Baptist Convention, an equally historic African-American denomination. Trinity International University, South Florida campus was a conservative evangelical institution associated with the Evangelical Free Church, a historically Swedish denomination. Piney Grove was 99.9 percent African-American, while Trinity was split between Caucasians, Hispanics, and blacks. Trinity was committed to imparting the tools necessary to study and teach biblical truth but not committed specifically to any one theological position. I deeply loved both church and school and was determined to be active in both settings, though at times I thought I'd collapse trying to do so.

Discovering the Five Points of Calvinism

While at Trinity I was first exposed to the five points of Calvinism, commonly referred to as TULIP. The subject came up during my first Systematic Theology class and was cast in a somewhat favorable light. However, the general consensus was that only four of the points were scriptural. Limited atonement (the understanding that the atoning death of Jesus Christ was intended by God to redeem an elect group of people singled out from the perishing mass of humanity, and that it actually accomplished the salvation) was dismissed as repugnant and misrepresentative of the character of God.

Earlier I had become persuaded that limited atonement was, in fact, the true scriptural view, and that the contrary position amounted to no atonement at all and ultimately made salvation rest on what human beings did or failed to do. I couldn't see how rejecting limited atonement could square with so many of the Bible's precious statements, such as God having "saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (2 Tim. 1:9). For me it was not only a critical issue but a very personal one: if salvation depended finally upon anything I did or didn't do, then it was possible for me to cause my salvation to fail. Knowing myself as I did, I didn't view this as a mere possibility, but as inevitable; I would eventually fail in the Christian life. I spoke tentatively in favor of limited atonement at first, and was later ashamed of my timidity because I felt that ultimately limited atonement gave God the most glory. I felt the opposing understanding robbed God of glory by making the atonement something that only rendered men savable, but failed to actually save them until they managed on their own to respond to it. Furthermore, if someone had to be in charge of who actually went to heaven, I couldn't think of anyone better qualified to make that decision than God himself!

I began to notice that my fellow students' objections to limited atonement could be reduced to a charge of unfairness in God or a repudiation of man's free will. I realized that what was really at stake was God's absolute sovereignty in all things, and this emboldened me. The discussion grew heated one day, continued after class, and was joined by an adjunct professor who happened to be passing by. He heard my perspective and remarked to the group that I was "awfully Reformed" in my thinking. He said it kindly, and I took it as neither an insult nor a compliment. I really couldn't grasp the import of the comment, but I wanted to. That night I asked the manager of my favorite Christian bookstore where the Reformed section was, and with a puzzled look he pointed to the section I usually perused. It was the section where my favorite Puritan authors were found; I simply had not heard the term employed in the way the professor had used it.

I now began to investigate aggressively the Reformed community to discover where I might fit in. At this point I still did not actually know anyone who was Reformed. I had only read authors who had long since gone on to be with the Lord. Two events converged to alter that. First, I began to study Berkhof's Systematic Theology at night after my regular studies. In addition, I read Iain Murray's biography of D. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Second, one night my wife couldn't sleep, which was a surefire sign something was troubling her. She asked, "So . . . um . . . does anyone else believe what you believe?" I thought, Oh great, now my wife thinks I'm a heretic! "Sure," I said, "Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon, a guy named Jonathan Edwards. . . ." "I mean living," she replied. I told her that I was sure there were plenty of people who did, but she sounded a little doubtful.