Why I’m not a Calvinist

By | January 16, 2010

Over time I’ve interacted with several groups which have a Calvinist bent. My interaction with these groups recently has lead me to the desire to write my thoughts concerning the subject. To be clear, while I have done a fair amount of reading, I have not done a specific in depth study of Calvinism. My perspective is based on the general teaching and my personal experience with groups who are generally Calvinist. In other words, my take will not necessarily be a deep theological debate so much as a reflection on Calvinism as I’ve observed it in practice.

Calvinist theology is most known for its belief in predestination, and many people aren’t aware of there being anything more to it. However as I understand it, predestination isn’t even the main point of Calvinism. At the core of Calvinism is the belief in the sovereignty of God and the depravity of mankind. In translation, essentially what what is being said is that first, God is so powerful, nothing can happen apart from his will, and second, us humans are absolutely evil, and can absolutely not do anything good apart from God making it happen. From this comes the idea of predestination: depraved people cannot on their own choose God, rather God must lead them in such a way that they will choose him. So while in one sense they choose God, in another, God has lead them in such a way that they will not, not choose him.

While I see where Calvinists are coming from, I don’t agree with where they go. To me, it appears that it begins with a problematic, overly literal take on scripture. (Tied into this are the concepts of “sola scriptura” and biblical infallibility.) The problem I’ve seen some Christians get into (not just in Calvinism), is that people take one to a few verses of scripture, and “set them in stone”. In other words, they look to the bible for teaching, and believing that it is infallible, believe that a specific verse must absolutely always mean exactly what they believe it says. The problem is you can’t do this for everything in the bible, because there are apparent contradictions. What ends up happening is that some verses—the ones that coincide with a particular view—are taken as literally and absolutely as possible. Then the rest of the bible, including the verses that don’t exactly coincide with a view, are bent around until they can fit to the primary view.

I see Calvinism as taking certain parts of scripture and elevating them to have a higher importance than the rest of scripture. I feel that Calvinism takes certain ideas—fairly abstract ones at that I might add—and makes them unbendable laws. It then takes everything else and makes them do acrobatics in order to fit to the primary view. To me, it seems this takes Calvinism to the point of holding some bizarre views. A tame one regarding predestination is this: both Calvinists and non-Calvinist agree that a person can profess to be a follower of Christ, act like a follower of Christ, and then at some point in the future, cease to claim or behave as a follower of Christ. Many would call this apostasy—a person who was once in the faith no longer being so, or “losing one’s salvation” (though in order to think this way, one must also see salvation as a one time act that has already happened). But for Calvinists, one cannot “lose their salvation”, because God has predestined those who will be saved. So in order to explain the person who falls away, they say that the person was never actually in the faith (or “saved” or which ever term you wish to use), despite all appearances. While this could theoretically be true, isn’t that the more round about, complicated answer?

This brings up another point that I have issue with. It seems that Calvinism is very abstract, and has little practical application. As in the example above, what has actually happened—from either a Calvinism or non-Calvinism point of view—is the same. The only difference is in the conceptual explanation. I’m not against the study of theology, the coming up with different ideas and debating them. But when there is no practical application, how important should it be for the average Christian?

Which brings me to yet another point: it seems to me that Calvinists place a primary emphasis on in depth study of the bible and theology. One of the favorite activities of Calvinists is to participate in bible study. To this end, Calvinists, along with most of modern evangelicalism, view the book of Romans as the greatest, due to the fact that Paul seems to outline a systematic theology more clearly there than any other place in scripture. (It’s been suggested that main line denominations based their theology more on the synoptic gospels, with an emphasis on social issues. A further suggestion has been made that we ought to look to Colossians, with the emphasis of Christ as the Head, and Ephesians, which focuses on the church as Christ’s body, as foundational books for theology.) I think bible study is good, but I believe it is more important to focus on living the Christian life.

Share Button

Thank you for subscribing to my weekly digest email! Please check your inbox in order to confirm your subscription. If you don’t receive the confirmation email, check your spam folder. You may add DLWebster@DL-Webster.com to your address book in order to prevent my emails from being marked as spam.

  • (Written in response to a comment left on Facebook.)

    What I know about Reformed theology is based on what I have heard others teach, not based on an in depth study of Calvinism itself. My own theology is based on the bible as much as possible, though I recognize the influence other teachers have had (let’s be honest–I wouldn’t have just figured everything out myself reading nothing but the bible). To put in another way, I’ve heard both Reformed and non-Reformed ideas taught, and I believe that some of the non-Reformed ideas fit the bible and real life better than the Reformed views.

    I’m not making any judgements here based on how “good” people are. I’m saying that I often don’t the difference a Reformed view makes verses a non-Reformed view in practical application. For example, a person commits to following Christ; did he/she freely choose to do this, or were they put in such a position that they”had” to choose this? While there might be a difference from a cosmic perspective, I don’t see how it looks any different from our perspective. Or it could be taken worse: maybe the person chooses not to commit until God “forces” them to do it. That’s just how Calvinism looks to me.

    I think that sin-redemption isn’t the core foundation of Christianity–it’s too focused on us. I think it’s closer to say that God wants a people, a temple, and a bride/body for Christ. Why were we created in God’ image? I think it’s because wanted us to incarnate his character in the world. Looking at it this way, sin was a hitch in the plan, so God devised a way to put his plan back on track. God loves us and wants us to be a part of what he’s doing, which will also be the best thing for us. But, if this is true, Christ didn’t come and die just so we could be cool with God and go to “heaven” someday. We’re not left here to simply save more people, we’re left here because we can begin to live out our created purpose right now. We can do this because we have been freed from the law and sin. Now the point of the Christian life isn’t simply “sin management”–trying to sin less and be better people, rather it’s living by the Spirit and displaying God’s character. Sinning less is a result of our new character, and on the fact that we have a purpose for our lives which sin gets in the way of.

    • Note: At the time I originally wrote this post and response comment, I was under the impression that Reformed theology and Calvinism were essentially the same. I have since learned that they are different, even if often associated (Calvin was only one of several Reformed theologians). I edited the original post to reflect this, however I have left the previous comment unchanged.