I want to tell you a bit of my journey in coming to understand this doctrine the way I do. I hope this is helpful for giving context to our conversation.
I understand that this is a subject that can cause stress, confusion and anxiety. In my journey to understanding this doctrine I have experienced all of that. It is a big one! So, when the time comes that this doctrine shows up in the passage I am preaching on in a given week, I am always a little bit extra stressed, knowing that there is potential for strife because of what I will say. This is not the only doctrine I preach that causes this type of stress, but this one causes it most easily.
I also want to say up front that I don’t require anyone to believe what I believe. I will always gladly enter into conversation with other truth-seekers. I want what I believe to be pressed and tested. I want to either repent of what I believe and believe the truth or I want to fortify what I believe and be strengthened.
This is not a doctrine that I grew up believing. I was aware of it while I was growing up but was never required to believe it… and I didn’t. In fact, I mocked this belief and generally believed the opposite all the way into my late 20s. It wasn’t until after God began to call me into ministry and I began to really take his word more seriously that I began to believe what I do about his sovereignty.
In 2007, knowing that God would eventually move me into pastoring somewhere, I began to take Bible college courses. In one of the first courses I took the prof asked if we had read the Bible from cover to cover. Although I had read the Bible all of my life I realized that I never had disciplined myself to read it from front to back. And so I set out to do that.
I still remember over that year of reading coming to the realization numerous times that God really did seem to work in ways that were different from what I believed. The stories of Pharaoh and the plagues, Job, and Paul’s writings in Romans were beginning to confirm to me that I was not on track with what I believed. It has been a gradual but steady journey since then but each time I read through the Bible again from front to back I am more convinced of God’s sovereignty in all things, including election.
At first, it was a reluctant realization. “Ugh, it really does work that way?!” was basically where I was at. I really didn’t want to believe it because I knew it would put me in the theological minority. However, over the last dozen or so years it is something that I have become both more convinced of and increasingly comforted by. Now, please don’t read into that that I have it all figured out, or that I no longer feel any discomfort with the implications, or that I am entirely comfortable with some of the conclusions that must be drawn.
As I came to a passage in Thessalonians that I was going to preach that dealt with this doctrine in 2015, I addressed it in a sermon and there was certainly some controversy. In the ensuing conflict some people said to me that they simply did not believe in predestination, that it wasn’t taught in the Bible and I shouldn’t be teaching it. I was baffled at this. My only response was “You can’t NOT believe in predestination. It is clearly taught in the Bible. We might understand it differently but neither of us can say that it isn’t taught in the Bible.”
Early in 2016 I took a seminary course on Calvinism and Arminianism. This was a deep dive into the theology of both sides of this debate and was taught masterfully by Dr. Stan Fowler. I learned many things in this course but I think the best thing I took away from it was the realization that we can believe different things about this doctrine and still work and worship together.
Dr. Fowler demonstrated that there are most certainly passages of scripture that seem to clearly teach one way of seeing things, and other passages that, if read in isolation, lead to a different conclusion. It is up to the student of scripture then, Dr. Fowler told us, to examine everything God’s word says on the subject and decide for ourselves where we believe the greater weight of evidence lies.
In other words, no one should arrogantly believe that they have an airtight case for either side. There is room for difference, and there must be much humility in our conversations.