Losing My Religion

If I were to get in a time machine and go back, say, 10 years and meet myself, my 20 year old self would not like me very much. Ten years ago I was a premillenial dispensationalist and an Arminian to boot. I was caught up in the “wretched urgency” of evangelism and did not value the church highly enough. I probably would have liked seeker sensitive churches (cf Romans 3:11) and certainly enjoyed praise and worship choruses. Today I am, to a greater or lesser extent, very different.

I thought it would be interesting to sort of chronicle what happened. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it that much. But I see that I am starting to diverge theologically more and more from established evangelicalism, and particularly from my own church.

I was raised in typical small Southern Baptist churches. I went to Sunday School, Children’s Church for a while, and of course in the youth group. I sat with the other teenagers in church. On Sunday nights the congregation (all hundred of us) were allowed to request certain hymns, and I always got a kick out of requesting newer music.

When I got to college, I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and BSF. I was discipled by another guy in college. I handed out Four Spiritual Laws tracts. I walked up and down the beach over spring break witnessing to strangers. I had awesome spiritual emotional experiences that stayed with me almost ten whole minutes after the meetings or conferences were over.

After I graduated and got married, we joined another small Southern Baptist church in the area. I was on committees. I opposed spending money on lots of things because, after all, we could use that money for _missions_. I taught a class on the Baptist Faith and Message. I was involved in church politics.

The first thing to go was my Arminianism. In college – while walking along the beach handing our Four Spiritual Laws tracts – I remember talking with one of the CCC staff guys. We were discussing Total Depravity. At the time, I was an Arminian, and thoroughly ignorant. He presented me with some scriptures that clearly taught Total Depravity, and I believed them. There wasn’t much else I could do.

Some time later, I was debating with some Campbellites in an online discussion forum. They were winning, because all they were doing is taking Arminianism to its logical conclusions. I knew they were wrong, but I couldn’t find the chinks in their case. All I could see is that the results were logically sound, but inconsistent with Scripture.

Over a few weeks, I came to see that I was losing and being forced into Scripturally inconsistent positions, because I had started from wrong premises. The premises were not supported by scripture, so the conclusions couldn’t be, either. I realized that the only consistent way of understanding the Bible in matters of salvation was to be a Calvinist. That one was hard. But soon I saw that God _didn’t_ wait on my to “allow” Him to save me. He regenerated me, so I repented and turned to Him according to my new nature. It took some time for that one to really sink in. One might argue that it still hasn’t sunk in.

Closely following on the heels of that was an awful church split. The pastor preached on Hebrews 13:17 and was asserting authority that the Bible gives him, to lead the church in a direction that it should go on one issue, and a direction that it shouldn’t go on another issue. It was really just a power struggle, but it brought up the question of church governance. A friend and I started working through the relevant passages of scripture, and I quickly became convinced that the Biblical pattern is for a church to be led by a plurality of elders. This did not go well in a Baptist church.

After the church split, I found myself without a church home. I searched and searched. I didn’t have a lot of criteria, but I did have some. I visited the closest thing this county has to a seeker sensitive church. I visited fundamentalist Baptist churches in the area. I visited lots of Southern Baptist churches.

Finally, a Christian man at work told me about a new church in the area. The catch was, it was a _Bible_ church, not a _Baptist_ church. That was a real hangup for me, because I had always been a Baptist. It seems silly right now, but that was a big part of my identity. When I had exhausted the possibilities of staying in a Baptist church, I finally gave in and visited this Bible church.

After visiting for a few weeks, I felt like it was a real possibility. I largely agreed with the theology. It had all the energy and excitement of a new work. It was elder-led. It had “small groups”. The preaching was informative and challenging. So I visited with one of the elders and went through dozens of questions with him. We joined this church.

I’ve always tried to take seriously the parts of the Bible that tell us a man has the responsibility for leading his family. I realized that there was more to it than “be really extra nice to your wife” but it was hard to find good teaching. So I joined an email list that I thought would be encouraging. I got a lot more than I expected, much of it good. This was my first real exposure to godly men who didn’t hold to the theology I had grown up with. Most of them were Presbyterians. Gasp! The horror! Baby baptizers! Not only that, they didn’t even believe in the Rapture!

And yet, they seemed so _normal_. Growing up with such ignorance of the rest of the church, I honestly thought that people who baptized babies or didn’t believe in dispensational premillenialism simply didn’t take the Bible seriously. And here these men were, who took the Bible far more seriously than me.

Hopefully, I was wise and humble enough to mostly ask questions. I didn’t try to set them straight. At least, not usually. But I became aware that there were plenty of other ways of understanding these issues that were honoring to God and treated the Bible very reverently. My exposure to reformed Christians in the blogosphere also helped somewhat with this, though not as much.

Getting very close to the present, I started to study and try to understand this theology. I got a couple of those “Four Views of This” and “Five Views of That” books. I was very disturbed to see just how _reasonable_ most of the non-dispensational views were, and in comparison how weak dispensationalism seemed.

I’d always had a “funny feeling” with the typical premillenial dispensational eschatology. It seemed very odd to pull a few passages from Daniel and Ezekiel, with a few New Testament passages, to come up with this complicated scheme. I felt (and I mean _felt_, not _thought_) that it ought to be a bit plainer than all that. And I was never too cool with the antinomian understanding of grace vs law. It seemed awfully plain to me that all the OT saints were saved just as we are – by grace through faith, even though that faith was not always very clear and the manifestation of it has changed through time. So I was almost _relieved_ as well as being disturbed.

Another stream of this has been my long interest in simple living. I think this mostly comes from my grandma. But it has made me open to and interested in a certain way of living. I’m miserably failing at leading a quiet life (1 Thess 4:11) but it remains a goal.

Somewhere in there, I heard of a man named RC Sproul, Jr. I knew of RC Sproul Sr, so I knew this man was probably sound theologically. And he was committed to helping Christians learn to lead simple, separate, and deliberate lives. At least three streams converged here. I was growing more interested in Reformed theology. I was interested in a life of simplicity. And I knew that we were to be separate from the world. Here was a man teaching about all three. I emailed him a couple of times, and bought some books and tapes.

I also found a pretty decent set of blogs that were like me. They were homeschoolers. I don’t recall when I decided to homeschool, but it was within the last 4 years. They were generally Reformed, family oriented, separate, and lived simple and deliberate lives. I found a fair amount of material online to help me understand this vision of how Christians ought to live.

And something that kind of solidified my decision to start walking down this path was a discipleship group where we read through Ecclesiastes. I was reading passages like Ecc 5:18-20 and it struck me that this was not at all in line with what I had learned in church. It’s a slow, calm, full, joyful life, full of very material pleasures. Oops, I guess I was a Gnostic.

Right now I am trying to understand and sort out dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, covenant theology, and even new covenant theology. All of which makes my head swirl. As does eschatology. I think I am leaning covenant theology and postmillenial, but I am so dizzy I can’t tell.

I am also starting to value the church more highly. I mean the corporate worship service, not the programs. I am leaning towards more liturgical worship, because my understanding of worship is starting to encompass much more than three songs and a lecture. I am trying to value the legacy of faith that we received from those who have gone before.

I’m trying to understand what a Christian life ought to look like. I’m losing my Gnostic religion. I’m losing my “busyness is godliness” religion. I’m understanding godly living and Christian service to be in the small things. I don’t have to light a fire and start a ministry that will change the world. If I pursue a close walk with God, lead my family, look to my wife’s sanctification, raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, work diligently and enjoy the work itself as well as the fruit of my labor, spend time with a very few good friends, go to worship regularly at my church, serve a little bit at my church (e.g., by teaching theology), take care of my extended family and my church family, I’m full. There’s not a lot of time to do much else. And that’s OK. No, it’s more than OK. It’s good.

Robert from 10 years ago might not like the Robert of today, but that’s his loss.

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12 Responses to Losing My Religion

  1. Brian says:

    Just be careful not to lose sight of the Scripture.

    I have been down many of the roads you speak of and today I find myself just beliving in the Word of God, period.

    I do not consider myself an arminian or a calvinist, nor will I ever call myself a follower of anyone other than Christ (I am a Christian). Though I don’t mind giving people a statement of faith.

    In addition, I see errors in both camps. Each of them travel off into areas of weak Scriptural support.

    If it isn’t the Word of God, it has no authority as far as I’m concerned.

    It is very easy to go headlong into “reformed” teachings coming from an arminian standpoint only to find yourself in the very same place you started. This is an easy trap to get into as much of the arminian positions are extremely weak Scripturally and strong in “logical conclusions”. However, many of the reformed teachings are just as weak once you get into them. Out of the “reformed” camp you will get teachings that Jesus has already returned, Spiritual gifts are done away with, etc etc… These teachings have very weak, if any, Scriptural support and some are downright dangerous IMO.

    Solo Scriptura will probably leave you in the middle of it all. I just pray that you don’t have to go to the extremes of each side to find that out (as I did), hence my comment. I have quite a few Christian brothers & sisters who have gone too far out on the edge of either side and have not returned yet. Unfortunately, some of their beliefs are now border line heretical.


  2. MegLogan says:

    I like what Brian said. I think I find myself swining wildly side to side like a pendulum, when the Truth usually rests in the middle, or something like that analogy. Anyway, nice post, cept i didnt understand half of it! Cuz i have no idea what premillenial dispensationalism is, or half the other terms you used to define yourself. I gotta get a good Christian dictionary for that stuff!

    Interstingly, I too find myself completely different. Even from three years ago. Three years ago, I was extremely liberal, overly grace oriented, licscentious, and just plain ODD. Now I am really quite conservative, value tradition and new things, and deeply interested in theology, practical and otherwise.


  3. Chris P. says:

    I am with you 100%. We have had very similar journeys in terms of our theologies. Thanks for posting this.
    Meg, may I suggest “The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms” InterVarsity Press I am sure that it is available on Amazon. I would also suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology also at Amazon.com

  4. Robert says:

    today I find myself just beliving in the Word of God, period.

    I think I also just believe the Bible, period. Creeds, confessions, labels, books, etc., have no value _except_ by helping us _understand_ what the Bible teaches. I think it’s the Baptist Faith and Message that starts with the disclaimer (somewhere) that says creeds and confessions have no authority in themselves, but are only useful as guides in interpretation.

    Solo Scriptura will probably leave you in the middle of it all

    This is not necessarily true. We don’t necessarily get closer to the truth by coming to some middle ground between two opposite positions.

    One of the earliest controversies the church faced was the Arian heresy, which denied the full deity of Christ. Opposed to this was the doctrine of Trinitarianism. They are diametrically opposed and there can be no common ground regarding the nature of Jesus.

    Now, the truth is not to be found by being a little bit Trinitarian and a little bit Arian. The truth is firmly planted in the Trinitarian camp. The Bible doesn’t leave us somewhere in the middle.

    If you want to contend that Calvinism, or whatever, is not entirely _Biblical_ then that’s good and worthy of debate. You’ll be wrong :-) but still it’s the right approach. But to say “These two groups disagree, so the truth must be somewhere in between” is unwarranted. It’s entirely possible that one of the “extreme camps” is squarely on the Bible, as was the case with Trinitarianism vs Arianism.

    Instead of arguing for the “middle ground” (Dick Armey says nothing is the middle of the road except dead skunks), I think you probably have a theological position that partially agrees with both Calvinism and Arminianism. You should probably explain and then defend your position.

  5. Gayla says:

    Robert, great stuff, as usual! I love reading your blog. I am right there myself. I’m not particularly fond of all the “labels,” though. I think people tend to get too caught up in them. I do know the truth, and that truth is the person of Jesus Christ. I do know and believe with my whole heart that God is the One and Only sovereign. This has brought me farther in my journey than any other single thing.

    Either God is God, or He is not. There is no middle ground.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

  6. marcy says:

    You just made me realize one of the reasons we missed Presbyterianism while attending a Bible church — liturgy! The call to worship, the confession of sins and assurance of pardon, and so on. Thanks.

  7. jason dollar says:

    Your journey is awsome. I know that older Robert probably would not like younger Robert, but I am convinced that older Robert would not be older Robert if younger Robert had not lived. This teaches us that God has us in journey. I am also convinved that future Robert (in another decade) will probably have some advice for present day Robert.

  8. MegLogan says:

    ARG.. why can’t we comment on the two new posts!!?


  9. Robert says:

    Meg, I turned off comments on those posts. I didn’t want to get into any debates with folks who hold to the “church as a business” mentality and who think that “church as a family” = selfishness and resistance to change / innovation. I’ve heard many times how I “just don’t get it” on matters like this. I didn’t want to host such a debate on my blog. I didn’t want to let the expected comments along those lines go unchallenged, and I didn’t want to have to delete them, and I didn’t want to have to answer them, so I just disabled the comments.

    I did leave trackbacks turned on, and I’m being discussed (and derided) on at least one other blog, but there’s not anything I can do (or wish to do) about that. But I’m not responding to that either.

    I’m sorry for the frustration; I know there might also be much positive, or constructive negative, feedback. But I know that there will be a non-negligible amount of unhelpful negative feedback, and I just don’t want to bother with it.

    Anyone can always email me with comments, or like I mentioned before, do a trackback ping and write about it on your blog. I just don’t want the hassle of Church Inc folks here telling me how I don’t love the lost like they do.

  10. Brian says:

    Well I had planned on making a blog entry and doing a trackback with my response, however, I have been way short on time…so let me respond here.

    “…have no value except by helping us understand what the Bible teaches”

    Books are also very good at leading people astray. Many like to use single and out of context verses as well.

    “This is not necessarily true. We don?t necessarily get closer to the truth by coming to some middle ground between two opposite positions.”

    I never said that we get to the truth by going to the middle, nor did I mean that in any way. However, in the case of arminians vs calvinists there is truth in both camps and 100% truth is in neither. (context my brother, context).

    “If you want to contend that Calvinism…is not entirely Biblical…You?ll be wrong…But to say ?These two groups disagree, so the truth must be somewhere in between? is unwarranted. It?s entirely possible that one of the ?extreme camps? is squarely on the Bible, as was the case with Trinitarianism vs Arianism.”

    I should say TULIP, associated with calvinism, is not entirely Biblical. Limited atonement is never taught in the Scripture, only assumed. John Calvin himself did not believe in limited atonement. Again, I did not say the truth is in the middle because the two disagree. In fact, I find the quote there rather interesting as I made no such claim whatsoever. In addition, It is highly unlikely that one of these extreme camps is square on since they don’t have Scripture to support all their claims.

    Something to always keep in mind, is that the Scripture is inerrant and it cannot always be fully comprehended. Case in point, just because the Scripture tells you to choose, does not mean you have the ability to choose. It is incorrect to assume that you have the ability to choose because the Scripture tells you to choose. Scripture must only be interpreted by Scripture.

    “Instead of arguing for the ?middle ground?…I think you probably have a theological position that partially agrees with both Calvinism and Arminianism. You should probably explain and then defend your position.”

    Again, I am not arguing for middle ground. Perhaps you misunderstood me. I definitely did not state some of the things you quoted. I typically don’t go into great detail on comments…I reserve detail for blog entries and trackbacks.

    Anyway, good blogging brother.


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