My Journey Out of Calvinism

This article is re-blogged in its entirety with permission from Matteo Mortelliti over at Mirror Dimly. We will check back in with Matteo as he continues to relate his journey. 

I distinctly remember the warm and sunny drive back home to Montreal from my Pentecostal Bible college in Massachusetts. It would be the last of many I had made over the years. Most of the drive was spent with windows down and music loud; I felt nervously exhilarated by the sensation of leaving one stage of life and entering a new one. Always keen for a new adventure, I was feeling receptive and open. Degree in hand, and car brimming with all the possessions I had accumulated, my drive was christened by a 5-hour lecture series on Calvinism by a well known Calvinist pastor (a topic I had been exploring over the last three years). When I got home (to my Pentecostal pastor of a father), I looked at him and with the ambivalent confidence of a freshly certified undergraduate student in theology I declared: “Dad, I think I’m a Calvinist.”

“We’re created to glorify God,” I asserted, “and God forgives us for his own glory,” I continued, quoting Isaiah 48. “We are born depraved and can’t possibly respond to God’s gracious election apart from his irresistible exploits.” I had my dad’s attention, but he didn’t seem worried. He listened curiously and waited patiently for me to finish my speech and then responded. He pointed out his own proof texts in a respectful, classy way, in the form of questions to get me thinking. But I had just gotten my degree in Biblical studies, and I was 20, so it didn’t really matter what proof texts he had. I had TULIP-coloured glasses on, helping me see Scripture in a new (and true) way. How could he not see what I see?

My newfound confession of the “doctrines of grace” was the culmination of about three years of reading books and listening to sermons and lectures from Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, John Piper, and one of my favourites, RC Sproul. Driscoll of course, was the gateway drug. I still remember where I was sitting when I first heard him talk about men and manliness on a video clip from a “Desiring God” conference in 2007.

calvinist reading

Without really knowing it at the time, I began to drink, eat, and sleep Neo-Reformed theology (also distinguished as Neo-Puritan theology by some).

I immersed myself into any book I could get and any sermon I could find. I loved what I considered to be strong preaching, with Biblical books and verses coming alive to me in a way I had never experienced before. And some of these guys were cool too. They communicated eloquently and were in tune with cultural norms. And I was a great evangelist of the content–I’d share lectures and sermons and even burn CDs with whole sermon series for those who showed the slightest interest.

Finally, I had discovered the true gospel, in its full form, I thought, uncontaminated by any “works” pseudo-gospel that told me to “do better” or “try harder.” I came to believe that if you weren’t preaching imputed righteousness via justification by faith alone through Christ alone, then you weren’t preaching the gospel. Verse-by-verse exposition was the only justifiable way to preach biblically (making Paul and Jesus “unbiblical” preachers). I was convinced that “topical” preaching was for the seeker-friendly crowd, and would sooner or later dilute the full gospel (because of course Jesus wasn’t a friend to seekers).

My tribe and I embraced and accepted this new line of believing. We had the truth. And it was God’s truth.

On January 1, 2012, a year and a half after my drive home from Bible college, I moved to Vancouver BC to begin my MA in Theological Studies at Regent College. In the time between I had been devouring anything I could from the aforementioned four horsemen of Neo-Puritanism. In that process I had discovered JI Packer, who’s Knowing God was new and exciting territory for me. Packer wonderfully combined theological vigour with heart, devotion, and emotion–combinations I hadn’t seen modelled before. I remember it not being too arid or abstract theology, nor airy-fairy feel-good Sunday school lessons about nice-guy Jesus. It beautifully captured a Christianity that lived in the tension of the head and the heart–and presented a much more confrontational Jesus that I admired. Though I may not agree with all of Packer’s views today, his writing drew me to Regent College where he taught, and where I’d eventually get to meet him and discuss other topics around pastoral ministry, theology and spirituality.

Though some might consider Packer as one of the father figures of the Neo-Reformed movement, his influence on the true leaders of the movement was behind the scenes. What’s unique about Packer is that he’s Anglican, an Anglican who’s done quite a bit of work to help evangelicals appreciate other Christian denominational expressions,something R.C. Sproul and his crew was not happy about. Indeed, Regent College was and is an evangelical, trans-denominational school; and so it was where I met Christians who weren’t Pentecostals, for the very first time.

Regent was where I was introduced to some of the contemporary hard hitters of the Christian faith in the likes of James KA Smith, NT Wright, Mark Noll, Henri Nouwen and others. As Smith depicts it so well in his Letters to a Young Calvinist, I was so enamoured with a small room of Neo-Puritanism in a mansion of Christian spirituality, to the point where I came to believe that the small room was all there really was and all there needed to be. Of course, Smith uses the analogy of a mansion to speak of the riches of the Reformation, though I think he’d agree that the mansion can also be the “Great Tradition” beyond the Reformation. For a long time, I didn’t explore life outside my own like-minded Neo-Puritans–and I mostly just read from one publishing house.

I was [pleasantly] surprised to discover that Regent would begin the slow process of unraveling my Neo-Puritanism. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, and not via any intentional process on the part of Regent. At Regent, I was gently and respectfully challenged to visit the other rooms in the mansion. With hesitation I did just that; visited these room, mostly because I had to or I would fail. Regent challenged me to read outside of my comfort zone, and at least learn to thoughtfully understand and articulate the theological positions I was claiming to oppose.  Initially I treated them as rooms that could be visited only for educational purposes–like an ancient ruin sealed off due to its dangerous air quality. It was already a stretch to read and write about the various Christian expressions that were vastly different than my own. So I inspected them as if visiting a crime scene, but not really a place to inhabit. I’d always just go back to the room I was most comfortable with.

With time I found these rooms were far from ancient ruins or a crime scene to be investigated. They began to provide new vistas by which I could see the world and be enriched in my faith. They were a source of oxygen for my suffocating spirituality, which was beginning to wane with its overly cerebral dogmatism and stoic passivity. My spiritual life was being rescued because I was being introduced to the deep well of the Christian faith, much more robust in its theology, practice and spirituality.

My studies at Regent were only the beginning of my journey out of Calvinism. It took a few years and a lot of dark nights of the soul from my first day at Regent in 2012 to the day I would resign from my position at a church and move back to Quebec in 2016. That part of the story will be addressed in my next post.

11 thoughts on “My Journey Out of Calvinism

  1. Wow ….that journey sounds just like so many others!

    For the hip, Driscoll is the”gateway drug” (sex and tattoos!)

    For the soft-voiced, go with Piper.

    For the cigar-smoking, studious sounding, go with Sproul….

    But whatever you do….. get on the Doctrines of Grace wave!!

    I joined in the late 70’s when it was a trickling stream running quietly by. But the YRR wave is all the rage now. Drink from one (publishing house) source and you will be convinced.

  2. Wonderful Testimony!!

    They were a source of oxygen for my suffocating spirituality, which was beginning to wane with its overly cerebral dogmatism and stoic passivity. My spiritual life was being rescued……..

    Stoicism synchronized into Christianity – maintained by shear human dogmatism.

    The Stoicism was synchronized into the doctrine via Augustine.

    The Dogmatism was Calvin’s defense strategy for preventing the light from illuminating things he didn’t want people to see.

    John 3:20
    For he who abides in the shadows – does not come into the light – lest what he has should be reproved.

  3. Wow it’s awesome to hear of those who came out of calvinism I too look forward to the next post! I’m sure this wasn’t a painless transition thank you for your testimony!

    Revelation 12:11 NASB — “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.

  4. It is always encouraging to hear these stories, which are all somewhat similar. I think it is especially helpful to those who are still in the thick of Calvinism, but with some nagging doubts that just won’t go away. Listen to the experiences of others, and you will know you are no alone. The seduction of modern Calvinism has been carefully designed to draw in sincere, well-meaning believers. But many, many have found their way back out, and, like this author, back to a living, full-orbed faith. I rejoice to count myself among their number.

    1. Seduction is a good word lol. That’s exactly what it was. But I’m thankful for a little bit of if because it took me out of Pentecostalism/ word of faith churches. I’ve been a Calvinist though for over 10 years now. And I only know how to debate from that side lol. I’m coming across these x calvinist articles and it’s really helping me. I don’t feel so alone. I’m in the danger zone you know.

      1. There are a lot of good x-Calvinist sites. I’ve read many of them over the last 3-4 years. If you join the Sot101 FB discussion group thttps://anticalvinistrant.blogspot.com/here are a lot of good conversations on there as well. I would also recommend Heather’s blogs (she has more than one) as she only recently left a church that was stealthily taken over by a Calvinist. This one is the primarily anti-Calvinist one, and will lead you to the others: https://anticalvinistrant.blogspot.com/. You are not alone. It was a real turning point for me when I discovered that many others have had similar experiences. God bless you and draw you ever closer to himself.

  5. WHY RATIONAL REASONING DOES NOT EXIST FOR CALVINISTS

    Approximately 1.1 billion people today think/believe Hinduism is true. Approximately 500 million Buddhism. Approximately 8 million Jehovah’s Witness. We could go on – but suffice to say a significant percentage of the world’s population think/believe things as true – which are in fact false.

    Now Calvinism specifically stipulates the cause for people thinking/believing things as true – which are false.

    In Calvinism *ALL* things (including what people think/believe) are RENDERED-CERTAIN at the foundation of the world. No person exists at that point – so they have no say in the matter. It is not “UP TO” people what they think/believe as true. It is “UP TO” the THEOS who RENDERS-CERTAIN what people will think/believe as true. And we can see from the statistics above – that vast populations are RENDERED-CERTAIN to think/believe falsehoods.

    Now Calvinists also assert that the THEOS has not given man alternative possibilities from which to choose – or the ability to do otherwise (what is known as libertarian free will).

    So now lets look at what is required for a sentient being to exercise rational reasoning:
    Rational reasoning requires the ability to examine and compare alternative possibilities and to choose one over the other. To choose (or do) otherwise. So rational reasoning requires the very things which Calvinism stipulates the THEOS does not make available to created beings – at least not to humans or angels.

    So on Calvinism – people (including Calvinists) don’t think/believe what they do because of rational reasoning. They were RENDERED-CERTAIN to think/believe what they do. And rational reasoning is non-existent for them.

    Calvinists are RENDERED-CERTAIN to think/believe things as true. And since no Calvinist is without sin – it follows some of the things they are RENDERED-CERTAIN to think/believe are falsehoods.

    The THEOS has not granted Calvinists that (alternative possibilities and do otherwise) which is necessary for rational reasoning. They think/believe falsehoods – simply because they are RENDERED-CERTAIN to do so.

    Therefore according to the Calvinist belief system – Calvinists do not have the ability to rationally affirm truth from false.

    But that does not prevent the THEOS from RENDERING-CERTAIN that they think/believe they do! :-]

  6. Just started my journey out of Calvinism. A friend of mine knows and is trying to talk me out of it. It’s hard because I know all her arguments and what she going to say. I don’t know how to counter act though with the “other side”.I still don’t know how to debate yet lol I do struggle a little because There is some doctrines I hold on to. Like the P in Tulip. I just started my blog ( I have only 2 entries) and it’s pretty raw and real. Your welcome to read it.

    1. Hi Christina,
      I would say give yourself plenty of time and space to work through the steps as the Lord is leading you out of it.

      I think you will eventually find that a large number of the arguments Calvinists have actually represent a tap-dance
      .
      Where they assert something in one statement only to later deny it in another (yet different) statement.

      My guess is – you already recognize that much of Calvinist dogma is expressed using very specific talking-points.

      And the fact that enunciating any doctrine is so heavily reliant upon highly strategic talking-points becomes a red-flag – revealing that these critical for hiding contradictions.

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