In Consideration of Calvinism

Since writing Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism, I have been unexpectedly involved in engaging Calvinists through writing and speaking. I must admit that, at times, I have found my interactions with some Calvinists quite frustrating because of the great difficulty that I have often experienced when trying to discuss a particular point without being misread, when I am given a standard response (one that as a Calvinist I used to give) that is the very response I am trying to move beyond, or when they simply will not engage my point and scurry to something that I am not even addressing.

For instance, I have given precise examples of various disquieting realities of Calvinism to only, at times, have them either distortedly generalized, which, ipso facto, moves the discussion off topic, or summarily dismissed as “emotional arguments.” This is unfruitful for the Calvinist and those who do not understand the seriousness of the entailment mentioned because, while these disquieting realities do affect us emotionally, they are not merely jejune emotional arguments to be dismissed by such paplike indictments. They actually have for their substance the very nature and plan of God and the nature of man as portrayed in explicit Scripture. Consequently, I thought I would share three distinct levels of consideration that I find helpful in properly evaluating Calvinism. These distinctive levels do operate as a unit, but considering them separately seems to be helpful in the process of consideration.

First, to illumine the disquieting realities and double talk within Calvinism in order to elucidate the actual beliefs and entailments of consistent Calvinism so that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can evaluate Calvinism more accurately; to fail at this point is to fail to thoroughly examine Calvinism. This includes encouraging Calvinists to speak, pray, and write in such a way that these beliefs and entailments are neither elided nor easily misunderstood.

Disquieting realities are the often lesser known inescapable harsh realities, sine qua non, or entailments of consistent Calvinism. Disquieting realities can also include Calvinism’s extraordinary definitions of ordinary terms such as love, responsibility, choice, freedom, evangelism, whosoever, etc. Additionally, I would include its unduly narrow definitions of such biblical concepts as sovereignty and depravity, and its significant reliance upon speculative theology, philosophical assumptions, and general hermeneutical approach to Scripture.

By double-talk, I specifically and only mean thinking, praying, writing, or speaking in such a way that obscures the disquieting realities of consistent Calvinism. I believe much of the double talk is unintentional but unfortunately not all of it. If a person accepts and clearly and unabashedly articulates these realities, then he can be a knowledgeable and consistent Calvinist; if one is unwilling to do so, he cannot be a consistent Calvinist. Since I use the term double talk in this specifically limited way, the problem of inconsistencies that I am addressing cannot be ameliorated by referring to inconsistencies due to the frailty of man that may be present in others’ approaches to Scripture as well as in Calvinism. Additionally, I am not calling anyone a double-talker nor is my use of this term intended in any sense to be personally depreciatory but rather I use it in order to draw attention to this rhetorical reality.

This first level does not primarily seek to determine whether Calvinism is biblically true or the most helpful system of soteriology (understanding God’s salvific plan). Here, I am mostly concerned with spotlighting and transporting these lesser-known essentials of Calvinism into common conversation regarding Calvinism in order to facilitate an uncluttered understanding of Calvinism. For the sake of argument, the system with the most disquieting realities could theoretically end up being true. What is not acceptable is any obscuration of such disquieting realities that either facilitates or encourages one to embrace or espouse Calvinism without a true understanding of them.

Second, to examine whether Calvinism’s interpretation of Scripture, necessary concepts, assumptions, and entailments offer the most biblically helpful approach for knowing God, understanding the gospel and His eternal plan as revealed in His Word.

The second and third level does primarily seek to determine whether Calvinism, with all of its disquieting realities and assumptions, is biblically true and therefore the most helpful system of soteriology and hermeneutical approach. Without painstaking illumination of the disquieting realities and double talk as described in the previous level, this level is doomed to either insubstantial or inaccurate evaluation of Calvinism as a plausible system.

Third, to offer a more biblically reflective alternative that neither elides the perplexities of some Scriptures nor complicates (as Calvinism does) the massive amount of simple and lucid Scriptures regarding the nature of God and His salvific plan.

This approach seeks reliance upon a simple (not simplistic) reading of the Scripture. It recognizes that the deconstruction of one perspective must include a biblical alternative. To wit, it is dreadfully inadequate to merely highlight what one finds fault with, (although necessary) without giving consideration to a better alternative. Better does not mean that it is or will be accepted by all, particularly by committed Calvinists, nor should it seek to fit within biblically unnecessary and Calvinistically-nuanced definitions that necessarily presuppose and lead inexorably to Calvinism. Rather better simply means more congruent with the entire warp and woof of Scripture. Additionally, it seeks to reflect the unambiguous teachings of Scripture consistently and comprehensively.

As mentioned in a previous post, while others (who are actually far more capable than I in addressing Calvinism) describe themselves in various and equally appropriate ways, I refer to my approach as Extensivism. I adopted the term Extensivism for a number of reasons (it is not named after a person, it is not inherently controversial, and it arises from Scripture, etc.), but one of the primary reasons is that it encapsulates the essence of the debate, which is how extensive the good news is. An Extensivist believes that man was created in the image of God with libertarian free will (otherwise choice) and that God’s salvation plan is comprehensive, involving an all-inclusive unconditional offer of salvation and eternal security of the believer; reception of which is conditioned upon grace-enabled faith rather than a narrow plan involving a limited actually meaningful offer of salvation restricted to the unconditionally elected, or any plan that, in any way, conditions salvation upon merely a humanly generated faith from fallen man.

Many Calvinists not only believe their approach to interpreting Scripture is the best way, they do not even properly evaluate whether any other approach could be considered biblical, much less right. This seems due to either an unwillingness or inability of many Calvinists to consider an alternative without doing so through the grid of Calvinism, with all of its very restrictive presuppositions, definitions, and causal understanding of scriptural concepts and the reality conveyed therein. This results in Calvinists actually evaluating whether the opposing view is consistent with Calvinism rather than the Scripture, and those are not the same.

When I was a Calvinist, I viewed objections to Calvinism through the same grid for twenty years; thereby beclouding objective evaluation of contrary claims. Further, many Calvinists would deny that they do this; as a Calvinist, I would have denied the practice as well (I do not attribute malice to me or any present Calvinist). Nevertheless, upon reflection, I did believe so strongly in Calvinism (which was the order of the day within Calvinism) that I unwittingly did in fact view counter claims through the lenses of Calvinism.

When I began to face the disquieting realities of Calvinism by rejecting double talk as a satisfactory way of palliating them, along with interpreting both the difficult and simple Scriptures without the presuppositions of Calvinism, I gradually became convinced that while Calvinism did seek to handle the perplexities of Scripture, it resulted in biblically unwarranted and unsustainable assumptions about God, man, the gospel, and a host of unambiguous Scriptures. This was due in part (as it seems to me) to Calvinism’s reliance upon biblically unnecessary philosophical assumptions, definitions, and strained reinventions of the clearest verses in Scripture e.g. compatibilism, excessively causal sovereignty, John 20:3-31. The nurture of my eventual disenchantment with Calvinism was due almost exclusively from reading Scripture and Calvinist authors. They helped me through over a decade-long process to realize there was a better way that did not require additional mysteries (generated solely from Calvinism and not the Scripture), defending very harsh and unnecessary entailments (which disappear when one doffs the spectacles of Calvinism), and obscuring the beauty of the clear Scriptures and the fullness of God’s attributes.

As I have stated many times and in many ways, I respect most Calvinists, especially the ones who are straightforward about Calvinism’s entailments, disquieting realities. I believe that most Calvinists and those who reject Calvinism are seeking to know and represent God accurately. I am presently meeting regularly with such a knowledgeable Reformed five-point Calvinist, which makes our meetings both delightful and spiritually rich. In light of that, I believe we all benefit by accurately portraying our own beliefs as well as those with whom we disagree. During the past couple of years, I have found myself not only engaging Calvinists, but also either clarifying Calvinism’s actual claims or defending my love for Calvinists to some of my non-Calvinist brothers and sisters.

I desire to accurately portray Calvinism so that people can make a more informed decision about whether to don the label Calvinist. In order for this to happen, contrary perspectives must be clearly presented, and then Calvinists must consider such in light of Scripture and not merely in light of Calvinism with all of its assumptions; recognizing that the two are not the same.