Update: I am reposting this post because I beleive it is accurate as far as it goes, and does address the issue as to why some people are theologically intimidated into accepting Calvinism as the Faith that was once for all handed down to us. But I do wish that when I wrote it my tone would have been more gracious. I have tried to re-word it as best as possible to soften the tone. But ultimately I will have to rely on my Calvinist brethren to give me (as they read it) the grace I failed to give them when I originally wrote it almost a decade ago. And I hope that they will keep in mind I am talking about the theological system, not those that hold it.
A humble and hungry disciple is a wonderful thing in God’s kingdom. They are humble not because they have no pride, but because they hate the pride that they see in their own hearts. They long to deny themselves and take up their cross. They often confess more than is necessary, and they have no doubt that they deserve every rebuke you send their way. These spiritual children are hungry for whatever God has for them. If you encourage them to share the Gospel boldly, they might embarrass you by standing on the table and telling everyone in the restaurant that Jesus commands everyone to repent. If you encourage them to meet with you for morning-prayer, they might become your living alarm clock that is not equipped with the gracious feature of a snooze button. They are humble and hungry, willing to do anything to serve God, no matter what the cost.
These disciples are quick to obey any commands and also quick to doubt their own motives. They hunger for pure spiritual milk and humbly receive the word of God that is able to save their souls. This passion and vulnerability makes them fit for growth in God’s kingdom. But these same qualities can also make them a target for demonic deception. As natural children are easy to manipulate in their innocence and ignorance, so are spiritual children. Zeal can make them hasty, and humility can make them naïve.
When they hear the doctrines of Calvinism they usually give them little thought. The hungry disciple believes that God loves everyone and wants all people to come to repentance. So a teaching that says God does not want everyone to be saved makes no sense to them. They have hope for people and sincerely believe that if they labor and pray for souls to come into the kingdom, they will. So the doctrine that says God has already unilaterally determined how many will be saved and absolutely nothing can change that number, seems unbelievable to them.
But sooner or later they read a passage in the Bible that shocks and confuses them. They read something like, “Before the twins were born, God loved Jacob and hated Esau” (Rom. 9:13). Then their heads begin to spin. They can’t make heads or tails of it. At this point they usually ask their mentor what it means and accept whatever explanation that is given, whether it makes sense or not. If the explanation didn’t really clear it up for them they consciously avoid such passages in the future.
One of the common defenses of Calvinism’s converts goes something like this, “I didn’t accept Calvinist theology because I wanted to. In fact, I hoped that it wasn’t true. I only accepted it because I couldn’t ignore what the Bible plainly teaches.” This confession carries with it a subtle accusation, whether the Calvinist brother is aware of it or not. It says, “You don’t follow the Bible, but your desires. You want the Bible to teach that God loves everyone equally, so you refuse to submit to the truth of God’s word.” This accusation often has its intended affect on the sensitive conscience of the humble follower of Christ. The disciple knows that he continually wrestles to submit his will to the will of God. So he begins to wonder if he is guilty of the charge of ignoring the scripture in order to protect his preferred perspective about God. As he meditates on this accusation he has to admit that it looks right. After all, he does avoid certain passages in the Bible because they seem to teach the unpleasant doctrines of Reformed Theology. And though he has read many verses in the Bible that seem to disprove the claims of Calvinism, he cannot deny that his main objection to that theology is that he doesn’t like what it says about the character of God. This accusation brings the disciple into self-doubt and prepares his heart for Calvinism. By accepting the subtle accusation that his Spirit renewed conscience is actually just human reasoning, he is stepping into dangerous territory.
The Calvinist’s confession also carries with it a strange assumption, again, usually without his awareness. The assumption is, “If something is hard to accept, accepting it must prove a sincere devotion to God.” By submitting to a view of God that is distasteful to his understanding of justice and mercy he feels reassured that he is devoted to God’s word.
The Calvinist’s testimony, whether he knows it or not, has been used to accuse and manipulate his brother in Christ. After the Christian has been humbled by the subtle accusation that he is more devoted to his desires than to God’s word, the strange assumption that things unpleasant to man are most glorifying to God can begin to work its magic. The disciple is now eager to prove his devotion to God’s truth. In this state of mind he turns to Romans 9:20 and reads, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” He can resist no more; he falls on his knees and solemnly vows, “I will no longer fight against your truth. I will submit to your word and abandon my human reasoning based on carnal desires.”
With this sincere commitment his theology is now set in stone. The error of Calvinism has taken hold of his conscience, and it will not easily loosen its grip. From this point on he cannot question any verses that seems to teach Calvinism. He must take them at face value. If his heart at any point begins to doubt the interpretation of Reformed Theology about Romans chapter 8 and 9, Ephesians chapter 1 or John chapter 6, he rebukes himself, “Don’t doubt God’s word because it doesn’t satisfy your carnal desires, just submit!” Passages that he once tried to avoid have now become the only verses in the Bible clear enough to interpret the meaning of every other verse in the Bible. Any verse that seems to disprove the doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints must be carefully reinterpreted until it lines up with his understanding of these key passages. Any line of reasoning that seems to oppose his newly found Calvinistic understanding of God’s word is clearly humanistic and worldly, and it must be rejected as a carnal attempt to lead him away from a sincere devotion to the word of God.
The error in this scenario is not that he so unreservedly submits to God’s word, but that he assumes his understanding of God’s word is accurate. He hastily accepts the apparent meaning of certain verses, not because it is confirmed by the rest of scripture, but because it is the quickest means of proving his devotion to God’s word and silencing the accusations assailing his heart. He is afraid to allow his conscience to influence him. He forgets that when he repented of his sins and became a Christian his conscience had been molded by the testimony of the Gospel message. He wants to submit unconditionally to whatever God says. But he forgets that he already knows the Gospel and doesn’t need to accept a whole different version. He already knows what, “God loves everyone and Christ is the Savior of the world” means. He doesn’t need to have it reinterpreted for him.
Calvinism comes to deceive and manipulate the sincere devotion of the spiritual children in God’s kingdom. It tempts them into a hasty decision to error by accusing them of being more committed to human philosophy about the freedom of man than to the sovereign rights of God as the creator. To be clear, we are not saying that Calvinists always call people to a hasty commitment to Calvinism. On the contrary, they will often say, “Take time to study and see what God’s word says.” It is not the Calvinist that pushes the disciple, but the accusing claims of Calvinism. Calvinism boasts that it has a monopoly on devotion, just as the monks of the Middle Ages did. It is the hardest philosophy to swallow, so it must be the most God glorify theology on the market. After all, it says that God is everything and that Man is nothing. God is the only participant in salvation and mankind does nothing to “help” God save him. As the disciple looks into the claims of Calvinism, he always hears the challenge poking at his heart, “See, another clear verse! Why are you so rebellious? Why do you keep holding onto your human philosophy? Submit to the word, unless you really are rebel! Do you really want to refuse to give God the glory due his name?!”
Calvinism is like a manipulative elder brother influencing his little brother into a sinful action. The elder brother doesn’t have to say, “Steal that CD or I will hit you.” He has a more foolproof way of getting his little brother to do his dirty work. Instead of direct intimidation he uses simple psychology. He says, “You are too little to be here with us big boys. Go home!” To this the younger brother predictably replies, “I am big!” “Ok,” the elder brother continues, “then steal that CD to prove it. But I know you will not do it. You’re a chicken! You’re too small to do it!” it is not hard to guess what happens next. The little brother promptly steals the CD.
The first strategy of intimidation would leave the little brother with an excuse, “My brother made me do it.” But the second strategy is ingenious. It ensures that the younger brother has no one else to blame because he chose to do it all by himself. This is the strategy of Calvinism’s irresistible error. Calvinism doesn’t require pushy salesmen for its theology. They can present Reformed Theology and say, “Take it or leave it. It is up to you. If you want to deny the word of God that is your decision. I only leave you with this scripture, ‘Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?’” No more urging is needed; the zeal of the disciple will do the rest. The hungry and humble disciple feels compelled to prove his devotion and do it quickly. Calvinism informs him that he doesn’t believe the biblical view of God’s universal love because the Bible says so, but because that is what he wants to believe. By accepting the harsh doctrines of Calvinism, the disciple can prove once and for all that he doesn’t follow God according to his own understanding. The simple accusation of pride and rebellion can coerce the humble disciple as successfully as the older brother’s accusation about the younger brother being a chicken.
“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”