And the Accusation of Misrepresentation
by Leighton Flowers
Have You Heard of “Nominal Christians?”
The term nominal simply means “in name only.” So, when we refer to a Christian as being nominal we typically mean those who may call themselves Christian (and may even attend church once or twice a year on special occasions) but live their lives virtually the same as their unbelieving friends. These are people marked by inconsistency, or what some might call “hypocrisy.” They claim to believe one thing but live as if they really don’t.
Have You Heard of “Nominal Calvinists?”
I believe there are a subgroup of faithful Christians who claim the label “Calvinist” or at least some major tenet of Calvinistic doctrine, such as Eternal Security or “Sovereignty” as defined by God’s work to irresistibly save His elect, but really have never thought through the full implications of their worldview. Nominal Calvinists never allow their form of “Calvinism” to impact them in such a way that you could tell any difference from them and their non-Calvinistic Christian friends.
Please do not hear me saying that Calvinists are comparable to nominal Christians, in that they are less faithful to Christ or the church, because that is not true. In fact, in my experience, Calvinistic Christians are typically very faithful to the Lord and the mission of the church. The comparison I’m attempting to draw is between faithful Christians who affirm Calvinism and those who do not, and the Calvinistic Christians who are inconsistent within their Calvinistic worldview and those who are not.
The Inconsistency of Nominal Calvinists
Allow me to point out some of the more blatant inconsistencies of the nominal Calvinist.
A Calvinistic leaning friend sent me a note on Facebook stating in part, “Why are you standing in opposition to God and His ways? You should not disapprove of His sovereign plan and purposes.”
The first inconsistency: If the claims of Calvinism are true then my views on soteriology were sovereignly and unchangeably decreed in eternity past by God, so for a Calvinist to even ask this question is logically inconsistent. His own dogma tells him exactly why I’m standing in opposition to his soteriological perspective–because God ordained me to. If God decreed for me to re-adopt Calvinistic soteriology then I will, but his rebuke certainly is not going to impact God’s eternal decree on the matter. By sending this message he is expressing disapproval for what his doctrine claims came to pass by God’s own plan and purpose.
The second inconsistency: This same Calvinistic friend recently tweeted this message in response to yet another atrocious event in the news:
“Horrified over the senseless acts of violence and evil…”
I “liked” his message because I too am horrified by the heinously evil behavior of some people in our world. And I have no doubt that this Calvinistic friend genuinely feels the same way. I have purposefully not mentioned the actual event because I do not wish to “theologize” the personal pain of those touched by such grief. However, if our theology is to be practical, we must be able to consistently speak into the issues from our theological worldview, which brings me to my Calvinistic friend’s inconsistency:
Should Christians ever express disapproval or disgust for God’s self-glorifying will and plan?
It certainly seems reasonable to disapprove of the autonomous behavior of evil men who openly rebel against the will of God and seek to cause destruction. It does not seem reasonable, however, for one to express disapproval and disgust for that which was planned and brought about by God for His own self-glorification, does it?
Expressions of disapproval about things that have come to pass do cause me pause when brought by Calvinistic believers. I cannot help but question the logical consistency of Calvinists who express feelings of indignation and disapproval over such atrocities given the ACTUAL CLAIMS of their doctrinal worldview.
Notable Calvinistic scholars teach that God has sovereignly planned and brought about every meticulous detail, including the evil intentions of His creatures, in order to glorify Himself. In other words, if Calvinism is true, the shooting which horrified my Calvinistic friend was planned and brought about by God so as to bring Himself glory. So, in actuality, it is the Calvinist who is expressing disapproval of God’s plans, not me. I am expressing disapproval of man’s autonomously evil choices which stand diametrically opposed to God and His plan. My Calvinistic friend is expressing horrified disapproval of that which God planned for His own self-glorification. How can he do so consistently?
Here is where I am often met with the accusation of misrepresentation — or what is known as the fallacy of “straw-manning.” I suspect, however, that those bringing that accusation either (1) do not rightly understand Calvinism and Calvinistic scholar’s ACTUAL CLAIMS (read the footnotes) or they (2) do not really affirm the ACTUAL CLAIMS of John Calvin and most of the Calvinistic scholars, but have adopted a much milder, more palatable, and arguably inconsistent form of the systematic.
If it is the second, however, I cannot help but wonder why would they not stand with me in opposition to the ACTUAL CLAIMS of Calvinism rather than accusing me of not understanding it rightly?
I hope all those who wear the label “Calvinist” can rightly understand what I am opposing here. I have not misrepresented or “straw-manned” Calvinism. John Piper is arguably the most influential modern day proponent of Calvinism and he is representing exactly what John Calvin himself taught on this subject in the quotes provided (all of which are properly cited for contextual examination in the footnotes). Both of these Calvinistic scholars are abundantly clear about what they believe.
NOTICE: I am not suggesting a “Calvinist” must agree with John Piper or even John Calvin on every theological point in order to be considered a “Calvinist.” But if you are going to claim this label shouldn’t you at least affirm the basic theological claims over the issues that make Calvinism so controversial in the church? The major reason we even know of John Calvin and “Calvinism” is because of his controversial views over predestination, election, free will, sovereignty, theistic determinism, etc.
If you cannot affirm John Calvin’s own statements on at least those issues, then may I suggest you stop promoting the label “Calvinist?” Or, if nothing else, at least stop accusing people like myself of not really understanding Calvinism?
 For instance, let’s consider this quote from John Piper’s ministry website, Desiring God:
“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” (Link)— Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ’: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).
On the one hand we know that Piper has at times expressed disappointment and disgust for the Holocaust and the sexual abuse of children, while on the other hand claiming these same events have been brought about by a God seeking His own glory. Therefore, Piper has expressed disapproval and disgust of what he believes God has planned and brought about for His own glorification. As I said, Calvinists are the ones expressing disapproval of God’s will and plans, not me.
Piper also wrote: “…God is the only being who is ultimately self-determining, and is himself ultimately the disposer of all things, including all choices — however many or diverse other intervening causes are. On this definition, no human being has free will, at any time. Neither before or after the fall, or in heaven, are creatures ultimately self-determining. There are great measures of self-determination, as the Bible often shows, but never is man the ultimate or decisive cause of his preferences and choices. When man’s agency and God’s agency are compared, both are real, but God’s is decisive. Yet — and here’s the mystery that causes so many to stumble — God is always decisive in such a way that man’s agency is real, and his responsibility remains.” Link: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-beginners-guide-to-free-will
John Calvin himself taught:
“Creatures are so governed by the secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 3)
“thieves and murderers, and other evildoers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute judgments which he has resolved to inflict.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 5)
“We hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things, –that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, He decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by His providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 8)
“The devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how muchsoever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay unless in so far as he commands, that they are not only bound by his fetters but are even forced to do him service” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 11)
“…it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God’s will. For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are.”…”For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an individual charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly, since there could be no election without its opposite, reprobation.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“…it is utterly inconsistent to transfer the preparation for destruction to anything but God’s secret plan… God’s secret plan is the cause of hardening.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen by God’s will.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 4)
“With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has willed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 5)
“…individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“…it is vain to debate about prescience, which it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“But since he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place, they vainly raise a quarrel over foreknowledge, when it is clear that all things take place rather by his determination and bidding.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“Again I ask: whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree. And it ought not to seem absurd for me to say that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his descendants, but also meted it out in accordance with his own decision.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 7)
“The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 8)
“Even though by God’s eternal providence man has been created to undergo that calamity to which he is subject, it still takes its occasion from man himself, not from God, since the only reason for his ruin is that he has degenerated from God’s pure creation into vicious and impure perversity.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 9)
For more quotes of notable Calvinistic scholars: https://atheologyintension.com/2013/03/21/2376/