Home > Theology > Why I can’t get over Calvinism

Why I can’t get over Calvinism

I have, over the last few years, tried to understand Calvinism as well as possible. I’ve looked for ways it could possibly give a picture of a loving God that is similar to the God I’ve found revealed in Jesus Christ. To my dismay, however, I’ve only kept failing at this task.

One defense that I’ve seen is basically that Calvinism does say that everyone who comes to Christ will be saved, that he turns away no one. That the “unregenerate” sinners can choose to repent if they “want” to. The problem is, of course, that their “Total depravity”, their “deadness” in original sin, prevents them from ever even being able to consider the thought of repenting. They apparently all “hate God”. And so, while all might have a “choice” to repent and come to Christ, only those who are irresistibly drawn by the Father to come to Jesus to be born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit to be given a new heart, CAN ever repent. Basically, it’s as if Jesus is standing to the right, and all the sinners are tied up in strings to the left, and the Father from eternity had chosen to cut the strings of  only a few of the guys to the left, so they could ever come to Jesus.
In my eyes, this is just another way of saying we don’t have a choice in the matter. Regardless of what specific breed of Calvinist philosophy you adhere to regarding the logical order of election, all Calvinists seem to claim the following things about God:

  1. After the Fall of Man, all men are afflicted with total inability to repent as a result of original sin. Calvinists disagree on whether or not Man was free to obey God in Eden or not. Regardless, this is “Total Depravity“.
  2. God does not need to consider free will in saving human beings – He intervenes and forcibly transforms an unwilling heart into a willing heart.  (“Irresistible Grace“).
  3. Hence, God would be able to save all by doing this to all, if He wanted to.
  4. However, God chooses to only pick some people to be saved, entirely arbitrarily. (“Unconditional Election“)
  5. God does all of this for his glory. In fact, the ultimate point of Creation is to glorify God. Everything else is unimportant in comparison.

If this is incorrect in any sense, please correct me. From all my research, this seems to be a fully correct view of Calvinism, though.

I don’t really care if Calvinism affirms that we have a theoretical choice to repent if there is absolutely no actual choice. It’s not that I need to have a certain number of words attributed to God to be at ease. The point is that God sees our supposedly utterly and completely lost state, and chooses to only do something about it to some of his lost creation. Does he even truly love humanity, then? Does he love the person he didn’t elect as much as the person he does elect? The general Calvinist answer seems to be “not really”, which I guess answers my question. God arbitrarily chooses to love a few.

To get at my problem more clearly, this is the image I get from the (soft version!) Calvinist view of election:

God created creatures with a free will of some sort, which was built-in with a horrific backfire mechanism that came into effect the moment a sin was committed. Once they sinned, they were caught in God’s trap, where only those he arbitrarily chose to “love” would be saved, while he would angrily look at the ones he didn’t choose and say “Love me! Except you can’t. I can make you do what I want you do to do… BUT I WON’T! Because that wouldn’t glorify me as much. I’m still gonna tell you what you’ve ought to do, however!”

Then at the end, he judges these two groups entirely based on whether or not they were picked by him, sending those he didn’t pick into eternal, tormenting hellfire. All of this, essentially being based on the action Adam and Eve chose, ages before, with every sin subsequent to that only really being a chain reaction from that original backfiring mistake, that God knew they would make from all eternity.

Can you please, please, tell me what I’m getting wrong in this picture. Because I’ve tried and tried, but in fact, the picture is only getting clearer and more horrible. I know those sent to Hell are supposedly really punished for the sins they committed, rather than mainly for the original sin. However, I don’t see how punishment is ever due to someone who genuinely had no choice in the matter. In the end, it’s REALLY all based on whether or not they were elected by God.

So what am I to say? I cannot help but be disgusted by this. Calvinists claim that the reasons for God choosing not to save is “for his glory”. First of all, when was eternal suffering considered glorious? What messed up picture of God assumes that God considers eternal torment and punishment for sins committed by a person who had no choice in the matter to start with, displays His glory? And finally, how is that picture of God in any way, shape or form, related to the picture of God displayed in the character and life of Jesus Christ, dying on Calvary for the same people who crucified him?

Here’s a short case for Resistible Grace that has a great analogy 🙂

  1. March 3, 2011 at 04:22

    “Does he love the person he didn’t elect as much as the person he does elect? The general Calvinist answer seems to be ‘not really’, which I guess answers my question.”

    Although I know you’ve explored this issue in-depth yourself, I thought of an interesting way to present the truth of what you’ve just said. According to Limited Atonement in Calvinist theology, the atonement of Christ was only efficacious for the elect. St. James the Just says, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” Thus, if the Calvinist god’s love is impotent to the reprobate he predestined, it is not truly love; even less is it Mercy.

    And one more small thing you may benefit from; during an Orthodox Chrismation, people converting from other traditions may be required to renounce certain heresies from their former tradition. Here is one of the renunciations asked of those who come from a reformed Calvinist background:

    “Bishop: Dost thou renounce the false doctrine, that the predestination of men to their salvation, or their rejection, is not in accordance with the Divine foreknowledge of the faith and good works of the former, or of the unbelief and evil deeds of the latter; but in accordance with some arbitrary destiny, by reason of which faith and virtue are robbed of their merit, and God is held accountable for the perdition of sinners?”

  2. March 17, 2011 at 04:30

    Many of the Calvinist’ I’ve engaged would readily admit your “problem” and say that the reason you have this problem is becaue you’re letting your emotions dictate your theology. A part of the problem you presented above is the conundrum of God’s love for humanity. But they would say this is no problem at all because God does not love all of humanity, only the elect (i.e. Jacob I have loved, Esau I hate).

    Frustrating, I know.

  3. Brian
    March 17, 2011 at 04:51

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from because I thought many of the same things. What do you make of Romans 9 then? How does that influence your understanding of this difficult subject?

  4. March 17, 2011 at 16:46

    I found the following article helpful when examining Romans 9.

  5. March 17, 2011 at 17:06

    Derek: I know… And while I’m not in favour of eisegesis, but I think it’s a ridiculous idea to say that one reads the Bible without any preconceived interpreting pattern. I’ve tried to make mine the character and person of God revealed in Jesus Christ. What’s the Calvinist pattern of interpretation? To me, it seems like it is the mysterious and ominous concept called “the Glory of God”, that apparently has nothing to do with love.

    Brian: I more or less take Boyd’s view, I guess: http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-predestination-free-will/how-do-you-respond-to-romans-9/

    I believe Paul in this chapter is rather dealing with the Jews being angry at the in-grafting of the Gentiles, and is talking about election to vocation and so on. I’ll put it this way: I’m honest with the fact that I’m really just reading arguments by theologians about this chapter and agreeing. I think a lot of people do that, consciously or unconsciously. But I do think the concept of “corporate election” very much applies to this chapter and all other examples of predestination in the OT and NT.

    • David
      July 12, 2011 at 21:49

      This is good.
      I believe why God “Hated” Esau was because he despised his inheritance and sold it for beans.

  6. Brian
    March 17, 2011 at 19:08

    Peter and James, thank you for the links. I am going to read them right now.

    Peter, I have heard that interpretation before. It could be that the Jews were angry at the ingrafting of the Gentiles but it seemed to be talking about individuals and individual, rather than corporate election. I can’t say that I agree with you but I am open to it. I like your blog; keep up the good work.

  7. March 18, 2011 at 06:06

    Sorry, Peter, I don’t know what happened on the Jason thing. 🙂
    I fixed it and the post is: http://wp.me/pVf8p-k7

  8. March 22, 2011 at 03:04

    James et al, the discussion continues over at Providence. Romans 9 deals NOT ONLY with Israel and the Gentiles, but with individuals: Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. God has *individually* elected his children… come and work it out with us.

  9. rey
    May 15, 2011 at 21:59

    The Presbyterian church is now ordaining gay clergy.

    Its a natural move considering that Presbyterians are Calvinists. Calvinists and homosexuals have a lot in common: they both think they were “born that way.”

    I refer to the moronic doctrine of “total inability.” The Calvinists say they are born unable to do anything but sin, just like homosexuals say they are born unable to do anything but defile their bodies with the same sex. Seriously, then, how could anyone have not seen an alliance between these two coming? They both claim God created them to sin.

    Furthermore, it turns out, Calvin was excommunicated from the Catholic church for the crime of Sodomy. The archives of Noyon, Calvin’s birthplace, recorded that he was condemned on that ground, and it was also confirmed by a Catholic named Bolsec. I guess the Presbyterian church thought it was time to imitate their founder who was “born that way” as his doctrine of “total inability” teaches.


    • May 16, 2011 at 14:03

      Rey, I’m not sure I appreciate your tone towards our Calvinist brothers and sisters… I don’t like TULIP any more than you, but sneering doesn’t help the dialogue…

  10. David
    July 12, 2011 at 21:43

    There is one thing you have to remember about non-believers. It doesn’t matter how lost somebody is and how many demons they struggle with. When people want free nothing can keep them fro Jesus.
    Case in point the Gangrene demoniac. When Jesus showed up nothing could keep him from Jesus.

  11. July 13, 2011 at 22:37

    I really don’t speak the language of Theology, so forgive my simple speech.

    I really appreciated the case you posted for Irresistible Grace. I can think of a time in my life when I was set on doing something I should not have done. I knew I shouldn’t do it, I knew God didn’t want me to do it, and I could see His hand in the myriad of obstacles that fell into my path. He was clearly trying to steer me in another direction. Guess what? I found my way around the obstacles and did it anyway. Not a moment I am proud of. It’s a bit of a personal analogy, on a smaller level than the room filled with speakers. God was working all along, but I was tuning Him out – intentionally. Having experienced this personally, how can I doubt that God is out there right now, working in the same way in the lives of those who have not yet chosen Him?

    I guess it could be argued that if I were “chosen” of course God would work in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow, but then it could also be argued that if God knew I was going to sin anyway, why bother to try and stop me? My personal conclusion is that God woos, whether we respond or not. It is who He is. Why would He be that way part of the time, with some of us, and not with others? He wouldn’t. Unlike us, He is consistent. I am not utterly against Calvinism on every point, but I definitely have a hard time with this.

    • July 17, 2011 at 16:55

      All that “language of theology” is there for is making these conversations more concise. I don’t think true theology is something that takes a PhD to understand. True theology is knowing God and being a praying person. Which is why I’m hesitant to use the title “Theologian” for myself.

      Anyways, yes, I very much identify with your description of resisting the grace of God. In fact, I resist the grace of God every day.

      Lord, have mercy!

  12. Tim
    August 9, 2011 at 09:55

    I just stumbled upon your blog (looks nice!) and this article is a somewhat funny to me. A few years ago I read into this subject and talked about it with some (wise) people around me. I’m from the Netherlands, the country of Arminius. And what’s funny is first of all that the differences between calvinism and arminianism are almost nonexistant in the Netherlands, second is the word-use.
    As you will know Arminius was a Dutch theologican who didn’t agree with some teachings of Calvin. In the Netherlands his followers never became known as arminianists but as ‘remonstranten’ and subsequently calvinists were called ‘contra-remonstranten’. In the Netherlands calvinism is practically synonymous with protestantism, therefore the word-use in this discussion is funny for me. Well, the battle between the remonstranten and contra-remonstranten was fought out in the 17th century, the royal house of Orange being the decisive factor for the Netherlands (and the Dutch Reformed Church) to choose for the contra-remonstranten (the calvinists). This was much more a political than a theological decision.
    Anyway, nowadays the majority of the churches in the Netherlands practice what once was called remonstrantisme (arminianism) but still have the Dortsche Leerregels (of which the TULIP thing is a summary) as one of their confissions. Its a bit confusing, at least it was for me, but most people say now that it is not worth a fight.
    I wonder what will happen though when I’ll try to remove the Dortsche Leerregels from our confessions (as well as the passages in the Heidelberger Catechism which ridicule Roman Catholicism 😉 )

  1. March 18, 2011 at 02:18

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