Choosing my religion: why I am not a Calvinist

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Calvinist

  1. Calvinism requires the doctrines total depravity, unconditional election and irresistible grace.
  2. Humans cannot choose to love God unless God “regenerates” them first.
  3. God alone decides whether he will regenerate each person.
  4. Regeneration is not conditional on anything that a person does.
  5. People are not responsible for whether God chooses to regenerate them.
  6. If God does not regenerate a person, then they go to Hell for eternity.
  7. God arbitrarily and unilaterally regenerates some people but not others.
  8. Therefore, God creates and pre-destines some people to Hell.

For reference, check out the TULIP formulation of Calvinism.

I am not saying that Calvinism is necessarily WRONG, I am just explaining why I am not a Calvinist. Calvinists are typically incredibly smart people, and many of them are at the forefront of evangelism and apologetics. I am not saying that Calvinists are bad people, just that I have a reason for not being one. I hope that my Calvinist readers will not be too angry with me for disagreeing with them on theology. I will try not to test your patience too often like this.

29 thoughts on “Choosing my religion: why I am not a Calvinist”

  1. WK,
    I am not a Calvinist but this does not look like an argument to me. It looks like you are simply making a list of things that you do not like about Calvinism. Maybe I am missing something.

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    1. It’s not a rigorous disproof, but I think it does pose a problem, because the Bible says that God loves everyone and that he is not willing that any should perish.

      Just trying to explain why I am not a Calvinist.

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        1. Here:
          http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+3%3A9&version=NIV

          Quote:
          9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

          In context:
          8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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  2. And how does foreknowledge or middle knowledge play into those things, (especially the necessary inclusion of counterfactual knowledge) WK? Apply that to points 3, 4, 5 especially.

    Try making the argument from the other side. I think you’ll find it edifying.

    There’s a few additional things at play here that you might consider and apply back. Is God sovereign? Does each member of mankind make morally culpable choices to sin? Is God good? I think those help inform 5, 6, 7, and 8.

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  3. I’m not a Calvinist simply because I don’t see it in Scripture. I see God portraying Himself as sovereign, but even absolute sovereignty doesn’t mean that He can’t sovereignly choose to give humans free will. Furthermore, I believe the cardinal error in Calvinism is that it assumes that Adoption is synonymous with Salvation. The Bible presents Adoption as a distinct result of Salvation.

    Please understand that I happen to love reading many writings by Reformed theologians, but I disagree strongly with the interpretation of Scripture here. In studying Scripture, it seems pretty clear to me that God foreknew who would be saved (which doesn’t necessarily imply choosing them for salvation) and chose that those who would accept Salvation (justification) would receive the full measure of His grace through sanctification and, later, glorification.

    Incidentally, people make such a huge deal about the Bible’s use of the word “elect”, but say nothing about the word “church.” The two words are virtually synonymous, yet I’ve never seen a Reformed writer elaborate on the word “church.” Both words emphasize a distinction between saved and unsaved. Neither word explains the how, when, and who of it, so I don’t really see why the words are something to either overemphasize or shy away from.

    Paul portrays God’s commitment to sanctify and glorify us as a precious promise to hold on to when we recognize our own unfaithfulness. That’s just my two cents’ worth.

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    1. Excellent point Kreit, especially concerning ‘the elect’ and ‘The Church.’

      It is no accident that Paul and many early Church Fathers refer to those within the Church as the “Saints at (place x).”

      One of the reasons that I suspect that this issue isn’t discussed more in reformed theology is because that was a common apologetic line especially during the counter reformation. You’ll see Catholic writers (such as Bellarmine) from that period who will point out that Scripture points to a clear continuity between the Church on Earth and the Church in Heaven (which opens the door to all sorts of other things like the intercession of saints, the oneness of the Church, etc). Not trying to start a debate on that, obviously, just pointing out what was going on in the time period

      I’m not trying to rehash 400 year old arguments, but what I am trying to point out is that Calvinism (like all denominations) developed in real historical situations that influenced the direction the denomination took. So, there are a concrete set of historical influences on the first 100-150 years of Calvinism that really shape and form the direction that later Calvinism theologians will take.

      So, someone like R.C. Sproul has that built into his training even though he might not realize it, just like historical criticism and that whole issue played a role in his formation too, since that was a serious major debate across Christianity.

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    2. If adoption is a direct result of salvation, then what is the importance of the distinction that leads to this cardinal error? Does some important thing happen in between salvation and adoption which blows Calvinism out of the water? I’d love some clarification there.

      “it seems pretty clear to me that God foreknew who would be saved (which doesn’t necessarily imply choosing them for salvation) and chose that those who would accept Salvation (justification) would receive the full measure of His grace through sanctification and, later, glorification.”

      What about Calvinism do you think conflicts with this?

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      1. The importance of the distinction is that adoption is what we are predestinated unto, according to Ephesians 1. The saved are predestinated by God to be the adopted in Christ. It’s a benefit of salvation, not identical to salvation. Yes, we are called the sons of God (adopted) the moment we are saved, but the two concepts are distinct. The problem is that reformed theology attempts to make adoption and justification synonyms. They are not.

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        1. Right, I get the distinction. I also get that they are immediately tied, as you do.

          So what do you think coflicts about this and Calvinism?

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          1. Typically Calvinists identify Ephesians 1 as a “God chooses the Elect for salvation” verse. This verse identifies what God’s election does, and it has nothing to do with God sovereignly choosing one group of the unredeemed to save and another group of the unredeemed to condemn to hellfire. God’s predestination of believers deals with God’s sovereignty over the believer’s future as one of His children.

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          2. From the perspective of Aquinas it fails to make the distinction between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will.

            There is a difference between what God wills (that all men be saved) and what is realized (the saving of only some men).

            By failing to make a distinction between the two, it makes the mistake of saying basically, “God’s will is only what is realized in history, since He is all powerful, and His will is all that WILL be realized.”

            And that comes from failing to make a key distinction.

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    3. Same for you LCB. What does the Church/Elect/Saints overlap have to do with shooting down Calvinism?

      You guys mention RC, but have you listened to his lectures on this topic? He directly refutes some of the “Calvinism claims X” statements made here.

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  4. I used to believe in Perseverence of the Saints (Calvinist-style), and then I finally realized that any honest person must acknowledge the reality of certain believers who leave the faith. To argue otherwise distorts the definition of “believer.” Calvinism thus falls prey to the No-True Scotsman fallacy.

    And of course, once you distort the definition of “believer,” you are dramatically distorting Christianity itself. Calvinists basically end up defining “believer” as someone who does a good job *obeying* the teachings of the Bible *and* continues doing so until death. The first part (“obeying”) is legalistic enough, but the second part (“and”) makes it so you can never even know whether God is actually your Father or your enemy until you die.

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  5. Not so Drew.

    The Calvinist first clearly states that only God truly knows a man’s heart. Then he uses what scripture has told us as a tool to discern as far as we can who is a believer and who is not, as is edifying.

    Then the Calvinist says that the ultimate *evidence* that someone is a believer is in their new-creationness, their growth in the fruits of the spirit and Christs-likeness, and that they persevere until the end.

    If they fail in that regard, then it is *evidence* *warning* that someone *may* be fooling themselves about having come into a saving grace, or they may be faking, or they may be in a valley, so to speak.

    That last tid bit seems backwards to me. The Calvinist says you cannot lose your salvation. You see, under the Calvinist view, a believer WILL persevere until the end, and can have absolute assurance all of his days that he is a child of God. The Arminian on the other hand seems to be required to not walk away from the faith until that final moment. Therefore he must be afraid of a last second turning aside in fear, pain, or panic, that would be disqualifying.

    Do you disagree with the idea that only God truly knows a man’s heart? It seems rather at odds with “I finally realized that any honest person must acknowledge the reality of certain believers who leave the faith.” You claim to have specific knowledge of another person’s salvific status.

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    1. I believe that we can know our own hearts, such that no works of righteousness are necessary to prove our salvation to ourselves. Our assurance comes from the objective promise of Jesus to save us if we believe. It doesn’t come by looking at our lives to see how many good fruits we produce or whether we persevere.

      And while it’s certainly possible for humans to deceive others (as in Galatians 2:4) or to believe a false gospel and thereby delude themselves, there are enough examples of people leaving the faith that it seems ridiculous to attribute every single instance to an intentionally false professor or to someone who was actually a heretic all along.

      So yes, I do think apostasy debunks Calvinism.

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      1. I’m going to stop defending a position I don’t hold, but honestly, as a person who thinks truth is important, it pains me to see so many non-Calvinists painting Calvinism in false colors for whatever reason.

        I don’t know if this is a reductionism problem (TULIP is not Calvinism, it’s a pithy memorable acronym, Calvinism is not based on Ephesians 1:5) or simply Us vs. Them dogma.

        If you’re not a Calvinist and you want to try to engage in some intellectual integrity on this topic I’d recommend hearing what a top Calvinist scholar has to say by going to http://www.ligonier.org and find RC’s series on Calvinism. Click the video tab and scroll down to 7/13.

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  6. I would be curious of how you would exegete certain key texts that Calvinists use (E.g. John 6, Romans 9). Calvinism isn’t the immediate point of view I think someone would want to adopt when it comes to God and salvation. A person needs to be convinced of it and the only thing that will convince a Christian is generally what the Bible says.

    Bassically, what I’m saying is a Calvinist wouldn’t be a Calvinist unless he actually thought the Bible was teaching Calvinism. I’m not saying Calvinism is right, I am just saying I don’t see any Christian adopting Calvinism unless they were convinced of it from scripture. It isn’t the natural theology one would normally gravitate to on their own.

    So I would be really interested in how you would exegete some of those key passages, esspecailly the ones I quoted above.

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    1. I liked Norman Geisler’s book, “Chosen, but Free”. And you can look up anything on “corporate election”, where the elect are a group and membership is limited to anyone who freely responds to God’s grace.

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      1. WK, and don’t forget K. Keathley’s book Salvation and Sovereignty that you have pictured in your book listing above. It’s a “keeper”.

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  7. 1. Yes. Technically.

    2. “Humans cannot choose to love God unless God “regenerates” them first.” Wrong emphasis. It’s not a natural inability, like a mental handicap or something. The people won’t (“can’t” is in that sense). No harm done.

    3. “God alone decides whether he will regenerate each person.” Sounds like more of a problem with God and his sovereignty. (see potter/clay analogy)

    4. “Regeneration is not conditional on anything that a person does.” God said it’s an act of *mercy* (Ro 9:15), not arbitrariness. And also grace (“granted” Jn 6:65) and blessedness (Mt 16:17). Should be considered positive.

    5. “People are not responsible for whether God chooses to regenerate them.” Thankfully, cause “no one seeks for God.” See also point 3. However, they are responsible for rejecting him.

    6. “If God does not regenerate a person, then they go to Hell for eternity.” Neither God or the bible ever attribute it to that. Entirely based on man’s sin and rejection of Christ (where he’s preached).

    7. “God arbitrarily and unilaterally regenerates some people but not others.” (A) Arbitrarily? No. God said it’s based on “the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1). (B) Unilaterally? Yes (Jn 3:8, Jn 6:44, 65).

    8. “Therefore, God creates and pre-destines some people to Hell.” (A) Not exactly. This is not God’s will (in the sense of his *disposition* or heart. See 1Tm2:4). Did God create them anyways, for a purpose, knowing what their end was? Of course (“will of decree”). Does he harden and prevent belief at times? Yes (Jn 12:39-40).
    (B) “predestine”, in scripture, is only spoken of unilaterally and never regarding the non-elect. (See Mt 25:34 w/ 41 and Rom 9:22 w/ 23 where it’s only one-sided and *both parties* are mentioned. See also Eph 1:4-5, 11 and Rom 8:29-30 where only *saints* are predestined).

    It’s okay, you can still be a Calvinist :)

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