I found the following post on a public Calvinistic discussion forum. Many of us who used to be Evangelicals/Calvinists understand the psychological angst this man is going through as he takes Christianity/Calvinism to its logical conclusion. If God is sovereign, the first cause, the creator of every everything, and nothing happens apart from his purpose and plan, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Christian God created sin, created hell, and created billions of people he intended to torture in the Lake of Fire for eternity. Apologists for Calvinism go to great lengths to explain these conclusions, but I find their explanations to be little more than the ass-covering Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives Donald Trump — empty lies. If God is who and what Calvinists say he is, then Calvinists most own the aforementioned conclusions. Either that or write a 666-page book defending the Big Kahunah’s honor.
Late last night, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.
Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.
I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.
One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.
Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.
I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-two years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.
Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of time, preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.
The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.
I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.
“I don’t think most of us realize how centered around feelings we are. Every day, we make decisions and evaluate our circumstances based on how we feel at the time. Plus, our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and do whatever feels good because we deserve it. We are amazing and wonderful, and we deserve happiness (often in the form of a new hair care product or prime rib sandwich or shiny SUV or whatever that billboard on the side of the street is trying to sell us).
Well, sorry, culture, but we don’t deserve happiness. We’re human beings who lie and cheat and steal and fight and hold grudges and hurt our loved ones, and we don’t actually deserve anything. I strive to be a good, caring person, but I still make mistakes and end up hurting people. However, God gives us the opportunity for a beautiful, pain-free future with Him because of this amazing thing called grace.”
— Allison Barron, The Gospel Coalition, Debunking the Myth of Happiness, March 14, 2017
Allison Barron is a Calvinist, so her beliefs about original sin and total depravity color her thinking when she says that we humans not only don’t deserve happiness, we don’t deserve ANYTHING! That’s right, saved or lost, all of us are worms, undeserving of any of good things that come our way. If we experience blessings and happiness, we mustn’t think that we deserve these things. We don’t. Unregenerate sinners deserve the wrath of God and, after death, unrelenting torture in the Lake of Fire. God might be the creator of everything, but because Adam and Eve ate some fruit they shouldn’t have, God has turned away from humanity, judging them unworthy of his love, grace, mercy, and compassion. During the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-9), God determined that the human race was so vile the he had to destroy every living thing, save Noah and his family, the animals on the ark, birds in the air, and fishes in the sea. God slaughtered men, women, children, and the unborn. (So much for God being pro-life.) Why? Because he could; because he deemed the entire human race unworthy of redemption. Think of all the animals that were killed during the flood. What did they do to deserve such an ignoble end? At best, they were props in an object lesson: mess with God and he will kill you.
Even the elect, those whom God chose to save from before the foundation of the world, are, apart from Christ, viewed in the same light as the non-elect. According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus stands between God the Father and the saved. When Jesus died on the cross, his Father brutally tortured him because of the sins of the elect. All that Jesus suffered on the cross was because of the sinfulness of the elect. (According to Calvinism, Jesus only died for the elect. The non-elect have never been a part of God’s redemptive plan.) If it weren’t for Jesus reconciling the elect to God the father, they too would be under the wrath of the Almighty.
Calvinists such as Barron go groveling through life, believing that they are unworthy of any kindness, goodness, or blessing that comes their way. These things indeed come their way, but only because of God’s grace, not because of their good works, effort, or luck. Calvinists spend their lives tamping down any thoughts they have of worth, of deserving that which they worked for, or stumbled upon out of luck. All that is good comes from God, and God alone. Any thoughts of self-worth or self-esteem are viewed as affronts to the righteousness and holiness of God. This thinking is what drives the self-deprecating speeches and interviews given by athletes, musicians, and actors. All the glory, praise, and honor go to Jesus/God, they say, ignoring the fact that who and what they are is due to many factors, the greatest of which is their personal effort and hard work. If all the glory truly belongs to God, why bother to work at one’s craft?
Surely Lebron James and Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Clayton Kershaw and Joey Votto — all-stars and future hall of famers the lot of them — are good at what they do because of God’s grace, right? Why spend hours a day, virtually every day of the year working on their skill set? If their greatness is due to God alone, then no practice is needed. Or, perhaps Barron’s God is a work of fiction, and those who achieve much in this life do so primarily because of their diligent, hard work. Certainly genetics, environment, social status, education, and a healthy dose of luck play a part too, but without committing themselves to excellence they would never have become household names. Again, exactly what part did the Christian God play in their development?
As most Christians do, Barron looks to a time after death when she will have a wonderful, beautiful pain-free life with God. For now, she and fellow predestinarians must endure life, awaiting that day when Jesus will return to earth, resurrect and judge humanity — sending the saved (elect) to God’s Trump Tower® and the lost (non-elect) to the Lake of Fire — and then God, with his mighty power, will make ALL things new. The redeemed will spend eternity loving and praising the God who took credit for all the good things they did while on fallen earth. Imagine spending eternity with a husband who never worked a day in his life, but took credit for your hard work. That’s God.
Calvinism is a dour religion, one that demands its adherents endure to the end if they hope to have any chance of getting a room in Heaven. Even then, there will be Calvinists who will diligently persevere to the end, only to find out that the joke is on them, they never were among the elect. No Calvinists can never know for sure that they are saved. They hope so. They hope they are among the elect. They hope they will persevere to the end. They hope on judgment day to hear God say, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.
Count me as one person who is glad he walked away from Christianity and its denial of self and personal worth. None of us is perfect, and when we cause harm to others, we need to make things right. As much as lies within us, we should be at peace with all men. If we live long enough, we will meet people who don’t deserve love, kindness, or respect from us. There be assholes in this land of ours — unworthy of one moment of our time. For the people we call family, friends, and colleagues — those who make our lives richer in every way — I hope we all can say that they deserve the goodness, kindness, and blessing that comes their way. While life certainly isn’t fair, and bad things far too often happen to good people, in general we reap what we sow. If I want to reap a life filled with love, mercy, and kindness, then I must be willing to sow the same. What goes around, comes around, no God needed.
Unlike Barron, I know a number of amazing, wonderful people. Barron might object, saying that she does know such people, but they are amazing and wonderful because of God and not their own inherent goodness. And therein lies the problem. God clouds Barron’s view of others to such a degree, that all she sees is J-e-s-u-s (what boring view). For the uncircumcised, unwashed Philistines of the world, we have no need of a God blocking our view.
As an atheist, I can clearly see those who deserve goodness and blessing; those who deserve good jobs, nice cars, wonderful houses, fancy clothing, and big-ass 60 inch LED televisions. My dear wife endured a life of self-denial as a pastor’s wife, living in a 12×60 foot trailer with six children and a workaholic husband. She did without nice clothing, shoes, and the finer things of life, all for the sake of the ministry. Both of us sacrificed financial security and health, believing that our poverty was a sign of our devotion to Calvin’s God. There’s is not enough life left for me to shower my wife with all that she deserves — all that SHE deserves, not God.
Now that we are free from a God who demanded absolute fealty and servitude — a God who demanded all the praise, worship, and glory — Polly and I are free to reward not only each other, but our family and friends, with all the kindness, goodness, and love they so richly deserve — all that THEY deserve, not God. We are also free to spread the gospel of a God-free, sin-free, judgment-free, hell-free, heaven-free life. Live each day to its fullest. Enjoy each and every day. Pour your life into those who matter. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure you have a designated driver. Work hard, doing the best you can. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than you were today. Life is all about living. To riff on an Evangelical cliché: only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done now will last.
Let me leave you with the words of Wendell Berry in the Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
The first verse in the first book of the Christian Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The verses that follow go on to explain all that God created. His crowning achievement was the creation of Adam and Eve — humans created in the image of God. Adam and Eve would later eat fruit from a tree that God said was off-limits. Their love of fruit brought sin and death into the world. From this point forward, humans broke forth from their mothers’ wombs at variance with God. According to the Bible, newborns come into the world speaking lies. Humans are, by nature, enemies of God. Wanting to repair the fractured relationship between the Creator and his creation, God cooked up a scheme through which sins could be forgiven. In the Old Testament, the Bible says God required blood sacrifices for expiation of sin. Animals were ritually slaughtered and their blood placed upon altars to provide atonement for national and personal sins. In the New Testament, the Bible says that God sent himself to earth in the form of a God-man by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. After traversing through Palestine for thirty-three years, working miracles and preaching sermons, this Jesus was accused of heresy by the Jews, arrested by the Roman government, and executed. Three days later, this Jesus miraculously came back to life, spent forty days appearing to his followers, after which he ascended to heaven. According to Christians, for the past 2,000 year Jesus has been hanging out in heaven doing God things: building rooms (mansions) for Christians to live in, helping Tim Tebow score touchdowns, helping grandmas find their car keys, and controlling presidential elections. While Jesus, at least according to those who speak on his behalf, is intimately involved in the minutest details of the lives of his followers, it seems he can’t be bothered with important issues such as war, starvation, global climate change, human trafficking, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl. Why is it that Jesus never seems to be around when you really, really need him?
Most Christian sects can be plotted along the line between Arminianism and Calvinism. While these two systematic theologies are poles apart from one another, both agree that the Christian God is the absolute, authoritative ruler of the universe. While Arminians and Calvinists argue amongst themselves about free will and the order of salvation, both agree that God is sovereign, that he has the whole world in the palm of his hands. This God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Bible says that none of us can escape the presence of this God. He is everywhere — the ultimate voyeur.
If everything is created by God, owned by God, known by God, and nothing escapes his ever-seeing eye, isn’t it logical to say that God is responsible for sin? Isn’t it logical to hold God responsible for everything that happens? If humans are not ultimately in control of their lives or their destiny, how then can they be held responsible? If God alone — either through predestination and election or prevenient grace — saves sinners and gives them keys to their Jesus-built mansions in the sky, how then can any of us be held accountable for not becoming Christians? If it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that gives life to dead sinners so they can believe, how then can any un-quickened sinners be held accountable for their depravity? Billions of people, past and present, live in places where Christianity has no influence. People can go through their entire lives without hearing the Christian gospel, yet when they die God will hold them accountable for not hearing that which they had no opportunity to hear. Does this sound just and fair?
Does any of this make sense to you? Wouldn’t it have been better for the Gods — Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit — to cut out all the bullshit and create a universe not tainted by sin and depravity? Surely it was in God’s power to create an Adam and Eve incapable of sinning. It’s a fair question, then, to ask why God did what he did. If God controls the universe and nothing escapes his sovereign grasp, why all the war, violence, rape, starvation, and terrible contemporary Christian music?
Start asking Christian pastors and laypeople these questions, and you’ll quickly conclude that they really don’t have any answers. Oh, they will spin some sort of elaborate theological answer that will leave you neck deep in quicksand, but don’t expect them to give direct, succinct answers. Most often, apologists for the Christian God will give contradictory or incoherent answers, and when their nonsense is pointed out they will swiftly run to the house of faith, slamming the door while they scream, GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS! GOD’S THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE CREATOR! HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS! This screaming is the equivalent of la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, now fuck off.
A perfect illustration of this can be found in a recent post on the Faith-It website by Christine Suhan. Titled, Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’,Suhan shows how it is impossible for Christians to develop a coherent understanding of the world while at the same time trying to hold on to Evangelical beliefs. Here’s some of what she had to say:
Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.
And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.
We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain-free existence.
But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.
“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.
Here’s what I’ve come to know about God’s will:
God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.
God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.
God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.
God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.
God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache and pain into the human experience.
God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.
There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse.
Suhan takes the shit happens approach. Thanks to Adam and Eve and their progeny’s sin, nature, pain, suffering and death are part of the human (Westworld) experience. According to Suhan, there is no reason or purpose for these things to happen. The problem, however, is that Suhan’s worldview runs contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine. This often happens when Christians try to thoughtfully think about human existence. How can rape or murder be good or have some sort of higher purpose? If God is the sovereign of the universe, why does he permit, either passively or by decree, such things to happen? Surely, an all-powerful God can keep people from being raped or murdered. Why does he idly stand by and do nothing?
According to Suhan, God does do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. When a teenage girl is being ritually raped by her pastor or an altar boy is being repeatedly sodomized by his priest, Jesus is right there holding the victim’s hand. That’s right, the God who could stop sexual assault does little more than send victims a BFF text that says, I am with you in spirit. Love, Jesus. Millions of people will go to bed tonight hungry, and the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sends sunshine and rain for crops to grow, will do nothing to feed them, choosing instead to smile and hold their empty plates. While the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia continues to increase, Jesus wants everyone to know that he will be right there with them if they are turned into an ash heap. Is this the best that God can do for us — hold our hand?
If God is the supreme ruler of the universe, the creator of all things, the giver of life and death, and he who sees and knows everything, it is impossible to absolve him of culpability for pain, suffering, violence, and death. God could intervene, but he does nothing. Try as they might, Christian apologists have no suitable answer for a sovereign God’s inaction. The best these defenders of the faith can come up with is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, pissed off God in the process, and for thousands of years now he is been standing by while the Richard Micks of the world rape church children, serial killers murder innocents, and warring nations rain death down on the heads of innocent civilians.
And if this isn’t bad enough, Christian pastors and theologians remind us that there is coming a day when God will end his hand-holding ways, resurrecting everyone from the dead so he can judge them and fit those who don’t measure up with some sort of supernatural body that will survive an eternity of torture in a lake filled with fire and brimstone. This God who couldn’t be bothered with stopping Hitler’s horrendous slaughter of six million Jews, will definitely be hands-on when the time comes to make his “chosen” people pay for their rejection and execution of Jesus Christ. Billions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and wrong-flavor-of-ice-cream Christians will be awakened from their slumber, only to be cast into hell with the devil, his angels, Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton, and Bruce Gerencser.
Who in their right mind would want anything to do with Evangelical Christianity?
It is for these reasons (and others) that many people turn to atheism. The only way to understand what goes on in the world is to realize that we humans are responsible for what does and does not happen. Countless Christians are praying that God will make sure that Donald Trump becomes president. Their meaningless prayers will not affect the outcome of this election, votes will. It is up to humans, not fictional deities, to put an end to violence and suffering. We are the masters of our universe, and if we want things to be different, then it is up to us to change them. A humanistic view of the world requires us to acknowledge that randomness and luck often affect our lives. Sometimes, we are at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Slight variations in decisions or movement can drastically change outcomes. It is highly unlikely that a jet flying overhead will crash into my home. It’s possible, but the probability is minuscule. And when that unlikely event happens to some unlucky individuals, we must accept it as just that – an unfortunate incident which took lives, but not an act of God. Instead of attempting to develop some elaborate and often contradictory religious explanation of the world that supposedly matches the dictates of ancient religious texts, it is far better for us to just live in the moment and do what we can to improve life for not only ourselves and our progeny, but also for animals and other humans. Interjecting God into the discussion just complicates things. We humanists hope that Suhan and her fellow Christians leave off holding hands with their fictional best friend, and instead join hands with us as we try to combat violence, pain, suffering, disease, climate change, starvation, inequality, and death. Surely God is not so jealous that he can’t put off the handholding until Christians make it to the other side.
faith-it.com is owned and operated by Outreach, Inc., a large Evangelical media and marketing “ministry” located in Colorado Springs. Fundamentalists such as Kirk Cameron, Eric Metaxas, Lee Strobel, Sheila Walsh, Josh McDowell, Benham Brothers, Craig Gross, Ryan Dobson, Frank Turek, and a gaggle of Evangelical sports stars are represented by Outreach, Inc.
Calvinism is generally described as an adherence to five theological points (TULIP):
- Total Depravity (total inability)
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement (particular redemption)
- Irresistible Grace (effectual call)
- Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints
Simply put, Calvinism is a system of theological beliefs that states:
- Every person, thanks to the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, is born a sinner, alienated from God, and deserving the wrath of God and hell. Every person is dead in trespasses and sin, unable to do anything about their sinful condition. Total depravity is also called total inability. An unregenerate (lacking spiritual life) sinner is unable, by his own power, to seek God and salvation. Unless God gives the sinner eyes to see and ears to hear, he can never understand the Christian gospel and be saved.
- From before the foundation (creation) of the world, God determined to whom he would give salvation. Only those whom God gives salvation will be saved. God knows exactly who will be saved. Those not chosen by God will never be saved, neither can they be since God did not give them the means necessary to seek and find salvation. No one deserves to be saved, and there’s is nothing anyone can do to merit salvation. Those who are saved are given spiritual life only because of the unmerited favor of God bestowed on them when the Holy Spirit caused them to effectually respond to the gospel. From start to finish, Salvation is of the Lord.
- Jesus died on the cross (shed his blood) to provide salvation only for those whom God, the Father has chosen to save (the elect).
- Those whom God has chosen and Jesus died for, will, without fail, at a time appointed by God, be saved. God will save every person he intends to save. When the Holy Spirit begins to draw a person to Jesus, if the person is someone God intends to save, he will be unable to resist the Holy Spirit.
- Those granted the glorious, wonderful Calvinistic version of the grace of God will persevere until death. God, by his almighty power, will preserve the chosen, regenerated, and converted sinner until the end. If someone falls away before the end, say someone like a Calvinistic preacher named Bruce Gerencser, this is proof that he was never were one of the elect (chosen).
Got all that? I’m tired just from typing it. The short version is this: God is Sovereign, Salvation is of the Lord, No others need apply.
For most Christians, Calvinism seems like word salad, loads of theological jargon that only those schooled in Calvin-speak can understand. Calvinism is what I call an intellectual man’s wet dream. Most Calvinists are drawn to the intricate and intellectual aspects of the Calvinistic way of thinking. Let’s face it, Brother Billy Bob down at the local Baptist church has neither the time or inclination to plumb the depths of Calvinistic theology or read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. All Brother Billy Bob knows is that he was a drunk and Jesus saved him! Hallelujah!!
The men and women drawn to Calvinism tend to love intellectual pursuits. They love reading long, wordy books that purport to impart knowledge and understanding that most mere humans do not have. Most Calvinists end up building a substantial library of books. At one time, I had a library of over one thousand books. Once, a church member came into my study and, upon noticing my large library, asked me if I had read every one of the books on my bookshelves. He was astounded when I said, Yes, every last one of them. Years later, I came to understand that the size of a Calvinist’s library is akin to the size of a man’s penis. Size matters. The bigger the library, the greater the theological prowess.
Instead of just enjoying the grace of God and the wonders of unconditional election and particular redemption, Calvinists tend to spend an inordinate amount time making sure they are right. There’s always a new book to read, a lecture to listen to, or a new video to watch. They are like a man or woman watching YouPorn videos. Click, ooh, ah, click on another video link, ooh ah, ah…and so it goes. From video to video the porn-seeker goes, hoping to find a video that will stir his passions even further. This is exactly what many Calvinists do. They are always looking for the latest book that will provide them some sort of new insight into their depraved condition or the grace of God. Unlike the porn-seeker who finally realizes that once he’s seen one porn video he’s seen them all, Calvinists continue to seek that which they think are deeper understandings and experiences with God. This is why most Calvinists become intractable as they age. The longer they study, the surer they are that they are right.
A perfect example of this is the Facebook group: Calvinism Fellowship, Debate & Discussion Online Discussion Forum. The administrator for the group, Nick Schoenberger, posted the following and turned it into a sticky so every reader would see it:
At this time of year, there always seems to be an increase in the number of 2nd commandment violations we have in CFDD, so I’m pinning this post in the hopes that we can avoid having to take action by preventing such posts in the first place. In short, any posting of an image that portends to depict a member of the Godhead will be removed and may result in a temporary or permanent ban of the poster.
Reference: Westminster Larger Catechism Q109, 110 and 2nd Helvetic Confession Chapters IV-V
In other words, don’t post ANY artists’ renderings of Jesus. Such pictures are a violation of the second commandment:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4)
Instead of enjoying the holiday season, Schoenberger is more concerned about a blasphemous picture of Jesus being posted to the forum.
Those who frequent the Calvinism Fellowship, Debate & Discussion Online Discussion Forum seem to be focused on the minutest detail of proper doctrine, who is and isn’t saved, and attacks on the evil theological belief called Arminianism. There’s also a good bit of self-flagellation and groveling before the thrice Holy God of Calvinism. Calvinists are experts at not only pointing out the sins of others, but also digging down into the depths of their own souls (minds) to find long-buried affronts to God. Is it any wonder that many Calvinists have doubts about their salvation? They see little niggling sins in their lives and this causes them to wonder if they truly are of the elect. Of course, if Calvinists are true to their doctrines, they cannot really know that they are saved until they die. Remember, Calvinists must persevere unto the end to be saved.
Calvinists, in their never-ending pursuit of intellectual nirvana, often lose sight of humanity. They become so infatuated with intellectual porn that they fail to notice that real flesh and blood people surround them. They metaphorically equate the porn they see on the screen with sex with their spouse or significant other. As Calvinists continue down the path to theological perfection, they become like Elijah who believed that he was the only remaining true prophet of God. It’s hard not to picture the lone Calvinist in a room masturbating to his own theological thoughts. Instead of drawing Calvinists towards inclusion, their beliefs often lead them off into closed minded exclusivism. Calvinist Henry Mahan told me years ago, when I asked him about the other churches in Ashland, Kentucky, Well Bruce, God doesn’t need more than one true church in town. In other words, Thirteenth Street Baptist Church, the church Mahan pastored at the time, was the only church God needed in Ashland. They alone preached the true gospel of Sovereign Grace. Pity all those other Christians in Ashland who just so happened to attend the wrong church. Of course, if God wanted to save them he would lead them to visit Thirteenth Street Baptist Church so they could hear Mahan preach to them the true gospel. (And I’m sure some Calvinist is going to read this and say to me that Mahan isn’t a true Calvinist; he is an Antinomian.)
God’s chosen ones will likely find this post offensive. How dare I equate their beliefs and their quest for understanding the “deeper” things of God to pornography, a devotee of the doctrines of grace will say. Yet, for those of us who at one time pulled up a stool at the John Calvin Pub and drank deeply of Calvin’s predestination brew, the pornography connection is, on one hand quite humorous, but also quite depressing. We are reminded of a day when we valued theological purity over people. Our thoughts hearken back to a time when we were willing to eviscerate anyone who did not hold to the same “truth” that we did. We are painfully reminded of good people who left our churches because they could not or would not accept the five points of Calvinism. While Calvinists roundly dispute the notion that the five points equal the gospel, if you attend their churches, read their blogs, or peruse their forums, such as the one mentioned above, you will find that significant verbiage is expended disparaging non-Calvinists. The fair-minded observer will quickly discern what message Calvinists are trying to convey: believe like us or you will go to hell. The only qualitative difference between the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church and the Calvinistic Baptist church is the matter of free will. When it comes to exclusivity of their beliefs, both believe that they are the purveyors of the one true gospel. (An interesting fact is that many Calvinistic Baptists were at one time Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. While their soteriology changed (the doctrines of salvation) their Fundamentalism remained.)
The primary focus of this post is on Evangelical Calvinism, the belief system of men like John MacArthur, Al Mohler, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll. I’m well aware that there are many shades and nuances to Calvinism. Writing a post that covered all of them would result in a document with more words than the Bible.
How can God cause a(n) [natural disaster] in ____ that kills ____?
Response: You mean, why doesn’t He do the same every day in every city on every continent? Why hasn’t he done that to you? Excellent question! Those days are coming. But God is showing that He is long-suffering, giving the same opportunity for repentance that the people in _____ had enjoyed.
You see, according to Phillips, God really is good to us. That he killed others and not us is a sign that God is long-suffering and he wants us to repent. Never mind those other unrepentant, non-elect men, women, and children who were slaughtered today by the merciful, loving God. They had their chance. You have your chance now. Well maybe not. It depends on whether you are one of the elect (Phillips is a Calvinist). According to Calvinists, the world’s population, past, present and future, was neatly divided by God into two categories: elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen, saved and lost. For those whose names are under the non-elect column, this means they have been on God’s slaughter list from before the foundation of the world. For these people, it was too late for them before they were even born. But, that’s not God’s fault. God may have created us and he may control every aspect of our lives, but because our distant relative Adam broke God’s Garden of Eden Dining Rules, we have been deemed guilty by God.
Wait a minute? Didn’t God create Adam? Couldn’t God have kept Adam from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?? Isn’t God Sovereign? These are rhetorical questions, yes? The answer to all of these questions is yes. How then is God not responsible for everything that follows?
Let the Calvinistic gymnastics begin.
From generation to generation, Ohio children are taught the myth of the woolly worm. Each fall, woolly worms, the caterpillar form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, make their appearance, and like Punxsutawney Phil who predicts how long winter will last, the banded woolly worm predicts how severe the coming winter will be. The blacker the woolly worm the worse winter will be, or so says the great woolly worm myth.
Like the mythical Jesus of the Bible, the woolly worm and its magical weather predicting power lives on as parents tell its story. Few will bother to investigate this claim, choosing to believe that the mostly black woolly worm they saw is a sure sign that snow will blanket Ohio for most of the winter.
Earlier, we piled into our car and headed to Tinora High School to watch our 7-year-old grandson’s flag football game. We traveled southeast on Ohio Hwy 15 for a few miles and then turned north on Evansport Road. A mile or so up the road:
Polly: Oh no, a black woolly worm. You know that means we are going to have a bad winter.
Polly, showing her dislike of winter: Maybe I should run over him.
Bruce: He’ll got to hell if you run over him.
Polly: How do you know he’ll go to hell?
Bruce: He didn’t persevere to the end.
Polly laughs, and Bruce says: He’s not one of the elect woolly worms.
Polly and Bruce have a hearty laugh, giving God nary a thought.