Calvinism: Sovereignty, or Sophistry?

Calvin contended that not a wind blows, not a drop of rain falls, without the express command of God. “He so regulates all things,” Calvin wrote, “that nothing takes place without His deliberation.”
      Calvinism teaches, among other things, absolute divine sovereignty, as John Calvin expressed in the above quote. All else that Calvinism contends flows from this teaching.
      Without getting deeply into the Calvinist TULIP, (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints), one fault of that teaching stands out conspicuously: Without maintaining a precarious, logical balance, one can too easily tip over the edge into a fatalistic conclusion. I can’t say how many times I’ve allowed the enemy to use Calvinistic teaching to trap me into self-condemnation, even though the Bible says, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV)
      Problem is, Satan counters even that wonderful truth with a spurious argument (Imagine it spoken with a pronounced hiss): “But how do you know you are in him? Are you acting like a Christian? Thinking like a Christian? Admit it, you are full of doubts!”  The solution is to respond to him like Jesus did: Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10 ESV)

Real Assurance of Salvation

Apostle Paul answered the enemy’s challenge: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
      So, how do we suffer with Jesus? First, by fighting the temptation to doubt. Everyone, even Jesus, had doubts. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:41-42 ESV)
      Second, by standing with Christ in spite of social disapproval. As long as our religion is loving, and not dogmatic or sanctimonious, no one has valid reason for putting us down. And if it is those things, we will likely be so self-assured that we won’t entertain doubts to begin with.
      Third, by keeping our personal priorities in line with Christ’s. So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 ESV) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)
      Fourth, by dying to self. And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV) To Jesus, his cross was both his curse and his means of death. To obey Jesus’ command, we will have to endure the curses of the world and die to ourselves. Apostle Paul dealt with this principle in his letter to the Roman church:

Romans 6:1-11 ESV
(1) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
(2) By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
(3) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
(4) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
(5) For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
(6) We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
(7) For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(8) Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
(9) We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
(10) For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
(11) So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

This passage is hard to grasp. With our natural view of death as being something final and corrupt, it obstructs our grasp of Christ’s substitutional death for us, and our proper response of dying to sin that we might live with him. Romans chapter six is one of those Scripture passages that, if we truly want to live for Christ, we must study and meditate on until we make its truth an integral part of ourselves.

Giving Calvin His Due

Calvinists, by and large, handle Scripture with tender loving care, with no attempt at deception as I’ve implied in this writing’s title. If not delivered with the same TLC, though, its message can lead sophomoric believers to one of two tragically wrong conclusions: They can fall prey to Satan’s condemnation, or they can gain an unwarranted
assurance of salvation despite continuing in sin. John Calvin would come out of his grave screaming bloody murder if he could see the number of people captured by either deception.

      Well-meant deception, however, can’t be laid exclusively at Calvinism’s doorstep. The other side of the theological coin, Arminianism, can be misapplied just as badly. But that’s grist for another grind. 

One thought on “Calvinism: Sovereignty, or Sophistry?

  1. Good article!
    You are right to associate fatalism with Theological Determinism (aka Calvinism).
    Although technically, they are not exactly the same, but they are both from the same modal species, and have many of the same logical entailments, such as inevitability, and unavoidably, where all events including all neurological impulses, (without exception) occur infallibly, and as such, all thoughts, choices, and actions are predestined, and therefore not up to us.

    I was really hoping you would unpackage the “sophistry” component of Calvinism more, because books could be written about it. I’ve been casually studying it for years. When we scrutinize the language of Calvinism, we find it has all of the constituents we would normally find within the language of false advertising.

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