For many, Calvinism is dangerous ground. It can be offensive, frustrating, and irritating. When I was a “young” Calvinist, there were not a few conversations I now wish I could take back. And, although Calvinists can be off-putting, equally so are the caricatures painted by non-Calvinists. Benjamin Corey recently wrote about the 5 Reasons Why Calvinism Makes Me Want to Gouge My Eyes Out, wherein he outlines some oft-used criticisms of Calvinism. He believes that Calvinism isn’t for him, or you either.
In my Logic class, we discuss the use of cognitive and emotive language. Cognitive language conveys information; whereas emotive language, while possibly conveying information, is more about stirring emotions. It has somewhat of a “steamroller” effect, flattening your ability to assess an argument because your emotions are so stirred. Seasoned arguers use this tactic well (although, perhaps not ethically) to persuade their audience(s). While I can’t speak to Corey’s ethic, he employs this tactic in his introduction. This is well played on his part because if you’re unable to detach emotionally, it will be difficult to engage his arguments (regardless of your stance).
Corey begins by indicating that he “couldn’t in good conscience worship the Calvinist’s god.” Instead of worshipping God for his holiness, beauty, and wonder, he’d simply “bow down because he would be a sick and twisted god who scared the crap out of me.” His conscience is affected by his negative understanding of double predestination. But Corey’s understanding, which follows a positive-positive symmetry, is problematic. His viewpoint ultimately makes God the author of sin, because he monergistically works both salvation for the elect and damnation for the reprobate. A preferred understanding follows a positive-negative symmetry, which affirms God’s monergistic work towards the elect, and his passiveness towards the reprobate. That is, God’s passiveness is not monergistic; his only action is to leave sinners to their own devices (John 3:19), rather than coercing them to sin.
His second reason maintains that Calvinists “have a fetish of sorts with God’s anger.” He claims that Jesus, who built a worldview on love, is quite different from Calvinism, which builds on anger. But this commits the straw man fallacy. Corey misrepresents Calvinism’s view of God’s anger and wrath as an obsession. Although Calvinists acknowledge God’s anger and wrath as intrinsic components of his nature, an argument could be made that Calvinists are obsessed with his grace and mercy. A true Calvinist recognizes their own destitution before God, and, thereby, is obsessed with the grace and mercy given in salvation.
Also, I’m becoming tired of the “let’s only focus on the God of the New Testament (i.e., Jesus)” argument. If we believe God was sovereign over the formation of the canon, then our understanding of God should be gleaned from both the Old and New Testaments. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.
His third reason states that “Calvinism sends the WRONG message to the folks that were Jesus’ favorite kind of people: outsiders & misfit toys.” However, Corey sends the wrong message that Jesus had favorites. He doesn’t (Galatians 2:6). It might appear that tax collectors and sinners were Jesus’s favorites; however, Matthew 9:11-13 is more an indictment against the self-declared righteous folk, than identification of favorites. Also, for clarity, I advocate including “outsiders” and “misfits,” but who gets to make the labeling decision? The lens of God’s righteousness shows that apart from Christ we’re all “outsiders” and misfits.”
Corey’s fourth reason is that “Calvinism reduces the beauty of the cross.” This is based on his belief that “the cross is the central point of all human history.” I disagree. For Christians, the cross is meaningless without the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). Please don’t misunderstand me, the cross is crucial; however, it’s empty without the resurrection. I also disagree with Corey about the violence of the cross. Crucifixion was gruesome, painful, and shameful. Also, the Calvinist paradigm sees Christ’s death and resurrection as sufficient for all, but efficient for those predestined in God’s mercy. As such, it’s important to remember that God is not unjust in his extension of mercy (see Matthew 20:15; Romans 9:14-15).
Lastly, Corey believes that “Calvinism produces some of the most toxic culture in Christianity.” One issue I have with his argumentation is the appearance of committing the hasty generalization fallacy. Now, I’m not sure how many Calvinists he knows (and, to be sure, there are many nasty Calvinists), I suppose I’d just like to see his sample size. For instance, claiming that all Christians are bigots because of your interaction with Westboro Baptist Church commits the hasty generalization. Or, saying that all Muslims are radical terrorists because of what happened at 9/11 commits this fallacy. The sample size I’m drawing from reveals some of the most refreshing Christian culture – especially from those not afraid to chide other Calvinists when they act inappropriately.
I’m saddened by the pain Corey has experienced due to Calvinism. If you’re a Calvinist, don’t be a jerk. If you’re not a Calvinist, don’t assume that all Calvinists are jerks. Instead of focusing on not-yet-glorified characters, let’s focus on exegesis and argumentation, wherein we can work towards a clearer understanding of the bible and its doctrines.
Good thoughts. Yes, some Calvinists make the ‘emotive’ arguments too, when in fact both sides rarely use and know the Bible in arguments. If properly examined, Calvinism is Biblical, because it is just the logical inverse of Scripture in context by inductive reason. Or just read Romans and if you do not like Paul, read 1 Peter chp 1, if you do not like Peter, then read John chps 14-15. If you do not like John, you have bigger problems.
That is, if one would look to the Book, not to feelings, ideas, personal philosophy,
what my pastor said or musings…. Personally, I do not use the term Clavinisim
much, as it has too much baggage because most people never have read Calvin. I
have and found him passionately powerful and true. I personally prefer ‘Reformed’
and if there is a disagreement, I will not quote Calvin, instead, “let us go to
Scripture, look to contexts and see for yourself….”
What to know?
it’s just sad that so much focus and emphasis is placed on labels. if you follow the doctrine of Christ, than you are a Christian. Truthfully, there are things “calvinism” teaches that aren’t biblical, just as there are things “Arminianism” teaches that aren’t biblical. The only true doctrine is the doctrine of Christ. and the Only way to know the doctrine of Christ is to live by “every word of God”. leave your labels behind.
Hello a follower of Christ! I’m also a follower of Christ!
I think it’s good to remember that labels have both positive and negative connotations. Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they aren’t.
I’d be interested, as someone who tends to identify more with “calvinism,” what you believe Calvinism teaches that isn’t “biblical” (which IS a label, by the way).
For me, I think using labels can be helpful in simply explaining what someone says. When someone tells me they are a Dispensationalist, it helps me understand where their theological convictions are coming from. It certainly doesn’t define them in the sense of giving me their full identity, but it can help us move forward in conversation quicker.
But I appreciate your thoughts here… helpful!
Enjoyed the post. Good content and a good lesson in some of the rules of logic and argumentation.
I’m enjoying thinktheology.org a lot. I’m feeling understood.I’m ok with looking at God as Holy,and all glory being His alone. From that the love of enemies brings all the power of heaven.
I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to use Jesus as the lense through which to intwrpret all of scripture.
I don’t think the OT would win people’s hearts or transform lives the same way the love of Jesus does. I’m not saying we should throw out the Old Testament, but just realize that it’s not the final say about God’s disposition towards mankind.
Also, I think the “God doesn’t play favorites” bit is quite ironic considering that the whole basis for Calvinism is that God does in fact play favorites (unconditional election.)