As many of you who have known me for a long time may be aware, my theological convictions have shifted drastically over the past several years when it comes to how I view the nature of God and salvation.
For those of you who don't know, I was primarily raised in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian culture. It was in this environment that I was brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, was convicted of sin, and came to true faith and repentance. I'll always be grateful for this.
This upbringing obviously continued into my college education. I first studied for ministry at Elim Bible Institute, a foundationally Charismatic school and, as a result, I continued (and still continue) to hold to the continuation of the Holy Spirit's supernatural work in the church today, whether it be through prophetic ministry, or through miraculous healings, signs, and wonders.
That being said, by the time I finished my undergraduate work, I had been forced to ask some very difficult questions about the nature of God's saving work among his people. When I finally transferred to Nyack to finish my degree, I ended up associating with a group of friends who held to opinions very different from mine. While some of them disbelieved in many of the Holy Spirit's continued manifestations today, their doubt did not cause me to see any biblical grounds to question my convictions in these areas.
At the same time, they did challenge some areas of my thinking that had remained largely untouched for most of my life. While my foundational beliefs did not change by the time I finished Nyack, some rather difficult questions had been seared into my mind such that they would inevitably be revisited. Some of these questions were very deep and eventually forced me to re-evaluate the way I looked at scripture. These questions included such issues as:
While we hold that the Holy Spirit grants supernatural gifts to the church, what are we to make of his work in our salvation?
How far does He go in the changing of our hearts in order that we would believe in him?
What was it that caused me to come to a saving faith in Christ if I am by nature a sinner? What causes any sinner to repent if we are described as slaves of sin by Jesus?
While most Christian believe that the gracious work of the spirit is needed to bring about repentance, what is it that makes the difference between people who humble themselves before God and those who stiffen their necks?
Are those who respond to grace supposed to see themselves as more “spiritually receptive”? Did they somehow manage to muster in themselves a more sufficient level of “humility” or “penitence”?
This of course lead to questions of God's sovereign choice in salvation.
What are we to make of those verses that talk about God “electing” or “choosing” people to be his children?
What about that word “predestined” that the Apostle Paul liked to throw around?
Leaving God's sovereignty over salvation aside, what are we to think about God's sovereignty over all of creation?
How are we to think of God when tragedy strikes?
Does he simply allow the world to take its course?
Does God have any kind of intentionality behind evil events?
If we try to distance God from evil events, do we have any right to thank Him when we are spared from them?
A few years ago I wrote some blog posts that touched on a few of these issues. I wrote them when I was still sorting out exactly where I stood. While I am certainly growing in my theological understanding all the time, I can definitely say that I have put my flag in the ground on most of these issues.
While I used to think that scripture was silent, or at least vague, on many of these issues, today I have come to discover that scripture in fact makes strong assertions concerning the nature of the spirit's work in salvation. It seems to me that Paul did in fact have a meaning in mind when he used those “scary” words I mentioned like “elect” and “predestine.” I believe it was a meaning he intended us to understand.
Not only do I believe I have discovered that God actually cares that we think about these issues, I believe that having a conviction about them deeply impacts the way we view all of reality, the most important aspect of which is our salvation.
These discoveries impacted me so deeply that they caused me to step into a different church tradition than I had been raised in. While I love the Charismatic work of the spirit today, I felt the need to find a network of churches that coupled this distinctive with a more intentional elevation of the Word of God. A place where the doctrinal truths that illuminate the nature of our sovereign God would be put forward in a consistent way.
In this series of posts, I'd like to shed some more decisive light on just what I believe the Bible says about these issues and give you a clearer picture of just what I believe happened to me... or more accurately, what I believe God did to me.