"Defend Your Calvinism" Challenge
A challenge for dogmatic Calvinists out there (or for those who just think they're Calvinists but haven't really studied what Calvinism really is):
If you are so sure about your Calvinism, then how about taking my "Defend Your Calvinism" Challenge:
1. Read my blog posts on this issue. I suggest these two very-long ones, in particular: "We Left Our Church Because of Calvinism (Things My Calvinist Pastor Said)" and "Why Is Calvinism So Dangerous?" (You can find others in "Leaving You With Links To Anti-Calvinism posts").
Read them carefully, thoughtfully. Write down the arguments against Calvinism. Look up the Bible verses quoted, and read them in context. And research what Calvinism is really about, so that you can truly understand it. (I also suggest reading these posts from other people: "What's Wrong With Five-Point Calvinism" and "Why I Disagree with All Five Points of Calvinism" and "Basic Reformed Theology Explained and Exposed", a "book" against Calvinism.)
Basically, study what Calvinism really is, study what people say against it, and study what the Bible really says, in context. And then ...
2. Do your best to defend your Calvinism against what I say, to find loopholes in what I say, to try to defeat what I say, and to find biblical support for your Calvinism. (Defend it in your own head, not to me. This is between you and God.)
If I am wrong and you are right, you should be able to do this. And it should only help to strengthen your position. (Or how about giving this challenge to your church, making it a church-wide study? Challenge the people to seriously study this issue to figure out what the Bible says.)
3. BUT ... you can only do this using the Bible and a good concordance. That's basically the way I did it. I didn't quote commentaries or theologians or authors or use my own reasoning as a foundation for my beliefs. I formulated my view, specifically and first-and-foremost, from the Bible and a good concordance. So no referencing Calvinist authors or theologians to see what they say or how they interpret a verse. Study this issue using a Bible and concordance only.
[And you must keep Bible verses in context, reading it as it was meant to be interpreted, without trying to squeeze your own assumptions and preconceived ideas into it. God said what He meant the way He said it. And so don't go looking for hidden "double meanings" or "second layers" to verses that aren't there, especially if the verse makes sense when read as it's plainly and clearly written. You'd be surprised how often we assume the meaning of a verse, reading into it things the verse doesn't say, all because we were pre-taught to read it that way. Calvinists, in particular, are experts at putting Calvinist glasses on other people, telling them ahead of time what God "meant to say" in Scripture. And so when they read Scripture after that, they read it through the lens of Calvinism, having been pre-taught to read Calvinism into it by Calvinism theologians. And yet the Calvinist interpretation contradicts the clear, plain understanding of Scripture and totally contradicts what God said. See "The Calvinists Big Ugly 'But'".]
But the Bible you use to study has to be more of a "word for word" translation of the Bible (the most reliable is the KJV). And I would use a couple different ones for cross-referencing because each version has its own "issues" - such as where the NIV says "elect" in one verse (sounding Calvinistic), the RSV says "exiles" (sounding like it's talking about the Jewish exiles at that time). Big difference!
DO NOT use one of those recent, conversational-style Bibles like The Message or The Living Bible or The New Living Translation. The way they write, you won't be able to look up words in the concordance. Those translations were not trying to be true to the original words. They are simply trying to get across the general thoughts of the Bible verses. It makes it hard to do a serious study. Click here for a quick comparison of Bible Translations (this is only one person's review, you can find more online), to see which versions are going for word accuracy and which are just trying to get across the general thoughts of the authors.
[I just found this, and I'm still thinking about it ... but it shares some concerns about the ESV and the NIV, about how they are Calvinist-leaning. Apparently, it seems like most Calvinists prefer the ESV. There must be a reason why. Also be careful with the ESV Study Bible, because its general editor, Wayne Grudem, and theological editor, JI Packer, are both huge Calvinists. And with the MacArthur Study Bible, as in John MacArthur, Calvinist hero to many. And with the HCSB Study Bible (updated to CSB), a Study Bible meant for those in the "reformed" tradition, a code word for "Calvinist." Be careful about where you get your theology from. (UPDATE: I just did my own research into the ESV translation and - wow! - was it eye-opening. See my post "... Is the ESV a Calvinist Bible?")]
4. BUT ... before you start this challenge, before you read my posts, before you study what the Bible says, you have to pray. Sincerely pray and ask God to open your eyes to the truth about what the Bible says, about what Calvinism teaches, about if Calvinism accurately reflects the Word and God's character. Ask God to reveal to you if you are willing to see the Truth, if you are willing to find out you might have been wrong all this time. If you are not willing to find out you might be wrong and if you are not willing to see the Truth because you want to cling to your own beliefs about what the Bible says, then you will not be able to see the truth. If you want to stubbornly cling to your own views, twisting the Bible to say what you want it to say, then you won't be able to see what the Bible really says.
Ask God to examine your heart. Ask Him to show you what's in your heart. And if you are really willing to see it, ask God to open your eyes to His Truth.
So, what will it be? The red pill or the blue pill?
Are you going to take the blue pill, continuing to live in blissful ignorance about what Calvinism really is? Saying you believe it without really understanding what it says? Not knowing why you believe it? Not able to really defend it because you haven't really studied it for yourself? Trusting that the Calvinist theologians have correctly taught you what the Bible really says?
Or are you going to take the red pill? To really study for yourself what the Bible teaches, in context, to see if it really does support Calvinism? To deeply study the Calvinism you say you believe in, so that you can figure out if you really do believe it? Enough to stand by it? Enough to defend it? Enough to shut down the arguments against it?
Don't just let someone else - Calvinist theologians, or even me - tell you what to believe about the Bible, about God's character, about the Gospel Message, about Jesus's sacrifice! Find out for yourself!
Don't just say "I'm a Calvinist" ... unless you really understand what it is and can defend it!
I am challenging you, right now, to take the red pill, even if it makes you feel sick to your stomach at first! Let God open your eyes to the truth of what Calvinism teaches and what the Bible teaches, and see if you can really reconcile the two!
A few tips on how to read Scripture critically:
1. Read each verse you look up IN CONTEXT. Read the entire section, not just the supposed "Calvinist" verse. Who is speaking? Who are they speaking to? Are they talking to Jews or Gentiles, about Jews or Gentiles, about all believers, about mankind in general, etc.? What is the message they are trying to get across, for the people they are speaking to, in their time period? (And only after this should you try to figure out what it means for us today.)
2. Read more of the book (or read the whole book) that the verse is from. See what else the author says about the issue you are studying. This gives a fuller picture of what the author is really trying to say. (In fact, read other books in the Bible by that author. Or read books by other authors, taking note of the times they refer to what you are researching, to see what the Bible in general says about it.)
3. Look up the verses in other translations of the Bible. Cross-reference other translations to get a better idea of which one is the most accurate.
4. Look up words, especially those that supposedly confirm Calvinism, in the concordance, even words you assume you know the meaning to. [For example, as I said above, one version will say "elect," but another says "exiles." But when you look up the word that's in the concordance, it's talking about strangers who are wandering in a strange land. And metaphorically it's about Christians, whose true home is in heaven, being residents on this earth. In the world, but not of the world. It says nothing of being "chosen" for salvation. Another example is 2 Thess. 2:13 which says that we were chosen to be "saved," which could sound very much like predestination. But when you look up "saved" in the concordance, it's not talking about eternal salvation in the "heaven or hell" sense, but it's basically about God promising to spare believers from the end-times wrath He will pour out on staunch unbelievers. [See "A Quick Study of Calvinism's Favorite Words"]
5. In the concordance, find other verses that have the same word meaning (the same number assigned to them) so that you can cross-reference the verse you are considering with others that use the same word. (When I did this, the "whosoever believes" in John 3:16 couldn't possibly mean "just the elect" or "the believers," as Calvinists like to say. Because the use of this same word in other verses can't mean "the believers." See near the bottom of this post, "According to the Concordance, It's NOT Predestination".)
6. If you have to, I suggest after studying it on your own, look up other people's interpretations of the verse online. But do not put too much weight on them. It's just what others think the verse means. But it might shed some light on a verse, especially when you are stumped.
7. Always ask yourself if there is anything about the verse that you are assuming, if you are reading it with some sort of preconceived interpretation (of your own or from someone else, like a Calvinist theologian). And then reread the verse (and the whole passage) AS IF you are reading it for the first time, as if you have no previous assumption of what it means, as if you were in the audience while the author was preaching it for the first time. How would you interpret it if you had no previous ideas of what it should mean?
8. When reading Calvinist interpretations of verses, look for the things they are assuming. Always ask yourself, "What verse confirms this?"
Such as, Calvinists says that when Adam ate the fruit, mankind became "totally depraved," which, to Calvinists, means that humans can't possibly think about God on their own, want God in their life unless God makes them do it, and that they can't seek God unless He causes them to seek. Where is this in the Bible? Where is the verse that says this was a consequence of the Fall?
Calvinists also say that if God really loved all people then He would save all people. But since He doesn't save all people, it must mean He doesn't love them all in the same way. They say this because they assume that God's true love has to always end in saved people. Where is the verse that says this? God's saving love doesn't always end in everyone being saved. What it did was buy salvation for everyone - it paid for everyone's sin - but it's up to us to accept or reject it.
They also so that if anyone could reject Jesus then it means His blood was wasted, that it would be a disgrace to Him and His sacrifice. And so therefore, they conclude, people cannot reject Jesus, which means that Jesus only really died for those who would surely be saved, that Jesus only died for the elect. Where is this in the Bible?
Pay careful attention to the assumptions and misconceptions that Calvinists start with, that they build their whole theology on. This, I believe, is the essence of Calvinism. It's all built on their own ideas of who God is and how He has to act, in order to be considered the sovereign God they think He is, according to their definition of "sovereign". (See also "When Calvinism 'Bad Logic' Traps Good Christians" and "Problems in John Calvin's Institutes ...".)
9. Also pay attention to the contradictions in their theology. See "Some of Calvin's Contradictory Nonsense." DO NOT allow them to convince you that these contradictions are not real or that they don't matter. It's these contradictions that turn God into an illogical, untrustworthy monster.
Such as they say "God is not the cause of sin, but He controls everything we do and everything that happens is because He planned it to happen that way." "But," they say, "God is not really the cause of sin. We are still responsible for our sins because ..." and then they come up with all sorts of confusing, rambling, nonsensical ideas to try to make man the cause of sin while still holding to the idea that God causes everything that happens. And when you try to dig deeper, they say, "Well, you don't have to understand it because it's a mystery. So you just have to accept it. Because it's what the Bible teaches."
NO, IT'S NOT!!! It's what THEY SAY the Bible teaches because they are basing their interpretation of the Bible on their own ideas of how God has to be. These contradictions can't be brushed away so easily. And they cannot be meshed into one seamless, reliable, accurate theology. Do not accept these contradictions and the Calvinist's twisted efforts to weasel out of them. If something doesn't make sense and doesn't seem to fit with God's character and the rest of the Bible, research it more deeply, until you find a way to read it that does fit, that keeps everything in harmony.
The Bible makes sense and God's character makes sense and it's all consistent ... when you throw Calvinism out!
10. Also, when reading or listening to Calvinist theologians, authors, and pastors, take careful notice of the ways they try to manipulate you into agreeing with them, into not questioning them, into feeling unhumble if you dig too deeply into this issue or if you disagree with it. See "Predestination Manipulation" for more of this. Don't let Calvinists bully you into agreeing with them, into making you feel like a "less than" Christian because you disagree with them or want to look into it more.
These are just a few ways to critically research this issue and read the Bible. If you do this, it will open your eyes in ways you didn't even know they needed to be opened. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. From the contradictory, nonsensical prison of Calvinism.
You do not need Calvinist theologians to tell you what God meant to say in His Word. Let God tell you what He says, right from His Word!