In my many discussions and debates with calvinists (some friendly, some less so) I’ve found myself repeating several simple truths again and again and again. The way many calvinists talk, you’d think some of these facts have never occurred to them. I know I’ve talked and behaved as such more than a couple of times myself.
Just as bad, many non-calvinists seem to overlook the two-way street nature of most of these points. We tend to behave as though we have the silver bullet to end the opposing view. Nice as that would be, I’m afraid it isn’t that simple.
Who am I to make such a list? No one really. Just a dude who has made the same observations many times over, and/or lived out these mistakes from my own side of the conversation.
Here are ten things I hope every Calvinist understands…
1. Many of the great thinkers, pastors, authors, and heroes of the faith were and are not calvinists.
Iconic authors and figures like John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, every church father prior to Augustine and many after him, modern scholars like Roger Olson, Craig Evans, William Lane Craig, David Bentley Hart, Greg Boyd, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, not to mention a plethora of entire denominations, are all decidedly not calvinist.
Though the new-calvinism rhetoric tends to either imply or outright insist otherwise, there are a myriad of options when looking for orthodox, conservative, “evangelical” (if you still like that term), thinkers, pastors, authors, and influential Christian figures who reject calvinism.
All non-calvinists are not liberals, heretics, and pelagians. Calvinists do not have a monopoly on orthodoxy.
2. Many of the followers of Jesus in the world today are not calvinists.
In addition to the host of influential figures who reject Calvinism, you can throw a rock and hit any number of everyday followers of Jesus, educated or otherwise, theologically inclined or laymen, who, when presented with Calvinist doctrine, would recoil in disgust.
Witch-hunting non-calvinists among followers of Jesus is just as impractical, if not more-so, than witch-hunting calvinists.
3. The earliest Christians were not calvinists.
It took several hundred years for Augustine to introduce the idea of double-predestination and meticulous providence into the annals of Christian theology. Before Augustine, the church Fathers argued against an all-determining God, as it undermined the biblical concept of free will.
4. Calvinists are not the arbiters of doctrine and heresy.
Doctrine is not created or solidified because a calvinist says so. John Piper does not determine who is in and who is out. Neither John Calvin nor Augustine, nor Martin Luther wrote any scripture, nor were they without a lengthy and at times appalling list of flaws, nor are their ideas the guide with which the church has ever used to determine orthodoxy or heresy.
5. Historically, calvinist views were first determined heretical.
In 529 AD, an official church council condemned meticulous providence (that God predetermines all that comes to pass, including evil) as abhorrent, adding that those who held such a belief were themselves committed to evil.
“We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.” (The Council of Orange. Conclusion. 529 AD)
6. All orthodox followers of Jesus affirm biblical concepts like sovereignty and election, many of us simply do not define them the way calvinists do.
No non-calvinist follower of Jesus sits around saying they don’t believe in God’s sovereignty, or goes through their bible crossing out the words “election.” We affirm and uphold these concepts with what we believe are the interpretations most faithful to the text, and the interpretations inarguably longest held by followers of Jesus.
Denying Scripture and denying the calvinist interpretation of Scripture are two very, very different things.
7. There are non-calvinists who completely understand calvinist doctrine and belief, and choose to reject it.
I am not a scholar, expert, or mastermind of any class, but I have read Calvin’s Institues of the Christian Religion. I have read many books, essays, and blogs, and listened to many sermons and lectures by John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Matt chandler, Mark Driscoll, etc.
Though I have my own interpretation of and conclusions about calvinist belief, I understand and accept that they are distinct from what calvinists themselves believe. I am able to define TULIP not only as I see it, but I can also accurately define what it means to a calvinist.
I know how calvinists engage with and argue against my objections. I know why they take issue with my personal beliefs. I know how they read Romans 9, how they understand the hardening of pharaohs heart, how they claim to reconcile God’s determination of evil with his goodness.
And I reject the view as false.
And I’m just some chump! There are folks infinitely smarter and better-read than myself who have done the same.
8. Your reputation precedes you.
This is an honest-to-God screenshot, taken just now, of what Google predicts I’m about to type in order to finish the sentence, “why are Calvinists…”
Recently, a close friend of mine became the subject of a ridiculous heresy hunt after making a few innocuous comments about Scripture’s tendency to refer to demons and angelic beings as “gods.” A singular, angry, obscure blogger led the charge.
As I recounted the incident to a reformed friend of mine, he asked, “was this angry, mean-spirited blogger a calvinist?” To which I replied, “yeah, how did you know?”
“They always are,” my friend sighed.
Calvinist professor Dr. Paul Owen has some very unflattering things to say about the movement to which he belongs in an essay published last year:
“Calvinism today seems to appeal mostly to a certain sort of personality, and that personality is not always healthy… (it is) intellectually arrogant, argumentative, insecure (and therefore intolerant), and prone to constructing straw-man arguments. In order for the typical Calvinist’s faith to remain secure, he seems to feel the need to imagine all others outside his theological box as evil, uninformed, or just plain stupid. I have seen this in men of all ages, some Baptist, some Presbyterian, some laymen, some ordained ministers…
People are sometimes surprised to hear me speak of the TULIP cult. What do I mean when I speak this way? By a cult, I mean a sect within the broad landscape of Christianity which takes as its operating center some principle other than Christ crucified. This is certainly the case for the Young, Restless and Reformed. It is obvious that the operating center which holds this movement together is TULIP, not the gospel of the cross. One gets the impression that their sense of identity is inseparable from their sense of superiority.”
9. If you can not articulate non-calvinist views in such a way that the view-holder would agree, “yes, that is what I believe,” then you do not understand the view.
To date, I have met, befriended, and entertained discussions and debated with dozens of calvinists who condemn non-calvinist viewpoints, but I have not met or entertained a discussion with a single calvinist who was able to accurately describe exactly what the non-calvinists they condemn actually believe.
One of the major goals in understanding a view that is not your own is being able to explain the view to the view-holder in such a way that they might be able to agree, “yes, that is exactly what I believe.”
In other words, I might believe myself that calvinism requires God be made guilty of evil, but I know and understand that calvinists do not believe this.
In my experience, many calvinists do not understand that there is a difference between what they think non-calvinists believe, and what non-calvinists actually believe.
Here’s a simple test: If you’ve ever argued that Arminians believe that man is responsible for his own salvation, that non-calvinists deny God’s sovereignty, that open theists deny God’s omniscience, then you do not know what these people actually believe.
You can not go to a Calvinist alone in order to understand his/her opponent’s view. I don’t go to Roger Olson alone to understand calvinism, I go to John Piper, Bruce Ware, Matt Chandler, etc. If you want to understand non-calvinist views, you have to read, listen to, and study non-calvinist authors, pastors, speakers, theologians, scholars, etc.
A blog won’t do. Skimming an essay won’t do. Reading quotations in an article or book published by a calvinist won’t do.
If you don’t understand the view, you can not properly critique it, let alone uniformly reject it yourself.
10. You could be wrong.
Nearly every Arminian, open theist, or simply non-calvinist figure I follow I have heard confess, in humility, “I could be wrong in my theology.”
If there exists a prominent, dedicated calvinist figure who has openly admitted the undeniable fact that they could be wrong about calvinism, I don’t know of them.
Now, of course about eight of these same facts apply to non-calvinists as well.
Many important Christian figures are calvinists, as are many followers of Jesus themselves. Non-calvinists do not themselves define the perimeters of orthodoxy. Though we disagree on their conclusions, we must admit that calvinists affirm biblical concepts, such as God’s love and goodness, we non-calvinists believe they forfeit. There are indeed brilliant theologians who understand non-calvinist views completely, and yet somehow remain calvinists themselves. We must be able to understand and articulate calvinistic views properly in order to reject and combat them. And, at the end of the day, we too could be wrong.
Knowing that, we can continue the debate and discussion with passion, but with humility, and ideally, a smidgen of understanding.