With the popularity of the reformer John Calvin and his teachings seemingly on the rise, perhaps it is important to examine his doctrine more closely. Calvinism can be explained with the mnemonic device, T.U.L.I.P. (T=Total Depravity; U= Unconditional Election; L=Limited Atonement; I=Irresistible Grace; P=Perseverance of the Saints). Calvin didn’t invent the device, but scholars use it to summarize his teachings. Let me also say before I begin that I have friends who are Calvinists, and I understand that well-meaning people can disagree over how to interpret the Scripture. So my intention is not to start a fight or draw a line in the sand as a test of fellowship. Having said that, here are five reasons why I’m not a Calvinist:
1. God Desires for all to be Saved
Calvin’s idea that only a few elect are predestined to be saved seems to be challenged by 1 Tim 2:3-4. The letter U in T.U.L.I.P. stands for Unconditional Election. While the Bible does talk about the elect, the idea that God predestined unconditionally a select few seems to contradict what Paul says about God in verse 4: “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Also in 2 Peter 3:9, the Bible says (in the context of Christ’s return), “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Again we see that God does not want anyone to perish.
However, God’s Word is clear that not all will be saved; so we can agree that the Bible refutes universalism. But if God desires salvation for all mankind, then why wouldn’t God elect everyone for salvation? In light of the fact that God desires for all to be saved, the idea of free-will is the only apparent explanation that explains why all are not saved.
2. Christ Died for All
I also believe that Scripture clearly refutes the L in T.U.L.I.P. The letter L stands for Limited Atonement. If we examine 1 John 2:2, we see that Christ is the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world. Also in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, we see that Christ, our Mediator, gave Himself as a ransom for all. These two verses, in my mind, clearly refute Calvin’s idea that Christ only died for the elect.
3. People have Free Will
This brings us to the letter I–Irresistible Grace. This is the idea that a person cannot resist the grace of God. This negates the concept of free-will. In the Bible we find admonitions against hardening our hearts and resisting God’s grace. Here are a few Scriptures that seem to indicate that we have a choice in whether we follow God or not: Deuteronomy 30:19-20, Joshua 24:15, Jeremiah 29:13, Jonah 3:9-10, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Titus 2:11, Hebrews 3:7-13, and James 4:8. In Titus 1:9, Paul says that an elder or bishop should be able to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Why would it be necessary to convince those who oppose the Gospel unless people have a choice in whether they receive or reject the truth?
There are also numerous passages which, while not necessarily dealing specifically with salvation, show us that God responds to people’s prayers as they seek Him. Moses interceded for the children of Israel in Exodus 32:11-14, and God relented from his anger and did not destroy them. In the well-known verse of 2 Chronicles 7:14, God spoke to Solomon concerning Israel:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
The evil king Manasseh, in 2 Chronicles 33, humbled himself, prayed, and entreated God. In verse 13, it says that, “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God.
In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
4. God’s Character is Loving and Merciful
Calvinism doesn’t seem to fit well with the character of God that we learn about in the Bible. We see in the Scriptures that God desires to see people saved. Think of parables such as the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep. These all paint a picture of God searching for the lost. Psalm 86:15 says, “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” Romans 5:8 reminds us that God demonstrated his love to us as sinners by sending Christ to die for us. So how do we reconcile Calvin’s idea of absolute predestination with the loving and merciful character of God? It’s difficult to do so.
5. The Word Whosoever
Finally, the most famous verse in the Bible informs us that anyone can be saved. In John 3:16, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Notice the word whosoever. The offer is available to all, though not all will receive it. Revelation 22 tells us that whosoever will (or desires), let him take the water of life freely.
I’m not going to challenge the letters T and P of T.U.L.I.P. because I believe that there is Scriptural support for the doctrines of Total Depravity and the Perseverance of the Saints. Psalm 51:5, Romans 3, and Ephesians 2:1 make it pretty clear that we were born sinners and that before salvation, we were dead in trespasses and sins. And John 10:27-29, Philippians 1:6, and 2 Timothy 1:12 are great texts which show us that it is Christ, not ourselves, who keeps us saved.
One of the major problems with Calvinism is that it seems to take the importance out of personal responsibility. Everything seems to be predetermined, and free-will is removed from consideration. The motivation to evangelize is diminished. Love also seems to take a hit in Calvin’s theology. If you are one of the elect, instead of looking at the lost with compassion, you might be tempted to look down on them.
The Calvinism-Arminian debate has been going on almost since the Reformation, so we probably won’t solve it here. And one has to concede that there are indeed hard-to-understand passages on this topic such as Matthew 22:14, Romans 9, and Ephesians 1:4-5, as well as others. This is clearly a topic that has generated much debate and discussion in the past. My point in writing this blog is to emphasize that God desires for lost people to be saved, and that his salvation is available to all. Jesus promises in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Interestingly, Calvinists could use the first part of that verse to make their point, and Arminians could use the second part.
Thomas Jefferson, not an orthodox Christian himself, in a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, mentioned the “demoralizing dogmas” of Calvin. While I disagree with some of Jefferson’s reasoning in the letter, I tend to agree that some of Calvin’s teachings are demoralizing. Given the harsh nature of Calvin’s theology, it’s not surprising that many people cannot subscribe to Calvin’s tenets of absolute predestination. Calvinism seems to turn a loving and merciful God into an unfeeling and arbitrary one. It also seems to remove all motivation for repentance or change of conduct in individuals. But ultimately, it’s not what we think or feel that matters. It’s what the Word of God says. And considering the previously cited Scriptural passages, I think it’s fairly clear that Calvin got some important points wrong in his theology.