I was raised an Arminian, specifically Wesleyan Arminian. I didn’t even know the term at the time.
I believed you could lose your salvation, I believed you had free will. I believed you could choose to follow Christ. I believed Christians could become perfect in this life.
I argued that way. I knew all the bible verses that seemed to say you could lose your salvation. I argued with my Calvinist bible teachers in elementary school and high school. Believe it or not, at both my Christian schools, I was the minority view.
In high-school, as my friends can attest, I became somewhat locally famous for the “you can lose your salvation” view. I even made a girl cry once…it wasn’t intentional.
In the last place I’d expect, at our senior class party, somehow a friend of mine got to talking with the host parent about Calvinism.
I’d sort of always dwelt in my Arminian bubble, and received pats on the back from people that agreed with me, or delightful surprise from classmates that I had the gumption to argue with our bible teacher on a semi-regular basis, without ever getting detention.
“John Calvin was a murderer! John Calvin was an anti-Semite!” I heard from supporters. Therefore he’s wrong about predestination…
See, you never disagree with someone giving you pats on the back…otherwise I’d have pointed out that Adolf Hitler loved his mother, and was nice to his dog, so that logic was flawed.
In 2005, in just my swimming trunks, I was fetched out of the hot tub to be introduced to the host of our senior party and asked by my friend Andrew to defend my position against our host. I was wrapped in a towel, and I’m not even quite sure I put a shirt on, but there we were, the three of us, in his office talking about the bible, as our classmates slowly poured in the room wondering what was going on.
This is technically how all my “debates” start, nowadays. I’m literally given a red carpet invite. I guess that’s a consequence of wearing your heart on your sleeve. My days of starting debates with bible teachers is over, and I pretty much don’t care, unless asked.
He introduced me to two things in particular. Romans 9:11-23, and Isaiah 45:7. Now as someone who’d been raised in the Word Faith movement, and been given motivational speeches on Sundays, I didn’t realize how much of the bible we just gloss over. Since I knew all the Arminian verses, I thought I had it all down. Then our host, who’s name was also David, proceeded to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7
Now Word-Faith-Prosperity David was not prepared for a verse like that. I know I’d read it before… but I just passed right over it. I didn’t argue against it, per say, I just argued that clearly based on the rest of the exegesis of scripture, it’s obvious that God “allowed” evil, and that “create” really meant “allow”.
Like how “…the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6) doesn’t actually mean God “regretted” doing something, God just speaks in that way to communicate with humans. After all, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind…” (Numbers 23:19)
Later I went home and looked at the Hebrew. The word “create” in Isaiah 45:7 was the same word used in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.” I was at an impasse. God didn’t allow the Heavens and the Earth. Oh no… what if the other David is right?
Well, the other David said a few things that night I’ll never forget, that have stuck with me these 10 years since that night. I’m not going to defend them now, simply state what they were, and I came to the exact same conclusions many years later, mostly by asking the question, “What is a God, exactly?”
- God is outside of time, because God created time.
- Everything that will ever happen has already happened for God.
- When we all get to Heaven, no matter when we die, the bible seems to indicate we all get there at the exact same time.
- “You will say to me, David, ‘then why does he still find fault?'” (Going through Romans 9)
We went back and forth over various verses, but the major crux of our argument dealt with whether foreknowledge was the same thing as ordaining the future. I had a view that God was somehow peering into the outcome of your decisions, and I magically assigned him that “fortune telling” power without explanation of how or why he has it. I was using the “because magic” defense.
It would turn out that years later, according to my serious but not so serious Theory of Everything, that the power to know the future (a preordained future) would by definition be attributed to the creator of time who also existed outside of it in an unchanging state.
Over the next few years, I started to notice how throughout the bible, it would say in one case “Satan did this” and in another book telling the exact same story, “God did this”.
Case in point:
“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” 1 Chronicles 21:1
Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 Samuel 24:1
After my conversation with the host, I started to notice how Satan would often ask God’s permission before doing something. I noticed that Satan didn’t even know who Job was, God pointed him out to Satan (Job 1:6-10).
I noticed that God called meetings in heaven and invited Angels, and Satan, and other spirits, and asked for volunteers for “special ops missions,” like putting a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets to give a false prophecy to Ahab so that he’d die in battle (2 Chronicles 18:19-21; 1 Kings 22:20-22). I noticed it was God’s idea, not Satan’s. Why call a meeting, and why have demons do your bidding?
I noticed God completely override people’s “free will” time and time again.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Genesis 20:6
I also noticed that as far as kill counts go, God has killed more people than anyone else in the entire bible, Satan included. Over the next 6 years or so, I slowly came to realize, that in the game of life, Satan is just a pawn. He doesn’t actually have any real power to do anything; Satan doesn’t have free will.
After years of careful study, I found myself independently confirming via the bible (and science) everything “other David” said.
1. Time had a beginning (Steven Hawking). Time is a created thing. The future isn’t the future because it hasn’t happened yet, the future is the future because God “put it there”, and we’re not there yet. Unconsciously for years, I’d sort of assumed time had always been there and God existed “in it.” I didn’t think that it and everything else, existed “from God.”
2. If everything that will ever happen has already happened for God, then I’m already in heaven. Then what does it actually mean for God to “send” someone to hell? From God’s perspective, you were always there. You never left. If you go to hell, it’s because you were born in hell. 1
3. The bible doesn’t seem to be clear on what exactly a human spirit is. What if your body and your spirit are one in the same? If you’d die, you’d only exist in the memory of God until resurrection.
You win, other David. You win.
So wait a second, all these years I hadn’t defined my terms correctly. I believed in a powerful mostly-benevolent alien, not a God. This new guy, I’d discovered…. He was a GOD, he didn’t have an address, he couldn’t be seen, ever, and he couldn’t be defeated, because we are no more than words on pages in his book.
A powerful alien can be mean or nice. A God though, a God can’t be anything other than reality.
Realizing that you don’t have free will is like taking the red pill. You see the world for what it is. The bible suddenly makes that much more sense.
“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:15-16
Before I make the case…
Now, I don’t consider myself to be all that smart. As you get older, you make enough mistakes to have that beaten out of you.
Nevertheless I am a connect-the-dots kind of guy. Like, “If these two things are true, then this third thing also must be true.” 2
I tend put more stock in ideas that I independently verify, only to find out later “Oh, that’s already a thing”. It’s like the night I listened to a debate on youtube that I learned that someone had already developed the idea of Quantum Immortality. I didn’t quite call it that, I called it “What if from your prespective you never die? What if this universe is your universe?” and I based it entirely on the little I had learned about Quantum mechanics.3
There are some bible doctrines, that I didn’t know were doctrines that I also independently hypothesized as a result of my self-Calvinization only to find they already had names: Christian Mortalism, Conditional immortality, and Annihilationism.
See, I don’t read books to learn abstract ideas. Core concepts, yes, but not the abstract. I come up with ideas, research if anyone else has that idea, and then I read about the idea that I came up with from their usually more developed perspective. That’s how I learn.
Right now I’m reading a book called “Genesis” that’s a very well written commentary on Genesis by a Christian man named Derek Kidner. I heard that he believes (though not dogmatically, which I like) that Adam may have evolved, and God then came down to make a covenant with him, rather than the by-hand creation we’re traditionally taught. Why am I reading his book? Because I thought about the possibility of the same exact thing as I came to believe Theistic Evolution, and it seems to answer a great many riddles as well.
Now, though I haven’t quite started making the case for Calvinism, on the odd chance that I’ve been a little convincing thus far, I have to caution you before we jump in.
You are still responsible for all your actions. It’s foolish to live as though you’re not responsible for your actions. It’s all about perspective.
You still get to live as though the world is flat, but in the back of your mind, you’re still conscious of the spherical Earth. You don’t have to calculate your gas mileage using relativity. Calculus and Newtonian Physics are still good enough.
But when you want to travel to the stars, you’d better punch in Einsteins equations.
From everything I write, you’d be hard pressed to know I’m a Calvinist, except for when I say so. I speak like an Arminian, because we’re human beings, and to engage in every day Newtonian life using Einstein’s equation is much more work than necessary, and makes for dry writing that no one understands.
Does God know the future?
That’s a big question to answer, because if you believe in a God that knows the future, you’re a Calvinist by definition. Allow me to illustrate:
A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. God is the bartender. God says to the minister, “You’re going to hell.” The Priest and the Rabbi protest, “That doesn’t sound fair! You can’t just send him to hell, just like that! That’s mean! Besides, we don’t believe you can do that! What about his free will?”
God apologizes, and asks them if they’d be willing to step out of the bar and come back in one more time. They oblige.
A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. God is the bartender. This time God says to the group. “Ahem, one of you three is going to hell. I’m terribly sorry.”
Have you ever heard of Judas Iscariot? A good question to ask is “Did he have a choice in the matter?”
This is where Messianic prophecies and “proclamations of God” come into play.
And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Mark 14:18
The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:24 (and Mark 14:21)
Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. Matthew 26:53-56
J. Ariminius and Sons
“Giving you a choice since 1610”
Imagine yourself, your boss, and eleven other employees sitting at a table eating Chipotle, when your boss suddenly stands and announces, “One of you will be fired.”
Now’s probably a good time to ask a question, so you say, “Uhhh, why?”
“Because I’m the boss, and the corporate rules stipulate that if I say something it has to happen, and I’m not allowed to take it back.”
“So why didn’t you just say ‘None of you will ever be fired’ that way we can all enjoy the rest of our Chipotle? Now we’re freaking out man!”
“Now, now, it’s ok… because it could be any of you. This makes it more kind. My original idea was to just come here and fire Clement, cause he’s a dick, but HR said that wouldn’t go over well. So we’re going to do a performance review, and the lowest score get’s fired.”
Stuart, VP of Sales, who’s been silent this whole time pipes up, “How’s that fair though? We all know that Brandon is the smartest, and his family’s been with the company for over a century. He’s got the best chance at winning!”
Charles, the youngest of the group, working in the mail room, griped as well, “I just got back from disability, you know I broke my leg on the job, and I still walk with a limp. Will the performance review take hard labor into account, because I can’t deliver mail as quickly as I used to?”
Calvinism and Arminianism in a nutshell
Let’s imagine another example, and I do try to be a silly as possible…
“Bad stuff will happen, just don’t be the bad guy. One of you has to be the bad guy though.”
A Calvinist holds in his hand a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup, before him are two of his slaves. He looks at the one on the right, and pours the hot soup on his head. He looks to his left, and hands the other one a $100 bill.
An Arminian holds in his hand a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup, before him are two of his slaves. He says he wants to pour the hot bowl of soup on one of them, and give the $100 to the other, but it’s up to them to decide and agree who gets what.
“You guys figure it out amongst yourselves. I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”
What am I trying to say by these examples? Arminianism and Calvinism are the exact same thing. Either way, there’s a boss insisting someone be fired when no one need be. Either way, somebody’s getting hot noodles on their head.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! Matthew 18:7
I like Matthew 18:7 (and Luke 17:1), because it’s a good summary of the Arminian position. In other words, “Bad stuff will happen, just don’t be the bad guy. One of you has to be the bad guy though.”
That my friends, is Calvinism hidden under a cloak.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? Romans 9:19-24
You don’t have free will, you have choice
Some people are born into the wrong faith, some people are threatened into staying in that faith, whether with ostracism or violence. Some people are sexually abused by people who claim to be in the “right faith”.
Others yet look at the world around them and the evidence presented and come to different conclusions than you based on their level of education, their socio-economic status, their culture, and yes, even their IQ. All these factor into people’s choices.
You don’t pick your race, your place of birth, your parents, or whether or not you can fly…but you have free will?
No, what you have is “Cake or Death?” 4
The truth is, if you actually had free will, when God asks you to choose between “forever with me” or “forever separated from me”, you could choose “neither”. Because of who God is, and by virtue of you being a created thing, you simply don’t have free will. Because “neither” simply doesn’t exist as a choice.
Here’s an SAT question for you. Arminianism is to Calvinism what Universalism is to Arminianism, true or false?
I think free will is an illusion. Much like the optical illusion that the earth is flat. The higher you get, the more you realize the earth has a curvature. Even higher still, and you realize it’s a sphere. Do some math, and you realize it’s an oblate spheroid.
So it is with free will.
From our perspective, we have it, and it would be foolish to live and act as if we’re not responsible for our actions. But if you change perspective, you begin to see things differently.
Even the latest findings in neuroscience show that our brains make decisions before our conscious mind can react to them. And that you aren’t really you, you’re like a conglomeration people all competing for control.
It gives new meaning to Romans 7:15, which says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” It gives context to the internal war with your flesh and with sin.
Should part of your brain get damaged in an accident, you lose a few of those “people” inside your brain, making you a different person, as the sum of parts has been reduced. Sometimes you can become unrecognizably different, with hundreds if not thousands of documented medical cases.
These revelations about the human brain are causing neuroscientists to start to rethink how we implement justice and psychological rehabilitation.
A good book to read is Incognito by David Eagleman.
Even the choice is not really a choice
The dichotomy that you have the free will between eternal life in Heaven, and eternal torment in hell is really no choice at all. It is no different than creating some to go to heaven, and others to go to hell. Where is Option C “I abstain?”
What if I don’t want to exist? What if i don’t want to live in a world where I’m born into sin nature by default and have to choose between Jesus and Hell. It’s no different that being given the choice, “Cake or death? Steak or poison?”
Wait a minute, I thought giving people “free will” made things fair? Not if they don’t get to pick their starting point. Some people are born with advantages that other’s don’t have.
We have the slightest shadow of a choice, between two things of which many people don’t like either.
Calvinism Q & A
I’ve had some good discussions with fellow believers over the years, and I thought I’d put up a few highlights. Some words have been changed to hide the identities of those involved, or to correct spelling, and grammar.
Q: Isn’t Irresistible Grace the same thing as divine rape?
A: To call irresistible grace “divine rape” is to get entirely wrong the definition of rape. Rape happens when you don’t or can’t consent. Irresistible grace is the inability to not consent.
Furthermore, a temporal term like rape has no definition or application to a being who created time itself. Irresistible grace could very well be a consequence of reality. When an author writes a story, is he raping his characters? The term doesn’t even apply.
Since you’re an Arminian, here are a few “rape” questions for you. Did you consent to being created? Did you consent to who your parents were going to be? Did you consent to not being able to fly? Do sinners with “free will” consent to being thrown in hell to suffer for eternity? Did you consent to having 5 fingers? Did you consent to a 70 year lifespan?
What if I don’t want to exist? What if i don’t want to live in a world where I’m born into sin nature and have to choose between Jesus and Hell. It’s no different that being given the choice, “Steak or poison?” How about option 3, “I abstain.”
First, you’ve misapplied the definition of rape. Rape happens when the second party doesn’t or can’t consent. Not when they consent by default due to their design. Your computer is designed to consent to your keystrokes. Are you raping your computer?
Second you’ve invoked it where it doesn’t even apply. An author can’t rape the characters he creates in a story.
Third, you failed to see how the same term could be applied to your belief system using the same logic with which you applied it to mine. You don’t seem to think God raped you into existence.
Q: Overcomplexity is an big element of false beliefs like Calvinism. If you can’t explain Calvinism to an eight year old, it either (a) doesn’t matter, or (b) you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
A: As a computer scientist, I can build a microprocessor. I can’t explain that to an eight year old so that he understands because there’s so much prerequisite knowledge and brain development that needs to take place (unless he’s quite an exceptional 8 year old).
No one knows “why” General Relativity works, but we understand “how” enough to test it and prove it does work. GPS satellites are one of many proofs of General Relativity, because you have to account for the miniscule slow down of the atomic clocks in the satellites to get the entire system to work. GPS technology wouldn’t be possible without understanding the mechanics of Relativity. I think you’ve presented a false dichotomy in your (a) and (b) options.
(c) The eight year old should age 10 years, learn algebra and other prerequisite courses, graduate high school, and choose physics as his major when he gets to university.
Try to explain substitutional atonement to an 8 year old.
“Jesus died for your sins.”
“That’s nice of him, but why would he get punished for something that I did?”
“God punished him because he loves you, and wants you to be saved.”
“God loves me…hmmm…ok. Does God hate Jesus?”
“No God loves Jesus and you. Jesus chose to sacrifice himself.”
“So if I do something bad, my big brother Jimmy can choose to take the blame so that I don’t get in trouble?”
“Ya, it’s kind of like that.”
“But isn’t that lying?”
“Uh, no, it’s a rule God made.”
“Ok, still seems kinda mean. Why punish anyone at all then if you’re not even going to punish the right person?”
“Uh well, there’s laws that God made that demand punishment.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to get rid of the law than to kill somebody because of the law you never had to create in the first place? If I got to make the rules, I’d make better rules, not go around killing people based on the rules I made.”
“No, God’s ways are higher than our ways. He made those rules for a reason, and you have to have faith and trust that he is good and his rules are good. You have to choose whether or not to believe.”
“Well if this is true, it sound’s like I don’t have a choice, because God made the rules.”
Does substitutional atonement not matter? Do we all have no clue what we’re talking about when we share the gospel?5
The only way around Calvinism
You have to believe that God doesn’t know the future, and there are people that do.
They are part of a branches of Christianity called “Process Theology” and “Open Theism“. These are the only people I think have grounds for not being Calvinists. Not only do they believe God doesn’t know the future, but Process Theology believes he’s powerless to stop all evil from happening. It’s the “less-powerful alien” scenario, where God is basically Clark Kent.
God becomes no different than an AI after the singularity. Maybe the singularity already happened billions of years ago, and God is the AI that took over? Movie rights, anyone?
I don’t agree with these people, nor do I think the bible teaches such a god, but at least their logic is sound, unlike traditional Arminianism. If you base your premise in the teachings of bible, then I think it’s an incorrect premise to say, “God doesn’t know the future, and God is unable stop all evil.” The bible doesn’t even seem close to teaching that, but I can follow the logic:
If God doesn’t know the future
and God is powerless to stop all evil
then yes, I have free will.
In order to believe you have free will, you have to concede that God doesn’t know the future, and he’s just as bound by time as you are. Time is in effect, God’s God. God had a beginning, just like you.6
Even when I
was thought I was an Arminian, I wouldn’t dare make those claims. To each his own.
Am I dogmatic about Calvinism?
T.U.L.I.P.7 makes sense to me, but no, I’m not dogmatic about it. Do you need to be a Calvinist to be a Christian? No. I think it’ll make the universe make more sense, but no, it’s not a must-have.
I’ve been wrong enough times to allow what I call “room for error”. I think the quickest way down a dangerous rabbit hole is to assume that you can’t be wrong about something. I am confident in it though, and it ties together many diverse fields for me: Theology, Computer Science, Mathematics, Neuroscience, and AI, being a few. It especially fits well some conclusions that non-religious scientists and philosophers have independently come up with, like determinism.
I do understand why Calvinism or even the claims of Classical Theism under the “false flag” of Arminianism are unattractive.
Speaking of Atheists…
I for one don’t think total depravity affects an atheist’s thinking ability any more or less than a Christian.8
Jesus came to fix people that were broken, and humble enough to admit it. As they say, “sick people go the the hospital”.
If you’re the world’s best looking, most intelligent, wealthiest, most famous, things always go your way, most loved whatever…basically if you think you “have it together”, you’re not exactly into the idea that you’re a sinner. So our team usually gets stuck with a few more minorities, misfits, and downtrodden by default. Poor people statistically are more Christian than the rich, uneducated more than the educated, black more than white, and female more than male.9
Not to say that any one group is inherently better than the other, because that’s just untrue, but one usually has a history of being more downtrodden than the other.
Even Jesus says so, in his own way…
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. Matthew 11:25
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25
And so does Paul…
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20
Unfortunately I know a few people who would use these Bible verses as an appeal to stupidity, if they believe you’re thinking too much. “That’s just life on the JV team,” as Obama would put it.10
I know there are other doctrines that might use some of the above evidence I presented to make the case that the Old Testament God and New Testament God are not the same person, the former being a fabrication of the Israelites to fuel their genocide, but I did answer that hypothesis in short form in the conclusion of my no-spoiler review of Exodus: Gods and Kings.
You don’t really get to have a preference about your creator, if one exists. You can only discover him, and you may not like what you find.
This video by a popular atheist actually does a great job of explaining my concept of time (B-theory), and why I’m a Calvinist. I didn’t realize how much some of the metaphors about “perspective” in my article are actually the way he explains it. It’s 30 minutes long, but it’s so worth it:
Technically this is a Syllogism, “an instance of a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn (whether validly or not) from two given or assumed propositions (premises), each of which shares a term with the conclusion, and shares a common or middle term not present in the conclusion (e.g., all dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore all dogs have four legs )” – Google.↩
I don’t actually believe in Quantum Immortality, if that wasn’t clear. It’s just a logical conclusion I came to on my own as a hypothetical exercise in agnosticism based on certain the acceptance of certain premises. If you read the linked blog post, it clarifies this.↩
Perseverance of the Saints ↩
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” – Luke 16:8↩
The Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation poll of black women in America↩
(Paraphrase of) “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” – Barack Obama, during Going the Distance New Yorker magazine interview by David Remnick↩