Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Things Calvinists Are Said to Believe, but Don't

There is so much misinformation about Calvinism disseminated throughout the (largely fundamentalist and Southern Baptist) churches today. Whether it is purposeful (and some of it is) or ignorant, it does an equal amount of damage, as false witness and slander usually does. So here are the top ten things that many preachers say Calvinists believe, and of course, is simply not true. Some of them are even espoused by supposed Calvinists themselves. Let's take a look.

10. Lie: Calvinists believe that God creates evil.
      Truth: God creates every moral creature with a free will to choose. He does not create evil. All of Christianity is agreed on this point. Neither humans nor the devil have sin natures at this point. They are slaves to nothing. They can choose between good and evil. It is when they choose evil that evil enters the created world.

9. Lie: Calvinists believe that God does evil to do good. 
   Truth: God cannot do evil. He is good and nothing but good. But He is also sovereign and has chosen to govern all events, including evil ones to accomplish what is good. Hence, governing and manipulating the evil of man so that it ultimately has a good purpose in saving His people instead of accomplishing its intended purpose of chaos and a humanless world is a good thing to do, not a bad thing. Hence, when God purposes for Joseph's brothers to throw him into a pit, it is evil on their part, but good on God's part. The same can be said of Christ being crucified by God through wicked men. God's goal is salvation and good. Man's goal is evil and to destroy good. God may use evil, then, but He always remains good in so doing.

8. Lie: Calvinists believe that people cannot make moral decisions, and therefore, implies that people are not responsible for their actions.
  Truth: All people can make moral decisions and do it every waking hour of their lives. People have all faculties to do whatever they choose to do. They are not hindered by anything except by their own desire and love for the self. So people are enslaved to sin due to their love of self. But they are not forced to love self. They can choose to do good and follow God. They just aren't going to, because they are so in love with themselves and in love with pleasing themselves (even when they do a supposedly good work, it is not for the love of God). Hence, people are responsible for the decisions they make, precisely, because they can do otherwise. They just won't, so the Scripture talks about them being powerless to follow Christ simply because their own love for self renders them powerless to do what is right. This isn't an external restraint, but an internal one. i.e., one that they have chosen (both through Adam's sin and through their own) in their desire to be gods of their own lives. They are without excuse.

7. Lie: Calvinists believe that God forces people to be saved against their will.
   Truth: Honestly, how many people do you know who are saved say they are saved, but don't want to be? The truth is that no one wants to have Jesus as Lord over his or her life, because we all want to rule ourselves. So God does give us a new desire and love for Him that we did not have before, but we are still choosing based on our desires. He has just given us the love we lacked to make that decision and be saved. So God isn't dragging us, kicking and screaming, to Him. He opens our eyes, and in doing so shows us that He and His ruling presence in our lives is greater and to be more desired than our own self rule. We, therefore, choose, willingly, to follow Him. It is true that Scripture describes this as God "dragging" a person to Christ, but that is imagery to tell us that we would not have come on our own had we not been given the love and desire to do so by the Father. (I frankly wouldn't have much of a problem if God did force us against our wills to be saved though, since I'd rather be saved in the end than not. Do people really think it's wrong to drag their kids out of the street against their wills when there is an oncoming bus speeding toward them?)
But all people can resist God. They do it all the time. The point of the doctrine of irresistible grace is that God has given a love for Him that is so great to the individual that the person will not resist it, but will choose to place God above himself and submit his life to Christ. So everyone can resist, and everyone does. But God opens the eyes of starving men so that they know they are starving, offers the most succulent dish one could ever offer, and brings all of them to Himself. They simply will not resist because there is no reason to do so. Their love and desire for God is now greater than their love and desire for self. So our problem is that we would not choose God, not that we could not resist Him.

6. Lie: Calvinism teaches that God doesn't love everyone.
   Truth: Calvinism teaches that God doesn't love everyone the same. That's an important distinction. God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. He takes care of everyone. But He must choose between His people and those who are not His people when considering their lot in life. The existence of the wicked is to be subjugated to the existence of the righteous. God isn't going to have the wicked just do evil without any purpose. Both their evil and their punishment for that evil will be used to save the righteous in some way. Hence, God loves everyone, but not the same way, as one group must be placed before the other. Everyone, in any system, of course, has this same issue. The problem is that most people are inconsistent. For instance, one could simply ask, If God loves everyone the same, and He knows that the wicked will go to hell, why does He make them anyway? Christ tells us that it is better not to exist at all, then to undergo punishment, so why make the wicked in the first place? It is for His people that they are made. Hence, all of Christendom should be in agreement on this point: that God loves everyone, but not the same.

5. Lie: Calvinist teaching implies that we shouldn't evangelize.
   Truth: This is a truly tragic lie that I think shows the wrong-headedness of why we evangelize. First, all of the elect come to Him through the call of the spoken gospel. They cannot come to Him without it. Hence, since we do not know who they are (only God knows), we need to give the gospel message to everyone everywhere. Second, our participation in the role of evangelism isn't as saviors but as heralds of the message. We hope to participate in the process by seeing God's chosen people come to Him, but we primarily evangelize to glorify and obey God through Christ. Christ commanded us to evangelize, and we need to do that to exalt Him as Lord in our lives. I actually think that it is non-Calvinist Christianity that tends toward people not evangelizing, as it makes people feel overwhelmed that another person's salvation is "on them," or it causes people to think that if he or she believes that another person will not respond well, they ought not to try. In Calvinism, the gospel is always to be preached, as the person's salvation is all on God and not in the evangelist's technic, and God is to be always exalted in the gospel message, even when others won't listen to it. That's why the first missionaries were Calvinists, and Calvinists are the first ones to smack down heresies that threaten the gospel message. If Calvinism was apathetic toward the gospel, then there would be no reason to do so. After all, God's just going to save everyone anyway. But that isn't the reason the Calvinist evangelizes.

4. Lie: Calvinists believe in Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), and therefore, leads to moral laxity.
   Truth: Calvinists believe in Perseverance of the Saints (POS). These are two completely different doctrines. The OSAS mentality is that anyone who has prayed a prayer to Jesus in his life is and always will be saved. The doctrine of POS teaches that if someone is saved, he will always believe and continue to produce good fruit in his life. In other words, the saved will persevere in faith and good works. The unsaved may say numerous prayers throughout their lives, or just an initial one. This does not mean that they are saved. There are many people who believe OSAS who are not saved, and this doctrine is only a means to their destruction. If someone is saved, of course, he will always be saved; but the difference is that one continually evaluates his life to see if he is in the faith, where the other does not. Hence, Calvinism is a life of conscious awareness of the message of the gospel and how it plays out in our daily lives. It is a life filled with repentance from the unbelieving and disobedient self toward one in belief and submission to Christ.

3. Lie: Calvinists follow a man, Calvin, rather than the Bible.
   Truth: Most of the Calvinists I know don't even read Calvin. The theological formulations that are based on Scripture is just called Calvinism. No one is following Calvin. That's like saying that if you consider yourself a Baptist, you follow John the Baptist. Calvinists are biblicists and followers of Christ through the Scripture and orthodox reading of that Scripture. Calvinism just describes the orthodox reading of the text in terms of the passages that deal with the order of salvation. No one is following a man, except the God-man, Christ Jesus.

2. Lie: Calvinists believe it's OK to be Jerks.
    Truth: Just kidding. This one's true. Read the previous post.

1. Lie: Calvinists think everyone else isn't saved if they're not Calvinists.
   Truth: This is just plain silly. Calvinists do believe that non-forms of Calvinism are false, and do assume a certain level of heresy within them; but they also realize that people are learning. A part of sanctification is growing, not just in our ethics, but also in our theology toward the truth Christ has revealed. This means that everyone may be in a different place, but as long as they remain teachable to Christian orthodoxy in their profession of faith, they are to be considered saved. Some people just aren't there yet. Some people have been duped by less than scrupulous or ignorant preachers and authors. Some have other false assumptions that lead them to conclude differently on the matter. This is just a matter of getting straight what is crooked, but it is not necessarily a matter of the "saved" versus "unsaved." I do think that someone who evidences a rebellious spirit toward the truth and calls God a monster, etc. because of God's sovereignty that He displays in election is walking a fine line, but I don't go around believing that Calvinists are saved and non-Calvinists are not. That would just be biblically ignorant. Instead, Calvinists view Calvinism as the underpinnings of the gospel, i.e., the reason for our salvation is not ourselves, but God's decision to choose and draw us. In other words, to believe that one chooses to follow God on his own accord, or in a joint effort with some help from God, is to misunderstand the nature of our salvation as fully given by God rather than partially by ourselves. This is why the Bible brings up the subject, and it is why we bring it up. It's not the gospel itself. It is just the foundational reason as to why we believed the gospel and follow God today. Hence, it is of great importance, but not as important as the gospel itself (as one can believe the gospel and be confused about the correct assumptions one must make in order to be consistent with the gospel). As such, there are both Calvinist and non-Calvinist believers.

Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved One . . .  In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12).

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