Last night I tuned into the Calvinism debate that was lighting up twitter, and really tried to listen with an open mind. Really, I did. For some reason however, I just quickly get lost in most conversations with Calvinists. I think it all goes back to seminary for me. I had the “pleasure” of sitting next to the most Calvinist dude I’d ever met in a Church History class; he had the most perfectly parted hair I’d ever seen and looked like a real life character from a children’s book. We sort of got into it one day because he kept calling the folks who hung witches “godly” and kept calling the founding fathers “godless”. While he was right on the latter, I certainly took issue with the former. From that argument forward, whenever someone said the name “Jefferson” or “Adams” he would lean over and incessantly whisper “godless” without moving his lips, as if he were my older brother trying to get me riled up without mom or dad knowing he was antagonizing me.
I tried to dialogue with him on Calvinism by sincerely asking him why he was a Calvinist, but his reply was simply an arrogant smirk followed by “because it’s on every page of scripture“… a smug answer that came to represent the last time I looked at most Calvinists with any degree of fondness.
For me, that guy has unfortunately come to represent Calvinists. And, I get it– that’s not fair. The unfortunate truth however, is that most of the Calvinists I meet remind me of parted-hair-dude not because of my own projections, but because they (most of the time) strike me as being really quite similar.
Overall, between the debate last night and remembering all of the parted-hair-dudes I’ve known over the course of time, I realized that if Calvinism is to have any hopes at making in-roads with folks like me, it’s going to need an extreme makeover. In a gesture to freely share my unsolicited advice with parted-hair-dudes across the globe, here are a few things that I think need to be addressed in such an “extreme Calvinist makeover”.
You might want to find a way to make the average Calvinist seem a little bit nicer.
The Calvinists who so many of us know don’t come across as nice, humble, approachable or any of those other things. I get that this doesn’t represent the whole and that it’s not fair to just blanket project on an entire theological movement, but I think even many Calvinist know this is a serious issue. I’ve had some Calvinists tell me “I’ll always theologically be a Calvinist, but Calvinist culture really drives me crazy”, which is a pretty honest assessment of how so many feel. For the movement to grow with a younger generation, it really needs to address the connotation that Calvinists, quite often, just don’t seem very nice.
I can’t speak for everyone, but when I look at the most prominent Calvinists (who by default come to represent the movement) I keep thinking I’m watching a theological adaptation of the playwright 12 Angry Men. Calvinism really needs to politely invite some folks to retire and replace them with fresh, diverse voices– as in, not all white maleish voices (a critique in fairness I could probably make of all movements). Regardless, your front-line Calvinism poster people just aren’t people we connect with or feel inclined to listen to.
A quick tip: if they remind us of parted-hair-dude or an angry father, they’re probably not your best choice.
You might want to find a way to make double predestination sound really loving.
And…. good luck with that one.
You might want to find an alternative to the “who are you to question God?” response.
Now, this isn’t to say that we can tell God what is right or wrong– we can’t. However, it seems to me that whenever a Calvinist (and I saw this last night) gets into a pickle explaining stuff like double predestination, the only response is to throw up their hands and say “what right does the pot have to say to the potter ‘why did you make me this way?‘”
This isn’t a real answer, and it’s not converting anyone to the Calvinist position. If Calvinists want to bring more into the fold, it will need to have honest questions and answers instead of using the conversation stopper of “who are you to question God?”
To all the parted-hair-dudes, smug older brothers, and angry dad’s: I want your movement to have a fair shot– I actually do. I believe in competing in the arena of ideas and the endless conversation about what God is like. I want your views to have a fair representation in this God-discussion, because like all people I disagree with, you still have valuable insights that are worthy of consideration. However, if you really and truly want to engage folks like me, there’s no way of getting around the fact that Calvinism needs an extreme makeover.
(And if you need a little help, go talk to Nate Pyle, because he’s one of your folks who’s doing it right).