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Non-elect Calvinist

October 18, 2011

Over at By Common Consent, bhodges has a post nibbling at predestination, free will, and the sovereignty of God. Of course, representing the corner on predestination is Calvinism…and representing the corner for free will is Mormonism. Early in the article, bhodges makes a simple comparison:

…Either of these positions [on predestination] (and the vast array of possibilities lying along the spectrum) entails a few unpleasant things.

Strict: I can rest with certainty if I’m chosen. But being chosen means others won’t be, which seems rather arbitrary and cruel.
Have you ever met a strict Calvinist who doesn’t feel they are elect? I haven’t

Loose: I have a degree of autonomy, I’m free to respond to God’s invitation. But what exactly do I have to do in order to measure up?
Have you ever met an exhausted Mormon? I have.

While he later points out that “this isn’t the place for a full discussion of Calvinism and Mormonism” (and indeed, his actual post is about some comments from a book), I wanted to remark on this juxtaposition.

John CalvinIf you haven’t figured it out by now (or at least wikipedia’d for it), my blog’s title is a play off of one of the five central tenets (the I in “TULIP”) of Calvinism.

I’ll be totally honest…originally, I selected the title because I thought it sounded cool (nevertheless, I am struck that my blog’s title will never be as cool as “Back Rubs Lead to Front Rubs,” but I will soon rectify this situation with my new blog endeavor, “For Real or Foreplay“). But I was not making a real theological statement in support of Calvinism. In fact, one of the things I liked about Mormonism was the fact that it wasn’t as repulsive a body of theology (for the most part) as Calvinism is (and which many reformed/Calvinist apologists will take glee in when they are making their points.)

…Let me just state it like this: the God of Calvinism is like Mormonism’s Satan, only in five-point (the L in TULIP) Calvinism, God is even worse at his job than Mormonism’s Satan is at his. Oh yeah, and Calvinists have this problem of being obnoxious, negative, and angry. On the contrary, Even if people can’t agree whether Mormonism is Christian or not, a cult or not, people can generally agree that Mormons are nice. Or, the synthesis of these points: “Mormons: Still nice neighbors. Still not Christians.

One day, however, Jack from ClobberBlog commented somewhere or other with a few links about Calvinism…I read the links, but wasn’t really amused.

Another day, a Calvinist blogger came by to comment on some article or another I had written, and in the back and forth, I started to see some of the reasoning.

…looking at some of my pain points with Mormonism too was instructive. In particular, the voluntarist position on believing and faith has been emotionally damaging (beyond simply appearing not to fit with how I see people actually coming to beliefs in general) to my fragile flower of a psyche.

At some point, I thought: the God of Calvinism still is absolutely repugnant to me. And then I thought again: but isn’t that the point? My thoughts and nature will never naturally bring me to find that appealing. I would need some kind of major experience for that to change.

In other words, I would need something like irresistible grace.

At this point, I feel comfortable recognizing that such an experience (or series of experiences) could happen in my life. I also feel comfortable not holding my breath for them. And so, I’ve entertained the idea that I’m just a Calvinist on the wrong side of the reprobate/elect divider.

And that gets me back to what bhodges wrote:

Have you ever met a strict Calvinist who doesn’t feel they are elect? I haven’t

Notwithstanding that I’m not quite sure what makes a “strict” Calvinist as opposed to a regular one, I guess I’ll venture out and say: ladies and gentlemen, on your left is exhibit 1: moi.

I think, however, that the phrasing of bhodges’s question makes things seem more unlikely than they may be. Do all or the vast majority of Calvinists feel they are elect? Well, they are known for an arrogance problem, but what could be another reason for that explanation?

Well…who do we label as Calvinists? Or who normally chooses to label themselves as Calvinists? I think, notwithstanding those who just grow up in churches that teach reformed theology (cultural Calvinists?), people who label themselves as Calvinists are those who have had transformational experiences that have made the entire system make sense for them. As a result, these are people who feel that they have been caught by irresistible grace, and they are driven to persevere. According to their own theology, this could only happen to them if they were elect…so duh, they are going to feel they are elect.

…But this isn’t necessarily the entire picture. There could be people who are “strict Calvinists” whom we wouldn’t label as such, or who wouldn’t label themselves as such. Take people like me, who when they look at Calvinist as opposed to Arminian ideals, find the Calvinist ones a closer fit to reality. However, these people, like me, are on the “wrong side” of grace, so to speak. These are all people then who would recognize that what it would take for them to believe in God is for God to move them or show them something undeniable…but they wouldn’t call themselves Calvinists and others might not see them as Calvinists even though they are giving essentially Calvinist answers.

Maybe these people don’t count as strict Calvinists because they don’t believe in such a Calvinist god to begin with.

…But that’s really what would be expected if we were totally depraved.

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  1. I’m a Calvinist, and would never claim to be one of the elect. The best one can do is to rest on God’s mercy and trust in him. And when trusting is hard, we say as in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

    Spurgeon had a funny anecdote about this, regarding a “Mrs. Much-Afraid“.

    Interestingly, Islam faces essentially the same issue, with some of the holiest Muslims going to their deathbeds with no assurance of salvation.

    The same could be said of Arminians, though it might not apply to works-based salvation. IMO, the confusion arises when people confuse faith with assurance.

  2. Great links (especially connection to Islam.)

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