As you may know, I have been writing occasional articles about Calvinism where I always start by saying I don’t want to become the kind of blog that writes articles about Calvinism. But when something seems to me worth deep and Biblical questions, as well as being potential for a cheap and easy laugh, I start typing away. I don’t get paid for this, so I’m always looking for ways to make my job easy, to cut corners, and to give you the worst possible experience.
Oh, wait, no, that’s not me. That’s the Biden Administration. (rim shot)
See? Cheap and easy, like Dollar Store Cookies. But now I’m thinking about “She Hulk” and wondering if I should have said Disney +… Anyway…
I have been trying to get Calvinists to explain Calvinism to me, because I find it to be astoundingly absurd and incompatible with the Bible. Look, like most things I disagree with, I can see why people think they accept it.
“Pollution bad!” Ok, I’m a Climate change activist.
“Women’s rights!” Fine, I’m pro-choice,
“Love is Love!” Right, fly that rainbow flag and such…
Like, if all you have is the bumper sticker, and you’re too lazy to look any deeper, which, let’s face it, most people are…Well, remember “Black Lives matter”? That’s all I’m saying.
So when a lot of Christians hear “Calvinism teaches that people are sinners and God is Sovereign and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves so God must do everything to save us from sin, etc.” I get it. All of that is true. The Bible teaches it. Also, it’s called “Reformed Theology,” implying that this is the Biblical theology the reformers went back to when they abandoned the Catholic Church, so it MUST be in the Bible, and it’s called the Doctrines of Grace, which doesn’t even need additional marketing. But it does need more explaining, and thus all of my questions.
I went Tip toeing Through TULIP a while back, and since then I have tried to ask some Calvinists to explain things to me, but so far I haven’t learned a whole lot. These are people who make sometimes lengthy YouTube videos defending Calvinism and attacking non-Calvinists, but thus far what answers I have gotten have only made me more confused. So, I’m just going to start posting questions here, and hope that my readers will point me in the right direction so I can learn. For once, I’m not telling you what I think and making arguments to prove you should agree. I’m telling you what I think I know in the hopes you can help me learn more. Because either I have a lot to learn, or Calvinism is ridiculous heresy. I’m tying to be charitable.
Let’s Start with the T of TULIP: Total Depravity
This sounds fine on a bumper sticker, but the more I think about it, the more it unravels like a cheap Christmas sweater. In short, TOTAL DEPRAVITY means EVERY human is born, not only a sinner, but as someone who instinctively HATES GOD and CANNOT understand nor accept the Gospel.
Every single person, BORN this way. That’s where Calvinism starts.
This is not just a belief that we are born bent toward sin and selfishness, but rather that we are born HATING God and unable to change, and also unable to even WANT to stop hating God. Some would even argue that we are born unable to recognize that we hate God and don’t understand the Gospel. We’re trapped in a prison of sin but we can’t see the chains and bars, and we fight to stay in our cell. Our depravity is total, not because we are always as evil as we could possibly be, but because our sinful selves are totally bent against God and totally unable and unwilling to change, and unable to realize this about ourselves.
My main question about this system is: WHY?
WHY would God do that? And WHY do you think God would do that?
I would suspect that any Calvinist would say that this is how God decreed it to be, and He brings His will to pass, and so the reason we are all born hating God and the Gospel is because God wants it that way and makes it that way. But that is literally their answer for EVERYTHING: Because God decreed it and He controls EVERYTHING.
But doesn’t this mean that we are all sinners because God decided that we should all be sinners? Like, God COULD have made us all willing and able to follow his moral commandments, or even SOME of us, but after thinking about it He said, “Nah. They should all be BORN hating me.”
Really? But this is the same God who gave us the moral law and demands we NOT sin… which we cannot obey because He made us sinners. REALLY? Calvinism teaches that God is HOLY and commanded us, “Thou Shalt NOT Lie,” but then He also decided to make us so that we were BORN LIARS WHO WANT TO LIE. Which means, His commandment is essentially, “I command you to always tell the truth, which you can’t do because I made you liars.”
Am I getting this wrong somehow? Because it sounds insane. It’s like God commanding Cows to nest in the tops of trees like sparrows and then condemning them as evil when they do not. I have difficulty ascribing that to God’s holy justice, since He made cows incapable of climbing trees and with absolutely no desire to.
A few years back I had a disagreement with another blogger who said “God made us to rebel” and I said this was absurd heresy, but perhaps he was just being a consistent Calvinist? Although, it still sounds like absurd, unbiblical heresy.
The point of my question is, WHY would God decide to make us break His moral laws? But then some Calvinists think we can choose to accept any belief or fact EXCEPT the Gospel. I think this is actually worse. They have decided that Total Depravity means that God has given us the capacity of thought and reason, where by we can understand and accept as true anything- facts of history, economic theories, even false religions- except the one thing on which our eternal destinies depend: the Gospel. For SOME reason, it brings glory to God to make us incapable of understanding or accepting the Gospel? WHY? Seriously. WHY would God do something like this, and what in the Bible makes this idea seem at all reasonable to you? Because the Bible seems to say the opposite over and over, from cover to cover.
David Did Not Teach This
Let me give you at least one bad reason that some people are going to offer to head it off at the pass. Psalm 51:5 says
“Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.“
And people will try to argue that this teaches that we are all sinful AT BIRTH, and, in fact, sinful from conception. But this is a Psalm from David, and he doesn’t say WE. He is only talking about himself. This is not a verse of doctrine talking about what it means to be human, but a reflection on his own sinfulness, which here he describes his own evil as staining his whole life, all the way back to the beginning. He is not saying that he was literally sinful from the moment he was conceived, but rather he is saying this is how heavy his present guilt feels. This is a Psalm, thus poetry, thus the least literal of all Bible passages. Also, in the very next verse David says,
“Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”
So unless we are to believe David was literally learning theology in utero, as a fetus, then we have reason to think that some of this is literary imagery, meant to poetically express ideas and not to teach hard doctrine. Either way, David isn’t talking about EVERYONE, but only himself, so this cannot be used to ground a doctrine about the entire human race.
I Don’t Think Jesus Believed This
Mark 1: 14-15 says,
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The word “repent” in Greek is metanoeite, which Strong’s Concordance defines as “rom meta and noieo; to think differently or afterwards, i.e. Reconsider.” Essentially, Jesus is saying “Change your mind!” He also says “Believe the Gospel (The Good News).”
Think about it: Jesus is COMMANDING these people to change their minds, and to believe the Gospel. But if Total Depravity was true, Jesus would know that NONE of the people hearing him were capable of obeying this command. Calvinism teaches that all people are TOALLY incapable of changing their own minds and choosing to believe the truth. Believing, or FAITH, is a gift that God gives in Calvinism. So faith is, on Calvinism, something that God does TO YOU and something you would NEVER choose to do even if you could, which you cannot. Changing your mind is something God does TO YOU.
In fact, most Calvinists would teach that you can’t believe until AFTER God saves and “regenerates” you. They teach that God takes the dead, inert sinner, and brings him to life, and AFTER THAT the sinner, now forgiven and made alive, is capable of seeing that he was a sinner, and having been given the gift of faith, he is now able to repent.
So, if Jesus was a Calvinist, wouldn’t he be preaching, not a command, but a prophecy that SOME of them were going to be given the gift of faith, and after they were changed by God, they would repent? Also, the L of Calvinism’s TUPIP is Limited Atonement, which means Jesus didn’t die for ALL sinners, but only for those who were chosen to be given the gift of faith. So, are we meant to think Jesus didn’t know who the elect were, or are we meant to assume Jesus didn’t preach to everyone, but only picked out those elect in the town he was in and preached some warning of impending repentance and faith to them? I don’t see any way to make this compatible with Calvinism.
Reading the Bible, it looks an awful lot like Jesus just went around telling everyone to repent and believe, as if it was something any of them could do. But I only say that because it is in fact exactly what it says.
OK, my Calvinist friends. Head on down to the comments section and explain this Total Depravity thing to me. WHY would God do that to us? Why do you think it compatible with the Bible to say God did that? And how do you explain Jesus’ preaching in light of Calvinism?
Thanks for helping me learn. And thanks for letting me be your Rent-A-Friend.
Ha! I really like the concept of total depravity, but one problem being, we tend to use too many words and too much ideology. Nowhere does it really say, “we are born hating God.” Newborns are not even capable of hatred. Later in life at best, most of us are simply ambivalent or don’t even think about God. We’re asleep or blind, hence the song, “I once was blind, but now I see.”
The idea of being chosen or elect is simply an extension of, “we love because He first loved us.” He initiates the relationship. Paul for example, is on the road to Damascus when through no fault of His own, He has a close encounter of the Jesus kind.
Hey there IB22!
Too many words and not enough meaning. That is a problem. As for Calvinism, once you make T Biblical the rest of it seems to fall apart. If we are capable of recognizing that we are sinners in need of a savior, and if we can call out to God for mercy, then the Calvinistic ideas of election and irresistible grace don’t have any foundation. The whole thing unravels like a cheap Christmas sweater.
Thanks for your comment, and remember, Jesus Loves you!
Sorry, I can’t help you understand but I am your friend, a fellow confused Bible Student and Theologian. I don’t buy what is being added, by Calvinists, to that doctrine. Theologically God is Sovereign and as creator, He alone has the right to rule. He has a plan, as I see it, He created man in His image with the ability to know Him. He wanted loyal subjects that love Him and want to whole heatedly serve by their own choice – not Sovereign Choice. He has decreed that Jesus is the Door, provided the Way, and that if one receives that Truth he has Life. Life in Christ is Eternal, Abundant and Free!
Well said, Bible Student. I think we’re on the same page.
Thanks for your comment, and remember, Jesus Loves you!
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Hey Rev, right away I have to disagree. You say “Psalm 51:5 teaches us that we’ve been “brought forth in iniquity.”” But it does not. David, reflecting on his own sin uses this language about himself. It is most likely hyperbole, and doesn’t say anything about the normal human condition. You then claim that we are born sinful, saying “You might say that such a totally depraved condition isn’t that person’s fault because he or she was born into it.” But then you quote Psalm 14:3 which says: “All have turned away, all have become corrupt”
If we are already depraved from conception, how can we TURN away? How do we BECOME corrupt? The language implies that we didn’t start out that way, but chose to become that way through evil acts and choices. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.
Anyhoo, I address this and more in my post here: https://abitoforange.com/2022/10/12/questions-for-calvinists-part-1-why-t/
Thanks for your comments, and if you have any other answers to my many questions, please share them with me. And remember, jessu Loves you!