Why I Care about Calvinism

, posted by SEA

[This post was taken from here at the Impefect Reflections blog, where comments can be posted.]

A week or two ago, I mentioned a post I was working on to my friend James, about a particular aspect of Calvinism (haven’t published it yet). He didn’t comment on the subject of the post itself: instead, he just said, “Very few people are so fixed on one topic as you are on Calvinism.”

I paused for a second, then told him that I thought I had actually been restraining myself. It had been a while since publishing a post that even mentions it: The last one was in July (nearly two months ago). But it’s true: Calvinism is often on my mind. So after that, I told James a story about WHY it’s so important to me.

I had a friend (who will be referred to as “they”, to preserve their anonymity). And while we didn’t talk much at first, this friend began messaging me over Facebook one semester. We would have long discussions, most often on theology and their personal struggles. They’d been exposed to Calvinism and embraced it, and in my opinion, it was killing them. 

I had already believed that Calvinism was wrong. But through those conversations, I became convinced that it was dangerous: That it was a spiritual poison that could kill and maim. (Please note that I’m not saying that individual Calvinists are poisonous, or even unChristian: See this poston how Calvinists are better than their theology.)

Calvinists believe that God chose specific people before the foundation of the world to save them, and that God chose everyone else before the foundation of the world to damn them (and Calvin himself says that those who attempt to do away with the second part “do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation” (Institutes, 3.23.1). So we have the Elect and the Reprobate.

Now, my friend was addicted to something. And every time they succumbed to that addiction, they grew a little more worried that they weren’t Elect at all. They began to be worried that they were Reprobate, that they were damned from all eternity to sin and sin again, to be helpless before the sin until they once again grew to love the sin and revel in it. After all, where was the Irresistible Grace? Why, when they looked for grace, did they instead find that it was SIN that seemed so irresistible? Was this the experience of an Elect individual? Or that of a Reprobate?

It broke my heart. And it happened again and again. My friend didn’t doubt whether they were saved…they began to wonder whether they could EVER be saved, whether the possibility was even real.

And according to Calvinism, there was no comfort I could give them. If I was a consistent Calvinist, all I could have done would be to agree with them that they definitely MIGHT be reprobate, and that there was nothing they could do about it.

In the face of their questioning, all I could have done is to say with Calvin, “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation” (3.21.5). I could have told them that there was definitely some merit to their concern, and that they might be preordained to eternal damnation. Better cross your fingers and hope for the best!

In the face of their sinning, all I could have told them is, “As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will” (1.17.1). That is, all I could have told them was God was not onlyallowing them to fall into sin, BUT WAS ACTUALLY MAKING IT HAPPEN.

In the face of their religious feeling, and their apparent desire to not sin, I could have told them that MIGHT be evidence of their election…but to be completely honest with them, I would have also been forced to tell them that “Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect. so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the Elect… because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable,steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of Adoption” (3.2.11).

In other words, I would have been forced to tell my friend that even when they were convinced that they were Elect, it could have been Jesus just messing with their head so he could damn them even further. And furthermore, to be completely honest with them, I would have had to tell them that this could happen at any time…that even if they recovered, on any given day they might wake up to find that the goodness of the Lord had been taken from them, and that Jesus had been playing a trick on them all along.

(If that didn’t make you throw up in your mouth a little, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Obviously, I am not now, and was not then, Calvinist. So I wasn’t limited like that. I could tell them that God didn’t want them to sin (in ANY sense of the words “want”, “ordain”, “design,” or any other words that Calvinists use to weasel out of it), and hadn’t set up the universe in such a way as to make it unavoidable. I could tell them that God definitely had not damned them before the foundation of the world. And I could tell them that salvation was even then within their grasp, that God was ready and willing to help.

They got better, and I thank God for it. But that convinced me that Calvinism is dangerous.

Being a consistent Calvinist – one who actually followed Calvin’s teachings – would haverequired me to tell my friend that it was a distinct possibility that God sincerely, genuinely desired to damn them in particular; that God could be irresistibly acting to bring that damnation about; that God would derive pleasure from that eternal damnation; and that he would be doing it for his glory.That was the good news that I could have offered my friend in their addiction and trials.And I’m scared of what might have happened if I had offered them that gospel.