A Troubling New Idea (that wasn’t actually troubling or new)
In 2008, I was introduced to a theological system referred to as Calvinism – a doctrinal system suggesting that God purposes to save certain chosen people. I was deeply offended by this and concerned, because my parents’ new church was advocating its teachings like election and predestination. In my mind it was almost like they were joining some sort of cult. So with all the arrogance and misplaced certainty of a 20-year-old, I said, “I’d never worship a God like that!”
After some time of this distress, a my parents encouraged me to chat with a fellow from their church. I rolled my eyes and expected to hear an unconvincing lecture. Instead, he gave me an assignment. I was to read through Ephesians 1:3-14 and make note of what God does (in red) and what humans do (blue) in the work of salvation. So I did something like this:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The fellow kindly commended my observations, and then pointed out several works of God that I had missed (too many to mention now). He then showed from the text that even the parts we play are all under the umbrella of what God does. His work enables and causes our work in salvation. And when I took a closer look, I realized that it was true. For example, I saw that while we indeed “hope in Christ,” even our hope is “according to the counsel of his will” (v. 11-12). That afternoon I laid aside my angry assumptions about Calvinism and began a long process of revolutionary theological discovery. Before long, I’d have an unexpected companion on this journey.
Plain Ol’ Jealousy
Joel was a hometown hero who had excelled in Sandpoint High School sports. He was known by nearly everyone because he worked the counter at his father’s popular Mexican restaurant. So when he professed faith in Christ and started attending the youth group at my church, things changed. And fast! What had been a modest gathering of maybe 15 kids quickly swelled to nearly 50, and kids were coming to know Christ on a regular basis.
My reaction to all of this was… not exactly enthusiastic. In fact, I was flat-out jealous. What began as my legitimate concern about emotionalism quickly became a deep-seated critical spirit toward my new brother’s joyful enthusiasm for the Lord and His mission. In my sinful pride, I quietly distanced myself from Joel. When our church split, we didn’t see each other for several months.
But as God would have it, he brought our paths together again.
A Little Growing Up and a Big Recession
Time passed and we became casual friends. I eased up on my jealousy and he eased up on his emotionalism. We’d hang out with the same group of people and we talked from time to time. So when the housing crisis hit and my construction job came to an abrupt end, Joel was happy to talk to his dad and got me a job working at the restaurant.
For the next year we talked, with the aroma of carne asada swirling through the air. We discussed the points of Calvinism. We debated various passages of Scripture. We thought through Calvinism’s implications on evangelism. We met together after work to watch debates on the subject. We read the arguments of authors like Abraham Kuyper, A.W. Pink, and John Piper. We pondered the refutations of men like John Wesley and Dave Hunt. We considered our pastors’ concerns about these doctrines. And almost unintentionally, a friendship was forged through a mutual pursuit of biblical truth.
Friendship in the Faith
Sometimes friendship can be complicated. The path from acquaintance to friendship is fraught with obstacles like jealousy or immaturity. But when believers seek God together through a serious, sincere, and prayerful study of Scripture, His Spirit does an incredible work of unity in surprising places.
Just this weekend, I went to Joel’s surprise 30th birthday party. His wife (also an amazing lifelong friend of mine) and daughters were all there. As everyone tried to figure out what was wrong with the stream for the Mayweather-McGregor fight, I thought a lot about how I’ve been able to watch and see Joel grow over the years. I’ve had the opportunity to witness him discover this doctrine, and now I can see the fruits of it borne in all of life – in his marriage, in the way he raises his children, in his work, in his worldview. Even now, though we don’t get to talk as much as we used to, I learn so much from him. And I’m so grateful that the Lord used John Calvin to help me become friends with Joel.