Disclaimer: this post is not meant to put any believer down for his/her interpretation of the Bible. This is a result of searching God’s heart about John Calvin’s doctrine/teachings through Scripture and prayer over the course of two years. I decided to break this theme/issue into parts, this post being “Part 1.” The main intent of these posts is to provoke thought and discussion and to speak the truth and love – with gentleness and respect – towards my brothers and sisters who disagree. Above all, may God’s name be glorified!
What is Calvinism?
Simply defined, Calvinism is “the theological system of Calvin and his followers marked by strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humankind, and the doctrine of predestination.” (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
You may disagree with being labeled “a Calvinist” for various reasons. However, if you subscribe to either the first of the TULIP points of Calvinism, to several, or to all of them, you are following the teachings of John Calvin. Hence, the “Calvinist” label.
The TULIP points in summary are the following, as summarized from “Desiring God: What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism” by John Piper:
- Total Inability. Man is so depraved in sin that he has no capability of believing the Gospel. Just as a dead body cannot rise up and walk by itself, so a man in his depraved state is unable to receive the truth spoken by the Gospel apart from God’s interference. This depravity is a result of Adam’s sin, passed on to all humanity.
- Unconditional Election. God, in His sovereign will, before the creation of the world, chose to save a portion of humanity, enabling them to receive the Gospel.
- Limited Atonement. Jesus died only for the elect, those whom God chose to be saved prior to the creation of the world. His blood was shed only for the elect, ensuring their final salvation. He did not die for the “non-elect,” who are excluded from this gift of salvation and are hopelessly lost.
- Irresistible Grace. The helpless dead sinner, unable to respond to God or submit to God (due to his depravity), breathes life as a result of God’s grace (again poured out only on those God chooses). Therefore, the chosen or the elect, if and when they are touched by God in such a way, are unable to resist this gift of grace and become a new creation.
- Perseverance of the Saint. Every elect believer will persevere in faith and be saved at the end. No one who is truly saved or born-again will fall away or lose his salvation.
So, why am I not a Calvinist?
Simply put: because I cannot see a solid basis/foundation for any of these points in the Bible.
Now, in your defense, you may say that I didn’t study the Scriptures deeply enough, or that I am an immature baby Christian who is still drinking milk and unable to digest the steak. I have no problem with you thinking this or saying this…
What deeply grieves me is the fact that one of us is grossly misrepresenting God’s character. One of us is deceived. Two diametrically opposed doctrines cannot be both true, would you agree?
Calvinism teaches that humans absolutely have no ability to make a choice that would affect their life after death. No free will. This choice is predestined by God. Your destiny, the destiny of your loved ones, the destiny of your children is sealed… (Calvinists disagree amongst themselves on whether there is a “limited free will.” However, the biggest decision of your life, one that would affect where you spend your eternity – in the presence of God or with Satan – is made for you…) There are so many passages in the Scriptures opposing these beliefs that I don’t even know where to begin… (I will cite some of those in the Part 2 of Questions for Calvinists).
Calvinism teaches that humans are so depraved in their sinful state that they are incapable of choosing God. Unless God chooses one to be saved, one will not be saved. Again, I cannot see a solid basis for this belief from the Scriptures.
Why is this issue important?
Either God, our Creator, is perfectly good and perfectly loving, giving everyone a choice to receive His revelation to men, or He is not good and loving towards those whom He doesn’t choose to save.
Consequently, let me state my case and if you sincerely believe that I am deceived, please, correct me or attempt to answer my questions for Calvinists.
As I’ve stated in the opening disclaimer, my journey to searching the truth regarding Calvinism was long. For over the last two years I kept searching the Scriptures for verses for/against this doctrine, open to receiving the truth no matter how difficult it may be.
A Little History:
It is worth mentioning, that my background in a legalistic Baptist church taught me to pray for spiritual discernment and to check any new teaching against the Scriptures. The culmination of my journey out of religious legalism was truly an ecstatic, overjoying, and overwhelming experience.
This journey gave me the true understanding of Law and Grace, one that brought freedom from constant condemnation and guilt I was living under as a member of my Independent Baptist Slavic Church.
Also it is important to note, that this concept (Law and Grace) wasn’t taught to me by any human teacher. It was fully revealed to me by the Holy Spirit as I studied the book of Galatians while searching for discernment regarding the Hebraic Roots Movement.
I cannot describe in words how freeing it was to realize that I didn’t have to do anything to earn God’s grace or to earn my way into heaven. Legalism or the “religious spirit” has brought so much damage to Christ’s church. This damage is something I observe on a consistent basis, coming in contact with wounded hearts all too often, those that are so broken by religious/legalistic church systems that they don’t want to have anything to do with God…
On another hand, there are those who have come out from legalism not as damaged but making a 180 degree turn to radical liberalism, i.e. “I have freedom to do anything I want,” or the radical Calvinistic belief of “once saved always saved – doesn’t matter what you do.” (Please, note that I understand that the above description does not apply to all Calvinists).
It’s like a pendulum swing, where those who were under the bondage of legalism, swung to the opposite side of radical liberalism. May I suggest that the truth is somewhere in the middle?
This is something that can be observed from some Slavic believers who came out from churches that either didn’t teach the biblical concept of Law and Grace or taught a distorted/erroneous view.
Calvinism is spreading rapidly among the Slavic believers in the US. But does it have a solid foundation, built on God’s Word? Many of you will sound a resounding “yes!” Many respected Bible teachers and scholars will debate their Calvinistic doctrines without wavering.
So, who am I to argue, right?
I would argue that just because some prominent Bible teachers interpret the Scriptures in one way, does not necessarily mean that it is the truth.
Remember, I grew up in an environment, where the “right” but grossly erroneous Bible interpretations were being taught from the church pulpit. I grew up hearing that our doctrines and our understandings were the truth and that everyone else was deceived. (Again, I credit my past church experiences with a learned lesson not to take any pastor’s/preacher’s/teacher’s word as law, but to be a Berean and to check every teaching against God’s Word – Acts 17:11).
However, I kept searching for the truth.
I kept reading and studying the Bible, finding jewels such as 1 Timothy 4:12 and 1 John 2:27. These two passages, together with others that clearly spoke against what I was observing in my church, were shaping my faith.
My journey as a Christian:
My born-again experience was real. Shortly after, I got baptized at the age of 15, (an early age by the Slavic Baptist Church standards), not out of compulsion or as a result of “jumping on the band-wagon,” but out of a pure desire to carry out Jesus’ commandment.
My faith crisis happened several years later, after I went to college and was faced with tough philosophical questions on life. I became friends with a couple of atheists, who were actually pretty morally sound. In fact, they appeared more moral than many of the Christians I had known in my church and in the larger Slavic Christian community! At least they didn’t claim to serve a God who demanded absolute holiness from His followers…
A question of God’s goodness came up. If God is all good, all powerful, all knowing and all loving, why does He allow evil to happen to the most of innocent of human beings – little children?
Past memories of childhood sexual abuse surfaced up, and my faith crumbled underneath a heavy weight of unanswered questions and a college-acquired skill of critical thinking.
How I came back to God is truly an amazing story by itself, one that can take an entire blog post on its own. What is of worth to note here is that I rebelled against God after being born again. For some time, I lived in complete rebellion. I actually shouted this in my mind as I was walking to my biology lecture at Sacramento State University: “I was duped! It was all emotions and brainwashing! There is no God! But if you, the Christian God, actually exist (I turned my head up to heaven and tears streaming down my face), I don’t want to have anything to do with such a sadistic, evil being who allows evil of unimaginable proportions to exist!”
It was the study of sciences, mainly the chemistry and microbiology, that pushed me back to God…
In Part 2 of Questions for Calvinists, I will present the rest of my journey as a Christian, as well as Biblical arguments against this doctrine.
So, this brings me to some questions I have for my Calvinist brothers and sisters. These questions are related to the concepts of God’s goodness and human interpretations of God’s Word.
- Based on the Calvinist theology, can you explain to me the presence of evil in the world?
- Did God create evil?
- If God allows evil to happen for some grander purpose (for His glory, for an example) doesn’t that mean that He is in fact a partaker of this evil? And a narcissistic God? This is akin to me breaking my child’s leg and then fixing it so that he would see just how awesome my healing abilities are…
- If God chooses to save some and not others (again a concept for which I find no Scriptural basis), how is He perfectly good to condemn a part of humanity for hell, taking their choice away by His will and sovereignty?
- How did you become an “enlightened” Calvinist? Did you come to this understanding on your own or was there some prompting to interpret certain passages through a Calvinist lens? I ask this because I have come to a firm belief that the natural reading of God’s Word will never bring anyone to this understanding. You actually have to add meaning into some passages that is not there and interpret many passages using what I call “spiritual gymnastics,” twisting the passages to mean what you want them to mean. Main point: this doctrine must be taught to a Christian believer by a convincing teacher.
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