I started studying the Bible when I was in my early twenties. I had been in Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible school, and church services but had never had an appetite for learning about God and the Bible. My interest peaked when I started growing up and realizing the responsibilities of being an adult. I was married, struggling financially much of the time, the few prayers I prayed were seemingly not being answered, and I was searching for truth.
As I began to read long passages of Scripture, (even whole books of the Bible), and tried to understand what they really meant to me, I was shocked that at least some of what I had been taught was in my view not biblical. Later, after I entered Bible school for ministry training, I was also shocked that there were so many different views of what I considered to be important doctrines among the staff. It was there that I first was convinced that people of good will can have differing views of many things in the Bible and still work together for the greater good of Christ and the gospel. I learned that the gospel of Christ is truly of first importance, it is the watershed of Bible doctrine and everything else is somewhat less important.
So it was that my training was a mixture of ideas, opinions, and traditions all of which were supported by the Bible according to those who taught them. We were Southern Baptists, we were “free will” people, with many of us coming from the Free Will Baptist perspective. My parents fit that description. Both of my parents were shaped by Free Will Baptist preachers from the hills of Western North Carolina. In their understanding of God and salvation there we many, many more ways to lose your salvation than to find it.
By the time I was in my late 30’s my mother (who was blind) had been exposed to many, many hours of Bible teaching by a variety of teachers by way of radio. She was greatly influenced by J. Vernon McGee, and by her fairly new pastor, Rev. Kenneth Ridings, a great Bible man. My dad had been saved and was on fire for Jesus, and he too, had left some of the old teachings that he had learned in his earlier years. He had been baptized in his 20’s but it was pretty obvious to my mom and everyone who knew him that he really was born again much later in life. His passion was Jesus and telling others about him until he went to meet him in the late spring of 1993.
I was in my late 50’s when I first started to grapple with what some refer to as “the doctrines of grace”, known more widely as Calvinsim, and more narrowly as “monergism”. It was not that I was reading writers who embraced the TULIP of Calvin, it was quite the opposite. I was reading my Bible and started to see dozens of texts that I usually either ignored or believed as I had been covertly taught, “they don’t mean what they say”. The more I studied and read the Bible the more I saw! I came to the place where I had to deal with those obvious truths, many of which were the opposite of what I had believed for decades and taught myself.
It became clear to me that I was in a theological pickle, so to speak. I could not embrace the 5 points of Calvinism, at least the way I understood them. Neither could I any longer believe as some of my friends that election and predestination are “not true”. I was and am a member of great Church of Christ and trust me, “Reformed” or “Calvin” are ugly words in the minds of most Restoration people.
Somewhere around my yearly 60’s, (I’ll be 68 this month) it all started to come together. My mountain of a problem had been that I was trying to find out which doctrine was right. I thought I must believe either the doctrines of grace, or be a full blown Armenian. I knew for sure I was not a true blue “free will” guy and I couldn’t buy all that the Reformed guys were saying, so I was “between a rock and a hard place’, as the saying goes”.
I have said this many times before but I don’t believe people get it. My options as a Christian, as to the written revelation of God is not “either, or“! Christians are not given the liberty to pick and choose what parts of the Bible they will believe and live by. Our’s is to try, the very best we can, with God’s help, to believe and live by ALL of the scriptures. Of course we must use the wisdom God gives to understand it in context, we can’t ignore the widely accepted methods of biblical interpretation.
When dealing with complex and difficult differences in the Bible there is a better option than “either, or”. The far better option is “both, and“. If it is in the Bible it is true! I now have peace about what I was finding in Scripture because I just believe it! Does God bring men to himself and open their understanding and cause them to repent and trust Jesus? Yes! Is man required to repent, and does he have the freedom to say yes or to reject? Yes! The Bible emphatically teaches both, and both are true. So let’s just believe what God says and let him be God!
Today I stumbled across something that perhaps makes much more sense of this idea than I can convey myself. I quote from Justin Taylor’s blog…
What is compatibilistm?
D. A. Carson provides a good introduction when he argues that the following two propositions are both taught and exemplified in the Bible:
- God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.
- Human beings are responsible creatures—that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.
Carson right argues that “We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism.”
“Hundreds of passages,” he suggests, “could be explored to demonstrate that the Bible assumes both that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. As hard as it is for many people in the Western world to come to terms with both truths at the same time, it takes a great deal of interpretative ingenuity to argue that the Bible does not support them.”
I agree! I was mowing my lawn today as I thought about these things and it dawned on me that most of us believe as Carson does to some degree. We hold that a sinner is required to repent and that he has the God given free will to choose to follow Jesus, to come to faith and be baptized. All very true. But, why do we pray for him to come to God? If we don’t on some level believe that God can move a man toward repentance and faith, why pray? If we ask God to change the person’s will are we not admitting that God can change it?
I believe that almost all of us who are Christians would agree that we would not be believers today except for the work of God in our lives. When Jesus said to those rough cut fishermen and others who would be his inner circle, “Follow me”, could they have refused? Yes. But it’s a big deal to me that they didn’t.