Why Are Young People So Drawn to Calvinism?

Calvinism is all over the place. Many of the best known young preachers are Calvinists. Many of the most well read blogs are from a Calvinist perspective. All of a sudden there has been a huge influx of Calvinists. According to Lifeway “nearly 30% of SBC seminary graduates between 1998 and 2004, now serving as pastors, describe themselves as Calvinists” (p.74 of Young, Restless and Reformed). What is the story? I asked a young neo-Calvinist what book they would recommend to help me wrap my mind around what is going on. They said I should read Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen. Collin is a journalist, Reformed and at one time the youngest editor at Christianity Today. He is currently the Editorial Director of the Gospel Coalition.

This book gives us two insights into why young adults are drawn to Calvinism. The first insight is Hansen’s own perspective. The second insight comes from all the interviews he did in order to write this book. This book is a record of Hansen’s travels to various well known Calvinist and Reformed congregations and conferences. He shares the stories of many young people who didn’t start out believing in TULIP but share their own process of accepting it as central to the Christian faith.

Two things need to be mentioned at the start. First, I am not a Calvinist…so this critique will reflect that in some places. Second,  there is a difference between Calvinism and the Reformed movement itself. The Reformed movement includes Calvinism but not all Calvinists are Reformed. Hansen says that the Reformed movement emphasizes TULIP along with “the five Reformation solas (by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, by Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone). (p.111)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TULIP, it is the five points of Calvinism:
T – Total Depravity – by nature mankind is unrighteous, selfish, and unable to love and seek God on our own
U – Unconditional Election – Salvation comes by God’s choosing/election that he established in eternity past
L – Limited Atonement – Jesus died solely for the sins of God’s elect/chosen people.
I – Irresistible Grace – If God has elected you he will draw you to himself apart from anything to do with your own goodness (due to total depravity)
P –  Perseverance of the Saints – God is so sovereign that once you are elect you will be saved. Nothing can keep that from happening

There are several reasons Calvinism is increasing in popularity. It is not because it is hip or attractive from a worldly point of view:

  1. Calvinism offers a God-centred approach to everything. It is not seeker sensitive. It is not pop-psychology. It is all about God, his power and authority.
  2. Calvinism lowers the position of man – It seems like some Christians want to focus solely on our value and esteem. Calvinism is focusing on our own lowliness. They say we are nothing. We can’t even pick God or want to pick God unless God elects us by his own sovereign will. Much of the way we (Arminians) motivate people is through talking about what is in it for them. If you come to Sunday night church you can grow closer to God, be blessed, etc…not so much with Calvinism. It is all about God.
  3. Calvinism offers certainty – Because God is so sovereign there is a solid foundation to live on. There is no wishy-washyness here. Hansen says, when John Piper speaks, he speaks with certainty (37)
  4. Emphasis on scripture – these guys love scripture, love study, and aren’t afraid to dive in deep.
  5. Passion – There is a sense of passion here because we often tend to get passionate about ourselves and that is all pretty shallow. When you passionate about the greatness of God and his overarching sovereignty…that is a passion that goes beneath the surface.
  6. Calvinism recognizes the control is in God’s hands, not ours. That is a liberating thought.
  7. It is a non-institutional institution. What I mean by that is they are less about church and more about God. That doesn’t mean church is emphasized less but in emphasizing our depravity and God’s election, grace and sovereignty they are putting God over church. They are moving outside the building
  8. Worship that is more all about God and not about us – Emphasizing God’s sovereignty and our depravity comes out in their worship. It is God-centered.
  9. This influence has made its way mainstream into a number of conferences and campus ministries that are affecting young adults all over the nation.

So what do we take away from this? There were a few things that I really appreciated about the Calvinist perspective. I really think they got emphasizing God and his glory right. I think too often we make self the driving force. We try to motivate people to attend or do things for what is in it for them rather than emphasize our participation in giving God the glory He deserves. That is solid. I appreciate their passion that comes directly out of a sole focus on God. We need more of that.

A couple of things were pretty unsettling to me about this book. I don’t know if this is about Hansen’s perspective or if this is common in Calvinism at large:

  1. It seems they really venerate men like Edwards, Calvin, Piper and others. I bet their names appeared over 100 times in this book. Names like Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc paled in comparison.
  2. Language of conversion – he talks about people converting to Calvinism. What does that mean? If they were elect to begin with how is there a conversion? A conversion of thoughts and views?
  3. Sovereignty meets Mercy – Calvinists will go on and on about the mercy of God that they are the elect. They are elect only because God picked them against their own will and desires. The flip side is God rejected giving his mercy to others. They had the exact same sinful desires and depravity but God just chose not to be merciful to them. Can God still be full merciful if atonement is limited and his mercy is forced?
  4. This book is a lot about personalities. He even says that if Piper weren’t so zealous in his presentation that young people wouldn’t listen to him (34).
  5. It takes this book 90 pages before Hansen says all of this is really about the Gospel itself and not about Calvinism but you just don’t get that feeling reading this book. If Calvinism is accurate to God’s intention for creation then this is the Gospel we are talking about here. We go on and on about how people converted to Calvinism? Why not just call TULIP the Gospel?

What is your experience with Calvinism? For those of you who hold this view, is this critique fair?

74 Responses to Why Are Young People So Drawn to Calvinism?

  1. Eric says:

    thank you for this synopsis

    • Tim says:

      No one is forced to believe according to Calvinism rather if you believe you have made known that you were chosen ( john 3:22) and no one will be saved against their will. That’s not Calvinism.

      • Profile photo of Matt Dabbs Matt Dabbs says:

        So being chosen is conditioned upon your decision to believe. Exactly.

        • Roy says:

          According to Calvinism, believing is conditioned upon your being chosen. Belief is evidence of God’s gracious election, not the cause of earning it. Hearing and following Jesus is proof you’re his sheep, but not the reason you are his sheep.

          That is not to say Calvinism is right or wrong, but that is the belief.

          I wrote a post about this article if you wish to scroll down.

          The important thing is to focus on God’s word and what it says. If that is called Calvinism, Arminianism, or some other man-ism is not important. What has God declared? That shall we follow.

  2. James Wood says:

    Good questions and a fair critique.

    I went to a Calvinist high school and I was, often, the lone dissenting voice in bible classes where TULIP was proclaimed as truth.

    My biggest complaint with Calvinism is that it so utterly lowers the view of humanity that it decries the image-bearing role we ought to have.

    However, their high view of God and God’s sovereignty is a valuable voice in theological discussions.

    I think young people like Calvinism because it provides a firm framework in which to operate. The rest of the world has almost no discernible moral structure which is exhausting and prevents maturing.

    However, the strict framework is, in my opinion, merely a step on the path to maturity. A mature person is able to make complex moral decisions without appealing to a specific rule – they can interpret the rules to apply to different situations. For example, Jesus and his disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. His maturity led him to interpret the Sabbath rule in light of the value of humanity. The immature Pharisees were unable to differentiate.

    The delayed onset of adolescence corresponds neatly with the rise in popularity of Calvinism.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I agree completely with your biggest complaint 100%.How does Acts 17:27 play into all this – God is not far from any of us. Or Genesis 1:26 – made in God’s image? There are so many verses you have to ignore in order to emphasize and uphold 5 point Calvinism that it just doesn’t work out as neatly as that for me. It emphasizes God’s transcendence at the expense of God’s immanence.

      • Hello Matt, sin has not erased God’s image but sinners are enemies of God, so that image is terribly affected, isn’t it? And God tells us, “what do you have that you did not receive?” While also telling us about how evil our hearts are (Jeremiah, Jesus on true purity). All the more if you consider that the men closest to God, the Pharisees, who were so desirous to please God and know Him, more than anyone else, were so corrupt! So, our hearts are hopelessly wicked and when we do good, it’s just another instance of common grace, one of so many.

        God bless!!

    • Daniel Howard says:

      Hi James

      As a 41-year-old calvinist, I hope I’m not one of your delayed adolescents! I’d like to respond to some points in your helpful post.

      It is impossible to read John Calvin’s works without being impressed by his high view of humanity. Of course, in the presence of God, we are insignificant, as Scripture says in various ways. But Calvin also knew that humanity is glorious, and the image of God is very much present within us, albeit marred by sin.

      With respect, I think your critique of calvinism is a little adrift. No doubt there are some stereotypical hot-headed youths who latch on to calvinism, or any other -ism. But that doesn’t prove that calvinism is flawed. I think you’ll find that John Calvin, and many people who agree with his doctrinal framework, are well able to make complex moral decisions in a mature way. Considering you are so keen on complex decisions without specific rules, you seem to have the calvinists far too neatly tied up!

      I agree with your presentation of Jesus as prime example of mature moral decision making. But surely we must remember that, as well as demonstrating flexibility and nuance, Jesus was adamant that he did not overturn the law, and that he only did what the Father gave him to do.

      If as you suggest there are calvinists who over-emphasise legalist morals, I don’t think the solution is to over-emphasise situational morals. Both of these ethical perspectives deserve careful consideration, along with a teleological viewpoint. The writings of John Frame would be a good example of sohpisticated ethical theology from a calvinist standpoint.

    • Hello, Calvinists like Piper or myself revel in paradoxes and solving appearent contradictions. And legalism is anything but Calvinistic; but there definitely is a discipline of Grace. I’ve been thinking a lot about what sin truly is and that it’s not that simple.

      God bless!

    • I agree with your conclusion — firm framework — but not the context of morality you put it in. Divine Determinism, if anything, expunges morality from the discussion. if by His “meticulous providence” God is responsible for everything, then He’s responsible for immorality — evil. Where, then, is my moral compass?
      Additionally, I think Calvinism’s message that people have no responsibility whatsoever for their salvation is a kind of narcotic. Many, particularly the young, seek release from responsibilities of all kinds. To them, Calvinism offers the brass ring of absolute unqualified freedom from responsibility.

  3. My ex-son-in-law once asked me about two of the five pillars of Calvinism [or are the five pillars those of Islam?].

    In each instance, I told him that to be faithful to the Great Commission and as a Shepherd of a congregation of God’s people, I had to treat each of those tenets as false, even if they were true.

    By that I meant that I had to assume that people are capable of responding to the gospel message (even if they are not) to fulfill the Great Commission to preach the gospel to every creature. I also had to warn luke-warm and erring Christians of the danger of falling from God’s grace to be honest with all of the warnings present in Scripture.

    Then I asked him, “If I have to treat these as untrue in order to deal honestly with Scripture, isn’t it highly likely that they are untrue?”

    To my way of thinking, Calvinism can never be “proven” experientally. If someone responds to the gospel, he was one of the elect; if he does not respond, he was not elect. If a Christian falls away, his conversion was not genuine; if he remains faithful until death, his conversion was real.

    Many people are not familiar with the Calvinist influences in the venerable King James Version of the Bible. For example, Matthew 18:3 the KJV has “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Note the passive voice for “be converted,” though the verb is active in the Greek text. The NIV here has change instead; the ESV has “unless you turn.” There are other similar changes in talking about our response to the gospel that infer man’s passivity when God is calling us to action or to a decision to follow Jesus.

  4. umbach6 says:

    Thanks for the critique of the book. One of my big points against Calvinism is that in all its effort to make certain we are not saved by works, to which I agree, they make their line of theology a kind of work for salvation. It is one thing to agree on the overall points of Christianity like grace, faith, and who Jesus is and what he did for us, but the mechanics of those points is not completely necessary (to a point). It must remain with some set boundaries found in scripture which is a debate in itself, but I think church history has weeded some of those heresies out.

    Roger Olson and Michael Horton’s books Against and For Calvinism really show the differences and similarities well.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I am not really certain that they make their theology of work of salvation. I think they would say God saves completely by his own choice and sovereignty and it wouldn’t be dependent upon you having a Calvinist understanding of scripture. With any group I am sure some Calvinist somewhere might say that being Calvinist is essential but I can’t see many neo-Calvinists saying that.

      • umbach6 says:

        I think what I am reaching at is in line with your 5th point in the last section. My experience is that TULIP does at times become the Gospel message when there are many valid points on either side of the Arminianism/Calvinism debate and much to be learned as Edward Fudge states below. My salvation has been questioned by some I discuss with because I don’t buy into the 3 middle points of TULIP and in Olson’s book, mentioned above, he talks about the same thing. Is it everyone or even the majority? No, but it does tend to be the stronger, louder personalities that push for that line of thinking and for that reason concerns me. I would even say that Calvinism plays an important role in calling the church back to knowing what we believe and why we believe it.

    • I heard Piper and many preachers say the same thing, we are not saved by theology, but when we are saved and we are well taught, we cannot but believe the truths of God. Piper said “you cannot serve God and theology” or he may have said “…love…”.

      God bless!

  5. Edward Fudge says:

    Thank you for this overview and useful critique. I first encountered Calvinism more than 45 years ago as a student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis where a highlight was taking a special class (with Stanley Shipp and Landon Saunders) under Francis Schaeffer. The two things that impressed and impacted me most were the professors’ prayers and the students’ apparent commitment to truly follow Christ each day. At Covenant, I was called (jokingly) “the Arminian heretic” and afterward I was suspected by some CoC folks of being a Calvinist.

    The truth, as I perceive it, is that Cavinists and non-Calvinists both have a major truth to share — truths that both groups very much need. For Calvinists, it is that the saved must give God all the gloryl For non-Calvinists, it is that the lost must take all the blame. (Both truths appear in Acts 13 where Luke says those who were ORDAINED to eternal life believed, but where Paul tells the disbelievers that they have judged THEMSELVES unworthy of eternal life.)

    Perhaps some of your readers will find useful an article on what Calvinists and non-Calvinists have in common, ound at edwardfudge.com/written/article1.html )

    Thanks for once again transcending proof verses, stereotypes, and cheap shots and for giving us balanced analysis instead.

    Edward Fudge

    • mattdabbs says:

      Edward,

      Great story..I love the balance and fairness of your second paragraph about what each has to bring to the table. Too often we are so quick to shoot down those we disagree with that we miss the lessons they actually do have to teach us. Wish I could have been there for the Shipp, Saunders, Fudge, Schaeffer class…that must have been a tremendously helpful class.!

      Here is the link you included above posted where we can click on it – http://www.edwardfudge.com/written/article1.html

  6. Daniel Howard says:

    Hi Matt
    Thanks for your interesting post, that I have stumbled across. I subscribe to Calvin’s theology, in the main, and find it refreshing to come across an even-handed critique. Many people resort to loathing, so thanks for not doing that!

    I think it is important and helpful to point out that the “five points of Calvinism” are artificial and potentially misleading. Some people reading your post might not know this. What I mean is that John Calvin himself did not establish TULIP as a summary of his own teaching. Rather, it came later and from other people, as a response to five points of disagreement proposed by Arminus in the first part of the seventeenth century.

    If we over-use the TULIP outline, we will give a skewed presentation of John Calvin’s theology, and our critique will be weak and potentially unfair. Think of all the biblical truths that are not covered by TULIP- important Scriptures that seem to be left out. TULIP makes us think that John Calvin either wasn’t interested, or even disagreed! But that simply isn’t so. To find out what John Calvin thought, we must read his works, not a primer on TULIP.

    Can I also respectfully query your point in the list of concerns, number 3, where you say, “Can God still be full merciful if atonement is limited and his mercy is forced?” As it happens I’ve just preached on Romans 9, where in verse 14 Paul faces precisely this objection. Verses 1-13 show why the question must be faced by Christians, and verses 14-33 give a response. All firmly grounded in the Old Testament. Note that Paul manages to deal with this, without saying that “mercy is forced,” as you put it. So, if there are calvinists who say God’s mercy is forced, they are falling short of the Bible’s presentation.

    My experience of calvinism (as a UK minister) is that it is popularly misunderstood; for some people the only thing they seem to know is that they dislike calvinism! Personally, I believe that a high view of God’s sovereignty is clearly taught in Scripture, and Calvin is one theologian among many (ancient and modern) who have given this a right emphasis, as well as recognising God’s immanence. Also, I find it very helpful to read Calvin’s commentaries (ccel.org website), partly because they give such a different perspective than most modern commentaries.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Daniel,

      Thank you so much for commenting here. I am very interested in hearing more of your perspective on these things. In regard to Romans 9, can you read my notes on Romans and see what you think? I will paste the link below. You would need to read two things: The part in the intro material that talks about the occasion for Romans (Jew & Gentile issues and the edict of Claudius) and then the material on Romans 9-11. I would love to hear your feedback and discuss it further.

      http://mattdabbs.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/romans-dabbs.pdf

  7. Kenneth Sublett says:

    I doubt that hyper Calvinism is on the rise: bloggers blog but do not represent. Even Calvin stooped to “out of context verses” when he spoke of ‘Calvinism’ which he admitted would gag you.

    There is not a single, named person in the whole Bible who was destined to either heaven or hell.
    There is not a single evil person in the Bible who is not blamed for their own evil.
    There is not a single righteous person who is claimed to be so destined.

    Psalms 15:2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
    Isaiah 64:5 Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.
    Acts 10:35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

    God foreknew or “knew before” the tiny remnant of Jews who had not “bowed to Baal.” He did not predestinate them to go to heaven or hell but “to be confirmed to the image of Christ.”

    God IS Sovereign (not a Biblical word) in that He had the right to give us free-will and so says all of the Bible from Abel onward who were “righteous” without having water sprinkled on their head.

    Sin did NOT Enter Eve but “entered into the WORLD” which is that sector for whom Jesus will not pray.

    • John Watson Smith says:

      Consider also the plain statement of the will of God – that none should perish and that all should come to repentance. The purpose of Jesus Christ is to show the love of God for the world… I suggest these statements are not reconcilable with unconditional election and forced grace. This comparison gets even more confusing when persons try to reconcile the Bible with Calvinism on the radio.

      I further suggest a simple reason that Calvinism is not held in any regard by serious Bible students is that it contradicts the Bible.

    • kyron l. riley says:

      In accordance to your first statement out of the 3 you mentioned,what about the Pharaoh in Exodus who was swallowed up in the Red Sea by God?.God Himself even declared to Moses and Aaron in His own Word that the Pharaoh was a raised instrument of God to be used to display His power (in this case,wrath).God didn’t put a name to the Pharaoh but that was not a fairy tale.

      • Kenneth Sublett says:

        Ex. 4:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.

        God used many people as a “visual” aid: all of the plagues are to discredit all of the “gods” worshiped by the Egyptians

        Exodus 9:16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth

        The word “amad” means to abide, endure, establish, preserve
        fortĭtūdo firmness, manliness shown in enduring or undertaking hardship

        God always shows mercy and gives everyone a chance to repent. He never causes people to do evil things. “many are called but few are chosen” where chosen means “tested, tried and proven” by their obedience when things hurt.

      • kyron l. riley says:

        Mr. Kenneth,

        I hate that you feel that way but read what’s plainly said in Romans 9:22 by the Apostle Paul in the Spirit:

        Romans 9:22 “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?”.

        Yes,God is love but He is also God Almighty.He has ‘mercy on whom He has mercy and have compassion on whom He have compassion’. (Exodus 33:19)

  8. Thanks for the critique – I was hitherto largely unaware of the details of Calvinism.

    I think the main area where I disagree with Calvinism is that of election. I really believe God is fair, and that he offers salvation to all. To me, the idea that if you are not ‘on the list’, you can’t get in, no matter how much you want to, is abhorrent.

    But then, as I mentioned in another comment, God is timeless. To take an analogy of a person in a film who makes a free-will choice to do a certain action. Having seen the film before, I know in advance what choice that person will freely make. And nothing can make that choice change, because the film is made. But the choice was still freely made.

    This is how I interpret the passages that talk about election – not so much that “if God did not choose you, you are damned and that is that”, but rather God offers everyone salvation, but in his sovereignty and timelessness, God also knows in advance what choice we will make.

    This takes me right back to days as a student discussing the merits of pre-destination vs free will!

    • mattdabbs says:

      I guess they would say if you really want it you must be on the list. Circular reasoning.

    • kyron l. riley says:

      He only predestines the children of God and the children of wrath.Now the children of wrath are NOT the average lost soul walking wthout a relationship with his or her Creator.The children of wrath are actually what is called in the O.T.,”the WORKERS (my emphasis) of iniquity”.In fact,these workers of iniquity are mentioned throughout the majority of the Epistles as well.They are false ministers,false teachers,false prophets and antichrists that deny Jesus and pervert the Gospel and twist the Scripture for selfish reasons.These are the wood,hay and stubble mentioned by Paul.Nonbelievers have free will to repent and come to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit just as us Christians still have free will to obey the Lord or disobey Him,willingly or unwillingly.Remember,God is the ‘I AM’ so how can we question what’s clearly written in His Word or His methods?.There is a WHOLE LOT that we don’t know about our God.I just thank my Lord Jesus for dying for ALL of us.

    • Hello, Calvinists will tell you that if you really want to, this is evidence of saving grace and you have evidence of God’s life in you. Men are dead in their trespasses, they cannot want God, naturally. It’s the religious affection Edwards wrote about. Now, you may want to be saved for the wrong reasons but no one is saved without wanting it at some point, once they receive God’s life, they want God more and more. Before God gives us a new heart like it was said in Ezekiel, we cannot want God, the judge who condemns sinners. But once we have become sons and daughters, forgiven and transformed, we love and want Him and more of His salvation, not only from wrath but also from sin and this “body of death”.

      God bles you!

  9. kyron l. riley says:

    The L and the P in TULIP is false.T is referring to our sinful nature.U is referring to what Paul has written about predestination of the TRUE saints and what Jesus said about His sheep.The I is referring to the fact that our own goodness cannot save us or give us favor with God.Now the L totally contradicts what is written in the Word of God (John 3:16 is self explanatory).The P is a deceptive teaching that’s been in the Body of Christ for years.If King David prayed for God not to take the Holy Spirit away from him after he sinned (Psalm 51:11) and know that God does not change,then how can anyone say that a Christian can’t lose their salvation?.The Word even prophesied of a “falling away” from the Church.Now we know this event is still future because when the Protestants seperated from the Catholic Church and their teachings,the Protestants were,and still are,followers of Christ.In the future “falling away”,these former Christians will deny Jesus as being their Lord and Savior.I am very glad that you posted this on your website.This is very important to know about as there is going to be a flood of demonic teachings coming to try to persuade even “the elect”.May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ continue to use you in a mighty way.

  10. kyron l. riley says:

    By the way,this (Iguess I would call it) new form of Calvinist teaching is just one of the enemy,Satan’s many countless false teachings and,believe me,I’m pretty sure there will be more before Jesus comes back again.Remember Ephesians 6:10-20.

  11. I’ve always had great difficulty reconciling Calvinism with the whole of Scripture. In particular, I have trouble with the points that lead to a “once saved, always saved” theological position. I just don’t see it in Scripture. I must admit that both sides have their fair share of “proof texts” in Scripture but when I look at Scripture as a whole, I honestly don’t see it. One of the best books on this is Life in the Son by Robert Shank. Written back in 1960, it is still available today. The Scripture index in the back of the book is really quite extensive. He looks at hundreds of Scriptures that relate to this debate and does a wonderful job of addressing Calvinism. Shank was Baptist. He went home to be with the Lord in 2006. Here’s a short obituary for him.

    http://edwardfudge.com/gracemails/Shank_Robert_obit.html

    Several years back, I actually articulated a number of problems I see with the OSAS position here:
    http://true-noble-and-right.blogspot.com/2008/05/is-it-reasonable-to-assume-true.html

    I thought this is really good, too.
    http://evangelicalarminians.org/Perseverance-Assurance-Robert-Shank-on-Calvinist-Pastors-and-the-Warninig-Passages-of-Scripture

    • The passage for me that answers this problem is what Jesus said to the condemned at the judgment: ” On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matt 7:22-23)

      If you are “known of him” or saved, you cannot be unknown or never known. That is what I have always held onto.

      I hope that helps.

      • Hello James, can anyone escape from both the Father and Jesus’ hands arond them? And better, can anyone stop having eternal life without this life being anything but eternal? Yet, John 3:36 says we HAVE (present) eternal life.
        John 3:36English Standard Version (ESV)

        36 (A)Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; (B)whoever does not obey the Son shall not (C)see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

        Now, one should add, “believes in a saving and true way”, as other Scriptures will explain.

        God bless and Save you in Peace, Joy and Love!

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  13. Killcrankie says:

    What no one seems to get is God didn’t have to save anyone! None of us deserve to be chosen. Thar’s where God’s mercy is shown, that He would choose anyone.
    I am 16 and I have been a Calvinst for several years after initially rejecting it. The reason I ” converted” ( by converted we simply indicate a person has changed his view. We don’t use it in this instance to mean salvation etc) was I saw the wishy washy teachings in the Baptist Churches, Always about the love of God and longing for that world beyond! Reformed churches teach about the power the majesty and the awesomeness of God, and the fact that this Soveriegn Lord of the Universe would reach down and place his grace in my heart.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Both of those “wishy washy” teachings are very biblical. The Love of God? John 3, 1 John 3, and many more. Longing for a heavenly home – try reading Hebrews 11.

      Your argument about why you rejected the non-Reformed side seems to me to be a strawman argument. There are plenty of other churches that teach about the majesty and sovereignty of God. The big point of contention is limited atonement…did Christ die for all as the scriptures teach (Rom 6:10) or only for some, as some Calvinists teach? Some are 4 point or 5 point Calvinists based on accepting or rejecting that point of Calvinism.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope you will reconsider on limited atonement and continue on relishing the majesty and sovereignty of God.

  14. chris wickens says:

    I think Calvinism is dangerous. Firstly, it goes against the grain of much of the scriptures pertaining to salvation and the Love of God. Secondly, it creates a “holier than thou” attitude and many of my past friends were so far into calvinism that these”hyper” christians couldn’t see past their own faults and lived quite secular lives during the week. We must treat calvinism as just a theory brought forward to the masses. Calvin was just a man. Too bad Calvin didn’t spend more time loving others and following Jesus’ teachings instead of exhausting so much time on his ideas and ideals. Calvinists forget that Calvin had Michael Servantes burned at the stake for his own ideas and ideals. How christian is that?

  15. chris wickens says:

    no, for sure. Thanks for this site!

  16. Ken Cook says:

    Calvinists seem to have the arrival syndrome. I see banners even in theology as divisions to the Body of Christ; good sound Biblical Theology doesn’t have to have a banner for people to rally around. We rally around Jesus Christ and what He has done for us ALL.

    Maybe Calvinists over look 1 Corinthians 13:12 where the Apostle Paul stated he did not know everything; Paul goes on to say to abide in faith, hope, and love – love was most important. A.W. Tozer put more stock in spending time with God instead of in a man’s theological system. Our world needs to see our faith in action; hear about the hope that is within us; and have the Love of Christ shared with them.

    Thanks Matt for the post. I found it because I was asking myself the same question.

  17. Laura Robertson says:

    Your Point #3 regarding “certainty” is the crux of Calvinism. Calvinists want to be certain. The Institutes are intoxicatingly so. Calvin writes eloquently, transmitting his personal knowledge of God based on a lifetime of following hard after Him. In doing so, he has spoken to the hearts of millions over centuries whose minds prefer rationalism to empiricism. They want to think their way to God logically, and for them its appropriate. That’s the way some people think. They need the certainty. I prefer empiricism – feeling my way to God, whether through the Bible or prayer or gazing at the universe. As Carl Jung said, “I don’t believe in God. I know him.” My view on Calvinism: It is a theological perspective that is understandable when looked at God from a certain point of view and an adequate way of conceptualizing salvation. But it isn’t helpful to the cause of Christ. My joke about Calvinism – You can be a Calvinist if its helpful to you, but don’t tell anybody.

    • Hello Laura, you can feel God but without the written Word, the Bible, you cannot understand what you feel and if it’s right, healthy and from Him. You can have amazing feelings without a relationship with God. The Bible is words that speak to the mind and transform the heart and feelings also, drawing thoughts and feelings to God, but God said He would give a renewed intelligence through His Spirit and the Spirit’s sword: the Bible. Feelings are definitely not the way to know God and tell experience with God from other spiritual or physical experience. And faith is not a feeling, Hebrews 11:1English Standard Version (ESV)

      By Faith
      11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of (A)things not seen.

      This definitely creates feelings. Faith is necessary in this world because we cannot know God fully so we cannot say, “I don’t go by faith, I just know God”.

      God bless!

    • You’re in good company, Laura.
      “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “

  18. Tom George says:

    Matt, this is a beautifully written article.

    As a non-calvinist, would you say that something needs to be done on the part of non-Calvinists in response? If you’d rather respond via e-mail, it’s tomgeorgejr@gmail.com.

    God bless!

  19. mark says:

    I can understand the certainty part of Calvinism. I think it beats the “you are all going to hell” declaration any day.

  20. David says:

    I call it simply Christian. Though the distinction must be made. I assure u i wasnt looking for God when He found me. I have really been digging deeper as I have started attending a freewill baptist church. I love the congregation…but my spirit is unsettled. I don’t see myself attending much longer due to lifting of mans freewill to that of God. We are children of wrath by nature….in God’s grace He has chosen to save some. We can say that isnt fair…but we all have turned away. We all deserve death. Why God has chosen some is in his mind alone. John 6 said no one comes to Him unless the Father grants it. It is so clear throughout script
    ures of God electing people. Can man produce Godly sorrow that leads to repentance? BIJesus said His sheep hear Him and follow….He said He wont lose a one

    • Ron says:

      We have a lot in common David! I attended a Free Will Baptist Church and a Free Will Baptist Bible College (Now called Welch College in Nashville TN). I also was very unsettled about the legalism and emphasis on the Ultimate Self Determination taught in the FWB church. I wrestled for years and rejected Calvinism strongly (as many in this forum do) and I remember snickering at Calvinism conference speakers when they would come. I finally came to a place where I said “ok I know the Arminian side of Theology (Saved in an Assemblies of God Church at 16) but I am criticizing many Calvinists and I need to be willing to look at things from their perspective and it should be simple. Either there’s Strong Scriptural support or there’s not.” I went on a journey that took years of on and off wrestling but I was awake to such marvelous new affections for God’s Sovereignty when I became convinced of what is referred to as Calvinism. Sure there are many Scriptures naturally you have understood through a lens of ultimate self determination (Calvinism doesn’t reject the fact that humanity has a will) and therefore IF you wrestle, I mean truly wrestle and not write off Calvinism as I did for so long, it has been such an amazing journey of new moments of Awe and amazement!

      I am still wrestling with support for limited atonement which is where I am wrestling now but everything else I have been able to affirm strongly through the Scriptures. I don’t deny that Jesus died for all and whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, no Calvinist should disagree with that. Many Arminians stop and say Calvinism can’t reconcile even a simple verse such as John 3:16. People have a will, they choose Jesus, they reject him in their heart. I’m ok with affirming all of those things! I just see strong evidence that leads us to ask “why does one accept and another reject”? If we say it is due to our ultimate self determination, I believe we are being very self focused. Arminian theology many times believes that Calvinistic Theology fallas apart at the seams with conditional language (if you do this, I’ll do this etc.). Many places in Scripture we are taken “behind the scenes” as God uses conditional language to tell His people to do one thing and He will respond in a given way, but then He goes further to tell them to do something and then to give them a heart or work in them to will to do that given action. “For it is He who wills in you…for His good pleasure”. The question is, do we have ultimate self determination or does God actually work in us to Will His Sovereign purposes and that our wills are ultimately a reflection of what He has determined us to will although we are still the ones willing it? I have found very strong Scriptural support for the latter.

      I am no longer associated with the FWB but am a Youth Pastor at an Arminian denomination and still love and respect everyone of my passionate Arminian friends! I believe we need each other and enjoy experiencing God with them and in our conversations about God and His love and even as a Calvinist, you still plead with people to come to Christ, you still warn them to test themselves in the faith and to eagerly pursue Christ. God uses all of us. Security of the Believer is not like a vaccination but rather God chooses to use community as a means of preserving His people. If we sit back and believe that Calvinism is just about letting God do and us just enjoy the ride, that is missing the point, I believe that God will will much greater things than that.

      • mattdabbs says:

        Limited atonement is certainly a big hangup for me. That is why there are a lot of four point Calvinists out there. Not news to you…you have obviously done your homework.

  21. Fabryka snu says:

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  22. Roy says:

    This article is a few years old, but I am glad to find it. Perhaps others will find it after I have.

    I have not yet read this book, although I intend to. With that in mind:

    Raising certain persons over the scriptures, if it is so, is terribly unfortunate. Nevertheless I am thankful for any man’s works that inspire me to reflect on God’s word. And if these men are perhaps too highly esteemed, that alone does not invalidate their claims. We must study the bible, and not take any man’s word by itself. However many great Christians have believed in TULIP (in other words) as the proper understanding of our holy text. Why? It certainly does not glorify man.

    Does one “convert” to Calvinism? I might say “A Christian often matures into “Calvinism” as his faith and biblical underatanding increase. Conversion may or may not convey the right meaning. In either case, it is about correctly knowing the word, and not about Salvation. Calvinists do not claim Arminians are unsaved; they often appear saved indeed! The issue is how are we saved? God’s grace that manifests as faith and works, or man chooses faith and works that earn us grace?

    I cannot briefly explain limited atonement, except that hundreds of examples abound in both testaments of God’s hand directly working on individuals and nations. He chose the Hebrews as His people. Passover, His Law, Yom Kippur, etc were not for all, only His people. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law. He is our sacrifice and his blood is on the mercyseat and he is our high priest. God the Father has shown Himself the one true God of all people, not just the jews. And the blood of Jesus does save his people, it does not maybe create the possibility for salvation if one only decides to believe it, get baptized, etc. Those are fruit of the spirit, and fruit don’t grow unless it’s connected to the vine. How does one come to Christ? No one does, except the Father draw him. Limited atonement is against our pride and our preconceived ideas, but it is biblical.

    Your comments on the book may be 100% true, but the book may not represent Calvinism faithfully, or may present it poorly.

    In my area of the world, Calvinism is far from popular. I am often a lone voice for these beliefs.

    The points of TULIP, taken in their proper context and given proper emphasis, are absolutely biblical. Do not believe or dismiss it due to any man’s book. Trust God’s book.

  23. Laura says:

    Honestly, I just wish Calvinism would go away. I see it causing so much pride, division, despondency (especially in regard to evangelism, parenting and prayer) etc. I hate it because I love God and His people

  24. Ted says:

    Calvinism is a crock of bull manure.

  25. Jennifer Lacroix says:

    To be honest: Satan himself is the author of this man-made philosophy called calvinism. It should be treated with the utter contempt and disrespect it deserves, as it has been responsible for millions turning away from God. Also, that’s why atheists have such a royal time when they attack Christianity, because it’s the cruel calvinist “god” they see and not the real God of the Bible. Laura, you are right, this evil called calvinism should go away, but knowing who is behind it, it is not likely. All we can do is to continue praying against it and praying that those who’ve been indoctrinated by this man-made garbage is set free by Jesus.

  26. Sue Krentz says:

    I’m reading this about 2 months after the last post by Jennifer. Thank you all for your comments, they help a lot. I didn’t even know of Calvinism until about 2-3 months ago. I was astonished at this doctrine. I had found myself in a Calvinism-believing church. I can remember that the first time hearing the preacher preach after learning this is how the church believes, that I was overcome with a deep sense of sadness. I have since read many blogs, with my Bible right by my side, to look up important points. My son and I have been discussing this and we are sure we are not Calvinist in our beliefs.

    I have decided to try to be as non-confrontational over this matter as possible, but it’s not easy. My pastor recently told me the ‘problem with me’ as he sees it: ‘I am my own God.’ That hurt, but not as much as you would think as I just didn’t see it that way and I didn’t let that assessment rest on me for long. Fortunately I had spent 29 wonderful years in a Southern Baptist Church under some great shepherd/pastors you might say. I absolutely know without a doubt my last pastor would NEVER have leveled that type or accusation, nor ANY accusation for that matter, against ANYONE! One thing that kept bugging me is this: What is in it for a Calvinist – bottom line? I don’t know what’s ‘in it,’ but my son just said ‘Do you know the ONE thing that appears to be lacking in the Calvinist doctrine? I didn’t have an answer, but he said: ‘Forgiveness.’ That really hit me! I guess ‘grace’ to a Calvinist means ‘forgiveness?’ but what about the need to ASK for forgiveness, where is that concept? To me in a human relationship, for forgiviness to be complete, it takes someone asking and the other granting forgiveness. Where is that in Calvinism? Are we to assume ‘forgiveness’ was simply awarded to one group while being denied to another?

    I found these blogs very helpful. I will pray for every professing believer that they will truly seek God’s wisdom on this. He is more than able to give understanding if we truly seek Him. Sue K.

    • Regina says:

      Sue, read “Elect in the Son” by Robert Shanks. He was a wonderful Southern Baptist theologian. I think it will help answer any lingering questions you may have and show that Calvinism is actually NOT the most Christocentric view of salvation. It may be out of print as it is an older book, but copies can still be found on the internet.

  27. Hello Mr Dabbs, I’m a young Calvinsit, I’m French and I really liked your article; judging by numbers, it’s fair: 9 pros, 5 cons. Now, I’ll answer the cons, or try to.
    1. It seems they really venerate men like Edwards, Calvin, Piper and others. I bet their names appeared over 100 times in this book. Names like Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc paled in comparison.

    Well, this is a truly troubling statement and it has to have an explanation because those preachers see themselves as Bible guys, have a very high view of the Bible and will certainly say that they can never find an author with whom they’d agree 100%. Piper talked about the list of problems he had with Calvin, Edwards and others. But I’d guess the reason was the questions were about Calvinism and maybe its modern embodiments. I don’t think people will understand themselves as Calvinists unless they read or hear some Calvinist who’ll convince them or confirm them in their faith so that they will associate with that label. And if one author is venerated, it’s for his faithfulness to Scripture and passion for God’s glory.

    2. Language of conversion – he talks about people converting to Calvinism. What does that mean? If they were elect to begin with how is there a conversion? A conversion of thoughts and views?

    Election happended before creation. People will have a time, sometimes very long in their lives before they become Christians or adopt Calvin’s theology because election doesn’t produce it’s visible fruits at birth or soon, not necessarily. But at one point, God reveals Himself to us and we see the Light, because He’s given us new eyes, new hearts and a new life from above.
    One may be Christian and become Calvinist later but one cannot be truly Arminian and be Christian.
    It’s the first time I read of “conversion to Calvinism”.

    3. Sovereignty meets Mercy – Calvinists will go on and on about the mercy of God that they are the elect. They are elect only because God picked them against their own will and desires. The flip side is God rejected giving his mercy to others. They had the exact same sinful desires and depravity but God just chose not to be merciful to them. Can God still be full merciful if atonement is limited and his mercy is forced?

    God is not only merciful, He’s also righteous and just, and cannot be fully both at the same time with the same person. Mercy means not punishing sinners, justice means punishing sinners.
    Now, the parable of the eleventh hour workers, from Jesus’ lips, talks about men arguing with their master about his fairness to them. The conclusion is that the master was just to the workers who were paid according to their works and he was good, so better than just, to the workers who came later and worked less. The master says to His judges, “do you have a problem with me being good”? God is just to the ones and good to the others; he wrongs no one. And sinners don’t deserve anything, sin being so horrendous, not equal treatment or anything we still claim.
    God did not force me, He convinced me, He wooed me, He won me over, it’s pretty similar but it’s a whole different taste, it’s trust, it’s love from Him and Love in me, and that’s what we feel, loved.

    4. This book is a lot about personalities. He even says that if Piper weren’t so zealous in his presentation that young people wouldn’t listen to him (34).

    What’s really wrong with that? God uses means and personalities can be means to interact with other personalities. Passionate people will be sent to passionate people and they will listen and respond passionately, one way or another; and they will be sent to wishy-washy people and that will either create rejection or transforming positive shock. You see? It’s not just one way, it’s only God’s grace that uses personalities, sometimes in a way that sounds logical, sometimes not at all. But when you see the twelve apostles, it was very much about personality management and transformation, through the casting in a great measure. We are God’s instruments, vessels, temples, and also His friends, sons and daughters, and many other things.

    5. It takes this book 90 pages before Hansen says all of this is really about the Gospel itself and not about Calvinism but you just don’t get that feeling reading this book. If Calvinism is accurate to God’s intention for creation then this is the Gospel we are talking about here. We go on and on about how people converted to Calvinism? Why not just call TULIP the Gospel?

    Well, first, you should grant him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he means it when he says that Calvinism is all about the Gospel and if you understand what it is and how it affects people, you’ll see the power and nature of the gospel, through what Edwards called the “religious affections”, but also arguments and the biblical content in all the Calvinist’s apologetic works.
    This book is about Calvinism and it’s evolution, there are millions of books about the gospel and the Gospels themselves are readily available and their own best champions, so I don’t think that not preaching the gospel that much in this book be such a problem.

    Those who are interested in those questions have no need for help to find teachings about the Gospel, I’m sure.

    Now one of the main points in favor of Augustine, Calvin or other proponents of God’s Sovereign Grace, not to say all the Biblical writers which wouldn’t sound too reasonable to non-Calvinists, is that it gives God all the glory and God Himself said He would not give His glory to anyone else. He will then glorify those who were born again and who abided in Jesus, of His own glory and only Him will be praised, not His saints. And He tells us to do everything for His glory, so when we attribute all glory to Him, that’s just what we do and there’s no better way to do it. And His glory is His perfections revealed, which is our eternal joy and delight.

    God bless and keep you!!

  28. Rev Johnny says:

    People are drawn to Calvinism for many of the same reasons there are people drawn to Marxism.
    1) There is a lot of intellectual appeal (which makes the embracer of such notions feel smarter than others)
    2) There is a lot of material (AKA propaganda) out there that is easily found.
    3) Most feel it applies to their circumstances (being poor / being poor in morals) instead of trying to overcome them.
    4) Easier to blame someone else for bad life choices (personal responsibility vers nanny state/ God)
    5) Framing arguments to favor those ideas while negating others (such as reading Ep.2:8-9 but leaving out 10 or the book of James, sections of 1st John ect…)
    6) Presuppositions about above that are considered above the scrutiny of scripture although even Paul commended such scrutiny.

  29. Regina says:

    Good article. Interesting discussion.
    The best book I have read on the subject of election is “Elect in the Son” by the late, great Robert Shank. Shank makes a very compelling case that Jesus Christ himself is THE ELECT of God, and we become the elect by our decision to accept his offer of salvation, thus becoming part of the mystical “body of Christ”. In HIM, we live, move, and have our being…the most truly Christocentric (as opposed to man centered) view of salvation.
    Of course, my little synopsis does not do the book justice, or fully explain Shank’s point of view. He delves deep into scripture, and brings it all together in a very methodical, logical, and effective way.
    I had a pastor explain “predestination” to me in this way, and it somewhat correlates with the overall message of Shank’s book. It’s a very simple analogy.
    “If I get on board a ship bound for Europe, I am “predestined” (my destiny is to go) for arrival in Europe. If I get on board a ship bound for the Caribbean, I am “predestined” for arrival in the Caribbean.” As I said, a little simplistic, but still applicable in my opinion.

  30. Regina says:

    For any Calvinist reading my comment…what is your explanation for those who seem to saved, but yet “fall away” from the faith. It happens…even Paul talked about those who had once labored with him, but had fallen from the faith. Are you familiar with Calvin’s explanation of temporal or evanescent grace? (hint: Their “illumination” was intentionally very brief, like lightning…meant to only add to their “greater condemnation”.) According to Calvin, it looks so much like the “real thing” that those who were knew the person thus affected could not distinguish it from saving, persevering grace. In fact, those affected by evanescent grace usually believed themselves to be saved as well. Calvin believed you could only know you were among the elect at the moment of death because you had stayed true to the faith (perseverance of the saints, and all that). Scripturally, salvation comes through faith in the finished work of Christ at Calvary on our behalf. How can you have such faith if you can never be truly certain that Christ died for you? Directly contrary to what most Calvinists claim, there is no certainty of salvation in Calvinism. It just isn’t there.

    • Regina says:

      pardon the typo…”those who know the person thus affected can not distinguish it from saving, persevering grace. In fact, those affected by “evanescent grace” usually believe themselves to be saved as well.”

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