What I don't like about Calvinism

Nick Norelli is not a Calvinist, but in his post What I Like About Calvinism he writes:

I like the logic of it all.  The way that the 5 main points of T.U.L.I.P. interlock is something to behold.  And it is this logical consistency that has me convinced that there can be no hybrid system of Calminianism or Arvinism (or whatever other strange concoction of a theological buzz-word you can think of).  If any one point falls then the system falls.

But this is just what I don’t like about Calvinism: not so much the individual doctrines (although I reject 3½ of the 5 points) as the way they are presented as an unquestionable complete system of doctrine. This is not the biblical way of presenting doctrine. It is not the traditional church way. Come to think of it, it is not even Calvin’s way. But it is the way of people who have made their own logic, or the logic of their theological heroes, judge over the word of God, even over God himself.

Instead, such people should humbly accept that they don’t know the whole truth, that the God whom the heavens cannot contain (1 Kings 8:27) does not live in a box of human making. They should stop relying on systematisations like the Westminster Confession as standards of doctrine. Then they should go back to the Bible, to listening to God speaking to them, and to seeing what he is doing in the world. They need not stop doing theology, but their starting point should be the Bible rather than what old preachers and confessions of faith say, and they should not expect to get many definite answers from their theologising.

0 thoughts on “What I don't like about Calvinism

  1. From my studies of the Holy writ, I’ve come to the conclusion that the doctrines of grace are Scriptural.

    I think to object to systemization is a bit misleading. Every doctrine of Scripture requires some form of systemization.

  2. I think its possible to be a Calvinist and maintain the humble perspective you describe, though.

    Out of curiousity, which half of which doctrine do you reject?

  3. I used to be Arminian but didn’t know what it was called. This is because I believed all the things people said and it made sense. But I hadn’t really studied the Bible to see if these things are what it taught.

    As I have come to study the Bible diligently I have come to realize that the Bible from my point of view teach the tenets of Reformed theology. (I hate using a person’s name like Calvinism).

    Regarding your point–if Scripture interprets Scripture and it’s all inter-related, wouldn’t that be similar to a doctrine or set of doctrines all having similar integrity? Maybe that’s a stretch.

    I used to dislike creeds but I now think it’s important to know what I believe and develop sound doctrine. Although I’m not sure how far “doctrine” goes. The sound doctrine Paul talks about in Titus 3 isn’t exactly talking about all the stuff we debate over.

    Just rambling.
    Jeff

    “Make up your mind!”
    –John MacArthur

  4. TC, I simply disagree with your last point. Perhaps you might like to explain or justify it.

    Jeff, I’m not as convinced as you are that there is one consistent theological picture presented in Scripture. I would say that there are a number of different descriptions, none of them complete enough to be fitted together into one consistent picture.

    Remember the analogy of the blind people trying to describe an elephant by touch? They all got true but apparently contradictory insights into what the animal was like, but none of them knew what the top part of it was like because it was out of reach. Similarly, God is out of our reach, so we can’t presume to know enough about him to put together a complete and consistent picture.

    Mike, thinking again, I’m not sure I can accept more than half a point, a version of total depravity which would not be considered adequate by many Calvinists. For me, total depravity means that everything unbelievers do is tainted by sin, but not that they are incapable of doing anything good or of responding to the gospel – although in either case their motives are likely to be somewhat mixed. For that matter so are Christians’ motives, although we may try to let God purify them.

  5. I enjoyed your post, and agree with many of your sentiments. I’m not sure that I buy into the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates. I understand the various points but there are other parts of my faith that I’ve got focus on right now and I hate to be distracted by the theological nuance. Perhaps what I’m getting at is that I still find it all easy enough to read about but I lack the energy to enter into the debate.

  6. I’m with Nathan. I think we talk as if those are the only options – which I suppose is a result of the fact that they’ve both been presented as coherent systems and thus an either/or issue.

    I, for one, label myself as a Calvinist (in that in some way I accept all five points, though perhaps not in the way that the typical Calvinist accepts them). And yet, I’m much much more that perfectionism is a potentiality than the typical Calvinist would be comfortable with (including my presbyterian wife). With that said, I also define perfectionism differently than Wesley did… My view rejects a reading that considers Romans 7 to describe the typical Christian life. That simply doesn’t make sense in relation to Romans 5-6.

  7. Peter, do you approve of any of the creeds of Christendom?

    Do you believe like many NT scholars and commentators that early creed are embedded in the NT text?

    Do we discover everything about a subject in Scripture from one verse? Don’t we have to put texts against texts to formulate a body of teachings?

    I hope the above questions help.

  8. Pingback: What I Like About Calvinism « Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

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  10. You know, some friends and I were going over the Westminster Catechism, and in the section describing God, the term “love” or “loving” was conspicuously absent. I thought about shutting up about it, but I asked why it wasn’t there. I don’t think anyone had an answer to that.

    But this is some system that apparently a lot of people revere, yet in describing the character of God, it leaves out the most important part.

    Instances like these leave me highly skeptical to any sort of theological hero, or even my own pastor for that matter. Ultimately, if we are saved by grace, we have priesthood, and thus we are stewards of our own lives and are responsible for what we do with them. I refuse to believe at this point in my life that I can follow some supposed spiritual leader without some hesitancy. I do pray however, that I (or anyone brothers or sisters) do not go the way of the calloused king, who refused to listen to correction.

  11. <>

    ummm, then maybe you should try to read it again… *rolleyes*

    CHAPTER II.
    Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.
    I. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, MOST LOVING, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

  12. Stamati,
    If you are refering to the Westminster CATECHISMS, rather than the Confession…

    “Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
    A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of GOD’S LOVE,[100] peace of conscience,[101] joy in the Holy Ghost,[102] increase of grace,[103] and perseverance therein to the end.[104]

    http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html

    “Question 13: What has God especially decreed concerning angels and men?

    Answer: God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere LOVE, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, has elected some angels to glory…”

    http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/larger1.html

  13. TC, I do not deny the traditional creeds. I accept that at least to a large extent their teachings are biblical, or at least correct logical inferences from biblical teaching. But I question whether they are helpful today, because to a large extent they do not address questions of relevance to current theological debate.

    Don’t we have to put texts against texts to formulate a body of teachings?

    You presuppose that we have to formulate a body of teachings. I don’t.

    Stamati, you make a good point, even if it is in fact accurate only for “the section describing God”. Of course the same is true of the creeds, which is another reason for being ambivalent about them.

  14. You know, some friends and I were going over the Westminster Catechism, and in the section describing God, the term “love” or “loving” was conspicuously absent.

    I’ve done a bit of reading recently on atonement theory.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two main tenets of Christianity.

    One says that God is first and foremost holy and that his love must be interpreted through his holiness.

    The other says that God is first and foremost loving and that his live must be interpreted through is love. I’m in this latter camp.

    I don’t know about Reformed theology in general, but Puritanism was highly influenced by a neo-platonic system of logic as set out in a work called ‘Dialectica’ by Peter Ramus. In fact, as someone raised with almost no knowledge of Reformed Theology, I could not even comprehend it until I learned about this philosophical underpining, which helped it all make sense.

    I’m absolutely and utterly convinced that hard-form Reformed Theology isn’t fully biblical. Although I believe that one can start with hard-formed Reformed presuppositions and read them into the bible.

  15. Thanks, Pam. I am not entirely convinced about your two camps. But I agree with you that “hard-form Reformed Theology isn’t fully biblical”, but is rather the result of reading philosophical presuppositions into the Bible. However, I understand that some professing Calvinists, such as perhaps my commenter Mike, and more clearly Jeremy Pierce, do not hold to the “hard form”, but reconcile the basics of Calvinism with a different, softer philosophy.

    Well, Jeremy, if you choose to claim that your philosophy is in fact “highly influenced by a neo-platonic system of logic as set out in a work called ‘Dialectica’ by Peter Ramus”, then I won’t try to contradict you, but I will think less of you.

  16. Peter, I understand your point of view. I do agree that the creeds are not to be considered as final. I think they’re best viewed as guidelines, since we both agree that they’re essentially biblical.

    But I do agree that at one level systemization is inescapable.

  17. PamBG,

    The Bible teaches that God is loving, and that it is holy.

    I don’t think I, or other Reformed people, would emphasise one attribute of God (e.g. his holiness) over another of God’s attributes (his love).

    Our understanding of any of God’s attributes will likely influence how we think of his other attributes, but that is not the same as prioritising one attribute above another.

    Words like “love” and “holiness” need definitions, so we need to look at how the Bible uses words like love in speaking of God.

  18. Thanks, Ben, TC and Pam.

    I reported here that Mark Driscoll said that God hates sinners. Driscoll also said:

    The whole “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” — that’s the wrong place to start. “God hates you and its going to go really really bad forever!” – hey now that is true…

    In other words Driscoll at least puts God’s hate (which I suppose is a reflection of Driscoll’s concept of his holiness) before his love.

    I don’t think I have previously seen the claim that John Piper teaches that God hates sinners. But I can believe it.

  19. Peter, yes I recognise that there are ‘softer’ forms of Calvinism. I used to belong to a united Methodist/URC congregation and the URC people were hardly hard-form Calvinists.

    Ben, I agree with you that God is loving and that God is holy, but my honest reading of various authors in the current atonement debates is that one ‘camp’ reads holiness through love and the other ‘camp’ reads love through holiness.

    John Piper explicitly states that God hates sinners in his recent book refuting Tom Wright. ‘Pierced for Our Transgressions’ (various authors) states that God hates sinners and, along with the book ‘Where Wrath and Mercy Meet’ also asserts that God creates and sustains the eternal torture to which he sends those who are damned.

    I’m not sure how to see any of this as ‘God’s holiness being read through his love’?

  20. But I do agree that at one level systemization is inescapable.

    At one level, perhaps.

    On the other hand – and I realise that this is not a rigorous academic debate – the older I get, the more I become convinced that orthopraxy is what God values most.

    Is it more important for me to visit the church member who has just gone into hospital and who has dementia, or to debate (in person or on the internet) concepts of God’s holiness? That’s a no-brainer for me, actually. Even as much as I enjoy debating theology and even though there are times when I’d rather be doing that.

  21. Pam, thanks for your comment reminding us that

    orthopraxy is what God values most.

    I completely agree. Any systematisation must be secondary to this. I only debate things like this here when there are not other pressing needs. If I were a pastor I would never have time to debate them!

  22. To be both transparent and honest, I’ve glanced back at Piper’s book and it would be fairer to say that his view is that atonement is about changing God’s attitude as being ‘completely against us’ to being ‘completely for us’.

    I apologise for any confusion but I still think that this view translates into ‘God hates sinners’ although I appreciate that hard-form Calvinists probably wouldn’t see it that way.

  23. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » “God hates sinners”: John Piper does believe this

  24. Here is a quote from Calvin on God both loving and hating us:

    “But to give additional assurance to those who require the authority of the ancient Church, I will quote a passage of Augustine to the same effect: “Incomprehensible and immutable is the love of God. For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were any thing at all. Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us, but that we were reconciled to him already, loving, though at enmity with us because of sin. To the truth of both propositions we have the attestation of the Apostle, ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,’ (Rom. 5:8). Therefore he had this love 437towards us even when, exercising enmity towards him, we were the workers of iniquity. Accordingly in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when he hated us. For he hated us when we were such as he had not made us, and yet because our iniquity had not destroyed his work in every respect, he knew in regard to each one of us, both to hate what we had made, and love what he had made.” Such are the words of Augustine (Tract in Jo. 110).”

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvii.html

    (Sorry if this ends up being posted twice – I tried to post it and it has not yet shown up)

  25. I find it interesting that so many say that those who believe in God as Soveriegn over all things as the scriptures say, so gentley say that ‘Calvinists’ are more concerned with the ‘Calvinist’ forebearers than with what the bible, the word of God says.
    Sure I have read what Calvinists before me have written as I have many others, but all much stand before the word of God before God will allow me to believe them, and if I am wrong in my thinking, the Holy Spirit will guide me to all truth, I have faith in God to cause me to stand firm in His will. Philp 1:6
    I myself study the scriptures througly when I study, which is much. In the many translations around today, I concider what was written but then I study what the original languages had to say and the meanings of the words, about context, and I come up with conclusions that I pray God has given me. To take todays translations for their written letter is to become deceived. The truth is in the word of God and He wants us to study His word diligently as is said in Timothy.
    When I read something in the word of God, especially when there is contoversy about something, I go back to the original lanquages for the pure meaning of the words.
    And I keep studying until I am satisfied which will be when I stand before Jesus face to face and know all things.

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