It is incredibly troubling when an individual opposed to Calvinistic teaching utters the phrase, “I’d never worship the God of Calvinism.” Enter any debate over the sovereignty of God in salvation and it won’t take terribly long for this bomb to be lofted in. The reason it troubles me though is not because I take this as some form of personal insult. It is the height of blasphemy against God, namely, because the God of Calvinism is the God of the Bible.
For the sake of argument, I wish to run a little thought experiment:
A pastor leads a bible study through 1 Samuel 15. Inevitably, the class arrives at verse 3, which shows a direct command from the Lord to Saul, saying, “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Upon hearing it, one person says, “I wouldn’t worship a God who does that!” Well, God did command that. Furthermore, He is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory.
Now, behind that comment is a fundamental misunderstanding of the text, and it could be approached in a couple of different ways. One way would be to teach on a theodicy, or rather, providing an answer to the question, “Why does a good God allow evil?” Another would be highlighting the character and nature of God, including, but not limited to, His divine right over Creation, the seriousness with which He takes idolatry, yet also His divine attributes. There are ample resources available for study on these topics and it would prove fruitful for the troubled soul.
Another option would be how I plan on approaching the idea here, and I would only use this option if the individual entrenched themselves in the statement. This is often the case when Calvinism is discussed; in fact, even higher profile Arminians have uttered that they would never worship the God of Calvinism (I think of Roger Olson, for one).
Amazingly, people don’t seem to pause long enough to reflect on the chance that their convictions over the matter might simply be wrong. No man is impervious to holding misconceptions about the character and being of God, and any genuine Christian ought to be terribly afraid of issuing both blessing and cursing against their Lord. It is the embodiment of the height of arrogance many Calvinists are accused of having.
The point is simple: on the off chance that you might be incorrect in your understanding of the text, you do realize saying such things would be incredibly blasphemous, no? Secondly, it reveals a deeper-seated issue, in that it expresses the equivalent of the atheist who hates the God he doesn’t believe in. For when you say something akin to the God of Calvinism being a malevolent bully void of love, you are more closely resembling Hitchens than the thought of any Christian. If you insinuate, as Olson has, the God of Calvinism is scarcely different than Satan, or perhaps Satan himself, you are treading into grounds no genuine Christian belongs.
I come back to my most basic question of all—to classical, high (i.e., “TULIP” Calvinists): How do you distinguish God from the devil except with degrees of power? And what if it turned out that God is the devil in disguise? Would you still worship him? I would not; I hope you would not. But therein lies the secret to why I have said that IF it were revealed to me in a way I could not doubt that God is as high, classical (i.e., “TULIP” Calvinism) claims I would not worship him. (I lose no sleep over this, by the way.) Because, in that case, there would really be no reason to worship God instead of the devil. In fact, as John Wesley famously said, in that case God would be worse than the devil because at least the devil is sincere! (Roger Olson)
Surely, I’ll admit such quips have a sort of rhetorical flare to them – but it is just that. It is an emotionally laden outburst rather than an earnest theological critique of the concept. It is the more verbose equivalent of, “My God wouldn’t do that!” I have no qualms with an individual challenging my understanding of the text, and doing it from the text itself, however, I do take issue to the one who will simply make pithy statements devoid of substance, especially when they are taking aim at their Creator. Equally problematic is the fact that it is disingenuous, in that I highly doubt genuine believers would stop worshiping God if He pulled back the “veil”.
Yet since we also have a historic faith, it would behoove us to study the wealth of historic, theological resources given to us on the topic. The reason I say this is that the charge is often only against Calvin, even though other notable figures were those whom Calvin gleaned his theological expression from. There is perhaps no clearer representation on the teachings of predestination, election, and the bondage of the will than the writings of Augustine of Hippo. Calvin, though credited for the origin of these concepts, paid homage to Augustine again and again throughout his Institutes, as did Luther and Zwingli in their own writings.
If I were inclined to compile a whole volume from Augustine, I could easily show my reader, that I need no words but his (Institutes, Book III, Chap. 22).
This observation only demonstrates the theological categories used to speak on these concepts did not originate with Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli. All three of them made distinct use of Augustine’s writings in formulating Reformation ideals – and wholeheartedly contributed these ideals to the great, African theologian. Yet it also must be made abundantly clear: these theologians did not simply quote Augustine, but utilized many writings from the church fathers in order to demonstrate the catholicity of Reformed doctrine.
The short and simple reason for this post is to usher caution to the one who wishes to cavalierly speak in such a manner. It is not meant to be an exhaustive defense of Calvinism so much as a reminder. It is the tongue which reveals the heart; reveling in such speech only displays the position of one’s heart against God. I would usher the same caution toward Calvinists who speak in such a way, namely, because I believe that if we are orthodox in our understanding, we worship the same God. I hold no reservations, however, in saying that simply because both groups uphold traditional orthodoxy, it must mean the topic is not worthy of debate. It does, however, mean that how we debate and the idle words used when we debate may come back to haunt us.
There is a direct correlation to the disposition of your heart toward the true God and the God of Calvinism. We must also be willing to acknowledge the point Scripture makes painstakingly clear: all men will, at one point, bow the knee in an act of worship to their Creator. This is what makes the statement so particularly dangerous – for if you are incorrect and you refuse worship of Him now because you despise the God of Calvinism, you shall at the eschaton. However, the quality and expression of that worship will be inexhaustibly different. We ought not make such a statement so lightly, but acknowledge the logical conclusion thereof.
So play nice.