john calvinAs I have said before, I missed out on a lot of the alternative rock back in the 1990s, not because I was unwilling to branch out from my preference for metal, but because so many of the fans and adherents to the exploding alternative scene were obnoxious douchenozzels about it. The overall sense of elitist snobbery from the fans utterly turned me off from wanting to check out the music for myself.

It’s essentially the same experience I’ve had with Calvinism, while attempting to investigate and understand this particular theological branch of Christianity, instead of an enlightening discussion on the topic, I usually walk away with the feeling that my own salvation was questioned due to my lack of understanding the particular brand of theology, while a nagging feeling that they were merely parroting memorized talking points rather than engaging questions.

But, this really isn’t a post about my thoughts on Calvinism. Let me, instead, tell you about my first actual encounter with a Calvinist. This should amuse you.

There was a time, a decade ago, when I didn’t know what a Calvinist was, let alone Calvinism. As a matter of fact, most of my theological studies stemmed from my study of the scriptures themselves. I adhered to the Apostle Paul’s sentiment in 1 Corinthians 1:12-15, as I identified myself as a Christian in and of itself. I still do, it’s just now I’ve done much investigation and studying the various branches of Christian theology since then, in an effort to understand.

Anyhoo, all this to say that my first encounter with Calvinism was when I met my now-ex fiance back in 2007.

We initially met online, by way of one of those Christian alternatives to MySpace, named Shout Life. We were both hanging out in one of the chatroom boards on the sight; she was impressed with my ability to spell correctly and actually hold a somewhat intelligent dialogue. Also, I made her laugh. We both held interesting and in-depth conversations in the chatroom over the months, which led to chatting on IM late at night.

One evening, I fixed myself a bit of dinner, took it to the computer, and began chatting on IM with her. She started things off by asking, “Do you believe in the existence of free will?”

I was not expecting that question. Nor was I expecting her response when I answered to the affirmative:

“Oh, that’s okay. We can still be friends.” Then she put in one of those smiley-face emoticons at the end, there. How whimsical.

When I pressed her to explain in a bit more detail, she merely stated that free will is an illusion, that God has preordained everything and everything is out of our control. This statement completely blew my mind; not by the profundity of it, but from the completely half-baked nature of the statement. It was then that she identified herself as a “hyper-Calvinist”. To which I responded, “Cool. What’s a Calvinist?” To which she began explaining to me…completely omitting any mention of John Calvin or his writings. Just a lot of words including that of “predestination”, “limited atonement”, and something about the ESV translation. In other words, she wasn’t very good at explaining this thing she claimed to adhere to.

Since I have the terrible gift/curse of overthinking things when it comes to wrestling with my faith, I began talking of my own ponderings on the subject of free will and the sovereignty of God, and how the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive if we consider our own finite understanding of God…and after less than five minutes, I swear I could hear the audible *POP* of her brain ‘sploding all the way from Kansas. After that, when we were dating, the topic never came up again.

So, there we have the first, and sadly only time I’ve encountered a self-defined Calvinist in real life and in person. I’ve met several self-described Calvinists online over the years, through message boards and on social media and blogs, but never someone I could sit down with and have a civil exchange of questions and discussion, one-on-one, in a genuine effort to understand. Mostly I get pelted with a barrage of soundbites and memes from those online Calvinists who view John Calvin as having done no wrong and every word he spoke was gilded with shiny gold and delivered with a backing Wagnerian choir.

There are a few exceptions, mind you. For example, I find Dr. James White of Alpha Omega Ministries has a gift of explaining Calvinism (and teaching the Scriptures in general) to be both scholarly and edifying in a way that never sounds condescending.

So, to end all this prattling on, I would encourage you who are maybe consider yourself a Calvinist to go beyond your scope of understanding and have a discussion with someone who is a fellow brother or sister in Christ Jesus who doesn’t necessarily agree with everything about Calvinism. I understand the tendency to surround yourself with friends and associates that only believe the same thing you do about the faith, as I did the same thing once. But, trust me, as Proverbs 27:17 states about iron sharpening iron, there is so much benefit in doing so.

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