May 24, 2006

My Theological Background (Part 1)

As some of you may be able to tell, I have written quite a bit about Calvinistic issues on my blog. I would like to explain why this is the case. A blog is a small window into someone's life and thought, but it is obviously a very limited medium. In the following, I will explain a little bit about my conversion experience and my development into Calvinistic soteriology. Then, I will try to explain why I am presently preoccupied in reshaping my Calvinistic paradigm. Since I started my blog in the middle of this rebuilding period last June, many of my posts are on that topic. Anyway, here's the beginning of an explanation for many of my posts.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic. My immediate family was rather indifferent about religion, so I felt that I was functionally an atheist who attended a church on occassion. It was as if we attended church to tip our hats to God on Sunday, but then we eagerly left to go and live our own way. My family remains this way today, more or less.

In 1990, at age 20, I came to the Dallas area (from living in Iowa for about 6 years) to attend The Art Institute to possibly enter the music and video business. By this time in my life I was experiencing a great deal of guilt and uncertainty. I was aimless and burdened with sinful memories. I brought a bible with me to Dallas because I felt that maybe I could begin to try to understand it. In the quiet of the night, I was reading through the New Testament for the first time and was amazed by the teaching of Jesus. I literally felt like the officers in John 7:46 when they said, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" Any honest mind, whether believing him divine or not, must confess that this is true. I was captivated by his words and felt that he could resolve my innermost problems with sin and guilt, but he seemed like an unknowable and distant historical figure. I continued to read and contemplate what was being said in the New Testament.

I was also hearing certain television preachers presenting the gospel. I was never exposed to these kinds of gospel appeals in a Roman Catholic church. These men were commanding me to turn to the savior in repentance and trust, and also to confess him openly. In so far as their message coincided with biblical teaching, it seemed authoritative. One night after work at UPS (maybe around 3am) , I heard a message on the judgment of God and hell. I finally decided to kneel in my apartment to pray and to submit myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. I came to understand him as a living Savior who could be known by the Holy Spirit in the inner man.

Eventually the Lord brought a believing friend into my life who was able to guide me in the faith. We attended a Baptist church together. He introduced me to Christian radio stations and good authors. I desperately wanted to understand the Christian faith. All I wanted was an honest teacher to open the book and explain it to me in great detail. I was listening to Adrian Rogers and Charles Stanley when I woke up, and then to Chuck Swindoll and John MacArthur in the evenings. This amounted to about 2 hours worth of preaching every week day. I began to notice significant differences in what they were saying, so I kept checking what they said by scripture. I began to be particularly impressed with the teaching method of Dr. John MacArthur. I could follow along in the text as he explained it. His teaching was exegetical and expository in nature, so I could test his explanations as I followed along systematically.

One night he was expounding Romans 9. I was confronted with the biblical teaching on the sovereign election of God. This was only a few months after my conversion. I already owned a study bible that had quotes from Matthew Henry, so I was being prepared to hear the true and abasing doctrines of God's grace. Dr. MacArthur plainly demonstrated the validity of the doctrine of unconditional election in his expositions on Romans 9. I was faced with a decision. Would I accept what was plainly there? Or dismiss it because I didn't understand it? I could not dismiss the precious doctrines of my Lord, so I adhered to the teaching wholeheartedly. I purchased books on the subject in order to gain coherence and understanding. One of those books was a small one entitled TULIP by Duane Spencer. I struggled to understand Limited Atonement, but his arguments seemed to have force. I suppose it was a year or so into my conversion when I could have been called a 5 point Calvinist. I never really passed through an Arminian phase, except in the sense that I felt that the Lord might leave me due to sin when I was new in the faith.

I was still in search of honest and learned men who could explain and expound the most difficult passages of scripture. Eventually, after several years, I was introduced to the radio teaching of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. This was exactly the sort of material I was looking for. This man was a biblical scholar, as well as a very honest and humble man. He was a teacher par excellence. Not only did he help me to understand biblical doctrine contextually, he also confirmed and developed my staunch Calvinistic convictions.

What I didn't know at the time is that the "Calvinism" I was learning was really the High Calvinism of the post-Reformational Protestant Scholastics. I wasn't really presented with a fair picture (in either current books or current preaching) of the diverse streams within Calvinistic circles. High Calvinism was presented as the only true and consistent Calvinism, and it supposedly went back to Calvin himself in unbroken continuity. "Calvinism" is often presented in a very monolithic way, as if there hasn't been significant divergence of opinion on very crucial subjects. Many things brought these issues to my attention, but those topics will have to wait for Part 2 in this series.


oddxian said...

great testimony! What a blessing to see the ordo salutis worked out so illustratively!



oddxian said...

Hey! where is part 2?

Tony Byrne said...

My Theological Background Part 2 is here