Welcome back to my “Questions for Calvinists” series wherein I am charitably assuming it possible that I simply do not understand Calvinism at all. From what I THINK I understand, Calvinism is a ridiculous pile of heretical nonsense, but it is professed by SO MANY smart and Godly men that I can’t yet accept that I understand it properly. So I am asking questions to see if I can learn to understand it, or if I already do.
If you remember my explanation of Calvinism’s TULIP, which I got from watching 9 hours of John Piper, you’ll remember that the U is Unconditional Election .
Unconditional Election is the doctrine that God chooses who will and who will not be saved.
FULL STOP. No alternatives, no options. No choices to be made. God already decided.
And you may be thinking, “Oh, sure, they mean God chose to save those who put their faith in Jesus Christ…” and you are 100% wrong. That is NOT what they mean, and they curse you as a heretic who is putting your faith in the works of man. Because on this system, “putting your faith in Jesus” is doing a work to save yourself, which means you are claiming to be your own savior. I’m not even making that up.
What Calvinism means is that when people get to heaven, it is because GOD chose to put them there, and when people get to hell it is because God chose to put them there, and you will notice I didn’t just now say anything about their choice to put their faith in Christ or their choice to reject Christ. On Calvinism, we don’t choose. Our “choices” are determined by God. Not merely foreknown, and not merely allowed- DETERMINED.
Salvation, on Calvinism, is not something that God grants us because we choose to put our faith in Jesus. Faith is something God does to us, not something we choose to do. When Jesus preaches “repent and believe” the Calvinist interprets this to mean, “you were born incapable of repenting or choosing to put your faith in God because God determined that you would be born a spiritually dead and blind hater of God. He will choose some of you to put faith into, causing you to become spiritually alive and no longer blind, after which you will see you are sinners and repent.”
But, who is God going to put that faith into, so that they can be spiritually alive and no longer blind? Whoever He chooses. Or to be more specific, those whom He already chose before time began. The eternal fate of every single person who would ever live was not only KNOWN by God before time began, but decided by Him.
These people are called the “elect,” which just means “chosen.” And it is called “unconditional election” because this choosing has NOTHING to do with the actions, choices, characteristics, or any knowable factor of those people. It appears completely random and arbitrary, though it is assumed to be built on some unknowable reasons that God alone knows. The saved were chosen by God to be given the gift of faith for no reason we can know, and it was chosen before time began.
Consider some of the logical extensions of this idea.
First, this means that every person who ever lived was BORN already heading to heaven or hell, no matter what they did or believed for all of their lives. They had NO CHOICE in the matter. It was decided LONG before they were born, and decided by God Himself.
But, if God decided before time itself which individuals would go to heaven and which would go to hell, such that they are born with their fate sealed and no choice, then what is the point of evangelism? Why tell people that Jesus died for them, when it might not be true (and statistically, probably isn’t) and they can’t repent and believe anyway? Some Calvinists will generally agree with my assessment but then argue that they share the Gospel because God commanded them to, which doesn’t really help because it boils down to God demanding them do something pointless and ineffective, and then also determining if they will obey that command.
To me this seems like sending out advertisements for the cure to a deadly disease which you aren’t selling. Even if someone is persuaded to want it, they are only going to be given the cure if you already chose them to be one of the recipients. So why advertise to those who you know won’t be getting it? Also, it seems that the only people who are capable of admitting that they need the cure is those who have already been given it. So… I just don’t understand any of this on Calvinism.
Secondarily, you cannot have hope for anyone’s salvation.
If you are a Calvinist with five kids, it doesn’t matter how often you take them to church, or pray for them, or encourage them to read the Bible or ANYTHING ELSE. If your son or daughter is born headed for hell, it’s already over. No doubt every Calvinist you know will optimistically claim that their kids or grandkids are going to be saved, but if Calvinism is true (just going by basic statistics), God HATES some of those kids and determined them for hell before the world began. Odds are that three of those five were hated by God and destined for hell before time began, so you may as well stay home and watch cartoons on Sunday mornings because no amount of preaching or scripture is going to change that.
Are you starting to see why most Calvinists are men? No mom or grandmother in the world could hold this doctrine. Find a new mom at church this weekend and tell her, “Your baby is beautiful! But odds are that God hates her and wants her to go to hell.” She will probably respond with some language which is not appropriate for church.
But wait, it gets worse.
Calvinism Destroys the Ability to Know You Are Saved
According to the doctrine of Total Depravity (the T in TULIP), we are born sinners, hating God, and incapable of understanding or accepting the Bible. Ask a Calvinist why some random sinner misunderstands the Bible, such as any cultist or bitter atheist, and they will tell you that an unregenerate sinner CANNOT understand the Bible, nor the Gospel. God has determined that they are born BLIND to the truth, and so no amount of study, reading, or preaching will help them understand the Bible until AFTER God saves them, gives them the gift of faith, and makes them repent.
Now here’s the immediate Catch 22 for the Calvinist:
Why does a Calvinist say they believe Calvinism? Because it is what is taught in the Bible.
But how do they know they understand the Bible? Because they are a regenerated, forgiven sinner. God has opened their eyes to the truth.
But, isn’t that what every Catholic, cultist, Mormon and Jahova’s Witness will say too?
And aren’t all of them wrong about what the Bible teaches because they are LITERALLY INCAPABLE to understand it, blinded by God before birth so that they CANNOT understand it and accept the truth?
So, how does the Calvinist know he is not blindly misinterpreting the Bible like those lost cultists are?
They will try to argue that they can prove it from the scripture, because “Sola Scriptura” and all of that, but if they were blinded by God from birth so that they COULD NOT understand the scriptures, then, they would not be able to properly interpret the scripture. So, they have to know they are capable of properly interpreting the Bible before they can argue that the Bible teaches Calvinism. But if Calvinism is true, they cannot know that they are capable of properly interpreting the Bible, because Total Depravity says we are born blind, and incapable of even admitting to our blindness.
Let me put a point on this: Calvinism rejects the idea that a person can, with the sense God gave them, read the Bible and understand what it actually teaches, and choose to believe it because they are persuaded to believe the Bible based on an understanding of what it teaches. Calvinism says that NO ONE can understand the Bible unless God determines that they will understand it, and if they are blind to the truth and believe some lies about it, they cannot be educated into the truth because GOD DOES NOT WANT THEM TO BELIEVE THE TRUTH.
So if God makes ALL PEOPLE to be born spiritually blind, and part of that blindness is the inability to even realize that you are blind, then how does the Calvinist know that he is not still spiritually blind when he interprets the Bible to be teaching Calvinism? How does he even know he is saved?
He cannot. He has to ASSUME that he has been saved and made capable of understanding the Bible, because unless he is right about that, he cannot use the Bible to defend his position. Which means he has to assume not only Calvinism, but also his own salvation and enlightenment BEFORE he can use the Bible to defend his position. But then, what sense does it make to say that these Calvinistic doctrines are taught in the Bible? That cannot be his REASON for believing them, because he could not have understood that the Bible taught them until AFTER he was saved and regenerated. But he only believes he is saved and regenerated because he believes he understands what the Bible teaches.
It becomes an endless circular argument where the Calvinist has to assume Calvinism true to begin with, and then assume his understanding of the Bible is accurate, and he assumes his understanding to be accurate BECAUSE he is a Calvinist. Ultimately, it gets founded on the fact that he is a Calvinist, and not on what the Bible actually teaches. The Bible itself CANNOT educate and persuade (on Calvinism) because God has blinded EVERYONE to the truth, until He chooses to heal their blindness.
But can’t I immediately turn this around on the Calvinist and argue that, the only reason they think the Bible teaches Calvinism is because they are unregenerate in their thinking and INCAPABLE of understanding what the scripture is actually teaching? How can they use the Bible to demonstrate that they understand the Bible when Calvinism says the spiritually blind CANNOT understand the Bible?
Another problem the Calvinist must face is this:
MOST Christians are not Calvinists.
This puts the Calvinist in the horns of a dilemma: Either the non-Calvinist can never be truly saved, or the saved, regenerate believer can potentially be only PARTIALLY unblinded by God so that, while the recipient of saving grace and faith, they still believe false doctrines because God chose to NOT lift their blindness, thus determining them to hold to false doctrine.
To me this makes my rejection of Calvinism a dilemma for the Calvinist. I have questions because it seems to me that Calvinism is heretical nonsense. But if they argue with me, are they not doing so assuming that I can be persuaded by reason and scripture to see that Calvinism is true and then to accept it? But if they think that I can be persuaded by reason and scripture, then are they not REJECTING Calvinism? Doesn’t that make the very act of arguing FOR Calvinism an argument AGAINST it?
Finally, we start to see how Calvinism puts the blame on God.
The sinner sins because GOD determined that he would. The Hater of God hates God because God determined that he would. The cultist, pagan and atheist all reject Jesus because God determined that they would. People go to hell, not because they chose to reject the merciful love of God, but because God hated them from eternity past and refused to provide salvation for them. The Christian who is saved but embraces heresy and lies does so because God determined that he would. God did not merely foresee these things, or allow these things, but he CAUSED THEM ALL.
No one is actually responsible for their sin, their lies, or their heresy in Calvinism because NO ONE can choose to do anything except God alone. Only God determines these things, and they are always and only the way HE WANTS THEM TO BE. But if only God is choosing what every person will think, feel, believe and do, then how is anyone but God responsible for what happens? The Calvinist MUST logically declare God the author of ALL EVIL. God is not merely giving us the ability to choose evil, and then letting us make the real choice with real consequences, but, on Calvinism, God makes those choices for us. If there is a murder, all of us are bullets. Only God alone holds the gun. Only he takes aim and pulls the trigger. How is the Calvinist to blame the bullets for the murder when they have no ability to choose? How are they to absolve God from blame when only he HAS the ability to choose?
I have all of the questions. If you are a Calvinist, or know of one who has answered these questions in a way which is clear, please share what you know in the comments below. And thanks for letting me be your Rent-A-Friend
You probably already know these things, but Calvin actually hated Calvinism, which makes me laugh.
Something I’ve learned over the years, really about Christians of all sorts, is that often the theology is really beautiful and useful, but the people trying to bash you over the head with it are downright ugly. It can be really hard to separate the good ideas from the icky person who is spewing them.
A tulip gal on twitter recently annoyed me by saying, “the scandal of the cross is that Jefferey Dahmer can be saved and Mother Teresa cannot. ” While some of that may be technically true, the wording is poor, the phrasing is click bait, and rather than embiggening our understanding of God, she was just trying to get a rise out of people.
Hey howdy IB22,
I have only heard Calvin quoted as teaching Calvinism. Please share what you know, especially if it is funny.
I do know what you mean about people being bad at sharing what they believe. We all get a little arrogant about what we think is obvious, and sometimes it takes no time at all to go from, “That idea is wrong,” to “I believe that now and you’re an idiot for not believing it.” We all need to have the humility to remember what it was like to learn. I’m not always good at that, but it helps that I constantly forget things and have to relearn them.
And while I can charitably assume I know what your Twitter friend was trying to say, I think it would have been more accurate to say merely that “the scandal of the cross is that Jefferey Dahmer can be saved” as there is no sinner so bad that Jesus can’t save them. However, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that anyone, mother Teresa or otherwise, CANNOT be saved, but only perhaps that she wasn’t.
But then, if she is a Calvinist, then ANYONE who dies having not been saved was, on their Calvinism, BORN unable to be saved because God hated them and Jesus didn’t die for them. Which I think is a little more actually scandalous than grace.
But perhaps I still have things to learn.
Thanks as always for your comments, and remember, Jesus Loves You
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Well, it’s a bit funny because the word “Calvinism” was created by his opposition, his enemies, mostly Lutherans. In those days the Catholic church would name the heresy after the person, as an insult. So Calvin himself once wrote, “They could attach us no greater insult than this word, Calvinism. It is not hard to guess where such a deadly hatred comes from that they hold against me.”
From what I understand, Calvin himself was optimistic and cheerful about predestination, about the elect. If one was worried about such things, one was a member of the elect on account of the fact that, the damned didn’t give a damn.
In the Bible God hardens Pharoah’s heart, not to condemn him, not to cut him off from the possibility of redemption, but so that he won’t needlessly suffer. It’s not a cruelty, but rather an act of mercy. “The damned don’t give a damn,” as the saying goes.
Good article to read.