I don’t really know when, where or how I became a Calvinist. I suppose some preachers would say since I don’t remember the exact date, I am really not a Calvinist.
My parents were (and are still) Arminian leaning (now that I know what that means) so I didn’t get it from them. My home church (I was there for the first 22 years of my life) was also Arminian leaning; my college (William Jewell College) was neo-orthodox and I never heard the terms John Calvin, doctrines of grace, reformed theology there. My seminary (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) taught me more about Tillich, Schleirmacher, Bultman and Moltmann. Though I can’t be certain, I’m sure I heard of Calvin somewhere in the mix.
For me, it has been a sincere journey of questions about the Bible; of trying to understand better and fully its teachings. There are many reasons why I am a Calvinist, but four really stand out thunderously in my mind and in my theological journey. Those four issues, in no particular order are 1) man’s radical corruption; 2) the OT picture of redemption and salvation history; 3) the nature of Jesus’ atonement; 4) God’s initiative in salvation.
There are several major reasons that have stood out in my mind as being substantial in shaping my theology on this issue. By focusing on these, I am not saying these are the only convincing issues. Rather, I am highlighting that in my mind, they are weighty considerations for embracing this doctrine.
Man’s Radical Corruption
There are a lot of verses that underscore this doctrine but that are not, of themselves, conclusive of this doctrine. For instance:
• Genesis 6:5 “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
• Titus 1:15 “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”
• John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
One can argue that the first verse applies only to the generation of Noah. That assertion cannot be refuted from the text alone. I would concede the verse is primarily historical (speaking about Noah’s generation); but I believe it also offers a general description of mankind in general.
One can argue on the Titus passage that the mind of the unbelieving is defiled, but not totally defiled. The text, on its own, does not allow me to argue ‘total defilement.’ So I have to concede this verse, on its own standing, leaves the door cracked open for the possibility that man is not ‘totally’ corrupted. However, when taken within the larger framework of scripture, its meaning, I believe, is meant to show the ‘total corruption’ of man.
Regarding John 8:44, again the back door is open for someone to textually argue that the verse is not universal. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees (8:13) and the passage applies only to them. Again, I believe the passage speaks universally of the nature of sin, but it has to be used as an addition to the foundation.
There are however, verses which conclusively advocate man’s radical corruption. Man does not seek righteousness; man is dead spiritually; man is blind; man is a slave to sinful desires and the devil. The primary verse on this issue is:
• Romans 3:10-12 “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
This monumental verse is joined by others:
• Romans 8:7-8 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
• 1 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
• Ephesians 2:1-2 “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
• John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
• John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
• John 6:65 “"No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father."
Further, Matthew 11:27 says, “…no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son wills to reveal to Him.” And John 15:16 states, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…”
Scripture overwhelmingly teaches my radical corruption, or “total depravity” (to use the dreaded TULIP acronym).
I agree with Martin Luther's assessment: “Here the bottom falls out of all merit, all powers and abilities of reason or the free will men dream of, and it all counts nothing before God. Christ must do and must give everything.”