|At Cool Creek Park, Westfield, IN|
My hunch is the best known "family squabble" in Christianity is the Calvinist (Predestination)/Arminian (Free Will) debate. Of course, there are some in both camps who disown the other camp. 😭
If you asked me when I started Bible College my thoughts about Calvin, I'd reply that I'm not familiar with his presidency, but I knew he had a wry sense of humor. Yes, I had heard of Calvin Coolidge, but had no knowledge of John Calvin, or of Calvin Klein jeans or Calvin and Hobbes (the latter for good reason, since this was seven years before that comic started).
Two events that occurred in a day or two which introduced me to the subject. First, one of my professors teaching Old Testament Survey commented about a book and said it was a little too Calvinistic for the students. Shortly afterwards, one of my fellow students said the teacher had no right to say that, and he handed me a booklet with the five points of Calvinism and the five points of Arminianism. (A little history - the Arminians came up with their points first, and the Calvinists' points were in response.) This friend, Tom Cousins, mentioned most of the college teachers were four point Calvinists, disagreeing with the concept of Limited Atonement. I'll tell you about my reaction in the next installment.
At this point, I'll ask you to fasten your seat belts, because this paragraph will travel from talking with my fellow student on a fall 1978 afternoon in Phoenix to mornings in Indianapolis in the late '90's. Here are the few developments in that theological tussle:
- In spring/summer '79, I learned Evie's song "Say I Do" contained some Calvinistic theology in it ("I guess Jesus didn't die for you.")
- In fall '79, I read the chapter on Calvin in Fox's Book Of Martyrs, which didn't deal much with the theology.
- During Christmas break, '80/'81, I spent part of the holiday with some friends whose father was a pastor who did not agree with Calvinism, saying Jesus didn't pick some to rescue while letting others drown.
- In Church History I in the fall of '85, I learned what Pelagianism was and thought it was similar to Arminianism. I also learned about Gnostic theology, and had the opinion that the "sparks of divinity" and dual pre-destination resembled Calvinism. Okay, please drop the stones - just my opinion back then.
- Same semester, another professor told us that he considered himself a four-and-a-half point Calvinist. I forgot what word he used to imply what was limited rather than atonement.
- In '95, I read a pamphlet about Calvinism from Calvary Chapel (I'm guessing it's written by Chuck Smith, but I'm not sure). One thing is the author thought the "u" in the TULIP acronym stood for "Unmerited Favor" instead of "Unconditional Election." (At that time, I would have made the same mistake without having read that pamphlet.)
I'll deal with the last 27 years in Indianapolis and how my views developed in the next two installments, but I'll give you a quick summary of my knowledge of this issue at that time:
- I had no idea how Calvinistic most of my pastors at this point were - none dealt with the subject (or if they did, it went over my head). I did attend a couple of churches in predominately Arminian denominations, but even there it wasn't a major issue.
- Due to a three year break from college and the revamping of the curriculum, I managed to escape college without taking either Romans or Soteriology (under the title "Doctrine of Salvation and the Church before I left and "Theology III" which also dealt with man, sin, and angels after I returned). As mentioned above, I took Church History I, which was pre-Reformation, but I didn't take the second semester.
- Yes, this was the age before the internet, but I never heard anybody imply this was more than a family squabble. My belief was then (and still is) that both camps were true Christians.