The Tentative Apologist
5/25/09 at 10:23 AM 19 Comments

Why I could never, ever, ever be a Calvinist (I think)

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Calvinism. That mainstay of the Protestant tradition. Sometimes battered, but often breathtaking, as in the sprawling intellectual systems of an Edwards or Turretin. And now recently resurgent as told in Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). The core essence of Calvinism -- God's unconditional election of some and not others for salvation -- is found all the way back in Augustine and, if you believe the Calvinists, in the Bible itself.

But as it stands I cannot see myself being a Calvinist. And the reason is simple. Calvinism limits God's grace, and by doing so it limits his love. Within Calvinism God could save all people but he chooses not to. Instead he leaves some to face damnation. This is the limitation of his grace, which no Calvinist can dispute.

Why does God leave some people to be damned? Calvinists from John Calvin himself down to John Piper today have given a reason which they believe is expressed in Romans 9:22-23:

"What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory...."

According to Calvinists this means that the reason God chooses to damn some people is because his glory shines through more fully as a result, and God's glory is God's supreme concern. By choosing to send some creatures to the most horrific eternal punishments, God manifests his wrath, justice, and his undying hatred of sin. And by choosing others for grace God manifsts his gentleness, mercy and abiding love.

These two very different outcomes thus provide an occasion for God to display more of his attributes at once which makes him appear more glorious to his creatures. This illustrates what psychologists refer to as the "contrast effect" whereby a person's experience of a particular outcome is intensified because of the contrast with another outcome. (For instance, you appreciate your mobile home that much more after seeing your neighbor's mobile home get destroyed in a tornado. You appreciate your ham sandwhich more after visiting a camp of starving refugees.)

So according to the Calvinist those God saves have a fuller grasp of his grace in virtue of the damnation of others. It is not that the damnation of the others is good in itself, but it is a second-order good for the benefit of grasping God's glory more fully.

On this scenario the lost are like a Christmas turkey. Nobody but a sadist thinks killing the turkey is a good thing in itself. But the killing is a second order good so that we might enjoy the meat at Christmas dinner. Similarly, damnation is not in itself a good thing. But it is a second order good because of the satisfaction damnation of the lost provides to God's chosen.

Try as I might (and I have) I cannot think of God in this way. I succeeded for awhile. Indeed, I managed to be a Calvinist for about three years. Then I engaged in some role playing. What if I was chosen and my daughter was damned, damned in part so that I might find a greater delight in God's glory? At that moment Calvinism lost me. And with all due respect, I have to say good riddance.

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