The “cage stage” refers to new Calvinist converts by or through which the individual becomes rabid with Calvinist dogma to the degree that, unless she or he is “caged,” so to state the matter, the person will wreak havoc on other Christians and society. I know — I experienced a rather severe cage-stage when I converted to Calvinism in the late 1990s. My parents said to me: “We cannot believe how you have changed.” I took the statement as a compliment when they were in no sense complimenting me. I imagined myself as finally “taking theology and the faith seriously,” but what I was truly expressing was a self-righteousness that viewed non-Calvinists as barely or perhaps ignorantly saved — meaning, God had saved them, yet they did not understand the significance of that salvation because of their inept-yet-cherished semi-Pelagian or Pelagian theology.
Cage-stage Calvinists are enabled not merely by Calvinism de facto but also by Calvinist teachers. First, we have J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston asking, “Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it [salvation] ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all.”1 So, Arminianism is rendered “man-centered” and advocating self-salvation, while Calvinism is allegedly “Christ-centered” and grants all glory due to God. Neither scenario is true. Arminianism is Christ-centered and Calvinism diminishes God’s glory.
Second, we have R.C. Sproul explaining that remark, belonging to Packer and Johnston, and then adding, “I agree with Packer and Johnston that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian.”2 If Arminians and other non-Calvinists hold to un-Christian, soteriological views, then can such be saved? Sproul answers: “Yes, barely. They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.”3 As a theologian, Sproul should realize that no one is “barely saved,” any more than one is “barely elected unto salvation,” since Scripture holds that all who are saved are saved “to the uttermost.” (cf. Heb. 7:25 ESV) That an Arminian has to remind a Calvinist of this soteriological fact is telling — salvation belongs to the LORD (Jonah 2:8, 9; Rev. 7:10).
Third, we have John Piper explaining the cause of the cage stage, and then defending the carnal mindset. When asked about this very issue, Piper argues that Calvinism tends to “draw argumentative people.” (link) One should immediately ask why. What is a core distinctive within Calvinist dogma that draws argumentative people? No other Christian tradition produces this works-of-the-flesh cage-stage mentality. That should be the potential convert’s first warning sign: Calvinism inherently draws argumentative people and enables such toward expressing not the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-26) but the works of the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:19-21).
Calvinist blogger Justin Taylor’s response to the same question admits that cage-stage Calvinism is a problem but not without first deflecting from that very problem. (link) In other words, Calvinists know that there is a carnality problem among Calvinist converts — some of whom never outgrow their cage — but, instead of addressing the issue, attempting to help their converts toward holiness of heart and mind, Taylor deflects from the central problem and begins making excuses for the ungodly behavioral attitude problems of Calvinist converts. What does this indicate? This informs us that Calvinist leaders have absolutely no vested interest in correcting the carnal attitudes of cage-stage Calvinists; but, rather, they will give the public (he thinks justifiable) reasons why the cage-stage that produces “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions” and the like (Gal. 5:20) occurs within the heart and mind of the converted Calvinist.
Before I expound upon Piper’s confession, I want to note a problem with what he offers, especially his Gnostic tendency noted here: These Calvinist teachers enable young and impressionable Calvinist converts toward demeaning, objectifying, and condemning Arminians and other non-Calvinists, and maintaining a superior attitude that is most unChristlike. Piper states:
Another reason Calvinists might be perceived as negative is that they are trying to convince others about the doctrines. [So they use negativity, mean-spiritedness, and contentious ploys? Since when is negativity and rhetoric a tool for teaching or converting people to “the doctrines of grace”?] If God gives someone the grace to be humbled and see the truth [that is a Gnostic-like statement and belief], and the doctrines are sweet to him, and they break his pride [and yet so many Calvinist laypeople and leaders are prideful, arrogant, and contentious] — because God chose him owing to nothing in him. He was awakened from the dead, like being found at the bottom of a lake and God, at the cost of his Son’s life, brings him up from the bottom, does CPR, brings him miraculously back to life, and he stands on the beach thrilled with the grace of God — wouldn’t he want to persuade people about this? (link) (emphasis added)
Instead of helping such cage-stage converts toward sanctification, holiness being a subject that receives little attention in the New Calvinist movement, these new converts are encouraged by the examples of their leaders, as they, too, demean their non-Calvinist, “barely saved” brothers and sisters in Christ, and are permitted to imagine that they alone are giving God the glory due His “sovereign” name. Tragically, they undermine their own theology when they objectify and mistreat their theological opponents, neglecting their own confessions to the effect that God has, from eternity past, decreed whatsoever occurs in the earth — including Arminian theology.
Odd, I think, how many among the young, restless, and “Reformed” crowd are far more eager in convincing regenerate believers of Calvinism than in spreading the message of salvation to sinners as the same is found by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But I digress. All I care to highlight from Piper’s above quote is the Gnostic nature of God secretly “opening the eyes” of some of His people to Calvinism. One must wonder why God, if Piper is correct, would “open my eyes” to Calvinism and then “shut them” a year and a half later when I, as have others, abandoned Calvinism. If Calvinism is all that glorious, all that God-glorifying; and if God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, as Piper reminds us; and given that Calvinism could allegedly bring about this glorious state within the individual; then God is working against His own self in not “opening the eyes” of all His regenerate creatures to the alleged truth of Calvinism. If God is sovereign in the sense that Calvinists argue, and God wants to maximize His own glory, then Calvinism cannot be true or else He would open all of our eyes to Calvinism.
The angry or cage-stage Calvinist is even encouraged toward such as he reads from men in history, like Luther, Owen and Toplady, who have hurled the harshest insults at their opponents. Moreover, the Calvinist convert is taught that harsh rhetoric is used by Christ at Matthew 23 (taking the event out of context, of course) and that using such a ploy is beneficial for some people: some will only be converted by being jolted psychologically by the use of rhetoric. Granted, the convert is also taught that only God can “open the spiritual eyes” of someone to the “truth” of Calvinism; those who do not espouse Calvinism have not been granted that grace. In the case of such people, according to Calvinist Steve Hays, Arminians and other non-Calvinists are being deterministically used by God as a foil for Calvinists. (link) What a tragic portrait of God.
While some Calvinists eventually graduate from the cage stage, that graduation leading some to abandon Calvinism altogether, others, sadly, remain in the cage for the rest of their lives. What does the cage-stage “do” for the Calvinist? The cage-stage, and even Calvinism in general, falsely warrants the convert a sense that she or he is right, theologically, and that this novel systematic theology brings God the maximum degree of glory. This theology grants the individual a sense that she or he is intellectual, as the person is willing to adopt “the hard sayings” of Scripture with regard to determinism and predestination, and, hence, the person believes that he or she is being “biblical.” The psyche of the dogmatic Calvinist is not affected by verses alluding to free will, or to notions of God suggestive of a universal love, or a universal offer of salvation, since God is not obligated to love or to save anyone, and free will is merely a cognitive distortion of faulty mortals.
Nor is the Calvinist swayed by one of the most glaring inconsistencies in his particular theology: that God has, from eternity past, decreed every minutiae of our existence and will hold us responsible for doing what He decreed we should do. After all, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Because God is righteous, just and holy, He can decree wickedness and evil and still remain spotless. When challenged, the Calvinist appeals to mystery, or antinomy, and is alleviated from answering his critics, while remaining ever-confident in a God who decreed that his critics hold to false doctrines, using such souls as mere foils in His master plan. Calvinism is, simply, tragic from all aspects. What is unavoidable, so the issue appears, is that Calvinist leaders defend their converts in their carnal cage-stage, since God has “opened their eyes to the truth.” Who is really at fault for the sad state of cage-stage Calvinist converts? Those who deny God’s “truth” (i.e., Calvinism) — as God, of course, has decreed that they do.
1 Quoted in R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 24.
2 Ibid., 25.