I have a confession to make.
Well, it’s more like a profession:
Out of all of the theologies in the world, I find Calvinism among the most offensive. And frustrating. And irritating.
Like the kind of stuff that makes me want to gouge out my eyes (or something like that).
Truth be told, I like Calvinism as much as I like black olives… and I wouldn’t eat a black olive if I were on a game show for a lot of money (okay, maybe I would– but I wouldn’t become a Calvinist for a lot of money).
I’ve never really been a Calvinist. I tried it out for a few weeks in seminary and it was the longest year of my life. I did give it my best shot though, and even got into an argument with my wife once (while she was trying to take a shower) and told her that she had to become a Calvinist. Thankfully, within a short amount of time I realized this faith structure wasn’t going to work.
Perhaps I was just predestined to rejecting it. Or maybe, I chose to reject it. Either way, I am convinced that Calvinism (especially the neo-calvinism of today) is the kind of stuff that we need to flee (get the hell away from).
Here’s are my top reasons why Calvinism isn’t for me– and why I don’t think it’s for you either:
I couldn’t in good conscience worship the Calvinist’s god.
One of the key aspects of Calvinism is a concept called “predestination” which essentially means, God picked the people who are going to heaven. Where it gets sick is on the flip side of that same coin (a position held by Calvin), that God also picks the people who go to hell. There are no choices involved– before God even created us, he hand picked who would go to heaven and who he would burn in hell for all of eternity.
Now, we know from the teachings of Jesus that the group of people in history who embrace God is smaller than the group who do not (broad vs. narrow road). If both Calvinists and Jesus are equally correct, the result is purely evil. This would mean that God created a MAJORITY of humanity for the sole purpose of torturing them in hell for all of eternity, and that they never had a choice. God would have created them for the sole purpose of torturing them. I just don’t think I can worship a god who would do something like that.
Case in point: if I get to heaven and find out that my beautiful daughter Johanna is in hell and that she’s in hell because God chose her before the foundations of the world to burn for all eternity, I won’t be able to worship him in good conscience. Perhaps I would bow down out of total fear, but I would NOT worship him because he was holy, beautiful, and “all together wonderful” as Boyd often describes him. Instead, I would bow down because he would be a sick and twisted god who scared the crap out of me.
Calvinism, especially Neo-Calvinism today, seems to have a fetish of sorts with God’s anger.
Hang around the average Calvinist very long, and there’s a good chance you’re going to get a mental picture of God that is largely defined by anger and wrath. While I do believe that God gets angry, and do believe there are times he has acted on that anger throughout scripture, this is not what Jesus majors on when he taught people what God was like. Calvinists often build a worldview on anger, while Jesus built one on love.
When Jesus tried to explain what God is like, he simply told people “look at me- if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen him” (John 14:9). In Jesus, we don’t see a God who is dominated by wrath, but a God who is consumed with nonviolent love. Calvinism makes me want to gouge my eyes out because it’s a belief system that keeps showing me a God who doesn’t look like the Jesus I see in the New Testament.
Calvinism sends the WRONG message to the folks that were Jesus’ favorite kind of people: outsiders & misfit toys.
I still remember starting a new school when I was in the 7th grade– I wanted so badly to be included. We didn’t have much money and I only had 2 pair of pants and a couple of shirts, so I was often made fun of for wearing the same clothes over and over. At the same time, I was one of the only kids in school to get bad acne, and was constantly ostracized and told that I only had it because I didn’t wash my face. It was miserable. To top it off, I was small in stature and not good at sports– which, when you put all these things together, I can safely say that I wasn’t picked for anything.
For the vast majority of my life I have felt like I was one of those “not good enoughs” who doesn’t get picked and doesn’t get included.
The message of Calvinism could have an encouraging message for me: you got picked! However, knowing that most people do not get picked for the team but instead, get picked for destruction and torture, a guy like me will probably always be convinced that I was picked for the latter– because that’s been my experience in life.
I have rejected Calvinism in favor of Arminianism, because in the later, we are able to proclaim the truth that God has picked everyone! If you want to be on the team- you’re welcome; the choice is yours. We don’t need a belief system that leaves us wondering as to whether or not we got picked; we need a belief system that assures us we were already picked and that we’re free to enjoy the benefits of being picked.
Jesus’ favorite people were the outisders and misfits. In his first sermon he was almost executed for proclaiming that those thought to be not chosen were actually included on God’s list, and in the act that ultimately did get him executed, Jesus was proclaiming that God is one who makes room for those who we thought were not chosen.
Calvinism, in contrast to Jesus, teaches that God picks a few and not the rest– that God is the sports captain from my 7th grade gym class, including the glee that comes with pounding on the kids who didn’t get picked.
Calvinism reduces the beauty of the cross.
As a Jesus follower, I think the cross is the central point of all of human history. The cross was God’s ultimate act of nonviolent enemy love, the act that that demonstrated God’s love for the whole world (John 3:16), the act that drew all people to God (John 12:32), and the act that reconciled all of creation to God (Col 1:20).
From a Calvinist paradigm, the cross is quite different. The cross isn’t the moment where Jesus died to reconcile all of creation– the whole world– but the moment where Jesus died simply for the few people God picked. This is a concept they call “limited atonement” that reduces the cross to being an act for the “elect” (those God picked) instead of an act for the world (John 3:16) and all of creation (Col. 1:20).
As such, instead of the Gospel being Good News for the world, it becomes good news for the few people God picked for his team and becomes absolutely horrible news for everyone else in history.
I’m sorry, but I think what Jesus did for us is bigger, and more beautiful than that. I think the cross is actually “good news” for everyone who is willing to chose love.
Calvinism produces some of the most toxic culture in Christianity.
I feel somewhat bad saying this, but I think I can honestly admit that there are only 3 Calvinists I’ve met in my life who I actually like– two are friends in my “real” life and one is a Christian blogger whom I really like and respect. Even those inside the movement are realizing the toxicity of the culture as one of my Calvinist friends recently told me that even they find the likability factor of most Calvinists to be wanting. If insiders experience the culture this way, could it be that something is totally depraved about it? (bad pun)
I tried to give it my best shot– really, I did. I think the last straw was in seminary when I asked the guy sitting next to me why he was a Calvinist and he simply replied, “because it’s on every page of scripture”. Or, maybe it was the way many Calvinists treat women as second class citizens. Or maybe it’s the way being told I’m “totally depraved” and that God “might not have picked me” makes me hate myself and live in constant fear. Or maybe it was just the obnoxious behavior of Calvinists on twitter. Perhaps it was even Driscoll himself.
I don’t know. What I do know, is that even if Calvinism were true, I wouldn’t last a day in Calvinist culture. No thanks.
In the end, I can’t ascribe to Calvinist theology because my experience with Calvinist theology does not jive with my experience of a God who loves everyone, who desires to be in relationship with everyone, and who went to the cross… for everyone.
If you’re an outsider like me, I hope you’ll embrace what is really true about God: he picked you. I know that he picked you. Even in all your messiness, he still picks you today. The true message of the Gospel is that you have been picked, you are loved, and that you are free to chose whether or not you’re willing to fully experience that love.