The Problem with Calvinism

The Problem with Calvinism

No one can fully explore Calvinism in a simple blog post, but I will attempt to present the short of it, as well as my opinion (for what that’s worth).

Calvinism is based on the writings and ideas of John Calvin (1509-1564), who was a French contemporary of Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Calvin was an integral part of the reformation and his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, had a profound effect on the formation of Protestantism.  However, the theology of Calvinism was developed not by Calvin, but by his later followers.  Calvin is also known as the Father of the Reformed Faith.  The foundation of Calvinism is based upon the five points (TULIP):

T = Total Depravity.  People are born with a sin nature, and thoroughly and completely affected by sin.

U = Unconditional Election.  God chooses who will be saved based upon his own purposes apart from the worthiness of any individual person.  Thereby, God chooses some to be saved and others to be damned.

L = Limited Atonement.  Jesus died only for the elect.

I = Irresistible Grace.  As the Holy Spirit works in and calls the elect, it is impossible for them to resist.  They will undoubtedly choose God.

P = Perseverance of the Saints.  Once saved, always saved.

Again, it would be impossible for me to go into all the variances and to deeply explore the beliefs of Calvin himself or modern Calvinists in this forum, but this gives you a snapshot of what people are talking about when they refer to Calvinism.

A reader also asked my opinion on Calvinism.  Without going into great detail, I am not a Calvinist, nor am I an Arminian (that would be for a future post).  I think the only aspect I can unequivocally support is that we humans are a depraved bunch.  Having said that, there are elements of scriptural truth to each of the five points, but I wouldn’t interpret them in this way.  I believe there are other passages that clearly conflict with a Calvinist interpretation of scripture.

The most glaring theological problem with Calvinism is the portrait of God it depicts.  The Bible tells us that God loves the world and more importantly that his essence is love itself (1 Joh 4:8).  Calvinism, on the other hand, asserts that God chooses only some to be saved, not everyone, only a select number and those by no merit of their own.  By choosing salvation for some, but not all people, the unchosen are automatically damned with no option of choosing otherwise.  This theology characterizes God has harsh and unloving.  How can God truly love and yet chose some for damnation?  Furthermore, this interpretation conflicts with scripture that says God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that he doesn’t desire that anyone would perish (2 Pet 3:9). 

The funny thing is, in my twenty some years of Southern Baptist life, I never remember hearing discussions within the church about Calvinism.  Yes, I’ve heard many discussions by academia, but never from the average church member (until recently).  Personally, I lack any real interest in studying Calvinism because I am not concerned with how God saves us only that he does save us.  It is impossible for me, as a limited human being, to fully comprehend the mind and actions of God.  The real question is, “Does it really matter what process(es) God uses to save our souls?”  Not to me!  What matters to me is that I spend eternity with Christ in his presence.

Furthermore, if we are followers of Christ — his disciples, the redeemed, the saints, the elect, the predestined, whatever you want to call us — it changes nothing about how we are to respond to Christ once we are saved.  We are still told to keep his commands.  We are still directed to love one another.  We are still called to go and make disciples.  The process by which we become a Christian is irrelevant to the actions that are required once we are a Christian.

Despite the theological problems with Calvinism, there are practical problems as well.  If one believes that God has foreordained only certain people for salvation and that the elect do not possess the ability to refuse God’s calling, a person might come to the conclusion that evangelism is futile gesture.  A person could decide that there is no point in evangelizing anyone because no one has the power to influence another to accept Christ as their personal savior because God has already predetermined what the outcome will be.  If the belief in Calvinist theology leads one to lose all interest in evangelism, they have made a grave mistake.

To the contrary, evangelism is clearly a task assigned to the followers of Christ.  I would hope that no one would use their belief in Calvinism as a theological excuse not to bring the good news to the world around them.  Woe to the one whose heart is so closed toward God’s creation that the gospel becomes mute.

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