The dangers of Calvinese.
February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
Note: This article is tailored mostly to Jesus-followers who deny a Calvinistic view of God’s providence. As such, it does not seek to build a case against the views it takes issue with. Conversation/comments are welcome, but building arguments against the views that this article presupposes will prove uneventful, as they miss the article’s intent. There are/will be other places for all that. Thanks!
Calvinese is word of my own design that describes a subcategory of Christianese.
Christianese is a strange language birthed from Church culture. A bizarre, watered down and often meaningless string of words and expressions that Christians puff up around conversation and prayer, often unknowingly. Christianese flies over the heads of folks who are new to Jesus and is hilarious to non-Christians. And who can blame them? Bible verses and theological concepts are torn violently out of context and beaten into some crude colloquially shape in order to serve the purposes of unrelated counsel and banter. Take this video for example, it’s just as depressing as it is funny… because it’s so accurate.
Calvinese on the other hand—ideas and language birthed from Calvinistic theology—has subtly crept its way into the rhetoric of even non-Calvinists. As a result, larger than life ideas with monumental ramifications pervade, be it ever so subtly, the thinking of Jesus-followers who would recoil at many of the teachings of Augustine and Calvin and even the implications of their own Calvinese!
Here are some cringe-worthy expressions I often catch lobbed around Christian conversation in a disastrous context:
God has a plan
God is sovereign
It’s all part of God’s perfect plan
God knows what he’s doing
God is in control
Everything happens for a reason
It’s God’s perfect timing
What the perpetrator often means:
God is involved in their lives. This seems to be the long and short of it. Jesus-followers will spout off this sentiment in the midst of trials and suffering so casually they seem to assume that it’s a given. What they often mean is that God—even when his people are confused, struggling or suffering—is a personal God who cares for them and who intends to bring good out of the evil that he does not cause.
What the Calvinese always implies:
That everything that happens is determined, caused, and/or rendered certain by God. Every murder, every child raped, every death, every disease, war, famine, genocide, natural disasters, pedophilia, torture, etc. can all be chalked up to the determinative will of God. Now, of course there are Christians who do believe this, but many (if not most) followers of Jesus do not. For hundreds of years of church history up to Augustine no church father believed this. So many followers of Jesus who say things like “God is in control” are physically sickened by the idea that God determined the rape and murder of their children, and yet they drift in a kind of hazy worldview in-between determinism and libertarian free-will. This kind of thinking further muddles the problem of evil, wreaks havoc on our understanding of God’s character, and leads to the lowest of all views of God’s providence. (As I will submit in a later article, the hyper-Calvinistic view of divine determinism is, in my estimation, actually a low view of providence.)
Not to mention the damage “It’s all part of God’s perfect plan” does on our prayers. As Dallas Willard puts it:
“The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best. And of course God does not respond to this. You wouldn’t either.“
And so, I suggest that non-Calvinists eradicate Calvinese in all its forms.
language is fluid and ever-evolving. Valid expressions become stale. Once evocative rhetoric dries up. Powerful and stirring speech, when uttered one too many times, falls lifeless and flaccid. Phrases and expressions that creep their way into the Christian conversational canon must evolve with the rest of our language lest they be robbed of the dangerous and subversive nature of the rabbi and King that we follow. That isn’t to say these same phrases must be diluted of their good and truthful meanings, only that those meanings must be presented in new ways to audiences who have grown numb in order to invigorate the shell of language that covers them. All Jesus-followers agree that God is “in control,” in the sense that he is omnipotent and that his ultimate ends will be realized in creation. BUT, there is significant disagreement over what God actually controls. Many, if not most Jesus-followers do not believe that God meticulously controls everything that happens in the world, good or bad. Rather, we believe God is in general control, but his sovereign allowance of libertarian freewill gives way for genuine evil in the world that is neither willed nor determined nor rendered certain by him. That is to say, not everything that happens is part of “God’s perfect plan.”
And so, our phrases should be reversed. When we face evil and injustice we should declare with conviction, “This is not part of God’s perfect plan.” When we bump up against the tragic ramifications of our own sins and the sins of others we should shout from the rooftops, “This is not God’s will.” When we are sickened by demonic destruction wreaked on creation we should join hands in proclaiming, “This was not God’s control. This was not caused by God. This is the work of a very real enemy!” It is then that we can celebrate the goodness of an infinitely wise and infinitely loving God who is at work bringing good out of the evil that he does not cause. A God whose promise to make everything new waits just over the horizon.
God is at war with sin, evil and death. He does not puppeteer it. He does not will it. He does not render it certain.
Leave Calvinese to those who, after considering it’s monumental implications, have decided to embrace all that it requires. For those of us who would argue otherwise, let us tailor our language to synch with our theology!
(A second note: Anyone looking to dig deeper into the dense ideas this particular article breezes through, here are a few books I’d strongly recommend: Against Calvinism by Roger Olson, Is God To Blame? and God At War by Gregory A. Boyd.)