I distinctly remember the first Calvinist I met. Rob was an RA in my dorm at SAGU, an Assemblies of God university. How he ended up in that situation is beyond me, but wow, he seemed so much angrier about God than everyone else on campus, so that’s what I associated with Calvinism. In retrospect, it wasn’t fair, but I didn’t know any better; I didn’t really understand what he believed, and he was so aggressive in trying to explain it that I didn’t care. I finished out my degree in 2009 blissfully ignorant of the doctrines of grace and loved every moment of my education.
Since graduating, the closest I came to Calvinism were Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll sermons. They seemed to preach very differently than what I heard before and they had a conviction about the Gospel that grabbed me. Then about a year ago I was listening to a podcast that mentioned the Reformed Pubcast. At the time I had no idea what reformed meant, but I knew I liked beer and theology so I gave it a shot. I listened to several episodes to see what they were about and I found myself audibly talking back and arguing over the points they were making. “That’s not true” I would say, “I could never believe in the God that they are describing”. At some point I got curious about the facebook group that they kept mentioning and finally decided it might be worth checking out.
It was there that I learned about the cage stage of Calvinism. At first, I learned about it through anecdotes, but it wasn’t long until I had first hand experiences with some of the cage stage members. It reminded me so much of my old RA that to some extent I kept my same opinion of Calvinists in general but despite that I kept participating in the group and listening to the podcast (There’s a podcast?!). Slowly I started to come to grips with some of the points but with each one I continued to remind myself that even if I agreed with that one point I would never be a Calvinist. It started out innocent enough; I truly believed that what I had seen both in myself and in the world made Total Depravity a no brainer but the rest of it didn’t make sense.
Over the last six months something funny happened, one by one my objections started to crumble. From total depravity I had to concede that I had nothing to do with my salvation. Boom, two more points gone. Next thing I know, I’m sitting there going “ok I believe all of it but Limited Atonement and I’ll NEVER believe that!” Of course that eventually crumbled too and I became overwhelmed by the Grace of God in my life. I had a truth that many people in my life didn’t have. I finally felt like I had the answer and it had been right in my face the entire time!
This is apparently where people normally enter the cage stage. Dr. James White describes the situation perfectly, he calls it, “That period in the experience of the new Calvinist where they would be better off kept in a cage until they can gain enough maturity to handle these vitally important topics aright”. Luckily from my experiences getting into Calvinism I had found the truth. There is no cage. There is nothing keeping us from misusing that zeal for the truth. The only hope I had was to constantly remind myself of grace. If God had given me a grace I could never even hope to deserve, could I not offer a small amount of grace to people who are currently where I JUST WAS. That was the most sobering reminder for me, I was just as blind as they were. Shouting the truth at a blind man will never make him see. So even when I was facing people who now treated me with contempt, much the way I had experienced contempt for Calvinists in my journey, I made it a point to constantly think on where I came from. It hasn’t been easy, multiple times I have had to bottle up my emotions to avoid shaking my friends and screaming “it’s right in front of you why can’t you see it!”
This April, a couple months before my journey to Calvinism was complete, I received unexpected news that Rob,my Calvinist RA, had passed away from heart failure. It brought back so many memories. Fond ones of us hanging out and enjoying college life, but also bitter ones of our arguments over theology. It makes me wonder what might have been different if he had been a little more gracious in those discussions. So now I try and find peace in God’s sovereignty and do my best to offer what little grace I have in me when trying to help people see the light of the true Gospel.
There is no cage.