“Everywhere the Reformed church confesses Christ, it dissents from the corruptions of Rome, the errors of Arminianism, and the unbelief of modernism,” (John Muether, Cornelius Van Til, p238). The story of how I became a Calvinist doesn’t begin with beards and beers—being a woman I can’t grow a beard and I don’t like the taste of beer. Also, these things were not popular when my Arminian light switch flipped. It begins with the opening quote. I literally quite dissented from Rome’s corruptions and Arminianism’s errors and the unbelief of modernism (more appropriately postmodernism in this day and age). Oddly enough, postmodernism quickly got kicked to the curb after my salvation, but it took a minute for me to realize the biblical errors of Rome of which the remnants in my mind kept me captive even longer in Arminianism. It wasn’t until I started reading/studying Cornelius Van Til’s writings that I put the two together and realized these worldviews are one in the same in their upholding of man’s autonomy over God’s sovereignty.
Nevertheless it was my time at Calvary Chapel, the first biblical church I stepped into outside of Rome, that started my struggle between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. I’ve heard from more than one source that the Calvary Chapel denomination is responsible for reforming many a Christian, even though they try and take a “neutral” approach while still on the Arminian side of the fence. Aside from that hang up if you’re in a decent Calvary Chapel, they generally teach the Bible expositionally line by line and overall do a great job.
Cue college group. One day the lead pastor dude at my local Calvary Chapel said he was going to start a series that explored Arminianism and Calvinism. At the time I was still a fairly new Christian a few years outta Rome and I had no clue that those terms existed, nevermind the meaning behind each. He generally taught that in salvation and life Arminianism stresses man has the free will to choose based on God’s foreknowledge and God does the choosing in Calvinism based on his foreknowledge and ordaining it. Conclusion? It’s “both and”, two ideas on the same train track and never the paths shall cross, as well as God being a big enough God to make both possible at the same time. “Ok what? Brain fart. Well, if that’s how it is, then I’ll just chalk it up to one of those God mysteries,” was my train of thought at that time. Get it? Train? Sorry, that’s enough dorkiness for one blog/post/article/whatever this is.
Anywho this response satisfied me for a while, but deep down good ole Romans 9 still bothered me big time. How? What does it mean Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated from the womb before they did right or wrong (vv 11–13)? How dare Paul say what right have I the clay to say to the potter, “‘Why have you made me like this?’” (vv 20–21). So what God, you just create people for hell is that it? I’m not a robot! Everyone has a choice or we can’t be held responsible.
These things simmered in my mind on low, but it wasn’t until I started attending Grand Canyon University in Phoenix that the “GCU Calvinist Boys”, as I dubbed them and befriended, turned up the heat. Sadly I ended up losing contact with all of them, but boy if they could see me now they’d be so proud—cue teardrop. I enjoyed hanging around them, but didn’t enjoy the constant, “Are you a Calvinist yet?”. That drove me insane! Didn’t they care if I was a Christian? All they cared about was this stupid guy named Calvin. Besides, I would NEVER join them in this, because all I saw was them argue about theology when they were together. Totally not my vibe. Aside from these things, the highest heat setting came when one of them plainly told me, “God hates the sin AND the sinner”. Man was I angry. That moment further solidified my choice that I was NEVER going to become a stinkin’ Calvinist, ever.
So the struggle continued a few years out of college. Mentally I sat with the train track ideology, but it drove me nuts that it just didn’t make sense. Yet I certainly wasn’t going to let go of my pride against Reformed theology and Calvinists, because I knew (and behaved) better than them. Though there was a bright spark after reading Romans 5 one evening and realizing that God loved me while I was still a sinner ie I didn’t do anything to deserve it, so how could I lose it? I just hadn’t taken it far enough to God choosing and enabling me to be saved out of his love at that point. But it was a step away from the performance-based “God only loves me when I’m doing well” hangover from my Catholic and Arminian days.
Fast forward marrying a Kiwi that was also a Calvary Chapel peep, but more open to the Reformed mindset than me, and a few years of evangelism using the evidential/classical apologetical approaches under my belt to seven American missionaries. One was an ex-pat Pom/Brit but he’s lived in America long enough. They came to New Zealand to evangelise during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and we, being the savvy street evangelists we were, hooked up with them via friends of friends and Ray Comfort’s On The Box program. Quite a cool story for another time. And also how a guy ran out in front of my car from nowhere and cracked my whole windscreen/shield a few days before we were supposed to help drive them all around. Another crazy story, but we both walked away fine. For a general overview of our misadventures in Auckland evangelism see the Who section of this quirky site.
Short answer? God is autonomous, you are not. The sooner you learn and accept that, the easier Christianity, theology, apologetics, hard times in life, pretty much everything becomes.
Anywho, missionaries. They were in New Zealand for about two weeks and we served/hung out with them as much as we could. And now for the climax … One night after dinner they were discussing Reformed theology amongst themselves, and their experience as former Arminians using the “pray the prayer” method. In their eyes they were pretty much scheming people into the numbers game since it was quite easy to convince people to pray the salvation prayer. I remember there was another lady sitting beside me listening as well. About halfway through their conversation we both looked at each other with our eyes wide open, because God had finally removed our Arminian blindfolds.
It felt so good as Calvinism sunk in because FINALLY it made sense! The neutral train was derailed on its track by God’s sovereignty. My supposed free will was destroyed by sin, just like every other inner and outer faculty of mine (Gen. 3). And apart from God adopting me as his child from before the threshold of time (Eph. 1), I would have only ever “chosen” to remain a slave to my sin (Rom. 6), because it was the only choice I had (Rom. 3). Obviously the full breadth of Reformed theology is a lot deeper, and I recommend reading Calvin himself or Augustine on it. But Romans 9? Robot? Responsibility? #settled. Immediately after that, every time I read Scripture it was like I was reading it again for the first time. I saw God’s sovereignty everywhere! I couldn’t believe it was so blatantly obvious but I had missed it all these years. A grand moment indeed, pretty much felt like a second salvation. Yes, I was also guilty of rededicating myself to God at least twice in my Calvary Chapel days because I felt I was going to hell every time I sinned. This was the best second, call it “awakening” ever.
Enough pomp and circumstance. I had reached the pinnacle, so where did I go from there? Through God’s “ordaining” (so great to be comfortable in that) we ended up leaving the Calvary Chapel we were attending for a church closer to home that happened to be Reformed in its teaching. Hung out there for two years where my husband discovered Van Til and tried introducing me to his presuppositional apologetics. Presup what? It was hard to understand at the first take while still in the the classic “cage stage” of Calvinism. The Pom I mentioned earlier who was in cahoots with the president of one of the most orthodox Reformed seminaries in America: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, literally dumped a pile of great books on Steve’s lap and encouraged him with the rest of the US missionaries to attend seminary. So attend we did. Steve graduated already and I’m on the 20-year plan with my MA, but I’m loving sinking my teeth into the deeper parts of Reformed theology.
And Van Til? After two classes with a professor who was personally taught/discipled by the big VT and John Frame, and who co-pastored with Greg Bahnsen, I was hooked. Van Til changed my life and made evangelism way easier, fun and meaningful. I mean I no longer had to stand there with an atheist pointing to buildings trying to “convince” him that God exists. Now it’s like, “Dude you know God exists, you just suppress his truth in unrighteousness as Romans 1 says.” They short circuit every time, it’s hilarious. I guess they’re not used to Christians with a right understanding of the Word actually using the Word. It really is living and powerful like it says in Hebrews 4. My prof would occasionally say in class, “I’m not just a presuppositionalist, I’m a Van Tilian presuppositionalist” and so am I—hence the name of this website: Wassup Presup?. If you’re curious of the basic differences between classical and presup apologetics I just dropped one of my school papers on it here.
Ya know what I admire the most about Van Til? He wasn’t afraid to throw punches from his pen or the streets. He even open air preached, from the steps of Wall Street. Despite his popularity in his day, he was never too big for his britches. Actually I just finished reading his biography by Muether, hence the opening quote. It was great except there’s literally like one line in the book about his open air preaching, and even then it wasn’t a clear reference. I really wish pastors especially would get over themselves and go out to the open markets to preach the gospel. I would let a pastor go before me anytime. Yeah, I probably need to do an article on the women evangelising/open airing but not being pastors issue at some point. I have very dear friends who are anti, but I am happy to just hand out tracts and get in discussions when I serve with them.
So much to write about, so little time or maybe discipline. That’s why I’m in school, it makes me focus, lol. So I think that’s it. Obviously this wasn’t an extrapolation of Calvinism or presup apologetics, but hopefully my God-ordained journey to understanding and accepting his sovereignty is an encouragement to those out there who are in a similar position to where I was, struggling between man’s autonomy and God’s. Short answer? God is autonomous, you are not. The sooner you learn and accept that, the easier Christianity, theology, apologetics, hard times in life, pretty much everything becomes. Rather than rid me of responsibility or make me lazy in evangelism, Reformed theology energizes me to dig deeper into God and his Word as a Christian especially in the hard times. They’re hard, they suck, but when my focus is off myself, I can totally rest in God’s sovereignty in them and the peace in Philippians 4 comes alive.
This is turning into a rather long post, but I will end here. Confused? Do your homework. Read the Reformed greats of this age and throughout history. Seek to study and understand the whole of the Bible and how it consistently displays God’s sovereignty. Don’t dismiss Calvinism with a wave of single verses and lame arguments you really don’t understand. For me, it was mostly a confusing upbringing in religion, misunderstanding and pride that kept me from it for so long. Dig deep, because this is important. This is not just a take on theology, this IS biblical theology which leads to a consistent apologetic approach. As for the beards and beer—take ‘em or leave ‘em.