Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Calvinism (Or: How to Be Less of A Jerk)

by Stephen Altrogge

Another well-articulated and tastefully conveyed conviction to model myself after.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

Jesus replied:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second
is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets
hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2

“When I first understood the Doctrines of Grace (more commonly known as Calvinism and/or Reformed theology), I felt like I had entered The Matrix (minus Keanu Reeves).
It was as if multiple puzzle pieces were clicking into place and a single, unified picture was becoming clear. Things that seemed somewhat confusingly jumbled, like the various covenants, Israel’s rejection of Christ, and weird statements in the book of Romans, suddenly came together, like in a television show when an enlightened detective starts drawing lines between various mug shots and newspaper clippings while heart-thumping music plays in the background.

All this was a big deal to me, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was my mission from God to convert every person in existence to Calvinism. As you can imagine, this made me quite a pleasant person (insert record scratch noise).

As I’ve gotten older, slightly more godly and slightly less annoying, I’ve come to a few realizations about the place the Doctrines of Grace should hold in my life.
I wish I could go back in time and communicate these things to my younger self, although my younger self probably would have fiercely debated my older self and then come away concluding my older self was a moron.

What would I tell my younger self?


I treated the Doctrines of Grace as if they were the sum and substance of Christianity. As if when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he said, “Be sure you believe in election and total depravity!”

This full-throated zeal for all things Calvinist caused me to look down on those who were far more godly than me yet maybe didn’t agree with me on every point of doctrine.

Sure, you’ve given your entire life to serve orphans and widows in Cameroon, but you don’t believe in election, so what’s the point?

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my living room, wearing sweatpants and sipping coffee while I read Systematic Theology. 

It was absolutely pathetic.

I still believe that the Doctrines of Grace are crucially important to understanding Scripture, but there are other astonishingly important elements to following Jesus.

Like love. Mercy. Justice. Generosity. Serving. Compassion.

Calvinism should NOT be the dominant theme in everything I do as a Christian. Rather, it should be the background track, like the bass line in a Daft Punk song. Or, as John Newton said:

I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writing and preaching as I use this sugar. I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed, and diluted… I think these doctrines should be in a sermon like sugar in a dish of tea, which sweetens every drop, but is nowhere to be found in a lump – tasted everywhere, though prominent nowhere.


For a brief time, I became the Mormon missionary of Calvinism (minus the weird name tag and odd underwear). I thought it was my job to convert all people to the gospel of Reformed doctrine, and if they didn’t convert, I became frustrated.

If someone disagreed with me, my brain began generating thoughts like this:

Why can’t they see it?!? They must be spiritually defective! They must be, like, a baby Christian or something! Have they not accepted John Piper into their hearts? Maybe if I just speak louder and longer, I can convince them of the truth. 

I foolishly assumed that it was my God-given responsibility to make sure that every person I knew fully agreed with everything I thought. As if I somehow had cornered the market on all sound doctrine and biblical understanding.

This is incredibly ironic given that the very heart of Reformed theology says God gets all the glory because he is the one ultimately responsible for all the saving, changing, and preserving. It’s like Alanis Morissette said: “Isn’t it ironic?”
Yes, yes it is.

I don’t debate about Reformed theology much these days. I’ll happily discuss it with someone who wants to, but I know that I can’t convince or change any person. If you want to chat about Calvinism, let’s grab a beer (a requirement of being Reformed) and we’ll hash it out.


Some of the most godly, prayerful, loving, generous people I know, do not believe in Reformed theology. These people are so godly and so spirit-filled that they make me look like a headhunting pagan who plays with ouija boards for fun.

The truth is, godliness and Calvinism don’t necessarily go together. Calvinists have a somewhat well-earned reputation as pompous, self-righteous windbags who would rather write 10,000-word screeds than actually serve someone.

When I was younger, I assumed that a person who didn’t embrace Reformed theology was somehow less mature or godly than me. I look back and shudder.

I was the windbag.

I was the one who loved hearing myself talk.

I was the one who liked to toss around fancy theological words (double reprobation anyone?).

It was both terrifically ungodly and tremendously obnoxious. If you were at the business end of my weaponized Calvinism, I apologize.

I still fully embrace Reformed theology, but I now realize that it’s no longer necessary for godliness.

When John Wesley (an Arminian) was asked whether he thought he would see George Whitefield (a Calvinist) in heaven, he said, “No.” Then he said:

Do not misunderstand me, madam; George Whitefield was so bright a star in the firmament of God’s glory, and will stand so near the throne, that one like me, who am less than the least, will never catch a glimpse of him

I feel the same, but in the opposite direction. I expect I won’t see many of my fellow believers in heaven who don’t believe in Reformed theology because they will be much nearer the throne than me.


When I first truly understood that God is sovereign over all things, that was a great comfort to me. God is working all things together for my good. God is the one responsible for saving people. God is in control of governments and presidential candidates (thank goodness!).

But too often, I treated the Doctrines of Grace as the cure-all medicine for every spiritual problem.

You’re struggling with worry? Don’t you believe God is sovereign?

You’re struggling with anger? Don’t you believe in total depravity?

You’re worried about whether you’ll make it to the end? Don’t you believe in perseverance of the saints?

You get the point. Calvinism became my miracle pill that I dispensed freely. No matter the circumstances, I was always quick to whip out my bottle of Reformed theology from my fanny pack of systematic theology (I think that analogy works).

I somehow failed to grasp that truth always goes down better when it’s preceded by grace, love, compassion, and the bearing of burdens. Grace is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of truth go down. Love, compassion, and empathy make it so much easier to hear truth.

Now I still talk encourage people with those same biblical truths, but not before I spend plenty of time simply listening and bearing burdens.


When Jesus returns and all is said and done, I don’t think we’ll be debating the finer points of theology. We’ll be so enraptured with the glory of God that not much else will matter.

Until then, I’ll seek to continue to learn from those who are more godly than me. By God’s grace, in 10 years I’ll be less of a pompous windbag than I am now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to drink a craft beer while listening to a John Piper sermon.

Source: http://theblazingcenter.com/2016/11/things-wish-tell-younger-self-calvinism-less-jerk.html

Monday, November 7, 2016

Remembering the Legacy of Professor Howard Hendricks

It's funny looking back how torn I was between which seminaries to attend. My choices spanned between Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Virginia; Master's Seminary in California; Southern Seminary in Kentucky; Golden Gate Seminary in California; and Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. I am profoundly impacted by teachers and alumni from all these seminaries but there are a few who stand out: Howard Hendricks (DTS), Charles Swindol (DTS), John MacArthur (Masters), and Tony Evans (DTS). As you can see, three out of four are from Dallas, which is closer to home and cheaper as far as cost of living goes. John MacArthur of course hails from the beautiful state of California and is powerfully used by God in doing great things.

Howard Hendricks is probably my most favorite person whom I never met. I've read only one of his books [for school] which changed my ministry and life forever. The book is called, "Teaching to Change Lives," and it is comprehensive and practical. "Prof," as he is effectually called provided helpful wisdom that included acknowledging a child's hair cut/style or new shoes - to developing genuine concern for others by asking questions, and using their answers to understand how to better teach and lead. This is why I chose Dallas Theological Seminary, because of Prof Hendricks. He graduated to heaven in 2013 and I started in 2016 but I can tell you that his impact is still felt here on the campus and around the world.

Here is another share from one of my other favorite DTS alums, Dennis Rainey, president and chief executive officer of FamilyLife.


“One of the great Christian leaders of the last century graduated to heaven this past week after 88 years on earth.  Many of you may not have heard of Dr. Howard Hendricks, but he was a man who left an incredible legacy in leaders that he helped train during his years as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Dr. Hendricks was also a great champion for marriage and family. In fact, he planted the seeds that ultimately resulted in the ministry of FamilyLife. While speaking at the U.S. Congress on the Family in 1975, Dr. Hendricks made a statement that captured the attention of three leaders from Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru) in attendance. He said, "In Dallas/Ft. Worth it takes three weeks of intensive training to become a garbage collector, but about all you have to do to get married is to stand before the justice of the peace and grunt and you are in--you're married!" The Christian community, he said, needed to prepare couples for marriage.  Those three Campus Crusade leaders took this charge back to their leadership, and the next year FamilyLife was launched. 
Dr. Hendricks, called “Prof” by his students, left his mark on more than 12,000 students during 60 years of teaching at DTS. I’ve never known anyone who has worked at one place for 60 years. But Prof wasn’t just anyone. He was always a cut above the herd.

The John Wooden of education

I was one of those who soaked up his classes during the year I spent at DTS in the 1970s.  He was the reason I went to DTS; I’ve always said that I “majored in Howard Hendricks.”  I took all five of his classes that year, and it nearly killed me.
Prof didn’t believe in tests, but he was thoroughly convinced that abundant homework somehow resulted in learning. I sat in his classes for hour after hour and was never bored … whether it was Bible Study Methods, Family Living, or How to Teach, Prof kept me on the edge of my seat. He was the John Wooden of education! (Wooden won 10 national championships at UCLA and is considered the greatest basketball coach of all time.)

Prof had the uncanny ability to step into a young man’s life at just the right time to give encouragement and express his belief that God would use him.  I certainly benefited from this encouragement and mentoring over the years. I remember the day we spent together talking about what parents need in terms of being biblically equipped to raise children.

He exhorted FamilyLife staff on a number of occasions, was a guest on FamilyLife Today®, and both he and his wife, Jeanne, were a huge encouragement to the 60 couples who speak at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways.

One of my favorite memories occurred when a friend, Bob Horner, and I took Prof “float tube fishing” on a high mountain lake near Laramie, Wyoming. Float tube fishing is really for die-hard fishermen … you put on waders and flippers, and then sit inside an inner tube and paddle out in the lake. Since Prof had never done this, we tethered his tube to ours as we paddled out to fish. He looked like a sinking duck, barely above the waterline. To his credit, he went along with it all, actually caught a couple of rainbow trout, and didn’t drown.

About a year later, he was speaking to the FamilyLife team about the experience, and he sarcastically said he only caught one fish. I interrupted him from the audience and said “Prof, that’s not true, you caught two!” To which Prof retorted, “Well there you have it: another great illustration ruined by an eyewitness!”

Pouring his life into others

I guess what has impacted me most is how he continued to run to the finish line and make a global impact for Christ in his final years. Despite losing his right eye to cancer, falling off a platform while speaking (at the age of 80) and breaking a couple of ribs, and battling other health issues, he didn’t coast to the finish.  He modeled what it looks like to continue to grow as a man and pour his life into others. He was a man of convictions who was on a mission to the very end.

Another of my favorite memories was of joining Prof and Jeanne for dinner with some friends the night before his retirement celebration a couple years ago.  I asked Prof, “What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?” He told the story of when he was a young man and was seriously dating a young lady who was not headed in the same direction he was.

He said that he was growing spiritually and had the conviction that God wanted him to go to seminary and study the Scriptures. These convictions were not shared by the young lady, so he went over to her house to break off the relationship.
That was not what she wanted to hear.  He said that he had to pry her fingers off his car so he could drive away. And then he had to tell his father, who highly valued education unless it came from a seminary, that he was going to go to Dallas Theological Seminary. In essence, his father told him he was wasting his life. Prof said his decision to end the relationship and attend seminary was life altering, but in the end proved to be the right choice.

Prof spoke tenderly of his father, a military man, and how he had prayed for more than 40 years for him to come to faith in Christ. His dad made a commitment to Christ just a few months before his death. Prof stressed the importance of continuing to pray for family members and friends who show no interest in the gospel.

Stories of Prof

At the retirement celebration luncheon the next day, a handful of Christian leaders spoke about the impact that Prof and Jeanne had made on their lives. It was a great reminder of what Prof used to say:  “The only thing that is eternal is the Word of God and people.”

Pastor David Jeffries told how, as a 16-year-old, he was influenced by Prof’s statement, “Men, nothing will create more doubt in your lives than trafficking in unlived truth.”

Michael Easley, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee, said through tears how Prof had “given me permission” to try things and to be a leader. His favorite quote from Prof: “Sin will keep you from this Book and this Book will keep you from sin.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, a pastor, author, and radio host, told the story of how as a first-year seminary student he’d sat slumping in the back row of Prof’s classes.  Prof soon summoned him to his office and gave him a wake-up call, “David, if you continue to sit on the back row slumping, you are wasting my time and yours!” Jeremiah moved to the front row and has been sitting up straight ever since.

And Dr. Chuck Swindoll, chancellor of DTS, pastor, author, and radio host, sheepishly shared a story that he’d never told anyone. Chuck said that when he was in seminary back in the 1960’s, he babysat Prof’s kids one night. He admitted that he looked through the papers on Prof’s desk and found a bank statement. Two things struck him: He was amazed at how little Prof was paid to teach, and he couldn’t believe how much he gave away!

Chuck went on to speak about Prof’s impact in his life. He told how, at the lowest point in his life and ministry, Prof had put his arm around him and said, “Whatever it is, I will be here when you need me!”

After all these men spoke, Prof stood up and was momentarily overcome with emotion. I don’t think I’d ever seen him cry, but God’s goodness overwhelmed him and for a few moments the words wouldn’t come. Finally, Prof told how, as a young man when he was just starting seminary, a professor put his arm around him and said, “Howard, God has a great future for you.”

That’s an understatement. But it illustrated the power of believing in someone, of passing on truth and encouragement to the next generation.

What a man! What an impact! What a legacy!”

Source: http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/life-issues/relationships/men/remembering-the-legacy-of-prof-hendricks