creation) to Christ, thereby causing them (drawing or dragging them) to obey the gospel. This entire process of (predestination, election, regeneration, salvation) is the work of God determining who will be the recipients of his salvation or ensuring salvation for those he chose before the foundation of the world.”

Whatever you do, don’t forget to read the fine print.

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