Myths and Caricatures of Calvinism Part Three

Leads to a theocracy.

This myth is rather uncommon but may originate from misunderstandings of some Calvinistic, theonomist literature. Contrary to this idea, it has been noted that Calvinism was one of the influential shapers of American, colonial life and a driving contributor to the success of this country. Robert Benedetto in the book The Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith said:

The Biblical witness is viewed as the basis for cultural transformation sought through social, political, and evangelical means. The Calvinistic worldview was certainly a primary influence in the life of John Witherspoon and other patriots who participated in the American Revolution and influenced the development of democratic institutions…Traditionally, Calvinism has stressed simplicity and hard work. While there has been much debate on the relationship between Calvinism, capitalism, and the Protestant work ethic, many scholars now see the contributing aspects of Reformed theology as one important factor among several that led to the development of capitalism. In its various organizational forms, Calvinism relies on a shared leadership of ministers and laity working together in partnership.

Far from necessarily leading to theocracies, Calvinism was a driving force in promulgation of democratic ideals that America was founded upon.

Resists gender equality.

This is not as much of a myth as it is a false accusation. This likely arises from a misunderstanding about the role/relationships men and women in the Church. Following a certain hermeneutic, most Calvinists tend to be Complementarians. A complementarian is one who believes in the full equality and worth of every believer, male or female, but still affirms that Scripture commands specific roles in the marriage, family, and church relationship (Gen. 1:26, 2:18, 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:9-13; 1 Cor. 14:33-35; Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1; Tit. 2:3). Ministry roles are differentiated by gender. Differentiated genders roles no more entail gender inequality anymore than differentiated roles within the Trinity indicate a lack of deity. Each member of the Godhead seems to have specific roles or functions within salvation history that include the Son being subordinate to the Father and the Holy Spirit being subordinate to both the Father and Son (I leave open the question of whether or not Jesus is eternally or incarnationally the Son). Having a specific role does not make either one of the trinity any less competent or God.

Is joyless (the frozen chosen).

From personal experience, I can say that this charge is patently also false. Calvinists tend to be some of the most joyful people I know because they see the commandment “Delight yourself in the LORD” for what it is- an actual commandment. Probably no one in the New Reformed movement has done more to overturn this notion of the frozen chosen than John Piper through his ministry Desiring God. He coined the phrase Christian Hedonism which means that the pursuit of joy is not wrong, selfish, or secondary but primarily a life-giving, soul-stirring call to God himself who is the foundation of all joy, desire, and satisfaction. Pursuing your own satisfaction and joy is not at odds with Christianity for God has blessed such a quest. John Piper said:

David counsels Christian Hedonism when he commands, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). And he demonstrates the kernel of Christian Hedonism when he cries out, “As a deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). Moses was a Christian Hedonist (according to Hebrews 11:24–27) because he rejected the “fleeting pleasures” of sin, but “considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward.” The saints in Hebrews 10:34 were Christian Hedonists because they chose to risk their lives to visit Christian prisoners and joyfully accepted the plundering of their own property since they knew that they themselves had a better possession and an abiding one. The apostle Paul commended Christian Hedonism when he said in Romans 12:8, “Let him who does acts of mercy do them with cheerfulness.” And Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, set the greatest standard of Christian Hedonism because “his delight was in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:3), and for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Christian Hedonism teaches that the desire to be happy is God-given and should not be denied or resisted but directed to God for satisfaction. Christian Hedonism does not say that whatever you enjoy is good. It says that God has shown you what is good and doing it ought to bring you joy (Micah 6:8). And since doing the will of God ought to bring you joy, the pursuit of joy is an essential part of all moral effort. If you abandon the pursuit of joy (and thus refuse to be a Hedonist, as I use the term), you cannot fulfill the will of God. Christian Hedonism affirms that the godliest saints of every age have discovered no contradiction in saying, on the one hand, “We are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36), and on the other hand, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Christian Hedonism does not join the culture of self-gratification that makes you a slave of your sinful impulses. Christian Hedonism commands that we not be conformed to this age but that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) so we can delight to do the will of our Father in heaven. According to Christian Hedonism joy in God is not optional icing on the cake of Christianity. When you think it through, joy in God is an essential part of saving faith.

Joy plays such a pivotal role in the Christian’s life that to be devoid of joy in God is to suffer eternal separation. Again, Piper noted that:

Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.

The idea of the frozen chosen is a relic of the past.

Doesn’t believe in free will.

Typically the debate is falsely juxtaposed as the sovereignty/free will debate with the Calvinist holding to a high view of God’s sovereignty and the Arminian holding to a high view of man’s freedom. This is certainly a false dichotomy for both the Calvinist and the Arminian affirm some sense of God’s sovereignty and some idea of freedom. To the Calvinist, the Arminian does not say enough concerning the attribute of sovereignty. The Reformed see the Scriptures teaching three distinct aspects concerning sovereignty: preservation (God keeps all things existing and maintains the properties with which he created them [Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17; Acts 17:28; Neh. 9:6; Psa. 104:29]), concurrence (God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do [Eph. 1:11; Job 12:23, 36:6-13; Psa. 104:14, 139:16; Matt. 5:45; Pro. 16:33; Phil. 4:19]), and government (God has a purpose in all that he does in the world and he providentially governs and directs all things in order that they accomplish his purposes [Psa. 103:19; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 15:27; Rom. 8:28-30]). Whether or not Arminians affirm those three aspects depends on the actual theologian and his or her own presuppositions.

The issue is one of definitions and how both parties define free will. Arminians typically hold to libertarian freedom (indeterminism) whereas Calvinists hold to a compatibilist notion of freedom (soft determinism). A compatibilist contends that an agent is free (and morally responsible) in case his actions are the result of his own desires and intentions exercised without external coercions or constraints. An action is free because the agent actually desires or wants to do it. The compatibilist affirms that people are morally responsible even when there are no other options but the one decision because alternative possibilities are not necessary for moral responsibility and outside forces always play a role within our decision making (e.g. our environment, upbringing, genetics, nature, etc.). Most Calvinists would agree with J.I. Packer that “God’s control is absolute in the sense that men do only that which is ordained that they should do; yet they are truly free agents in the sense that their decisions are their own, and they are morally responsible for them.”A libertarian contends that an agent is only “free” in any sense of the word if he or she is able to make a choice from a neutral disposition, where one is uninfluenced by external factors. One is only free if the decision possesses absolute power to the contrary. Libertarians assert that their notion of freedom must exist for moral accountability to be valid.

Regardless where one philosophically stands, Scripture teaches both the exhaustive sovereignty of God and the ultimate responsibility of man. The tension between the two exists simultaneously within various passages of holy writ (e.g. Gen. 45:5-8, 50:19 & Psa. 105: 16-25; Lev. 20:7 & 22:31; Jud. 14:4a; 2 Sam. 24 & 1 Chron. 21:1-7; 1 Kings 8:57-60; 1 Kings 11:11-13, 29-39, 12:1 & 2 Chron. 10:15, 11:4; Isa. 10:5; Jer. 29:10-14; Jer. 52:3 & 2 Kings 24:19; Joel 2:32; Hag. 1:12-14; Psa. 105:24). D.A. Carson reflecting on the frequency of which Scripture teaches both truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility said in his book Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension that:

The sovereignty-responsibility tension is not a problem to be solved; rather, it is a framework to be explored. To recognize this is already a major advance, for it rejects those east ‘solutions’ which impose alien philosophical constructions upon biblical data, or which dismiss those elements of the biblical data not conducive to the investigator’s system. To explore this tension is to explore the nature of God and his ways with men.

This myth is false because Calvinists in fact do hold to a notion of free will. It is merely defined differently than Arminians.

Leads to pride.

Arrogance tends to be the occupational hazard of brand-new Calvinists but this is surely a massive contradiction. How Calvinists can be prideful is truly beyond me. There’s nothing explicitly within the doctrines of grace that necessarily leads to pride. In fact, the doctrines should lead to humility. They teach that sin has utterly incapacitated you in every area from gaining merit to earn your salvation, that God chose you not because of any beauty, works, or good within you, that Christ died for you despite you being a two-fold son of perdition, that your coming to Jesus wasn’t upon your own free agency but the sovereign work of God himself, and that your continual pursuit of Jesus is the result of his holy preservation of you despite the hell of iniquity that remains in your heart. The only response to such truths is lowly humility before the God of grace. As Greg Dutcher stated in his new book Killing Calvinism, “Calvinism actually lived out can never lead to pride.” He describes the “cage stage” of young Calvinists who are overly zealous Reformed folks who perhaps ought to be caged up for a while so they can’t do any harm to others and themselves. We should all have humility before the Lord concerning his Word.

On a personal note, Christ had to vex my heart and take away many things I cherished in my own life before I realized I was mishandling his Word. Sure, I was getting many things right, but I was yielding it wrongly. I was arguing over arcane matters in a way that was offensive to many, both my brother and my brother’s Redeemer. I had to be humbled and this took time. The beauty of studying Scripture is that you’ll never fully master all of it because it concerns itself with an insurmountable and inexhaustible subject, the nature and perfections of God. As Henri Nouwen said, “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” Some will say then, “Well if I cannot know everything about God because he so incomprehensible, what’s the point of reading Scripture?” You read Scripture to get to know the Lord and get yourself ready to see him face-to-face one day. One should treat God like you treat your spouse in the sense that daily you pursue him or her trying to know and understand them better (the analogy isn’t perfect). Scripture is the means or vessel through which we pursue God. We desperately need this revelation. As Calvin said, “Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness.” Pride is out of order in such endeavors.


One response to “Myths and Caricatures of Calvinism Part Three

  1. Pingback: Myths and Caricatures of Calvinism Part Five « Austin's Blog·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s