Contra Calvinism 1

Contra Calvinism 1 May 13, 2024


This wouldn't even rise to ISLAND fever.
Reports indicate that public life on Manihiki Atoll (shown here in a NASA public domain aerial photograph) comes to an absolute standstill during the weekly “Interpreter Radio Show.” Shops and restaurants close, school is suspended, courtrooms are vacated, stadium and theaters go dark, and police and physicians and ambulances are unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Interpreter Radio Show — May 5, 2024

In the 5 May 2024 episode of the Interpreter Radio Show, Spencer Kraus, Hales Swift, Brent Schmidt, and Martin Tanner discussed Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon lesson 22 and various topics related to the Book of Mormon.

Their conversation is now available to you at your convenience but at no charge.  The “Book of Mormon in Context” portion of this show, for the Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon lesson 22, will also be posted separately on Tuesday, May 21.

The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard once a week, on Sunday evenings from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640, or you can listen live on the Internet at

A view of St. Giles
St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh (Wikimedia Commons). Incidentally, after her death at Balmoral, in Scotland, the body of Queen Elizabeth II lay in state at St. Giles before heading southern into England, bound for London.

I hope that my extensive history of writing and speaking on Islam and other faiths over the past decades has established the fact — in reasonable minds, of course; I hold out no hope at all for some of the folks on the Peterson Obsession Board — that I regard other faiths and those who hold them with sympathy and respect.  I confess, though, that I do have a problem with Calvinism (and, for that matter, with the deterministic aspects of non-Mu‘tazili Islam).  Even regarding Calvinism, though, I have tried to be appreciative and, where not admiring, at least fair.  I cite such evidence on my behalf as the columns that I wrote (with the late, much-missed Bill Hamblin) for the Deseret News about John Calvin (“The Protestant Reformation’s other great writer”) and the prominent Scots Presbyterian/Calvinist leader John Knox (“John Knox and the Scottish Reformation“).

I don’t think about Calvinism on most days nor, for that matter, during most months, but I ran across an article on the subject over the weekend that — because it agrees with my views — I really liked.  (For what it’s worth, many years ago I helped to host its author while he visited Brigham Young University for an academic conference.  I must not have done a very good job because he wrote some negative things about my church shortly thereafter.)  In any event, the article expresses quite well some of my objections to Calvinist theology:  “Why Calvinism Cannot Be True And Is It Heresy?”

Inspired by it, I thought that I might offer a few notes of my own about Calvinism.  First, I will use as my template what is sometimes called “five-point Calvinism,” and the “tulip” acronym that often accompanies it as a mnemonic device:

Total Depravity — sometimes rephrased as “radical corruption” or “utter perversion.”  Because of Original Sin, we we are unable to will the good.  Every aspect of our personalities is corrupt, and we cannot save ourselves.  Latter-day Saints believe, to the contrary, that we are born innocent.  Only later are we inevitably tainted by the fallen world into which we have entered.  Still, though, we have the Light of Christ with us and, if we heed it, we can choose the Savior, his Atonement, and the Gospel and the Plan of Happiness.  We’re neither all bad nor all good.

Unconditional Election — also called “sovereign election.”  From all eternity, God has chosen those whom he will save. He will extend mercy to those whom he has chosen and he will withhold mercy from those whom he has not chosen.  The latter will be justly punished for their sins.  His choice of a subset of human beings for salvation is not based on any virtue, merit, or faith that he has foreseen in those people; rather, his choice is grounded solely in his sovereign will.

Limited Atonement — The atonement of Christ, according to Calvinism, applies only to the chosen, the Elect.  It was never intended for all.

Irresistible Grace — The Elect cannot effectively resist God’s choice of them for salvation, and their election will cause them to have faith.  If God wills that Jean be saved, Jean will be saved.

Perseverance of the Saints — Since God’s sovereign will cannot be frustrated or resisted, those who have been chosen will not fall.  If the seemingly Elect do fall, it’s because they were never really among the Elect to begin with.

Now, there’s a whole lot that might be said, and that should be said, about this.  (The article already cited above says some of the important things.)  With regard to the alleged “total depravity” of all humans, I counter (for one thing) with the Apostle Paul’s insistence that we are, all of us, children of God.  Consider his remarks to the pagan Athenians — they weren’t Christians or Jews, let alone Presbyterians! — on Mars Hill.  For clarity’s sake, I quote Acts 17:22-31 from the New Testament translation of J. B. Phillips:

“Gentlemen of Athens, my own eyes tell me that you are in all respects an extremely religious people. For as I made my way here and looked at your shrines I noticed one altar (one of a number in Athens) on which were inscribed the words, TO GOD THE UNKNOWN. It is this God whom you are worshipping in ignorance that I am here to proclaim to you! God who made the world and all that is in it, being Lord of both Heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he ministered to by human hands, as though he had need of anything—seeing that he is the one who gives to all men life and breath and everything else. From one forefather he has created every race of men to live over the face of the whole earth. He has determined the times of their existence and the limits of their habitation, so that they might search for God, in the hope that they might feel for him and find him—yes, even though he is not far from any one of us. Indeed, it is in him that we live and move and have our being. Some of your own poets have endorsed this in the words, ‘For we are indeed his children’. If then we are the children of God, we ought not to imagine God in terms of gold or silver or stone, contrived by human art or imagination. Now while it is true that God has overlooked the days of ignorance he now commands all men everywhere to repent (because of the gift of his son Jesus).

And, with regard to the notion of “Limited Atonement,” that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was never intended for everybody, I think that Paul’s declaration at 1 Timothy 2:4 is sufficient rebuttal: God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

I’ve never forgotten a comment that John Sanders, another Protestant theologian who visited BYU a couple of times (and whom I admire on several levels), made to me and Lou Midgley over dinner one evening:  “I would feel a whole lot better about Calvinism,” he remarked, “if I had ever met a Calvinist theologian who wasn’t sure that he himself was one of the Elect.”

I’ll probably return to this topic in a day or two.

Bald Mountain, etc.
Bald Mountain, Reids Peak, and Mirror Lake, in Utah’s Uinta Mountains.  Irrelevant but breathtaking.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo by Louis Arevalo)

But I can’t in good conscience leave you basking in complacent self-satisfaction as one of the Universe’s randomly-chosen Elect.  So here are some horrors from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™: that should serve to goad you into ever-greater efforts toward building a secular society where all can enjoy complete freedom from religion:

“Why Brazil’s first lady recently posted a sweet picture with sopping-wet missionaries”

“Faith and religion promote strong mental health so why, pray tell, do atheists run the industry?  May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a much-needed spotlight”

“Overwhelming scientific evidence connects faith and religious practice with strengthening mental health, lowering depression, and preventing suicide and drug and alcohol overdoses.”

“Sober minded: Why young Americans are abstaining from alcohol”

Latter-day Saints, at least, will have no difficulty recognizing that this one was found in or near the Hitchens File:  “Drinking alcohol is objectively harmful to health”



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