In my last post I shared my struggle with Calvinism and my stigmatic impression of its standoffish culture. For the most part, it was a rant, and a rant about what I’ve seen of Calvinism so far.
Alas, being myself an evangelical, I know what it’s like to have your belief system and attitude assumed based off the many. In most cases, based off the many and most vocal who usually do not represent the most reasonable. Therefore I am intellectually bound to give the doctrine of Calvinism a fair trial in my own mind, not pre-judging it based off of emotion and first impression.
Keep in mind that I am a laymen from a seminarian’s perspective. The amount of proper academic research I have done on the TULIP of Calvinism and it’s detailed nuances is slim. I have, though, done enough Google searches and heard enough lectures from RC Sproul and John Piper to think I understand the rudimentary principles of the Doctrines of Grace.
So without beating around the bush and making too many shy, clarifying statements, let me get started in my issues with the “Doctrines of Grace:”
T – Total Depravity
I thought I believed in the doctrine of total depravity until I found out the actual “reformed” meaning as it pertains to salvation. The Calvinist version of “total depravity” means that man is so totally depraved, he cannot seek or respond to God. Therefore, it is God who must cause us to respond based off of arbitrary predestination. (Of course it is not arbitrary from God’s perspective, but it is from ours, and this is where many a Calvinist stops asking quesitons.)
When thinking about lost and hopeless people, I see little difference between predeterminism (ie. Doctrines of Grace) and fatalism (ie. atheistic evolutionism). The hopelessness of atheism comes from the lack of a benevolent God. The tragedy of Calvinism is that those who are not elect will remain lost because they were not chosen by God. It seems to me that believers in the Doctrines of Grace don’t truly believe there is grace unlimited.
If total depravity means that mankind is so steeped in sin that we can’t smell our own spiritual feces, I’m on board. If it means, however, that my depravity prevents me from asking God to save me from it and help me to love Him, I’m ready to leave the Matrix.
The idea of total depravity is justified by texts like Romans 3-11 which says “no one seeks God.” I would counter with a passage such as Mark 9:14-29. What happened to “I believe, help my unbelief!” Of course we cannot seek God on our own, but can we not ask God to help us seek Him?
U – Unconditional Election
Notice that this point is not unconditional love. It’s unconditional love only for the unconditionally elect. Sure, love is justice, and justice is punishment. Or perhaps you can say that God justly and rightly hates unrepentant sinners not covered by the blood of Christ, and you would be correct. But both of these points are incomplete.
Calvinists are quick to say that God predestines people to Heaven but not to Hell. I understand the logic pattern: if default is A (sinner), God’s election is B, eternal damnation is C, and A eventually equals C, then God changes some A’s to B’s but does not deliberately change A’s to C’s.
Here is the flaw: first, God is not a machine with a circuit board. God is a real being who has real relationships with people. Second, the natural system that would cause A to become C without intervention was created by God, thus making it His deliberate design. Mechanical human logic does not work in theology. There is no false dichotomy: unconditional election mandates unconditional damnation.
I am not a universalist and I do not think everyone is automatically going to Heaven without God’s divine intervention. But if you think that C is an unchangeable, fatally pre-determined situation thrust upon the unwilling, I might C myself out of a conversation with you. (Sorry, I had to.)
L – Limited Atonement
Atonement is Christ’s covering of sin, bringing it upon Himself, taking punishment in place of sinners. Who’s sin? That’s the argument between limited vs unlimited atonement. The ever-graceful doctrines of grace state that Jesus only died for the sins of the unconditionally elect. Sure, Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for everyone, but it just wasn’t used for everyone. After all, why give grace to someone who would reject it based off your own dictation?
When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, He instructed His disciples to distribute it to everyone (Luke 9:16, Mat. 15:36, Mark 6:41). Scripture doesn’t tell us whether or not everyone ate the food, presumably there were some who did not. But at the very least, it was available to everyone there. Jesus performed a miracle to provide for all, whether that provision was accepted or not.
Similarly, why would Jesus not sacrifice Himself for the salvation of all, even knowing that the free gift of salvation would be rejected and tossed away by many? Is Jesus, whom is infinitely powerful and whom all things were created through, afraid of salvation-waste? Or is He so overflowing with grace and mercy that he would offer Himself even to those who hate and turn their backs on Him?
What about John 3:16? God loved the entire world, not just the elect. It sounds to me like God loves everyone but requires a response of faith and repentance for salvation. But wait, that’s hyperbolic language, says the Calvinist. It’s funny how hyperbolic language is used in the Bible when you don’t want something to be literal.
I – Irresistible Grace
I believe in irresistible grace purely in the sense of being overtaken by God’s incredibly devoted and all-powerful love for us. The Holy Spirit can and does influence us. His incredible majestic grace can provoke us to be submissive vessels of His work.
But is the Holy Spirit merely a device by which instruments are played? A puppetmaster pulling the strings of human action? Or is the Holy Spirit perhaps a relational and beautifully persuasive being? The first, last, and greatest diplomat? The means by which we see the lamp unto our feet?
Of course God’s grace is irresistible when you have a desire for it, or you desire to desire it. But what if you are elect and yet choose not to participate in ministry? What if you are saved by the skin of your teeth and spend most of your life backsliding?
If the Spirit decidedly controls your ultimate destination, why would the Spirit not use that same power to prod efficient evangelism for the sake of the elect?
Perhaps there is more to free will than adherents to the Doctrines of Grace believe. “Yes, we have the free will to sin” you might say. But a free will with no options is no free will at all. Is it?
P – Perseverance (or preservation) of the Saints
Well, here we are. I suppose you could call me a one-point Calvinist. I’ve picked the TULIP to a stem and now hold only a single petal. This is the only one that I cling to at this point in time.
The perseverance of the Saints is more or less the idea of “once saved always saved,” occasionally abbreviated as OSAS. Calvinists believe that you cannot lose your salvation since it was predetermined by God. Non-Calvinist OSAS believers like myself merely think that “God keeps you in the palm of His hand” once your salvation is secure in Christ. In this view, permanent apostates and “ex-Christians” were at one point false converts and never truly Christians in the first place.
Since I have argued against every other point of Calvinism, I will also provide a devil’s advocate opposition to the fifth one. If one cannot lose salvation, what consequence is there of “just living” lazily with no morality, evangelism, or effectiveness of discipline? If someone accepts Christ and then “coasts” for the rest of their life, are they truly saved?
If you can lose your salvation, an opponent might say, it is a good motivator to continue fighting the good fight. In any case, the Bible says it must be “worked out” with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), right? It is continual and must be renewed, else the accountability for Christian life is gone.
Not quite. Not so fast. Remember when I said I did actually believe in irresistible grace? I do, just not to the extent that Calvinism teaches. This is where that comes in. We all have dark times in our lives, and even believers have periods of relapse away from God and back into a life of sin. To the elect, though, the Holy Spirit eventually draws them back in with incredible loving grace. The saints will indeed persevere – even if it takes time in this life.
Here We Go
Alright. That’s all for now, I’m going to run far away. Send your mobs and bloodhounds. Bring your torches and pitchforks. Put me to your whipping post. I’m sure this will ruffle feathers if any dedicated Calvinists ever actually find it. Question their doctrine and they tend to get defensive rather than constructive. But that’s none of my business.
Seriously, though, I am up for a discussion. If you want to actually debate or discuss with a cool head, please comment below. If you angrily flame the comments, though, I might not answer. Please be civil and bring your kindest demeanor. Maybe you can convince me, but right now I have too many issues with these doctrines to accept them unyieldingly. In any case, though, thanks for reading!