Yeah, my first extended church experience after coming to faith as a teenager was at a lovely church in Dallas called Believer’s Chapel.
Though I was very new to the faith and didn’t initially have the language for such things, I gradually learned the leadership of the church believed and taught that God has predestined all that happens, including the eternal destinies of men and women. It’s really a double predestination: some to heaven and some to hell.
That teaching, I later came to find out, is called Calvinism.
These were fine, wise, loving, and biblical people. Yet even as a 17-year-old, I knew I couldn’t hang with them on the part about double predestination. So that experience started me on a journey looking for fine, wise, loving, and biblical people who believed in free will. And that journey led me ultimately to the theology of John Wesley and the people called Methodists.
So all these years later — 34 of them! — why would I devote time to extolling the virtues of a theological perspective that I left as soon as I understood it?
Well, three reasons. First — and it pains us Wesleyans to admit it — they’ve got the celebrity power going in Christians circles these days. Even John Meunier posted about two Calvinists discussing holiness (I thought that was our subject!).
Second, I often check what John Piper has to say about certain biblical passages that I am preaching on — sometimes for inspiration, other times for disagreement, but always for engagement.
And third, in the hubbub over my baptism comments last week, someone cyber-speculated that I am really a Calvinist at heart.
So with all that in mind, here are five things I believe we free will-loving Methodists can appreciate about Calvinism and our Calvinist friends:
1. They remind us of the sovereignty of God. We look at Romans 9 and grimace (not that we should; we just do). The Calvinists read it and throw a party.
2. They recognize the sinfulness of humanity. Ephesians 2:1 says this: “and you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” We Wesleyans read that and interpret it as “mal-adjusted” or “in need of improvement.” In the Calvinist worldview, dead means dead.
3. They are, for the most part, amillenial in their eschatology. I consider the fanciful end-times teaching of the Left Behind movement a far greater misreading of biblical truth than Calvinism. Neither my Calvinist friends nor I will ever be Rapture Ready.
4. They encourage us to preach sermons that are more about God than about people. Interestingly, my friend James Howell — a Wesleyan-Arminian if there ever was one — says the same thing in his book The Beauty Of The Word.
5. They believe God planned for me to write this post all along.