Labels are a postmodern taboo. This is understandable. Once you are labeled something, you live under the presumptions of a system that has been typified by others. This representation may or may not be accurate. Unfortunately, the inaccuracies inevitably rule the label.
Republican: War lover. Does not care about the environment. Apathetic to social issues.
Democrat: Liberal. Godless. Weak. Immoral. Baby-killers.
Roman Catholic: Worships Mary. Drones. Ignorant.
Evangelical: Fundamentalist. Gay hater. Supports the killing of abortion doctors. Republican (see above).
Baptist: Can’t drink, dance, or smoke. Prideful.
Dispensationalist: Believes in two ways of salvation, one for the Old Testament and one for the New. Cares only about eschatology.
DTS Grads: Dispensationalist (see above). 🙂
OU Sooners: The best ever. Supernatural. Incredible. (Oh, wait . . . this is all true)
Emerging Christianity: Cursing. Compromise doctrine. Nose rings. Disrespectful.
Arminian: Humanistic. Denies God’s sovereignty. Pelagian.
Calvinist: Follower of a man. Believes God hates the non-elect. Denies free will. Denies responsibility. Believes God created evil.
Unfortunately, there are reasons why people have stereotypical assumptions about systems, and the reasons are often valid. Not because the system itself demands it (although this is sometimes the case), but because of two things: 1) There will always be those radical outspoken representatives who live for the spotlight and focus upon non-essentials within the system, thereby giving outsiders a skewed perspective of what the system is all about; 2) There are those outside the system who seek to distort the “opponent” by creating straw-man arguments.
It is the first about which I would like to speak. Specifically, I would like to speak with regards to Calvinism (since I am a Calvinist). There are many out there who call themselves Calvinists who make very bad Calvinists. In other words, the way they portray their own system lacks understanding and perspective concerning the system.
When I am around some Calvinists, I often want to become an Arminian! There are many reasons I say this, but first and foremost is that many Calvinists lack balance. They act as if the doctrines of grace are the only issues in theology. It does not matter what you are talking about, with these people it somehow always turns into a discussion about the importance of Calvinism. Further, they will strongly demean any who disagrees with Calvinism to the point where they deny them the grace that is so irresistible in their own system. In other words, there are many Calvinists who act like Calvinism is the central core of the Gospel. With this attitude of smugness, arrogance, and disrespect demonstrated by so many, who would want to be a Calvinist?
I will be the first to admit that there are many who are not Calvinists who love the Lord more, are smarter, and who live the Christian life better than myself (none of which is a great feat 🙂 ). Who can deny the scholarship of the likes of men like Roger Olson, Thomas Oden, Paul Copan, J.P. Moreland, Gregory Boyd, I. Howard Marshall, and Scott McKnight? I can personally attest to the Christian character of Paul Copan and J.P. Moreland. They demand my respect even if we disagree.
Unfortunately, in some Calvinists’ zeal to proclaim the sovereignty of God, they present a very unbalanced portrayal of Calvinism. They often fail to give proper credence to the love of God and the responsibility of man. Now, to be fair, I don’t know of many respected Calvinist scholars who do so, but I have found this tendency continually among the laity and lay teachers. Progressing mightily in the triumph of the glory of God, they often make God so sovereign that He must, by virtue of their definition of sovereignty, be the author of all things, including evil. Now, I do recognize that Zwingli and Beza, who are part of magisterial Calvinism, did go this direction, but this is certainly not a necessary belief for Calvinists. In fact, some Calvinists, such as myself, would say that making God directly responsible for evil is such a way does not dignify His sovereignty, but, frankly, borders on blasphemy.
Further, there are many Calvinists who will deny the title Calvinism to any who don’t believe as they do on the non-essential elements of Calvinism. These non-essential elements of Calvinism include double predestination (retributionism), an affirmation of meticulous sovereignty, the absolute and unqualified denial of man’s free will and responsibility, a belief that God hates the non-elect, a demand to see the atonement as limited in the way that they believe it to be limited, and a firm adherence to supralapsarianism. Some even deny that we have the responsibility to share the Gospel. Their circle becomes so thin, it is no wonder that pride abounds. They become the elect within the elect!
I remember a Calvinist who owned a local bookstore where I used to study. Every time I entered the door, he would start nagging me about some non-essential issues of Calvinism. His primary argument was that I was not really a Calvinist because I believed that God, in spite of His unconditional election, still loved the non-elect. This was the discussion every time. I came to the point where I thought that he was not going to welcome me in the doors any longer because I did not agree that God hated the non-elect. The last words I remember saying to him were, “What does God want us to do with our enemies?” He said, “Love them.” I asked, “Do you think God would expect us to do something that He Himself cannot do?” He did not respond.
I am a Calvinist. I am a five-point Calvinist. I don’t mind being labeled as such. But sadly, I have to greatly qualify what I mean by this so people don’t label me according to the massive misrepresentation of Calvinism by some Calvinists.
In short, it is sad to say, but I would rather go to a party with a humble Arminian than some passionate Calvinists. While I don’t know how someone can be “against Calvinism” I do know how they can be against Calvinists. Calvinists sometimes make the worst Calvinists.