Skip to comments.Are Calvinists Arrogant?
Posted on 08/10/2012 9:01:57 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
I’m much more involved in political/cultural battles than I am in theological squabbles, but ever since I first dipped my toe in those tumultuous waters, I’ve heard the same criticism again and again: Reformed believers are just so darn arrogant. When I first heard the critique, I scoffed. Surely not. After all, who has less reason to boast than a Calvinist? Not only can we take zero credit for our faith (can a zombie take credit for someone graciously giving him the antidote?), but the theology is, frankly, not that complex. Let’s face it: “God is sovereign” is not a hard concept to grasp.
I kept scoffing — until the evidence mounted and mounted. Ex-members of the PCA described endless theological disputes, other Christians I respect opened my eyes to the subtle jabs hidden in blog posts and public statements, and even official outlets like the PCA’s own magazine began carrying articles noting (and lamenting) the denomination’s often uncharitable contentiousness. I even felt its sting directly as a church official responded to one of my own inquiries (admittedly, a rather adversarial inquiry) with a condescending declaration that I didn’t really understand Calvinism.
Again: What’s there that’s tough to understand?
Arminian pride I can get. After all, if you truly have free will, then you deserve some degree of legitimate credit for discerning the truth. Your pastors deserve credit for communicating truth in a way that it is most easily understood, and your good deeds are, well, your good deeds — at least to some extent. (And yes I know I’m over-simplifying). But a prideful Calvinist? It should be an oxymoron.
And yet the reputation exists. Why? I have three non-mutually-exclusive theories:
1. Lots and lots of Calvinists are arrogant. Let’s start with the Occam’s Razor explanation. We could have a reputation for arrogance because, well, we’re arrogant. This of course begs the question as to why, but let’s start with noting that our reputation is in part well-deserved.
2. Calvinists are a squabbling, disputatious lot. I used to think that my old church (the one I was predestined to leave), the a cappella churches of Christ, had cornered the market on fratricide. If you live in the heart of Church of Christ country (as I do), then you’re familiar with the phenomenon of two churches from the same “denomination” brooding at each other from across the street, and you likely lived through the newsletter wars of the 1990s, and the endless controversies over things like gyms in church buildings, taped music during weddings, and basketball goals in parking lots. Growing up in the churches of Christ was like growing up in in a community center built by the Crips and Bloods — without declaring a truce.
But we Calvinists certainly give the Church of Christ a run for its money. Where my ancestors used to break off and start their own church, my fellow congregants bring claims in church courts and glare from the pews at preachers they despise. The theological disputes are at least as intense, the language every bit as nasty, but — crucially — that nastiness exists when we don’t actually believe souls are at stake. In my Church of Christ upbringing, lost arguments could mean damned souls. Not so for the Reformed, yet we fight on. And on. And on.
Of course there is room for healthy disagreement in any denomination, but unless disagreements are conducted with grace and charity, one or both sides will always come across as arrogant, bull-headed, or just plain jerks.
3. Calvinist theology sounds arrogant to modern ears. Simply put, it’s tough to talk about the “elect” in our egalitarian era without it sounding harsh, unforgiving, and elitist. Even if the “elect” can’t take any credit at all for God’s grace and mercy, then very concept itself puts many of us on edge. I can see it in almost any religious discussion — when “the question” is popped: “So you actually believe that God has chosen some people for salvation and left the rest of us for damnation?” I will rephrase, of course, and try to reframe the discussion around God’s mercy towards a broken and depraved world, but the true Good News of the Gospel so completely depends on there also being a bad news we don’t want to hear (that we’re lost, sinful, and evil — richly deserving judgment) that it’s impossible to be Calvinist and be in step at all with our modern, “up with people” everyone-gets-a-trophy culture. In other words, even when we leaven our words with love and grace, the mere vocalization of our beliefs strikes many people as utterly insufferable.
Oh, and if you combine actual arrogance and a contentious spirit to an out-of-step theology, well then you’re basically the superhero of d-bags — the Superbag.
What’s the antidote? It’s more than humility, really. Our zombified, putrified soul was lifted out of its flesh-eating blackness only because of the amazing grace of a loving God. We did nothing at all to merit our rescue any more than lost sheep do anything at all to merit the Shepherd’s rescue. Cognizant of this fact, shouldn’t we be the most grateful people alive? It took a trip to Iraq and back for me to become truly grateful. But it shouldn’t have taken riding over an antitank mine that didn’t explode for me to understand grace and gratitude.
So here’s my message to my fellow Calvinists: let’s proclaim the Gospel, but let’s get over ourselves. After all, how can we possibly be cocky about a simple theology that we couldn’t possibly understand without divine intervention?
....Arminian pride I can get. After all, if you truly have free will, then you deserve some degree of legitimate credit for discerning the truth. Your pastors deserve credit for communicating truth in a way that it is most easily understood, and your good deeds are, well, your good deeds at least to some extent. (And yes I know Im over-simplifying)...
I have three non-mutually-exclusive theories:
1. Lots and lots of Calvinists are arrogant....
2. Calvinists are a squabbling, disputatious lot....
3. Calvinist theology sounds arrogant to modern ears....
....I can see it in almost any religious discussion when the question is popped: So you actually believe that God has chosen some people for salvation and left the rest of us for damnation? I will rephrase, of course, and try to reframe the discussion around Gods mercy towards a broken and depraved world, but the true Good News of the Gospel so completely depends on there also being a bad news we dont want to hear (that were lost, sinful, and evil richly deserving judgment) that its impossible to be Calvinist and be in step at all with our modern, up with people everyone-gets-a-trophy culture. In other words, even when we leaven our words with love and grace, the mere vocalization of our beliefs strikes many people as utterly insufferable.
Oh, and if you combine actual arrogance and a contentious spirit to an out-of-step theology, well then youre basically the superhero of d-bags the Superbag.
Having grown up CRC, also growing up on the fringes of a heavily Dutch area (outside of “promised land”), but yet CRC myself. I completely experienced this, and saw it growing up. I pray for those folks.
Typical of the moderate faction - let’s all just get along - on the terms that WE dictate.
I have walked in a little different circle than the author of the article. Whether Allistar Begg’s Pastor’s Conference, or James Kennedy’s EE, Reformed conferences or contact with those of the Calvinist approach to Scripture the doctrines should and do lead to humility.
It continues to amaze that out of billions of people God has chosen me. It is humbling. I would not have even understood the Gospel or recognized the weight of sin unless God had moved in my life, sent His Son, or utilized His Spirit in regard to conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
However, there is an incredible worth, esteem, and wonder at being a child of God, having a personal relationship, being a part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation,....
Pride still rears its ugly head in each one of us. We need to repent daily, die to self daily, and walk in gentleness, patience, trust, and self-control.
God have mercy.
I knew an older man who was in the habit of saying, I was raised in the CRC, but praise God, I got saved.”
He had never heard even one salvation message in the church.
I’ve known a few Calvinists that were more arrogant than even John Calvin himself, and that’s saying something.
This old man wasn’t listening at Mass, for every Sunday we have readings from the Old Testament, St. Paul, and the Gospel about being saved.
Makes me think he didn’t partake of the Sacraments as he should have.
Rather than pride, I think some of it is “Young Calvinist Syndrome”. A young Calvinist is often a bit like a former smoker: he’s discovered something that changed his spiritual life and he is hot to help everybody around him discover it, too. When I first discovered Reformed Theology I was insufferable. I’m sure I annoyed folks endlessly, althogh they were all too nice to say so. Then I grew up and mellowed out. But the damage is probaaly already done.
This discussion has nothing to do with us lurking Catholics.
Like the author, I grew up in the churches of Christ. Unlike the author, I am not a Calvinist, though I got to a heavily Calvinist leaning church. I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters very much, even though we don’t see eye-to-eye.
I’ll throw in my two-cents as to why some Calvinists seem arrogant...from a non-Calvinist’s viewpoint who has studied both view points for over 20 years. By the way, I know I can come across arrogant as well, so please don’t think I’m pointing fingers at my brothers.
I’ll give my three reasons:
1. Calvinists have a tendency to come across as “enlightened” because they “understand” election. This comes across to the non-Calvinist as being very arrogant as many of us non-Calvinists wholly understand the Calvinist viewpoint, but believe the scriptures teach differently. Most of us non-Calvinists (I hate to use the name Arminian because I just want to wear the name of Christ alone) Admittedly, this can be said to be true about non-Calvinist protestants as well...but this article happens to be about arrogance of Calvinists.
2. The phrase the person used who said he can’t believe he was “chosen” just sounds, to our ears, as merited. I know it’s not meant that way. But to most people, being chosen is like being chosen over someone else because it is merited. In our vernacular, it’s like a person being chosen for a kick-ball team in grade school. It was always nice to feel chosen early because it makes you feel as if you are better than others. Just that term can just sound arrogant to others.
3. This one is big one for me. Calvinists can sound arrogant when they claim to be the ones ascribing to God his full sovereignty. To us non-Calvinists, this is a slap in the face as we see it very differently. First, sovereignty doesn’t mean that God can do anything. I don’t think most Calvinists would even ascribe that attribute to God as God can’t go against his own nature. For example, God can’t lie, can he? Sovereignty just means that God is his own entity and answers to no one. He is fully free to do as He pleases. You and I cannot claim that ability since we answer to God. We even answer to government and other authorities. But, Calvinists and non-Calvinists fully agree that God answers to no one. Furthermore, non-Calvinists believe that God can give mankind free-will to do that which God has given mankind the ability to do. That would mean that God can give people free will to choose. I’ve heard so many Calvinist argue that He can’t because it would cause God to not be sovereign (though they really mean not in control). To the non-Calvinist, that sounds contrary to the claim that God is sovereign, for if God is truly sovereign, he CAN do it, rather than CAN’T do it. It sounds to non-Calvinists that Calvinists are limiting God’s authority. To the non-Calvinist free-will doesn’t mean that mankind has any ability to go against God’s will. It just means that mankind has the ability to choose to do or not do anything God has given mankind the ability to do. However, that doesn’t mean God has given mankind the ability to have any authority over God. Anyway, I cringe when I hear a Calvinist speak of non-Calvinists as those who do not ascribe sovereignty to God, because to us, it’s sounds very arrogant, and untrue.
Just my two-cents about what I’ve experienced. Again, I’m only pointing this out in response to this posting. I fully understand that non-Calvinists can sound equally as arrogant, and for that I ask for your forgiveness.
Reformers bring with them a king-of-the-hill, theological royalty posture to the discussion. They are the enlightened, and then there is everyone else.
And, they tend to take themselves very seriously.
Not a small number of Reformers I know also believe themselves to be so right, they give themselves license to do wrong in the advancement of their position, doing things like slandering brothers or splitting churches. Sowing discord is okay for them, because they have the truth.
And I’m mostly reformed.
Theologically, Catholics and Baptists are rather more in agreement than Catholics and Presbyterians but, in my town at least, Presbyterians seem to get along socially with Catholics much more amiably than Baptists do but Baptists more readily become Catholic than Presbyterians do- the largest Catholic parish in the area is composed in large part of converted Baptists.
CRC = Christian Reformed Church
While I have some significant theological differences with the Roman Catholic church, I personally know hundreds of Catholics who are Christian.
Surely anyone reading this article and this thread should realize that he should have no problem with Romney’s religion unless he has a problem with a whole bunch of other folks who call themselves Christians.
If anyone is going to tell me that Romney’s Mormonism is more disqualifying for the presidency than believing that God decided who will and will not get to Heaven when (or maybe before) He spoke the world into existence, I’m going to sweetly tell that fellow he’s nuts. And by the way, I think each of David French, Mitt Romney, and a number of other relatively conservative folks (Christians and non-Christians both) would make a great President.
I knew an older man who was in the habit of saying, I was raised in the CRC, but praise God, I got saved.
He had never heard even one salvation message in the church.
Having spent a fair chunk of time in the CRC in my time, I can only speculate that his mind was elsewhere during catechesis, or the Lord's Supper liturgy.
Q)What good does it do you then, to believe all this?
A)In Christ I am right with God and heir to eternal life.
I know, I always read that as "cyclic redundancy check".
LOL! The irony is totally missed.
Either that, or he was expecting a weekly altar call.
That's been my experience too, at least with non-creedal Baptists. But when you toss in something like the 1689 "Baptist Confession of Faith" into the mix, that tendency to convert drops off.