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I had never met a living, breathing Calvinist until the fall of 1968, when (newly married) I entered Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, as a junior. The first day of classes, I saw four or five deeply tanned guys with surfboards heading for the parking lot. Alas, I lacked the prerequisites to join the surfer crowd, but I did become acquainted with a circle of earnest Calvinists.

The most articulate of the group, the most learned—yes, learned, even as an undergraduate—and the most dismissive of those outside the fold was Greg Bahnsen, later to become the leading Orthodox Presbyterian theologian of his generation before his untimely death. When I met Greg, I had never read a word of Calvin, and only that fall did I learn of the TULIP mnemonic and what it stood for, useful information imparted by way of a Survey of English Literature course taught by a young Calvinist professor, Ed Ericson.

In my first conversations with Greg and his circle, I assumed I must be misunderstanding what they really believed. I knew how easy it was to get bogged down in differences over terminology. But then I began reading Calvin myself. What monstrous teachings!

But wait a minute. Ed Ericson was one of Them (maybe a semi-Calvinist, a counterpart to the semi-Pelagians), a gifted teacher who migrated to Calvin College, where—while making a lifelong impression on a couple of generations of students—he clarified and celebrated the achievements of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And Alvin Plantinga, a brilliant young philosopher from Calvin College who visited Westmont to give a lecture in 1968 or '69 and who went on to lead a renaissance in Christian philosophy.

And many others I have come to know in the 40 years since: the ...

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In the Magazine

September 2009

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