What is Calvinism’s Appeal?

One Calvinists relates: “A wonderful friend of our family once commented that coming to understand the Doctrines of Grace was akin to a type of salvation within salvation.” (oldtruth.com, emphasis mine)

Some would consider it enlightenment:

Another Calvinist explains: “My transition to Calvinism was somewhat reluctant, but the inevitable result of Christian maturity....”  (Sovereign Grace Church, emphasis mine)

Based upon the cultic attachment to Calvinism, I would argue that rather than being attributable to spiritual maturity, it is more likely the result of peer pressure by aggressive Calvinists, pressuring people into agreeing with their presuppositions.

​Calvinism’s appeal is that it is simple. The problem is (1) that it is unbiblical, and (2) represents a cognitive dissonance. The problem is that Calvinism forces the Bible to say things that it does not, as well as attributing its logical dilemmas to an inscrutable mystery.

Here are a few areas of the cognitive dissonance of Calvinism: 

The Fall, Divine Permission and the Author of Sin

John Calvin: I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.”  (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of Godas if God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be.”  (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 8, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “To this opinion of this holy man I subscribe: in sinning, they did what God did not will in order that God through their evil will might do what He willed.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.123, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “So God in ordaining the fall of man had an end most just and right which holds the name of sin in abhorrence. Though I affirm that He ordained it so, I do not allow that He is properly the author of sin.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.123, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “But it is quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.176, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “If anyone object that this is beyond his comprehension, I confess it. But what wonder if the immense and incomprehensible majesty of God exceed the limits of our intellect? I am so far from undertaking the explanation of this sublime, hidden secret, that I wish what I said at the beginning to be remembered, that those who seek to know more than God has revealed are crazy. Therefore let us be pleased with instructed ignorance rather than with the intemperate and inquisitive intoxication of wanting to know more than God allows.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.123, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “But now, removing from God all proximate causation of the act, I at the same time remove from Him all guilt and leave man alone liable. It is therefore wicked and calumnious to say that I make the fall of man one of the works of God. But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what mans future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.123-124, emphasis mine) 

Calvinist. R.C. Sproul: “But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know.” (Chosen By God, p.31, emphasis mine)

So Calvinists really struggle to figure out how to reconcile absolute Determinism with the Fall of man. There is some serious waffling between whether God permitted it, or didn’t permit. To a Calvinist, it is a matter of having “decreed to permit,” which makes absolutely not sense, and again, which is part of the cognitive dissonance of Calvinism. Initially, God is the author of the Fall, but not the author of sin. God did not merely permit the Fall, but yet He suffered the Fall. Calvinism seems an awful lot like Fatalism, but Calvinists reject the charge on the basis that it is not a form of Naturalistic Fatalism, all while ignoring that it does amount to Theistic Fatalism.

​Fatalism and Puppetry

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul recalls his conversion to Calvinism: I no longer feared the demons of fatalism or the ugly thought that I was being reduced to a puppet. Now I rejoiced in a gracious Savior who alone was immortal, invisible, the only wise God. (Chosen By God, p.13, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Colin Maxwell: “Calvinists are not fatalists. All things are ordained, not by blind random chance, but by the sovereign decree of Him who works all things after his own will (Ephesians 1:11)” (A Word to those who take it upon themselves to write against Calvinism, emphasis mine)

Well who said anything about “blind chance”? We’re talking about Theistic Fatalism.

Calvinist, Rodger Tutt: “Theologically, we are absolute determinists. We believe in theistic fatalismHumanistic fatalism believes that everything happens no matter what. Theistic fatalism believes that God is in intimate sovereign control over everything that happens so that everything that happens occurs due to His causality....” (Latest posts of: rodgertutt)

Calvinist, Richard Mouw: “There is no denying that a belief that we are predestined to eternal life can lead to a deterministic, even fatalistic, understanding of the Christian life. If it is God who does the choosing, then we may be tempted to think that our own choosing, our own responding to God, is a charade. It is all preprogrammed. But Calvinist theologians go out of their way to deny this implication.” (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, p.66, emphasis mine)

​Calvinism is Arbitrary

However, Kennedy clarifies: “Again and again we see that people are predestined (elected) to salvation--but nowhere do we see that anyone is ever predestined to condemnation of Hell. When we think of God as unfairly, arbitrarily electing people to Heaven or Hell, it is as if we have a mental picture of a row of people sitting on a fence, and God passes down the line and points at each one, ‘It’s Hell for you, Heaven for you, Hell, Hell, Hell, Heaven, Hell...’ Now, that would be unfair--and absolutely capricious! But thats not the kind of God we love and serve.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.29, emphasis mine) 

But what Kennedy described as being “unfair” and “absolutely capricious” is precisely what John Calvin professed:

John Calvin: “There are some, too, who allege that God is greatly dishonored if such arbitrary power is bestowed on Him. But does their distaste make them better theologians than Paul, who has laid it down as the rule of humility for the believers, that they should look up to the sovereignty of God and not evaluate it by their own judgment?” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.209-210, emphasis mine) 

Clearly, John Calvin had conceded that Calvinistic Election is indeed arbitrary.” 

​Single vs. Double Predestination

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon: “My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man’s soul at God’s door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that. I delight to preach this blessed truth—salvation of God, from first to last—the Alpha and the Omega; but when I come to preach damnation, I say, damnation of man, not of God; and if you perish, at your own hands must your blood be required.” (Jacob and Esau, preached January 16, 1859, emphasis mine)

That is referred to as Single Predestination, and Spurgeon cannot conceive of how can any Christian mind can conceive of Double Predestination. And then a Deterministic, Double Predestination Calvinist comes along and insists that Single Predestination defies logic and that its adherents are unwilling to be honest with themselves. And of, course, the Arminian sits back and says, “you’re both right, insomuch as the other is wrong.”

​​Sovereignty vs. Responsibility Tension

Calvinist, Jeff Noblit: “...any preacher who tries to dumb down the doctrine of sin, the depravity of man, and the necessity of repentance is not preaching the true gospel. This approach is not new or clever but wicked--dooming men’s souls and leading millions to false assurance.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.102, emphasis mine)

If you can square this statement with Calvinism, I’d like to know how, since according to Calvinism, men are either born “elect” or born doomed to Hell by God’s sovereign pleasure (allegedly). So I’d like to know how a preacher, according to Noblit, can doom souls that are already born doomed? After all, if God has passed them by, with all of the casual indifference of the priest and Levite of Luke 10:30-37, then what worse thing can a preacher do to them? Or, if they are one of the Calvinistically elect, how is the preacher going to block an Irresistible Grace?

​Bible Contradictions?

Calvinist, John MacArthur: “That’s one of the reasons I know the Bible is written by God, because men would fix it. If I wrote a book that had those contradictions, Phil [Johnson] would edit them all out. One of the bench marks of divine inspiration is the fact that you’re dealing with transcendence.” (Election and Predestination: The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, emphasis mine) 

If contradictions are a mark of divine origin, shouldnt MacArthur’s writings be equally contradictory, in order to demonstrate similar origin? Or, perhaps, the Bible does not have contradictions, and Calvinism is just wrong. Is that up for consideration?

​Assurance: believing that one is Calvinistically elect

John Calvin: “Men preposterously ask how they can be certain of a salvation which lies in the hidden counsel of God. I have replied with the truth. Since the certainty of salvation is set forth to us in Christ, it is wrong and injurious to Christ to pass over this proffered fountain of life from which supplies are available, and to toil to draw life out of the hidden recesses of God.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.126, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “If Pighius asks how I know I am elect, I answer that Christ is more than a thousand testimonies to me.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.130, emphasis mine)

Thats his “sure ground for confidence”? The focus is shifted away from simply trusting in Christ, to hoping that one is a member of the secret “elect.” This is of foremost concern to a Calvinist:

John Calvin: “All who do not know they are God’s special people must be miserable and in constant fear.” (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Part 12, Chp. 21, Section 1, emphasis mine) 

Indeed, as Spurgeon recalls:

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon: “I frequently meet with poor souls, who are fretting and worrying themselves about this thought—‘How, if I should not be elect! ‘Oh, sir, they say, ‘I know I put my trust in Jesus; I know I believe in his name and trust in his blood; but how if I should not be elect?’ Poor dear creature! you do not know much about the gospel, or you would never talk so, for he that believes is elect. Those who are elect, are elect unto sanctification and unto faith; and if you have faith you are one of God’s elect; you may know it and ought to know it, for it is an absolute certainty. If you, as a sinner, look to Jesus Christ this morning, and say—‘Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling, you are elect. I am not afraid of election frightening poor saints or sinners.”  (Election, emphasis mine)

So here are people who claim to trust in Jesus, but yet are unsure about their salvation, because they might not be “elect.” Spurgeons answer: “Have faith you are one of God’s elect.” Calvinists will rage that this is a mischaracterization of the faith of Calvinists, but guess what? This is documented history. Calvinists were, in fact, trusting in a process, more so than a person, and which is unique to Calvinism. Arminians have no such such fear of an eternal draft, because they trust in Christ, not election.

Spurgeon concludes: “Let your hope rest on the cross of Christ. Think not on election but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, midst, and without end.” (Election, emphasis mine)

And yet Spurgeon also said that Calvinism = the Gospel, and there is no Gospel without Calvinism.

​Does Salvation include Regeneration? Does the Atonement save without faith?

Calvinist, James White: “First, he confuses terms, such as a salvation and regenerationIn most theological worksregeneration is a subset of the larger and broader term, salvation, which often includes within it justification, forgiveness, redemption, and adoption. Sometimes it can be used in a narrower sense, but in historical discussions of these issues, regeneration has a specific meaning that Mr. Hunt normally confuses.” (Debating Calvinism, p.305, emphasis mine)

Hunt responds: “White says I confuse salvation and regeneration. But in the Bible these terms are synonymous. No one can be saved without being regenerated or regenerated without being saved. ... A ‘subset of...salvation’ would be ‘part of’ salvation, which White now admits comes by faith, making regeneration by faith also.” (Debating Calvinism, p.307, emphasis mine)

Calvinists believe that a person is regenerated in Christ first, and then is able to believe, but the Bible never separates salvation from regeneration. To be regenerated, is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ, is to be saved, but Calvinists believe that unbelievers are in Christ, so that they can believe. 

Similarly, 5-Point Calvinists believe that people are saved by the Atonement itself.

James White: “Christ’s substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for success or failure. When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)

But they would be saved prior to faith, though, correct? That seems to be the pickle here. No?

Dave Hunt: “I pointed out that if Christ’s death automatically saved, the elect were never lost and didn’t need to believe in the gospel. White ridicules this idea but doesn’t refute it. He admits that faith is required, and then says, ‘Christ’s substitutionary death...is not dependent upon the human act of faith.’ Scores of Scriptures clearly state that only those who believe are saved.” (Debating Calvinism, p.194, emphasis mine)

World of the Elect

  • All: The elect
  • All men: The elect
  • Everyone: The elect
  • Whosoever: The elect
  • World: The elect
  • Whole world: The elect

Cognitive Dissonance

Calvinism leads to a cognitive dissonance that Calvinists are willing to live with, because they love the broader picture of Christianity, but if there is a more biblically faithful way to understand the Bible’s teachings, while simultaneously avoiding Calvinism’s cognitive dissonance, then you should expect to see more and more Calvinists begin to question and leave Calvinism.

Here is an article on the subject of cognitive dissonance within Calvinism.

Question:  What exactly is the appeal with Calvinism? Why would anyone become a Calvinist?

Answer:  It’s interesting that Calvinism is not just something that a person believes, but what a person becomes. Calvinism is about a presumed self-discovery as “elect.”