Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Six

no-quiverfull

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part One

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Two

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Three

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Four

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

Sincerely held beliefs have consequences. This is especially true when it comes to Calvinism and the belief that God is the sovereign ruler and king over all. Simply put, Calvinists believe God is in control of everything. If God commands us to do something, we should do it without doubt or delay. God always knows what is best. To disobey God’s commands brings chastisement and judgment.

As my wife and I immersed ourselves in Calvinism, we came to believe that we should recognize God’s sovereignty in every area of our life, including the number of children we had. The Bible was clear, as were the books we read, that God wanted us to have a  quiver full of children. Psalm 127:3-5 says:

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

We stopped using birth control, believing that it was God who opened and closed the womb. We believed we would have exactly the number of children God wanted us to have. Two months later, Polly was pregnant, the first of three children she would bear from 1989-1993. You see, Polly was a fertile Myrtle. It seemed that all I had to do was look at her and she would get pregnant. We were well on our way to having ten or more children — the Duggars of Appalachia.

The first child born after our decision to let God control our family’s size was a redheaded girl with Down syndrome. While Polly’s mom was grateful that she finally had a granddaughter, she was adamantly against our plan to have as many children as God wanted us to have. She rightly argued that we were in no financial position to have the children we had, let alone any more. This led to family conflict and verbal warfare, which we ended with a long letter we wrote to Polly’s parents — complete with a book on the subject — asking them to mind their own business; that we intended to follow God’s will on the matter regardless of their objections.

Our next daughter — another redhead — was born two days after of first daughter’s second birthday. We had just learned that our oldest daughter had Down syndrome. Her facial features were mild, so doctors missed that she had Down syndrome. One night, we were at a Bible conference near Dayton and a nursery worker asked about our baby with Down syndrome. I was incensed! “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our child!” Except there was. She was sixteen months old before she learned to walk. We were worried she had some sort of disability. Our Catholic family doctor, suspecting Down syndrome, sent Bethany to Ohio State University for genetic testing. Sure enough, she tested positive for Down syndrome.

Our doctor had us come to his office after it had closed, and sat and talked with us for an hour. We were devastated by Bethany’s diagnosis. Our doctor, with great love and compassion, helped us to see that Bethany was actually a blessing from God. This, of course, played right into our Calvinistic beliefs. It was God who gave us a child with Down syndrome, and it was up to us to trust him, believing that he knew what was best for us. (Please read What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity.)

In May of 1993, Polly gave birth to our sixth, and last, child. Her four previous pregnancies had been relatively easy, but this one not so much. Polly struggled during delivery. The obstetrician said she was worn out and, in his words” “to pooped to pop.” He told us in no uncertain terms that another pregnancy could kill Polly. Theologically-speaking, this posed a huge dilemma for us. We believed it was God alone who opened and closed Polly’s womb. She wouldn’t get pregnant unless it was according to God’s perfect plan. Shouldn’t we just trust him?

For the first time, we realized our beliefs had consequences; that trusting God could lead to Polly’s death. We had to ask ourselves whether we were willing to follow God no matter what. In time, the answer came. No, we weren’t willing to follow God no matter what; no, we weren’t willing to put Polly’s life at risk; no, we weren’t going to risk me losing the love of my life and our children losing their mother. This, of course, meant we refused to obey the Word of God; that we put reason and science before God and his Word. Welcome to cognitive dissonance.

For those in the quiverfull movement, we were sellouts, but to everyone else, it seemed we were acting reasonably and responsibly; that it was right and proper for us to listen to our doctor’s advice. This put an end to my preaching on quiverfull beliefs. Prior to this, I had excoriated church women for having tubal ligations or using birth control. To this day, I regret some of my preaching, especially when it came to family matters. I put my preacher nose in places where it did not belong, regardless of what the Bible said.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Having three children in the space of four years caused increased stress on our older three children. Money was already tight, and even more so now that our family size morphed from five to eight. We lived in a 12’x60′ mobile home — a hillbilly mansion if there ever was one. If weren’t for food stamps and Medicaid, along with the Earned Income Credit, we would have been destitute. As it was, we lived from hand to mouth, and sometimes the hand didn’t quite reach to the mouth. Had we been consistent Calvinists, we would have “let go, and let God,” but we refused to allow our family to sink further into poverty. Did this mean, at the time, that we weren’t trusting God as our Calvinistic beliefs demanded we should? Yes. Few Calvinists actually live according to all of the commands, precepts, and teachings of the Bible. Oh, they like to give the appearance of obedience, but Calvinists are Cafeteria Christians® just as other believers are.

By the late 1990s, I had begun to move away from the strident Fundamentalist Calvinism found in groups such as the Reformed BaptistsSovereign Grace Baptists, and the Founder’s Group among Southern Baptists. While my theology would remain influenced by Calvinism until the day I left Christianity, I no longer took it to the extremes detailed in this post. This has led some Calvinists to allege that I was never a “real” Calvinist. I laugh when I hear such criticisms, asking, “how many children do you have?” “Do you use birth control?” That’s what I thought, hypocrite.

This concludes the six-part series on why I became a Calvinist. I hope you found it helpful.

If you are not familiar with the Quiverfull Movement, please read Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  Suzanne, a friend and long-time reader of this site, runs the No Longer Quivering website. It has troves of information about Quiverfull.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Series Navigation<< Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

19 Comments

  1. Maloyo

    “Let go, let God.” In the 1990s I was the office manager in a substance abuse clinic that offered treatment based on the 12 step model. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase, I could retire. If you add the serenity prayer to it, I could retire in luxury.

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    Fortunately, my family, despite being fundamentalist, were of the “God gave you a brain, you should use it” ill. They valued education and relied on medical science (of course they were strict anti-abortionists and didn’t believe in evolution, but if you were sick you should see a doctor). My grandma had plenty of health issues affecting her fertility, but my mom used birth control. We never understood those who would refuse to use the medical advancements that could help them.

    Reply
  3. Linn

    How did the churches in the area justify so many of their congregants using Medicaid and food stamps? In the IFCA church I was in 40 years ago, that was considered lack of trust in God, and dependence on the government. That stream of thinking also stands out in current sectors of the Republican party.

    Reply
    1. Troy

      Linn, you’re point out an interesting part of the strange bedfellows that come out of politics. The Christian right and the right in general would love to have these programs die on the vine. So how do you get people who are dependent on government welfare to vote against their own financial interest? Abortion politics! Not only abortion politics though, the general strategy has been to highlight late term abortions which are not only extremely rare, they are invariably done because of a severe medical issue. I have one friend on Facebook that would rather see a mother die if it saved her child. Also not that the abortion issue unites Catholics and Protestants, which even 50 years ago would be strange bedfellows indeed.

      Reply
      1. Troy

        *note

        Reply
  4. Byroniac

    Bruce, your series on Calvinism is fascinating. I’ve never married, so I never even had the opportunity to find out how far I would have taken my Calvinism. Looks like here in this post that your Faith and Reason had a battle and Reason won, and that is probably a good thing. It usually is, despite the claims of “Faith” to the contrary. But reading your post reminded me of this I had read of Conrad Murrell, someone I really admired and met in person a few times but never really knew personally. His theology was very extreme, apparently. So I wanted to share this for your reader’s pleasure (or not?) to underscore your point that beliefs do indeed have consequences.
    https://gfmanchester.com/settle-it-in-your-mind-now-get-rid-of-alternatives-be-resolved-to-follow-the-lord-conrad-murrell

    Reply
    1. Hugh Young

      I’ve never married either, and due to the ‘way I am’, and I really don’t care to go into writing that BOOK at the moment, likely never will. I wasn’t interested in having my biological urges repressed, and have celibacy imposed upon me at the end of self-righteous, judgmental, wagging fingers, esp. by the married ‘brothers and sisters’ who weren’t doing without. Oh I tried for years. Cried. Raged. Fell asleep many a night praying for ‘god’ to provide a wife, or suitable partner. Yep, you guessed it-NADA! ZIP! ZILCH! ZIPPUHDEE DOO DAA, ZIPPUHDEE DAY!! Over the span of a few months back in 2014, I was hit by the realization that I am not exactly getting any younger, and it seems pretty clear to me that this ‘god’, if he does exist, isn’t particularly interested in my lonely, broken heart. A ‘god’ that can’t provide for my needs is not an entity that I’m going to give any authoritative place in my life, and………VOILA, I WAS OUT! The academic. intellectual arguments against the existence of the ‘god of Thee Babble’ came later! 🙂

      Reply
      1. Byroniac

        I completely understand, Hugh Young. I’m sorry for what you have had to endure. And I particularly love your sentence about not being “an entity that I’m going to give any authoritative place in my life” and that really resonates with me. I think you can imagine my own frustration when I tried to explain to some theist friends that I’ve had a very difficult time with faith and believing because my prayers aren’t answered, only to be subjected to various unapologetic victim blaming: you aren’t praying right, God is answering in some magical, mystical, mysterious way (my take on their words) without me fully understanding it, God will respond in some unknown fashion at some indeterminate time in the future, or maybe you’re just not saved in the first place (so of course, why would God listen to my concerns with any empathy? You need to get saved if you expect to get help!), and etc. I realize that my praying and expectations from those prayers are both very subjective, but so are their answers, and almost exclusively the fault is never God’s, because of course. Silly me. I just need to do a better job of repenting and perhaps rephrasing my requests more reverently and humbly. Or something. Or just not bother at all, which is what I’m currently doing. And not much has really changed; imagine that.

        Reply
        1. Hugh Young

          Oh sure…….I got the whole, ‘God is not going to answer your prayers, and send a suitable woman your way as long as you’re willfully masturbating/ shagging hookers etc. etc.’ I’ve always found it rather odd that religion in general, and X-Chee-Annitee in particular has such a huge bug up its backside about SEX, when the biblical characters, yes even the biblical ‘heroes’ were anything but well behaved, and restrained in their lusts! And today, with the church’s MESSY problem regarding the ‘sex-abuse’ scandal, I think we can rightfully look at the church and ask, ‘Well,well…..How has THAT all worked out for ya’???

          Reply
          1. Byroniac

            Well, what gets me, is if Christians really have the Holy Spirit as they claim, why are they not so different from the unwashed throngs of the rest of humanity? I asked a similar question to this one time, and got the Calvinist answer that very few are really saved. It’s as if God created untold billions of people throughout history and is actually interested just a lucky (arbitrarily chosen) few. Which at the time, I was completely fine with, because I believed that I belonged to that number of “elect” believers (to every one else, “sucks to be you, right?”). There used to be a website called StopBaptistPredators that tracked the sort of thing you are talking about in my own Southern Baptist denomination, and I am not sure what happened to it or why, but I check Bruce’s blog here as he frequently posts news busts of that sort of thing. If I was a firmly committed, devout Southern Baptist (like I hope I used to be), I would probably be horrified and more vocal about “cleaning up our own house” than it seems a lot of them are. I am not sure that all of the Southern Baptists realize how badly this reflects on them, too, and hurts their image overall (as the saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole barrel, or something to that effect). The bottom line is, and I cannot speak for you but I think you would agree, that they need to clean their own business up before criticizing the rest of us.

  5. Marisa Nordstrom

    Well, you have to admit that the Scriptures accounted for those that shrink back from the faith (e.g., blogger and many commenters); and, Scriptures account for Black collar crime [used to excuse apostates — those who do not persevere in the faith]. Those Biblical “character(s)” examples apparently had no warning effect on unbelievers masquerading as believers.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for admitting that salvation, according to the Bible, is by works.

      Reply
      1. Marisa Nordstrom

        You published my comment! Well, I’m a five point Calvinist, baptistic believer, 62 year old divorced woman that was sent to a “reformed baptistic church” by a former IFB pastor six years ago after 37 years in Alaska. When I got here, I observed that everybody had at least eight children and I had never had any (now everybody has 10 – 12 kids). Hence, I’m experiencing the family integrated movement that subordinates doctrine to no Sunday school and sitting with your dozen kids (I was running from a GARB church that was not much more than a collection organ for ABWE who I learned was entrenched in Donn Ketcham’s scandalous bla bla bla. So, here I am a stigmatized divorced WOMAN (a man is treated better cause men, elders, can talk to men) running from Don Ketcham’s mess to Doug Phillip’s mess. Anyway, I skipped my church attendance checkmark today to build myself up in my inner woman (remember King David when he got discouraged) by continuing to read your story. Saved out of Mormonism when I was twenty by reading a living bible I could understand and new “free agency” wasn’t true. I loved unholiness and knew if I ever had a relationship with God, he’ have to “do it”. Started reading in the beginning, 30 days in to reading at night, Joshua’s taking Israel into the promised land, I fought to the end, but God enabled me to believe the polluted gospel I had heard a few years earlier. I was born again 3/3/77 and am persevering in the faith. Even John MacArthur is making, in my opinion, huge strides in preaching the five points of Calvinism which he never really preached until more recently (e.g. limited atonement). To many he came off as a legalist until he started defended the framework of TULIP. You have, in my opinion, represented it logically, but without an emphasis on the Holiness and Goodness of God. In any case, the beautiful creation itself is a testimony to the existence of God. The little chips inserted into hypothetical/projected models of early man passed off in my college anthropology classes were very unconvincing. Even they acknowledge the Fertile Crescent as the first archeological finds of civilization four thousand years BC. Anyway, I’m persevering in the faith and when in doubt, I always tell myself, “If you’re not saved, you never will be.” But, I am motivated to persevere by Hebrews 6, the testimonies of those who fall away; and, esp. the fact that my faith is sustained by God, so it will manifest being sustained in my life by me… yes, as you say “by works.”

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Marisa,

          Why did you think I “wouldn’t” post your comment? Every Evangelical gets at least one comment on this site; one comment to say whatever it is they think the “Lord” is leading them to say.

          You missed my point. I didn’t say true faith brings forth good works. I did say you are a preaching salvation by works. All Calvinists preach salvation by works since gaining entrance into Heaven requires enduring/persevering (good works) until death.

          Ask yourself this: would anyone naturally find Calvinism in the Bible by just reading the text; without someone first teaching them that this or that verse=five point Calvinism? The answer, of course, is no! Calvinism, first and foremost, is a philosophical system. On that framework six centuries of theologians have built the theological system called Calvinism (doctrines of grace). A natural reading of the Bible doesn’t not lead someone to conclude these teachings are true. The same could be said about many cardinal Evangelical doctrines.

          I wish you well.

          Bruce

          Reply
          1. Marisa Nordstrom

            Bruce – I became a determinist as a young adolescent thinking through Mormonism’s “free agency”. That wasn’t hard. I got the gospel from the son of a Nazarene minister, my father, an obvious Arminian. I did not penetrate the numina with Carl Jung and eastern mythology — no god there, just nonsense. Again, like I told you, I turned to reading the Bible, starting in the beginning, to decide if this God was true. His “story” or account was credible and I came to believe in Him by a faith he gave me that you think you can verbiage away, with the support of one Arminian-mutt regular and another scoffer regular commenter to cheer you on. I wish you all well as well.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            My objective was to challenge your theological assertions. You “think” you came to your beliefs just by reading the Bible, but that’s not really true. Here’s how I know that. If you started with the book of of Genesis and read it without any preconceptions or bias (from former indoctrination) you would NOT have become an Evangelical Trinitarian Calvinist. Why? Because a natural, honest, unbiased reading of Genesis 1-3 can’t help but force you to conclude that there are multiple Gods (polytheism), not one God (monotheism).

      2. Marisa Nordstrom

        You published my comment! Well, I’m a five point Calvinist, baptistic believer, 62 year old divorced woman that was sent to a “reformed baptistic church” by a former IFB pastor six years ago after 37 years in Alaska. When I got here, I observed that everybody had at least eight children and I had never had any (now everybody has 10 – 12 kids). Hence, I’m experiencing the family integrated movement that subordinates doctrine to no Sunday school and sitting with your dozen kids (I was running from a GARB church that was not much more than a collection organ for ABWE who I learned was entrenched in Donn Ketcham’s scandalous bla bla bla. So, here I am a stigmatized divorced WOMAN (a man is treated better cause men, elders, can talk to men) running from Don Ketcham’s mess to Doug Phillip’s mess. Anyway, I skipped my church attendance checkmark today to build myself up in my inner woman (remember King David when he got discouraged) by continuing to read your story. Saved out of Mormonism when I was twenty by reading a living bible I could understand and knew “free agency” wasn’t true. I loved unholiness and knew if I ever had a relationship with God, he’ have to “do it”. Started reading in the beginning, 30 days in to reading at night, Joshua’s taking Israel into the promised land, I fought to the end, but God enabled me to believe the polluted gospel I had heard a few years earlier. I was born again 3/3/77 and am persevering in the faith. Even John MacArthur is making, in my opinion, huge strides in preaching the five points of Calvinism which he never really preached until more recently (e.g. limited atonement). To many he came off as a legalist until he started defended the framework of TULIP. You have, in my opinion, represented it logically, but without an emphasis on the Holiness and Goodness of God. In any case, the beautiful creation itself is a testimony to the existence of God. The little chips inserted into hypothetical/projected models of early man passed off in my college anthropology classes were very unconvincing. Even they acknowledge the Fertile Crescent as the first archeological finds of civilization four thousand years BC. Anyway, I’m persevering in the faith and when in doubt, I always tell myself, “If you’re not saved, you never will be.” But, I am motivated to persevere by Hebrews 6, the testimonies of those who fall away; and, esp. the fact that my faith is sustained by God, so it will manifest being sustained in my life by me… yes, as you say “by works.”

        Reply
        1. Byroniac

          What gets me, and apparently gets some Calvinists is when we introspectively question ourselves, “am I really one of the elect?” That managed to completely unravel my faith, along with serious problems I encountered with Scriptural contradictions and the original and process of the Scriptural texts (of which I need to do a lot more study, admittedly, as I am by no means an expert). I am sorry that you have suffered so much. But I doubt you will have too many believers here to read your words about persevering in the truth and holding fast to the Gospel and the like. It is understandably quite difficult to adequately emphasize the holiness and goodness of a deity in whose existence you tend to have serious doubts in the first place, and I really doubt that anyone but a believer could genuinely meet your implied requirements there. Calvinism is quite an intellectual faith and is rigidly logical until you pierce into its basic presuppositions which are mostly subjective, in my opinion, where it ceases to be a rational religion and reveals its heart as a presuppositional, subjective system built on unprovable religious assertions. So perhaps you are not really persevering at all, but following Hebrews 6 out of fear, and in the end, will be shown to be a false convert who trusted in various idols of the mind and spirit instead of the One True God. I apologize for saying it, but it is a possibility for every Calvinistic believer as far as I can tell. Then again, perhaps what you confess is true, and we (the rest of us, by and large) are deceived by a strong delusion. Calvinism is really a work of religious genius, because it doesn’t actually require any evidence to make it work, either for the believer, or against the unbeliever, including its very claims. We would probably have to falsify the very existence of God and the historical event of the Resurrection, both of which are impossible to do as far as I know, in order to say without any hesitation or qualification that Calvinism could not possibly be true and that it is universally and totally false. At least, as far as I know, that is.

          Reply
  6. Brian

    Marisa, thank-you for trying to expel your horror story on the page. From the beginning you were abandoned by Mormon extremists but not before you learned to exist in the extreme. I am sorry there is no God to change what happened to you, only human love and caring, only hman feelings. That you have persisted so resolutely in belief is not a victory (except perhaps that it was your only choice to survive.) I wish you well and hope that you will find time to read some of the books Bruce has recommended. You were never saved because the only lost you were was your original abandonment. Again, my condolences and best wishes.

    Reply

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