Studying the Spiritual Issues in Calvinism

Studying the Spiritual Issues in Calvinism June 9, 2022

Recently, I’ve come across a few prominent Calvinist/Reformed YouTube channels that espouse the extremities of this ideology. I’ve been reminding myself that these channels don’t speak for all Reformed Christians. But even then, delving into these extreme, holier-than-thou views has been a mind-boggling journey.

Issues With Calvinism

After reading Julie Roys’ articles on how John MacArthur and his church mishandled “church discipline” in 2002, I saw a lack of integrity among Reformed authorities. Instead of seeking accountability for MacArthur and his associates, I read comments that MacArthur “isn’t perfect” and that he’s had many successful years of ministry.

I highly doubt his years of ministry mattered anything to Eileen or her kids, folks.

My beef isn’t with the average Reformed Christian who only wants to stay faithful to the Bible and God’s will. I respect them for their drive to do right in His eyes. I’ve read accounts from Reformed Christians who decried how MacArthur and Grace Community Church have refused to admit any wrongdoing.

But I’m wary of Calvinist authorities who seemingly spend more time condemning other Christians than encouraging people to trust Jesus. And oh boy, it’s been a doozy for me, finally researching what goes into Calvinist ideologies.

Incomplete Explanations

There are many Biblical issues in how Calvinistic ideology correlates with what’s in the Bible. Despite these issues, it’s jarring to hear some Calvinist leaders still try to argue that what they hold is Biblically accurate:

“‘Why doesn’t God just save everyone, why doesn’t God elect everyone?’

And while that’s a fair question, it’s really not an appropriately Biblical question.

Because if we understand the Fall of Man, if we understand that we are at enmity with God, that we are in opposition to Him, that we ran from Him, that we hid from Him, that when He came down and took on flesh, that we killed Him.

It’s only when we grasp that, that we are all deserving of Hell and death that we can really begin to ask the more appropriate Biblical question as to, ‘Why does God save anyone?'”

Burk Parsons, “Why are people so resistant to Reformed theology?”

I know that Mr. Parsons wasn’t speaking in a condescending tone here, that he meant well, but this tidbit begs a counter-question:

Why would this stance on God encourage anybody to see Him in a merciful light?

This response to this ongoing concern with the Calvinistic take on God seems to just be digging the grave even further. Trying to suggest that the world should be grateful that God considers saving “anyone” paints Him as a cold, narcissistic tyrant. Who among us would want to trust a God portrayed this way?

Soteriology101’s Excellent Responses

One of the best Christian YouTube channels I’ve encountered in my research on Calvinism is Soteriology101, run by Dr. Leighton Flowers (who is a former Calvinist). Here’s one of the first videos of his I’ve watched on Calvinism:

I love how Dr. Leighton explains why so many Christians reject Calvinism:

“The idea that God unchangeably predestines His own children to reject His own truth for His own glory is so intuitively false that I don’t need to refute it. I just need to make sure everyone understands that’s what Calvinism entails, so they know to reject it.”

Dr. Leighton Flowers, “Why do most Christians reject Calvinism?”

Also, I appreciate Dr. Leighton including these clips of prominent Calvinistic leaders. These leaders offered truly condescending reasons for why Christians reject Calvinism. “They don’t know the Bible” is apparently a logical explanation for why we don’t like Calvinism.

Poor Responses From Calvinistic Leaders

These responses from these Calvinistic leaders are just too haughty to ignore, so here’s a transcript of the first response:

“It’s not because they know too much of the Bible that they have come to this position, it’s because they know too little of the Bible that they have come to this conclusion.

And it’s really their lack of knowledge of the full counsel of God as taught in the Scripture.

And so, to answer the question, ‘Why do so many resist?’, it’s a lack of knowledge of Scripture, and it’s also pride and arrogance.

And these truths are the great pride crushers that leave all of us on our knees before the Throne of Grace, and saying, ‘Why me, Lord?'”

Steven Lawson, “Lawson, MacArthur, and Sproul: Questions & Answers”

Continuation

Here’s another response in this clip from the late R.C. Sproul:

“There are two fundamental things, I think, that people find it very hard to leave semi-Pelagianism and embrace Augustinianism.

The first is that they sense in the doctrines of grace [note: ‘doctrines of grace’ is another name for Calvinistic ideologies] that the theology of Calvinism teaches a corrupt view of God: a God who is not good, a God who may be sovereign, but He’s not fair.

Because He-the idea that people have is that He arbitrarily chooses to save some but not others. And that puts a shadow on the integrity of God. And people really struggle with that.

It takes a board over the head and the Bible to get you to see that your view of God is not high enough. You haven’t really, really understood how righteous He is, how holy He is…”

R.C. Sproul, “Lawson, MacArthur, and Sproul: Questions & Answers”

Dr. Leighton points out after sharing this clip that these responses invoke the fallacious argument known as “begging the question”. The question here is who (between Calvinists and non-Calvinists) ascribes to a wrong, “lower” view of God.

One For All? Right?!

To suggest that Jesus only gave Himself for the sake of a select few instead of the world wholly violates the well-known verse John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…”

That, and let’s not forget 1 Timothy 2:3-6:

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:3-6)

To me, the Calvinistic view of the “elect” is a gross misreading of Scripture. My concern is, does affirming that God wants all people to enter into a relationship with Him somehow diminish His omniscience and sovereignty?

I’m still a novice in these debates, and I honestly don’t know where I stand on a few major concepts. Even then, I can’t help but feel baffled at the notion that God giving us free will contradicts His sovereignty.

Calvinism’s Contradictions

Dr. Leighton analyzed a clip of John MacArthur attempting to explain away the evident contradictions in Calvinistic ideologies:

I think MacArthur unwittingly proved that the Calvinistic view of the elect isn’t Biblical. He summarized the verses about God never taking pleasure in the death of the wicked and desiring all to come to repentance. Right after listing these summaries, MacArthur admits that he doesn’t know how to harmonize these verses with the Calvinist view on the elect.

Dr. Leighton drew a great analogy to Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). We are each responsible for how we use the gifts God’s given to us, able to use them (or, sadly, abuse them) according to our free will. When we choose to misuse our gifts, we are solely responsible, as Dr. Leighton discussed.

This video was an interesting insight into the ongoing discussion over how free will correlates with God’s sovereignty.

And ah, Dr. Leighton confirmed that GotQuestions.org is a Calvinist source. Hey, the more you know!

(He’s also right about the issue of gaslighting language in Calvinist apologetics; shaming people for “not knowing the Bible” is a poor way of defending your religious views.)

The Issue of Predestination

In the video below, Dr. Leighton analyzes the ills of the Calvinist view of predestination:

So much of what Dr. Leighton said here made my jaw drop in awe. I did my best to transcribe the most insightful part of this video:

“And Calvinists, I know you’re unintentional in doing this, but what you’re doing is you’re giving people, you’re giving unbelievers the perfect excuse for their unbelief.

What better excuse is there in the world than ‘I was born unloved by my Creator; I was born unwanted by my God; Jesus didn’t atone for my sins.

It takes a miracle to believe the Gospel, and He didn’t give me that miracle. He gave it to that guy over there, but He left me in the grave next to Lazarus. He never called my name.’

What better excuse is there in the world than ‘I was born dead like Lazarus, and the only way I could come alive is if Jesus called my name, and He never called my name.’

I can’t think of a more pitiful, more hopeless person in all the world than a person born blind, deaf, dead, unloved by their Maker, unsought after by their God, who seeks to save the lost, but not you! Just these lost people, these ‘specially chosen ones’, not that one.

‘I’m gonna pass by those people on the other side of the road, you know, like the Levite and the tax collector and the Good Samaritan story.’

Yeah, that’s the way God’s gonna act to those enemies, to those He doesn’t really love.

No one more pitiful than someone who is never sought by their Maker, never loved by their Creator, created from birth to be an object of wrath and reprobation to demonstrate His power.”

Dr. Leighton Flowers, “I Can’t Find Calvinism In The Bible, But Provisionism Is Everywhere!”

He nailed it. How toxic must it be to grow up in a Calvinist environment, come to believe that you’re not actually a member of the elect, and deal with this level of existential despair?

A Calvinistic Mishandling of Doubt

Dr. Leighton analyzed a clip of John Piper, a popular Calvinist speaker, responding to somebody with doubts about their faith:

I agree with Dr. Leighton for pointing out, straight away, how Piper’s response puts undeserved blame on God:

“Well, it may be that the Lord has put you in this situation, that is, withheld from you the kind of faith you’re looking for, saving faith.”

John Piper

No matter how good-intentioned this argument is, it’s only bound to compound distrust towards God in times of doubt. Regarding how Calvinistic ideologies affect this, a person who’s grown up in these ideologies could become terrified that they were “never saved to begin with”.

Toxic Responses to Loss of Faith

When I wrote my last blog post, I came across this video from ReformedWiki2.0 on ex-Christians. The comments are full of Christians, Calvinists or otherwise, self-righteously declaring that anybody who loses their faith was “never a genuine Christian”:

ReformedWiki2.0 is the reason I’ve been wary of Calvinist beliefs. This prominent channel and its supporters speak of others in a condescending, self-righteous manner that’s absolutely repulsive.

In these videos and comments, I rarely if ever see genuine compassion and mercy towards those they disagree with. It’s normal to disagree with our fellow Christians. But this all comes across as an unhealthy zeal for “discernment” that manifests in arrogant ways.

Regarding this above video, as I said in my last blog post, it’s horrifying that they speak the way they do about those who lost their faith. If they’re of the mindset that any and all ex-Christians have doomed themselves to Hell, then where’s the compassionate concern for their souls?

This brings me to the issue of John Calvin and how he handled his religious opponent, Michael Servetus.

Calvin and Servetus

During my research on John Calvin, I came across the infamous incident where he planned to have Michael Servetus, a man with controversial faith perspectives, be put to death in Geneva. What a nightmare.

It’s been jarring reading the excuses given to Calvin in defense of his actions against Servetus. GotQuestions.org states that this matter is a reminder that Calvin and other reformers “weren’t perfect”. This sentiment is repeated by Tim Challies, a well-known Christian writer who also notes that most Calvins haven’t read any of Calvin’s writings.

Tim, you weren’t kidding.

I found this article by Reenacting the Way that shared a quote from Calvin’s letter to his friend about Servetus coming to Geneva. To summarize, Calvin told his friend that he would refuse to guarantee Servetus’ safety, and he would also ensure that Servetus wouldn’t leave the city with his life if at all possible.

Seeking Excuses for Servetus’ Execution

I found this clip featuring R.C. Sproul offering a defense of Calvin’s actions against Servetus:

These sound like cheap excuses made to salvage Calvin’s character. Even though Servetus made claims contrary to church doctrine, nothing he did justified the sadistic execution given to him in Geneva. Not to mention, Calvin absolutely pushed for his execution, even if he wanted to see Servetus beheaded instead of burnt to death.

I don’t understand why what Calvin did to Servetus isn’t seen as blatant premeditated malice. He wasn’t the one to kill Servetus, but Calvin was still bound and determined to see him die, merely for Servetus’ controversial beliefs.

To be blunt, using the excuse that execution for heretical beliefs was the standard of the time doesn’t excuse Calvin’s murderous heart.

This blog post by Reformed Truths takes this further by arguing that anybody who relies on Servetus’ death to decry Calvinism has “run out of arguments” and isn’t focusing on Calvinism’s theological positions.

I beg your pardon? That’s not an illogical fallacy how, exactly?

Why would we not be angry over how Calvin handled Servetus’ death? The man held premeditated murderous intentions in his heart, and you expect the rest of us to not be appropriately disgusted?

Decrying Servetus’ Death

Here’s a disturbingly insightful video on how some Calvinistic leaders dismiss anger over how Calvin handled Servetus:

This video’s maker quoted that infamous bit of Calvin’s letter to his friend stating his intention to not let Servetus leave Geneva alive if he arrived. They also included another quote of Calvin openly hoping that Servetus would be executed.

But hands-down, the most disturbing part of this video was the clip of these Calvinistic leaders laughing about what happened to Servetus. I can’t fathom how somebody gruesomely burnt at the stake is a laughing matter.

Hearing and reading the many excuses for Calvin guaranteeing Servetus’ death reminds me of this clip from the Silent Hill (2006) film:

The film’s cult leader, Christabella, stabs Rose, the protagonist, with the intent of killing her. Instead of holding herself accountable, this lovely bit of dialogue happens:

Christabella: “She…was a BLASPHEMER.”

The Joyful Cultists: “BLASPHEMER!!!”

Silent Hill (2006)

Why are so many Christians desperate to defend Severetus’ horrific death? The man was put on a pyre of green wood so that he’d spend a torturous ~30 minutes screaming in pain. How was any of that God’s will?

Conclusion

I feel bad for Reformed Christians who are simply trying to be objective in their faith. They have nothing to do with the extreme views held by Calvinist authorities, which, as Dr. Leighton has pointed out, can push people away from God.

I’m tempted to look into the ongoing debate between Calvinists and Catholics on their ideologies. That’s bound to be an intriguing discussion to delve into.

It’s been fascinating learning about Provisionism through Dr. Leighton’s videos. Even GotQuestions.org respects his values as objectively Biblical. I’ll enjoy learning more about what it means to be a Provisionist.

Featured Image by koszecz/Pixabay

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