Why I’m a Calvinist, and Not a Jerk!

We welcome a guest blogger to Defending Contending. George Alvarado may be known to some of you as the author of the book Apocity. I hope that we can learn from the attitude he portrays on what is often a sensitive issue and one that is not always found with a great degree of humility.

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Imagine someone drowning and gasping for air as they are gargling water trying to cry for help. Just before they black out, their lungs fill with water, preventing them to give a final cry, and their body sinks to the depths. As they black out, they feel nothing but the cold water surrounding them, and hear nothing but a deafening silence that welcomes them to their watery grave. Then, they wake up and find themselves underneath the pressure of someone administering CPR. As their chest is compressed and their lungs fill with air from their rescuer, they begin to regain consciousness and the breath of life is once again restored to their own control. When they take their first, deep breath, the adjoining exhale is filled with overwhelming gratitude towards the person that resuscitated them from certain death. Now, imagine a local journalist reporting on this incident asking this person their thoughts on this event, and they say, “I am really glad I chose to come back to life. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I didn’t take my first breath.”

Hands-Drowning-Sea

It’s truly amazing how two people can witness the same event, or be part of it, and yet come to two different conclusions on what exactly happened. Part of the reason is semantics and pragmatics, which in linguistics deals with the study of meaning. It is an absolute reality that two human beings mean the same thing, but say it differently. And it is just as certain for two people to utter similar terms, yet have opposing meanings. I have heard it said that “The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.” And in my experience in doing ministry for the last ten years, traveling with the military the last thirteen years, and in my study of linguistics the last three, I can affirm that this, most of the time, is the case when there are disagreements between two parties. However, what do we do with statements like the one above made by our hypothetical victim? What happens when there is no room for misunderstanding? How do we deal with an individual, like this person who was rescued from drowning, that feels as though their own volition was the reason they revived?

First, it is important to realize that the above scenario concerning the drowning victim is not the first of its kind. There is an ocean of illustrations that can be drawn from to help mankind understand its own depravity, and the necessity of Christ having to intervene on our behalf, lest we perish. Secondly, we must realize that while the illustration above is meant to depict the sinner’s helpless disposition to save themselves from their own sin, this in no wise will be an adequate depiction for everyone who hears it. In other words, there will be some who will disagree with the theology in which the illustration was meant to portray. Thirdly, while the answer to the journalist’s question is indeed bizarre considering the context of the situation, this can be a primary example of poor word choice more than a denial of the events that took place. What I mean is, although the person is implying that they resuscitated because of their own “choosing,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that is what they were really trying to say. Finally, if the above stated was indeed meant to entail that the reason why they are alive is because of their own volition, rather than the rescuer being the cause, that doesn’t mean our response should be cruelty, animosity, or denigration toward the other person. If anything, the proper response should be pity, compassion, and certainly, humility, since we understand that we were once that person who was rescued from drowning.

With all that said, I hope that I am starting to make myself clear on this central issue that I think is lacking among some Calvinists (at least the ones I read on social media, and some of the ones I know). That issue? Humility. This, of course, is not a problem central to Calvinists, but the whole of humanity. Dispensationalists and Covenantalists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and Arminians and Calvinists must all be reminded of the necessity to be humble. However, what is starting to be of some concern is how those who hold to the doctrines of grace seem to be lacking in the application of it. What I mean is, although there are many who have the sovereignty of God as their creed, and are committed to the teachings which can be generally labeled as “reformed” (whatever the denominational distinction), they seem to also have somewhat of a bad temper against those who don’t hold to their Calvinistic views, and who are not damnably heretical. This bad temper, no doubt, will be unlawfully justified because it is administered to us by opposing parties, but under what circumstance should it be the Christian’s response to return such an attitude to others?

fruitnotnuts

Here is a simple question. Does poor word choice of the interviewee change the absolute reality of the event that took place in their life? In other words, for example, even if the person thinks that because of their will they revived from certain death, does that change the reality that the rescuer is the true savior? No! And if you haven’t picked up on the illustration, Jesus Christ is our rescuer. The point I am making here is that just because someone makes the claim (whether wrong or right is not the point here) that free-will played a primary (or even synergistic) role in their salvation, that doesn’t mean it changes the reality of how regeneration takes place. To put it differently, if someone disagrees with the Calvinistic point of view concerning salvation (which is monergistic), unless they are stating damnable heresy (and Classical Arminianism is not damnable), if they have indeed experienced regeneration and are showing the fruits of it, they are still partakers of the heavenly calling even if we can’t agree on the details of the event. It could be semantics, it could be poor word choice, or it could be exactly what they proclaim it is without confusion, but if they know the gospel, and have experienced salvation through faith, then we should at least rejoice in their conversion, despite the fact that we cannot agree on the nuances.

In a related topic concerning predestination and election, I have often jokingly said that “even if some don’t believe in election, if they are Christian, they are beneficiaries of it.” And even though I may say it playfully to get a laugh from others, I really do mean it! But, if I run into another brother in Christ who is against this, or any form of theology that resembles it, I don’t quibble over things which I believe are an inarguable reality, and I don’t try to convince the inconvincible. I only attempt to correct any misunderstandings, endeavor to remember that I was there once concerning the various teachings of the doctrines of grace, and make a purposeful effort to remain humble knowing that God has had grace on me concerning this subject. Therefore, I should exercise grace toward others. In other words, just because I am a Calvinist, that doesn’t mean I have permission to be a jerk. And even so, if I am truly a Christian, regardless of labels, I have no right to be doctrinally boastful about anything I know, considering no man can know anything unless Christ reveals it to them (Matt 16:17; John 3:37; 6:45). What knowledge have I gained that cannot be attributed to the grace of God and His illuminating Spirit? After all, everything I learned from Scripture wasn’t my idea, so why be overly defensive if someone cannot agree with my position?

Unfortunately, since the doctrines of grace seem as though they are constantly under scrutiny, and because the gospel is repeatedly being preached in a dishonoring way, this puts Calvinists in a posture of readiness with their sword only halfway into the sheath. But more than this, we are quick to swing our swords against those who are also God-fearing, Christ exalting, gospel-centered Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God, who trust in Christ alone for salvation through faith alone, who may also disagree with particular aspects of Calvinism, but are just as concerned about the very things we are concerned about. This is in no wise entails that I am making a call for ecumenicalism, and that we should all throw away our discernment and sing “Kumbaya” by the camp fire. If it there is sin, expose it. If it is damnably heretical, denounce it. But if they are a brother or sister in Christ and the subject matter is specifically concerning the more difficult portions of the doctrines of grace, we should all venture to be long-suffering toward one another, compassionate, humble, fair, and graceful. Not exchanging reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing (1 Pet. 3:9). As Calvinists, we not only need to be proclaimers of the doctrines of grace, but we also need to be humble, panoramic depictions of them. To be prideful about our Calvinism is to deny the very doctrines we profess to affirm.

Once again, this isn’t about declining to engage with people of other doctrinal positions, or shrinking back from discussing theology that we are passionate about. This is about our hearts being smitten and checked by the very doctrines we have approved to be true, and to not be so quick to smite others on the cheek concerning the doctrines of grace. Let the reviling, misrepresentations, and stereotypes be hurled by our opponents, but let us be diligent to uphold sovereign grace by being fair to our accusers, humble within ourselves, and approved before God by practicing what we preach, even if we are ignored by those whom we wish to gain.

13 thoughts on “Why I’m a Calvinist, and Not a Jerk!

  1. I couldn’t agree more. We all start out as Arminians. The Lord taught me the doctrines of grace before it was popular and I had to read 17th century authors for the most part. It was a long road. Most bloggers whose whole theme is Calvinistic try to cram it with not much grace. Very needed post. Thanks!

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  2. Amen Levi! I’ve told many people that we all start out as new Christians as Arminians, because we’re only used to our flesh and what it discerns. Hence the need we have to be brought to the Scriptures.

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  3. Spot on. It is true that all of the human race has issues with arrogance, but there are some who should not be known for their arrogance . . . and it is us.

    It has been my experience that the two most arrogant people you will ever meet are Atheists and Calvinists. And the only one more arrogant than those two are Amillennial Calvinists.

    It’s not what we say that hurts so much as it is how we say it.

    http://defendingcontending.com/2011/11/20/caustic-calvinists/

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  4. Reminds of an old Credenda Agenda titled “how not to sin like a Calvinist”. or now that you know that your right and everyone else is wrong…..how not to be a jerk.
    Or it takes humble maturity to become a Calvinist as it removes all boasting of self which then leads to doctrinal arrogance…….what?

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  5. First of all, Levi and Manfred, are you really saying that Arminians are only new or immature Christians? Because saying something like that is doing the exact opposite of what the author is saying. You are implying that you are better than them because you have been a Christian longer or have studied the Scriptures more, which are both assumptions (and we all know what assuming does); yet the entire point of this article is to remind Calvinists to live with humility.

    Second of all, how can you (Calvinists in general) say that Arminians are wrong? Don’t get me wrong, I am not an Arminian. Nor am I a Calvinist. My beliefs are somewhere in the middle of the two (Calminian, if you will). But to say that you know whether God’s sovereignty or man’s free-will is correct is to claim to know exactly how God works, and as a result, you elevate yourself to the level of God. Again, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I chose for God to save me, and His sovereignty had nothing to do with it (believing that would also be elevating myself to God’s level). I believe that God is sovereign, but I also believe that God gave mankind free-will. To deny free-will is to say that God willed Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which would mean that God willed Adam and Eve to sin. However, God is not able to do anything contrary to His perfect, sinless nature. Therefore, God could not have willed Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit. Thus, man must have free-will.

    Again, I am not saying that I believe I chose to be saved; I am simply saying that as humans, it is impossible for us to know all of the intricacies of salvation (Isaiah 55:8-9; Deut. 29:29). Are there things God has explicitly revealed to mankind? Absolutely. Is the interaction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will one of them? No, sir. My final thought is this: If either Calvinism or Arminianism are correct and the other is incorrect, and Scripture does not contradict itself, how is there scripture that supports (and, as a result, denies) each view?

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  6. Alex, My view is that anyone who is saved and does not recognize that God alone is responsible for his salvation is an immature Christian. The Bible is clear in many places (http://defendingcontending.com/2014/09/04/is-predestination-biblical/) that man has nothing to with being redeemed that only one who ignores and glosses over Scripture can claim he had anything at all to do with it.

    As one matures in faith, he will be more humble and see the biblical record that shows he was a dead man who could have done nothing – not even have wanted to be saved. God changes us from rebels by regeneration and gives us a new nature that can accept the faith He gives so we can be saved by His grace.

    One who continues to claim he had one iota of involvement in his salvation is either a babe who ought to be on solid food or a false convert who is had Bible knowledge but not comprehension of truth nor relationship with the Savior.

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  7. Alex, thank you for your comments. I only have one challenge to what you stated. You said,

    “To deny free-will is to say that God willed Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which would mean that God willed Adam and Eve to sin.”

    I understand this point. However, you are missing (although not purposefully) one particular detail – Adam and Eve were the only human beings that had a free will unaffected by sin. After the fall, mankind was plunged into slavery. Sure, there is a degree of freedom that mankind can exercise. But in regards to choosing God and desiring salvation from Him, we are holistically against choosing Him apart from Him working in us for salvation. As I read in your post, I supposed you would agree with this (at least in part). So I write this not to completely disagree with you, but to perhaps shine some light on a consistently missed detail concerning this debate about our free will.

    To openly state my belief on this topic, I believe man’s free will is limited. It is indeed in bondage to sin as the Bible declares, and is also free to choose many things (including sin, which the will loves and desires). But man, apart from the preaching of the gospel, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the regenerating work that He applies to the heart, would never, ever desire salvation.

    My desire of this article was as you stated. I desire Calvanists to exemplify humility toward opposing parties. Even now, it would be hypocritical for me to rail you concerning your points that you made (although I personally believe we probably have more in common than you and I would think). So in saying all this, my only purpose in responding was to advise on rethinking that simply because God gave Adam and Eve free will that everyone after the fall has the same kind of freedom. In this we disagree, but I’m sure in all rudimentary points concerning salvation we would have no problem giving one another the right hand of fellowship.

    Thanks again for your inputs.

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  8. Alex, this is a post that calls upon Calvinists to be humble in their theology. But the truth is that theological arrogance is a sword that cuts both ways. Calvinists have often been criticized of claiming to have studied the Bible better, are more theologically accurate, and so on, which imply (as you pointed out) that Arminians have not studied the Bible. Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, Arminians have charged Calvinists for misinterpreting the Bible, blasphemy in the doctrines of grace, being followers of Calvin (and all the attendant straw man, ad hominem arguments, and so on). Why is it arrogant to have convictions about the doctrines of grace?
    There is comfort in being a “Calminian,” to hold a position in the grey middle area, but if we hold seriously and dispassionately to the literal interpretation of the Bible, then we may find our presuppositions conflicted and compromising. For example, you cited Adam as a case of free-will, but you fail to account for Adam’s sinless condition when God gave him the command. Adam had complete free-will, but when he disobeyed God, his ability to exercise free-will became impaired by his spiritually dead condition. In his depravity, man is only free to choose according to the inclinations of his depravity. Read Romans 3:10-19. Is this passage a description of all unsaved people, or only some? Is this passage absolute and comprehensive in its description, or is it partial?
    One common response to the Calvinist-Arminian debate is that “good men on both sides have been debating this for centuries,” as if to say there is no Biblical resolution to the matter. This is not true at all; there is a resolution between the sovereignty of God and the free-will of man.
    “It is very common for persons, when they find a subject much disputed, especially if it is by those whom they account good men, immediately to conclude that it must be a subject of but little consequence, a mere matter of speculation. Upon such persons religious controversies have a very ill effect: for, finding difficulty attending the coming at the truth, and, at the same time, a disposition to neglect it, and to pursue other things; they readily avail themselves of what appears, to them, a plausible excuse, lay aside the inquiry, and sit down and indulge a spirit of scepticism….But, if all disputed subjects are to be reckoned matters of mere speculation, we shall have nothing of any real use left in religion.” (Andrew Fuller, Reply to the Observations of Philanthropos, in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller).

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  9. Actually George and Jeremy, I have taken into account the fact that Adam and Eve’s free-will was untainted by sin. Think about it this way: If it was possible for Adam and Eve to choose sin when all they had ever known was the full, unmasked glory of God (Gen. 3:8 says God walked in the garden) and the fully perfect world in which they lived, then isn’t it possible for a totally depraved human to catch a glimpse of God’s glory and choose to turn from his sins?

    Jeremy, I completely agree that Arminians are just as guilty of prideful living as Calvinists, I simply found it ironic that the first two comments on an article calling Calvinists to employ more humility insulted Arminians. My intentions were not to imply that a deep conviction in one’s beliefs was arrogance. After all, we are called to “stand firm” in our beliefs (2 Thes. 2:15). Finally, I will return to the final paragraph of my initial post: If Calvinists and Arminians have scripture to back their views, and scripture does not contradict itself, how can one system be wholly correct and the other wholly incorrect?

    George, I truly and deeply appreciate the humility and grace you displayed in your response. It is a refreshing change of pace in our society. As you said, I am sure we both agree wholeheartedly on the rudimentary points of salvation.

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  10. Forgive me if this creates heat rather than light. I do not intend to light the fuse of a scripture debate. The following words of our Lord and savior seem to speak to me very clearly.

    John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me will come to me:
    (does everyone come to Jesus?) ; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me, THAT I SHOULD LOSE NOTHING OF ALL THAT HE HAS GIVEN ME, BUT RAISE IT UP AT THE LAST DAY. ( if Jesus failed to raise or if Jesus lost any that the Father gave to Him then he would have violate the will of the father. to violate the will of the father is a sin. does the father not know who to send to the son? will all sent to Christ by the father be raised up? )
    Jesus was not vague, to the contrary he was being very blunt. He said what he said and meant what he said.
    :44 NO ONE CAN (this is a universal negative there can be no exception)(no one can do what?) COME……. UNLESS IT HAS BEEN GRANTED BY MY FATHER. ( to whom he granted to come he sent and of all that are sent Jesus will lose none)
    God is not the author of confusion. All soteriological passages must reconcile with these two this passages.
    John 3: 16 It would not do violence to the Greek to translate it as follows…”…. that the believing ones should not perish….”

    Irrespective of all views we can all agree on this….” never the less not my will but thy will be done”

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  11. T. I., I read a good one the other day on this site, that if you wake up in the morning and think of John 6:37 when the clock shows 6:37, you are probably a Calvinist.

    You are interpreting the verse, but you will have a hard time with those who see “free-will” everywhere, even though it is not in the text. The Arminian sees his salvation from man’s point of view (the end result), but the Calvinist sees the process beginning with God.

    A man convinced against his own will is unconvinced still. Nevertheless, we have to keep speaking the truth. If we would speak out against errors about basic doctrines such as the virgin birth of Christ, Biblical inspiration, etc., we should not hesitate to be heard about the doctrine of salvation.

    Arrogance is too easy a charge to accuse Calvinists when people are taught against it. Personally, I have heard more strong language against Calvinists from Arminians, than Calvinists against Arminians.

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  12. You are definitely not a jerk dear brother, but you are supporting strife and carnality when you call yourself a calvinist. God’s best to you.

    “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man”

    In Christ -Jim

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  13. Hi Jim, good to hear from you. As many who hold to the doctrines of grace can testify, it does not take long before someone dishes out the label “Calvinist”.

    I never started out as a Calvinist and I have never identified myself with Calvin, Augustine, Spurgeon, or anyone who holds the same view. But then it came, “So you are a Calvinist!” What a loaded term!

    The truth is that I learned these doctrines encapsulated as TULIP through a long struggle with the text, not through the influence of Calvin.

    Be that as it may, I soon grew tired of those who would label me a Calvinist and who readily charge others for blasphemy and heresy. It seems that these are the ones who are insecure, and the easiest answer is to resort to predictable name-calling. So at the risk of sounding arrogant or sectarian, if I am a Calvinist, then I am a Calvinist.

    Name calling and labels do not resolve anything, they do not advance the debate, nor help anyone who is interested to learn if the doctrines associated with Calvin are truth or error.

    God bless you too, Jim.

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