7 misconceptions people hold about Calvinism

This blog post is not written to pick a fight. I’m not writing to argue, debate, or win you over. I’m not writing to convince you to become a Calvinist. If at some point you get mad and want to fight please reread the last sentence.  This post is to clear up some common misconceptions about a particular soteriological belief.

Over the past three years, God has been working in me by changing my heart, my mind, and my entire life. An area within me that has been upset by these changes is my pride and self-worth. I grew up believing it was my own worth and genius which caused me to respond to the Gospel and believe in Jesus, while the cold hearts of others remained stubborn and refused to believe. Yet, over the years, the more intimately I studied the Word of God, the more aware I became of my own foolishness. I began to realize that if it were not the labor of the Holy Spirit within me, were it not for God’s Grace, I would be not better. At that time the scripture changed my view on theology. I began to have a very low view of man, as one who cannot do anything “godly” on his own, even open his own mind or understand his need of God (Rom 3:10-11; 1 Cor 2:14); and a very high view of God, as One who can do everything, including giving faith (Rom 10:17, 12:3; Heb 12:12, 2 Peter 1:1, Acts 3:16) and openings hearts and minds (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). This doctrine is otherwise known as Calvinism, reformed theology, or the doctrines of sovereign grace.

In the soviet union the communists often accused Christians of being stupid, ignorant, and claimed that they sacrificed people. While this was obviously not true, the common people believed these myths about Christians. It’s easy for name-calling to breed intolerance and form very wrong ideas in the minds of those that listen to gossip, slander, lies. With that said, I want to clear up some of these types of accusations that I have seen hurled at reformed theology.

This is not to argue, debate, or win you to my side, not even to say I am more correct than you, only to say not everything you overheard is true. Because not everyone has 2 hours to read this there will be a short version and a long version.

The 7 Misconceptions and/or Accusations

1. Calvinists are Heretics

Short: No they are not. Calvinists are smart people that believe everything you believe unless you’re a weirdo.

Long: I have been called a heretic by some of my Christian brothers and sisters. That I carry a “false teaching.” This is completely untrue. Heresy is defined as a belief or teaching that is against the orthodox (accepted) teaching of the Christian Church throughout the ages. Some ‘orthodox’ teachings include that the Holy Scripture is God inspired and true, a Triune God who created all things, Christ who died on a Cross and was resurrected on the third day to save sinners, a coming eternal afterlife with bodily resurrection to hell and heaven, and etc. All doctrines that are considered orthodox and biblical are affirmed and supported by Calvinism and Calvinists. Many of the doctrines that we consider orthodox were best and originally articulated by Calvinists. Take for example that salvation is by faith alone: this very orthodox doctrine was lost for many years, and it was people like Martin Luther, who believed in predestination, to uncover and remind us of this doctrine which is today at the core of the Christian faith.

2. Calvinists aren’t Christians

Short: Calvinists are christians who believe in Jesus and the bible and have among them some of the most well known and effective Christians. If you want to debate someone who’s not christian go mess with the mormons, they’d be happy to visit you, again, and again, and again.

Long: People have said about me that I should stop being a Calvinist and become a christian. I understand that such people are only simple gossips who are clever in their own minds and honestly don’t really have the capacity to understand theology at all, yet I’ll still answer this one. First off, half of all pastors are Calvinist. This included half of all Pentecostal, Assembly of God pastors. Half of them! A Barna “study found that 31% of pastors who lead churches within traditionally charismatic or Pentecostal denominations were described as Reformed, while 27% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian. This is somewhat surprising given that these denominations – including Assembly of God, Vineyard, Foursquare, and Church of God-Cleveland – are generally viewed as stemming from Wesleyan or Holiness traditions.” Click here to see Study.

In addition throughout history many great men of God were so called Calvinists. People like Geoffrey King and Thomas Holland, translators of the King James bible, the first and most common English bible (in fact most of the translators of the KJV were Calvinists). The men who broke away from the catholic church and brought us the Protestant reformation were all reformed, duh. We might have all been Eastern Orthodox or Catholic if not for Calvinists who started our Protestant church. Our favorite and most referenced bible commentators like John Gill and Matthew Henry.  The prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon himself. Griffith Jones, William Williams and Howell Harris who led the welsh revival and brought tens thousands into the church. George Whitefield who led the first Great Awakening over Britain and America. Jonathan Edwards, Americas “most prominent christian theologian” and another leader in the Awakening. All these men and countless others who greatly advanced the cause of Christ were Calvinists. And I will not be ashamed to claim them as brothers, to paraphrase Wesley speaking of Whitfield, in heaven they will be so close to the Throne that I may not even be able to see them.

3. Calvinists think people are brainless robots

Short: While calvinists do like robots, they can tell robots and people apart.

Long: I have been accused of teaching that people are robots, they have no brains and are involuntarily moved about without making any consious decisions. This is not at all what calvinism teaches. We all have a will but it isnt as free as people often portray it. Imagine that I gave you the option to eat an apple or dirt… which would you choose? I predict the apple, I know you will pick the apple. Did I take away your free will or control you? No, I know that you desire, wish, crave, like, hunger for, and want the apple more than dirt. Your choice was not fully free, your choice was a slave to your hunger. The same way the bible teaches that our choices are either slaves to sin/flesh/satan or slaves to the Holy Spirit/Jesus. As an unchristian when given the choice to sin or to be good, I will try sin because I want it. As a christian when given the same choices I try to avoid sin because I want to be holy. Our choices depend on what we want.

The bible teaches that all men freely chose sin in Adam and now because of that theyre spiritually dead in sin (Rom 6:23). All men are sinners by choice and motive in whom nothing good dwells (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:9-11, 23; 7:18), therefore they are not free but slaves to sin, desiring, wishing and wanting to do sinful things (Gen 6:5, 8:21, Prov 21:10, 1 Sa 24:13, Mat 7:18 , Lk 6:43, Jn 3:19, 8:34, 8:44,  2 Pe 2:19, Tit 3:3, Gal 4:8-9,  Rom 6:6, 20, 7:14, 2 Tim 2:26 and etc)

The bible teaches that sinners don’t want to become good, they, we, us, resist the holy spirit by nature (Acts 7:51). The truth is, Jesus said humans are bad trees, and bad trees only produce bad fruit. Sinners don’t want to change and be good and make good fruit (Isa 64:7; Jer 13:23, Job 14: 4; Mat 7:18, 12:34, Luke 6:43, Jn 3:20). Our mind is set on the flesh and does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so (Romans 8:7). Apart from Christ we cannot do anything, including choose to become good (Jn 15:5). In other words the bible says we are blind and deaf to God (Isa 6:10, Lk 4:18, 6:39,Mat 13:14-15, 15:14, 23:24, Jn 9:39, Jn 12:40).  And that only Jesus can change that blindness (Isaiah 42:6-7, Lk 4:18). Only Jesus can cause us born again, therefore free from slavery to sin, not by mans will but by Gods will (Jn 1:13,  3:3, 3:6-8; 1 Pet 1:3). Therefore, Calvinists don’t teach that men are brainless robots with no will, only that men by nature and choice are slaves to sin and will not want to obey God unless the Holy Spirit opens their hearts and grants us repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, 18:27; Phil 1:29; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 2:26; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Pet 1:3 ).

4. Calvinists think that you can’t get saved if your not chosen, even if you ask and try.

Short: Everyone who trusts their life to Jesus will be saved, even calvinists.

Long: It has been said that salvation is forced upon those who are unwilling and they have to accept it, at the same time those who really really really really really really want to be saved cannot because God did not choose them. The idea is that some people are begging God to save them and He says no because He already picked them for hell and they cant do anything about it.

This is a very backwards way of thinking that twists both scripture and what reformed pastors have preached for generations. Above we saw that men and women are wicked from the inside, our hearts are sinful, our choices are sinful. We are sinners by nature and choice, and we dont want to leave that sin.  There is no man or woman on this earth that would want to seek God and become righteous (Rom 3:11) without God first beginning to work in their hearts.  God says of His choosing of us gentiles “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”(Isaiah 65:1; Rom 10:20). The only reason we found God in the first place is because He caused it, for we did not seek him first. In truth, all men hate and despise God, as He is light and they are in darkness (John 3:19-21). If anyone at all seeks out God it is because the Holy Spirit is already leading that person to Jesus. If anyone finds Jesus it is because the Good Shepherd abandoned all others to go and find that lost sheep, not because the sheep found the shepherd. (John 10:14, 10:16). Anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, Calvinists believe the bible fully, especially that everyone who has faith will enter the kingdom of heaven.

5. Calvinists can sin as much as possible and be saved since they’re chosen anyway

Short: You may have confused cultists and Calvinists, only the first ones get to sin all they want.

Long: This is a big accusation that Calvinists encounter. We are often looked at as the vilest of self-deluded sinners who use the grace of Jesus as an excuse to continue in sin. This is not at all a true accusation but let me expose the mindset of people who use this complaint. The way most people think about this is: “If I am saved no matter how much I sin, why not sin? So therefore, Calvinists must sin alot.” It shows the hearts of men. It shows that those asking the question want to sin; that the only reason they don’t sin is because they want to go to heaven. That’s like saying “If I will remain married to my wife no matter what other woman I sleep with, why not sleep with other women?” If you got to stay married with your wife forever no matter what you do, would you right away start sleeping with other women? No!

Second, this wrong accusation shows that there is alot of “salvation by works” theology in their mindset. It makes people mad that someone can not do good works and still get saved. People become jealous because they think my works are so darn good that they definitely deserve salvation. And it becomes not fair that another person can get salvation without doing the good works that I did.

Calvinsts believe that anyone who lives fully in sin, loving sin, not wanting to fight sin or ask God to help with sin, is not likely a christian. Even if they go to church they are not part of the church until they repent.  Calvinists believe that those who show work of the Holy Spirit in their life, such as growing in the fruits of the spirit and abandoning sin are true believers. John says this about people that do not repent of sin: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 Jo 2:19) Jesus said by their fruits you shall know them (Mat 7:16). We are told as God’s chosen ones we need to show evidence of His salvation (Col 3:12) and if we are convicted of sin (and want to repent) its evidence of God choosing us (1 Thess 1:4-5).

6. Calvinists respect Calvin, who was a killer, above Jesus.

Short: So pentacostals respect Mr. Pentacostal above Jesus? And baptists love Mr. Baptist? Calvin killed noone at all, that was David.

Long: Of all the most outlandish claims that exist is that one way or another Calvinism is actually wholly about and comes from John Calvin of Geneva (in Switzerland). The claim is that if Calvin had not come into the picture people would worship Jesus, but because Calvin exalted himself, people left Jesus and started to follow Calvin. And on top of that Calvin with his own hands grabbed an anti-trinitarian ‘heretic’ named Servetus and burned him at the stake. Sigh.

First and foremost, reformed theology is not about Calvin. The doctrines of Sovereign Grace were not first invented, created, or refined by John Calvin. No Calvinist or any learned bible scholar and historian would ever say that. Calvinists joke that the first person to formulate a doctrine that is as close to what we believe was St. Paul who in nearly all his epistles speaks of predestination and election, he doesn’t even speak of baptism or gifts of the Holy Spirit as much as he speaks of predestination. But all joking aside, one of the most prominent church fathers of all time, who lived in the 4th century, Augustine, taught doctrine that was the can be called reformed theology. Augustine was involved defending against the Pelagian controversy which nearly took the church into a ‘works based salvation’ direction, and Augustine best articulated the doctrines of Sovereign grace a more than 1100 years before John Calvin.

Furthermore, when the protestant reformation took off and people finally received the bible into their own hands, churches were springing up all over Europe and most of them were “Calvinist” on issues like the bondage of the will and predestination. From Luther in Germany, to John Knox in Scotland, to the Puritans who left to America, none of these reformers were “unconditional free willists” or “Arminians.” It was only after the first wave of the reformation hit and other men began to write up newer doctrine that Calvinism took the name “Calvinism” and then only so because Calvin’s books were by far the most logical and eloquently articulated (due to his training as a lawyer.)

As far as the incident in which its claimed that Calvin killed Servetus, this is merely character assassination. Basically Servetus wrote a book claiming the doctrine of the trinity was an invention of the devil  and its worshipers deceived by the devil; then he and Calvin had a lengthy written discourse in which Calvin said I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.” (Downton, An Examination of the Nature of Authority, Chap 3). As far as Calvins involvement it consisted in identifying Servetus and submitting evidence that Servetus was in fact a heretic. First Calvin was not even present at the trial. Second, Calvin was a visiting pastor, not a citizen of Switzerland and couldn’t even vote. Third, the Spanish already tried Servetus and gave him the death sentence which he escaped. Fourth, Calvin had no power to condemn him or save him. Fifth, Calvin pleaded for the city council to be more lenient in the death penalty (his plea was ignored).  Sixth, Calvin visited the man in prison to pray for him and plead with love that he would recant (he didn’t). Seventh, death for heresy was in accordance to the spirit of age. At the time people were put to death for trying to cause the church to splinter by teaching and refusing to recant of Christ-denying heresies. It was also in accordance with the spirit of the age that David killed Goliath by cutting off his head, and no christian says it was wrong or immoral, because at that time it was normal. So was it with Government officials punishing heresy by death in the middle ages. (it wasn’t Calvin that did this, but the government; and the Arminians of the age would also agree with the type of punishment for the type of heresy.) Moreover, just as one christian who once sins does not invalidate all other Christians, even if Calvin had ordered this death penalty (which he didn’t) it would in no way invalidate the doctrine of sovereign grace as thousands of pastors, preachers, and theologians across the world have taken up to torch of Christ’s sovereign grace as the cause of our salvation.

7. Calvinism is against evangelism

Short: Some Russians are against evangelistm too, they believe that unless Americans learn & dress russian they cant be saved. Oh and Calvinists invented modern mission work.

Long: We are considered as those hostile to evangelism and missionary work. It is said that Calvinists don’t evangelize or send missionaries because there is no point, if someone is not chosen there is no reason to evangelize them. This is a sad accusation built upon layers of misconceptions. Its foolish and wrong!

First, this is what Calvin himself said about evangelism: “It is no small consolation to godly teachers that, although the larger part of the world does not listen to Christ, He has His sheep whom He knows and by whom He is also known. They (all preachers) must do their utmost to bring the whole world into Christ’s fold, but when they do not succeed as they would wish, they must be satisfied with the single thought that those who are sheep will be collected together by their work.” (Calvin’s Commentary on John 17:9).

Second, Calvin evangelized neighboring France. At the beginning of the reformation in 1555, there was only one church. In 1562 Calvin’s movement had led to the formation of 2150 local protestant congregations in an area hostile to protestants Christians.

Third, Calvin himself sent out more worldwide missionaries than most Arminian churches today. Historians have called his Geneva a “hub of vast missionary enterprise” (Frank A. James, III, “Calvin and Missions,” Christian History, 5 no. 4 (Fall 1986) : 23.) For example, historical records show that just in one year, 142 missionaries were sent out by Calvin to go around the world and reach people with the gospel message. Some were even sent to Brazil where they were killed. (Hughes, “John Calvin: D. O. M,” 46; cf. also McGrath, 184).

Fourth, the modern missionary movement as we have come to know it, was founded and stimulated by William Carey, a Calvinist! Today he is called “the father of modern missions” after spending 58 years of his life on Indian soil preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, a great majority of early missionaries were Calvinists, men like David Brainerd, John G. Paton, Henry Martyn and a host of others. Hundreds of Calvinists were martyred and died sharing the good news of Jesus to sinners. Looking through the history of our modern world we can see that at all times Calvinists have eagerly taken the gospel to nations and people all over the world, from missionaries who died in small tribes, to great revivals and awakenings that swept the western world, reformed Christians have been at the forefront of mission and evangelism work, proclaiming salvation to those  enslaved to sin.

With apostle Paul reformed Christians say ”For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” (2 Tim 2:10)

Conclusion

Short: Don’t judge, hold hands and love Jesus.

Long: My aim is not to fight or cause strife and struggle. I do not consider myself to be a follower of Calvin, I am not of Apollos or of Paul, I am of Christ Jesus. I think Calvin was a pretty good bible teacher, and there are many other bible teachers. All of the good ones including Calvin repeat the same theme in scripture that man is bad and God is Good. And God saves bad men by His son Jesus. That is at the forefront of what I believe, we need our Shepherd for without Him we cannot do anything.

Once again, this is not a debate, I’m not nailing my theses to the wall and stating my immediate withdrawal from any church or group. I love the people of Christ and am merely saddened by the name calling and misconceptions that we can construe about each other. Calvinists and Arminians are both to be considered as Christians. This is an in-house debate, so we should not exclude one group or the other as heretics or nonbelievers. As brothers we are allowed to lovingly, gently, in peace and civility discuss what we Christians should believe about ourselves and about God. Yet this is not an issue that is worth splitting or slandering over (well no issue is worth slandering over).

One response

  1. Could not agree more, and well said. Only thing I would say is that the following quote betrays your initial comments about being humbled by God and later comments that we should speak on such issues without slander: “People have said about me that I should stop being a Calvinist and become a christian. I understand that such people are only simple gossips who are clever in their own minds and honestly don’t really have the capacity to understand theology at all, yet I’ll still answer this one.”

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