Myths and Caricatures of Calvinism Part Four

Says I did not make a decision to follow Jesus.

“But I made a choice to follow Jesus” finds its way into the Calvinism and Arminianism debates all too often. The only problem with this statement is that Calvinists affirm it also. The statement reveals that the objector really misses the heart of the discussion. The issue isn’t between one side that affirms choices and another who denies. The crux of the matter is why or how one makes a decision for Jesus. Scripture teaches from cover to cover the total depravity of man (Gen. 6:5-6, 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Psa. 14:1-3, 51:5, 58:3, 130:3, 143:2; Ecc. 7:20, 9:3; Isa. 53:6, 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Luke 11:3; John 5:42; Rom. 1:29-32, 3:9-23; Gal. 3:22, Eph. 2:1-3, 4:17-19; 1 John 1:8, 10, 5:19; see also second myth below for more information). The problem is further complicated because Scripture teaches that man has a complete, moral inability to do the will of God for salvation (he possess the natural ability to do so which makes the commandments still genuine). He or she literally lacks the ability to move toward God in salvation (Matt. 7:18; John 3:3,5, 6:44, 65, 14:17, 15:4-5; Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14, 12:3; Jas. 3:8; Rev. 14:3). So how does one make a decision for Christ? Monergistic Regeneration (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8; 1 Pet. 1:3; Ezek. 36:26-27)! God breaks the heart of stone causing them to be born again as he effectually calls them to himself as the gospel message is presented. Regeneration comes before saving faith (John 6:44;65; Acts 16:14;1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 3:11; Eph. 2:4-5; Col. 2:13).  God has to cause us to be born again before we can respond to Him with faith. David Platt rightly noted in his book Radical that:

In the gospel God reveals the depth of our need for him. He shows us that there is absolutely nothing we can do to come to him. We can’t manufacture salvation. We can’t program it. We can’t produce it. We can’t even initiate it. God has to open our eyes, set us free, overcome our evil, and appease his wrath. He has to come to us.

If God didn’t change the heart first, no one would get saved. Though switched in typical, evangelical preaching, we are born again so we can believe; not we believe so we can be born again.

Calvinists affirm that people receive Jesus. People make real decisions in real time to come to Jesus. The Reformed only point out that no one receives Jesus upon their own free will but based upon the free will of God himself (John 1:12-13). A person’s free will is not taken away in regeneration but restored to its full vitality so it can accept Christ. And once their will has been stored, the beauty of the gospel is so magnificent, glorious, and all absorbing that the sinner irresistibly walks towards the Father in salvation. Irresistible grace does not mean sinners cannot resist and snub God’s grace. It means that salvific grace is effectual because it fulfills its life-giving purpose. It brings about the positive response for the person called by the power of the Caller. The Bible teaches that to be saved is to be effectually called by God. Throughout the New Testament, the saints are labeled “the called.” In almost every one of Paul’s writings, he refers to the Church as being called of God (Rom. 1:6, 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 1:2, 24; Gal. 1:6; Eph. 4:1-4; Col. 3:15; 1 Thess.  2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:9). God’s special calling in salvation is referenced not only by Paul, but also by Peter (1 Pet. 1:15, 2:9, 3:9, 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3, 1:10), Jude (Jude 1), John (Rev. 17:14; John 10:3), and the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 3:1; 9:15). God gives what he commands. He says live and dead people come back to life. So, the myth that Calvinists do not believe people make decisions for Jesus is not true. It is a misunderstanding of why one makes a decision for Jesus.

Believes in total depravity which means men have no intrinsic worth or value.

This is a gross misunderstanding of the doctrine of total depravity. Michael Horton in his book For Calvinism describes the misunderstandings and true understanding of the doctrine. He said:

As understood in Reformation theology, [total depravity] does not mean that each of us has committed every possible sin or that everyone is equally depraved in terms of their outward actions. What it does mean is that everyone is equally guilty and condemned and that there is no aspect of our existence that is unscathed or open to God’s grace. No less than our bodies and desires, our mind, heart, and will are under the command of sin and death. The “total” is total depravity refers to its extensiveness, not intensiveness: that is, to the all-encompassing scope of our fallenness. It does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be, but that we are all guilty and corrupt to such an extent that there is no hope of pulling ourselves together, brushing ourselves off, and striving (with the help of grace) to overcome God’s judgment and our own rebellion.

The core of the doctrine is that sin has affected every part of our being in such a way that there is no spiritual good in us that could merit any salvific reward from the hand of God. We have all gone astray and preferred ourselves over the glory of God. Though totally depraved, humanity can still do good things in the eyes of men. But, their altruism is not worthy of heavenly value because it is not undergirded by a soul-satisfying contentment in the person of Jesus and aimed at the Christ-exalting glory of God (Rom. 14:10). Man may be righteous coram hominibus (before fellow humans) but certainly not coram deo (before God).

Calvinists affirm the paradoxical picture that Scripture teaches concerning humanity: we are deposed kings who possess immense amounts of beauty and worth but are fatally and helplessly caught in the steel-trap of sin at every turn and in every sphere of our cavernous existence. Though we are not worthy, Calvinists believe like all other Christians that humanity has worth by virtue of their creation in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27, 5:1-3, 9:5-6; Psa. 8:3-8; 1 Cor. 11:7; Col. 3:8-11; Jas. 3:7-9). God gave man His image so they could have true knowledge of Him (Gen. 1:26-27) and man has spurned and corrupted that image (Rom. 1:18-23). Sadly, they have spit in the face of their Creator and laughed at his knowledge. So, Calvinists affirm that humanity has very tangible worth and dignity but are not worthy of salvific righteousness before God because of the manifold sin that exists in their every being.

Teaches men are mere robots or puppets.

The statement usually goes, “If God is completely sovereign over all things and all things happen through his working out his divine plan, humanity is nothing more than mere robots. They are puppets at best.” My campus pastor at my undergraduate would occasionally come back with a satirical quip like “And what is so wrong with that?” Wit aside, this charge is frivolous. Dr. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology remarked:

We are not puppets or robots; we are real persons. Puppets and robots do not have the power of personal choice or individual thought. We, by contrast, think, decide, and chose. Again the Arminian wrongly takes information from our situation as human beings and then uses that information to place limitations on what God can or cannot do. This analogy fails to recognize that God is far greater than our limited, human abilities. Moreover, we are far more real and complex than any robot or puppet would ever be- we are real persons created by an infinitely powerful and infinitely wise God.

The analogy of being merely a puppet or robot demeans the glory of humanity (Gen. 1:26-27; Psa. 8). Robots do not have the capacity for language, personality, emotions, choice, critical thinking, or even the ability for personal growth and change. They lack any immaterial substance that partly defines a human being (soul, spirit, or mind).

Through my reading of Douglas Wilson’s book Easy Chairs, Hard Words: Conversations of the Liberty of God, I have come to believe that the analogy between God as a playwright and humanity as characters within a narrative is not wholly senseless and unhelpful. It can be a valuable tool because of the various perspectives from which a story can be told. If a teacher asks why characters in a play or story do what they do, students can answer “such and such did this because they wanted to be king, or married, or the only man left alive, etc.” At a literary level, the characters true self can be understood from what others say about them, how they interact with others, what they say directly about themselves, and what the writer lets the audience know. But, characters in a story or play do what they do also because that’s the way the author wrote and planned the account. The teacher can ask the same question and the students can answer “the author wrote the play in this certain way because he wanted this character to do and be X.”

Some will say that the analogy breaks down as a description of the sovereignty/free agency debate. I agree but the same objection can be leveled against the biblical analogy of the Potter and His pots. We are certainly more than cooking tools. But, Paul uses the analogy anyway. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom. 9:20-21). Paul declares that we are fashioned according to the will of the Potter, and in the same breath, he blames those pots who think otherwise assigning personal responsibility to cookware. The analogy of course breaks down because we are more than pots but, more importantly, God is substantially more than a mere Potter or author. There is way more of a vast chasm that exists between the analogy in the second instance. Yet, it is still helpful. First, how does the analogy of a play or story differ from the biblical analogy of a pot and Potter? Second, if a limited human writer can create a story with fictional characters who have all the freedom necessary for their “level of existence,” then why cannot the infinite God create real individuals, with real free agency, without surrendering His control?

Regardless of its use, Calvinism does not reduce humanity to mere robots or puppets.

Teaches God doesn’t love everyone.

“Calvinists teach that God does not love everyone! I cannot worship a God who does not love everyone.” This simply is not true. Calvinists affirm that God loves all people but they also point out that God’s love expresses itself in different ways and through different means in different contexts. The love of God is the one attribute of God that is most widely abused and difficult to talk about within our culture and even in the church. D.A. Carson in his short book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God explains that the difficulties that arise within our culture are five-fold: (1) our culture’s definition of the love of God is radically different from the perfection expressed on the passage of Scripture, (2) we live in a culture where biblical theology and what Scripture says concerning the perfections of God is commonly and forcefully disbelieved, (3) post-modernity has affected the culture in such a way that the only heresy that exists today is the idea of thinking heresy actually exists, (4) the impact of contemporary sentimentalized versions of love on the church is our widespread inability to think through the fundamental questions that alone enable us to maintain a doctrine of God in biblical proportion and balance, (5) and that the doctrine of the love of God is sometimes portrayed within Christian circles as much easier and more obvious than it really is, and this is achieved by overlooking some of the distinctions the Bible itself introduces when it depicts the love of God. The task to discuss the love of God is not as simple as one thinks! God is not merely or only love, love is not God, our culture neither understands the love of God nor other elements of his nature, and Christians commonly bear false witness about the love of God because they’ve divorced it from the text.

From a canonical perusal, it is evident that biblical love is multifaceted and described differently: God’s own intra-Trinitarian love of himself (John 3:35, 5:20, 14:31), God’s love displayed in providential care over all creation (Gen. 1; Matt. 6), God’s salvific stance towards the fallen world (Ezek. 33:11; John 3:16, 15:19; 1 John 2:2), God’s special love toward the elect (Deut. 4:37, 7:7-8, 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 5:25), and God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience (Exo. 20:6; Psa. 103: 9-11, 13, 17-18; Jude 21; John 15:10, 19). Calvinists, in efforts to be faithful to the text and what it teaches about the love of God, affirm that God loves every part of Creation but his love is not always the same. His intra-Trinitarian love is different than his loving providential care over Creation. He loves all but loves all in different ways. His love is versatile, complex and untamable. Calvinists believe that with their whole hearts.

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8 responses to “Myths and Caricatures of Calvinism Part Four

  1. Fantastic post! These misunderstandings are all too common, unfortunately even amongst Calvinists. I hope many (both Calvinists and non-Calvinists) will take your words to heart.

    I hope Limited Atonement is covered in one of these articles.

    Blessings,
    Derek Ashton

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

  3. Pingback: Myths & Caricatures of Calvinism Part Six « Austin's Blog·

    • I’M NOT DEBATING WHETHER WE CAN ON OUR OWN CHOOSE CHRIST. I’M A CALVINIST SO I KNOW WE ARE UNABLE TO. YOU WROTE THAT GOD LOVES US ALL BUT HOW CAN THAT BE IF THE BIBLE SAYS WE ARE HIS ENEMIES UNLESS OR UNTIL WE ARE SAVED?

      • Thank you for your question. I think it is a good thing to recognize and believe all of what Scripture teaches concerning man, sin, and the cross. Yes we are enemies to God because of sin but we are also loved enemies. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemies. Surely God does not fail to keep his own commands. God the Father required the penalty and God the Son graciously, lovingly, and wholeheartedly obediently accepted this requirement out of love, mercy, justice, and other attributes. The ultimate cause for the atonement is God’s love and justice. This is evidenced from Scripture. Love-“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)” Justice- “Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25-26)” Romans 5:6-11 emphasizes the priority of God’s love. “While we were still weak” highlights the fact that Christ died for us before we made any move toward him. Christ did not die for sinners because he detected in them an inclination toward God or a desire to end the enmity toward him. If Christ had not died for sinners, the great chasm that exists between God and man would not have lessened but would have grown wider. The text’s goal is to show and praise the love of God. This can be seen from how Paul describes the people Christ died for: the weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. Christ did not die for worthy, deserving people. I hope this all helps. God bless you!

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