Let me just say I didn’t know I was a “Calvinist” until fairly recently. I just read my Bible and believed it to be true. I thought that Calvinists were a bunch of egotistical, sexually repressed Puritans that burned witches in Salem that hypocritically did not understand the Christian religion. Instead, what I have found that many of those who oppose what is coined “Calvinism” essentially oppose Christianity outright. They don’t believe in the authority of Scripture and if Scripture says something they don’t like, they prefer their own beliefs over what the “good book” tells them to believe: lean not on your own understanding.
So, here is part 1 of my refutation:
Point 1: “Calvinism” Presents A “Historicized” Bible
To accuse Calvinism of understanding a dehistoricized view of justification, usually it is implied that because “Calvinism” was contrived 1500 years after the time of Christ, the Protestant reformers had no idea what they were reading about. Of course, this isn’t true of 20th and 21st century Arminian scholars, Eastern Orthodox church fathers, insert “any other group here.” Even if we ignore the hypocrisy that all of us disputing the matter live 2,000 years removed from the early church and will equally be be chronologically impaired, their argument is faulty for two reasons:
1. In as little as a few years, people can totally forget the original context of a belief anyway and change it to something totally different. Remember when the War in Iraq became more about “spreading democracy” (2004 Presidential election) than weapons of mass destruction (2002 midterm elections)? That’s how short term some people’s memories are. So, a belief system supposedly less removed in time (i.e. Roman Catholicism, Ethiopian Orthodox, etcetera) is not necessarily better, as people can start getting things wrong almost instantly.
Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that we have Christian heresies talked about in epistles from Paul, Peter, John and Jude. Obviously, they were less removed in time than the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches. Are those heresies more correct than what present day churches teach, due to their proximity in time?
Ultimately, in the present day (2,000 years removed) we generally have monergists (belief is given to believers by God) and synergists (the opposite)*. Only one side is right. If proximity in time does not help us know who has it right, what does?
2. Well, the Bible does! The Bible presents a soteriology, as do the earliest church fathers (Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius), that is “Calvinist.” This proves to us that historically, the Calvinist interpretation is correct.
Because this is evident to anyone who honestly reads the Scriptures, anti-Calvinists will ultimately deride Calvinists for their Sola Scriptura view because if we were to look at the Scripture alone, it is apparent that the doctrine of election is specifically stated (John 6:44, Eph 1:4, 2 Thes 2:13, etc) and monergism (Heb 12:2, Phil 2:13) is blatantly endorsed.
What else does it mean when it is said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8)? It specifically says the faith comes from the God, not the individual! All the historical context in the world does not unsay what it clearly says.
So, as long as our understanding of something is grounded in Scripture, then we have the historical context correct, not incorrect. That is the whole idea behind sola scriptura, and as anyone who has taken History 101 knows, you should always get your ideas from primary sources, not secondary sources. The Bible is the Christian’s primary source.
The earliest recorded interpreter of New Testament canon, Clement of Rome, understood it quite well and took it as a given that the people he was writing to got it too:
They [Old Testament saints] all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Clem 32:3-4)
The reason I put the part about “our own wisdom” in bold is because if faith is not a matter of our own knowledge, it is evidently a matter of knowledge imparted onto believers.
Not surprisingly, Ignatius of Antioch (probably our second earliest interpreter of New Testament canon) begins his Epistle to the Ephesians by saying:
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace.
Polycarrp makes a couple references that are of interest in his own surviving epistle:
I knowing that by grace ye are saved; not by works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ. (1:5)
Now, technically we can argue that the plain reading that God’s will is the basis of salvation and faith is the means, is not a necessary reading of this passage. But, Polycarp makes another observation which reflects his worldview that God affects the will of believers:
Wherefore, my brethren, I am exceedingly sorry for both him [Valens] and his wife; to whom God may grant a true repentance. And be ye also moderate upon this occasion; and look not upon such as enemies, but call them back as suffering and erring members. (4:6-7)
Obviously, therein is an monergist assumption that it is in God’s power to give Valens and his wife repentant hearts, not that they can change their own minds all on their own.
This is why the Bible says:
I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezek 36:27)
Salvation has always been understood as an act of election by God. Heck, the whole Old Testament is unintelligible if we didn’t understand that the story arc involved is that of an undeserving person/people who, by God’s grace, is elected and that God desires faith from this person/people. Then interspersed in all of these stories, are promises from God that though these people are not righteous, that He will make them righteous and will atone for their sins. Today, God still desires love and obedience from His elect.
This is why the “Calvinist” mindset isn’t Calvin’s, or Clement’s for that matter, but obviously the God of Scripture’s. This is why those who are anti-Calvinist pretty much do not believe the Bible is their sole authority for truth. Interestingly enough, if you read the church fathers, they had no other authority other than Scripture. Every single doctrine they extrapolate is argued from Scripture, not from their own authority or from the authority of earlier church fathers. It is their model we should follow!
So, instead of reading what some scholar tells you what Paul said, just read what Paul said:
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? (Rom 9:22)
This is where the idea of “double predestination” comes from: God elects sinners for salvation and apparently also prepares vessels for destruction. Think this is out of context?
The Lord has made everything for its own purpose,
Even the wicked for the day of evil. (Prov 16:4)
Apparently, with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, turning Nebuchadnezzar to a beast, raising up and destroying whole empires and peoples–isn’t it obvious that God is totally sovereign over all of His creation, including human affairs? The Scripture just lays it out there and expects you to take this for granted.
It seems to me that people that ignore this are adhering to Hellenistic (pagan) ideas concerning “free will,” which quite frankly the Bible never directly addresses. It does address, however, God’s power over human decision making again, and again, and again.
Here’s a challenge to those who don’t like the fact that I can find all of this stuff in the Bible. Find just one verse in the thousands of verses in the Bible that shows a heart who God could not change, even though He wanted to. Yes, you won’t find it. In fact, the whole idea that God cannot change a man’s mind is simply not Biblical.
One person told me about that passage in Romans, “Well, that’s a rhetorical question just like when Jesus said, ‘What’s it to you if he [John] remains until I come?'”
Is there any truth to this contention? I figured the answer to the rhetorical question was a simple “yes.” But, how does Paul actually answer the rhetorical question? Well, he sure does, in the very next sentence:
And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:23-24)
Did God make vessels of wrath according to Paul? Well, he clearly says, “He did so!” Why? “To make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy.” Who prepared these “vessels?” The vessels themselves by their own wisdom and works? No! God did, from the Jews and Gentiles he “called.”
The use of the word “called” is obviously a reference to predestination. If it were a reference to anything else, in a sentence talking about how God prepared stuff, it simply wouldn’t make any sense at all. How could God call something that He explicitly “prepared,” but He had nothing to do with actually “calling it,” but rather the vessel in question somehow called itself? It is simply not logical and makes no sense.
Anti-Calvinists simply present an unintelligible Bible. They ignore explicit statements that are found within, they ignore the interpretations of orthodox church fathers and they emphasize ideas, such as free will, that don’t even belong in Scripture.
If you are confused about monergism, try reading Augustine’s On Free Will and Grace. You might be surprised that it answers pretty much all your questions on the matter, not from Manichean tracts, but right from the Bible itself. Further, if you google up “Free Will,” you will find that the whole idea is grounded in pagan thought.
* It should be noted that synergists technically believe there is a sort of cooperation between God willing belief and a person’s will. While this is patently obvious (as long as we keep in mind that God is the “author and perfecter of our faith”) and not disputed aside from perhaps some hyper-calvinists. However, for all practical purposes, push a synergist hard enough and he will essentially say “God can’t make someone believer,” meaning God is not powerful enough to change someone’s beliefs. God can drag you to heaven kicking and screaming. Praise be to Him, He is doing that to me.