Intro: What I Never Understood
In my first post, I shared how I became a Calvinist.
In my second post, I articulated how I defended Calvinism.
In this post, I’ll explain what sort of Calvinism I believed: namely, “four-point Calvinism.” I forever denied the doctrine of Limited Atonement, which states that Jesus did not die for all men but only for the elect.
I’ll state up front: I still have no idea why anyone would ever believe in Limited Atonement. I get why people would believe in the rest of Calvinism. I was a very convinced Calvinist myself. And I was even wide open to the doctrine of Limited Atonement; several times I asked myself, both before coming to the school and during my Freshman year, “Am I missing something?” But after a lot of conversations with a lot of people, I honestly am still at a loss as to why anyone would actually believe it. There seem to be no good arguments in support of it. I suspect the real reasons why people believe it boil down to one of two things: first, they assume their teachers and pastors are right and so believe it even though they don’t see it Biblically, assuming “there must be good reasons to believe it”; second, they hold to it for “aesthetic reasons” (that is, they feel like it’s beautiful or it just “fits,” so they embrace it without asking whether or not it’s true).
Why I Didn’t Believe
I naturally learn well from debating things with others. And it just so happened that one of the biggest points of disagreement between me and others at my school were our opinions on Christ’s death. The conclusion was inevitable: I was bound to spend hours debating this issue with others. And I think, at least 90% of the time, these conversations were genuinely good conversations. They weren’t nasty at all. But they were definitely intense at times. All those conversations eventually found their way into an extended essay I submitted my Freshman year. This essay was supposed to be 6-8 pages long. The essay I turned in was 15 pages. (That probably didn’t help my grade.) was thinking about trying to boil down the arguments into a blog post, but I think it’d be more fun to just recount a few fun memories from those days, and simply post the whole paper as a separate post. Now, I haven’t changed anything from my original paper, for the sake of showing my development. I would like to change a few things here and there, but for the most part I think all the arguments are still legitimate. (Here’s the link.)
Memory #1 — John C. Sets Up A Debate In Class Between Me and My Professor
I remember it so clearly:
- Professor: “Does anyone have any questions about the Calvinism paper?” (We were supposed to write either for or against one of the five points of Calvinism.)
- John, after awkwardly raising his hand: “Is it okay if we write a paper supporting Limited Atonement, and we sorta write it against someone who would claim that unconditional election and unlimited atonement are compatible?”
- Professor: “Well, I’m not really sure if anyone believes that…”
- John, glancing across the room at me: “Well, I think a few people might…”
After a few rounds of going back and forth I eventually jumped in: “I believe it, and we’ve been discussing it quite a bit outside of class.” We then proceeded to all debate it in class for the next twenty minutes or so.
John, though, stood out to me as someone who listened far more carefully than anyone else did. He’s an example to all of us in what it looks like to lovingly listen.
Memory #2 — Jacob R. Writes That Paper
I may be wrong, but I don’t think John wrote that paper in the end. But Jacob did. And he sends it to me over Facebook with the words “love ya bro.” I remember him at one point jokingly saying “I will devote my entire academic career to destroying you.” It was honestly just so funny that our out-of-class debates were carried over in front of our professor’s eyes.
Memory #3 — Chase N. Mind Nodes Me
There’s this program that Chase uses called “Mind Node” that is a visual tool for tracking a flow of thought. It looks like this:
Chase first saw a professor use this during class; he dropped $40 that day to purchase it for both his Mac and iPhone. And he, on more than one occasion, came up to me (or called me) to say “Jordan! I’ve got you figured out! Look: it’s all on the Mind Node!” He would then proceed to ask me a number of questions, wait for my response, and then say: “Yes, I knew you would say that. So here’s the follow up question I had traced out…” And to his credit, he often did know how the conversation would flow. And even more to his credit, on the rare occasion when I’d have an answer he hadn’t thought of, he would hang up the phone, think it over for a couple hours, re-work the mind node, and then talk to me about it again sometime later. We had numerous conversations about Limited Atonement this way. In fact, he’s the only one who ever came close to offering a legitimate argument. I mention that argument in my paper; it’s the one based off Colossians 2:13. I was honestly very impressed by how hard Chase worked to refute me; apparently other people in his house were getting worried with how much time he was spending studying Limited Atonement when he should have been doing other things.
Anyway: I hope you enjoyed these stories. They illustrate well that much of theological education happens outside the classroom.
My next post will be the paper, and the post after that will begin to cover the season of doubting my faith that I went through during my Freshman year.