By Eric Holmberg
Taken from the Study Guide for “Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism”
I personally experienced the most amazing aspect of God’s good grace in 1980 at the age of 26. In a moment of time I went from being a confident practitioner and apologist for rationalism (unbelief) and immorality − to a man undone. I was very conscious of a supernatural Presence as I knelt in sorrow, weeping as my life of rebellion and profligacy unfolded before me. In my heart I knew that a fork in my life’s road had been reached. I could stay on the path that I had been on…or take the one that had opened up before me in the bright shadow of Calvary’s cross.
I hesitated. I knew that this new way would require that I deny the self I had grown so fond of satisfying; that my lifestyle would have to undergo some profound changes. I didn’t see how I could possibly live up to these challenges. I suddenly became frightened, even sad. I knew deep down that the way of the cross would lead to life. But I also knew that I didn’t have the strength for the journey. The cords of sin I had entangled myself in were too strong.
And then the grace became even more amazing as a still small voice spoke to my heart. I couldn’t make the journey in my own strength, I realized in a flash of understanding. But I wouldn’t have to. A greater One would walk with me and in His strength I would be made strong. Words of adoration and commitment to the One who sacrificed His life for mine sprang up from my heart…and the rest as they say is history. What was dead became alive and a whole new person was born.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
I jumped with both feet into this new world that had opened up before me. I got involved in a campus outreach and began training for vocational ministry. The church I was a part of was full of revival fires and zeal for the LORD’s house. And passion for “saving the lost” and making them into true disciples was the outflow of this zeal. I was introduced to the writings of Charles Finney and other leaders of the second Great Awakening. (I heard of some of those involved with the first Great Awakening, too, though not as much.) In time I *began ministering ((myself)) on university campuses and later in other churches, developing the multi-media tools that would eventually lead to the establishment of Reel to Real Ministries and The Apologetics Group. God graciously used these live seminars as tools to lead many to faith in Christ.
But how exactly did these salvations come about? What was the ordo salutis: the causal order that turns a fallen man into a child of God? At the time, the answer seemed simple, even commonsensical to me. Jesus died a sacrificial death to atone for the sins of all mankind; that God (who is love) loves everyone and desires that all people will be saved. But at the same time he doesn’t want to compromise our free will. (He doesn’t want robots worshipping Him after all.) Through the preaching of the gospel the way of salvation is presented to man. Through this same preaching people become aware of their sins and receive the grace necessary, if they so desire, to turn from their sins and receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness. Some choose life and the blessing of heaven, others reject God’s mercy and by default opt for death and the curse of hell. What could be simpler and ultimately fairer? God makes the way of salvation open before all men and then presents us with a real choice…and we choose.
And it all seemed to work. I was honored to present this way of salvation to people individually as well as in groups and to then lead many in the sinner’s prayer: having them repent (turn from) their sins, commit their lives to Christ so that they would then be “saved” or born again. And many apparently were as they brought forth and are still producing the fruit of a transformed life. They really did get saved.
Over time, however, my understanding of the ordo salutis began to undergo some subtle modifications. Many were brought about by verses I read in the Bible. Did God really love everyone? (Prov. 6:17; Rom. 9:13) Could God’s will really be frustrated by a man? (Luke 1:17; Rom. 9: 20,21) And how well did the most famous conversion in the Bible fit into the steps of salvation I had been trained to accept? (Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9) But then there was also the impact of the writings of earlier champions of the faith. I had taken C.S. Lewis’ admonition to prefer older writings that have withstood the test of time over the unproven ruminations of the latest popular writer. As I read the insights of Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and others, I found that the God of these saints of old seemed much bigger, more awesome, more mysterious and more sovereign than the One I had heard preached. My views concerning the nature of God, man and salvation continued to evolve.
And one day, it all just made sense and I found myself in the camp that I used to warn others against. I had become “Reformed.”
What follows is an exploration and explanation of the Reformed faith, what many call “Calvinism” after the name of the great Protestant reformer who so powerfully systematized its teachings. It is offered, in the words of the Mayflower Compact, “for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith.” As I will explain in the introduction of the video, it is in no way intended as a screed against advocates of Arminian (“free will”) salvation or to impugn their salvation, spiritual maturity or zeal for the Lord and His kingdom. Some of the godliest people and most effective soul-winners I know stand on the other side of this theological divide.
Nevertheless, all ideas have consequences, whether intended or not. And I think we can all agree that ideas concerning the nature of God, man and redemption from sin likely have among the greatest consequences of all. The participants in this video believe that the unintended after-affects of Arminianism have been great and have compromised both the Gospel message and, as a result, the experiment in Christian liberty that is (was?) the West (Christendom it was once called) and most specifically America. Whichever side you fall on now − or after you have watched the video and done this workbook − we owe it to our God and the generation we have been called to serve to carefully consider these great themes. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2)
I close with a challenging thought. As I write this we have embarked on what may be the most daunting production we have ever undertaken. Called The Real Jihad: The War Behind the War, one of its key contentions is that Islam is a “polished knife” (Eze. 21: 8-10) that has been raised up against the West by the LORD to challenge and chastise our growing idolatries. (Along with scripture verses and the many lessons of history, we will set out the chilling parallels between the “gaps in our wall” — those specific collective idolatries that have breached the hedge of God’s covenantal protection — and the tactical strengths of the jihadists. The parallels are extremely sobering and we believe a secondary proof of our thesis.) Like all chastisements from a loving, holy God, their purpose is restorative: to force us to confront our sins that we might turn in repentance and see our country healed by God. (2 Chr. 7:14). But if we refuse to repent, God’s longer term purpose for chastisement will enter the picture : that is that He will allow the seeds of destruction that we have sown to reach full maturity. The America that we know and love, with it freedoms and prosperity, will disappear. Our (and Europe’s) primary redemptive purpose at this point will be to serve as a warning to future generations: this is what happens to nations that are blessed by God and then forget and turn from the One who was the ultimate source of those blessings.
The connection here to the themes of Amazing Grace and this workbook is that in the confrontation with Islam we are ultimately engaged in a struggle between competing gods and worldviews. There is no question that the West’s primary deity — the idol of humanism and multiculturalism — is no match for the transcendent, unapologetically all-subjecting god of Islam. But as the Church wakes-up and strengthens the things that remain (Rev. 3:2; Father, we pray that it happens!), as we (figuratively speaking) ascend Mount Carmel to confront the prophets of Baal, we had better make sure that the God we both call upon and present to the watching world (particularly the Muslim world) is the true God, the One who answers with fire. A God who is not completely sovereign, who offers the hope of salvation but is not all-powerful to secure it, who knocks on the doors of sinners’ hearts asking to come in and then walks away sad when He is turned down, who is impotent (to some degree at least) to subdue nations through His covenant people before a Devil who somehow has the power to overcome the world through his, will never be able to topple the fierce desert deity that Mohammed presented to the world.
May the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, lead us all into a true knowledge and deeper intimacy with the One who is mighty to save…and will do so to the uttermost. (Isa. 63:1; Heb. 7:25)
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1. I speak humanly here. God knows everything past, present and future and only has one will and plan. But we don’t know the specifics of it and never know how our response to the details of covenantal history as it unfolds will precisely impact the future. But we do know many things about God and His promises concerning what will happen if, for example, we humble ourselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wickedness. (2 Chr. 7:14) All we can do is what we can do: obey God, repent when we need to, focus on the Great Commission by winning souls and discipling nations (beginning, of course, with our own) and rest in the knowledge that all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)
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