Monthly Archives: February 2013

confessions of a one time calvinist


  An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the conception of following Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

When i was a young lad at Eastern Nazarene College, right down the street from “blue” Quincy Bay, I took a class called Philosophical Quest with a man named Dr. Thomas J. Oord (“the doctor of love”). During the course of the semester I came to the understanding that the God of Jesus of Nazareth IS Love and that we are creatures made in God’s image so that we can respond freely to God’s desire to be in relationship with us (creation). Not too far into taking this course, a friend of the family happened to be visiting from New York. This friend happened to be a newly converted Calvinist and he was after me like a heat-seeking missile. While I was sharing about the great freedom I has experienced from this new found truth about God, he began to quote scripture (Romans 8-10, Ephesians 2, John 3). ‘At this time I was a young, impressionable evangelical mind, and I began to think that this “doctor of love” had duped me with flowery language in order to lead me away from the truth! Indeed, I was told that this college professor was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Needless to say, I dove head first into the soteriological system known as “the doctrines of grace,” a.k.a Calvinism.

From that point on, I became one of two “Reformed” students in the class, ready and willing to stomp out the sea of heretical Arminians. What’s strange is that, to this day, I’m not sure what came over me. It’s as though simply believing in the “doctrines of grace” led me to become an attack dog for God. A quiet student before this, I began to raise my hand in defense of the faith so that my fellow classmates would have the chance to hear “the truth” before they spent too much time believing that God actually loved the people God made.

Over time I softened on my stance that there were some divinely elected before the universe was made to experience the joys of heaven, while others were predetermined to suffer in the fires of hell. I didn’t stop embracing Calvinism for another couple years, but I did relax on my defense of the system as time moved on. I just couldn’t reconcile all the suffering in the world with the idea that all was going according to God’s plan, and I didn’t feel like the sovereignty of God, as defined by Calvinists, provided an adequate or biblical explanation for the mess that is planet earth.

More importantly, I discovered that my embrace of the idea that God was willing all that came to be (rape, genocide, sex-trafficking, etc.) left me crippled. It was way too much to handle or even think about. Actually following Jesus became purely optional. I mean, I had been forgiven and any attempt to do good works would be like filthy rags anyway, so why should I get caught in the trap that the Catholic church had set before the time when Martin Luther and John Calvin set everyone straight! After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was just showing us how sinful we were and in need of his substitutionary death. He certainly didn’t mean for us to pursue a righteousness that goes deeper than the law! You may be able to see why, at the time, I mustered very little resolve to enter into the lives of people who didn’t have the luxury of going to heaven when they died.

As Bonhoeffer said, when we allow man-made systems to guide us, even systems characterized by grace and forgiveness, we make discipleship superfluous. This means that not only do we suffer, not experiencing the life Jesus offered, but folks who are without any hope or faith are simply offered something other than a horoscope or the possibility of winning the lottery to believe in.

We spend more time debating matters that are out of our hands than we do sharing the good news of freedom from oppression with our lives. We offer a new belief system (often based on guilt and shame) rather than a living and breathing community patterned after the loving, triune God. Therefore, our churches have become splintered and impotent, allowing theological debate to rule the day when Jesus had already defeated all the arguments we continue to use against following him like a child.

That’s why I was a one time, never-to-be-repeated Calvinist. I can never again adopt a system of salvation, because I’ve been freed from the need to be caged in a prison of TULIPs. These systems paralyze us into thinking we have it all figured out and that our sole duty as soldiers in the army of God is to share that information with other people. Don’t let that happen. Let the mess we have made overtake the neat and tidy world we would like to embrace. It’s only when we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the pain we experience that we can find the Messiah who was emptied, leaving himself vulnerable for the whole world.





my valentine


as of today, my lilly and i have been together for 14 years, 1 month and 8 days (with an 8 month gap in between, but who’s counting). we met in high school, where she thought she could win me over by playing a game in which she repeated every word i said. somehow, this timeless tactic won me over. i was lovestruck.

we have grown up together. i know her and she knows me more fully than anyone else. despite our familiarity with each other, i still find myself getting excited to see her when she’s been at work all day or am eager to talk with her when she calls me in the middle of one of her long shifts.

unfortunately, it’s also true that familiarity breeds complacency. as such, i’ve been guilty of giving more of myself, showing more love, dispensing more mercy and listening more intently to the folks i serve than to my beloved wife. this is a crime.

it is because i know her so well that i love her. she is compassionate, strong-willed, soft-hearted and brilliant (not to mention, she is way out of my league in the looks department). she has been an inspiration to many, including myself, in the way she has handled the daunting task of processing haitian adoptions. she has spent many sleepless night working to help others in their adoption process, even while ours has been uncertain. it is because i know her and see her heart that i love her so much.

strangely enough, it is because i know her so well that i have been slow to offer my whole self to her, as i have to folks that i’ve barely known, many of whom were part of my life one day and gone the next. my unwitting withholding cannot be attributed to anything she has done, but is a bi-product of losing sight of real love as our time together increases.

lump this together with the great danger looming before anyone who walks in the brand of shoes i have chosen to wear and you have a potential issue with priorities. when you offer yourself up for the sake of others (or at least try to), you are constantly at risk of undervaluing the people you love the most. what’s most damning is that it’s not as though i wasn’t aware of this pitfall. i was always convinced that i wouldn’t make the same mistakes as others who have gone before me. alas, i have committed the same crime. this marital negligence indicts me as a hypocrite, proving me incapable of practicing the long-suffering love of Christ that i have come to know and proclaim.

my advice to others (and myself) is to always be conscious of the fact that it’s easier to “love” someone you barely know. kindness is a luxury we often afford the people we engage with in passing. but my heart belongs to the girl i committed to in the summer of 2003. what i’ve neglected in the past can’t be undone. all i can do now is release the parts of me i’ve been holding back. happy valentine’s day lilly.


pearls and pigs


“do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” matthew 7:6 esv

we have been going through the sermon on the mount to kick off our landing community meetings every week, and last week we finally made it to this little jewel. all of the folks in attendance had heard this passage before, and each person had, at some point in time, been told that the dogs and pigs referenced in matthew’s gospel were a depiction of “the lost,” or “unrepentant sinners” (i love using that term, especially when directly addressing the pigs! ;-)).” while we entertained some other possibilities of what Jesus may have meant by following up his directive to abstain from judgment with this strange expression (at least to modern readers), we landed (get it!) on an entirely different shore.

our goal is to take the context of each passage very seriously. so from our vantage point, it seems that the landscape surrounding this section on judgment depicts Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of the heavens and what it looks like when people live on earth as it exists in the heavens.

Jesus is speaking to a “chosen” people. his disciples (the hebrew people) saw themselves and their forefathers as bearers of the divine torch. other nations (gentiles) were dogs and pigs, seen as anti-god in every way, shape and form. as you might imagine, the sinful practices of these non-jews (as viewed through eyes of this holy people group), damned them to live in the sights of god’s holy and awful wrath. someday, it was believed, these wretched sinners would get what they deserved. it appears that Jesus is combatting this prejudice, demanding introspection over and above condemnation.

so when Jesus tells his disciples not to judge, he gives them a clear warning that if and when they fall into the trap of sticking their hand into someone else’s eye they leave themselves open for an attack. for these “chosen” people, the idea that they might be as susceptible to judgment as a gentile would be quite the stinger. i think it should sting equally today, if we’re being honest…

the pearl is me. when i slam the gavel on someone else, i throw myself to people (any and every human on the planet) who have no business handling such a precious jewel (me!). inevitably (and justifiably), i have become the target of the person i have just labeled a pig or a dog, a person unworthy of god’s love. i deserve to be attacked and trampled on when i have placed labels on folks that only belong in the hands of the divine.

when we judge other people we expose ourselves, opening up the floodgates for a river of judgment, as we are most assuredly hypocrites. may we learn to give our neighbors and enemies the same kind of charity we give ourselves when we fall short of the kingdom’s standards.