A personal testimony (some won’t like)

A personal testimony (some won’t like) January 13, 2012

I have an essay all ready to post here and was going to do it today. It’s about the current issue of Modern Reformation magazine and an article in it that misrepresents Arminianism. I’ll post it next time (Lord willing).

One commenter today inspired me to share a story of God’s intervention in my life recently. I know some aren’t going to believe it, but I don’t really care. I think sharing stories of God alive and well and at work is an important part of being evangelical. We don’t have “testimony time” in our church, so this is the place for me to share such things.

A couple years ago I was working on my book Against Calvinism. One thing that was a burning issue for me was to display non-Arminian evangelical Christian scholars who disagree with “high Calvinism.” I thought it was almost worthless to just quote Arminian scholars. I very much wanted to show that the kind of “radical Reformed theology” I criticize in the book is also criticized by some Reformed theologians.

I couldn’t find just the right source to use. The revisionist Reformed theologians I knew about who published against TULIP and double predestination were not really evangelicals in our American sense of the word. One I admire very much and did quote in the book is Alan P. F. Sell–former theological secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC–now the World Communion of Reformed Churches). But Alan, though a wonderful Christian whose writings in theology I have reviewed several times and always appreciatively, is not part of the “evangelical subculture” of America. I knew what he had to say wouldn’t probably impress American evangelicals “on the fence,” so to speak, between evangelical Arminianism and evangelical Calvinism.

This problem was weighing on my mind heavily and causing me to have temporary “writer’s block.” I did make it a matter of prayer.

One day I was in another city and found a used theological bookstore. I can never stay away from those! I went in and spent a couple hours browsing with nothing particular in mind. At the moment I had put aside my dilemma and Against Calvinism and was just waiting for something to come along and break the impasse I felt I was at.

The selection of used theological books was huge–covering an entire wall (about 25 feet) floor to ceiling. (And this was just the systematic theology section! The bookstore has thousands of used books on all subjects related to Christianity.) Most of the books were fundamentalist and Calvinistic. The usual suspects were in prominent display: Spurgeon, Pink, Boettner, Sproul, et al. Then, lo and behold, my eyes fell on a book I had never heard of before by an author I had only read once–and that only an essay in an edited volume. The title piqued my interest for some reason even though it didn’t really stand out from the rest. In fact, the title on the book’s spine didn’t even indicate anything about Calvinism. “The Freedom of God.” But something moved me to take it down from the shelf and look at it. I saw at once the author “James Daane” and the subtitle “A Study of Election and Pulpit.” (Eerdmans, 1973) I had read that one essay by Daane but knew nothing else about him. The essay was “Can a man bless God?” in God and the Good–a collection of essays honoring a Reformed theologian edited by Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes. I remembered thinking the thesis of the essay that, yes, a person can “bless God” was a bit odd for a Reformed theologian (which I could tell Daane was from something in the book or in his essay).

I felt that little thrill of serendipity that comes when you come across something unexpected but potentially helpful. So I sat down in a corner and started reading The Freedom of God. Well, if you’ve read Against Calvinism you know the rest of the story. Daane (1914-1983) was a minister of the Christian Reformed Church of America–a conservative Calvinist denomination. (Some of my cousins were members when I was growing up and I always marveled at their church youth group’s name–“Young Calvinists!”) Daane clearly was NOT your typical Calvinist, though. But he was clearly evangelical and Reformed in his basic theological orientation.

To make a long story short, this was the book I needed and I found it purely by accident, by sheer coincidence. (I have never seen it in any other bookstore and I have perused the theology sections of used bookstores for many years.) Or was it purely by accident, a sheer coincidence?

The book energized me to keep writing; I now had the missing piece. Daane’s polemic against what he calls “decretal theology” is powerful. By “decretal theology” he means double predestination and all that surrounds it–a God removed from history and suffering and turned into a tyrant.

Unfortunately the book is out of print. But if you can buy it used or borrow it, I strongly urge it. There is no question of Daane’s commitment to biblical authority or of his evangelical credentials. He taught theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1950s and 1960s.

So what actually happened there “behind the scenes?” Was this a “God thing?” Well, I am convinced it was. I don’t expect others, especially Calvinists, to think so. On the other hand, if they are consistent Calvinists, they have to believe it was! After all, nothing happens that is not foreordained and rendered certain by God. I believe it was an answer to prayer. I’m not sure I would have finished the book without Daane’s book.

Here I was, in the middle of writing my book Against Calvinism and stymied by a lack of a source. I had prayed about it. I was actually in anguish over it. I decided to take a couple of days and drive to that distant city to visit my nephew and his wife and to hear a friend lecture at the Christian college my nephew attended. (My friend was a guest lecturer that weekend.) I didn’t really have a great reason to go. It’s a 10 hour drive each way. But I felt “led” to go. And then I saw the bookstore. And then I spend a long time perusing the shelves finding nothing. And then I found the much-needed book I didn’t even know existed (and I don’t know any better one to fit the need).

I guess God wanted me to write that book.

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