Tuesday, 1 June 2010

10 things that annoy me about Calvinists

I wish to discuss several issues that I find frustrating when discussing the Calvinist and Arminian positions with fellow Christians who are Calvinists. Note I said Calvinists and not Calvinism. I disagree with 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism, and even my take on total depravity differs from Calvinism in some specifics; but I am not discussing Calvinist theology here (on the main). Note also that I referred to those whom I discuss Calvinism and Arminianism with, I know several Calvinists that I do not spend time discussing Calvinism with.

The annoyances listed
  1. Some Calvinists don't understand Arminianism
  2. Some Calvinists misrepresent Arminianism
  3. Some Calvinists assume determinism when using reducto absurdum
  4. Some Calvinists approach situations as extremes
  5. Many Calvinists redefine words
  6. Some Calvinists mock the Arminian position
  7. Some Calvinists believe contradictory statements
  8. Some Calvinists equate knowledge with causation
  9. Some Calvinists call faith a work
  10. Many Calvinists read Scripture thru their theology
Not all necessarily practice all 10.

1. Some Calvinists don't understand Arminianism

By this I mean that some Calvinists feel free to jump into a discussion, or offer their opinion on distinctiveness between the systems but they only have a grasp on Calvinism. It is clear from what they do write that they do not understand Arminianism at all. Now having an extensive understanding of Arminianism may not be required, but a basic understanding on what Arminians believe is important. And a greater understanding is required when discussing subtle intricacies of the 2 systems.

I myself have studied neither system in great detail. And my attachment to Arminianism is only because I think it best represents my biblical view. But I know what I believe, and some of what Calvinism claims (for itself), and some of what Arminianism claims.

2. Some Calvinists misrepresent Arminianism

This is related to item #1. By understanding Arminianism I mean what Arminians claim to believe, not what non-Arminians say Arminians believe. If you misconstrue my system then prove the misconstrued system incorrect what have you really done? I never held what you say in the first place. Calvinists are not immune to calling non-Calvinism Arminianism. But non-Calvinism is anything not Calvinist and covers a multitude of beliefs. Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Universalism, and Open Theism are all non-Calvinist, but they are also non-Arminian.

If you wish to claim that Arminianism is logically incoherent and leads to Open Theism (or Universalism, or whatever) then do so, and show how, but don't say that Arminianism teaches Open Theism, it does not.

3. Some Calvinists assume determinism when using reductio ad absurdum

A valid way of demolishing an argument is to assume its premises and show the consequences are nonsensical. The Calvinist can assume the Arminian position for the sake of the argument and show how following these ideas lead to contradiction, or absurdity, or anti-biblical ideas. Frequently what one finds when Calvinists do this is that unstated premises form part of the argument, usually an assumption of determinism. I suspect this is because they find it hard to think in a non-determinist way such is their usual mode of thinking. But determinism is not an Arminian position and has no place in arguments for Arminianism, stated or unstated.

4. Some Calvinists approach situations as extremes

I see this with regard to the Calvinist approach to sovereignty and freewill. I read statements along the lines of: if God does not control every molecule in the universe at all times then he is not in control at all. Or: if men have any freedom to choose how they act, then they can choose anything at all including flying.

Let it be clear that Arminians think that God is in control of the universe, just not in the exhaustive deterministic manner that some Calvinists claim; and that men have some freedom in their thoughts and actions, but not complete freedom to think or do anything.

5. Many Calvinists redefine words

Words like "sovereignty" and "choose" and perseverance" seem to take on meanings dislocated from their usual sense. If English translates Hebrew or Greek words suboptimally then say so, and identify better translations. But words in English have meanings. Use them.

6. Some Calvinists mock the Arminian position

This is unacceptable. The only potential justification for mockery is when used on mockers, specifically those who mock God. Arminianism in terms of its foundational views has a long tradition. While both Arminians and Calvinists claim their view is the biblical one, extra-biblical support is strong for Arminian-like views and a good case can be made for it antedating Calvinist-like views.

If you think Arminianism is wrong, dangerous, or heretical then say so. And a little humour is acceptable. But mockery is not an appropriate expression toward fellow God-fearers.

7. Some Calvinists believe contradictory statements

Granted, there are subtleties in this debate. And perhaps there are aspects that men struggle to comprehend. But logical contradictions are contradictions. That means that we need to examine our arguments closely, are there subtle errors in the argument, or do our premises need minor tweaking. But calling a logical contradiction a mystery does not cut the mustard. Our reasoning ability may be incomplete, but incompleteness does not equate to error. And mystery in the New Testament does not refer to this type of contradictory logic.

8. Some Calvinists equate knowledge with causation

There does not seem to be any reason to think that knowledge of a future action, whether likely or certain, implies causation of such action. This is really not that complicated. Arminianism claims God has such knowledge, but it does not equate that with causation. Of course God can cause things, but future knowledge does not necessarily imply cause.

If the Calvinist wishes to argue that the only way that God could know the future for certain is if he caused every action, then say so. But this is saying that God both knows and directly causes the future. But to argue knowledge is causation is nonsense. Consider the many things people know that will happen in the future that they do not cause.

9. Some Calvinists call faith a work

This is frustrating. Faith and works can have a variety of meanings. Paul and James may talk about them in slightly different ways. But nowhere in the Bible are thoughts, desires, and choices described as works. Works are actions we do. If a person, or an angel, or God offers us something and we accept it, this is not a work. If a Calvinist defines choosing to accept God's offer of salvation a work, thus works based salvation, then I plead guilty.

10. Many Calvinists read Scripture thru their theology

This is to be partly expected. We all do this to a degree with our preconceptions. Though hopefully over time Scripture will transform our thinking to a more biblical perspective. Scripture is supposed to modify our thinking. But if you transform Scriptural passages into Calvinist theology then what you are reading is less likely to challenge your thinking. Read what it says. Deal with the tension. Examine the context. Both Arminians and Calvinists need to do this. But there are times when Calvinists refer to passages and their interpretation seems disconnected with the words on the page; at times even contradictory.

Discussion

These are all issues I have come across. There may be others I have not remembered to include, and other people may think of more.

It needs to be clear that I do not think that this post disproves Calvinist theology in any way. Further, while it is a complaint against how some Calvinists argue, it need not be seen as a complaint against Calvinists in general. I would not wish to argue as an Arminian in the ways I have identified above, nor would I wish other Arminians to do so. As such it is possible for a Calvinist to agree with much of this post. If I happen to be incorrect about Arminianism, arguments by Calvinists along these lines are not likely to persuade me otherwise.

Discussions may get heated at times but Christians should desire that fellow Christians come to a greater understanding of the truth.

11 comments:

  1. I'm a Calvinist, but I sympathize and agree with all 10 of your points. Points 8, and 9 I would have disagreed with, if only given your one-line description. But given your full explanation I can understand your perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have also found Calvinists are generally (not always) rather more prideful, and in extreme cases, arrogant about their 'status' (especially among the Dutch). Which I find all the more curious given they attribute their choices to God.

    As you rightly note in 5, 7, 8, and 9, their abuse of language precludes most meaningful discussion, bordering on what I expect from cults that 'spin' scripture to suit their theology. I rarely bother anymore to explore the relative merits of systematic theologies. They all seem to overemphasize some particular aspect of God's character at the expense of His other aspects.

    I have often wondered if Calvin would recognize his namesake.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Joshua. Thanks. I was a little cautious writing it, but as I explain in my discussion, this is about how we approach dialogue.

    I hadn't seen much change on your blog, but I see you posted something in May, so have added you to my RSS. Somewhat related, though slightly tangential to your recent post, I previously wrote God of the gaps.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Starwind, one of the things I was thinking recently is that Calvinists talk about God maximising his glory. While I think God is incredibly glorious, and more than I realise, I wonder whether a more fundamental characteristic of God than glory is righteousness.

    I have also found Calvinists are generally (not always) rather more prideful

    It may be possible that the US, internet, Calvinism apologist is a slightly different breed than other Calvinists.

    Something I dislike is seeing a Calvinist bold in his accusations against non-Calvinists (in the name of defending the faith, or fighting heresy), who then claims (or feigns) offence when others respond to him in kind.

    But there are plenty of excellent Calvinists: Wayne Grudem, Charles Spurgeon. And despite disagreeing with some of his teachings, I have never heard a bad word about John Piper.

    ReplyDelete
  5. bethyada:
    But there are plenty of excellent Calvinists

    Agreed. I've always been edified by the teaching of John MacArthur, even moreso once I understood the innate bias of his viewpoint and could mentally 'correct' for his unspoken premise. I have his study bible and often seek his commentary. I also think Norman Geisler is the most scripturally rigorous Calvinist I've read, but he is often disowned by other (hyper)Calvinists. Go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  6. But calling a logical contradiction a mystery does not cut the mustard. Our reasoning ability may be incomplete, but incompleteness does not equate to error.

    I've never met a Calvinist who could plausibly answer this question: how can a person be morally culpable for their sins if God pre-destined them to damnation?

    Single pre-destination is sad, but makes sense. Double pre-destination invariably leaves God the author of sin because God has to take responsibility for every moral act, including the devil's (via His creation of Satan).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Starwind, I think Geisler is good, though only read a little of his stuff. Interesting you should mention MacArthur. I am sure he is nice and done a lot for the kingdom, but I do not enjoy reading him. Perhaps I have not browsed enough of his stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Mike T, I agree that aspects of what Calvinist believe are inconsistent. Some of them retain some orthodoxy by having inconsistencies, some don't seem to hold to exhaustive determinism.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm always amused that open theism is equated to arminianism since my observation has been the opposite (that open theism ends in calvanism at least in some ways).

    For example:

    Luke 22:31 "and when you have returned to Me"

    Luke 22:33 "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me"

    In both cases: foreknowledge or determinism?

    AFAIK (as explained to me by open theists and calvanists) both OT and Calvanism say determinism.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Excellent example Mike R. Though Open Theism would say partial determinism, not exhaustive.

    Arminianism does allow for God to determine aspects of the future, though your example would be explained by Arminians as foreknowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I once believed Calvinism, and later on I struggled to believe that it wasn't true. Then one day God just shined the light on it in the spirit and showed me it wasn't true. There was no scripture, just the clear light of the Holy Spirit.

    In salvation, God does make a choice, but His choice isn't made irrespective of the individual. But Calvinism claims God by fiat determines whether or not a person will be saved. Romans 9-11 may appear to teach this. God says that, like a potter, He will do whatever he wants to with the clay. So it sounds like we're in Calvinism, until we see the context in Jeremiah 18, where the dynamic is clear:

    "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them."

    In other words, whether a person ends up as a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath is their decision.

    2 Timothy 2:20-21 says the same thing: "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."

    Election is about who God can work with, as He is doing everything he can to save every person.

    Here is Calvinism: God places upon his own Son the sins of all of humanity, while he never intended to save so many of them in the first place. Let that sink in. That is double edged insanity and psychotic to the nth degree.

    God has no patience for this doctrine. Fellow believers, purge yourself from it!

    ReplyDelete

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