As I seek to learn more about The Bible and gain insight on the words of God through teaching, I continually run across a trend in Christianity that I have, until recently, only been vaguely familiar with – Reformed Theology.
This sounds interesting. Theology – that is, the study of the nature of God, and Reformed – a reference to the Protestant Reformation that sought to overthrow the heretical teachings of the Catholic Church.
This a reformation against heresy by studying the nature of God? Sign me up!
After some very brief research, it turns out that this is a bit of a misnomer. Reformed Theology is just a renaming of Calvinism – a belief system that lost popularity by name of time, which explains this rebranding effort.
There are some great preachers and evangelists who are/were Reformed Theologians, like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and even the great C.H. Spurgeon. Many of these men are powerful, effective, and preach great Scriptural truth.
However, they have been, in my opinion, deceived by Calvinist teachings.
Here I will attempt to explain Calvinism in as fair a way as possible. I would never want to be accused of misrepresenting their arguments, most of which are rooted in Scripture. I only believe that their interpretation of Scripture used is flawed. They are reading their assumptions into the verses, rather than comparing Scripture against Scripture.
THE BASIC TENETS
Calvinism is often boiled down to a five-point acronym, T.U.L.I.P. This stands for
Total Depravity – we are born sinners and are so totally depraved that we cannot overcome our own rebellion and sin nature.
Unconditional Election – God offers grace condition through Christ before the world was even formed. God chose who would be saved before he created the world.
Limited Atonement – God’s salvation is limited for some, but the elect are given full atonement.
Irresistible Grace – it is impossible for us to resist salvation if we are chosen.
Perseverance of the Saints – the elect will persevere or “fight to the end” without succumbing to the enemy.
Of all the points, this is the one I would be closest to agreeing with. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are born with a sin nature. Thus, we are born totally depraved. However, I differ on where Calvinism takes it further.
They take Romans 14:23 which ends with “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Thus, Calvinists believe that everything we do is sinful, and seeking God is either due to a selfish self-justifying act or a feigned “obedience.”
Calvinists also point to Romans 8:7-8, “7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
They believe that our depravity is so total that it is impossible for us to seek salvation on our own, thus, we cannot be saved unless God chooses us for salvation. This becomes the basis for unconditional election.
This teaching says that God chooses us for election from before the earth was created, and man cannot meet any condition that would lead to salvation.
Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
If they were ordained before belief, then they must have been predestined.
This is, admittedly, the most difficult for me to understand.
The argument for this point is around Christ’s death on the cross. Why did he have to die, and who did he die for? Calvinists do not believe that Christ died for everyone. It was necessary for Him to die in order to fulfill prophecy and offer us irresistible grace (see the next point).
Calvinists argue that while Christ’s death was for us all, it was not for us equally. They believe that the crucifixion did not provide the “possibility” of salvation, but was God’s “purchase” of salvation for the elect.
Since salvation is impossible for the totally depraved, the possibility of salvation is not possible.
Romans 8:29-33 provides the basis for this teaching.
“29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
Here are two of the three mentions of “predestination” in the Bible (the third being Ephesians 1:5). The elect, the justified, and the predestined are the “all” or the “world” for which God sent Christ to die.
Calvinists do not deny that we can resist the Holy Spirit, but only that God can overcome that resistance whenever He chooses to do so. They often cite Romans 9 to demonstrate this point. Verses 15,16, and 18 say,
“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Verses 20-23 continue,
“20 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? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,”
The Calvinist reading of these passages show that God’s will is sovereign, and he will grant mercy and compassion on whom he desires. We lack the ability to challenge His divine will, thus, resistance to it is impossible.
Perseverance of the Saints
Calvinists teach that the elect must “persevere” or “endure” until the end. This is a sign that they are, in fact, one of the elect. They argue that the “saints” need not be perfect, but must be faithful and obedient. They (rightly) believe in eternal security – that salvation cannot be lost.
They use 1 Peter 1:10-11, which says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
This is evidence that we are to continually seek to “make your calling and election sure” and that God will help us to do so.
I will attempt to make this as brief as possible. Now that I have given a fair overview of T.U.L.I.P., I will make a case against each one and present additional arguments against following the teachings of a very flawed man and some logical contradictions of Calvinism.
As I mentioned before, I agree that we are born sinners. However, I must disagree that it is impossible for us to seek salvation without election.
We are given free will. Proverbs 6:9 says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”
2 Timothy 2:26 says, “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” Recover themselves? That does not sound like man lacks free will.
Also, it is easy to show that Calvinists take Romans 8:7-8 out of context. These verses talk about being “carnally minded” and being “in the flesh.” However, both of those are states of mind and action. Christians can be “carnally minded” and “in the flesh” – this happens all the time.
A few verses before will provide additional context”
“3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
In other words, Christ’s death fulfilled the law in us who walked after the flesh. Now we are able to walk in the Spirit of God, which is what God wants.
We are born sinners, but because of free will, we be saved and walk in the Spirit.
Anyone that understands the Bible knows that salvation is entirely conditional. The Bible is rife with “if, then” statements going all the way back to God’s “chosen people,” Israel.
Romans 10:13 says, “For [If] whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [then] shall be saved.”
John 3:15 says, “That [if] whosoever believeth in him [then] should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that [if] whosoever believeth in him [then] shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Salvation is conditional. There are myriads of examples of this. The claim of unconditional election simply cannot be true.
Once again, there are dozens of verses, including the ones I just used, that contradict “limited” atonement. “whosoever,” “the world,” etc. are not in reference to the elect, but every human being that has ever lived.
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 is devastating for the Calvinist argument. It says,
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. 17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
That’s one die FOR ALL, he died FOR ALL, if ANY MAN be in Christ. That is a whole lot of unlimited atonement.
Furthermore, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature . . .” If we were predestined for salvation by election before the world was created, how can we be a “new creature”?
If we have free will, we can reject salvation. John 12:48 says, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
Grace is irresistible to some. Once you establish that free will exists, this makes sense. If you reject the notion that we have free will, as Calvinists do, then the reading of this verse changes.
Perseverance of the Saints
As I said before, I agree that we cannot lose our salvation. However, to continually try to “prove” that you are one of the elect sure seems a lot like a works based system.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We are saved through FAITH (this is a free will decision), NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.
I do not have to hope that I am one of the elect, because I KNOW that I am saved by grace through faith.
If some of us are predestined for salvation, then God has predestined others for damnation. If we have no free will, then none of our choices have any significance.
If we follow the teachings of Calvin, then why bother going to church or following God at all? If I am elect, then my salvation is guaranteed whether I obey God or not. If I was to follow all the tenets of Calvinism and am not elect, then I wasted my life in obedience.
Furthermore, I have never met a Calvinist who believes he is not the elect. Not one time have I heard someone who follows TULIP say, “I’m definitely not one of the elect, though.” That seems awfully convenient.
I know that I am saved. I know when I was saved. Can a Calvinist say the same? What if they “call upon the name of the Lord” and are not one of the elect? Does that contradict Romans 10:13?
God loves us ALL and desires us all to be saved. 2 Tim. 2:3-4 says, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Wait. . . if God “will have all men to be saved,” how then can man’s sovereignty override Gods? Does ALL men mean some? The elect? If man has no free will, and God’s will is that all men be saved, why does anyone go to hell?
What is man’s purpose then? God already has legions of angels that worship Him all-day/all-night for all-eternity. If God wanted more robotic creatures that He compels to worship Him, why not make more of those beings?
Why make man “in our image” only to chuck the majority of them into damnation? The Calvinist version of God does not sound like one I want to worship.
I want to worship the God that appreciates that I want to worship Him, because He gave me the free will to do so.
THE PROBLEM OF FOLLOWING MEN
John Calvin actively participated in murder. He was once a correspondent of Michael Servetus who was deemed a heretic by the Catholic Church for not believing in the trinity and that Jesus Christ’s death was meaningless. We can agree that this is bad theology, but the Catholics deemed this an act worthy of execution. Servetus fled from the Catholics and was eventually found by French Calvinists.
Calvin instructed for Servetus to be imprisoned. When the council decided to burn Servetus at the stake, Calvin asked for a beheading instead – though his request was ignored.
Calvin may not have directly murdered Servetus, but he agreed that the man should be imprisoned and beheaded for holding a different belief.
Furthermore, the teachings of grace and predestination found throughout Calvin’s teachings were greatly influenced by Augustine.
Augustine is generally regarded as a “great” man of God by many. However, I would caution against viewing him as such. He was a former gnostic – an early church heretic who did not follow the Bible in any way we would describe it.
He perpetuated the gnostic teaching of predestination. He taught infant baptism. He taught men have no free will (like Calvin). He believed in purgatory, that sex is sinful even in marriage, that Mary was sinless, that the Apocrypha should be included in Scripture, and that the Catholic Church is the supreme authority.
He once wrote, ”I should not believe the gospel unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church.”
The good, “saint” Augustine also heavily influenced the infamous Inquisition responsible for the deaths of many Protestant church leaders.
Calvin following Augustine is evidence that Calvin was not a man who deserved to be followed.
Why I am Not a Calvinist
I cannot follow the teachings of a flawed man who derived his theology from an even more flawed man. I receive my doctrine from the Bible, written by God Himself.
I reject all of the five points of Calvinism. They might be based in Scripture, but they are refuted by Scripture when taken in context.
Man has free will. Christ died for ALL of us. We can all accept the free gift of salvation if we repent and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
The more research I do on this topic, the more I am inclined to believe that Reformed Theology, though practiced by some very good men, is dangerous in that it distorts the words of God and presents a view of salvation that contradicts the very nature of God as presented in our Bibles.
I cannot be a Calvinist. I hope this writing presents good examples why.
If you reject my words and adhere to the TULIP or its variations, we can still fellowship. I do not doubt the salvation of Calvinists as much they probably do of themselves.
They still embrace the gospel. They still teach the gospel. They evangelize and do many things I would agree with.
I just do not agree with everything.