“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” – Richard Bach
One issue many have is thinking of themselves as victims that have little or no control over their lives. Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as a victim of the negative actions of another, and to think, speak and act as if that were the case — even in the absence of clear evidence. (1)
A victim mentality is one where you blame everyone else for what happens in your world. You may come to believe that you are destined to struggle. Victims of victim mentality have the illusion that they are constantly under attack from the universe, but only because of the way they choose to digest the things life throws them. They seem to sulk and even marinate in their misery, failing to realize that with a slight shift of thinking, everything can change. (2)
When major riots like that in Ferguson hit the 24 hour news cycle we often hear talk about the “victim mentality” evidenced in the African American community. One black commentator (I think it was Ben Carson?) called this mentality a form of “modern day slavery” that keeps African Americans captured by the mindset that they have no control over their circumstances and thus wrongly conclude they should not be held responsible for their behaviors. He went on to explain that when the facts of Michael Brown’s abhorrent behavior is discussed many in the African American community immediately dismiss it in their minds as being justified due to his inherent disadvantage as young black man in America. He called this a great concern and spoke of the huge dangers associated with a large group of people feeling like victims in any given society.
Applied Theology is Where the Rubber Meets the Road
As a preacher at heart I am always looking for how the local news and circumstances of life can illustrate practical spiritual truth. My degree in “Applied Theology” taught me to seek out ways to make our theology practical, to apply our beliefs in the real world. It is easy to sit in our Sunday School classrooms or hide out on our favorite online theological discussion forum talking about “pie in the sky” philosophical or theological ideas. We can speculate and debate all day about what my theology professor referred to as “GWAT” (God, World, & other Things). But, until we take those ideas, theories, and beliefs out of the class room and into the living room, the board room, the bed room, and all the most applicable places we live life, we are doing nothing more than “playing church.”
What theological truth can we learn from Ferguson and the Victim Mentality?
Can a theological view cause people to take on the kind of victim mentality we saw in Ferguson? More specifically does the hard determinism of Calvinistic teachers like Phil Johnson, John Hendryx and other proponents of the compatibilistic worldview promote a victim mentality, even if unintentionally? What are the practical implications of adopting a world view of hard determinism? Are we victims of God’s decrees? (We discuss these question on this PODCAST)
In the podcast episode titled, “Is Calvinism Practical?” I give my testimony of becoming a “young, restless and reformed” Calvinist after going off to college and ingesting large doses of John MacArthur, RC Sproul, and John Piper. While I still appreciate the focus on the Glory of God from this soteriological system, I reveal some of the practical implications this deterministic worldview had in my life as a young man.
As discussed in my podcast exchange with JD Hall, of Pulpit and Pen, the deterministic worldview held by many Neo-Calvinists teaches:
- “…evil is not free from God’s decree…”
- “We do not make choices…separately from God’s meticulous providence”
- “Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is ‘compatible’ with voluntary choice.” -John Hendryx at http://www.monergism.com
The deterministic worldview teaches that men choose in accordance with their greatest desires (voluntarily), which are determined by their innate natures, which are ultimately determined by God. So, when man makes a predetermined, decreed “choice” he is still acting willing, or “voluntarily.” In other words, the individual is not being forced against his will, but his will is being determined through secondary causal means which are all under the meticulous control of God. In short, the determinist teaches that God ultimately determines every desire and choice of every individual at all times.
I agree with Tozer’s teaching that God, in His sovereignty, has decreed not which choice a man would make but that we would be free to make it. In contrast, the determinist, like Phil Johnson and John Hendryx, teaches that God decrees, in his meticulous providence, which choice a man will make. For more on the teaching regarding God’s eternal attributes and his Sovereignty CLICK HERE.
The Practical Implications
So, how does this play itself out practically in the real world? What happens when you apply the belief that God has determined every desire and thus every choice you will ever make in life? Can such a belief lead to a “victim mentality?” Keep in mind that the victim mentality is a “learned personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as a victim” who is under the control of another and thus unable to do anything about his given state in life.
JD Hall, a Calvinist, taught in an earlier podcast that sexual addictions are “a thorn in the flesh that may be given to us by God” and that “He may choose to leave us in that temptation” instead of “giving us a new nature” and “setting us free.” What does such a belief mean practically to someone dealing with an addictive behavior? What is the only recourse for someone caught in an addiction who believes this dogma? Is not the only real option to beg God to remove that desire so as free them from their addiction and wait hoping for healing to come?
That was my story. I, as a young Calvinist, adopted a “victim mentality” believing I was “victim of God’s decree.” I would not have recognized that at the time, but I do now. In my mind I was “given a thorn in the flesh” and was not able to resist temptation because God, for some unknown reason to me, had decreed that I “remain in this addiction.” After all, only God could remove that greatest determinative desire and since I was still failing to resist temptations over and over, the only rational conclusion was that God decreed it.
I begged Him to “take out the thorn,” to “remove the desire” to “supernaturally change my nature,” and He did not. What was happening? I was not acting as if I was responsible (read “response-abled” not “punishable”). Instead, I was playing the victim, begging for a handout, waiting for ‘big brother’ or the ‘the man’ to give me what I needed. In reality, however, God had already given me everything I needed to resist temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). I was able to refrain or not refrain from that choice to sin (see contra-causal free will).
In the political world most conservative Christians believe the free American capitalistic system has given every one, from every race and cultural background, the best opportunity to “make it.” Why? Because of individual personal responsibility. But do we all believe the same principles apply theologically? Do we believe the only recourse for the sinner is to passively wait for God to decide to “give us a new nature and thus a new desire?” Do we think it is practical to teach our children that God is the one who will ultimately determine their immoral choices? God is the one who decides if you will have “the torn of addiction” or not?
We are NOT bound to act in accordance with a preset innate desire! That is called “instinctive behavior” and it describes the actions of animals, not the actions of morally responsible image bearers of the Creator God. There is a reason God holds us morally responsible for sleeping around with our neighbors while leaving our cats to act “in accordance with their desires,” however loud and obnoxious they may be. People, unlike animals, are able to freely choose which of our many competing desires we will act upon. We are not victims of God’s decree to follow our greatest preset desire. We are able-to-respond (responsible).
We should NOT blame God and run to sin, but we should blame sin and run to God. He has given you all that you need to resist temptation. He has provided the grace you need to overcome your addictions. You have NO EXCUSE for continuing in your sin. God has provided healing through confession, accountability, Godly counsel and the support of His bride. Do not buy into the lie that you have been “given your addiction by God.” He is NOT to blame for your sin and until you come to accept that truth you will continue to play the victim and refuse to take real responsibility for your choices.
If you are caught in an addiction and you are under the delusion that God is responsible for that addiction in any way shape or form then you will never find true healing. Why? Because He is the only source for true healing and you cannot find healing from the person you are blaming.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh was likely a medical condition according to many scholars, so the determinist’s application of that text is completely unfounded. God does not even tempt men to sin according to James (chapter 1:13), are we to seriously believe He not only meticulously decreed every temptation but even the evil desires that lead to the evil actions of every sinner who has ever lived? This is a dangerous teaching that is no where established in the scriptures. We must teach personal responsibility or we will unintentionally create a generation of passive theological victims waiting on God’s decrees to accomplish that which God has actually decreed for them to accomplish in their own freedom.
DISCLAIMER: I realize deterministic theologians would repudiate the concept of the “victim mentality” that may result from taking their teachings to their practical ends. I know they would never come out and say, “We are victims of God’s decree.” That would not be palatable or practical (which is the point). They are going to use terms that make their system of belief seem the most acceptable and reasonable. In this article, as in the podcast, I am addressing the practical implications of the undeniable claims of the deterministic worldview (i.e. God determines which choice we make). I am not accusing these good men of God of intentionally causing people to believe they are victims in the manner I have described. This is not meant to be a personal attack on any of these scholars or teachers, but instead a warning not to take their teachings to their practical ends.
2 thoughts on “Is Calvinism Practical? Are we victims of God’s decree?”
Not to derail the topic of ‘victim mentality’, but I was thinking that ‘thorn in the flesh’ was in regards to keeping one humble, and that ‘sin which besets us’ was in regards to sin that needs to be taken to the Lord in prayer. (Heb 12:1)
I have had unsaved individuals express determinism as their excuse for rejecting the gospel. “If God wanted me to believe the gospel,” they would say in similar words, “I would be predestined to believe that gospel and could not help but believe it. I guess I am not elect, so I have to stay the sinner that I am.” That seems also like the victim mentality you discribed, but a sarcastic one.