Why Even Calvinists Resist Calvinism

I recently reached out to a Calvinist friend of mine imploring him to reconsider whether Calvinism is true or not. In reply my friend told me something interesting and significant. He told me he had become a Calvinist reluctantly, indeed that he had fought against it “tooth and nail,” that he had ultimately only converted to Calvinism because he believed he “saw it plainly in the scriptures.”

As a former Calvinist myself, I can understand why my friend believes scripture plainly teaches Calvinism. I know the interpretations and arguments from scripture for Calvinism all too well. I was indoctrinated with them for 10 years, including four years of graduate study in a flagship Calvinist seminary. But the scriptures do not present a Calvinist conception of God. They present God as sovereign of course, but they do not present him as omni-determining. And between sovereign and omni-determining there is as much difference as between day and night.

But my aim in this post is not to demonstrate how Calvinism so badly (and sadly for the sake of God and God-seekers) misinterprets the scriptures and thereby misrepresents the character of God. Rather, my purpose is to draw attention to the significance of what my friend said about only becoming a Calvinist reluctantly, even fighting it tooth and nail. This is something one hears from other Calvinists as well, even well-known Calvinist popularizers like R.C. Sproul who also tells that he became a Calvinist “kicking and screaming” just like my friend. Why is this the case? Why do people so strongly resist Calvinism, even those who eventually become Calvinists because they believe the scripture teaches it?

Isn’t the answer obvious? It is because Calvinism contradicts, and blatantly so, our most basic moral axioms or intuitions. It contradicts, for example, the self-evident truth that we are genuinely free: i.e., we all know we are really, truly free and that determined free-will is a contradiction in terms. It also contradicts our ineradicable intuition that accountability or responsibility is measured by ability: i.e., we all know one cannot be held accountable for doing something one is unable to do, or for not doing something one is unable not to do. Moreover, it contradicts our self-evident notions of goodness and love: i.e., we all know that a God who in eternity past ordained and necessitated all the monstrous, disgusting evils that have occurred in this world (the Holocaust, for example) and still occur to this day (the child sex trade, for example) could not possible be good and loving; rather, such a God would self-evidently be the Monster of all monsters, the Ultimate Evil. And so on and so forth. Calvinism contradicts, blatantly, unimpeachable truths of our moral reason. This is why even Calvinists resist Calvinism, “tooth and nail,” “kicking and screaming.”

It should go without saying that this constitutes decisive evidence against Calvinism, for no conception of God that so blatantly contradicts so many basic moral certainties can possibly be true. It is God himself, after all, who is behind our moral reason. In other words, it is God himself, who is clearly telling us Calvinism is not true, through the moral reason and conscience that he has given to human beings. But I know that most Calvinists have been taught in good Reformation fashion to give no real place to reason and intuition, to stake all on Sola Scriptura, no matter how incredible its “plain teaching” (as they interpret it) may appear. To do anything less, I remember being told in my (Calvinist) seminary classroom, is to bow down to the “bitch goddess of reason” (real quote). Indeed, Luther went so far to say he believed such incredible things as that God is omni-determining just because it is so impossible! So I know that many, yea even most Calvinists unfortunately, will be ready to dismiss what I have argued here as so much “rationalism,” and they will remind me that, after all, we must leave place for “mystery.”

Nevertheless, even if one is unable to see that the categorical testimony of our God-given moral reason against Calvinism constitutes decisive proof against Calvinism, still one must grant that it constitutes overwhelming antecedent evidence against the possibility that scripture teaches it. And even this recognition I am convinced will lead even the most dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist to the truth if he/she is really a truth seeker. For just this recognition has to occasion of such a Calvinist a real reconsideration of the scripture’s teaching with an open mind committed to following where the evidence leads no matter what. And once one does this, I know from my own experience and that of others, one quickly finds that the Calvinism one was taught is “the plain testimony of the scriptures” is actually a tragic misinterpretation of the scriptures.