Stop Beating Up on Calvinism

by | | 22 Comments

I’ll never forget the time I read a Calvinist author warning his readers of the dangers of Arminian theology. He talked about how many current pastors were losing their theological footing—and sometimes their faith—after rejecting Reformed thought. He wrote passionately about how accepting the low view of God that Arminians promote leads to corruption of the glory of God in the Church. He startled me out of my preconception of Calvinists as sly heretics, deceiving God’s people and drawing people away from the truth. I had to accept the fact that there were honest, full-headed Christians who felt that my side of the free-will debate was corrupt and dangerous, as I thought theirs was.

As a boy, I had heard several messages about how Calvinism leads to a rejection of the goodness of God, the purpose of missions, and the reason to live free from sin. I was afraid of Calvinism like one might be afraid of dark tunnels or shadowy rooms. I wasn’t entirely sure what Calvinism was, but I knew I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Then I read John Piper. And Tim Keller. And J. I. Packer, Kevin DeYoung, and Rosaria Butterfield. In the last 10 years, the list has expanded greatly. And so has my appreciation for the distinct theological palate that the Reformed community has given us. Since that first book I read on Calvinism, I’ve had dozens of discussions with friends about our shunning of Reformed authors. I’ve become firmly convinced that we need to re-think our view on this issue.

But before I submit my views on our treatment of Reformed theology, let me make two things clear: First, I understand how the terrible treatment of Anabaptist people by the early reformers has left us very skeptical of what the reformers stood for. But we need to divorce the discussion of separation of Church and state from the Calvinism discussion. I agree, of course, that the early reformers were very wrong in their violent repression of other religious views. However, nearly everyone was wrong on this, back then. (Even, may I add, certain Anabaptists from Münster…)

Second, I am not a Calvinist. It is interesting to me how often, in discussing my opinion on Calvinism, I get mistaken for a Calvinist. In fact, as my understanding of issues surrounding free will has deepened, the places where I reject Calvinism have solidified. It is not agreement with Reformed thought that drives me to write about this topic, but rather recognizing misunderstandings in our camp that have been the catalyst for this post.

I have heard many attacks on Calvinism that I feel are quite unjustified, lack support, or are just wrong. As Christians, truth matters. We need to know that we are critiquing true problems, not attacking straw-men-versions. Love for each other also matters. Remember, Paul considers love for other believers, along with faith toward God, to be central indicators of our life in Christ. With those commitments in mind, I invite you to join me in considering and critiquing the following arguments for why Calvinism is thought to be dangerous.

  1. Calvinism attacks the goodness of God.

In intellectual fairness, let me start with one that perhaps holds more weight than most for me personally. The Reformed framework involves the sovereignty of God predestining some people for eternal life for reasons outside of anything they did. The double predestination view claims that God also actively chooses to predestine some for hell. This begs the question, “How can God hold people eternally guilty for crimes that he chose not to save them from?” I think this may be a valid objection to Calvinism, but only because I also think that Scripture seems to support a view of salvation with a good deal of free will and man’s responsibility. Without Scriptural nuance, to attack Calvinism on this level is tantamount to the universalist saying that the traditional view of eternal conscious torment is wrong because it goes it against their idea of goodness. We must ground our objections to theological positions on more than mere emotional reactions. I fear that many of us disagree with Calvinist theology on this topic as wrong merely because of external analogies and logical frameworks, without really grappling with the passages (Romans 9, Ephesians 1, etc.) that seem to teach a strong predestination theme. 

In this case, there is an argument for how someone could be a Calvinist and still believe that God is good. Check out this article on Desiring God to read how a Reformed pastor answers this question. Basically, Piper states that Scripture teaches that God is both good and just, and also that he chooses some for eternal life and others for eternal death. Piper maintains that we are not in a position to be able to understand how God can hold us responsible for our freely sinful actions, and yet be sovereignly in charge of the whole process, but since Scripture teaches it, we can worship God for his goodness and his transcendence.

  1. Calvinism leads people to a lawless lifestyle.

This is possibly one of the most absurd objections to Calvinism. Sure, there have been so-called “once-saved-always-saved” adherents who lived as though their “sinner’s-prayer”-or-whatever freed them to sin all they wanted. But this is a silly idea that is neither warranted by Calvinist theology nor by Scripture. (A fascinating sidenote is that those who believe this are not necessarily even Calvinist. Many Baptists simultaneously reject Calvinism and hold to eternal security.) It is hard to understand how anyone could read Scripture and come away with the idea that believers can sin all they want. I challenge anyone who believes that Calvinism leads to lawlessness to show me the large groups of Calvinists who are feeding from John Piper’s and Voddie Baucham’s works and concluding that they can live in sin without judgment. That is simply not reality. Some of the most conservative churches today are reformed (I immediately think of the Reformed Presbyterian churches, which require singing Psalms only in their liturgy). Even the most conservative Anabaptist groups don’t touch that level! 

Rather than the five points of Calvinism leading people to lawlessness, they have propelled some of our greatest pastors and preachers, such as Andrew Murray, John Piper, and J.I. Packer, to preach self-sacrificing, Christ-glorifying, and Scripture-honoring sermons that have inspired hundreds of thousands of people to obey Christ more fully. I think there is good reason to believe that the high view of the holiness and sovereignty of God found in Reformed circles is a catalyst for righteous living. May I suggest that you read more books by Reformed authors and test this hypothesis?

Interestingly, PewForum research (2015) showed that people raised in a Reformed background were least likely (from those coming from all theological backgrounds) to leave the Christian faith later in life. They just edged out Anabaptists for that distinction.

  1. Calvinism kills passion for missions.

I honestly can hardly believe that this objection is raised, in light of missions history. Not only did Calvinist missionaries start the Protestant missionary endeavor, chances are that if you stop and think of three great missionaries, they were Calvinist. William Carey? Calvinist. Adoniram Judson? Check. David Brainerd? The same. David Livingston? Yeah, he was too. In fact, John Calvin himself sent missionaries to France (and later Brazil)—many of whom would later die as martyrs. Calvin was no enemy of missions, and neither have his followers been, for the most part. Now, some may rightly remember William Carey’s elders who told him that God would take care of evangelizing the “heathen” when He felt like it–without their help. Hyper-Calvinism is unfortunately a historical reality that we should clearly avoid (as modern Calvinists like Tim Conway compellingly point out). But many Arminian Christians have also evaded the call to missions, history tells us. We cannot dismiss Calvinism as anti-missions because some Calvinists have been so, any more than we can dismiss Christianity as anti-religious-freedom because the medieval Roman Catholic Church was.

In case you are wondering, Calvinism offers a significant and compelling reason for missions fervor: God’s glory demands our obedience, which will be rewarded eternally. Rather than the often-hectic competition of Arminian missions, Reformed missionaries can work for the glory of God, seeking that goal rather than numbers of converts.

  1. Calvinism is not found in scripture and is a man-made system of thought.

Right. And at the risk of sounding impious, neither is the Trinity. And I mean that. The doctrine of the Trinity was never hammered out completely by any of the apostles, but they believed it and taught it. Later, theologians constructed a theological structure to discuss the implications of all that the apostles taught about the Godhead, and called it the Trinity. Now, my point is not that Calvinism is as obvious or important as the Trinity. It certainly is neither. But some of the same processes which created the doctrine of the Trinity were copied in the creation of what would become known as Calvinism. Augustine and other earlier church fathers talked about the concepts surrounding free will and God’s sovereignty, and ultimately Calvin brought it together into a cohesive doctrinal structure. We cannot simply dismiss Calvinism for being “man’s words” any more than we can dismiss the Trinity for the same reason.

This discussion leads me back to my main point; that is, we should view Reformed authors not as dangerous or heretical, but as guardians of the high view of the glory of God in the church. We can equally hold that they are wrong on the amount of God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will. I do believe that the Calvinist position on predestination is logically problematic and Biblically inaccurate, but it is not heresy or a fundamentally dangerous error. It need not negatively affect our missions, our lifestyle, or our faith. On the other hand, we should be attempting to learn all we can from those brothers in Christ on the other side of this debate who can teach us about God’s otherness, holiness, transcendence, and sovereignty. Go read some John Piper.


References

Helopoulos, J. (2013, July 3). Does Calvinism kill missions? The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/does-calvinism-kill-missions/

Pew Research Center. (2015, May 12). Religious Switching and Intermarriage. https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-2-religious-switching-and-intermarriage/ 

Piper, J. (2014, October 14). Does God predestinate people to hell? Desiring God. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-god-predestine-people-to-hell

Photo of author

About the Author:

Elijah Lloyd is a PK who loves God, people, books, more books, and meaningful conversations. He loves trying everything, sometimes to his embarrassment. He is very interested in why people do what they do, and enjoys helping people see new ways of looking at old ideas. He is a big-picture thinker with a perfectionistic streak. Elijah believes that there are answers to the questions that we ask and that those questions matter.

Share this article:

22 thoughts on “Stop Beating Up on Calvinism”

  1. Hi Elijah, thanks for this article, and I’m agreed on most points. Many who critique Calvinism don’t understand how Calvinists generally apply it. Our critique of any position should flow from knowing it in its most compelling forms, and there are many Calvinist writers today who can put us to shame in their missionary efforts and their sanctified lives.

    I’d like to call attention to one statement, however: “Augustine and other earlier church fathers talked about the concepts surrounding free will and God’s sovereignty, and ultimately Calvin brought it together into a cohesive doctrinal structure.” This statement, though not actually false, could obscure the actual situation.

    The church fathers before Augustine did talk about free will and determinism, but only to unanimously affirm free will as taught in Scripture and by the church for the first few centuries following the apostles’ leadership. Augustine’s early writings also affirm free will. However, Augustine changed his position partway through his ministry and introduced determinism into the church. Calvin and Luther later based their deterministic doctrines on Augustine’s writings.

    This is well-documented; it’s widely agreed that there are no church fathers before Augustine who teach determinism (I welcome a counterexample if I’m mistaken on this point). A good (and exhaustive!) read on this subject is “The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism” by Dr. Ken Wilson.

    I’m glad you’re treating the Calvinist position charitably, but I hope you can see how that statement could be a little too charitable. 🙂

    Thanks for your gentle treatment of an often divisive issue!

    Reply
    • Lynn,
      Thanks for your helpful thoughts here. You’re right that Augustine was the first to really state a determinist doctrine of election in detail. Earlier church authors would talk about election, predestination, and the will of man, but often in similar terms to the NT authors; that is, in vague ways that could be taken as either determinist or not, but did not ever clearly state it as such. However, some early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr made it clear that they were familiar with determinism and disagreed with it: “And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions…The words cited above, David uttered 1500 years before Christ… But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain” (The First Apology of Justin, 43-44).
      Thanks for pointing this out, Lynn.

      Reply
      • Thank you for responding, Elijah. I would point out two things. First, Justin is not just saying that he personally disagrees with determinism; he is purporting to be describing the position of Christianity itself. Also, determinism vs. free will is an issue that comes up often enough that we can be quite sure what the early church’s position was on it–in his doctoral work, Ken Wilson (mentioned above) says that, “Of the eighty-four pre-Augustinian authors studied from 95-430 CE, over fifty addressed this topic. All of these early Christian authors championed traditional free choice and relational predestination . . .” (19-20). So I think we can say more than just that some disagreed with determinism.

        Do you know of any scholars who argue that there were pre-Augustinian Christian writers who disbelieved in free will? I would be glad to check out what they have to say. I personally don’t know of any. Let me know.

        Reply
        • No, I am not aware of any pre-Augustinian fathers who were determinist. I appreciate you bringing out this point. And again, I am not arguing for Calvinism. I think I can make a fairly good case against it historically and scripturally. But I do think we need to recognize the fact that we’ve been quite unfair both to the Calvinist position and also to the many faithful Reformed pastors and congregants who are striving with us for the hope of the gospel. That’s the point of this post. Again, thanks for chipping in with these contributions!

          Reply
          • Thanks, Elijah! I had just wanted to clarify that point. I definitely agree with the main point of your post; thanks again for approaching this topic.

  2. I find this premise fascinating and thought provoking, but I am baffled by this sentence:

    “I do believe that the Calvinist position on predestination is logically problematic and Biblically inaccurate, but it is not heresy or a fundamentally dangerous error.”

    Can you explain how a Biblical inaccuracy is not fundamentally dangerous?

    Reply
    • Thanks for asking this question. You’re probably not the first to wonder about this sentence. One of the easiest (but dangerous) mistakes to make as believers is treating all theology as equal. “Flat” theology is one of the reasons for incredible numbers of our churches having experienced nasty splits.

      Everything in Scripture should be loved and embraced by us as God’s message to us. However, we will inevitably misunderstand or miss some things in scripture in different periods of our lives. One would surely have to have an inflated view of their own wisdom to expect that they could get everything right! But thankfully, there are different levels of importance when it comes to theology. A great example of this is the difference between Gal. 1:8-9 and Phil 3:15. In the first, Paul says that if anyone is holding to a different gospel than the one he preached, he will be cursed, or cut off from Christ. In the second, Paul says that if the Philippian believers thought differently than Paul on some things, God would reveal “even that to them.” For central gospel issues, Paul said that anyone who was misled on this should be totally rejected. But on other lesser issues, Paul didn’t feel like he needed to reject them even though they had wrong theology currently.

      A great book on this subject is “Finding the Right Hills to Die On” by Gavin Ortlund. In it, the theory of “theological triage” is laid out; that is, like hospitals must do as they determine the level of emergency of patients’ needs, we must determine the difference between first tier (salvation issues), second tier (church fellowship issues), and third tier theological questions between us as believers. My argument here is that Calvinism is at most a 2nd-tier issue, and possibly a 3rd-tier difference in opinion.

      Reply
      • This is a fascinating discussion, one that I think needs to happen. I agree with much of what you’re saying Elijah, although I think there’s a limit to how helpful it is to quantify the dangers of Calvinism. To M’s point, we shouldn’t offhandedly think that error in doctrine isn’t dangerous—even if we think it’s only at a third tier level. On issues of sovereignty, election, and free will, we are in dense theological territory, and few can intelligently articulate their views with biblical nuance. It’s not that it’s unimportant who is right; it’s that complex issues like this require humility, not a cavalier dismissal of a viewpoint that is fully within orthodoxy. On either side of the Calvinist question, the least we can do is charitably grant that many fellow believers have genuinely reached differing conclusions—and in an attempt to do Scripture justice. This is one of the most complicated issues in Scripture and if someone thinks it isn’t, they aren’t paying attention.

        Much of what happens, though, isn’t even about relating to Calvinism as a doctrine but as to Calvinists as people. Far too frequently, our people have been guilty of not taking a Calvinist seriously, on an issue that has nothing to do with that particular doctrinal difference. In essence, it’s an ad hominem problem, an issue that afflicts all of us, although I’m afraid it’s often worse in Anabaptist churches.

        Reply
        • All doctrine is important, and theology matters, whether on large or small issues. As individuals, we should allow the Bible to guide our thinking in all areas. But that doesn’t mean that we should reject other members of Christ’s church for issues that Paul wouldn’t have—and that’s where categorization of beliefs becomes important.
          And yes, your last point is definitely also true.

          Reply
          • I’m enjoying this discussion, and appreciate the way you broke down the three tiers. I agree, but we still have to be careful because (I think) nearly any second or third tier issue can become a salvation issue if we get too warped or adamant in our views and biases, instead of listening to the Spirit.

            “Complex issues like this require humility, not a cavalier dismissal of a viewpoint.” Yes!

            I have worked for many Reformed people over the years. On many issues we think alike, and I have greatly enjoyed our discussions. But usually the Calvinism/Arminionism differences aren’t the only ones–for instance, my boss’s church also practices infant baptism. So we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that doctrinal differences stay with abstract doctrine.

  3. Thanks Elijah for posting this.
    I am one of the few among the Anabaptist circles who adheres to Calvinism. My adherence began two and a half years ago, after a decade of wrestling with Pauline theology and the doctrine of election.
    That being said, I did not simultaneously become a morally inferior, compromised individual as I was taught Calvinists were. In fact, nothing changed regarding my view of God, other than that I gained a fresh appreciation for his sovereignty.
    Further, after a brief discussion with my friends, they can easily agree with me on the fundamentals of free will, our own depravity, and the sovereignty of God. It is through perspectives like Elijah’s that I can fellowship with Armenians.
    I think the days of bigotry and snobbish attitudes about different perspectives of truth should be over.

    Reply
  4. If a good article creates discussion, this is an amazing one!
    Can we stop beating up Calvinists while keeping the Calvinist-Arminian dialogue? I consider myself neither, and am of the persuasion that almost anything that ends in -ism can be detrimental to truth. It is nauseating to hear preachers bashing Calvinists to puff their own fragile theological views, and just as nauseating to consider that a god who creates humans predestined to eternal torment could be called good. Christ requires us to give up our stuff and our lives, but not our brains.
    Could we keep the debate alive? We need to learn to dialogue respectfully. We need to learn to study the whole truth before we come up with tall opinions. Can a group’s theology be divorced from their actions? I do have a problem with Calvinism from the fact that Calvin was glad to burn his enemies. This Christ did not do. Are there Calvinist churches who take all of Jesus’ commands seriously? Where are the nonresistant Calvinists who don’t practice divorce and swearing? Why do so many wicked people use predestination as an excuse? I heartily agree that most of Calvinism’s greatest proponents are great men of God and we should learn from them. That will raise questions, and if our views are Biblical, we should have no trouble answering them. But we need dialogue.
    I think Calvinism can be dangerous, especially when it’s elevated above Scripture. Not all dangerous things are bad, and dangerous things should be treated with respect and wisdom. We are nonresistant people and we are determined to follow Christ. It would not make sense to verbally or physically execute other followers of the Christ who told us to love even our enemies. We must discuss these things, not to take sides and belittle opponents, but because it is important to understand God and each other. Then we will better serve God and love each other.

    Reply
  5. Interesting article. Thought-provoking. And I can tell you’ve got a good heart.

    But personally, I think that if something is biblically inaccurate when it comes to salvation and the gospel, then it IS dangerous … at the most fundamental level, no matter how innocent/accurate it seems on other levels. Satan specializes in subtlety, in making lies seem so close to the truth that it’s hard to discern and more easily leads people astray.

    I don’t think the big problems with Calvinism are that it hinders missions work or leads to lawlessness. Those are minor problems or easily overcome compared to the biggies, which (in my estimation) are that it destroys God’s character, Jesus’s sacrifice, and the gospel.

    In Calvinism, God constantly says one thing but means another, such as saying He loves the world when He really means the elect or saying He wants all men to be saved when He really means just the elect or telling us to seek/believe in/obey Him (making it seem like we have a choice) when He alone decides, controls, causes who seeks Him, believes in Him, and obeys Him. When we cannot take what He says at face value, when He means something different than what He says, it makes Him a deceiver and untrustworthy.

    [Example: God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit, but then they ate the fruit. In Calvinism, God was the preplanner/cause of them eating the fruit. Therefore, which one was His true will? Eat or don’t eat. If it was don’t eat, like He commanded, then He causes things to happen that are against His will. How is that possible if, in Calvinism, everything that happens is His will? And it would mean that He works against Himself and His own commands, making Him a divided God. But if “eat” was His true will, then how can He say He doesn’t want them to eat, when He really does? That would make Him a liar and deceiver, commanding things He does not really want. Either way, He would not be trustworthy. How could we ever trust any command He gives us then, if His true will might be opposite of what He says?]

    Not to mention that, in Calvinism, God decides/controls who rejects Him and He “ordains” (but in Calvinism, it’s really “preplans/causes”) our sins, but then punishes us for it. That makes him unjust and the cause of evil (in fact, it makes him the only one who freely wills/causes sin). All of this, plus much more, destroys God’s good, holy, righteous, loving, just character.

    And if the Bible clearly says that Jesus died for all sins and all men, but Calvinism says He didn’t, then it destroys Jesus’s sacrificial death for all men. And it destroys the gospel and the offer of salvation that God gives to all men, making it only for a few people, the elect. Calvinism closes the door of heaven to most people, making them irredeemable, predestined for hell, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

    Calvinism contradicts what the Bible clearly, plainly says. It replaces God’s revealed truth with its own ideas of what God supposedly meant to say, with its “hidden knowledge” of a secret, deeper level of “truth” – things that God did not clearly say but that they supposedly figured out by piecing together bits of other verses taken out of context, by changing the definition of words, and by breaking biblical concepts up into “two different types of …”, when there is no biblical justification for doing so.

    [Such as Calvi-god’s two different types of grace: a saving one for the elect and a temporary, non-saving one for the non-elect. Two different types of love: He shows love for the elect by predestining them to heaven, sending Jesus to die for them, but he shows “love” to the non-elect just by giving them food and water while they are alive on earth. Two different types of calls, one for the elect that they must respond to and one for the non-elect that they cannot respond to. Two different types of will, one where he wills that all men are saved, that no one perishes, but then a contradictory one where he wills that most people perish, etc.]

    And then Calvinism slyly spreads by making Christians feel like Calvinism is the most humble, God-glorifying theology out there, convincing them that Calvinism understands and accepts the “deeper, secret truths” of Scripture, and that they are so ultra-humble to accept unresolvable contradictions like God preplans/causes sin but is not responsible for it, that He says He wants all people to be saved but then predestines most to hell, that Him preplanning/causing murder, rape, and child abuse is “for His glory” and that we just have to accept it and praise Him for it, etc. It destroys God’s character, Jesus’s sacrifice, and the gospel while tricking Christians into thinking it’s the most intelligent, humble, God-glorifying theology there is.

    Who sounds like the author of a theology like that? Who specializes in using God’s Word against God, in “Did God really say …?”

    It’s not the God of the Bible.

    Calvinism is little more than a cult, specializing in word tricks to make their theology seem more biblical than it is, hiding the truth about what they really mean as much as possible, and manipulating people into accepting it by making them feel like they are bad Christians who deny God His glory if they don’t believe it. 90% of what a Calvinist says might sound good. But it’s that last 10% that’s poison, that taints the whole thing, that changes the meaning of the 90% that sounded good.

    The gospel is simple, something even a child can understand. But to understand the gospel according to Calvinism requires months of study with Calvinist theologians teaching you how to read the Bible in a Calvinist way, convincing you of their ideas of what God “really meant to say” underneath what He actually said. This should be very telling. And alarming.

    This is just my two cents on this issue. It’s an issue I take very seriously because we recently had to leave our church of almost 20 years (that we raised our kids in) after it was taken over by a dogmatic Calvinist preacher. I’ve seen first-hand how Calvinists use manipulation and stealth tactics to take over a church. And it’s happening everywhere with little pushback. Sad.

    Reply
    • Heather, thanks for this comment.
      There’s a lot to respond to here, so I won’t be able to give adequate answers to everything, but I’ll try to hit on your major points. =)
      1. “…if something is biblically inaccurate when it comes to salvation and the gospel, then it IS dangerous”
      I agree with you. However, the differences between us and our Reformed brothers and sisters are not about the gospel or salvation. Throughout the Church’s history, heresy has usually been defined as rejecting the nature of Jesus as God and man. Often, rejecting the true nature of salvation (by grace alone through faith alone, etc.) has been on that list.
      Calvinists share that foundation of salvation through Christ and a common understanding of the nature of Christ. While there are many important debates beyond these, none are so central, and for no other divisions should we exclude fellow Christians from fellowship and civility. While the Calvinist vs Arminian/Wesleyan debate may relate to salvation, neither side rejects the fundamental nature of salvation. This is hugely important. For example, baptism is clearly related to salvation, but the exact form (e.g. immersion once vs. thrice) is not a debate about the fundamental nature of salvation, so we should be able to fellowship with other believers who disagree with our way of baptizing, without anathematizing them.
      2. “In Calvinism, God constantly says one thing but means another, such as saying He loves the world when He really means the elect”
      This is disingenuous, since no Calvinist would say that “God says one thing, but means another.” They would say something like, God clearly says that he loves the elect all throughout the NT, so when he says that he loves the world, we must interpret that seemingly contradictory passage in light of the other passages. For an example, see Reformed Wiki’s take on John 3:16. What you could say is that you believe that Calvinist doctrine ultimately leads to contradiction concerning God’s character. That’s fine. What’s not fine is to say that Calvinists are preaching that God contradicts himself (I’m not aware of any who do).
      3. “Not to mention that, in Calvinism, God decides/controls who rejects Him and He “ordains” (but in Calvinism, it’s really “preplans/causes”) our sins, but then punishes us for it. That makes him unjust and the cause of evil (in fact, it makes him the only one who freely wills/causes sin). All of this, plus much more, destroys God’s good, holy, righteous, loving, just character.”
      Again, no Calvinist preaches that God is the author of sin. Here’s an example from the Gospel Coalition of their response to this sort of claim. You believe (and I am quite sympathetic with the idea) that Calvinism is self-contradictory in this regard. But that is quite different from preaching that God is the author of sin. Calvinists agree with the entirety of scripture, but they interpret it differently than you and I do.
      4. “And if the Bible clearly says that Jesus died for all sins and all men, but Calvinism says He didn’t, then it destroys Jesus’s sacrificial death for all men. “
      If I want to go this route in attacking Arminianism, I could.

      The Bible clearly says in Eph. 1:5, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Arminians disagree with this verse, claiming that people get salvation because of their own choice. This destroys the sovereignty of God.

      But that response is, of course, ridiculous. We would rightly say that the other verses commanding us to believe in order to be saved are proof that human will is involved, and that this verse can’t mean that we get saved only because God predestined us.
      5. Your picture of Calvinists as sly heretics
      You use very provocative language to describe Calvinists, which makes me wonder if you even think they are fellow believers. If you think no Calvinist is a true believer, then I think you should connect with the many beautiful examples of Spirit-filled, Christ-like Calvinists around the world. I assume you would not call fellow believers “satanic” and “cultic.” You are being incredibly disingenuous to Calvinists in your words here. I wonder…is your response to Calvinists really “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”?

      Thanks again for posting your critique!
      Elijah

      Reply
        • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Elijah. I would comment more, but time prohibits that (and you’ll have to excuse my blunt way of speaking, it’s just how I am), so I will only respond with this …

          1. In response to the idea that Calvinism gets the fundamental nature of salvation right (“by grace thru faith”), I would ask “Yeah, but, in Calvinism, does everyone have the chance/ability to be saved? Does everyone get the offer of salvation?” We all might agree on the process of salvation, but the issue of whether all people have the chance/ability to be saved … or if only a few preselected people do … is so fundamental that it overshadows any agreement on the process. We might all agree on the process of eating food (put in mouth, chew, swallow), but what does that matter if only a tiny fraction of people are given access to food while the rest are prevented from having any food?

          Calvinism is sly in that it makes it sound like it’s teaching that all people are offered salvation and that anyone who wants to can accept it (the “who wants to” part makes all the difference) … but what they mean (when you really study the hidden layers of their theology and when you listen to the few that will actually admit it) is that ONLY THE ELECT can hear/understand/accept the offer of salvation, ONLY THE ELECT can and will want to be saved (when Calvinism’s god regenerates them, and only them, giving them the desire to be saved). But the non-elect can NEVER understand/respond to the offer of salvation and can never even want to be saved because Calvinism’s god didn’t give them the desire to do so. And so to them, the offer is a “fake offer” that they never had the chance to accept. Calvinists make it sound like they are saying that salvation is offered to all and that anyone can accept it, but it’s not what they really mean. They mean it’s offered to “all” but that the non-elect cannot accept it, that only the elect are given the desire to be saved and the ability to accept salvation. Is that not highly deceptive? How can they call that an “offer” of salvation, if the non-elect are prevented from accepting it?

          When Calvinists say we “freely” make our choices, they mean that we “freely” choose to do what God predestined (causes) us to do because of the desires He gives us. If He gives you the unregenerated nature (the non-elect), it comes ONLY with the desire to sin and reject Him, and so that’s the only thing you can choose to do. And yet they will call that “freely choosing,” when it’s neither “free” nor “choice”.

          2. You comment that I am being “disingenuous, since no Calvinist would say …” And that right there is why they are so sly. They don’t come out and say what they really mean. As much as possible, they hide it under layers of more biblical sounding ideas and verses taken out of context. (And sadly, I don’t think most garden-variety Calvinists even realize they are doing it; they’ve just been so well-trained in Calvinist pat-answers that they convince themselves that what they are saying is biblical.)

          But if all Calvinist leaders/pastors came out and actually said what Calvinism REALLY believes – such as when my Calvinist pastor flat-out said “God does not love everyone” and “God ordains everything in your life, all tragedies …. including childhood abuse …. for His glory, for your good, and because He knew what it would take to keep you humble” or when in response to the question “When a child is raped, is God responsible? Did He decree that rape?”, Calvinist James White answers “… Yes, because if not then it is meaningless and purposeless…” – if Calvinists came right out and said what Calvinism really believes then a lot more people would push back and reject it.

          (And regarding the Reformed Wiki page: Of course Calvinists won’t say God contradicts Himself, but it’s what their theology ultimately teaches when all the layers are pulled back. They just won’t come out and say it. They, the educated Calvinist leaders who push it on others, are masters at deceptive wording.)

          Personally, I do not think most pew-sitting Calvinists really understand what their own theology teaches. I think they themselves are victims of this stealthy, twisted, cleverly-worded theology, and if they really stopped to think about what Calvinism teaches, they would be horrified. (Many of our closest friends from our ex-church are Calvinists, some of the nicest people we know. Nice, but wrong.) It’s the theology itself and the theologians who push it that I have the most problem with. Not the average Calvinist who doesn’t know better and is being misled by the Calvinist leaders.

          3. You said that no Calvinist preaches that God is the author of sin. You’re right, most don’t. Instead, they cover up “authors” with things like “predetermines, decrees, ordains.” But it all means the same thing: God preplanned it and ultimately causes it. Even if they don’t say it, it’s what it is. Many times, it’s not what Calvinists SAY that’s the big problem. It’s what they DON’T SAY, what they hide and cover up, that’s the problem. And it changes the meaning of everything they did say.

          4. You said “… is your response to Calvinists really ‘endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'”. I have a heart for the average pew-sitting Calvinist, most of whom I think are just doing their best to try to be humble, God-honoring Christians, as taught them by the Calvinist leaders. But I cannot and will not seek unity with a theological system that damages God’s character, Jesus’s sacrifice, the gospel, and people’s chance to be saved the way Calvinism does. You said that “Calvinists agree with the entirety of scripture, but they interpret it differently than you and I do.” How much wrong interpretation should we put up with in the name of peaceful unity? Does “peaceful unity” imply “at all costs”, including massively different interpretations of God’s character and who Jesus died for and whether or not all can be saved and who ultimately causes sin, etc.?

          I’m asking this seriously, not sarcastically. I have heard many Calvinists use “peaceful unity” to keep people in line, to keep them from pushing back against their theology and voicing concerns. We need to be Bereans. To study Scripture for ourselves to see if what we are being taught is accurate. And if it’s not, then we need to push back and correct it, not tolerate it and let it grow/spread through our silence. And with this, I will bow out and give you the last word. Thank you for putting up with me and for your thoughtful, respectful replies. God bless!

          (Have you ever watched Kevin Thompson from Beyond the Fundamentals? Give him a listen sometime. It’s interesting.)

          (And FYI, I am not Arminian. And I see that you are Anabaptist, but I do not know what that is. And so none of my comments are coming from anything related to these two things. This is all based just on my view of Calvinism itself, compared to the clear, plain teachings of the Bible.)

          Reply
          • Hi Heather, I really appreciated the forthrightness of your comment. Much of what you said has resonated with me.

            I’m mainly replying to explain what Anabaptists are. Anabaptists are a group that includes Mennonites, Amish, and a number of other groups that came out of the Reformation and believe in nonviolence, among other things.

            Anabaptists have traditionally taught free-will theology (though not Arminianism; we originated before Arminius). Historically, Anabaptists haven’t accepted theological determinism. However, I have some Anabaptist friends who have recently taken up Calvinism. Like you, I believe they’re sincere, but mistaken.

            If you want to know more about Anabaptists, here’s a link: https://anabaptistfaith.org/who-were-the-anabaptists/

            It’s hard to know how to pursue peace and church unity when there are such different views of God! I appreciate Elijah’s approach of trying to focus on the deeper things that unite Christians rather than on the things, like Calvinism, that tend to divide. However, I find it hard to know where to place Calvinism–it seems like it really changes a person’s view of God. So I’m not sure myself where to place it on the level of theological importance.

          • Thank you, Lynn. I appreciate the insight into Anabaptists.

            When it comes to Calvinism, I never thought much about it or would have developed such a forceful attitude against it if it weren’t for watching a Calvinist pastor take over our non-Calvinist church.

            We got to see his manipulative tactics firsthand, such as how he shamed people who would disagree (framing them as prideful, self-righteous Christians who reject God’s sovereignty and try to steal His glory, etc.) and praised those who would agree (framing them as God-glorifying, humble, more intelligent Christians). And this was even before he began revealing his Calvinist views (which he did very slowly, over time, in between lots of manipulation and verse-twisting). He set people up to not want to disagree (or at least to not speak out about it) and to look down on anyone else who did disagree. (Maybe I noticed the manipulation more easily than others because I am a licensed counselor with a Master’s in Counseling Psychology.)

            And we heard firsthand how he misused Bible verses to make them fit his view. We (my husband and I) wrote them down during every sermon and went home and read them in context for ourselves. And it was amazing how much his version did not line up with what the verse was saying in context. Calvinists teach you to read Calvinism into the Bible, while making you feel like it’s been there all along and that you just discovered it with their help.

            And yet, no one else seemed to be alarmed. He carefully, strategically weaved his disguised Calvinism and twisted Scripture into his sermons, with lots of quotes from Calvinist authors, until he had everyone convinced that Calvinism is in the Bible.

            And then after doing much more research about it and seeing how much it has spread with very little pushback and how most people are unaware of how it’s spreading (the tricks and tactics they employ), I felt compelled to take a very strong, vocal, active stand against it.

            I agree with Kevin Thompson from Beyond the Fundamentals, that Calvinists will use our politeness against us, taking advantage of our niceness to push their views harder. And I agree with him that by the time you realize that your pastor is preaching Calvinism, by the time you are concerned enough to research what they’re saying to see if it’s accurate, it’s too late; they’ve already got a strong hold on most of the congregation by then.

            And so, with their word games, Scripture twists, redefined words, manipulative tactics, and the strategic, stealthy ways they disguise/spread their theology, I don’t mince words or tiptoe through the T.U.L.I.P.s gently. Time is of the essence, and Calvinism is spreading much too fast and too strong to be overly gentle about it.

            Thank you again for taking the time to reply. God bless!

  6. Thanks Elijah for your very thoughtful, measured responses to comments made here. I have a close friend who was raised Mennonite and he talks about how Calvinists were vilified repeatedly by his church leaders. As a young adult he went to China as a missionary and there met Reformed missionaries whom he said had a “higher view of the Lord” than his Mennonite friends. He wanted what they had. Today (age 55) he is a Presbyterian pastor doing international theological education in developing nations. What I’d like to add is I have many Anabaptist friends who make provocative remarks to my face about Calvinists, knowing I’m one. Why do (some) Anabaptists do this? It’s as if they want to start an argument. They proudly (?) declare they are the peace-loving Christians, but act like little pious bullies. I’m 70 now and I know for a fact my heart is deceitful and desperately sick. I can only bow in humility to my Lord & Savior and cry out be merciful to me, a sinner! My Anabaptist friends seem to want to take opportunities to poke me, the terrible Calvinist. I just remain silent. I live in a community where Anabaptists are the majority and it’s not common to find another Reformed person. Anyway, my final comment is,some of my Anabaptist friends treat me as if it’s 1560 and I’m helping drown people. To what end? Thanks for listening, and keep blogging!

    Reply
    • Hello Ms Pamela,
      Thanks for your kind encouragement! To answer your latter question, I think it’s so easy for us as fallen humans to get defensive in doctrinal debates because we feel threatened by disagreement. Somehow acknowledging that other believers can be both godly, sincere, and potentially wrong is hard for us. But we must remember Paul’s admonition…”that you all speak the same thing,” united not in minutiae but in the common Messiah and his Spirit.

      Reply
    • And I am genuinely sorry for the way my fellow Anabaptists have treated you and other Reformed people. That’s not Christlike and doesn’t speak well of our peacefulness, as you mentioned!

      Reply
  7. Hi Elijah, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing from me, but I did want to comment on one more thing. You ended the article with “On the other hand, we should be attempting to learn all we can from those brothers in Christ on the other side of this debate who can teach us about God’s otherness, holiness, transcendence, and sovereignty. Go read some John Piper.”

    Caution: Calvinists and non-Calvinists define God’s sovereignty differently.

    Non-Calvinists like myself believe that God’s sovereignty means that He gets to decide how and when to use His power and control. He is over and above all, watches over everything, sometimes actively causes things (but never sin/evil) but other times just allows things (our choices, sins, etc.). He has decided, in His sovereignty, as demonstrated all throughout the Bible, to let us have the right to make real choices among real options (and to face the consequences of them). But no matter what, He can work everything together into His plans, even things He didn’t want/cause. But He is never the cause/preplanner of sin or disobedience or evil or rejection of Him. He may put us in situations that force us to make our choices, but He does not decide our choices for us.

    However, in Calvinism, God’s sovereignty means that He ultimately preplans/controls/causes everything, that we truly decide nothing (even if it appears that way on one level), and that everything that happens is because He wanted it, willed it, preplanned it, and ultimately caused it (and nothing different could ever have happened), which would include our sins and rejection of Him. Basically, Calvinism has decided that for God to be a sovereign, all-powerful God, He must always be using His power all the time to control everything … or else He can’t be God.

    Telling God how God has to act/be in order to be God is a dangerous thing.

    In one (Calvinism), God is the preplanner/causer/controller of all sin and evil and rejection of Him, but then He holds us responsible for the choices He made us make. (Not to mention that in Calvinism, God created most people specifically to reject Him and go to eternal hell, with no chance to be saved, for His glory and pleasure. It’s not just that He knew they would reject Him and allowed it; it’s that He predestined it and caused it and they had no choice about it.) This is neither righteous nor just.

    But in the other (non-Calvinism), God is still sovereign, but He has decided, in His sovereignty, to allow men to make real choices, giving all men the choice/ability to make decisions, to decide to either believe in Him or reject Him, to obey or disobey, to seek Him or not, to sin or not, etc. But He lets us decide. This makes us truly responsible for our sins instead of God, which makes the consequences and punishment just.

    Be careful about encouraging people to read John Piper. That’s just starting them on the path of being sucked into Calvinism. (Calvinists use the same words/concepts but have different definitions, such as for sovereignty, elect, grace, choice, predestined, etc. But they won’t reveal that at first. They let you think that you are using words the same way, that you’re on the same page. And this gets people hooked and makes it easier to sway them with their Calvinist ideas. And most people won’t realize that they have different definitions until it’s too late, until they’ve been sucked fully into Calvinism and have been convinced to see things their way.)

    I would recommend instead that people read/watch Dr. Tony Evans, Charles Stanley, Andy Woods, Leighton Flowers (Soteriology 101), and Kevin Thompson (Beyond the Fundamentals).

    Maybe your “preconception of Calvinists as sly heretics, deceiving God’s people and drawing people away from the truth” was actually God-given insight and red flags. But you’ve allowed yourself to be swayed by clever-sounding Calvinists. I do not doubt most average Calvinists’ good hearts and well-meaning intentions. But no matter how wonderful their personalities are, if they are wrong about God and the gospel and Jesus’s sacrifice and how we become saved (in Calvinism, God decides for us and causes the elect to be saved and prevents the non-elect from believing, but in the Bible, it’s our responsibility and we have to choose to respond to Him or not, to seek Him or not, to accept or reject His truth, etc.), then they need to be called out for these errors and the alarm bells need to be rung, in order to wake people up and help them get on the right path, and this includes our Calvinist friends.

    Blessings to you. And I’ll leave you alone now. Just please think about what I said. If Calvinism is wrong and you are funneling people to it, encouraging them to dabble in it or tolerate it, you’ll be held accountable for it. God bless.

    Reply

Leave a Comment