How I Became a Calvinist: By Reading the Bible

How I Became a Calvinist: By Reading the Bible January 15, 2021

I’ll admit the title of this blog post can be immediately perceived as inflammatory—but the truth of the matter is that this really is how I came to be a Calvinist. I remember sitting down over a cigar with a dear family friend (who married my wife and I) and we were discussing predestination and election. He is an Arminian and has been for years, so naturally, we butted heads in our understanding of salvation. At the time, I was a fairly new Christian, perhaps just a year into the faith at this point—but I came to faith unwittingly as a Calvinist.

As we were hashing out our differences he made mention of terms I’d never heard before: Calvinism, the Doctrines of Grace, and that I held to an acronym bearing the name of a flower. I stopped the conversation and asked, “What’s Calvinism?” A bit taken aback, he asked me how I became a Calvinist without even knowing what the term was, and without any intention of being a jerk, I replied rather ignorantly, “I just read my Bible.” Thankfully he knew I was being earnest and didn’t razz me too hard about that remark. We laughed it off, took another draw off of our cigars, and moved on with a different discussion.

While perhaps I can write to this in greater detail at some point in the future, I began to read the Scriptures as an atheist in pursuit of proving the Christian faith to be wrong. I read from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, and noticed that many of the preconceptions I held about the Scriptures were not only incorrect, but didn’t stand up to some of the most basic standards of logical consistency. The obvious end to that story is that the Scriptures themselves convinced me of the truthfulness therein, most importantly, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet during that journey there were many perplexing passages I came across that messed with my understanding of how the world worked, particularly as it concerns the will of man. I came to read about the Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by the Lord so that he would not listen to Moses (Ex. 4:21, 7:4, 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 11:10, 14:8). I likewise noticed that during the conquest, it was the Lord who hardened the hearts of Israel’s enemies for the express purpose of their destruction—that they would receive no mercy and be annihilated (Josh. 11:20). I saw that in much the same way, the Lord gave Sihon the king of Heshbon a stubborn and obstinate spirit (Deut. 2:30).

Even still, there were a great number of passages that shook my framework of predetermination—that in every case, the outcome of world events as recorded in Scripture were determined, ordained, and decreed from God Himself. To state that more clearly: it occurred to me that things did not unfold by chance, nor were the events a reactionary action from God. He caused them to come to be. What’s more than this was that Scripture simply unfolded this as an incontrovertible and uncontroversial thing. I saw God as depicted as One who not only intervened as He saw fit, but Scripture attributed all of these actions to God’s predetermined plan.

One of the clearest examples of this I saw was in Gen. 50:20, summarizing the narrative of Joseph and his brothers with the oft quoted, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to keep many people alive.” In other words: all of the evils Joseph endured through the hand of others was not simply repurposed for good, but ultimately brought about by God Himself as good.

That meant the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers, being sold into slavery, Potiphar’s false imprisonment of him, the cup-bearer forgetting of Joseph’s correct interpretation, and then his subsequent delivery from prison, appointment to a position of prominence, and his shrewd planning for the widespread famine to come—was all ordained by God to keep many people alive, not the least of which being the nation of Israel. I didn’t understand the depth of this at the time, but I now see God’s covenant faithfulness to Abraham on full display in His preservation of the Israelites.

Yet my reading didn’t stop in the book of Genesis, nor did further evidences of this truth stop with Joseph. I found that Job had no qualms expressing the Lord’s sovereignty in the calamity brought upon his household (Jb. 1:21; 2:10). The prophets likewise repeatedly spoke of judgment in terms of God’s active decree on the recipients of His judgments (1 Ki. 14:10; 2 Ki. 24:2; Jer. 8:10, 21:7; Ez. 21:24-32, 28:7). In many instances, such as in the commission of Isaiah, the prophet’s message would actively render the recipient’s hearts insensitive (lit. fat), their ears dull (lit. heavy), and their eyes dim (lit. pasted shut).

Habakkuk spoke of Judah’s judgment, which was long appointed and could not be evaded (Hab. 1:12, 2:3). Moses taught of the judgment to come to Israel as a result of their covenant disloyalty in the form of a dirge (Deut. 31:14-22). The words of Solomon expressed that every decision is of the Lord (Pro. 16:33), that by Him kings rule (Pro. 8:15), and that the Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil (Pro. 16:4).

As I got to the New Testament, the Scriptures only seemed to double-down on this reality. The gospels speak candidly to those who are blinded by God so that they cannot be saved (Matt. 13:14; Mk. 4:12, 6:52; Jn. 12:39-40). The epistles likewise have no shame expressing that God has mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and harden whom He will harden—and there is no charge of injustice against God in His sovereign right to choose whom He desires (Rom. 9, 11:7, 11:25).

This theme is picked up clearly elsewhere as well (Ps. 69:28; Lk. 10:20; Eph. 1:3-12; Rev. 3:5, 17:8). Yet it is likewise seen in the fact that God appointed vast swaths of people to come to faith in the early church (Acts 13:48, 15:17-18). We find similar echoes of God’s sovereignty in those whom He has established as authorities on earth (Dan. 2:21; Jn. 19:11; Rom. 13:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). We see that Scripture unabashedly affirms that God appoints our sufferings, trials, and more.

What I saw as I studied Scripture more was that this was nonchalantly presented as a fact. It is indeed what led me to say that what led me to embrace the Doctrines of Grace as a new believer (of which I had no clue was even a thing) was simply reading the Bible. In every aspect, I found the Bible simply unfolds this principle, not a theme of controversy, but one of worship. To put that in the simplest terms possible: the compendium of Scripture’s teachings lends itself to be understood through God’s active decree and interference with all of history, including the will of man. In this, He is not passively permitting things to pass, looking with foresight as to what possible choices may come, nor is He reacting to the choices of men. Rather, He ordains whatsoever comes to pass and He does so for His purposes and good pleasure.

I will be the first to admit in my atheism that this didn’t inspire confidence in me, nor did many of the burning questions I had on how to reconcile this with my understanding of God’s goodness disappear once I accepted these things. In fact, much of my previous writings on the subject (in this blog and elsewhere) is a production of seeking to answer those questions. The thing I can say with confidence at this point is that this was not a position I embraced simply as a result of an imposing theological system foisted upon me.

I became a Calvinist quite literally as a result of reading Scripture, cover to cover about four times that first year, as a completely unchurched atheist who read Scripture to contend with God and the myriads of Christians who came before me. I struggled with it a great deal then because I didn’t like what I was reading, but I recognized that mattered very little in the grand scheme of things. It was something I struggled through once again as I came to grapple with the consistency of this as it concerns double-predestination. But the one thing I couldn’t do was claim that this wasn’t something Scripture taught over and over again, and quite clearly so.

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