Does Calvinism have a “Cultish Side?”

I recently found out about a book that is either published or about to be published by a man named Micah Coate. The title of the book is A Cultish Side of Calvinism. The reason this book causes me so much concern is because the works that it quotes simply in the introduction are some of the worst books ever written on the topic. For example, in the introduction you have citations of Vance’s The Other Side of Calvinism, Dave Hunt’s book What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God and even a book such as George Bryson’s The Dark Side of Calvinism which, according to those who have seen it, is a Kinko’s job. Yet, at the same time, it is endorsed by some well respected people including Dr. Paige Patterson, Tim Lahaye, and Dr. C. Gordon Olsen.

This is not intended to be a full review of this book. Indeed, as a college student, I have very little money, and hence, even if I were sure that the book was available, I could not buy it. Still, the introduction is available online at Amazon for reading, and some of the things that are said there deeply concern me. The reason is that there are misrepresentations, and, much worse, hermeneutical presuppositions that I don’t think come through very well when one simply reads the introduction at face value.

Let us begin by looking at this quote:

Calvinism critics Walls and Dongell seem to agree, stating in their book, Why I am Not a Calvinist:

To the casual observer, it may appear that there is little if any real different between the two positions. But agreement at the level of broad claims about sovereignty, love, and freedom masks profound disagreements about how these matters are understood in detail…Arminiams and Calvinism represent starkly opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God [Italics Mine]

Profoundly different views of God. This is what lies at the heart of the matter-not relatively nontheological issues like styles of music or liturgy but the grave position of holding to different views of God. In the pursuit for truth, amid obstacles and rabbit trails, one should always remember that the heart of the matter is indeed different views of God. These are in fact serious theological differences that separate evangelical Christians from Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cults. The biblical picture, knowledge, and revelation of God are at stake! Even R.C. Sproul, the popular Calvinist pastor, clearly states, “Reformed theology…is driven first and foremost by its understanding of the character of God.” This general assertion by Calvinist prompted the title to Dave Hunt’s book, What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. Exposure of the biblical inconsistencies within Calvinistic doctrine reveals that Calvin’s God differs from the orthodox, biblical God. Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel states, “The doctrinal distinctive of Reformed Theology cannot be reconciled with what we know about God from his holy word.” William MacDonald, author of over eighty books, concludes that Calvinism portrays “God in a totally unscriptural manner.” Joseph R. Chambers says, “Calvinism makes our Heavenly Father look like the worst of despots.” It is this Calvinistic painting of God that moved Vance to conclude, “Calvinism is therefore, the greatest ‘Christian’ heresy that has ever plagued the church.

He uses this to argue the thesis of his book:

Are there any similarities between Mormonism and Calvinism in regards to their relation to orthodox Christianity? Are there similarities between Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine and Calvinism? Can similarities be found between their leaders and those of Calvinism? Is it possible to find legitimate connections between the world of the cults, and Calvinism? Due to the long history of Catholicism, most people in Christendom at large now know the stark differences between the practicing Catholic and the Protestant Christian. The clear and very notable doctrinal stances held by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses distinguish them from the orthodox Christian and are quite obvious to those who inquire. However, the same cannot be said of Calvinism. One might assume that this seemingly vagueness of doctrinal differences between the two is because Calvinism is itself orthodox. But, my research reveals otherwise. My purpose in writing this book is not only to show that Calvinism is unorthodox, but that it has a potential of sharing characteristics of a classic Christian cult.

Understand what he is arguing. He is saying that, because Calvinism and Arminianism have profoundly different views of God that, therefore, only one can be considered orthodox.

My first answer is that, even if this is the case, why should we assume that it is Calvinism that is unorthodox? He says that it goes against what scripture says, but he never argues his point. In fact, he clearly things that Catholicism is unorthodox, and yet, one can easily point to similarities between Roman Catholicism and Arminianism! In fact, the whole sacramental system of Rome which Coate would reject as heretical is based upon the very synergism he thinks is “orthodox.” Furthermore, how strict is he going to make this dichotomy? The cults also have different views of Christ. Is he really going to say, therefore, that Lutheranism is heresy because it has a different Christology?

Not only that, but it makes a real historical mess of things. I am sure that Mr. Coate sings the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Is he aware that the author of that hymn was a Calvinist? Is he aware of the fact that men like Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Dr. David Livingston, or even men like John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress were likewise Calvinists? What about men like George Whitefield, who started The Great Awakening, or men like Jonathan Edwards, who is considered the greatest American mind to ever live? According to Coate, they are all cultists.

Arminians such as my hermeneutics professor Dr. Grant Osborne, Dr. Michael Brown, and, indeed, the vast majority of Arminians throughout the history of Arminianism affirm that both Calvinism and Arminianism are orthodox. The reason is that Coate is comparing apples and oranges here. For example, there is a fundamental difference between things like monotheism [denied by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses] and the issues between Calvinism and Arminianism. In the same book that Coate quotes by Walls and Dongell on page 218, they make the point that the issue is not so much about what God could do, but what he would do. This is an important distinction. Hence, the issue is not so much over the issues such as monotheism vs. polytheism, but over issues about what God does according to his character. What does God “will,” not, “Is there one god, two gods, or three gods?,” or “does God have knowledge of all future events? [although a good argument can be made that this is where arminianism leads]”

In my view, Arminianism represents a gross reductionism in the nature and character of God. It presents a God whose love can basically only have one variety. A professor at Trinity, Dr. D.A. Carson, has actually written a book on this topic called, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. The issue is really over whether there are different senses in which the Bible means that God “loves” someone.

For example, if you are girl, you can only imagine the mixed messages you would get if a guy comes up to you and says, “I love you.” That word “love” is ambiguous. He may simply love you as a brother in Christ. Maybe, if he is a family member, he may love you as a cousin, or an uncle, or a grandfather, or even a biological brother. If you are a twelve year old girl, and this is a thirteen year old boy, it will have a different connotation than if you are twenty-five, and he is twenty-nine. The word “love,” like all words, depends upon its usage for its meaning. The issue is whether or not, when the Bible speaks of God’s love, it distinguishes between different senses in which God loves. This is hardly the same issue as whether or not there is more than one God, or whether he has three persons or one person.

A much more troubling problem comes in the fact that Coate and those he quotes seem totally oblivious to the assumptions that they are bringing to the text, and yet, they want people to note certain assumptions that Calvinists bring to the text. For example:

Calvin was twenty-seven years old in that year. In light of the fact that he spent the remainder of his life revising the Institutes, Dave Hunt writes that they:

could not possibly have come from a deep and fully developed evengelical understanding of Scripture. Instead, they came from the energetic enthusiasm of a recent law graduate and fervent student of philosophy and religion, a young zealot devolted to Augustine and a newly adopted cause.

Although undergoing many modifications until its final edition in 1559, it is from the Institutes that Calvinism draws its doctrine and interpretation of Scripture. Thus, Calvinists are those who adhere to the theological thoughts and dogmas of John Calvin.

Now, it is always good to recognize the truth of what someone else says. I don’t believe we come to the Bible with a tabula rasa. However, the problem is that what Hunt and Coate don’t seem to recognize is that this same criticism can be turned back on them. Have they not grown up in certain churches that have certain belief systems? Have they not heard certain teachers, and do they not have certain cultural backgrounds that affect their interpretation of the text?

I don’t know if I have told this story before, but I remember Dr. VanGemeren telling us a story once in class. You see, he is Dutch, and he said that students from America used to come over to Holland to study. He said that there is a phrase in Holland that people yell when they see the minister: “The minister is coming!” He said that, when the people heard that phrase, they took off their hats, and stood quietly. Dr. VanGemeren said that the American students seeing this scene exclaimed, “Wow, the Dutch must really respect their ministers!” The problem is that the origin of that phrase does not go back to anything having to do with respect, but it goes back to a time when Holland was at war. You see, back in that time, they did not have army chaplains, and the minister had to go out to minister to the soldiers. There would only be two reasons the minister would ever return to town. The first is obviously to preach the Sunday sermon; the other is, you guessed it, to inform someone that their loved one is deceased. That is why someone yells, “The minister is coming!,” and everyone takes off their hats.

The problem is that such a view seems to presuppose a kind of naive realism on the part of Mr. Coate. There are two mistakes that Mr. Coate makes here. The first, as we have seen, is that he doesn’t see that his criticism can be turned around on him. Second, he doesn’t seem to realize that interpretations are things which must be proven not assumed. That is very dangerous.

The problem is that such interpretations tell us much more about the person than they do the text. It becomes nothing more than a power game, as we can see with this language calling Calvinists “cultish.” It is clearly meant to cause people to think of Calvinism in the same light as heretics such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.

Kevin Vanhoozer points out that this is a big problem with what he calls “fundamentalism:”

Fundamentalists are, I believe, right in their concern to preserve a realism of meaning and in their desire to let the Bible speak for itself. Theirs, however, is a somewhat naive realism that tends to equate the meaning of the text either with the foundational proposition to which it is thought to refer or with the way it is read (by fundamentalists that is). As we have seen, realism on the level of the “metaphysics” of meaning need not imply objectivist epistemology. We must not simply approve but go on to prove our interpretations, first, by submitting them to the text, and second, by entering the broader conversation with other interpreters about the text. Fundamentalists typically forgo the latter text, in effect ignoring the hermeneutical problem altogether. They sometimes give the impression that the main interpretive difficulty is coming to “accept” the Bible, not determining what it says and deciding how to apply it. With regards to the spectrum of literary knowledge, fundamentalists tend to slide towards dogmatism. Hauerwas attacks fundamentalists for assuming that their interpretations are objective and neutral and for thinking they can extract the truth from Scripture without the hard discipline of living in the Christian community. One of the purposes of Part 1 was to temper such interpretive complacency by suggesting that one’s exegetical discoveries may actually be projections, and hence symptomatic not of faith but of Nietzche’s “will to power” [Vanhoozer, Kevin. Is There a Meaning in this Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1998. pgs.425-426]

The point is very simple. When you don’t recognize the presuppositions that you bring to the text from your own background, you open up the door to unintentionally giving more of an autobiographical statement than an exposition of scripture.

It is this very hermeneutical naivete that really bothers me about the beginning of this book. It leads to all kinds of problems in terms of one’s exposition, because the author is not being forthright with his background assumptions. I am willing to acknowledge that, yes, my theological training is reformed in character. Does that affect the way I read things? Yes, of course. That is why I interact with those who disagree, and seek to prove my interpretations.

In other words, we should not fault Calvin for revising his Institutes throughout his life. It is this very revision that insured that he was not simply following “the energetic enthusiasm of a recent law graduate and fervent student of philosophy and religion, a young zealot devolted to Augustine and a newly adopted cause.” Because of the hard work that Calvin did in seeking, not only to write and revise the Institutes, but also to write entire commentaries on almost every book in the Bible, he was able to sincerely avoid this very thing.

Now, will you always be successful? No. Not even the greatest exegete can be correct all the time. However, there is an objective test that we can use, and that is the nature of language itself. We use language every day, and if, when our interpretation of a text, we treat language in a way we would never treat our one speech or someone else’s speech, then we have made a mistake. Human language, while a complex phenomenon, is still, nevertheless, intelligible. If we take a maneuver that would destroy all meaning in language, or would make nonsense out of language, we more than likely have it wrong.

However, that is where the crux of the debate needs to be. The problem is, given the rhetoric of this book, it is difficult to see how Mr. Coate would ever be open to such a discussion. He seems totally blind to the fact that he has presuppositions that he is bringing to the text that need tested or challenged. When you do that, then you are saying more about yourself than you are about what the text says.

What is worse is that Coate ends up contradicting himself. For example, he says:

This is the issue: the character and love of God based on a man’s interpretation of the Bible. Calvin’s interpretation has serious consequences regarding Biblical orthodoxy. George Bryson writes:

My contention that Calvinism is not simply a protest of correction of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, as so many mistakenly believe. Instead, it is a challenge to all Christians everywhere who believe God has a saving love for and a saving interest in all of mankind, as expressed in John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9

I find it just slightly ironic that he accuses Calvinists of following the interpretations of a man, and then he quotes the interpretations of a man, namely, George Bryson! Not only that, but there is another problem. Mr. Coate is a man himself. Apparently, he cannot trust his own interpretation because his interpretation of the character and love of God is likewise based on a man’s interpretation of the Bible, namely his own. Hence, in one paragraph, he contradicts himself twice. It is just this kind of naivete that is very dangerous when you start accusing people of being cultic.

However, this is not my only concern. My biggest concern is that there really seems to be a lot of misrepresentation mixed in with what Mr. Coate has said. For example:

Before we take a closer look at the five points of TULIP, I have found a very simple test for determining whether one is a true Calvinist or just a Calvinist by association. The question to ask a potential Calvinist is this: “Do you believe that you will be save or damned for all of eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity?” If the person answers “no,” one can assume that he knows little or nothing of the essential elements of Calvinistic doctrine. If he responds “yes,” one can conclude that he understands what he believes. Some of these people, however, insist they are still Reformed. They justify this claim by calling themselves “four-point Calvinists.” We will cover the fallacy of adhering two four-point Calvinism shortly.

Now, my biggest concern with this is that the question “Do you believe that you will be save or damned for all of eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity?” is misguided and misleading. What does it mean to be “damned from all eternity.” Does it mean that God chose to damn the non-elect in the same sense as he chose to save the elect? IF that is what this question means, then the answer is obviously “no.” The reason is that our reprobation is judgment for our sin. The sinfulness of humanity is universal as a result of the fall. God doesn’t have to *do* anything to damn anyone; we are damned because we are sinful rebels against God. However, if what is meant by the question is that God has chosen to give mercy to some and justice to others from all of eternity, then this is what Calvinism teaches. The ambiguity of the question is somewhat misleading in that it could cause an unwary reader to assume that the Calvinist believes that reprobation and salvation are exactly the same; they are not.

Likewise, the main problem with the whole discussion of reprobation is that it does not take into consideration the differences between Calvinistic and Arminian anthropology. The reason why Calvinists can say that God is just in his condemnation of the wicked is because man, in his natural state, only deserves that damnation. Given this logic, for a President to truly be merciful and loving, he must pardon every single criminal on death row. Such is absurd, because it ignores the fact that our sin nature makes us worthy of death. That is why the doctrine of unconditional election is based upon the doctrine of total inability. The two are intimately linked. This comes out in this quote:

He [Sproul] defines reprobation as “God’s decreeing from all eternity that certain unfortunate people are destined for damnation.” However, “unfortunate” seems to be the wrong word. It is unfortunate when someone gets a flat tire on the way to work. It is something else when one is eternally punished in hell for being born in a spritual state that they could not change, or that God would not change.

Again, one gets the sense that this state has nothing to do with them personally. The problem is that sin is not something that is totally detached from us as persons. Sin is evil rebellion against God, and those who are in bondage to sin are evil rebels against God deserving of his wrath and nothing more. That is how all human beings are from their youth [Genesis 6:5].

Hence, if all human beings, by default are wicked enough to deserve damnation, then there is not problem with God giving them damnation. In order to make this system work, you have to greatly lessen what sin is, and the effects of sin, and hence, that needs to be where the issue lies.

Another thing that I think is really dangerous about this book is the following quotation:

It should be noted that non-Calvinist’s definitions of Calvinism are far more accurate than those of the Calvinist. As we have seen, leading Calvinists have been in the practice of revealing only the “good” parts of their doctrine while downplaying the parts that are not.

On the other hand, non-Calvinists, without fear or guilt, can rightly realty both the salvific and damning doctrines of Calvinistic theology.

My concern with this statement is that there is no real attempt to try to understand where the other side is coming from. When you make a statement like this, what you are basically saying is that you are not willing to listen to what the other side has to say, and to use their definitions. I could simply debate Mr. Coate on Arminianism, and then define Arminianism as Open Theism, and, when he asks why I am misrepresenting him, I will just say that, “My representations of Arminianism are more accurate than Arminians, because I can, without apology, present the salvific side of Arminianism as well as the damning doctrines of arminianism.” Such would be utter nonsense.

What I do think is worse is that there *are* people who are not arminians, and yet, who will not misrepresent us. For example, Dr. Michael Brown is not a Calvinist, and yet his representations of Calvinism are generally accurate. He has even corrected callers on his radio programs who hold to his views for misrepresentations.

Also, another misrepresentation comes out here:

Despite Calvinist vaunts of sound hermeneutics, the Calvinistic doctrine reveals otherwise. Although R.C. Sproul claims that Calvinists “are not therefore, to set one part of Scripture against another,” the very heart and sould of the Reformed faith does just that. The one “part of scripture”-God’s sovereignty in election-is held so highly that the other “part of scripture”-man’s free will in election- is simply buried. Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, accurately writes, “If one important truth is presed to the exclusion of another truth of equal importance, it becomes an error and loses its hold upon the conscience.” Thus, it is not the doctrines of the elect or God’s sovereign power that are in error, but those who persist to press them to the exclusion of man’s free will and choice.

My concern is that this is way too reductionistic. When I studied under Dr. John Feinberg at Trinity, he told me that there are at least four different senses in which one can speak of “free will.” The question that must be asked is, “In which of the four senses does the Bible speak of ‘free will?'” That is the problem. You see, Coate has taken one view of free will, made it the standard, but has never bothered to prove that his version of “free will” is the one found in the Bible.

Not only that, but there is an absolutely ridiculous poem that is found in this book. I have to post it here because, once you read it, it will just leave you shaking your head as to how many misrepresentations one poem can have:

Jesus loves me! This I know
Predestination tells me so
Sovereign God loves me so well
But He may want you in hell

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Jesus loves me, I will win!
Cannot fall away by sin.
Can’t resist His grace, it’s true,
Died for me but not for you

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Jesus gives just bread and wine,
Spiritualizing is just fine.
His body’s trapped at God’s right hand,
Way far off Christ takes His stand.

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Jesus loves me! Where is he?
Up in heaven, can’t you see?
Can’t be sure where I will go
Jesus’ little lamb, or no?

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Never pictures will I see,
No vain images for me!
Tear the paintings off the wall,
Trash them kick them down the hall

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Principles that regulate,
All our worship, ain’t that great?
Even if we aren’t too sure,
Which points really are secure.

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

Coate then comments:

This poem illustrates the “flip side of election” better than any Calvinist writings I have read. Yet, despite the astounding differences between TULIP theology and Christian orthodoxy, Calvinism still claims not only to be biblically accurate but to have a “…system of pure Biblical belief which stands firmly on the word of God.

The problem is that I believe that this poem illustrates, better than anything, how a person who does not care about accuracy can mock someone else out of ignorance. Let us take these verses one at a time:

Jesus loves me! This I know
Predestination tells me so
Sovereign God loves me so well
But He may want you in hell

The problem is that no Calvinist has ever said that predestination is how we know that God loves us. The book of 1 John outlines the ways in which we can know that we are loved of God, and it never mentions anything having to do with “predestination.”

Secondly, the phrase “but he may want you in hell” has the all important part of human sin missing. God may want you in hell because you are a rebel sinner, and thus, are deserving of his punishment. When put in that regard, it doesn’t seem so bad, and certainly not the cheesy caricature that we get from this ridiculous poem!

Since this is repeated over and over again, I will deal with it only once:

Yes Jesus loves me
Well, maybe He loves me
I sure hope he loves me
I guess I’ll never know

There are only a few ways one can take this, and that is that no Calvinist *could* ever know that he is saved. The problem is that this is simply untrue. First of all, it would be interesting to see what passages like 2 Peter 1:10 where Peter tells us to be more diligent to make our election sure. Also, it would be difficult to understand why we should “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith” [2 Corinthians 13:5]. Why should we do that if every single person should have certainty.

The reality is that certainty is a whole lot more arduous than the ticket theology that is presented in this song. The book of 1 John says so. For example, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” [1 John 2:3]. I am actually glad that assurance is far more arduous than what is laid out here. If I am deeply involved in sin, I want my assurance to be gone, because I want to come to my senses so I will leave that sin! Giving people assurance in their sin gives them comfort in their sin, and that is why this position leads, logically, to antinomianism.

Now, I suppose one could argue the classic arminian perspective, and say that a person can loose their salvation. However, the question then would simply be how you know that you haven’t lost your salvation. Hence, this destroys assurance as well.

Jesus loves me, I will win!
Cannot fall away by sin.
Can’t resist His grace, it’s true,
Died for me but not for you

Now, that last statement is just a blatant, bold misrepresentation of Calvinism. We do not believe that we can say that God died for me but not for you, because we don’t know who the elect are. It is a simple misrepresentation.

Jesus gives just bread and wine,
Spiritualizing is just fine.
His body’s trapped at God’s right hand,
Way far off Christ takes His stand.

It is hard to know how to take this. Does the author believe as the Roman Catholics and Lutherans view that Christ is physically present in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? It is hard to say. Also, what is meant by “spiritualizing is just fine?” Again, when it is hard to recognize what the other person is saying, misrepresentation is probably not far around the corner.

Jesus loves me! Where is he?
Up in heaven, can’t you see?
Can’t be sure where I will go
Jesus’ little lamb, or no?

Again, we have already dealt with this issue of assurance. Also, it is difficult to know what is meant by the first two lines. Is the author seriously suggesting that Christ’s body exists in more than one place at once, and all the problems associated with that? It is hard to say.

Never pictures will I see,
No vain images for me!
Tear the paintings off the wall,
Trash them kick them down the hall

First of all, while it is certainly true that many iconoclasts have destroyed other people’s property, no Calvinist I am aware of thinks that we should go into churches, and start throwing out idolatrous pictures, and throwing them in the trash. It is, again, a caricature. Also, it ignores the fact that prohibition on images deals specifically with worship [bowing down and worshipping].

Principles that regulate,
All our worship, ain’t that great?
Even if we aren’t too sure,
Which points really are secure.

Again, it is difficult to take this seriously, because it is as if arminians do not debate things amongst themselves. The fact that Calvinists may disagree with each other as to which things are allowed and which are not does not invalidate the principle. For example, arminians have many different interpretations of Romans 9, but does that therefore mean that this invalidates the idea that Romans 9 is consistent with arminianism? According to Coate’s logic, yes.

Hence, it is simply laughable to call this an accurate representation of Calvinistic theology. The vast majority of this is a strawman.

After saying all of this, Coate then tries to “compare Christian orthodoxy and Calvinism.” For example:

Is Calvinism’s authority from Scripture alone?

1. While Calvinism claims to adhere to the Scripture alone, its allegiance to TULIP makes such a claim ultimately untrue.

Of course, how would Coate like it if I put it this way:

1. While arminianism claims to adhere to the Scripture alone, its allegiance to libertarian free will makes such a claim ultimately untrue.

Of course, the whole issue is whether the Bible teaches TULIP or libertarian free will in the first place.

Are Calvinism’s interpretations of essential doctrines radically different from the draditionally orthodox?

2. As we delve into the pillars of Calvinistic doctrine, we will see that Calvinism’s interpretation of fundamental doctrines of slavation greatly diverges from the traditionally orthodox.

Of course, there is nothing much else you can do when someone says “read the rest of the book,” but, either way, how is he going to be interpreting the text of scripture without interpreting it himself? Doesn’t that imply that his interpretation is invalid because it is that of a man?

Are Calvinism’s central doctrines presented in the early creeds and confessions?

3. Calvinism’s fundamental doctrines are not mentioned in the historic and essential creeds or confessions of the faith and were evidently not assumed by the early church fathers.

Again, this is challengable, first on the ground that many of the early church fathers are not translated yet, and second there have been those who have looked at the way the apostolic fathers, such as Clement of Rome spoke of the “elect,” and could, indeed, understand him to be teaching just that. In fact, I remember one Lutheran telling me that Clement of Rome is one ancient writer that just drips with Luther’s thinking.

Thirdly, the issue with orthodoxy is not whether the teaching is found in early creeds and confessions, but whether it contradicts early creeds and confessions. There are many things that are not found in the early creeds and confessions that most evangelicals would believe today, such as Anselm’s view of the atonement. The most popular view of this time period was the ransom to Satan theory. Also, the idea that baptism does not regenerate is likewise something that is unheard of in this period.

However, what concerns me more then the hermeneutical assumptions and the strawman argumentation is, ironically, the cultic nature of this kind of thinking. I am not saying that arminianism is cultic, but this kind of attitude that will not test its interpretations of scripture, and insists that they are the ones that have the accurate representation of the state of affairs, and you have no say is the very attitude that you find in many cults. Consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses who say that reading “apostate” literature is like reading pornography. Consider the way in which the Mormon will just assume certain interpretations of scripture, without ever looking sometimes at only a couple of verses before hand.

That is why I say that this stuff is dangerous. If you have the truth, then you have nothing to be afraid of. However, if you don’t have the truth, then what are you trying to hide? I can respect my arminian friends and professors such as Dr. Grant Osborne or Dr. Michael Brown [ with whom I had an exchange on Genesis 50:20 on his Line of Fire blog last year] who have the courage of their convictions to defend what they believe. If you are unwilling to challenge what you believe, and you have to shut everyone else out by saying that they are “unorthodox” or “heretics,” then you are taking a mentality that is extremely cultic.

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3 Responses to “Does Calvinism have a “Cultish Side?””

  1. becky Says:

    My perspective of calvinism has been jaded by patriarchy. I didn’t even know what it was until I started learning about patriarchy. Doug Phillips is reformed/calvinist and that was my introduction to it.

    I’m interested in learning more about it from a reasonable perspective…I don’t agree or disagree. I’m not a calvinist, but I don’t consider them to be cultish at all. I consider them my brothers/sisters in Christ.

    I think the phrase “lose your salvation” is misleading because I don’t believe you can lose it like you lose car keys. I grew up in strict holiness churches (Nazarene, pilgrim holiness) and they commonly believe something like this scenario: a Christian man is driving down the road and sees a pretty woman on the sidewalk and lusts. Immediately he’s hit by a truck and dies. He goes to hell because he lost his salvation when he sinned. I think the Nazarene church is easing up on this belief (my parents attend one and mom said her pastor does not believe this way). I don’t believe this at all but I grew up with it ingrained in me (not by my parents, but by the Christian school I attended and the churches we attended).

    Had to smile because I do own the book The Other Side of Calvinism! I’ve never read it though. I ordered it years and years ago back when I was a Pearl fan (M. Pearl recommends it). What do you think of the book “The Church Is Israel Now”? Our calvinist friends loaned it to us. I read online that the author believed the Holocaust was a hoax and that kind of dampened my enthusiasm about the book. I’ve never read it, just skimmed through it.

  2. otrmin Says:

    becky,

    Ya, it seems like you have have extremes on both sides. I am not a dispensationalist, but I do believe that the holocaust happened, and that it was one of the greatest injustices in the history of mankind. However, I base that on the fact that man is created in the image of God, not on the fact that this was done to Jews. It would have been equally heinous if it were done to Muslims, Christians, or Hindus. However, yes, there are some radical anti-dispensationalists that have turned anti-Semitic, just as there are some dispensationalists that have turned to reverse racism.

    There are a number of better reformed critiques of dispensationalism. One person pointed me to a book he said was really good, but I haven’t had a chance to look at it. It is called Understanding Dispensationalists by Vern S. Poythress. Poythress is a good friend and former student of John Frame, who I quote often, and hence, he is much more balanced. Also, anything by Kenneth Gentry is really good from the postmillenial perspective in dealing with Dispensationalism.

    Also, Calvinism is not limited to patriarchy. Wade Burleson, who is very much against patriarchy, is himself a Calvinist. You can be a Calvinist, and not be a patriarchalist or an anti-Semite. It just requires balance. Many of the folks that go into these more radical movements within Calvinism and Arminianism lack Biblical balance when it comes to dealing with certain issues. If you remain balanced, you will not fall for the nonsense that exists in either theological tradition.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  3. Shawn Mathis Says:

    “When you don’t recognize the presuppositions that you bring to the text from your own background, you open up the door to unintentionally giving more of an autobiographical statement than an exposition of scripture.”

    Nice. I’ll have to use that with the FICs!

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