[This Article Is Part Of The Freedom Incursion Series]
Let me put my cards on the table. I am firmly in the Wesleyan-Arminian theological camp, which is about as opposite to Reformed theology (sometimes referred to as Calvinism) as you can possibly get. I have nothing against Reformed theologians, and there are some brilliant thinkers in that camp who I learn from and look forward to reading or listening to. Additionally, I have numerous friends who are very Reformed in their thinking and are beautiful, ethical, Godly individuals. This is not an argument against Calvinists, but rather the implications of the framework which establishes the basis for Reformed theology. Simply put, it leaves us with an image of God that is dark, morbid, and exceptionally cruel. As I unpack this, I am well aware that a number of my readers are, in fact, Reformed theologians. Therefore, if I misrepresent this theological construct in any way, I encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments section and help me to better understand.
The Tenets Of Calvinism
The five points of Calvinism (typically remembered by the acronym TULIP – total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) flow into one another logically, and together paint a picture of a sovereign God who reigns over a world where free will is only an illusion. The reason it is only an illusion has to do with the the concept of total depravity, the first of the five points of Calvinism.
Total depravity claims that every individual is so consumed by sin that there is nothing good left in them, that every one of us are utterly incapable of any good thing, and that this inability to even choose the good also extends to our inability to choose to yield to Christ as our savior and Lord. (Read my thoughts on total depravity) As a result, we are incapable even of responding to God’s grace.
This naturally leads into the next point: unconditional election. If we are incapable of choosing any good thing, if we are even incapable of choosing to yield to the Lordship of Christ, then this means that salvation can in no way be based on anything we do. Thus, our salvation is “without condition.” In fact, Christian salvation is entirely based on God and what God does… to the point where some are chosen by God for salvation (or “elected”), and others are chosen for eternal condemnation. This choice is, again, without condition, and is simply based on who God chooses.
This logic naturally leads into the next point, then. The Reformed doctrine of limited atonement suggests that the atoning work of Christ was not for all people, but only for those whom God has elected to be saved. Thus, the atonement is limited in its efficacy for all humanity.
These points ultimately converge in the concept of irresistible grace. Irresistible grace contends that, because we are incapable of choosing any good thing and because salvation is dependent simply on God’s choosing us, that God will therefore override our free will in electing us for salvation. In other words, God has decided that we are going to serve Him as Lord whether we want to or not – or, perhaps better phrased, God will simply make us want to serve Him.
The fifth and final point culminates the entire argument, and it is one that everybody likes. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints simply claims that, since salvation is entirely dependent on God and in no way dependent on us, there is nothing we can ever possibly do to lose our salvation (including choosing to willfully reject Christ, since we never really chose to follow Him in the first place – God made that decision for us). Ironically, a number of Christian traditions will eagerly eschew the first four points of Calvinism, but cling to the fifth and final point as a security blanket. Hopefully by now, however, we can see how it is dependent on the preceding elements.
Why Reformed Theology Is A Problem
Ultimately, here is my issue. I agree, without doubt, that we are incapable of saving ourselves. Our redemption is entirely dependent on the grace of God extended to us as a gift, and in no way relies on our ability to earn it. However, in extending His grace toward us, I contend that God does not eradicate our free will. Every call for salvation throughout the pages of Scripture include the need for a response on our behalf – sometimes that is a call for repentance and baptism (Acts 2), sometimes a call for confession (Romans 10), and sometimes a call for faith (Ephesians 2). Consistently, however, it requires us to make a choice. A choice cannot be made if our will to make that choice is stripped from us.
It goes deeper, however. Assume, for a moment, that these five pillars are accurate. What does this tell us about God? Salvation and condemnation are no longer issues of sin. In fact, sin is irrelevant at this point, because the “chosen” are just as sinful as the rejected. Eternal torment is no longer something that we bring on ourselves (read my thoughts on hell), but something God chooses to inflict on His children simply because He can. The arbitrary selection of the “cool kids” who get to hang out with God for eternity while the rest sizzle and pop in unending torture is incoherent with a God who is merciful, just, patient, long-suffering, and defined chiefly by love.
Under this way of thinking, salvation is no longer an issue of redemption, unless one understands it as redemption from a God of cruelty who saves us by forcing us against our will to “hang out at His house.” Forever.
A Better Picture?
This means that the two possible outcomes for our eternal fate fall squarely between torment and enslavement. Is this what Scripture really teaches?
I don’t believe that this in any way reflects the behavior of a God who is willing to become a member of His own creation in putting on human flesh, in suffering, in dying, in descending into hell, and in resurrecting so that we may be saved. I don’t believe that this reflects the heart of a God who “does not want anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9) or who “demonstrates His own love for us in this: in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I don’t believe that this reflects the character of a God who dug His toes into the sand when fashioning humanity, who began His redemptive work in clothing Adam and Eve even before they left the garden, and who established a saving covenant with Abraham that ultimately manifested in Jesus. I don’t believe that this reflects the ethics of a God who calls us to love others as He loves us, who calls us to carry the good news of freedom in Christ to every nation on the earth, and who overturns social orders in teaching His followers to love the “least of these.”
In other words, I don’t believe that this reflects the God of Scripture. What do you think?
Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us about it in the comments…
Image Credit: Pink Sherbet