Originally Posted on August 15, 2022
I remember when I first heard about the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. It was a season of spiritual growth. I was a young mom seeking to know God for the first time even though I had technically asked him “into my heart” ten years earlier. The pastor presented both positions in a good light and said that our flavor of Christianity (Calvary Chapel) landed on a mixture of the two.
A handful of years later, when I had space from baby-making and time to look things up on the internet, I began to hunger for more knowledge and details about my faith. Our community and many of our friends were LDS, and that prompted me to seek confirmation of what I said I believed, and to discover what I actually believed. It was a good time of study and discovery.
I sat down and made a five row chart with three columns. Next, I looked up verses to compare the two theologies with my undenominational-denomination. Then I pulled out my Bible to solve it, once and for all. Somehow, I still believed there were only the two camps, and I needed to pick one. With my high school education, and the Holy Spirit, I would discover, unequivocally, what hundreds of years and thousands of scholars could not.
I looked up the verses and tried to read a verse before and after—you know—to keep them in context. Not necessarily in context with the whole Bible or even the individual book, but at least in context with the sentence.
There weren’t just two or three ways to look at it. I landed on my own mixture but with a subtle distaste for most of the Calvinistic points. I thought only authoritarians would agree with Calvinism because they saw God to be like them. Based on my personality and the combination of my life experiences, I needed to know that following God was my choice. An irrefutable call didn’t inspire love. I preferred resistible grace even to the point of conditional salvation. Agency was too important to me for it to not be part of my relationship with God. I saw God to be like me.
Since I understood that if someone believed differently from you, the solution was to talk louder and faster until they backed down—I could prove my stance in someone’s bewildered silence. I knew what hundreds of years and thousands of scholars could not determine.
Then one day, a young woman told me she had learned something wonderful about God. What I heard in her description was elements of Calvinism. She didn’t have to worry about failure. God had chosen her. It was up to God to preserve her until the day of salvation—and she was not responsible for staying saved. She wasn’t even responsible for choosing him. He had it all covered.
My initial thought was “Nooo!” and if she wasn’t the most precious woman in the world to me, or I hadn’t learned through the pandemic how words break nations, I might not have stayed silent. When I heard the love and relief in her heart, I had a second thought. “Who are you, to take this away from her?” I knew that there was compelling scripture for both sides. Unconditional election could be true and not break me or destroy my autonomy.
I did not need her to be wrong in order to be right. Her love and joy in this doctrine did not kick me out of the kingdom. I could rest in my ability to choose, she could rest in her provision.
There are so many theologies like this. And I wonder if it has something to do with God meeting us where we need him, even though we don’t all need him in the same place.
I know some people panic at the thought of multiple things being true because the gate is narrow and few find it, so we better be sure we’re on the right path. (And then prove it by everyone else’s bewildered silence.)
This makes me reconsider, with a blush of embarrassment, the times I’ve said, “Catholics believe this…” and “LDS believe this…” since I cannot even delineate what one flavor of Christianity believes. Maybe we don’t need to agree with all the details. In fact, it would probably be unrealistic to have two humans completely align from top to bottom with every thought. I know my husband and I don’t.
One of my favorite resources is the Theology in the Raw podcast. One thing I’ve learned through it is that if you can’t see legitimacy on the other side of debates like this—you aren’t looking honestly or thoroughly.
It is possible to decide emphatically how you believe and to still see the opposite point of view. And if you can’t acknowledge alternate positions, it’s probable that you just formed the opinion. Then you found material or a network of people to support it. Which is easy (if you haven’t been on the internet lately, you can find proof of anything), but detrimental if you find out later that you built your life on a lie. Ask anyone who has deconstructed their faith.
I believe there are mutually exclusive truths about God. I just don’t accept that humans have all the details—or that we will have them this side of eternity. It is unattainable. Even in the attainable truth, there are specifics we can’t comprehend.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t search the unsearchable because God promised, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” I think it will take more than a lifetime though. But don’t worry, he’s got you covered… even though the choice is yours.