To Calvinist or Not To Calvinist…

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone

Normally, the conversation of Calvinism (or predestination) should probably be had “in house.” For a couple of reasons. First, the general Christian public often gets riled up so much that having a real “conversation” is nearly impossible. A subject like this often leads to shouting matches and battles of biblical wits. In such interactions, I wish not to participate.

The second reason is for the potential damage it does to the seeking/new believer. The doctrine of predestination has been a “stumbling block” (as Apostle Paul might call it) to many, and thus should often be discussed among those more ready for the concept. To this, I agree. And since my audience spans seekers to seasoned believers, I ask all who engage to keep in mind the eyes reading this post and its comments.

Covering Calvinism and predestination in a short 1000 word blog is impossible. But I decided to post anyway. I was discussing Calvinism and predestination last week and became fascinated again with the topic. It was Tim Keller, my favorite Christian author right now, who ushered in the topic. Unbeknownst to him, I’m sure. While I highly respect Tim and his ministry (I’m reading his Center Church book now, which is absolutely fantastic so far!), I understand he is a Calvinist… and I disagree with that stance.

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is named after John Calvin, a Reformation era theologian. It basically suggests God has complete control over all things. That is, God has ordained (or is in the driving seat for) all things. I personally think we need to better define what we mean by “control” and “ordain,” but these are the terms in use. I take it to mean that God is directing, in some way, all actions. At first glance, this may sound exactly right. A sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God is the perfect candidate for “control” of all things.

The problem (for today) comes with how this affects “salvation.” One of Calvinism’s five key points suggest the notion of predestination. And predestination is the idea that God has already chosen who will spend eternity with him, and who will not. It suggests that God has pre-determined who will accept him and who will not. This, Calvinism teaches, is the epitome of grace. The reasoning goes that, since grace is a gift for which we do nothing to receive, then ultimately it is not up to us to allow it take effect. Grace places the salvation of the individual completely in God’s hands, and completely out of our hands. Biblical verses that are often referenced include:

What About Love?

The verses in those passages are hard to dispute. Hence the great debate over this topic for centuries. It is especially difficult when considering verses like Romans 10:9, John 3:16, and 2 Peter 3:9. In the Peter passage, we learn “God does not want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance,” which is especially interesting to me considering that God will not get what he wants. Rob Bell asks the question about whether God gets what he wants in his provocative book “Love Wins.” You can see my retort here. It is an interesting point of contention for this conversation, especially considering that Calvinism pretty much puts all control in God’s hands. One does have to ask how it is God doesn’t get what he wants when he’s the one in full control.

There are two ways in which I reconcile the grace of God (not by work, even the work of  “believing”) and the free will of men (the importance of choosing God on our own).

I believe that Jesus paid the price for all sins. Every one of them. That means we are all saved from the penalty of Hell and eternal separation. This salvation is for all men: past, present and future. To this end, Jesus gave us all eternal life. So the question is not whether we will be saved from Hell because we deserve to go there. Yes, we do deserve to go, and the grace of God found in the sacrifice of Jesus clears all of us from such a destination. The question is, what will we do with our newfound freedom.

Consider a man sitting in jail. Another man comes and pays his bail. The guards then open the jail doors and says, “Your bail has been paid. You’re free to go.” At that point the jailed man is free. Actually, he was free as soon as the bail was paid, whether he knew about it or not. The question is, will the man now choose to walk out of the jail cell and embrace his freedom, or will he remain in jail, skeptical that he is being conned or tricked into something. And if he stays, is he really “saved” or not?

This is the grace of God in action, Jesus has paid our bail. We are free to leave the prison. But we are still left with a choice to embrace our salvation or to stay put. Where our salvation leads us is up to us. It’s an broken analogy (for the “faith” needed to accept the salvation you’ve already been given produces a spiritual change), but serves us to make the point that salvation and choice can, and does, coexist.

Which brings me to the second point of free will. I understand the purpose of God creating humanity was to form a relationship with him. I believe God wanted to give and receive true love with us. I also believe love is the product of free will; that without choice, love does not exist. Thus, Calvinism and the idea that God is doing the choosing, calls to question whether every Christian who ever existed actually loves God, as opposed to being manipulated by God to look as though they love him. In other words, if I don’t make an independent choice to engage in a loving relationship with God, then I am a mere technology functioning in the way my creator made me. You may say, “Exactly!” But I’d ask you, do you feel your car loves you when you push the gas and it goes? Or when you hit the power button on your remote control and it turns on the TV? No. Creator and created don’t often share “love” relationships.

But God is amazing in that he breaks this creator/created mode. He created us to love him, but in order to do that, he must relinquish some of his control to our free will. It’s the only way we can actually fulfill the purposes for which he made us.

So the problem with Calvinism, for me, ultimately comes to this. Do I really love God? Or, can I really love him, if I am not choosing to love on my own accord?

Oh, there’s so much more to be said, but I’m already over my word limit. Let’s continue in the comments though. You tell me…

What are your thoughts on Calvinism and predestination?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.