Why I am not a Calvinist

Calvinism represents an influential sect of Christianity that originated during the Protestant Reformation. Although John Calvin (for whom the theological system is named) had many key ideas, perhaps no concepts became more strongly associated with Calvinism than Calvin’s views on election (God’s electing some humans for eternal salvation) and predestination (God choosing before all time who would be elect and, by implication, who would not be elect). The implications of these ideas are fairly straightforward, but quite enormous: God Himself determines who is saved from everlasting hellfire and who is not. Nothing we can do can violate God’s “eternal decree” of the saved and the damned. What God desires He will do.

I am not going to comment on the historical reasons why Calvin’s system became popular. What I will say is that there has been somewhat of a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking in the American Evangelical circles in which I was raised (and which I have since forsaken). Although I still consider myself a Christian, I am no longer a Calvinist.

I am no longer a Calvinist primarily because I believe Calvin’s concept of election and predestination makes God seem arbitrary, and possibly very cruel. If God’s absolute decree is not based on anything in us, what is it based on? If it is based on Himself, then why did God choose to permit anyone to go to hell forever? This question becomes especially troubling in light of the biblical teaching on the love of God and His desire for the good of all creatures (E.g., Matt. 18:14, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 1 Jn 4:8, 2 Pt 3:9).

What I think is more fitting to Christian theology than a paradigmatic, inviolable “eternal decree” is God’s unqualified “Yes” (evident in Christ) to what He has made. If what I am saying sounds familiar, that is because it is what the 20th Century Reformed theologian Karl Barth argued. Calvin’s “eternal decree” for Barth could not be more absolute than God’s love for humanity revealed by Christ. God’s “Yes” to humanity in Christ is His true absolute decree, and not the arbitrary predestination to salvation and damnation of individual human beings.

For me, then, it was Karl Barth who drew me out of Calvinism during my senior year of college. It has been argued that Barth’s theology of election contains an implicit universalism. Perhaps we should become more comfortable with implicit universalism than explicit Calvinism. Implicit universalism, after all, is what appears to be represented by the theology of Paul the Apostle.

For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:32)