Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Okay, what gives? I have published before that I am a Calvinist. But I recant all that today. Here is why.

Have you ever been pigeonholed? When I was a kid, I made the mistake of saying my favorite color was green. So did my wife. We each grew up being handed green lollipops -- yuk! Strawberry, cherry, or grape tasted so much better than the nasty green flavor. We were given green things, such as green clothes, green paintings, etc. Admittedly, we brought some of this on ourselves for vocally identifying a color as a favorite (which is such an in color these days). This kind of pigeonholing was very minor compared to what others have endured. I think of the terrible racial and ethnic pigeonholing that so many people have suffered through.

When I first stumbled into Calvinism 16 years ago, I was taken aback by some of the doctrine. But, as I interacted with various Presbyterians, I discovered that Calvinism presented a view of God's glory, power, majesty and overwhelming grace that I had never seen before or anywhere else since. But a lot of people, a lot of Christians have a dislike for Calvinism. The dislike varies from the normal "I don't think it makes sense" (which is normal) to an intense hatred. Often those who oppose Calvinism tell me what Calvinists believe, and that's where things get a little interesting. The beliefs are often things I don't recognize. Here are a few:

1. Calvin taught that God favors rich people because God predestined them to have riches.
2. Calvin taught people are saved by works.
3. Calvinists believe that infant baptism saves you.
4. Calvin taught that God hates everyone except a very few elect people.
5. Calvinists believe that you cannot have an assurance that you are saved because you must work to stay in the faith until the end, or else you are lost.
6. Calvinists believe that John 3:16 really says, "For God so loved the elect that he have his only Begotten Son..."
7. Calvinists don't believe in sharing their faith with others because it is up to God to save people.

...the list goes on and on.

Often, these statements are made with supporting quotes from Calvin's Institutes. One time I responded to one set of quotes claiming that Calvin did not believe in assurance. After showing my point, the person did not even acknowledge he had misquoted Calvin. That is somewhat typical of those who quote Calvin's Institutes. I have never come across someone quoting Calvin against Calvinism who has completely read the Institutes. There are plenty of websites and books which takes snippets used by the detractors.

Calvinism, as defined by these other people does not resemble the Calvinism I know. But often they refuse to believe me, a practitioner of over 14 years. What do I know -- the other websites are the true authorities on the topic. So, if Calvinism is defined in those ways, then I am certainly not a Calvinist. I stand in good company. The late John Gerstner, a theology professor and mentor of R.C. Sproul, was often asked in his classes if he was a Calvinist. Dr. Gerstner would ask, what do you mean by Calvinist? The student would respond with some of the usual misunderstandings, and Gerstner would reply, no, I'm not a Calvinist.

To be fair -- this does not happen just to Calvinism. Any position that is well defined and articulated in one of the Christian traditions, particularly those that run against the grain of default views of culture, face similar biases.

So, what theological position do I take? Often, when presented a distorted Calvinist picture, I'll reply that I am Reformed, as defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

So, if you have an issue with Calvinism, don't take it up with me. I'm not a Calvinist -- at least not the sort you're probably thinking of. If you have an issues with Reformed Theology, then take a look at the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. See what they say. If you don't like it, then I'd be happy to discuss it with you.


jared said...

I have a question, why do so many PCA churches only celebrate the Lord's Supper once a month and use grape juice instead of wine when both practices are clearly spoken against in WCF 29.3-4?

Okay, so I can sympathize with the rationalizing that prompts the use of grape juice rather than wine (and it is rationalizing; it would not, or should not, be difficult or troublesome to have both available), but once a month? Really? How does something like that get approved and settled?

Earl said...

Some PCA churches celebrate the Lord's Supper every week.

But timing is a good question. I have heard some say they don't want communion to become overly familiar and thereby less meaningful. However, Communion, understood as an objective means of grace, does not depend on our subjective sense of meaningfulness, but rather on the character of God that makes it a means of grace.

There are some practical considerations. It takes time to prepare and there are limited numbers of people who volunteer for the setup and cleanup. Further, many churches have the practice of of making sure Communion is taken to the shut-ins who could not make it to the worship service. Due to the extra work in that it makes it impractical to have a weekly Communion.

Regarding wine -- I'm with you on that. Some of it is a matter of American Christian cultural sensibilities. Wine has so many negative connotations in our subculture that it would be offensive to many in American churches. One Baptist friend once told me in all seriousness that the wine in the Bible was grape juice. It is unfortunate -- and I would love to see it changed even at my church, but there are other issues and battles to address first before this one.

Anonymous said...

Ok, is there something going on with the picture in this post, or am I seeing things?

Earl said...

What do you mean? I suggest you drink decaffeinated coffee.

ded said...

Something I have always wondered along those lines, Jared, is why communion is reduced to just a symbol of a bit of cracker and sip of juice or wine on a scheduled basis. What did He mean telling them to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Spiritual food would seem to be needed more often than once a month or even three months as is the practice of some. Why not daily? And since the elements He mentioned were actually part of a meal, was He possibly suggesting the communion was a shared meal easily accomplished on a daily basis?

Rose~ said...

Have you ever been pigeonholed?

Yes and it's not pleasant... especially when you try and try to explain that this or that is not how you see things.

Earl, I am glad that you are not a Calvinist. ;~)

Earl said...


Thanks for visiting and your comments. You have been very fair in your blog with Calvinists, er, ah, Reformed, and have provided an area for safe, open discussions. I've also seen how you've been misunderstood by others, in some of the other blogs you participate in, and how you've done an outstanding job in explaining your position. You and your husband are very refreshing bloggers.