Monday, July 23, 2012

Why I Reject Calvinism

Calvin's Five Points are usually spelled out with the acronym T.U.L.I.P. which correspond to:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Let’s take each one in turn and look at what they mean and why I reject them all.

 Total Depravity: To the Calvinist this doesn’t simply mean that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Instead, they take it to mean that everything about everyone is sinful and that sin touches every aspect of every person’s life. It’s also expressed as “Total Inability” which means man is incapable of even wanting to choose good or to repent.

So, if people are truly as depraved as Calvinists say, then no one could ever be saved because no one is saved without repentance and no one would ever want to repent according to this doctrine. Unless you also believed the second point of the doctrine which is:

Unconditional Election: This is the belief that the only way anyone is ever saved is by God’s choice before the creation of the earth. Some are saved by God’s choice and some are damned by God’s choice. It’s all about God’s choice and not about any human’s sincere repentance or desire to be saved since man is totally depraved (see point one above). In other words, Calvinism teaches that those who are saved receive salvation because God chose them so that they could repent, not because they repented.

This belief is largely founded on a grave misunderstanding of Romans 9 to 11. At any rate, if you accept this then you must also accept the next plank in this doctrine with is:

Limited Atonement: Since God has only chosen to save some and not all of the people, then the Atonement of Jesus is limited only to those who are pre-chosen, not for everyone on the planet. Therefore, Christ only died for those He was already planning to save ahead of time, not for the whole world. Calvinists hold that the atonement is “sufficient for all but only efficient for the elect”.

This means that God could have saved everyone on Earth, but He chose not to. Calvinism teaches that there is a select group of Christians with a set number of members that cannot be added to or taken away from. You’re either chosen to be saved or not chosen to be saved. That’s it. Next we have:

 Irresistible Grace: This just means that if you are lucky enough to be one of the number of elect, then God will give you the Grace to live the Christian life. This Grace is not resistible by the elect. It is forced upon you just like your election.  The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, "graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ." This brings us finally to:

Perseverance of the Saints: This means that you will remain in the faith and you will never backslide, fall away or lose faith. Since your salvation wasn’t your choice, and since you have an irresistible grace from God, you will never and could never lose this faith. Good news if you’re one of the elect. Bad news if you’re not.

Those who are not elected have no opportunity to be saved, ever. It’s just game over from before the universe began. Those are the breaks.

The good news is that no one before Augustine (400 ad) ever believed or taught this doctrine. The cultic Manichaiens (a Gnostic cult) taught and believed this doctrine, which is where Augustine borrowed it from. John Calvin later refined it and because there was an attempt to refute the five points of Armenianism, the Five Points of Calvinism were created.

It is my opinion that the New Testament scriptures do not teach this doctrine and neither should we.

Why I don’t believe in the Five Points of Calvinism

Why not Total Depravity? Because God’s Word implores us over and over again to repent. It makes no sense for God to demand that people do something that He knows they cannot do, and especially to rest their eternal well-being upon an act that cannot be accomplished.

God’s salvation is conditional and that condition is met when men and women turn from their sins and chose to follow Christ and receive his eternal life within.

 Why not Unconditional Election? Because Romans 9 through 11 doesn’t teach that God is choosing individual people, it teaches that God chooses Christ and that anyone who is in Christ is saved. If you are in Christ then you are “elect” because you are part of the Body of the Chosen One who is Jesus.

The election Paul is talking about in Romans 9 to 11 is simply the identity of the Israel to whom God made His promises in the Old Covenant. Paul is clear to point out that not every Jew is truly Israel and he explains how God has the right to choose some Jews to carry the promise and others not to carry the promise. Again, this is not about salvation – it is simply about being the chosen or not being the chosen of God to carry the promise of God.

So, who is chosen? God has chosen to bless the faithful remnant of Israel. If a Jew has faith in Christ then they are truly Israel. If they are not trusting in God’s messiah, then they are not true Israel.

Again, this is not about salvation but about who is actually the rightful recipient of God’s promises and who is not. God has created two categories: Those who are in Christ (true Israel) and everyone else (those who reject Christ).

Who then are the chosen of God? Anyone who is in Christ Jesus. Who is not the chosen of God? Anyone who rejects Christ as Messiah. There are only two categories. As Paul explains so clearly in Galatians chapter 3, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (v.29)

Why not Limited Atonement? Because once you remove the first two points of Calvinism there’s no reason to accept this contrived view that God’s Grace is limited only to a select group of pre-chosen souls. Remember, “For God so loved the world…”

 Why not Irresistible Grace? Because God doesn’t treat us like robots. We can choose to follow Christ or we can chose to embrace our sin nature. This is why the New Testament scriptures urge us over and over again to guard our hearts, work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and not to fall away from Christ – because if we’re not careful we certainly can. Yes, you can turn from the faith and fall away from Christ and salvation. No one is “once saved, always saved.” If they are following Christ then they are saved but if they are not following Christ then they are – of course – not saved. It’s that simple.

Why not Perseverance of the Saints? Because as I’ve said above, we are free agents who can either chose to continue in our faith or we can chose to follow a path of sin and selfishness. God does not make us do anything, nor does the devil.

“Chose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – (Joshua 24:15)

*NOTE: Obviously this is a very hotly contested topic among Christians. If you have questions or disagreements, I'm open to your comments. Please play nice.



Unknown said...

I'll bite. I occasionally read your blog because I house church. But, I'm a Calvinist, and I obviously found your response lacking. First, jumping over your at times inaccurate portrayal of TULIP to your reasons why: Have you asked yourself if the bible actually teaches total depravity? Just because it doesn't make sense to you how such a doctrine can coincide in scripture with the imperative to repent doesn't mean that scripture doesn't, nevertheless, teach both without contradiction. Your philosophy encroaches.... Second, again, with Unconditional election you merely assert that Romans 9-11 teaches covenant membership. Suppose I agree with that the strongest passage for UC? I seem to remember a passage in John.... From there, you seem to think the system falls like a house of cards, seemingly able to debunk it with your philosophical opinions. What always gets me with posts like this is that somehow, based on the power of your own beliefs, you think you can criticize a biblical system without really dealing with its hermeneutical underpinnings, or by offering your alternative for what those passages might mean. In summation, who cares why YOU think its wrong. I might care if you could demonstrate biblically how/why its wrong. And no, saying "that doesn't make sense" or "that's not who I thought God was" doesn't count. All that counts is what Scripture actually says. The end.

Keith Giles said...

Seriously now, if you don't agree with me that's ok. No one is telling you to agree with me.

If you'd like to discuss specific points or point out areas where you think I've got it wrong, etc. I'm open.

I've taken the time to explain point-by-point why I don't believe in the Calvinistic doctrines. Can you take some time to show me where you think I've missed something? Or do you just want to criticize me without getting specific about what scripture actually teaches?

Don't you want to talk about where Augustine got these ideas from? Wasn't Manichaeanism a gnostic cult? That's ok with you?

Don't you want to talk about those other scriptures that you think prove the Calvinistic version of election?

It's ok if you don't. Just wondering.

Unknown said...

Part 1 of 2
First, you did say that I shouldn't believe Calvinism. @ Perseverance of the Saints you say, "It is my opinion that the New Testament scriptures do not teach this doctrine and neither should we." I suppose I'm being a bit presumptuous. I assume that by "we" you mean Christians, and by extension me. Also, I assume that whether you are referring specifically to the doctrine of perseverance or Calvinism as a whole makes no difference. But you are asserting an opinion and asking us, both directly and indirectly, to agree with you. Which brings me to my main criticism…

You have every right to write whatever you want. I'm not saying you can't. I'm just saying that there is a bit of hubris in thinking, for anything less than strictly biblical reasons, that you can just assert that Calvinism is wrong. You demonstrate this to the extreme when you pull a double-sided genetic fallacy with Augustine. First, I don't believe in the doctrines of grace because Augustine invented it, although perhaps it can be said that we all believe what we believe because of Augustine. I don't really know how one would reconstruct Christianity without Augustine. But perhaps you have some special knowledge that there is a division within his teaching, the Manichaean part which you reject, and the pure part which you accept. I doubt that you do. I don't think these doctrines were invented by Mani or his followers either. I believe in these things because of the teaching of Scripture. So, yeah, I'm comfortable with the fact that Augustine was a pagan just like I am OK with the fact that Paul was a Pharisee. I actually tend to see that Augustine reacted strongly against his earlier Manichaeism, but I supposed you've read scholars that disagree. (And by the way, Augustine, according to your TULIP, wasn't a Calvinist). You pulled from several different wells in your criticism: history, philosophy, and, weakly, the Bible. The first two wells are poisoned. The only one fit to drink is the third one. I hope you understand why I say this. I mean, the only way you're going to convince a (real) Calvinist not to be one is through scriptural reasoning. It's in your own interest to not rest your argument on your view of God's nature and human freedom. You must realize that Calvinists disagree with you, right? It all kinda boils down to a "Calvinism is wrong because I say so" kinda thing if you aren't basing your points, all of them, on the authority of God.

Unknown said...

Part 2 of 2
I didn't put myself out there explaining why the belief system you believe in is wrong, so I don't know that I'm obligated to flesh out my criticism any more. If you make an assertion, you are subject to criticism. I can just say that your criticism failed and no more. I may respond to you in kind, we'll see. But minimally, if I did respond it would be two fold. First, correcting your errors, and second presenting a case biblically for the support of Calvinism. But I hesitate. This seems a waste of time, no? Well, because everything I would say is already in print. So, perhaps a better way forward is to examine your actual sticking points, which, if I can be so bold, aren't primarily biblical. You show your cards in how you argue against Calvinism. You cannot accept it, whether or not it's the counsel of Scripture, because you have an a priori commitment to human freedom and a certain articulation of God's nature.

Perhaps we should scrap all of this, and maybe I can locate a discussion which we can both handle at this point: How is it that I can believe in Calvinism given all of the warning passages, the calls to repentance, etc, which you mention repeatedly as support for the idea that God doesn't force us to believe (or perhaps to do anything at all).

Am I shooting true here? Or, would it be helpful for me to regurgitate the Institutes for you? Or perhaps I haven't understood you at all and you want me to respond with my own philosophical assumptions, with perhaps an historical reason why nobody should believe anything Arminius wrote? I dunno, you tell me what the next move is.

Eli said...

i dont agree with either calvinism or arminianism but i can see how both views can be drawn out from scripture along with supporting worldview and philisophical arguments.
Many well meaning and learned christians have come to believe those views.
For me I can agree with both upto a point. Too many scriptures that show the extent of gods salvific intentions and purpose, plus too many scriptures that show the relative impotence of mans will in the grand scheme of things. universal reconciliation embraces a high view of gods sovereignty, plus mans will, all within the context of gods love and revealed plan.

Lionel said...


My only question to myself (not to you) is what is it in me that causes me to believe versus my neighbor. There are only two options:

1. God did it
2. I was better or smarter or closer to God than my neighbor who rejects the Gospel.

Number two seems to fly in the face of the teachings of the bible and Jesus' own words, not to mention all of what God says to Israel in the OT so I default to number one. And thus from this I have Calvinistic tendencies but I do struggle with both.

C said...

Good expose, Keith. I agree, though I came around to it a different way. I used to be a Calvinist, but soon realized that "limited atonement" was unbiblical. You have to completely deny 1 John 2:2 (or ignore all context of how John uses "world") to say that the atonement is not for all men. After ridding myself of that point, I slowly started seeing the others in a different light.

Although recently I've been looking at the whole thing differently. I think the initial premise we normally come from is flawed. We talk about "being saved" without ever bothering to clarify what it is we are saved from. Most people would naturally think we are saved from hell, but the bible never puts it that way. Rather, we are saved from sin and death. Our sins have already been paid for. Eternal punishment is for those who reject Jesus.

the alternative1 said...

the whole thing on doctrine is an epistemological thing where humans debate on interpretations of a book put together by humans--my experience of god was an ontological deal and then became an epistological thing when other humans calling themselves christians told me i had to know about god their way but god stepped in and fixed the problem now calvanism or any other ism does not matter only knowing god in christ ontologicaly.

Anonymous said...

@ caleb turner. Above all the pseudo big words, you just sound like an arrogant prick. Even if you are right, i wouldn't want to listen to you. I'm not siding with Keith or you, but you've already put the wall up. I would even admit that i lean a bit more calvinist. Perhaps you should come off more graceful and less condescending.

Unknown said...

@ anonymous. First, I read through my comments and the only word I used which might be considered by a literate person as a "pseudo big word" is "a priori". I'm sorry if that offended anybody; it's just an easy way to make a pretty complex distinction. I'm not sure what is "pseudo" about it anyhow, unless what you're implying is that I use "big words" to prove my point in some sort of intellectual pissing contest. I guess you'll have to call it like you see it.

But do I have to point out the contradiction in saying I sound like an arrogant prick, and then saying I should come off more graceful and less condescending? You see, you think (an apparently Keith as well since he approves the comments) that your attitude is justified because you think I brought it on myself with the way I spoke. That's funny, because I think the exact same thing about Keith's post. He invites the type of criticism I gave by writing such a post. I suppose that you don't recognize that the real arrogance here is Keith's. "You see, everybody knows that total depravity makes no sense. Nobody can seriously hold to a Reformed reading of Romans 9-11", etc. Most people who understand the issues wouldn't bother responding, and perhaps I shouldn't have bothered to comment. Maybe Keith was just getting his own thoughts out there, not really intending to make an argument that would stand up to any criticism. But I guess, just like you, I call them like I see them.

Also, I always wonder, what does it mean to "lean" Calvinist? I actually agree with Keith on one point: if you have the first two, it all kinda follows from there.

Henry said...

John Calvin is a humanist lawyer broke from Roman Catholic Church and became a clergy in the Reformation Church movement. There were many changes God did in his life, Calvin's wrote two different accounts of his conversion that differ in significant ways. John Calvin's word and doctrine is work in progress as it was written during the early days of Church Reformation.

If we take his teaching whole sales and say they are right or they are wrong is not biblical. Do I believe SOME of the teaching of the Calvinist, yes I do (because I found them in the bible), but I am not a Calvinist. I am a disciple of Jesus, because only Jesus has all the authority, power, wisdom and knowledge. We should avoid the issue face by the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3.

The confusing part of any teaching is: if we do not read the word of God in the perspective of eternity, a lot of what the bible says sound confusing and contradicting. Without the Holy Spirit, our human understanding is very limited in completely knowing God's word.

John 14:26 (NLT)
26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

John 20:24-27, Thomas was with Jesus (and knew Him) for 3 years yet he did not believe when Jesus was resurrected!

Salvation is not believing in a teaching, even the teaching ABOUT Jesus; Salvation is believing in Jesus the Son of God and through Chirst with the power of Holy Spirit we will know the Father.

Neale and Jenn said...

I'm just curious why you'd write such a post. It is devisive not unifying... Is this some kind of litmus test on who has the correct doctrine?

Keith Giles said...

Well, I've been blogging since 2005 and this is the first time I've written a post expressing my personal views concerning this doctrine.

Hopefully it's not divisive to let people know my position on these doctrines.

You can still follow Jesus and believe in Calvinism. I'm not making any judgments against people who disagree with me here.

krspond said...

@keithgiles: I'm a little surprised by this post. This is much too deep of issue to treat so modestly, and honestly kind of pompously. You have to well know that there is SO much more to Calvinism than the way you portrayed it. I agree with @calebturner on just about every point. You lean on your philosophy and affinity for free will more than the word (in this post, at least). I'm sure you have plenty of Biblical basis for your belief... this would be a post to include all of that in. @anonymous: inappropriate. To me, it simply appears that @calebturner is an intelligent person writing in a form appropriate for discourse. Not to insult (honestly), intelligent discourse often sounds harsh to the less intelligent. I would consider myself less intelligent than just about anyone I've listened to in popular debates... and it sometimes sounds mean. What you see, however, is a couple of people shaking hands and grabbing a beer afterwards. I believe that's the case here. @ketihgiles: I know you must approve these comments. It was not a wise decision of you to allow the post calling @calebturner a prick. That is stirring up strife and I think you should know that. Lastly, I know you are very passionate and opinionated on many topics such as giving, tithing, hierarchy, organic church, etc. However, serious theological issues should be approached with more care and respect.

Marshall said...

a most disturbing outcome with both the Calvanist and the followers of Arminius is that both seem to assume a license to present their opinions as if ever crucial to any point. This single observation alone being sufficient cause to abandon Calvanism AND Amminianism! Taking up with one or the other always generates wasted effort; distracting men & angels away from the Christ. Neither John nor Jacob would consent.

Anonymous said...

I am in agreement that the argument lacks substance. I am a calvinist and do not have a desire to "side" with a calvinist for fighting sake. I seriously question the approach in the calvinistic criticism. Also, I for one, do not think @caleb turner was being arrogant at all. A strong statement and position was posted in this blog to which a strong criticism came. This is inevitable, unless this post is only for people who want to agree... The lack of appropriate representation of calvinism is what erks my bones the most. Keith, you are above this misrepresentation because of bias.

Keith Giles said...

Caleb: Let's take one point at a time and go from there, if you're still interested.

Let's stick to the Scriptures.

You go first: What's wrong with my assessment of Total Depravity?

Anonymous said...

I think it would be great. I would love to read and follow along. I for one do not believe that being reformed or not being reformed is a salvation issue, but it does have major trickle down to the rest of our lives. The theological framework that we believe must dictate how we live. This is an interesting topic that can lead to much unity, if understood correctly. We should both understand that we all have the same objective, just might go about it differently.
What I am really saying is, I'm interested in the doctrine discussion but also the playing out of it all...