Thursday, August 28, 2008

How I Came to the Doctrines of Grace

I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church that taught the Holy Scriptures within the framework of the Baptist traditions of the day. Without being told, I was being taught the Holy Scriptures within a man-made framework called “Dispensationalism.” When it came to the Doctrine of Man, I was taught that while man was fallen in nature, he still had the capacity – yea, even the desire – to turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. When it came to the Doctrine of Salvation, I was taught that Jesus died for everyone – whoever was, is, or will be – and that man had a free will – unaffected by sin; consequently, while man had a fallen nature, he still could choose Christ – of his own free will. While hearing these teachings in sermons which were peppered with the mantra, “The Bible says,” I never questioned my pastor – for he was a good man. I never was taught to investigate the Scriptures for myself in order to discover what the “whole counsel of God” actually taught. Jesus had cast His vote for my salvation, Satan had cast his vote against my salvation, and that “I had to decide to follow Jesus” – I had to vote for my own salvation – with Jesus – in order to be saved. That is what I was taught.

My pastor never mentioned semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism. The positions which these two views held were foreign to me – neither did I ever hear of Calvinism. I knew nothing of the historical framework in which these views were taught. I just knew that I was a Baptist – and a Southern Baptist at that! While I was taught that the Bible had all the answers, I was never taught the importance of learning how to rightly divide the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15). If I wanted to know what Baptists believed, I was told to go to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message – the Southern Baptist Convention Confession of Faith. It was in this state of mind and with these “Baptistic attitudes” that I grew into manhood.

After returning from the Vietnam War (in 1972) and being honorably discharged in 1974, I entered Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas, Texas for my seminary training. It was in courses on Church History, History of the Reformation and Baptist History that I first learned about the men: Pelagius, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin, along with other men like Martin Luther, George Whitefield and Charles H. Spurgeon. I knew that I would like Charles Spurgeon when I discovered that he was a Baptist! It was when I began to take Systematic Theology that I learned what these men taught.

My professor for Systematic Theology I was a Briton by the name of John Pretlove. He was an excellent professor – but he was British! And I was an American! It was then that I discovered a latent prejudice against Britons that – because of history – I, along with a lot of Americans, have toward the British. When he began to introduce to the class the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, I discovered that I had been raised by my pastor with one foot in the semi-Pelagian camp and the other foot in the Arminian camp. Each time the professor raised a Calvinistic point for discussion, I found myself rising in opposition to it – beginning my response to it with the phrase, “The Bible says!” Professor Pretlove listened patiently to my response and then would politely reply, “Brother Hopkins, where is your Scripture?” The following is one example of such a verbal exchange:

Professor Pretlove: “Calvinism teaches that Jesus came to save the Elect; that is, those sinners whom the Father gave to the Son before the foundation of the world.”

Me: “But the Bible says that Jesus came to save the world!”

Professor Pretlove: “Brother Hopkins, where is your Scripture?”

Me: “John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”

Professor Pretlove: “Brother Hopkins, what do you do with the following Scriptures:

KJV Matthew 1:21 “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”


KJV John 17:9 “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”


KJV Ephesians 1:4 “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

I would sit down totally frustrated. I knew a lot of what the Bible said, but I knew very few Scriptural addresses. And, since I did not have the Scriptural reference in my head, I could not adequately answer the professor. The resultant feelings ran deep inside me:
1. I greatly resented Professor Pretlove for embarrassing me in front of the class.
2. I did not dig into the Scriptures to find out what the whole counsel of God actually said on these issues. I was too busy being a full-time student.
3. I didn’t like Calvinism. It was different than what I had been taught, and it didn’t have the name Baptist connected to it. You can imagine my shock when I later discovered that Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist pastor, was a Calvinist!

I passed the course, but I maintained a distain for the professor until after I graduated from CCBS (in 1976).

In 1977, I was called by the Lord to pastor an SBC Church in Euless, Texas. I was delighted and entered into the pastorate with great zeal. Everything was going great for the first six months. One morning, as I entered my Study, I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of God’s Presence. I went to my knees in prayer as a tremendous heaviness came over me. For the first time, the gravity of preaching and teaching the Word of God to His people really hit me! As I was pondering this heaviness, the following Scripture came to my mind:

NKJ Hebrews 13:17 ¶ “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

The phrase ‘as those who must give account’ really hit me hard. The fact that I would have to give an account of what I preached and taught the people of God suddenly gripped me. I became scared. The thought of my teaching something not consistent with the whole counsel of God terrified me. While in school, God had given me a great love for the Biblical languages: Hebrew and Greek. Now, I found myself being led of the Lord to begin searching the Scriptures in the languages it was originally written in, so that I could find out what the Holy Scripture truly said.

Over the next three days, I prayed and fasted while I studied the Holy Scriptures. I felt impressed by the Lord to call Professor Pretlove and ask his recommendation on some books that would assist me in honestly looking at the Doctrines of Grace. To be honest with you, I did not enjoy making that call – because of my dislike for the man. I was still sinning in that area of my life. I must also admit to you that I went into the study with a determination to tear apart Calvinism. Why God would bring Calvinism to my mind, I didn’t have a clue. In my humanity, I didn’t like it. But the thought of the souls of God’s people haunted me. I knew that I could not preach or teach until the Lord and me resolved this issue.

I would read a statement, and then I would dig into the Scriptures. I would translate every verse – I didn’t trust the English. I wanted to be sure I had it right! For three nights and three days I poured over the Scriptures, and as the Spirit of the Lord began to illumine my mind, the tears began to flow down my cheeks. I discovered many things – truths that were always there in the Scriptures, but I had never seen them before. And by the end of that period of prayer and fasting, I found myself to be a thorough going Calvinist in the same camp of Charles H. Spurgeon.

That was thirty-one years ago, and I am still learning more of the precious Doctrines of Grace. I will continue to strive to teach the whole counsel of God – The Doctrines of Grace – as long as there is breath in me. The souls of God’s people are precious.


TheSaxonHus said...

Brother, while I have heard your testimony on this matter from your very lips, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in print. Thank you for being humble enough to publish it.

My "coming to the doctrines of grace" differs from yours in at least 3 points:

1. It was a gradual coming without the intense time of prayer, fasting, and study found in your experience.

2. I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Pretlove from day 1, not holding any prejudice against him or his native home! I could listen to that man all day long. I especially loved the way he pronounced words such as "schedule" and "controversy".

3. I was "smarter" than you in the sense that, while I liked Dr. Pretlove but disagreed with what he taught theologically, I knew better than try to engage him in debate, especially over the Scriptures!!!

Praise the Lord, dear brother, for His work in bringing us to these teachings of Scriptures!

Creth D Hopkins said...

Thank you, dear thesaxonhus. You are correct: you are smarter than me on many issues. I also thank the Lord that, in His mercy, He has forgiven me for my attitude toward Dr. Pretlove, and that he has long ago, restored the fellowship between the good Professor and myself. He is a dear, precious friend.
All glory to God!