Why Theology Matters: Response to Tyler Vela

I recently became aware of an article written by Tyler Vela, of the Freed Thinker Podcast, in dispute of my article on the issue of how Calvinistic Reformers chose to treat their enemies. I would like to briefly address several errant points in Tyler’s article.

It is common in anti-Calvinistic rhetoric to attempt to malign the person of John Calvin so as to cast aspersion on the so-called Calvinistic theological system itself. In a recent online conversation I had, Calvin was described to me as “Jihad Jean” who ran the “Christian Taliban in Geneva,” and that he was an evil dictator like those of the 20th century such as Stalin, Mussolini, and Castro. These attacks are not limited to merely hostile rhetoric but also are expressed through statements misrepresenting history and presenting heavily biased “statistics,” such as those we observed in Part I of this series and how Leighton Flowers contributed to this overall tactic with his article referenced there.

Here Tyler attempts to lump me (and Frank Viola) in with harsher anti-Calvinists, despite the fact that my article (and Frank’s article that I linked) began by repudiating the very approach Tyler condemns.  One must wonder if Tyler is allowing his bias to cloud sound judgment and reason? I think it will become evident to the objective reader that indeed is the underlying weakness of Tyler’s entire rebuttal. Tyler continues:

In addition to this, we find that, likely due to lack of actual research, fake citations are passed down through the ranks. In Frank Viola’s blog post “Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin,” which Flowers cites and parrots in his article, an apparent citation from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC) states that, “Calvin was the cruel and unopposed dictator of Geneva.” The problem is that neither Flowers nor Viola have done any research or found this quote for themselves nor give a specific citation. To anyone who has done any research using theological or historical dictionaries, the emotive and evaluative nature of the language found in that “quote” should have been a red flag that something was afoot and caused them to look further. Searching on Google, one can find countless references to the same quote (although often worded slightly different each time) but never with an actual citation to the article or page within the ODCC. After some research I could find no such quote in any edition of ODCC dating back to 1997. While Viola has no relevant credentials that would lead one to believe he has been trained on proper research methodology, Flowers possesses a PhD and so should be held to higher expectations. This manner of carelessness in research where any Google hit will do is ubiquitous in anti-Calvinist literature. Why let facts interfere when one is busily grinding away at their axe?

Given that Christianity Today linked to this exact same ODCC quote HERE, I suppose it would be safe to say that Tyler considers their author’s credentials to be equally inept as are Viola’s and my own?

Likewise, below is a list of 5 articles by Calvinistic brothers who also reference this same quote while still standing in defense of Calvinistic soteriology and Calvin’s overall character:

  1. https://jamespruch.com/2014/04/02/was-john-calvin-a-heretic-burning-maniac-2/
  2. https://bible.org/seriespage/2-john-calvin-man-and-his-preaching
  3. http://equip.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/02sbjt-v13-n4-wright.pdf
  4. http://www.garythomas.com/free-resources/john-calvin/
  5. http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2009/12/review-john-calvin-a-heart-for-devotion-doctrine-doxology/

The last link did provide the proper citation as: From ‘John Calvin’ in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by FL Cross and EA Livingstone, OUP, New York, 1974, 2nd ed., p. 223.

Are all these Calvinistic authors’ credentials also to be called into question by Tyler? Who is not using “proper research methodology” in these instances? Tyler doesn’t even acknowledge the dozens of other citations in Viola’s article.

Now, before moving on, one should be aware that my parenthetical reference to Viola’s article was only to validate a point that Tyler himself later conceded. The only historical fact that needed to be validated for the claim in my article is best illustrated by Tyler’s own concession, “…I can say that I 100% disagree with Calvin on his views of how to treat heretics…”

Given that I began my article with this concession: “Proof that John Calvin treated dissenters in a sinful manner does not prove that Calvinism’s soteriology is wrong,” and that it is a conceded historical fact that Calvin did treat dissenters (heretics/enemies) wrongly, then we should be able to move on to the point of the article. But, alas, that is not what Tyler chooses to do.

Instead, Tyler suggested I “should have closed [my] laptop and ended [my] article.” Yet, the entire point of the article was to establish the practicality of our theological beliefs with regard to how we treat our enemies, NOT the historical accuracy of the Servetus trial or the justification of wrong behaviors given the cultural norms. Tyler clearly misses this point and accuses me of opting “to go against that statement and attempt to make one giant ad hominem argument.” Tyler simply does not follow my concession or my argument. My point was never to disprove TULIP by referencing Calvin’s erroneous beliefs about how to treat enemies. My point was to establish why one’s theological beliefs about how God treats his own enemies COULD affect one’s practical beliefs and behaviors in regard to how they treat their own enemies. This is a point that has either been completely missed by Tyler (or possibly I’ve hit a sensitive nerve given the manner in which he chose to treat me, his theological “enemy”).

Again, it is a historical given that Calvin mistreated his enemies and both Tyler and I would denounce Calvin’s beliefs and behavior in this regard. The parenthetical side reference to Frank Viola’s article (which does cite credible sources that Tyler virtually ignores while demeaning the author) would have only been necessary to address those Calvinists who didn’t 100% disagree with Calvin’s view on how to treat heretics, or denied the established historical fact that Calvin did mistreat heretics (neither of which even apply to Tyler given his concession above).

Ironically, the exact same points of contention that Tyler raises were already addressed and conceded by Viola (and myself, for that matter). We both have openly admitted that torturing and killing heretics was a more common practice of the times by individuals on both side of the theological aisle. Yet, Tyler spends much time attempting to prove a point already conceded as if it actually addresses the point of my blog post. Tyler began the first section of part one with this scathing comment:

In this series I would like to spend some time responding to Leighton Flowers’ recent article… This is, in my estimation, one of the worst articles I have read on the topic – which is extremely problematic since it is written by a PhD’d professor in a somewhat related field, and who has a position training youth and future seminarians. His article, as a I will demonstrate, is not only wrong, but is actually misleading, heavily influenced and blinded by bias, is driven by ideology to misrepresent sources, and is so under researched (if at all) that I wouldn’t accept this from a high school student, let alone a seminary professor.

Let me address Tyler’s blatant ad hominem fallacies. When I pointed out Tyler’s tendency toward ad hominem (‘to the man’) arguments rather that substantive ones in a private message, he responded saying, “It’s not ad hominem. An ad hominem would be to say your argument is false because of something about your person. Saying it’s false because it’s biased and unresearched and misleading isn’t ad hominem.”

Now, had Tyler stuck to critiquing the validity of the research cited (instead of conceding the only point that the linked article was attempting to validate), he might have a case, but he didn’t. In Tyler’s first article, not only does he neglect to go beyond belittling Viola as “a man with no expertise himself,” but he does not address one of the books, articles or quotes Viola referenced to establish the point – a point, mind you, that Tyler ironically has already conceded (i.e. that Calvin believed/behaved wrongly when it came to how he treated heretics). In Part 2, when Tyler finally does address one of the many citations offered by Viola he not only brings into question my credentials but that of every other Calvinistic scholar linked above that also referenced this citation.  All for a point, mind you, that HE ALREADY CONCEDED.

What if I dismissed Tyler’s response because he too is a man “with no expertise?” That would be fallacious and wrong. Or what if I began this article by saying something like, “This has to be the worse rebuttal I have ever read to any of my arguments”? That statement is untrue (as I have read far worse than what Tyler is offering here) but even if it were true it would be uncharitable of me to say so to begin our discourse. It would be unkind, or plain mean, as I believe Tyler’s opening statements were… (which ironically kind of validates the actual point of my article). BTW, I don’t bring this up because I’m all that personally offended (I’ve kind of gotten over getting offended when discussing this topic), but I bring it up because it really lowers the level of our discourse and sets a poor example for others.

As a professor, I come across uneducated Calvinists often, and if I stated something like, “You have to be one of the most uneducated individuals I’ve ever engaged on this topic, and you call yourself a student of scripture!?” It might be true that he calls himself a “student of scripture” and I might really believe he is the least educated I’ve ever engaged, but would it be kind or charitable for me to say that to begin our discourse? Of course not. It would just be mean spirited and it would poison the well for a healthy discourse. Saying something, even if you firmly believe it to be true, can still be unkind and unnecessary ….and “to the man” (ad hominem). I sincerely pray Tyler will approach his “theological enemies” with more respect in the future. If nothing else, it would go much further in validating his claim that Calvinistic soteriology certainly does NOT negatively affect how one treats his “enemies.”

Tyler goes on to make sweeping accusations without specific arguments to back up his claims. For instance, he says, “A common complaint about Flowers is that he does not understand (or flat out misrepresents) basic Calvinistic doctrine,” yet he doesn’t cite any specific claim that I’ve made which clearly misrepresents all of the many facets of what is now classified under the label “Calvinism.” Tyler also says, “…he [Leighton] often will only engage with one aspect of Calvinism while ignoring other mitigating or related concepts that give a more fully orbed and robust theological construct…” and he links to a footnote. I fully expected to scroll down and find a specific example of when I did this, but instead I find more empty generalized accusations of hearsay, not documentation (which might be ok if he weren’t attempting to hold me to some academic expectation that he himself isn’t willing to live up to).

I would encourage Tyler and others to read my blog post on “The Accusation of Misrepresentation,” as I address more fully this common, but misguided, complaint.

Tyler’s guilt by association tactic in comparing his perceptions of my approach in this article with the likes of atheists can be seen through by any objective reader, so I’ll just let his blatant bias stand as its own refutation. Tyler goes on to state,

At this point Flowers links the only source for the entire paper. This is likely the only thing that constituted any research for Flowers’ own article.

As already noted, Viola’s article was a parenthetical side note to establish a point that Tyler (and many other Calvinists) have already conceded…(Calvin did mistreat heretics and was wrong to do so). In other words, it wasn’t even necessary to establish the point of the blog article.

Contrary to Tyler’s assertion above, I also referenced (with a link) a statement by John Piper conceding the tendency of some who hold to Calvinistic soteriology as being “argumentative”…not so “warm, fuzzy, and tender” and in “greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive or intellectualistic” and possibly “not even born again.” (and in the podcast I read an article from MacArthur’s Grace to You Ministries where a Calvinistic believer confessed similar tendencies while holding a ‘higher form’ of Calvinism, like that of Pink, for instance.) These quotes actually get to the point of my blog post, which is virtually ignored by Tyler.

I also reference a 2008 study from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Colombia (with a link) citing the practical moral effects of those who deny free will.

I also reference Al Molher’s arguments related to that 2008 study (with a link) so as to make a point regarding how the inevitability issues of naturalistic determinism can’t be avoided by theistic determinists when it comes to how it might affect its adherent’s disregard to moral responsibility. That point is certainly debatable, but not if one’s opponent isn’t objective enough to even acknowledge its existence.

Maybe Tyler simply over looked those three other links in his rush to attack my academic credibility? Tyler seems to be under the impression that blog posts should always meet the academic requirements of a PhD’s dissertation. While I would agree that any statement, written or spoken, should strive to represent the facts accurately, I simply reject the notion that every blog post, facebook comment or online argument has to meet the academic expectations of the poster’s level of education. I doubt Tyler objectively critiques notable Calvinistic scholar’s blog posts as not meeting such academic standards. Once again, this just reveals Tyler’s blatant bias on the matter.

Tyler finally touches on our actually point of contention in page 5 of Part 1 when he writes,

The Reformers largely broke theologically with Rome on their soteriological views and understanding of the role of authority and scripture, but there was not a lot of movement on their civic views this would evolve slowly over centuries, and the relationship of church and state is still a contentious issue that future generations may look back and judge us for. Again, this does not excuse the actions of the early Reformers as ethical, or even biblical, but it does completely undermine the idea that Calvin’s soteriological beliefs had any causal impact on his treatment of heretics.

Actually, Tyler has unwittingly made my point for me. He concedes that Calvinists’ treatment of heretics at that time were inexcusable AND that it took them much longer to “evolve slowly” or “reform” those bad behaviors than it did men like Hubmaier, who argued that we should treat all people with love and patience because God treats all of us with love and patience. One must remember that Hubmaier was also playing a role in reforming the Catholic church’s soteriology from one of “works” to one which is by grace alone through faith alone. Yet, it was Hubmaier’s view of how God treats His own enemies which lead him to reform the Catholic’s practice of mistreated heretics more quickly than what we see from the Calvinistic believers of that day. Now, can Tyler attempt to make a case that one’s belief about how God feels toward and treats His own enemies CANNOT affect how one will choose to feel toward and treat their own enemies? Sure, he could try, but he doesn’t. Instead he belittles my profession and questions my integrity, which only goes to validate the very point I was attempting to show about the tendency of SOME Calvinists to mistreat those who disagree with them theologically.  Tyler goes on to say,

We must remember that this is in an article where Flowers is attempting to argue that proper theological beliefs, specifically soteriological beliefs, lead to habits of dealing with dissenters. That is his main thesis.

Again, this is inaccurate. My thesis was never to argue that Calvinism was the sole cause or “start” of this kind of mistreatment. As already noted, both Viola and I conceded that Rome and non-Calvinistic religious people (not likely born again individuals in most instances, btw) were practicing this bad behavior. I specifically addressed those reforming Rome’s errors and how practical applications of their own soteriological beliefs helped in reforming those formerly held bad beliefs/behaviors. Even if Tyler claims my article was not clear on this point, one need only to listen to the podcast where I specifically go over this to discover my intent (which was sent to Tyler prior to his writing of this article). Tyler goes on,

Yet who does Flowers find as his main foil contrary to Calvin? A man [Hubmaier] who was killed for heresy a motivating reason for not wanting the state to be involved in theological affairs to be sure.

Yet, Hubmaier does not cite his being prosecuted for believer’s baptism as the reason for treating atheists and heretics with patience and prayer, instead he cites his own soteriological beliefs about how Jesus would treat His own enemies. Tyler doesn’t provide any documentation that Hubmaier even made his stand for religious liberty in the context of his own persecution, he just assumes it. Which again, might be excused if Tyler wasn’t insisting on a certain level of academic standards for blog posts. I would have to take the time to go pull the dates of Hubmaier’s specific quotes in defense of religious liberty, but I suspect his teaching on this subject can be found at a time prior to the threat on his own life. Tyler argues,

…it is not even clear that Hubmaier was not himself something like a quasi-Compatibilist and affirmed that sinners were both bound and free!

Is Tyler attempting to argue that Hubmaier was Calvinistic soteriologically (compatibilistic)? I assume not given that his footnote acknowledges Hubmaiers rejection of Compatibilism. I’m not sure what Tyler’s point is here. Maybe he is suggesting Hubmaier is closer to his soteriological views than to mine? Of course, we do believe our system holds compatible man’s free will and God’s sovereignty (as do Compatibilists). Calvinists just define those two words very differently than we do, so while it may appear to Tyler that a libertarian is “compatiblistic” he need only look at how one defines those terms to see our actual points of contention. I too would say we are bound, but still free (responsible) to admit our bondage and accept God’s gracious appeals to be reconciled through faith. In a private message Tyler argued,

I address Hubmaier (you know he is an anti-trinitarian and Christological heretic right- not sure you want to prop him up as the picture of doctrinal fidelity…)

Again, if there wasn’t the high academic standard being imposed, I might let this one slide, but Hubmaier did in fact affirm the Trinity.  One scholar wrote,

Hubmaier was more conservative than some Anabaptists, such as Hans Denck and Leonhard Schiemer who went on to deny the doctrine of the Trinity, or avoided emphasis of the doctrine as Menno Simons. (Eddie Louis Mabry Balthasar Hubmaier’s understanding of faith p.137)

And, as already conceded, Calvin had troubling, yet unrelated, theological beliefs of his own. This is a red herring that goes beyond the point of the article. Ironically, Calvinists are arguably the ones “to prop [a 16th century theologian] up as the picture of doctrinal fidelity” by promoting a namesake who leaves much to be desired by way of “doctrinal fidelity.” I’m simply pointing to a historical fact of the matter regarding one’s specific application of their soteriology. When Tyler starts hearing non-Calvinists call ourselves “Hubmaierists” and vehemently defending him tooth and nail, he might have a good point here. Tyler continues,

For Flowers to throw down these statistic as if they reveal some specifically heinous and oppressive activity due only to Calvin, as a result of his views on the freedom of the will, is appallingly misleading…

What is appalling and misleading is that I made the EXACT opposite argument (and so did Viola). Again, both Viola and myself began our articles by conceding that these types of oppressive activities didn’t start with Calvinists nor were they limited to Calvinists, yet Tyler seems to completely ignore those concessions in his effort to discredit us personally. Tyler continues with this line of blatant misrepresentations,

When we are seeking to engage in objective historiography and come to an accurate understanding of the past, the goal is to leave evaluation to the wayside in the process. We do not seek to evaluate the actions of the person as if they lived in a modern context but rather seek to understand their actions within in their own historical setting – their own Sitz im Leben. The irony is that Flowers would likely seek to do this in order to understand the events in the life of Biblical persons like Moses or Abraham, and yet when it comes to Calvin, no such consideration is given.

Ironically this is the very point that Viola makes in the article that I linked in my original article, and that I read verbatim for the podcast, which stated,

Don’t Miss the Point

Now before any of you become apoplectic with ill feelings toward Calvin, here’s a comment to keep in mind about this post — and all the others in this series — by one historian. I asked him to review the post for accuracy before I published it.

I fully agree with his point about context, so you’ll want to put all of the above into perspective.

 “This is a compelling and well-researched post. I do wonder if it merits further context; this is roughly the era of the Spanish Inquisition, for example, and Servetus purposefully forced Calvin’s hand by coming to Geneva. Calvin entreated him to give up his errors and sent him a copy of the Institutes (at great personal expense–books were rare commodities back then) and dialogued with him. He showed pastoral care in this respect.

 Geneva was a place ruled by law, even theological law, but so were most every other European cities. This was not a nice era. It was rough. Life, as Hobbes said, was nasty, brutish, and short. Calvin’s Geneva provided all kinds of pastoral help to the city, and the city thrived under Calvin. It was also a place of refuge for Protestants from all over Europe. Geneva was not the exception in having tough communal strictures. It was the rule. Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors (OUP) has a ton of good background that could be of help here.”

~ Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.

 Again, as in all the posts in this series, the point is not to put the greatest influencers of the Christian faith in a bad light or disregard their legacy.

As evidenced above, Viola even made careful effort to highlight for his readers not to “MISS THE POINT” of his article, which Tyler unfortunately seems to do by assuming a nefarious intent instead of sticking to the facts of the matter. Most of Tyler’s article is wasted on making points that were either already conceded or irrelevant to the point of the original blog post. He concluded Part 1 by stating,

…in the next section I would like to turn my attention to a brief sketch of what actually did happen leading up to and during the time that Servetus came to Geneva and Calvin’s role in the whole ordeal.

I don’t care if Tyler can prove Calvin had nothing whatsoever to do with Servetus’ death. It doesn’t change Calvin’s established beliefs on the matter, which have already been conceded to and denounced by Tyler himself. Tyler needs to move on to the ACTUAL POINT of my article. He needs to deal with the substance of the post, which has more to do with Mohler’s argument against the inevitability of naturalistic determinism and Piper’s concession (two references Tyler apparently didn’t even see).

So, who is being unfair or biased in his presentation here? Much of what Tyler painstakingly sets out to prove has already been acknowledged or conceded, and yet most of his rebuttal doesn’t even affect the point of either my article or Viola’s.

Now, if Tyler’s goal is to soften the reader’s view of Calvin by bringing in a more balanced approach than what he feels was represented, I can understand that. He has every right to make that case. I think he can do so without belittling others or ignoring actual points of contention, but that is a worthy argument to be made. HOWEVER, given that Viola quoted from a Calvinist making that same exact point and the fact that I read his quote verbatim in my response to Tyler’s initial Facebook objections, it should be apparently clear that we (Viola and I) are attempting to be fair minded and objective. I wish I felt that was being reciprocated in this discussion. In Part 2, after being corrected with much of the information above, Tyler still goes on to write,

This manner of ad hominem is a misguided attempt to try and undermine the confidence that Reformed Christians have in their theological convictions, and/or to try and vilify Calvinism and Calvinists in order to steer non-Calvinists away from accepting or even honestly exploring its tenets.

Yet, in my opening paragraphs I actually wrote,

Typically, Calvinists see the personal arguments about John Calvin’s harsh treatment of dissenters as a distraction from the biblical doctrines that matter to them.

 Honestly, Calvinists have a valid point here. If the non-Calvinist is not willing to fully examine the biblical doctrines of soteriology as proposed by the Calvinist, they really have no ground to question the name-sake of the systematic. Proof that John Calvin treated dissenters in a sinful manner does not prove that Calvinism’s soteriology is wrong.

I’ll allow the audience decide if my goal was to “vilify Calvinism” and “steer non-Calvinists away from honestly exploring its tenets.” Tyler’s articles are chock full of these types of harsh and blatantly misrepresentative accusations against me and my intentions. In a Facebook dialogue, Tyler goes so far as to write comments like, “I cannot believe you have a doctorate degree,” and “do you actually teach students?” This is the kind of reaction I discussed in my fifth point under the Accusation of Misrepresentation, “The assumption of a nefarious intention.” Until Tyler can drop his unfounded assumption that I have the nefarious and immoral intention to deceive, plagiarize others, and demonize all Calvinists, our dialogue cannot continue, which is unfortunate because he seems to be a bright young man.



35 thoughts on “Why Theology Matters: Response to Tyler Vela

  1. Well done Dr. Flowers!!!
    When a Calvinist points the finger of history revisionism, he is unfortunately, pointing 4 fingers back at himself. As a matter of fact, the over abundance of “puffery” in Calvinist boastings was what clued me that Calvinism was of the flesh, many years ago. Jesus puts it in the bulls-eye when he says: take the mote out of your own eye, before addressing the straw in your brother’s. But spiritual pride doesn’t work that way.

  2. Thank you Leighton. I have always appreciated the attitude of humility and your attitude of mutual respect that you have approached those who disagree with you as you speak the truth but do it in love and respect.

  3. Keep up the good work, Leighton, exposing what is obvious… that Calvin may have held to and promoted well some biblical doctrines but he also clearly demonstrated he was not qualified to shepherd God’s flock by his unbiblical response to those he thought as harmful heretics and to those he could not recognize soteriologically as brothers.

    We must not excuse his harmful/false applications of God’s revealed will in Scripture as if they are not clearly revealed or that the culture in which these so-called “spiritual” men lived gave them a bye for ignoring what Scripture says. Was the Holy Spirit that dwelled within them not speaking? How did Hubmaier and others (and the many non-magisterial baptistic groups before them) see the teachings of religious freedom in the NT and yet these magisterial reformers did not? Jesus clearly said – Do not pull up the tares the evil one plants in the world?

    1. The son’s of the flesh do always persecute. The N.T. Apostolic ministry would see such behavior as clear indicator of carnality.

      There is nothing within the writings of the N.T. authors which even hint of the idea that Christians are to perpetrate violence upon other believers. Where then does the **AUTHORITY** come from, in which Calvin operates, to do so? From Augustine!!

      And this provides one more piece of evidence. That John Calvin ascribed to Augustine, the same authority that he ascribed to scripture. The same authority he would ascribe to N.T. Apostolic ministry, he ascribes to Augustine.
      And that tells us there is a pronounced problem with Calvin’s understanding of Christianity.

      1. Can you believe it… Augustine used the example of God causing blindness in Saul of Tarsus (Paul) as an example to justify physical harm to encourage spiritual repentance. Augustine also felt Christ’s words – “compel them to come in” justified what even Augustine himself proudly called – “the enforcement of terrible but salutary laws….the fear or even the pain of the whip.” Aquinas was even more clear when he said about heretics that they “deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.” And these are to be held up as Christianity’s “fathers” of orthodoxy? Not mine!

  4. I will always remember when in our church history class in seminary we went over the Reformation era (i.e. heard about Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc.). For me it was sad and even at times extremely disappointing to hear the actions done by the famous reformers and to hear about their lack of Christian character. They were not nice guys at all, they were in fact brutal towards their enemies, extremely hateful and intolerant of others who thought differently than they did (e.g. the Anabaptists and their inexcusable treatment of them). Protestants like to declare what Luther did for justification by faith, about Calvin’s institutes, the departure from Roman Catholic theology and practices, etc. However, what is little mentioned is what these guys did to enemies, their hatred of others, extreme intolerance of others who thought differently, etc.

    Tyler wants to defend the character of John Calvin: when it really cannot be done when you look at the facts about the man.

    I sometimes cite Bruce Gordon’s well researched and accurate biography about Calvin (some Calvinists have even said that Gordon’s biography is the best one available on Calvin): Gordon tells the truth about Calvin when he writes:

    “John Calvin was the greatest Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century, brilliant, visionary, and iconic. The superior force of his mind was evident in all that he did. He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater. Among those things he hated were the Roman church, Anabaptists and those people who, he believed, only faint-heartedly embraced the Gospel and tainted themselves with idolatry. He saw himself as an instrument of God, and as a prophet of the Church he brooked no rivals. He never felt he had encountered an intellectual equal, and he was probably correct. To achieve what he believed to be right, he would do virtually anything. Although not physically imposing, he dominated others and knew how to manipulate relationships. He intimidated, bullied and humiliated, saving some of his worst conduct for his friends.”(from the preface of Bruce Gordon’s biography of Calvin)

    “He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater.”

    Did you catch that?

    Calvin lacked godly character and his actions showed this lack. A person who “dominated others and knew how to manipulate relationships. He intimidated, bullied and humiliated . . .” is not a Christian leader with godly character at all.

    What most Calvinists do is simply choose to ignore this and just focus on his theological ideas. As if a person’s ideas can be completely separated from their character. The problem with this is that in scripture your character is what is essential and your theological ideas needs to be true but also flow out of a good character.

    1. I agree Robert.
      Calvinists often defend John Calvin’s carnal behavior by arguing that he was only a product of his age. However, how one treats others is a key indicator of spiritual maturity in Christ-likness. By their own argument they show that Calvin’s behavior was significantly more influenced by the god of this world ( as manifested in his age ) then he was by the Holy Spirit. This only confirms the fact, Calvin was an intellectual genius……Yet in the lord, by virtue of biting and devouring others, the Apostle Paul would unequivocally call him carnal.
      And I believe I remember recognition of that being found in the writings of his contemporaries, concerning his harsh disposition against those he begrudged.

  5. Brian Wagner sometimes attacks ***orthodox believers*** because he wants to undermine their beliefs in order to make room for, and make more acceptable his own false theology of open theism. We were talking about Calvin and his character problems. Wagner shifts the goal posts a bit by bringing up Augustine and Aquinas’ views on the treatment of heretics:

    “Can you believe it… Augustine used the example of God causing blindness in Saul of Tarsus (Paul) as an example to justify physical harm to encourage spiritual repentance. Augustine also felt Christ’s words – “compel them to come in” justified what even Augustine himself proudly called – “the enforcement of terrible but salutary laws….the fear or even the pain of the whip.” Aquinas was even more clear when he said about heretics that they “deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.””

    This has nothing to do with Calvin and his character problems. But the last line presents some problematic reasoning:

    “And these are to be held up as Christianity’s “fathers” of orthodoxy? Not mine!”

    First of all, this appears to be sarcastic. If these are not “fathers of orthodoxy” who are the acceptable “fathers of orthodoxy” for Wagner considering that he rejects all denominations???

    Second, he is attacking their orthodoxy based upon a single belief that they were mistaken on (i.e. their views on treatment of heretics).

    The fallacious reasoning here is that since they **were** wrong on one belief (i.e. treatment of heretics), this must mean they were mistaken on a lot of other beliefs, so they should not be viewed as “fathers of orthodoxy”.

    Were Augustine and Aquinas wrong that God is one being in three persons (trinity), that the incarnation occurred (God became flesh and dwelt among us), that Jesus was God (deity of Christ), that Jesus rose from the dead bodily, that the Bible was the inspired Word of God (scripture is inspired), that there will be a final judgment where the righteous and the unrighteous will be separated, that believers ought to live lives of doing good works, etc. etc.?

    No they were correct on these beliefs. Sure they were wrong on heretics (and I would say wrong in some other areas as well), but being wrong on that one belief does not make them wrong on EVERY BELIEF THAT THEY HELD. They also believed in the ordinary and orthodox view of omniscience (a belief they held in common with virtually every other believer whether they be Catholics, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. Only an extreme minority of open theists of which Wagner is a part deny and reject the orthodox understanding of omniscience.

    We should also recall that Wagner rejects all denominations and believes that anyone who holds to paedobaptism should not be allowed to be a pastor. Should we claim that since Wagner is wrong on open theism and pastoral qualifications that therefore he is wrong on every belief that he holds?
    Doesn’t Wagner also ***hold in common with*** Augustine and Aquinas that God is one being in three persons (trinity), that the incarnation occurred (God became flesh and dwelt among us), that Jesus was God (deity of Christ), that Jesus rose from the dead bodily, that the Bible was the inspired Word of God (scripture is inspired), that there will be a final judgment where the righteous and the unrighteous will be separated, that believers ought to live lives of doing good works, etc. etc.?

    It is not fair or right to throw out every belief of a person as false based upon one error they may be making. Undoubtedly all of us are wrong in certain areas, does that mean we are wrong in all of our beliefs, or that we are all bad representatives of Christianity?

    1. The only needed fathers of orthodoxy – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, OT prophets… Getting the gospel wrong by tying it to sacramental rituals and persecuting to death true brothers in Christ should make any Christian suspect the hermeneutics of such a leader, but at least we should not elevate them to be viewed as an authoritative representative of orthodoxy since their “orthodoxy” dogmatically included those errors in judgment!

      1. “The only needed fathers of orthodoxy – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, OT prophets… Getting the gospel wrong by tying it to sacramental rituals and persecuting to death true brothers in Christ should make any Christian suspect the hermeneutics of such a leader, but at least we should not elevate them to be viewed as an authoritative representative of orthodoxy since their “orthodoxy” dogmatically included those errors in judgment!”

        Still playing your game Wagner (i.e., focus on their mistaken beliefs and leave out the many beliefs where they were not only orthodox, they were right, they were presenting the correct beliefs that every Christian holds, the trinity, the incarnation, the deity of Christ, etc. etc.). I do not “suspect the hermeneutics of such a leader” when they came to their biblical conclusions concerning the trinity, the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the inspiration of scripture, etc. Were the “hermeneutics of such a leader” wrong when they concluded that God is one being in three persons? When they concluded that Jesus physically rose from the dead? When they concluded that Jesus was God in the flesh/the doctrine of the incarnation??

        We should not improperly “elevate” them, at the same time they do represent Christian orthodoxy on many of their beliefs (the beliefs that you just happen to discuss or mention, the beliefs you intentionally ignored). You can keep playing your little game of trying to undermine their orthodoxy on doctrines such as the trinity, the deity of Christ, etc. while intending to make room for your unorthodox and false beliefs (open theism, rejection of all denominations, false pastoral qualifications): but it will only work with those not informed in church history, not knowing what these folks believed on major doctrines such as the trinity, the incarnation, the deity of Christ, the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, etc.

        And again if the standard that makes a person a good representative of Christian orthodoxy is having no mistaken beliefs, then none of us is orthodox, none of us is a good representative of Christian orthodoxy (even the apostles at times were mistaken, e.g. Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross, Peter denying Christ three times).

        But that standard is a false standard and we do know that in fact some people are more representative of orthodoxy than others (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Arminius, Oden, etc. etc. etc. etc. are orthodox and correct on the doctrine of omniscience, you and other open theists are mistaken and present false beliefs regarding omniscience). And while different people may be mistaken in different areas, they all (except for unorthodox folks like you who espouse open theism) are correct on the doctrine of omniscience.

      2. If we think we find Augustine’s orthodoxy questionable, we should sit under some of Gordon Fee’s seminary lectures, where he brings up Augustine. ***OUCH*** SCORCHING!!!!! 😀

    2. Robert: Personally, I think you need to temper some of your remarks because sometimes what you have to say gets lost in what becomes a more personal attack that you might realise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Brian ‘attack’ somebody in a post. Disagree yes, but attack! Not his style I think. As to othodoxy, I’ve given up worrying about that. One person’s orthodoxy is another man’s heterodoxy. It is precisely because Augustine declared Pelagius a heretic, that most of his work was destroyed and we are left with a controversy which will probably never be solved unless some ‘scribe /scholar’ happens to root out his original writings. Unlikely at this stage but you never know. Pelagius ius noiw assoiciuated with theology

    3. Oooops continued : Pelagius is now associated with a theology which he may never have actually espoused. Most of what we term Pelagianism is based on how subsequent ‘followers’ interpreted his words. That and of course the fact that Augustine and Jerome were in a position to put the boot in, which they did with some alacrity! Look at the ruling from the council which decided that Pelagius was a heretic. I can guarantee you that you will be more comfortable siding with Pelagius than Augustine. Unless of course you want to stipulate that baptizing babies was necessary to deal with original sin!!

      So let’s keep our remarks tempered and concentrate on the point in hand. I have to confess that while not happy with all that open theism may entail, or at least how some of it’s stronger advocates may put it, I am far more comfortable with the idea that while God knows the end from the beginning and will accomplish what he plans to do, this does not in any way mean that God has decreed certain plans or pathways for us that we are bound to accept and follow. God is able to work with us to achieve his ends, but if we don’t perform to standard God will achieve his ends without us by using other people or circumstances. If that sounds too open theistic for you, I’m happy to be one your heretics list. In my experience, the charge of open theism being heretical is predominantly (not totally) the position of Reformed leaning theologians who have run out of excuses to explain their own ‘mysteries’ of which there appear to be quite a few!! 🙂

  6. The only time I can remember having to out corrective teaching in to my children was during our time in an evangelical Reformed church fellowship. We had inadvertently stumbled into this church while looking for a place with some younger people. The word Reformed meant nothing to me at the time and it took some while before I realised what was going on. The corrective teaching? They were teaching the kids that a certain John Calvin was a ‘nice’ man because he visited the sick and at one stage was persecuted and driven out of town! Poor John. Shame he turned out to be “big bad John”.

    Needless to say we would have left this church soon enough, except that it folded on it’s own accord a few months later.

    1. Thank you Barker’s Woof for your testimony!!

      Unfortunately, this scenario is repeated over and over, everywhere Calvinism attempts to inject itself into unsuspecting Christian churches.

      Psychology informs us that liars first deceive themselves, by crafting rationalizations for their lies. In those areas of their life, they soon can’t discern the difference between the lie and the truth. The lie becomes the truth. Eventually lies become modus operandi. Eventually, as a group, they have no ability to conceive of themselves as doing anything wrong.

      This is one of the dangers of Calvinism.

  7. Br.D,

    In your post you make reference to Fee citing Augustine. Not sure what you mean by your post could you elaborate and explain it a bit? Thanks.

    1. Dr. Fee is retired now, but in a few of his seminary lectures, typically on different books of the N.T., or on hermeneutics he mentioned Augustine’s interpretations. Dr. Fee was noted for being very direct and didn’t mince words, in his lectures. I remember one lecture in which he reviewed Augustine on Jesus’ parables. If I remember, Augustine believed Jesus told parables in order to hide the truth. Fee explains, the use of parables was a common tradition among Hebrew scholars and Rabbis, and Augustine had it 180 degrees backwards. But of course, Augustine had it that way in order to affirm NeoPlatonism and Gnosticism, in which divine things are hidden and mysterious and only revealed to the “GNOISTICOI” (i.e., those who have the secret knowledge). Also I remember Fee describing Augustine’s interpretation of the good Samaritan, where Augustine thought Jesus was referring to the Apostle Paul when he told that parable. Again, getting a completely opposite understanding. Jesus told the good Samaritan story because there was a lawyer who manipulated scripture in order to facilitate a doctrine of limited love. Fee understood the same inclination was at work in Augustine’s doctrine. In Gnosticism, only the gnosticoi (i.e, elect) receive the “DIVINE SPARK” from god.

  8. “A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matt 7:18). So let’s seek out the bad trees—those who punish sinners and heretics by burning them alive, cutting their heads off, locking them in a nasty dungeon for long periods, sending them into exile, and torturing and publicly humiliating them—so they can provide us with the good fruit of sound biblical theology. That makes perfectly good sense, doesn’t it?

  9. What I found sad (and it happened to me often) is when people are so focus on replying to me but actually they missed the point of what I was actually saying! Fortunately, when I explain myself further it is a good opportunity for me to show that sometimes it is better to ask questions to be sure that you understood the other person and then respond than to just reply and “miss the mark”! 😉


    A brief summary of Social Identity Theory see: [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_identity_theory]

    Major Bible Scholars have long recognized distinct “Identity Markers” within religious groups.

    Pharisees had unique identity markers, as did the Sadducees, and Judaizers.

    Religious Identity markers often serve as outward indicators of a religious-spirit of superiority
    Additionally, they help fence-in and control sheep within a social structure.

    Kenneth S. Bordens, and Irwin A. Horowitz, in Social Psychology write: “Although groups may serve to increase our self-esteem by enhancing our social identity, groups have power to exact subtle yet painful, even dreadful, punishment in the form of socialization controls which condition people’s thinking. Baumeister and Leary (1995) observed that there is little in life so frightful as being excluded from groups that are important to us. Most of us spend much of our time in the presence of other people. The presence of others provides us not only with opportunities for positive interactions but also for risks of being ignored, excluded, and rejected, etc. Subtle forms of behavioral conditioning can be found in colleges, organizations, employers, co-workers, friends, and family, who develop a reward/punishment system designed to condition people and subtle, yet pervasive forms of control over behaviors and value systems.”

    Calvinism has historically manifested these sociological indicators. Over time, the mental conditioning that results within the Calvinist devotee, goes far beyond simple belief in Christ, as theological determinism is the sacred core of Calvin’s doctrine. As the disciple interacts with others whose minds have become similarly re-formed, the mental conditioning dramatically reinforces itself, and becomes a unique reality which frames all comprehension of things pertaining to God and church.

    Every theological construct is re-formed to fit into the world-view of theological determinism. When the non-determinist speaks, about God or biblical things, the Calvinist may quite literally hear confusion, or heresies, because his mind is so locked into the milieu, and it frames his cognitive perceptions so pervasively; he eventually cannot comprehend any thinking that doesn’t affirm it.
    Critical thinking concerning the group’s doctrine is taboo. Free-thinking or personal beliefs are permitted as long as they compliment, and never critique central dogma.

    Godly-Ungodliness oxymorons are so subliminally assimilated into the Calvinist’s concepts of God, that when he speaks, he speaks English, and one thinks they know what he is saying, without recognizing when they don’t, or understanding how pervasively his frame of reference stems from a good-evil dualistic worldview which eventually becomes his normalcy through the process of internalized acceptance.

    These socialization processes are the first step in our ability to understand Calvinism’s unique and pervasive psychology of double-think, which eventually becomes the Calvinist’s normalcy, fortified by an unflinching, sometimes aggressive, sense of superiority.

    A sense of superiority, obsessive image keeping, a holy-war mentality, double-think as cognitive-normalcy, and a ferocious stance on doctrinal/philosophical inerrancy, are a few of Calvinism’s prominent identity markers.

      1. Hello Konroh!

        You ask a great question. As you research on the subject of Identity Markers, within Christian scholarship, I think what you will find, are a predominant focus on certain specific identity markers, used by a social group to indicate that group’s special or highlighted features, to prove superiority over others. Years ago, there was a dog-food commercial of a boy singing a song: “My dogs better than your dog” and identity markers of the dog were sighted as reasons for the “said” superiority. And human social groups do the same.

        Like two political parties each arguing their superiority over the others, and using their specific markers. For example “bleeding heart” functions as an identity marker.

        Steven Pinker, in his book: The Stuff of Thought, calls these “semantic representations”

        quote: “Does stem cell research destroy a ball of cells, or a living human being? Does abortion consist of ending a pregnancy, or of killing a living baby? ” So in this case, “Right to choice” becomes an identity marker for one side, and “Right to life” an identity marker for the other.

        So as you examine Arminian groups, do you see them asserting themselves as superior to other theological groups? If so, over a period of generations, in their attempts to support those assertions, they would have to develop identity markers. Wide phylacteries, tassels, a Torah strapped onto the forehead, and washing of pots etc, are very ancient examples in Jesus day, but in our time-period those would be regarded as silly.

        Since identity markers are a recognized phenomenon, it would not be honest to say Arminians don’t have them. But if we don’t see Arminians using them to assert a claimed superiority over others, they certainly don’t’ serve the same purpose that we would see in a social group that does.

        I think it would be fair to say, that Jesus criticized the scribes and pharisees for their identity markers because those groups did use them to claim a state of superiority. I’m not sure I could sight examples of Arminians making those claims. But I would be open to your thoughts on that matter.

        br.d :-]

      2. I agree all groups would have identity markers. I guess my idea would be that groups that stress love and freedom would be more inclusive in their identity markers, as opposed to groups that would stress determinism, irresistability of God’s grace, and presuppositionalism.

      3. Konroh writes:
        “I agree all groups would have identity markers. I guess my idea would be that groups that stress love and freedom would be more inclusive in their identity markers, as opposed to groups that would stress determinism, irresponsibility of God’s grace, and presuppositionalism.”

        Yes, I think your observations are correct. And that Calvinists often call the identity markers of groups they view as competitors, “man-honoring”. But when one looks under the hood, one finds that Calvinist identity markers are no less “man honoring” than any other group. And ironically, their high manifestation of braggadocio serves as a significant “man-honoring” indicator.

        Thanks Konroh!
        Good comments. :-]


    Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation – by Oliver D. Crisp

    “Consider the….dogmatician Johannes Heidegger, who reasons that god cannot will other than he willed. That is, he cannot will “by some other act.”

    [Here Heidegger rejects god has access to “do otherwise” or “alternative possibility” as part of his rejection of libertarian freewill]

    Yet Heidegger also wants to say that “by one and the same act of willing God **MAY WILL DIFFERENTLY**; e.g. that events should be one way and another and so that different sets of things should exist”.

    But Heidegger’s observations can only help the theologian willing to concede that God’s freedom is compatiblist all the way down.

    In other words, Heidegger’s way of “solving” the difficulty can only have purchase if God is not indeterministically free in any aspect whatsoever. But this is just what Calvinist divines like Turretin deny for the very reason that they want to allow that God DOES have LIBERTY OF INDIFFERENCE when it comes to the created order.

    So it seems that at least some of the reformed were susceptible to a sort of THEOLOGICAL DOUBLETHINK about divine freedom………This THEOLOGICAL DOUBLETHINK concerning divine freedom was not a novelty generated by the reformed. Their medieval forebears had bequeathed it to them.” – page 61


    John R. Schafer defines Physiological Narrative Analysis as: A Professional Method to Detect Deception in Written and Oral Communications.

    To understand Calvinism, one needs to first understand the psychology of double-think believe-ism. And a wonderful way of discerning these, is by the analysis of Calvinist language. Human language, is an excellent barometer of human thinking processes.

    In Calvinism you will eventually discover: “EVEN THOUGH” – “AS IF” language patterns.

    “EVEN THOUGH” we hold [A]…that LFW does not exist, as TRUE.
    We speak and write “AS IF” [A] is FALSE.

    “EVEN THOUGH” we hold [A]… that every human neurological impulse is conceived and decreed by god before humans were created, as TRUE
    We speak and write “AS IF” [A] is FALSE.

    “EVEN THOUGH” we hold [A]…that god’s decree makes X infallibly inevitable, as TRUE.
    We speak and write “AS IF” god restrains [A] from being TRUE.

    By the use of double-speak language, the Calvinist can both affirm and deny essential Calvinist propositions. The genius of Calvinist language is how efficiently it facilitates camouflaging those contradictions. Primarily this is done by speaking [A] in one statement and then speaking [NOT A] in another. And being careful to distance self-contradicting statements, sufficiently to keep people from connecting them together.

    The best way to discern Calvinist contradictions is to take note of propositions. Calvinist language can be divided into two modes.
    1) Boasting mode.
    2) Defense mode.

    Take note when a proposition is being asserted in “Boasting mode”. This will typically take the form of some PROPOSITION [A]….an assertion of god meticulously making X infallibly inevitable via immutable decree.

    Then be watchful for “Defense mode” language, designed to DISTANCE god from meticulously making X infallibly inevitable via immutable decree. Here is where the language subtly entails the denial of PROPOSITION [A].

    Calvinists have learnt to be careful not to enunciate assertions/denials within the same sentence structures, where contradictions are readily detected.

    Just take note of PROPOSITIONS in “Boasting mode” and look for their denials in “Defense mode”.

    Boasting mode language, in which the assertion of [A] occurs, typically takes the form of a “declarative” statement.
    While “Defense mode” language in which the denial of [A] occurs, typically takes the form of an “inferential” statement.

    We are learning Physiological Narrative Analysis of Calvinist language, and having fun! 🙂

  13. I went to Moody with Tyler back in the mid 2000’s. He always made it a priority to try to defend the men he followed. He always idolized James White and it is sad to see him displaying the same logical fallacies that James White has grown accustomed to committing. I pray this article will help point him back to the text of God’s Word and away from slavish commitments to defending those he follows.

  14. Sadly, Tyler Vela went through a divorce and no longer considers himself a Christian. I won’t speculate on how his reformed systematic played into this decision.

    1. Hello Larry and welcome
      And yes – that is news I recently heard myself.

      Of course – we know – Jesus tells us to build our house on a firm foundation – and not build our house on sand.
      When the winds of adversity come (and they always do) that house will not stand.

      Kevin Thompson – from “Beyond the fundamentals” makes an interesting observation concerning Tyler and other Calvinists whose testimony is that they are leaving Christianity altogether.

      Kevin speaks of a belief system which is based on -quote holding to a set of doctrinal propositions – rather than holding onto Jesus Christ.
      This becomes especially problematic – when the set of doctrinal propositions one holds onto are self-contradicting
      It also becomes problematic when a set of doctrinal propositions entails a DUALISTIC system of “Good-Evil”

      Both of those problems are inherent within the reformed belief system.
      The way most Calvinists deal with those problems is by what I call “Thought blocking”.
      They simply do not allow their minds to entertain probing questions.
      Any questioning of Calvinism’s *SACRED* doctrinal propositions – represent a grave and evil sin of impiety
      And that Calvinist is scolded and told he must repent of questioning the -quote “secret things of god”

      The only way a house built upon sand can withstand the winds of adversity of by constant human maintenance.
      That constant human maintenance – reinforcing the house of Calvin – represents the critical burden of every Calvinist pastor.


    2. br.d
      BTW: Per Calvinism’s doctrine of decrees – Tyler was not granted a “decision” between believing and NOT believing.
      Per the doctrine – Calvin’s god at the foundation of the world must determine whatsoever will come to pass with Tyler.
      Whatever Calvin’s god determines – is FIXED by infallible decree – and cannot be otherwise.
      In other words – NO ALTERNATIVE from what Calvin’s god decrees is granted to Tyler.
      So if [BELIEVE] is that which is granted to Tyler by infallible decree – then [NOT BELIEVE] is not granted as an option available to Tyler.
      In Calvinism – the creature is never granted option [X] as well as option [NOT X] because one option falsifies the other.
      In such case – Calvin’s god would be creating a self-canceling decree – which would make that decree NOT infallible.
      Therefore in Calvinism – for every human event – and every human impulse – there is never granted more than *ONE SINGLE PREDESTINED RENDERED-CERTAIN* option.
      And man is granted NO CHOICE in the matter of what that option will be – and no ability to refrain.
      So in Calvinism – Tyler does not have a choice in the matter.

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