The X-Calvinist Corner is a page on this website that shares the stories of people who were once Calvinist but have left Calvinism for a more Arminian theology. This series (The X-Calvinist Corner Files) highlights one of the testimonies from the X-Calvinist Corner in each installment.
Today’s testimony is from someone named Daniel:
I was raised in a Methodist-background church that leaned heavily toward Baptist theology. As a child I attended Sunday School, a Good News Club (held at our house), and AWANA club. The theology was Baptist throughout. I began college at 20 at Philadelphia College of Bible (attending one year), then transferred to Glassboro (NJ) State College, and eventually finished my B.A. at Geneva College in western Pennsylvania; later I attended Duquesne University and SUNY-Binghamton. So having matriculated at a Bible College, a State College, A Christian College, a Catholic University, and a State University gave me a relatively broad exposure to many different philosophical systems, both Christian and non-Christian. Among these, of course, was Calvinism, for while I attended Reformed-founded Geneva College I frequently attended a Reformed Presbyterian church, and there I began to accept Calvinistic belief. Incidentally, by the term “Calvinism” I’m restrictively defining it for the purposes of this testimonial as the strong profession that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass.
Although Calvinism never provided me the spiritual comfort it seemed to bring others, I believed in it for about six years or more. Simply put, I was convinced the Scriptures supported it. I think I was also impressed that Calvinism was rooted in a strong, intellectual tradition. Naturally I felt compelled to defend my views. I remember disagreeing with my Dad or uncle (or possibly with both of them), both of whom were ordained ministers, arguing in effect that God could only have foreknowledge about “whatsoever comes to pass” if He had also predestined all events in all their minutia. I also remember strongly espousing Calvinism during an English literature class years later, encouraged by my fair-minded, agnostic Jewish professor, who believed that all viewpoints had a right to be heard, and that the class ought to hear the Calvinistic viewpoint, since it dominated the culture in which the American Transcendentalist authors (whom the class was studying) were active.
Ironically, not too long after this I began to question my Calvinism. Numerous Calvinists, e.g., Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, James Spiegel (in his book, The Providence of God) have stated that whatsoever comes to pass HAS to come to pass, because God ordained it that way. Thus these authors conclude that every event COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN OTHERWISE. This assumption was the first one I questioned, and it happened one day as I read Matthew 11. There Jesus claimed events could have been different for Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, and Gommorah, because those peoples would have responded differently had they had seen His miracles. In other words, Jesus was saying that other histories could have been possible. Think about that. Yet Calvinists not only claim that God decrees everything, but that He does it FOR HIS PLEASURE. Yet if that were true, why was Jesus upset with Bethsaida and Chorazin, since God (according to Calvinism) was predestining their responses? There are other examples, too. If God’s will was always being wrought during Jesus’ ministry, why did Jesus weep for Jerusalem? Or again, if John Piper is right in claiming that man is “ultimately not self-determinative,” who is it that quenches the Spirit? Numerous other examples could be given.
Indeed, Calvinism is so fraught with these kind of logical problems that Calvinist apologists, without exception, resort to justifying their theology upon these very contradictions, while of course denying that such ARE contradictions. I take a cue from George Orwell, and refer to this approach as DOUBLETHINKING. In layman’s terms, this means that every one of Calvinism’s definitions describing the nature of God, man, good, and evil, actually contradicts itself. This is why Piper, in the end, has to tell Calvinist disciples not to rely on logic or experience to explain Calvinism, but to make the explanation a textual issue every time. More on that in a moment.
Perhaps equal to any gain someone might receive from my particular testimonial would be what I would recommend to anyone evaluating Calvinism. First, REALIZE THAT CONSISTENCY OF ARGUMENT IS NO REAL TEST OF THE TRUTH. You can’t ‘one-upmanship’ a Calvinist to concede your viewpoint by out-maneuvering him with clever arguments. As a general example, a Calvinist and I could look at a pair of salt and pepper shakers, and he could insist, against my objections, that what I recognize as the pepper shaker is really the salt shaker, that the stuff inside the shaker is really colored “white,” and that it is “salt” which, put under one’s nose, causes one to sneeze. Arguments in favor of a false theology operate much the same way, though at a more sophisticated level. Fundamentally, Calvinism always turn meaning on its head. (This is why the debate revolving around Calvinism never dies. Calvinism is able to offer philosophically irrational responses while remaining consistent, and many people assume that consistency of argument proves a position’s truthfulness.) To use another example to illustrate this non-meaning, if I said, “The man ate the apple that didn’t exist,” observe that, besides talking about a non-existent apple, I should not have said that a MAN ate such an apple, nor that a man ATE such an apple, since no subject or predicate can engage a non-thing. In other words, all the grammatical components in the sentence “The man ate the apple that didn’t exist,” have no meaning whatsoever. Technically speaking, such a ‘sentence’ is not even a sentence. Yet here’s the catch: the hearer cannot help but think of a real apple when he hears the vocal-sound “apple” in that sentence. That’s because of an association with real meaning that he has of the vocal-sound “apple” with real apples in the real world. This association was built over a lifetime, such as when a waiter or waitress, for example, might have asked him if he wanted any fresh-baked apple pie, or when his dad told him to go pick apples at the local orchard.
This leads to my second point: REALIZE THAT A CALVINIST AND NON-CALVINIST DO NOT SHARE THE SAME MEANING OF WORDS. This is true even though probably neither one of them realizes they do not share meaning. Remember, Calvinism is merely the invoking of ASSOCIATIVE meaning, not real meaning. For example, when a Calvinist uses the term ‘God’ in defending the absolute sovereignty of God, he is making nonsense statements. This is what I used to do as a Calvinist. I liken these non-sense statements, or propositions, to the riding of a rocking horse. As a Calvinist rider, I would throw my weight forward toward my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God until I could go no further, whereupon I would recoil backwards toward my belief in human freedom. Thus I would go back and forth in seesaw motion, lest on the one hand I find myself accusing God of insufficient sovereignty, or on the other hand find myself accusing God of authoring sin. All the while, there remained an illusion of movement towards truth, when in fact there was no real movement at all. At length I would allow the springs of dialectical tension to rest the rocking horse in the center, and then I would declare as harmonious propositions which, in fact, were totally contradictory to each other. Calvinist riders still ride out this scenario. This is why, among the Calvinistic writings of Van Til, Sproul, Boettner, A.W. Pink, etc., there are no unqualified statements about the absolute sovereignty of God or the free will of man. If one reads long enough, all-forthright statements about them are eventually withdrawn by qualifying each statement with its exact opposite thought. This explains why every book and article advocating the absolute sovereignty of God ends with its terms unconcluded (though of course Calvinists claim them concluded). So when John Piper tells Calvinists to never mind logic and experience but to make the argument a textual issue every time, I must ask: Of what use is a ‘textual’ issue if the text has been deconstructed to a point where words have no definitions, i.e., where the text is not a text? Calvinism is thus revealed as Zen philosophy (I’m not exaggerating), dressed up in Christian-sounding terms which merely evoke ASSOCIATIONS of meaning, not real meaning.
In the same sense, as long as the Bible student asks himself the doublethinking question, “Now how is it that I chose God, though He chose me irresistibly?” he will never arrive at the true biblical meaning of election. Nor, in the same vein, will the Bible student escape other biblical concepts that Calvinists have likewise overrun and redefined in most Evangelical minds, regarding predestination, adoption, or foreknowledge, etc. My personal opinion is that neither Calvinists nor Arminians really escape these kinds of questions (though I think the Arminian shows a certain predeliction of trying to). This is because, technically speaking, while both groups profess a belief in the absolute sovereignty of God and the free will of man, there IS a difference of rhetoric in a relative tipping of scales. That is, the Calvinist speaks RELATIVELY more from the front rock of the rocking horse, and the Arminian RELATIVELY more from the back rock of the same. In other words, Arminians profess more frequently that man’s will is not lost, or not AS lost.
Now observe that another striking example of doublethinking is when Calvinists use the word ‘choice.’ Calvinists will say (in defense of total depravity) “Man has choice, but he can only choose evil.” But readers will note that this is merely a sophisticated way of saying than man has a choice that is not a choice. For obviously if a man can only ‘choose’ one thing, it is not really a choice at all. Yet this is where the Calvinist throws his weight backward on the rocking horse of his theology, insisting that we don’t really understsand his position, and that he DOES believe in choice. Sproul, for example, cites the ‘explanation’ given by Augustine, i.e., that man has freedom, but he had no liberty. Now in the common world the words ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ are synonyms. But in the Calvinist world these two words are defined as opposites to justify Calvinism’s doublethink. This is a trick that has fooled many people into becoming Calvinists. For Calvinists, by throwing aside lexical control groups that properly inform, e.g., a N.T. Greek verb like FOREKNEW, disregard how that particular verb was understood and used by the people of the 1st century in the Mediterranean Basin, and also how that same verb was used in the N.T. besides those instances when God is the grammatical subject of the sentence. Such an attempt by Calvinists to circumvent historicl lexical use is nothing more than special pleading. But in fact verbs don’t change meaning just because God is the subject. Such special pleading by Calvinists is really no different in principle than the method Joseph Smith employed, when he claimed to have special glasses that enabled him to translate the pictorial symbols of hieroglyphics.
Third and finally, know that, WHILE THE BIBLICAL AUTOGRAPHA DOES NOT SUPPORT CALVINISM, THE MAJOR ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OFTEN DO. The examples are too numerous to mention, though I have written a book that includes considerable information on this point (information I hope soon to make available free online). Still, one example, that of Romans 5:12, might be helpful here. Romans 5:12 in Greek is in the format of a correlative conjunction, a point absolutely missed by all the major English translations. This correlative conjunction in the context of vss. 5-12 states that post-Adamic man sinned SIMILARLY to, not IN, Adam (the Greek HOSPER (Eng. JUST AS) finding its obvious grammatical completion in the KAI OUTWS, a two-word phrase that should have been translated ALSO IN THIS MANNER, but was rendered instead AND SO, which leaves the English reader with the wrongful impression of the causative AND THEREFORE, a meaning OUTWS never takes). In fact, because the KJV and NAS don’t recognize the correlative conjunction, they don’t even grammatically conclude the verse, doubtless assuming the verse to be nothing more than another example of Paul interrupting himself before completing his thought. Yet the import of this correlative conjunction challenges the very heart of the doctrine of original sin, which has been used to defend the idea of the lost will of man. [I actually do believe that man inherited something in the Fall, but this, I believe, was an extensive knowledge (not a sin nature), a part, at least, which we allow to distract us from our focus upon God, even unto sin. I believe that Gr. SARX is this knowledge.] As for myself, then, I tire of hearing comments from Calvinists that imply that Bible translation committees obviously know what they’re doing simply because they’re in agreement with each other. This is no more than valuing credentialism at the expense of logic and/or the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. In fact it can be shown that certain later translations subsequent to the KJV frequently defer to the very-influential KJV in controversial passages, such as when the NAS follows the KJV numerous times in translating Heb. CHAZAK as “HARDENED” instead of “STRENGTHENED” in regard to Pharaoh’s heart, or when the NAS mimics the KJV word “raised” in Romans 9:17 instead of rendering it as “fully roused,” which is what Gr. EXEGEIRO actually means. This latter mimicry once again leaves a wrong impression, in this case the notion that God raised Pharaoh from the cradle to the grave for the express purpose of reprobation.
Since there are various positions regarding Calvinistic arguments, I would urge someone who is truly searching the Scriptures to evaluate these arguments carefully. And this should be done regardless of how offensive the speaker or writer might personally appear, and regardless of which side he or she is on. Most persons, myself included, like to read material from pastorally gifted people, because it tends to be more palatable. But I have found that many (I do not say all) pastors, despite their seminary training and general knowledge, are not necessarily gifted by the Spirit for the utterance of especial knowledge as outlined and implied in 1 Corinthians 12, i.e., the kind of utterance that stems from the critical analysis of things difficult of perception. In short, don’t assume some admired commentator or your pastor couldn’t be wrong.
Finally, remember that the Bible says that it is a shame and a folly for a man to answer a matter before he has heard it. This means persons ought to know both sides of an issue pretty well before taking it on. For most of us this will mean exhausting study and difficult work (in addition to unreceptive hearers and persecution from opponents). But to lack diligence here is to not be fair to the general discussion. Could you represent to a fair degree your opponent’s basic position in his absence and his reasons for it? That, I think, is the litmus test before engaging in much discussion on an issue. Let us all strive, then, to be relatively well informed on any issue to which God’s Spirit has directed our attention, whether that issue is Calvinism or any other issue. And may we all find a church (sadly, I have yet to find one) which has a willingness to hear both sides in a genuine group setting, i.e., like that setting provided by my fair-minded, agnostic professor.
Incidentally, if you have found my comments helpful, would you please pray for my own encouragement?