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.