Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist
I have long wanted to write about why I left Calvinism. This is difficult to write because I wanted to answer every question that I could imagine a Calvinist would ask; and they have lots of questions, that they often don’t really want to have answered. Their questions are often condescending and intended to condemn (put down) those who aren’t Calvinist. When I was a Calvinist that was my attitude.
I need to make some disclaimers here. There are many Calvinist that I love. I enjoy their preaching and teaching. I call them friends. I, in no way, mean to belittle or demean them. We are all on a journey to learn the truth. None of us are there yet. (A little humility here goes along way.)
Proverbs 3:5 says that we are not to lean on our own understanding. That includes our theological understandings. It does not say that we do not have or should not have understandings. It means that we shouldn’t trust our understanding to be right (enough) or use our understanding to divide believers.
I also need to add that many of the most difficult to get along with believers that I know are Calvinist. Often the more they use the words, “doctrines of grace”, the less gracious they are.
AND it is not Calvinism that creates this problem of disagreeableness. It is always pride in understanding. “Only by pride cometh contention.” Proverbs 13:10
So, first of all; I really was a Calvinist. I grew up in a Pastor’s home and learned Bible as a little child. My father was a 5 point, TULIP embracing, pre-millennial, pre-tribulational rapture believing Calvinist. He liked to say that he was a 6 pointer, with human responsibility as the 6th point.
I was led (by God, I believe) to go to a 4 year, full time, Bible Institute right out of High School. My dad had moved on from the pastorate to be the school’s president at that time. Seaway Baptist Bible Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. (It is no longer in existence.) The school was a 5 point Calvinistic school.
Our text books were by Calvinist and many of them were by amillennialistic, reformed authors. I still love the writings of many of them. (If the author was humble and more prone to talk Bible than theology, the more I like them.)
I am not sure which year of school, but I think it was my 3rd year, that I was a part of a small group Bible study in which the theology professor and his High School age son also attended. I asked, “does God answer prayer?” (The question was driven by, “If everything is predestined, does God really answer prayer?”)
The son answered with a strong, “NO, God does not answer prayer. Prayer is an exercise to line ourselves up with God.” I asked the professor if he believed that. He did not say yes or no, but he also could not answer. This was the beginning of a crack in my very strongly held and much opinionated Calvinistic theology. (I was very good at arguing my position.)
I knew that the Bible said that people prayed and that God answered. If he answered then he responded. That led me to suspect that things were more fluid and not predestined. I knew that God told Hezekiah in 2nd Kings 20 to prepare to die, (his days were numbered) and that Hezekiah asked God for more years and that God gave him 15 more years. I also knew that God gave a definite message to Jonah for Nineveh that they had 40 days and then God was going to destroy them. There was not even a hint of hope that they had a chance if they repented. Either God did not mean what he said to Hezekiah the first time or what he said to Nineveh or God changed his mind. If God did not mean it than He is a liar. I can not go there. My scripture has to correct my theology at that point.
I also knew that many times in the Bible it says that the LORD repented himself; that is, He changed his mind. If God changes his mind than the thing was not predestined. (I am aware that you can play word games here and say that He predestined himself to change his mind, but that makes God changeable about things he predestined. I can’t go there either. (See Exodus 32:14, 1st Samuel 15Z:35, 2nd Samuel 24:16, Jeremiah 26:19, and Amos 7:3,6)
The question that I asked myself was this, “if God changed his mind about something, could it have been predestined in the first place? And. If God said he was going to do something and then does not do it, does that make him a liar?” There had to be another answer.
Personally, I was always struggling with my prayer life. God was not someone I could interact with about a struggle or a need. Predestination hindered relationship. The idea of God as a friend was almost impossible to believe. John 15:15
I am also well aware that some to get rid of the problems I mentioned some redefine “repent” to be a meaningless metaphor. If the Bible says that God repented (changed his mind), then God changed his mind. People change their minds. So does God.
The Bible plainly says that God hears and answers prayer. It is a fluent relationship and just like human relationships there are times when God does not hear and answer, as well as there are times when God says, “yes” or “no”.
The issue of prayer started my journey away from Calvinism. It was a long (years) and difficult journey. Many times, I would read a Bible verse and only be able to see and understand it through the lens of Calvinistic theology. (How we approach scripture determines how we understand it. It is very subjective and that is unavoidable.) My goal was to learn to see it from many other approaches and to ultimately learn how God defines the words and how God fulfilled his promises as revealed in the Bible itself.) I had to try to objectively hear every scripture I read without reading into it a theological assumption or definition. I had to seek to understand how God defined words like, “elect”, “predestined,” “determinate.” God’s definitions are found in how he uses words, more than they are found in concordances, dictionaries, and grammars. (none of them are inspired) I had to be willing to listen to people I disagreed with to see where they were coming from. I had to fight the desire to condemn someone as wrong when I really didn’t understand them (or like them).
It is important to remember that the Christian world is pretty much divided 50/50 over most issues. (I know that is an oversimplification, as that I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian.) It would be arrogant of me (and of anyone else) to say that the 50 % who disagree with me are unable to read the Bible or are stupid. There has to be some humility that makes it possible for me to constantly grow in my theology (understanding) and be corrected in it.
It is not my intention to address every time that I struggled with a passage of scripture and found an answer, but there are some things that I will share with you.
John 1:12 says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Many of the Calvinist that I read changed the order of the verse and put receiving power (being born again) before receiving and believing. I could not accept the changing of the word of God to support my theology.
There was another thing that bothered me about Calvinism. They had unsaved, elect people in Christ before they believed and were saved. There is no such thing as being unsaved and in Christ at the same time. It is impossible. The Bible does not support this. It not my purpose in this article to resolve all the questions that I have concerning the idea that there are saved people are in Christ before the foundation of the world and yet were not in Christ before they are saved. There are other possible answers to this than the Calvinistic ones. Is it possible that once you are in Christ, you are in him from eternity past, but were not in him in time until you were saved? This does not have to mean that what God knew to be true in eternity was predestined. The struggle to see time as separate from eternity is huge. There is no past, present, or future in eternity.
Another problem that I will only mention here is that many Calvinist make “election”, predestination”, and “foreknowledge” mean the same thing. They are very different words.
Romans 9 was a challenge for me for a long time. Eventually, every part of the chapter that caused me to struggle with leaving Calvinism was resolved. I was able to find other viable answers to each part that were not Calvinistic.
For example, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God. Romans 9 makes this look like an act of double predestination for the Calvinist. I decided to check out Exodus where Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and saw that the first few times, he hardened his own heart, and then and only then, did God harden his heart as an act of judicial punishment. And the implication is that it was a hardening process. Romans 1 describes that process as “God giving them up” 3 times.
The rest of the Bible supports this giving and/or removing of grace. When you say yes to God, he gives more grace. And when you say no to God, he backs away from you.
One of the objections that Calvinist have given is that since God knows the end from the beginning that everything is predestined. That is quite a leap of logic. Predestined is predetermined to make it happen. That would include Adam and Eve’s choice to sin. I don’t accept that. It was known in advance that they would sin so God prepared for it by predetermining that Jesus would die on the cross. This was done before creation. Acts 2:23. The act of sin was known in advance, not predetermined. The cross was predetermined because of what God knew.
I actually take offense at the idea that is often presented by Calvinist that God does not love the world (defined as every person in the world). They say that saving love is determinate. I can love someone who rejects me with the same love that I love those who accept me. So can God. The only difference is that those who accept that love experience it and those who don’t accept it never experience it.
I heard one person say, “How do we know which person to witness to? They don’t have a big E (for elect) on their back.” It is a foolish question. You show the love of God to everyone.
I think it is a violent twisting of scripture to interpret 1st John 2:2 as saying anything else than that Jesus was and is the propitiation for us (“our” in the verse) believers and for the sins of the whole unbelieving world. Just because some do not receive salvation does not mean that Jesus is not their propitiation. It just means that it is not efficacious for them unless they believe.
One of the questions that I had to ask is “how is it that people dead in trespasses and sins can believe. The Calvinist say they have to be regenerated first. (back to John 1:12) The problem with this is that before Christ’ resurrection no one was regenerated or born again. There was no new birth in the Old Testament and people heard God’s voice and believed. There was quickening, that is life giving, but that is not new birth in Christ.
God can make a dead body hear. Total depravity, spiritual death does not stop the dead from hearing. When God speaks the dead hear. (Consider the final judgment and the resurrection of dead unbelievers to damnation).
In Psalm 119:130 it says, “The entrance of thy word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple.” (Simple is to be open to hear like children. “faith like a little child”.)
Psalm 119:107 “Quicken me, O LORD, according to thy word.” Believers after the cross of Jesus Christ do not have to pray for quickening because they are already alive in Christ. David, a believer, had to pray for quickening.
And yes, it is true that God prepares the hearts to hear and even makes it possible for the tongue to answer. That does not mean that God predetermines who will answer or how they will answer. (Unless it is His judgment on them like he did to Pharaoh.)
Proverbs 16:1. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.” (that does not say it is determined by the LORD.)
In fact, Proverbs 16:9 says that a man’s heart deviseth (or chooses) his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” We make a choice; all people do. (saved or lost) We just have no power over the outcome of that choice. That is in God’s hands.
- Choose Christ. Salvation.
- Choose to say no to Christ. Damnation.
The fact that God directs their steps does not mean they were predetermined. God is saying IF you choose this way or that way, the result of it is in his hands. In fact, for the believer the result of saying yes is predetermined. Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His son.”
Many Calvinist claim to be exegetical preachers, but it is my experience that some of them read into (eisegesis) a passage much that is not there, rather than taking out of the passage what is there. (exegesis).
I remember one preacher that I heard for 4 plus years who could preach and did p[reach predestination out of every passage of scripture that he preached. It made me sad.
I am open to question, but not to debate or arguments. See Isaiah 58:4. This article is not the conclusion of the matter.