I pretty surely remember when I was first exposed to 5-point Calvinism. It was in the mid-seventies or so, in the book The Forgotten Spurgeon, by Iain Murray.
I was appalled.
Spurgeon had already caught my attention as a wonderful preacher, but I didn't know that about him. Heck, I didn't know that about anybody! To my certain knowledge, the Gospel was defined as telling people "God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. Jesus died for your sins. Accept His sacrifice, and you will be saved. If you don't accept it, you will be like the criminal who does not accept his pardon, and must serve out your term, because God has done all He can."
So here's this guy saying that God doesn't wait for our permission to save us anymore than a lifeguard waits for permission to save a drowning man. It doesn't depend on "free will."
What? I had thought everybody believed in free will. But this guy didn't.
Next I remember reading from that perspective was John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. At this point, I'd gone a bit further in my own studies, and I was less appalled.
But somewhere around there, I'd started re-thinking. I was a fuzzy Amyraldian, though there were all these weird verses about sovereign predestination, election (Ephesians 1:3ff), sovereign and irresistible drawing (John 6), and all. They were hard to fit in, and just sort of "sat there" in my thinking.
One thing that opened my mind was revisiting the actual evangelism of the apostles. If anyone knew how to evangelize, it was these guys. So how essential did they find saying "God loves you, Jesus died for your sins" in Gospel preaching?
So essential that they never said it, at least not on-record.
Nothing changed in the epistles. They regularly talked about God's love and Christ's death for "us" and "you" (Christians), and for the church — but more general expressions of God's distinguishing love and Christ's effectual redemption were few and at best ambiguous.
I thought of this again a couple of days when Dr. S. Lewis Johnson mentioned it to me.
Dr. Johnson has gone to be with the Lord, but he being dead yet speaketh, thanks to modern technology. Believers Chapel provides a real gold mine of Johnson's sermons and lessons, which I am grateful to have on i-pod, or IPod, or iPod, or however you spell that. So I take Dr. Johnson on a lunchtime power-walk with me everyday, or ask him to keep me company as I cook burgers for my family if none of them want to have anything to do with me.
I was listening to The Design of the Atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die? - V, in which Dr. Johnson responds to objections raised against the particular redemption view. Among others, he raises the objection, "But that would mean that you can't tell people you evangelize that Christ died for them."
What would he say? Many Calvinists I respect argue for saying this (as well as "God loves you") in evangelism. Johnson was hard to pin down into any one category completely. Where would he come down on this?
"That's right," was his answer.
He went on to say (I paraphrase) that apostolic preaching and Christ's own words authorize us to say that we are all sinners under the wrath of God; that God loves sinners, and sent Christ Jesus into the world to save sinners; and that any and every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will certainly be saved. Further, any who wished to, may and is commanded to come.
This, to my mind is apostolic preaching. It really tells the sinner everything he needs to know, without either (A) making unsubstantiable statements about the eternal counsels of the Trinity, or (B) giving false grounds of confidence to the sinner.
On that last note: perhaps I was an exception. But before Christ, as a hard, Christ-rejecting sinner, if you'd told me "God loves you," I'd have said "Great. I believe that, too." If you'd told me, "Jesus loves you," I'd have said, "Whatever." And if you'd said, "Jesus died for your sins," I'd probably have said something like, "I don't believe I have any sins; but if I do, sounds like I'm covered."
Which isn't what we want to communicate, and isn't what the apostles did communicate.
Final note of unnecessary emphasis. Am I revoking the Calvin-card of anyone who differs from me on this issue? Merciful heavens, no. I don't control club membership; it's others who think they do. And I know that none of those who see this differently would communicate any of those false ideas (i.e. everything's okay for the lost, they don't really need to repent).
It's just how one muzzy-headed young man's mind was opened to Biblical Calvinism.