Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Paige Patterson gave me Calvinism

When I entered The Criswell College in 1990, I knew very little about Calvinism, but I knew I didn't like it.  But it was there, at the school where Paige Patterson was president, that I became a full (five-point) Calvinist.  (Don't confuse full Calvinism with hyper Calvinism--see below).  Although Patterson didn't personally encourage me to embrace it, he helped.  Our professor, John Pretlove, was a committed Calvinist who greatly influenced me.  A fellow student also encouraged me to think through true Calvinism rather than the caricature in my mind.  As I studied more Scripture and read authors who embraced Calvinism, I found myself fondly drawn to it, almost as though it were irresistible.  During my time in college, J. I. Packer spoke at our school for a few days.  I don't think his speeches were about Calvinism, but I read his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, which I found persuasive.


As a young college student, the more I studied Calvinism, the more these great biblical truths resonated in my heart.  So I thank Dr. Patterson for hiring those (and inviting speakers) with whom he disagreed about Calvinism.  I am truly grateful.


Happy, hedonistic Calvinists pursue their joy in Christ

One of the greatest things that the Reformed perspective has given me, especially as popularized by John Piper, is a hot pursuit of all that God is for me in Jesus (Ps 73:25-26; Mt 11:27-30; Jn 14:6).  Happy Christian hedonism involves a radical faith in God's supremacy in all things (Ps 46:1-3), and a belief that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him (Ps 100:1-3; Jn 4:14).  Abundant joy comes to those who pursue all that God is for them in Jesus (1 Pet 1:3-9). 


I'm not insinuating that only five-point Calvinists can possess joy, but there is something about the principles within Reformed theology that keeps me hungering after God's heart in a way that I don't think I would with another theology.  I'm also not saying that I've cornered the market on joy.  Like other believers, I have my own pet sins and weaknesses.  At times, too, I have difficulty accepting all that God wills into my life.  But I believe that Calvinism, rightly understood in the Reformed tradition, sets a Christian free to know Christ in the deepest, fullest joy ever given to redeemed man.


The cash of Calvinism works well as overseas currency

When I pursued overseas work, rather than become inconsistent, I embraced all that Calvinism offers in Jesus--a heart for God's glory, and that means a heart for others to praise him.  Having grown up Southern Baptist, the flower of evangelism had already blossomed as an integral part of my theology, but as I fully embraced Calvinism, I became a complete Calvinist.  In my mind, a full Calvinist is a five-point Calvinist, and a complete Calvinist is one who pursues God's heart for the nations.  In other words, Calvinists should do overseas work too, as should any true Christian.  Full Calvinists should step into overseas work especially because they cling to the supremacy of Christ in all things.  (See article, "Does Calvinism Hinder [Overseas Work]?")  Who better to face worldly darkness than those fully persuaded that God has everything under control (Ps 44:5; Rom 8:29-31; Heb 13:5-6)? 


Calvinists can get along with others, too

By the grace of Christ, unity can thrive among those who disagree about Calvinism.  For instance, most of my friends aren't five pointers.  As an overseas worker, I work with many, presumably, non-five-point Calvinists.  In fact, my wife disagrees with me on some points, but it doesn't stop us from loving each other, worshipping together, and spreading the good news.


Calvinists tend to love doctrine.  Unfortunately, Calvinists don't always translate their love for doctrine into a love for Jesus and others.  Yet this is what true doctrine and discipleship, along with the Holy Spirit, are supposed to do.  Scot McKnight used to point out to his class, that although Calvinists believe in total depravity, they seemed to be the last ones willing to admit that they could be wrong.  Guilty as charged, Dr. McKnight!  In fact, who are the most difficult people you know, Calvinists or Arminians?  It probably depends on who you hang out with.  Every group has people who double as sandpaper.  Nonetheless, as Calvinists we can get along better with those who disagree with our beloved doctrine.  (See Abraham Piper's article, "Be a Kinder Calvinist.") 


Knowledge should guide our theology not ignorance

One of my problems with some modern SBC people is that they raise their eyebrows at Calvinism, while basing their objections on caricatures of it, just as I had done.  Some think that full (five-point) Calvinism means hyper (non-evangelistic) Calvinism.  Those who equate the two are simply misinformed.  One can hold to a five-point system without qualifying as a hyper Calvinist.  As an overseas worker, the only way I become a hyper Calvinist is when I drink coffee and a Coke on the same day.  All parties in the discussion should represent other views accurately. 


Non-five-point Calvinists should not fear us

Since the SBC has a rich heritage of Calvinism, (see Tom Nettles' book, By His Grace and For His Glory), others should not fear its resurgence.  The Lord has used many Calvinists to spread his glory throughout the world.  Therefore, SBC Calvinists should not hide in a closet like it's something immoral.  I'm glad a place exists for us at the table within some Southern Baptist seminaries, especially at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  But Southern Baptists would do well to study church history along with their Bibles before rejecting Calvinism outright.  Even if they finally disagree with Calvinism, they can still extend a hand of unity to Calvinists.


John 3:16 doesn't settle the debate

Some modified Calvinists quote John 3:16 as though it ends all discussion on full Calvinism.  As a Calvinist, I also quote John 3:16 and feel no discontinuity in my theology.  I don't contend, as some Calvinists, that God doesn't love the whole world.  He does.  Whosoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life.  I believe, however, that the "whosoever" of John 3:16 includes only the elect.


All believers should spread the good news and participate in overseas work

Why spread the gospel?  Good news was meant to be shared.  Too often as SBC people, we talk about the importance of spreading the gospel without talking about the gospel.  Jesus died on the cross and rose again to redeem all who would call on him in faith.  The greatest gift God can give is himself.  He seeks the greatest good for the elect by bringing more attention--that is, glory--to himself.  He deserves exaltation because he is man's best good.  In fact, he is man's only hope of goodness (Ps 16:2). 


The thought of spreading his glory keeps me going as a SBC Calvinist and as an overseas employee (Ps 96:3; Acts 20:24).  I pray that more people join me in this adventure.