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Do You Have Questions About Calvinism?


I am currently writing a multi-part series titled Why I Became a Calvinist. I have noticed readers have questions about Calvinism. I plan to answer those questions upon the completion of the series. Please leave your questions on this post or the relevant post in the series. I will get to them sometime next week.

Thank you!


Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    I have never studied Calvinism in depth. However, I have often seen one thing that troubles me deeply. The most radical, tripped-out, downright crazy leaders on the religious right were often raised as either Presbyterians or some other church branch of Calvinism. How could I express it best? Christian Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals on the religious right come after people to taunt them and make them feel worthless with words. Religious right Calvinists sometimes seem to want to come after an outsider’s throat with a razor-sharp dictatorial knife.I know that was not well expressed, and I probably did not put a lot of thought into it first. It has just always seemed to me that influential, radicalized, gung-ho Calvinists go further off the deep end than other Christians—–and more easily so. Is there a theological reason for that? What in Calvinism creates a Rushdoony type of religious person?

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    I never could fully understand how if God knows everything that is going to happen and has preordained it, where the heck does our supposed free will fit in? Aren’t we then just puppets? And what about Satan and demons – where do they fit in? Isn’t this all just a screenplay where we’re all reading the script and playing the roles, and God is the writer, director, producer, and set and costume designer?

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    Jacqueline Dierks

    I know nothing about Calvinism, the two post ahead of me are questions I would have. I cannot wait to read your series as I am just trying to find something to believe in. I do believe in God. I do not want to be called an atheist. I am looking for something that will not breed anger but will focus more on critical thinking. I am excited to have some questions answered.

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    What do Calvinists believe about baptism? If salvation is only for the elite and predestined, what is the meaning of the rite of baptism–and why was Christ himself baptized, if it’s not a spiritually transformative experience?

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Atheism doesn’t meet my personal needs, my backround is also tribal,so it wouldn’t work for me. My question regarding Calvinism is, why is it so mean spirited ? Calivin had some rival burned at the stake, supposedly for heresy. Christians can’t kill. Shouldn’t that make one wonder ?

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      IIRC that particular rival was also a leading figure on the analysis of the human body at the time, though Calvin killing him had little to do with anatomy.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Good morning, Augustus. I did a quick phone search of Michael Servetus, and found out he discovered the process of respiration. Clearly a genius and forward thinker. That poor man ! Both the Inquisition and Calvin were after him,it turns out. After seeing the wealth and corruption of the Papal system, he renounced that. Rather he denounced it, I mean. It’s quite a study. He was actually burned THREE times. Last by the Nazis,who melted his statue in France. Why ? He was a free thinker. So then, having a brain makes one a threat. Calvin swore he wouldn’t allow Servetius to leave his province alive, if he ever came through there. He did argue for decapitation, instead of burning, but it was too late by then. Something for rabid Calvinists to ponder, right ?

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Bruce, Will you share your thoughts regarding the the attraction to Calvinism both for you personally and the larger general population of Protestants?

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Ex-Catholic here, and I’m baffled. Sorry, Bruce.

    My sense of Calvinism is that God has chosen some humans to be saved and join him in perpetual ass-licking–um, heavenly worship of him–for eternity based on some criteria that is completely opaque to humans. Meet the right criteria, whatever they are, and you’re in. Don’t meet it, however hard you try, and you end up being tortured for eternity. And yet, this infinitely good deity created these people. He created them for eternal torture. And somehow, this meets some definition of “good”.

    Conservative, non-Calvinist Christians, OTOH, believe that people can choose to become saved (and thereby avoid the eternal torture) by right belief in God, and some correct works (like saying the Sinner’s Prayer, maybe getting baptized, trying to live up to all the rules their pastor insists are requirements for being a True Christian (TM). Although right behaviors tend to be a byproduct of right belief. But because the all-knowing, across all time, God set this whole situation up, he must have known, at the “beginning of time”–whatever that means in a nonscientific sense–that he would be condemning most humans to eternal torture.

    Please tell me if these characterizations are anywhere near right, and if so, isn’t this a distinction without a difference?

    1) An omnimax god creates self-aware beings with the PLAN of torturing most of them forever. (Where the word “forever” is cavalierly bandied about by people who haven’t even gotten their minds around the time since the last Ice Age; a glimpse of understanding of Deep Time on planet Earth would blow their minds, and doesn’t come near to describing eternity. “Eternity” is properly a mathematical concept.)

    2) Calvinism says the selection of who gets tortured is completely up to this god. Victims have no say.

    3) Conservative non-Calvinism says that the selection is somewhat up to people who have at least heard about this god, although many of them never have/will on this planet, or will not have done so in an environment where they were free to choose to pay attention.

    Excuse me, either way I need to pick my jaw up off the floor. Catholic Karen was raised with the idea that God actually loves his people using the normal sense of ‘loves’, rarely considers them so horrible that they deserve more than some post-death purification to punish them for the finite sins of their short lives, and wishes that they spread his love in the world with social service. I get that it wasn’t the US Catholicism of today, it was a watershed period in a particular place/time. After some false starts I realized that the philosophy worked for me, and the theology was extraneous. But, damn. How does anyone develop a good moral compass from 1) plus either 2) or 3)?

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    I don’t begin to understand, if Calvin was right and “election” to Heaven happens at the beginning of Time–or at least before a child is born–why Calvinists are not the most hedonistic, amoral people on the planet. If God has already chosen the people he wants in Heaven, and those who are doomed to Hell, and there is nothing humans can do about it, why bother? Life is short and the end is certain; why not live it up? You were drawn to Calvinism, once, so perhaps you can explain: why bother to be good, if God doesn’t care?

    I know that the same question can be asked of atheists: if there is not God and no afterlife, why would you try your best to be a good person? I suppose the answer lies in wanting to live in peace and harmony with your neighbors, build security for your children, and leave the world a better place for your having lived–but are those aims compatible with Calvinism, when nothing that you do will get you either into or out of Hell?

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      Hi Thatotherjean,

      I can’t answer for Bruce, but in my personal experience of interacting with Calvinists, they would say that it is not our business to peer into God’s secret of predestination.

      They would quote Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

      It is God’s prerogative to pre-ordain everything, including damnation, behind the scene – hidden and sovereign will of God. Human beings’ sole job is to obey him in things which are revealed, for instance the moral code – revealed moral will of God.

      Furthermore, the decree of predestination also includes the predestination to sanctification.
      If one does not show signs of holiness – whatever that cryptic word means – and does not persevere in holiness until death, it is very likely that one is not chosen to begin with. As Bruce always says, for all their talks about the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinists still believe in a form of works salvation.

      How could God pre-ordain so many horrible things in this universe, like torture and rape, and yet command humans not to do the very same thing?
      I myself think this doctrine is sickening.

      But the Calvinists would then answer in the same way as Paul, when he imagines his imaginary interlocutor making a similar argument:

      “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

      Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

      Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

      (Romans 9:19-21)

      It basically all boils down to: “God can do whatever he wants. Shut up, you worm!” I have always found this conception of God awful beyond comprehension, but apparently the Calvinists like it.

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    I understand you moved on from the IFB because you saw the bankruptcy of that position. Calvinism was available to you, and you saw that as a step forward. Did you find arguments that made Calvinism a stronger alternative to other Christian viewpoints? Or was it simply a matter of not being as familiar with the arguments for other alternates?

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    Davie from Glasgow

    I’ve got a couple for you! Though apologies if others may already have asked similar ones.

    In the Calvinist view, would they assume that if there was a group of people living in a place where they never got to hear the gospel – e.g. what is now the USA for the first thousand years after Christ – that would just be evidence that none of them were among the elect? That is, if any of them had been among the elect then God would have made sure they were born somewhere else where they WOULD get to hear his word.
    And the other one that puzzles me is – how far does the concept of the justified sinner actually go? Do Calvinists believe that Judas Iscariot was among the elect? Either he was/is, and has a place in heaven – despite betraying Christ – or he was not, in which case why did Jesus deceive him into thinking that he WAS one of the elect while he was following him around as a disciple? Maybe Jesus didn’t know whether or not he was one of the elect – but is that likely? Or maybe Christ knew that he wasn’t elect and just lied to him to get him to fulfil his part in the whole redemption-through-sacrifice scene that had to play out. That would be a pretty horrible thing to do, but maybe God/Jesus doesn’t care about lying to reprobates and they get what they deserve and I guess worse than deception is heading their way!

    It’s all pretty crazy. But I can see why this stuff gave people something to do with their brains before we invented science.

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    Karuna Gal

    Bah! Calvinism! I would not have wanted to live in any place like Calvin’s Geneva. Sounds like it was like the theocracy they have in Iran or Afghanistan today. Here’s what Voltaire, the 18th century philosopher, had to say about Calvin, Luther and Zwingli: “If they condemned celibacy in the priests, and opened the gates of the convents, it was only to turn all society into a convent. Shows and entertainments were expressly forbidden by their religion; and for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva. They condemned auricular confession, but they enjoined a public one; and in Switzerland, Scotland, and Geneva it was performed the same as penance.”

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