Tag Archive: Amyraldism

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Four

i have a questionPart four of this series is a short parenthetical post meant to answer several questions asked by readers.

What was it about Calvinism that attracted you, theologically and psychologically?

Calvinism is a theological system built with points of doctrine which build upon one another. Pull any of the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints, from the system and it collapses upon itself. Of course, the same could be said of any theological system. That said, Calvinism is the most complex, intricate theological system ever created by human minds.

It was the order and complexity of the system, then, that caught my attention. I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and I am a perfectionist. (See Christian Perfection: A Personal Story.) I desire, crave, and need order. Theologically, Calvinism provided for me just what the doctor ordered. As I read and studied the Bible, listened to preaching tapes of Calvin-loving preachers, and devoured countless Calvinistic books, I began to “see” the truthiness of the doctrines of grace, along with its attendant doctrines such as the Sovereignty of God.

The primary reason I became an atheist is that Christianity no longer made any sense to me. (See The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The opposite was true with Calvinism. It simply, at the time, based on my reading and study, made sense to me. Calvinism best explained certain Bible verses that had always perplexed me. Yet, at the same time, it created new interpretive problems for me. As a non-Calvinist, I found that words such as world and all meant everyone without discrimination (i.e. For God so loved the world — John 3:16). Calvinism, due to the doctrines of election and predestination, requires adherents to reinterpret verses that imply that Jesus died for everyone, Jesus loves everyone, etc. Of course, Arminians do the same with verses that speak of election and predestination.

I have long argued that the Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. Whatever your theological beliefs might be, there’s support for them in the Bible. I’ve concluded, then, that all theological systems are Biblically “true” and that all sects – Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, to name a few —  are right when they claim their beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints.

How is Calvinism different from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology?

While IFB churches are autonomous, each with its own set of beliefs and practices, they do, generally, have a common set of beliefs. (See What is an IFB Church?) When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, I didn’t know one IFB pastor who claimed the Calvinist moniker — not one. There were several pastors who, if rumors were true, had Calvinistic tendencies. Calvinism was routinely derided, criticized, and deemed heretical — antithetical to soulwinning and church growth.

In the late 1980s, Calvinism began to make inroads into the IFB church movement. Some IFB preachers embraced Amyraldism (four-point Calvinism). Wikipedia explains Amyraldism this way:

It is the belief that God decreed Christ’s atonement, prior to his decree of election, for all alike if they believe, but he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, seeing that none would believe on their own, and thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. The efficacy of the atonement remains limited to those who believe.

The issue, of course, was for whom did Jesus die? Evangelical Calvinists believe Jesus died on the cross only for the elect — those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Four-point Calvinists, uncomfortable with the doctrine of limited atonement (particular redemption), concocted a system that said, the atonement of Christ is sufficient to save everyone in the world, but efficient for only the elect. God that?

While Calvinism continues to make inroads in IFB churches, many Calvinistic pastors tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. They preach Calvinism without ever mentioning Calvinistic buzz-words. Over time, congregations are converted without ever realizing they changed.

Classic IFB beliefs are laughingly called one-point Calvinism. Yes, God is the one who saves sinners, but it’s up to them to decide whether to believe. As with Arminian churches, emphasis is placed on man’s ability to choose (free will). Calvinists, on the other hand, focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man. As you can see, these two theological systems are disparate, so much so that the two groups are continually at war, each believing the other is heretical.

Evangelical Calvinists generally believe that IFB churches preach works salvation, and they alone preach salvation by grace. Carefully examining Calvinism, however, reveals that they too preach salvation by works. In fact, outside of Pelagian sects, all Christian sects/churches preach some form of salvation by works. (Let the howling begin.)

There are numerous other theological differences between IFB theology and Evangelical Calvinism, but I have shared enough of the differences to show that these two groups generally don’t “fellowship” with each other. Calvinists view IFB (and Southern Baptist) churches as targets for subversive theological change. Pastors neglect to tell such churches about their Calvinistic beliefs, hoping, over time, to win them over to the one true faith. This approach has led to all sorts of church conflict.

Why would your change of theology cause friends and colleagues in the ministry to shun (abandon) you?

In the IFB church movement (and many other Evangelical sects), fealty to right doctrine is paramount, as is following certain social practices. Some tolerance is granted for being slightly off theological center, but major deviations result in shunning or being labeled a heretic/liberal. Calvinism was certainly considered antithetical to IFB doctrine and practice, so I was not surprised when many of my preacher friends distanced themselves from me as they would a gay man with AIDS. I moved on to new fellowship groups, those with Calvinistic, reformed beliefs and practices. I will talk at length about these groups in a later post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Is God Impartial?

open arms of Jesus

Church of Christ preacher Al Shannon believes that the Christian God is impartial. Quoting Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11, Shannon states:

Our God is impartial. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom.2:11); “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Since all men are his creation, he must make no difference in them.

Shannon goes on to give seven examples of God’s impartiality:

  • He has declare all under sin.
  • God has provided a common Savior and gospel for all.
  • God extends the same invitation [of salvation] to all men.
  • God requires the same conditions of pardon be met by all men if they are to be saved.
  • God has given one standard [the Bible] to be followed.
  • God has provided one church [Church of Christ] for all.
  • God will judge all as individuals and upon their own life.

Is Shannon right? Does the Christian God act impartially towards people, giving everyone the same opportunities to believe in and worship the right God? Is God really an equal opportunity deity, dispensing to one and all the wonders of his grace?

Calvinists, of course, would reject Shannon’s proofs out of hand. In the Calvinistic scheme of things, the Christian God, through a divine lottery, predestined certain people to be saved. These “winners” — also known as the elect — are the only people who will be saved. Before the first humans were created, God, through a process known only to him, chose to save certain people. Over the thousands of years humans have lived on planet Earth, this God has been regenerating (giving spiritual life) only the people on his will call list. These lucky winners will, at some point in their lives, be given eyes to see and ears to hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and upon hearing it they will — without fail — repent and call on Jesus to save them from their sins. And if they are truly saved, these elect people will persevere until they die. Failing to persevere to the end means that those who failed were not part of the elect. (See Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?)

For Calvinists, then, God is quite discriminating. God only chooses to save some people. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross for human sin, his atonement was only on behalf of the elect. No true Calvinist will ever say that Jesus died for everyone. There are “Calvinists” who adopt Amyraldianism, believing that Jesus’ atonement was “sufficient” to save everyone, but only “efficient” for the elect. Realizing that particular redemption/limited atonement makes God look bad, these four-point Calvinists attempt to put a better face on their deity’s partiality towards a very small portion of the human race — past, present, and future. Regardless of how the atonement is viewed, ALL Calvinists believe that only a certain number of people will be saved. All others need not apply.

Shannon, of course, is not a Calvinist. In fact, as most Church of Christ preachers do, Shannon considers Calvinism to be heretical — a cult. (Calvinists return the favor, saying that the Churches of Christ are a cult that preaches works salvation.)  According to Shannon, every person that has ever been born has an equal opportunity to be saved. Shannon’s God makes an indiscriminate offer to all: repent, be baptized, persevere in good works, and you shall be saved.

While there are certainly Bible verses that suggest that God is impartial, there are other verses that suggest otherwise. As I mentioned above, Calvinists can make a strong case for the notion that God’s love, grace, and salvation is discriminating, reserved only for those whom God has chosen to bestow his favor upon. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike spend significant amounts of time and energy challenging each others Biblical interpretations — proving that the Bible can be used to prop up virtually any system of belief.

We don’t have to get into the theological minutia of this internecine war to conclude that Shannon’s claim — God is impartial — is false. In fact, the Old Testament provides overwhelming proof for the partiality of God. For those of us raised in Sunday School, we heard numerous stories and lessons about God choosing Abraham and his seed to be his chosen people. Abraham’s seed was later was named Israel (the Jews). According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

A special people. So much for the impartiality of God. Showing that he indeed had a favorite, God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide, killing countless men, women, children, and unborn fetuses. So much for God being pro-life! God wanted ethnic and theological purity, going to great lengths to ensure that the only people left living were his “special” people.

In Genesis 6 through 9, the Bible records the mythical story of Noah and the Ark. It is likely that millions of people lived on the face of the earth at the time God opened the windows of heaven and flooded the earth, killing everyone save Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. Out of millions of people, God only found eight people he was willing to save. So much for the impartiality of God. Imagine the poor sinners living on the island of what is now called Japan. One day it started raining and in a matter of days everyone on the island died. On judgment day, these people, having never heard of the Christian God will stand before Jehovah and be judged for their “sins.” I can only imagine their confusion. Born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, these resurrected drowning victims will be told that they should have known what they could not possibly know: that there is one true God and Jesus is his name. Off to hell they go without ever clearly understanding why. Perhaps a Calvinist will pipe up on that day and say, Ha! You weren’t chosen by God! Burn motherfuckers, burn! Oh, sorry, Lord about saying motherfucker. I forgot about that “thing” with you and Mary.

Even in the New Testament, we see a Jesus who had no interest in anyone save his chosen people — the Jews. It was not until the writing of the Apostle Paul that we hear of non-Jews being saved and made a part of God’s family. Jesus’ disciples, all of whom were circumcised Israelites, spent their time preaching the gospel to only the Jews. Deeply versed in the teaching of the Old Testament, the Apostles knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. While Christianity (Paul’s version) certainly spread to the outposts of the Roman Empire, it is clear that Jews were the intended target. In Romans 11, Paul reminds Gentiles that the Jews were God’s original chosen people. Gentiles were, according to Paul, grafted into the Jewish branch. Gentiles should feel lucky that God became upset over Israel’s unbelief and decided to let them in on salvation and eternal life. In other words, God is similar to a jilted lover. Spurned by his one true love, he seeks out and marries another person.

Most of the people who have and yet will grace the pages of human history will die in their sins without ever knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Born at the wrong place and time, these “sinners” will worship the God of their culture, thinking that their devotion will be enough to grant them favor with God and an eventual home in heaven. Most of these people will never “hear” about Jesus or the “right” Christian gospel. (See Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?One,Two,Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style  and Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says There are Only 2 Million Christians in the Whole World). They will die in ignorance, yet Al Shannon’s God and the God of millions of Christians will eternally torture billions of people in the flames of hell for things over which they had no control. For the people God saved, all they can say is lucky me, it sucks to be you. Those who are saved will owe all praise, glory, and honor to Jesus. Every Christian sect believes that God alone saves. Those who find themselves on the winning side of the ledger will have no reason to boast. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus, who saves sinners. This is, contrary to Shannon’s assertions, the perfect example of partiality and discrimination. It is also one of reasons many people reject Christianity and its God. These unbelievers see God as a capricious deity, a divine bully who is running some sort of cosmic scam — one in which he allows billions of people to think they are on the right path to salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, only to find out that God was just playing with them. Similar to a cat catching a mouse in his mouth and letting it go, only so he can catch again, the Christian God toys with the human race, knowing that just as sure as the cat eventually will kill the mouse, he will sentence the vast majority of people to a life worse than death — eternal torture in the flames of the Lake of Fire.

As with the idea that God loves everyone conditionally (see Does God Love Us Unconditionally?), the idea that God is impartial sounds good to those who value fairness and justice; actually reading the Bible proves otherwise.

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