Why I am not a Calvinist
Although Calvinism is a highly logical and interconnected system of theology, to the outsider it is a complicated and confusing arrangement of ideas. While studying this topic point-by-point, it is easy for us to lose sight of the "big picture" and forget that Calvinism is a subject that demands a conclusion and decision upon our part. For different people, different points may seem more or less convincing. For this reason and to finalize what we have elsewhere discussed, a unique, personal defense is here presented of the points that are most compelling to this author - the reasons why I am not a Calvinist. The purpose is not to summarize our discussion, but to conclude it.
God's Plea for Change
To me, the most convincing point that God has not predestined all events is His constant plea for man to change. If passages were taken out of context, then one would expect to find only one or two references to man's need to change. However, repentance is the underlying theme of all prophetic and gospel messages, which by definition implies man can change. These messages are not addressed to the Holy Spirit but to people, from whom action is demanded.
Whenever repentance is preached, the alternative is typically taught as well. The warnings of sure punishment upon the unrepentant is found throughout the Bible. In fact, Jesus used the phrase "hell fire" more than any other preacher in the Bible. Were these statements from a cruel God mocking those who could not change, or were these encouragement and warnings to the sinner?
Calvinism would have us believe that God did not really mean what He said. We are to believe that these pleas were only the "appearances" of invitation, persuasion, and free will; however, if these straight forward statements of fact were mere "appearances", how can we distinguish the "appearance of truth" from the real truth? Why should we not accept what is written, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16)?
Recall Jesus' statement to the apostle Paul, before his conversion:
"Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'" Acts 9:4-5
Goads are sharp-pointed sticks that are used to prod cattle in the right direction as they plow a field. Cattle can and do kick against these prods, but they only hurt themselves. God does try to direct our lives so that we will be encouraged to seek Him (Acts 17:25-27), but we can kick against the goads (Romans 2:4-5). Paul had been avoiding the truth that was confronting him. Although it was difficult, he was kicking against the goads, and his conscience must have felt it. The question for us to consider is, "Are we kicking against the goads?".
Calvin's Unjust God
Calvin explained that God's absolute extension and exercise of His authority was the answer to all questions regarding our nature and need for salvation. He nobly sought to answer questions regarding why God saved man, why man needed saving, and why only some were saved. Regardless of its noble intentions, Calvinism seems to have necessarily indicted God with characteristics that He would condemn, even in His creation.
Calvinism teaches that God unfairly condemned the human race for sins that He prearranged and predetermined. Can God fairly condemn man for sins that He made Him do? Calvinism blames God for man's mistakes. It teaches that the guilt for the original sin was unfairly passed down through all generations, condemning children for sins they did not commit. This is also unfair. How can we use the words "equity", "fair", "right", and "just" to describe God's judgment according to Calvin? Compare Calvin's vision of God's judgment with the Bible's description:
"For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity." Psalm 98:9
The Lord despises injustice and unfairness. How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person's actions.
"Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. So truth fails, And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him That there was no justice." Isaiah 59:14-15
Calvin's Egotistical God
Although these words may seem shocking, please consider the following implication. Not only does Calvinism make God to be an arbitrary Savior, but it necessarily implies that God was motivated by glory rather than love. According to Calvin, God never sought man's best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race. Instead, He arbitrarily selected some, condemning others. Why did God do this? According to Calvinism, it was performed for God's glory.
"God's decrees are the wise, free and holy acts of the counsel of His will, whereby, from all eternity, He hath for His own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men" The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 12, p. 97
Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to perform good deeds for our glory. In fact the Bible condemns the hypocritical Pharisees for just such behavior (Matthew 6:1-5). Calvinism exalts a God, who condemned man for performing just as he was built to do and then selectively saving some to make Himself look good. This is contrary to all that is in the Bible regarding God and His goals for man. Calvinism bears the marks of all man-made religions. Like Greek mythology, it's gods are imperfect and marred, living up only to the standards of its creators and believers.
The Bible teaches of a God who created man and gave him laws, which were always for man's good (Deuteronomy 6:24). When man sinned, alienating himself from a perfect, holy, and just God, he was given another chance by the God of the Bible - not for God's glory, but because God loved man and sought his best interest (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). This God calls us to become like him (I John 3:3; II Peter 1:4), learning to similarly love others before they love us (I John 4:10-11). God only manifested His glory and power so that man would learn and repent, not to destroy him and build up God's glory.
If Calvinism be true, then no good can come from the glory won by God for unjustly sending men to eternal hell. How could we truly appreciate His power, if He made us appreciate it? How can one truly glorify God, if He has no free will? How can any offering of love or respect be valuable, if it was not freely given? How can love exist without choice? If this was how Calvin's god sought glory, then he failed.
An Army of Volunteers
Why would God entreat man to repent? He could easily force men to repent, which Calvin taught regarding the elect and their salvation. Why would God ask man to change and love Him? The answer is quite simple. Would you prefer a spouse who is forced to love you, bow before you, and serve you as a slave, or would you prefer a partner who chooses to love you and care for you? Just as most people desire, God similarly seeks a people that seek Him:
"Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth" Psalm 110:3
He does not want to force people to do good, but He wants them to choose to do good. Because of our frail condition and subjection to vanity, this desired maturity takes some time to develop, but God never wants good deeds to be forced. The apostle Paul once had an opportunity to "force" a good deed from a fellow Christian. Although he never could truly force a good deed, notice the care Paul took that the right choice would be made voluntarily by Philemon:
"I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary ." Philemon 1:12-14
What reason could Paul possibly have for not compelling Philemon? If Calvinism be true, and if God forces the elect to do good, then why would Paul care that this good deed be done voluntarily? Moreover, how can any deed even be done voluntarily, if there is no free will?
Two central problems exist with the doctrines of Calvinism. They indite God's character by accusing Him of mass injustice and selfish egotism. These implications are unavoidable and necessarily implied by the beliefs that God arbitrarily judges mankind based on God's predestination and for His own glory.
These beliefs and their derivatives are impossible for me to accept. Why? Not because I personally find them offensive or distasteful, but because God condemns such behavior from his creation. Would Calvinism teach that the creation is more responsible and capable than its Creator? Not without contradicting its fundamental premise of God's absolute sovereignty.
To a Calvinist, life may seem fearful without the unchangeable favor of God, consequently, it is anticipated that many questions would naturally arise in a reader's mind. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is offered as a chance to consider miscellaneous thoughts and responses to common questions. Links are also provided that would allow you to e-mail suggestions for comments or questions.
In closing, consider Ezekiel's inspired description of God's judgment. Remember, God has no desire that you be lost. He is on your side, if you want to be on His (Romans 8:23).
20 "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
21 " But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.
23 "Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live?
24 " But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.
25 " Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair?
26 "When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies.
27 "Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
29 "Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?
32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!" Ezekiel 18:20-32
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