Contemporary Trends, Bible, Christianity

Why I am no longer a Calvinist

I used to be a Calvinist. I’ve since slowly drifted away from that point of view.

A few years ago I wrote about why.

Below I’ve simplified/clarified those reasons.

I know how complicated these debates get, and we see through a glass darkly. Our understanding of time, determinism, human will and consciousness, moral goodness, the Bible, and our own limits are but a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of other constraints upon our knowledge of God.

Below, I’m defining Calvinism as “belief in the five points of Calvinism as articulated in the canons of the Synod of Dordrecht.”

  1. Limited Atonement
    While the Bible clearly teaches that God’s salvation is only acquired by some, it also says he is the savior of all humanity (1 Timothy 4:10). It also says the same in 1 John 2:1-2. Jesus (not just his death) is the atonement for all humanity. I think the implicit logic in both passages is that the believer can be confident of God’s salvation to those who believe precisely because it is God’s intent for all humanity. This leads to a psychological issue.
  2. Psychological Problem of Calvinism
    In Calvinistic teaching, the chief cause of salvation is unconditional election. What this ultimately implies is that your perseverance until the end is determined by God’s unchangeable decrees of history. This means that whether you persevere in your faith or lose your faith is entirely up to God. But we know that some people do, in fact, leave the faith. This means that God led them to believe they had saving faith when they did not. Therefore, you don’t know if you’re saved or deceived about your salvation while ultimately being destined to apostasize. It’s a serious epistemological problem which makes for an even more serious motivational one. In this viewpoint, assurance of salvation is, as far as I can tell, a chimera and only incidentally correct. If assurance of salvation is instead knowable based on what 1 John 2:3, Matthew 7:14-27, and  Romans 8:28 say (conscious allegiance to Christ), then you may be saved with or without assurance of salvation but any deception is self-deception, not a feature of the wheels of history or God’s plan to damn you.
  3. Romans 9-11
    Romans 9, does say why God rejected Esau, also says why God rejected the religious leadership in Jerusalem: Romans 9:30-33. I think this section of Scripture is about the death of Christ (see Romans 11:11-15) and the subsequent difficulty of sharing the gospel in Israel, especially Jerusalem. It is not, I submit, Paul’s total philosophy of every person’s salvation history. Israel’s rejection of Jesus and of Paul’s gospel about Jesus have resulted in riches for all the nations of the earth and will result in salvation for Israel as well. The big proof that Paul is not teaching that God picks some for salvation without regard for their life history can be found in Romans 11:17-24. Paul makes clear that those whose hearts were hardened can repent and those who were shown mercy can reject that mercy.
  4. The Calvinist Notion of Sovereignty is Incoherent
    In most Calvinist preaching I’ve heard, God’s sovereignty is not about his authority as the king of the universe or even the king of his people. Rather, the word signifies his algorithmic oversight of every discrete event in the cosmos. In the Bible, God’s kingship is a metaphor about the relationship between God and his people that implied a two-way street of care, protection, and legal enforcement on the one hand and loyalty, admiration, and obedience on the other. In Calvinist rhetoric and theology, sovereignty is precisely the opposite. It’s a doctrine of one-way causal management. It is in no way political or reciprocal.
  5. The Bible Doesn’t Seem Designed To Explain God’s Exact Relationship to Time
    The New Testament tells us that the Old Testament is inspired to prepare the world for Christ, to train us in righteousness, to rebuke the lawless, and to be fulfilled by Christ. It isn’t clear to me that we need to know how God relates to time to be righteous or understand the gospel. What is clear to me is that many people who hardly give the issues of Calvinism a second thought, whether they belong to Calvinist churches or not, live righteously. So these issues, while perhaps open to human scrutiny are not necessary for Christian discipleship or personal development.
  6. The Warnings of Apostasy
    While this is a bit controversial, if somebody can reject the gospel after having believed it genuinely, then a wrench is thrown in the gears of the idea that grace is irresistible, and that divine election guarantees perseverance of the saints. Teaching the Bible over the years has lead me to have to let passages like those below have their full force as warnings to the effect that the gospel promises are only for the faithful. That faith may be weak, even the size of a mustard seed. But it must persist for somebody expect God’s salvation. God can show mercy to whomever he wants, of course, but he promises to show mercy to the faithful. Which means that the apostasy passages are warnings to believers lest they die without faith and in their sins. Paul said that he needed to use spiritual disciplines lest he abandon his faith (1 Corinthians 9:27) and that believing gentiles could reject the gospel (Romans 11:21-24). Jesus told parables to the effect that those who believe the gospel should be careful how they hear it, lest circumstances lead them to reject the gospel (Matthew 13:3-9). And Peter warned that false teachers who used to believe will be worse off than those who had never believed (2 Peter 2:1 and 2 Peter 2:18-22). This isn’t the same as saying that one can “lose their salvation” by sinning here or there. Instead, it’s saying that through intentional definitive rejection or habitual disuse, one can lose one’s faith in Christ. If this is true, and I think it is, then Calvinism, as I held it, is not.

Anyway, there’s that.

One Commnet on “Why I am no longer a Calvinist

  1. Thanks for the thoughts. I tell most of the people here at the language school (those to whom I talk to about things like this) that I am both Armenian and Calvinist. That allows me to argue with both groups :).

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