Exploring the Psychology of Embracing Calvinism

, posted by SEA

In one of our private discussions, one of our members was wondering about the influence background may play in nudging some toward acceptance of Calvinism. He noted that he knows someone whose family background resulted in legalism and feelings of “not fitting in” to his family, and that these caused a spiritual struggle within him that led him to study the Calvinist branch of Christianity. It was explained to him by a Calvinist evangelist that God “chose” him by “electing him unto salvation.” This was the hook that his friend needed to accept Calvinism as his frame of reference. Another member responded with the following interesting analysis (some of the material quoted in this post has been slightly edited even though enclosed in quotes):

“I have not seen such admissions but I have always suspected this is one of the reasons that Calvinism is embraced. It must make one feel quite special to believe that they were hand picked by God among so many others who were passed over from eternity. Calvinists often say that their doctrines leave no room for boasting, but psychologically I just don’t see how one could avoid feeling a little better than the “reprobates” that God passed over while choosing them. They will say God chose them unconditionally yet God must have chosen them for a reason, otherwise His choice would be arbitrary. They will then say God had a reason but it is hidden in Him and has nothing to do with them. But deep down I suspect they remember that God must have chosen them based on His infinite wisdom, and that must make them feel pretty special. That is why we have some versions of Calvinism seeing reprobates as sub-human or just extra players on the stage of life in order to better the elect or make God’s glory and love known to the elect. It is very self-oriented in my opinion despite the claims that it is so God centered.”

“I remember visting a web-site where they sold ‘Reformed’ T-shirts. Some of the shirts said ‘Chosen by Grace’. That struck me as a little disgusting given Calvinistic presuppositions (that God passed over and reprobated most of the people who would see the Calvinist proudly wearing his ‘Chosen by Grace’ T-shirt). I remember thinking that a Calvinist could never wear a ‘Jesus loves you’ shirt, but will proudly wear a ‘Chosen by Grace’ shirt.

“So in short, I am sure that many who embrace Calvinism do so because they have felt left out in life or had difficult family situations or never felt like they fit in. Then they hear someone telling them that God chose them from all eternity to be a part of His special family. That must have an emotional pull. It is a shame because they could find the same comfort in Arminianism when properly understood, but the idea of being handpicked among so many prior to even being created must make those humble Calvinists feel pretty good and important IMO.”

Another member chimed in from his own personal exerience as a former Calvinist:

“When I was a Calvinist, I DID feel “special,” “accepted,” . . . And it is true, no matter how much they protest, Calvinism makes Calvinists feel a cut above the rest. Even though they insist that God did not elect them based on their merit, He still chose them above others, and it takes a toll on one’s psyche (it did mine, and I witnessed it first-hand with others in my Presbyterian church).

“Also, coming away from Calvinism, being convinced that it was not true, took a couple of years. Because of the euphoria of being one of God’s special trophies, it was not easy to be convinced otherwise. I praise God that I broke out of it, but the experiences (dogmas) stay with a person for quite some time afterwards.”

This same commenter summed up what we might call the bottom line: “no one is accepted by God because of a pet theological system. We are ‘accepted’ by God through faith in and union with Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:7), ‘to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved’ (Eph. 1:6 NKJV).”