The Five Points That Led Me Out of Calvinism | Part One

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.
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Recently several people have asked what specific points led me away from Calvinism.  Being a Professor of Theology that once affirmed the T.U.L.I.P gives me a unique perspective on this subject.  However, I do not claim to be an expert in the field nor do I begrudge those who disagree with my perspective. I simply desire to rightly interpret the Word of God.  Hopefully this article can help you understand why I could not continue to support the Calvinistic interpretation of the scriptures.

Why are people so interested in what led me out of Calvinism? I believe there are many who are hoping to convince someone they care about to leave behind their Calvinistic beliefs.  I hate to tell them, but it is doubtful an article will accomplish that feat. It is very difficult to convince YOURSELF to leave a long held theological perspective and next to impossible to convince another.  For me it was a painstaking three-year journey after I engaged in an in-depth study of the subject.  I had no desire to leave Calvinism and I fought tooth and nail to defend my beloved “Doctrines of Grace” against the truths my studies led me to see.  There was no single argument, article, or discussion that led me to recant my adherence to the T.U.L.I.P. system.

In fact I’m quite certain I could never have been “debated out of Calvinism.”  I was much too competitive to objectively evaluate my systematic theology in the heat of a contentious type discussion.  Even if I were to come up against an argument I could not answer, I would have never admitted that to my opponent.  Few individuals would be able to get around the intense emotion and pride inducing adrenaline brought on by debating theology.  Our innate desire to be esteemed by others and seen as “smarter” than we really are often overwhelms any potential for learning and profitable dialogue.

If someone disagreed with me, my presumption was that they must not really understand my perspective.  So, instead of attempting to listen and objectively evaluate their arguments, I focused on restating my case more clearly, confidently, and dogmatically.  If I did not fully understand what they were saying I would often label and dismiss them instead of taking the time to fully evaluate their point of view.  I am not attempting to suggest every Calvinist makes these errors—I am only reflecting on what I now view as my mistakes.

I competed on the state level in CX Debate in High School and College. Our debate coach drilled into us the SKILL of taking on both the affirmative and negative side of every issue. And believe me, that is a learned skill. It is very difficult to put down one view in the defense of another opposing view, especially if you are emotionally and intellectually attached to a given perspective.  It is rare to find real objectivity in a discussion among theologically minded individuals over a doctrine as emotionally charged and intimately personal as that of our salvation.  This is ESPECIALLY true of those who have made a living and developed their identity around a particular set of beliefs.  Imagine R.C. Sproul, for example, coming to believe he was mistaken on these points of doctrine.  Think how much it would cost him and his reputation as a scholar to recant those views. This is never an easy or painless transition for anyone at any level of notoriety.

I say all this to tell any Calvinistic readers who may have clicked on this link in order to refute my claims:  I am NOT so naive as to think this article is going to convince you to leave Calvinism, thus that is NOT my goal in creating it.  My goal, however, is that you simply understand the reasons I left Calvinism…and I mean REALLY understand.  That most likely cannot happen if you begin with an axe to grind or a point to defend.  Can we put down the weapons and first seek to hear and fully understand each other before launching into a debate?  If you finish this article and walk away still as Calvinistic as you are right now, but you fully understand why I felt I had to leave Calvinism, then I will consider this a great success.

I adopted all five points of the Calvinistic T.U.L.I.P when I was a freshman in college after digesting books from John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer and later John Piper.  Louie Giglio, the man who brought John Piper into the mainstream through events like Passion, was one of my father’s close friends.  My first ministry position was with GRACE at Hardin-Simmons University modeled after Louie’s ministry at Baylor University in the 80s.  Here is where I worked along side Matt Chandler, being discipled by the same mentor.  I grew very convinced in my Calvinism over the next decade of life even helping to start a new “Reformed” Baptist Church that split off from my home church.

Later I served on staff at the new Reformed Church and then began working for the Texas Baptist state convention.  We hired John Piper along with various other notable Calvinistic communicators to speak at many of the events I direct.  I very much loved being apart of this “brotherhood” of ministers who proudly affirmed the doctrine of Spurgeon and the forefathers of our Southern Baptist faith.  I was a card-carrying member of “The Founders” of the SBC and would never have dreamed that one day I would be writing this article.

One morning I was reading a book by A.W. Tozer, a man I knew was respected in the Calvinistic community.  John Piper often quoted him and people referenced his works regularly in my Reformed circles.  Some of what he wrote simple did not fit into my paradigm.  As I read, I remember thinking to myself, “Isn’t Tozer a Calvinist?”  I distinctly remember how I felt when I learned that A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis, two men I greatly respected, did not affirm T.U.L.I.P.  At that point, I recalled what my debate training taught me and I realized I had never really objectively and thoroughly vetted the scholarly views that oppose Calvinism.  This started my journey.

Six months to a year into this sporadic study of doctrines I was not the least bit convinced that Calvinism was wrong. Even after being presented with several convincing arguments against my long held beliefs, I subconsciously felt I had too much too lose to leave my Calvinism.  My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections–all gone if I recant my views on this!  I had converted way too many people and hurt way too many relationships in defense of these views for me to go back on what I was so certain to be true for so many years.  However, my years of training in debate helped me to recognize this bias and proceed with my studies nonetheless.  As I was trained, I forced myself to drop my preconceived ideas, my biases, and anything that might hinder me from fully understanding the other perspective. I wanted to know what Godly, intelligent men like Tozer and Lewis saw in the scriptures that led them to their conclusions. I wanted to fully vet their perspective on soteriology.

In that process there were five key truths that came to light which eventually led me out of my Calvinism.  Below is a short summary of those views:

POINT #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.  

I had so saturated myself with Calvinistic preachers and authors that the only thing I knew of the opposing views was what they told me. Thus, I had been led to believe the only real alternative to Calvinism was this strange concept of God “looking through the corridors of time to elect those He foresees would choose Him.” Notable Calvinistic teachers almost always paint all non-Calvinistic scholars as holding to this perspective. Once I realized I had been misled on this point, I was more open to consider other interpretations objectively.

I found a much more robust and theologically sound systematic in what is called “The Corporate View of Election,”[1] which so happened to be the most popular view among the biblical scholars of my own denomination (Southern Baptists). Much more can be said about this view that I will not take the liberty to expound upon in this article. However, I must warn readers that the all too common phrase, “nations are made up of individuals too,” does not even begin to rebut the claims of this perspective. Individuals are just as much involved in the Corporate perspective as they are the Calvinistic perspective (maybe even more so). Anyone who believes the Corporate view is easily dismissed with that simple one-liner has not yet come to understand it rightly. In my experience, very few Calvinists give this view the attention it deserves because it requires a shift in perspective that, if recognized, would undermine their entire premise.

Do you understand “The Corporate View of Election”…I mean really understand it? Could you defend it in a debate if you had to? Could you explain it objectively to a classroom of students? Are you willing to study it and evaluate its claims?

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle

 

Part two is HERE!

 

[1] http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ashland_theological_journal/41-1_059.pdf