(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)
As I pointed out in the last post, I have noticed some “techniques” that Calvinists (predestination-believers) use to manipulate people into agreeing with them (or at least into not vocally disagreeing with them), such as claiming that predestination is “just what the Bible says and so you have to accept it, even though we can't understand it.” (Maybe free-will-believers have similar techniques, too, but I am only looking at the other side right now.)
And I am sure that while some of the people do this on purpose, as a sort of “power play,” I am also sure that many are not doing it on purpose, that they are not trying to manipulate others as much as they just want to honor God by being true to what they think Scripture teaches. (Personally, I think a lot of Calvinists haven't really studied Calvinism. And if they did, they wouldn't be Calvinists anymore. I think they stop at the idea that Calvinism teaches "God is sovereign," and they go, "Oh ... well ... of course God is sovereign and can do whatever He wants. So I guess I'm a Calvinist then." But they never stop to question Calvinism's definition of sovereignty, which is far different than what the Bible shows.)
So before I get into the specifics, I want to give the benefit-of-the-doubt to those who are really just trying to be true to Scripture and who are not intending to “bully” others into agreeing with them. But I still think it’s important to point out some of the “manipulation techniques” that people use, so that we don’t get distracted and diverted and shamed by them. (I discovered most of these techniques simply by listening to my pastor's sermons.)
In no particular order:
1. “My view is God’s view. And it’s what the Bible teaches.”
But my pastor repeatedly says things like, “If you disagree with my view on this, then you are disagreeing with the Bible and God. Because the Bible so clearly teaches it.”
No! I am not disagreeing with the Bible or with God; I am disagreeing with his interpretation of what the Bible says about this.
And if centuries of theologians don’t agree on it, then it is not “so clear” and we can’t act like “God told me the answer and you’re wrong if you disagree with me.”
Personally, I think “It’s just what the Bible says and you don't have to understand it, but you do have to accept it” and “Disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God” are sneaky, clever ways of shutting-up any opposition ... because no one wants to sound like they are questioning or disagreeing with God or the Bible. It’s making it so that no one can disagree with your view because you are claiming that your view is God’s view.
But this is such a messy, confusing issue that I don’t think any of us can claim with smug certainty that “my view is God’s view.” We can firmly believe what we do in our own hearts, but we cannot force it on others as "the only way to view it." We all – pastors included - need to be teachable and humble in our approach to this.
And there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with others on this - even with your pastor or a popular theologian - and then digging deeper into the Word yourself to really understand what Scripture says. You just might be surprised to find that what you're being taught isn't the truth at all!
2. “The Bible doesn’t have a problem with it.”
“Well, the Bible doesn’t have any tension or conflict with balancing predestination and God’s love/justness. It presents these ideas in perfect harmony. It’s only we Christians who struggle with it.”
They make you feel like the problem is with you and your understanding of Scripture, instead of with their interpretation of Scripture.
But ... of course the Bible doesn’t have any internal conflict with what it teaches. Of course, it holds everything it teaches in harmony.
But it’s not the Bible that I am struggling against and have tension with. It’s someone else’s interpretation of what the Bible teaches that I struggle with and find tension in. Because I don’t think it meshes with what the Bible really says.
3. "But the real question is ..."
So let's say there's a man who is married, and he loves his wife. He makes her meals, showers her with gifts, and takes her on wonderful vacations. But without his wife's knowledge, he goes out regularly on weekends and slaughters people - men, women, children. Just because he can. He's a serial killer.
Would anyone say, "Well, the real issue here isn't that he slaughters people; it's that he chose to love anyone. The fact that he loves his wife shows how good he is."?
Um, no, Calvinist! The real issue isn't that God loves and chooses some people (as Calvinists believe). A wretched, heartless serial killer can still "love" his wife. But the real issue truly is "What kind of a God would tell people not to sin but then cause them to sin, and then punish them for sinning? What kind of God would tell people they have to believe in Him for eternal life but then withhold salvation and grace from most people, causing them to be unbelievers, and then send them to hell for it? What kind of a God would claim He loves all people but then only send Jesus to die for 'the elect'?"
How we treat those who are not our "favorites" tells more about what kind of people we are than how we treat those we like best!
How God treats those who are not His "elect" shows us what kind of a God He really is! That's why this issue is more important than if God loves a few preselected people. His "hatred" of the rest of them - damning them to hell through no fault of their own, commanding them to do things He made impossible for them to do, causing them to do what He told them not to do and then punishing them for it - would completely negate His love for a few people.
If God is who the Calvinists say He is, then He is an unjust, unreliable, untrustworthy, irrational, unreasonable, wicked, lying Monster. A Calvinist God is no different than Satan, even if He does "love and choose" a few people.
Do not let Calvinists deflect from the real issue! The real issue is about what kind of God He is, according to the Bible. And the Calvinist version of God is far, far different from the Bible!
[And if they do answer the question of "Why would God predestine people for hell?", it will almost always be with "Because God does everything for His glory. So if He predestines people to hell, it's for His glory." They expect "it's for His glory" to shut up any opposition because who is going to argue with God's right to get glory. But the problem here is that they have changed what the Bible says and changed God's character, and then used "God's glory" to make it all sound legitimate.
They really ought to be ashamed of themselves for the damage they do to the Gospel and to God's character! But if they aren't ashamed now, they will be ... when they stand before God and give an account for how they represented Him and for what they taught others about Him.]
4. A Little Bait-and-Switch
Another thing to watch out for is the “bait and switch” technique. Of course, I don’t think the person is being deliberately manipulative (or maybe they are?), but I do think it is a clever (maybe unconscious) way to stop opposition.
This is when they present a truth and get you to agree to the truth . . . and then they attach that truth to their viewpoint, making you feel like since you now agreed with the truth, you have to also agree with their view.
He presents some truths that no one should disagree with: God is our Heavenly Father, He created all, He commands us to evangelize, and we need to be obedient to Him. And once he gets you to feel appropriately humbled before God and to agree with these truths, then he slips “predestination” in there. He adds his view of predestination to the clear biblical truths that you just agreed with, making you feel like you cannot now disagree with anything he says or else you will show yourself to be unhumble, argumentative, and like you are disagreeing with the clear biblical truths that he just brought up.
The problem here, though, is that you are not disagreeing with the truths but with what he is applying them to, the controversial unclear thing that he slipped in there. (And besides, if God expects us to obey His command to evangelize, then that means it's possible to disobey. And if we have to choose between obeying or disobeying His command to evangelize, then we are right back to free-will.)
Be aware of these kinds of manipulative techniques - the ones that make you feel so unhumble for disagreeing that you will end up agreeing with “faulty logic” (which I think “Calvinism/predestination” is) just so you can’t be accused of disagreeing with clear, biblical truth.
[In fact, many of these tactics seem to center on making you feel like if you disagree or question it, you are an unhumble Christian. And who wants to be an unhumble Christian?]
5. “Other cultures don’t have problems with it and can humbly accept it as truth.”
I have also heard things (yep, from my pastor!) that go like this: “People from other countries have no problem with ‘predestination.’ It’s only us entitled, power-hungry, self-sufficient, un-humble Americans who have trouble with it. Because we have trouble submitting to authority. We like to be independent. We are enamored with our freedoms, with making our own decisions.” (It wasn't said exactly this way, but this was the intended message.)
This makes it so that if you disagree with predestination and Calvinism, you are identifying yourself as “entitled, power-hungry, self-sufficient, and un-humble.” And who wants to do that!?!
"Those shameful Americans, always so concerned with being in control and having the power and being self-sufficient! How dishonoring to God! But, oh, those humble foreign people! Those are the people who really honor God by accepting His supreme authority in their lives, by not questioning His right to do whatever He wants, even deciding who goes to hell with no chance to be saved!"
6. “Humble children can accept it.”
Another tactic (my pastor's on a roll!) is claiming that predestination is a view that even children can understand and humbly accept, but it’s only us proud, self-righteous adults who have trouble with it. And that when God calls us to be “humble like a child,” He means that we simply accept this teaching in faith, without questioning His ways because it’s what the Bible says is true.
This is a somewhat scary one because it is telling you to abandon all reason and research and deep understanding. It’s telling you to just accept what you are told ... or risk looking like a proud, self-righteous adult who isn’t “humble like a child” as the Bible calls us to be.
"Shame, shame on those proud, argumentative adults. Always having to question things. Always needing answers. Always needing to understand things they don't have a right to understand. Why can't they be more like humble, trusting children!?!"
Well, here’s the thing:
Children also believe in Santa Claus.
And why do they believe in Santa Claus?
Because some trust-worthy adult has told them that he's real. Children trust adults and will believe what we tell them, especially if we tell them that it’s what the Bible says is true. So they have no problem accepting predestination if that is what a trusted adult tells them the Bible says.
[When I told my nine-year-old about predestination, he said, “Then why do we even have this life anyway? Why not skip it all if God already knows where He is going to put us and there’s nothing we can do about it?”]
As I pointed out above, they'll deflect contradictions in their theology with "We don't have to understand it; we just have to accept it. Because it's what the Bible says. God's ways cannot be understood by us anyway."
"After all, who are you, tiny human, to think you can understand God or question Him!?!"
(Yet Calvi-God's mysterious, illogical, contradictory ways can somehow be totally understood by the dogmatic Calvinist theologians and pastors!?! Amazing how they cracked that code, yet we simple-minded humans can't understand it because of our tiny brains and because of our enormous pride that blinds us, and so we just have to accept what they tell us is true! Funny how that works out, isn't it!)
They stop you from digging deeper, from questioning them, from seeking answers, from making sense of the Bible, from pointing out their contradictions and illogical reasoning, and sometimes even from having access to other viewpoints (my pastor won't even acknowledge that there is any other way to view it than his way, and recently they deleted a very biblically-based comment I left on their blog where I disagreed with the pastor's view of predestination).
(Hmm, I wonder, how do cults operate?)
But don't fall for their tactics to keep you from truth. Keep digging. Keep researching. Keep questioning their theology.
When you really find the Truth, it makes sense, and you'll find reasonable answers instead of being left with a bunch of unanswerable questions and confusing contradictions, and you'll see that the Bible tells one consistent story from beginning to end.
The God of the Bible can be trusted! Calvi-God cannot!
Changing Words: Watch out for the ways they change the meanings/usage of words in the Bible. Sometimes they'll even use the original Greek words to make you feel like they know more than you. After all, if they know the Greek words (and you don't) then surely they must know the proper meaning and usage of the word in that verse, right?
It is well-known that Calvinists switch the words "all men" and "world" and "whosoever" to "only the elect" or "all kinds of men." They say that when God said He loved the world (John 3:16), He really just meant the "elect." And when He said Jesus died to save all men, He really just meant "all kinds of men, people from every race." To a Calvinist, "all" doesn't mean "all," "world" doesn't mean "world," and "whosoever" doesn't mean "whosoever."
What the heck!?! How is that "going back to the Word" and "being true to Scripture"!?!
But they have to change the meaning of these words and verses to fit their theology. Because if they didn't, then they would have to rethink their whole errant theology! And they'd rather just cling to their assumptions of what truth is. It's embarrassing and humbling to admit you've been wrong this whole time.
I heard of one Calvinist who said that "world" from John 3:16 means "cosmos," as in the universal realm. I suspect this is a deliberate attempt to stop people from saying that "God so loved the world" means that Jesus died for everyone's sin. And then he can more easily spread his view that God didn't really die for everyone, but only for the elect.
Really!?! Do you really think God's love for the impersonal cosmos was so great that it caused Him to send Jesus to die? For what ... the impersonal cosmos!?!
Yes, the Greek word is "kosmos." But when you look it up in the concordance, it can mean several different things, according to its usage in the verse - such as the earth or universe, or the earth in contrast to heaven, or "the human race, mankind," or Gentiles in contrast to Jews, or the present condition of people in relation to God, or all temporary possessions as a whole, etc.
And the concordance says that John 3:16's "world" means mankind, the human race.
But since that would mean that Jesus died for all of mankind instead of just the elect, I guess this Calvinist is going to define it as "cosmos" because it doesn't contradict his view as much. Even though "mankind" makes much more sense.
And since we're on the topic of John 3:16, Calvinists also say "whosoever" ("whosoever believes shall not perish") doesn't mean that anyone can accept Christ. They say "whosoever" means the "elect," as in "those who believe." They say the verse means "For God so loved the elect (or "cosmos," as some say), that He sent His one and only Son, that the elect would believe in Him and shall not perish but have eternal life."
Interesting! Because the concordance says that "whosoever" is made up of two Greek words, which are essentially "all/any/every/whole" and "the/who." There is nothing about the "elect" or "believe" here. "Whosoever" simply means exactly what we think it does: "Any who" or "All who" etc.
And if "whosoever" in John 3:16 is talking about the elect, then "whosoever" (sometimes translated as "anyone" or "everyone") in these verses also has to mean "the elect" because the concordance says they all use the same Greek word:
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement ..." Matthew 5:22
"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:28
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery ..." Luke 16:18
"Everyone who falls on that stone [Jesus] will be broken to pieces ..." Luke 20:18
" ... a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." John 16:2
"Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father ..." 1 John 2:23
Does it sound like it means "the elect" in these verses? No? Then it can't be said that "whosoever" in John 3:16 means "the elect" either.
"Whosoever" means exactly what we think it does - "anyone/everyone who."
"Oh, but wait," says the Calvinist, "you have to include the 'believes.' 'Whosoever believes' means 'all the believers' - the elect, those predestined to believe."
Well ... that wouldn't work either because "believe" in that verse is not a noun, as in "a believer, a person who believes." It's a verb, as in "to be persuaded by something and, consequently, to commit to it, to put your faith in it."
"Whosoever believes" means exactly what the Bible says ... "Anyone who believes shall not perish but have eternal life."
You know what I else I heard a Calvinist do once? They were talking about the "for those God foreknew" verse (Romans 8:29), and they said that they chose to change "foreknew" to "fore-chose." They decided for themselves that God meant to say He pre-chose His people, not that He fore-knew His people. (Must be nice to be able to change words whenever you feel like it to fit your errant theology!)
Why ... WHY! ... must they keep twisting Bible verses and altering the clear, consistent, rational teachings of Scripture!?! Why must they keep reading into it things that are not there!?!
Assumptions: And they don't just build their theology around misunderstandings of words but also around their own preconceptions and misconceptions of how things must work. And if you start with a foundation of misconceptions, you are building a house of cards on a foundation of Jello. But they never think to question the foundation of misconceptions. They just keep trying to make the building on top more secure.
Such as, they start with the idea that "For God to really be in control means He has to control everything. If you believe He doesn't control everything, that He gives people a choice, then you are saying He is not an all-powerful, sovereign God. You are reducing Him and elevating humans." That's a big fat presumption on their part, equating "in control" with "must control and cause everything." God is much bigger than that and can work all things, even our self-chosen sins, into His plans. And it's not reducing God at all if God Himself decided to allow mankind the right and responsibility to make choices, to have an effect on things that happen.
They also like to say "Well, if God really loved everyone, He would save everyone; but since He didn't save everyone, it must mean He doesn't love everyone the same." They assume God's saving love necessarily ends in saved people, when what it really does is make salvation possible for all people. And then they go and redefine God's love and "whosoever" and "all men" to fit with their idea.
They also start with the assumption of "When Adam and Eve fell, it totally destroyed any good in us. It made us 'totally depraved.' And being totally depraved means we are so wicked and fallen inside that we can't even want God in our lives or think about God or seek God or understand the Word, unless God makes us do it." They manipulate your desire to be humble by making you feel like the only way to be truly humble is to admit that humans are "totally depraved." And that because we are totally depraved, we are totally incapable of wanting or seeking or believing in God, and so God has to do that in us. God has to choose who to "force" into believing in Him. Because our depraved nature makes it impossible for us to do it ourselves. Once again, this is completely from their own imagination, their own reasoning and misconceptions. You find me ONE VERSE that supports this idea, this conclusion. Yes, the idea that we are totally fallen is in the Word, as in mankind is now filled with wickedness and as in we are fully separated from God because of our sinful nature. But NOWHERE does it say that this fallenness has led to a complete inability to think about, desire, or seek God. Calvinists made this up! And then they built their whole theology on this false assumption. In fact, the exact opposite is in the Word - God expects us to seek Him and calls us to seek Him over and over again and He gave us the ability to reason, to think, to desire, to make decisions. My goodness, how wicked Calvinism is!
(Notice I said "Calvinism" not "Calvinists." You have to remember to separate the people from the bad theology. Many Anti-Calvinists hate Calvinism so much that they throw out the people with their views. They hate them both. Do not do that! You can hate the view but love and respect the person. That person is deeply loved by God, Jesus died for them, and God wants them to come to a proper understanding of the Gospel and salvation. Help them, don't hate them!)
Taking Verses Out of Context: For example, Calvinists use Romans 3:10-11 to support their idea of "total depravity/inability," saying that "There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God" means that we are so depraved that we CANNOT seek God or understand.
But the verses don't say that. It's simply a commentary on general human nature, how selfish and self-centered we are, how much we love our sin, how all humans are fallen, how we have no righteousness of our own to earn our salvation. This is why God had to make it possible, to pay the price for our sins, and to offer salvation to us. Because we couldn't do it ourselves. It's not saying we CAN'T seek God or understand, just that in general we don't, we choose not to.
(Besides, this "there is no one righteous" verse would contradict Calvinism's whole idea of God electing some to salvation before the beginning of time. If someone is elected, they are born elected. Righteousness was already bestowed on them by God before they were born. How then can they say that no one is righteous, when supposedly the elect are born with this righteousness already credited to them? The elect are born in a different condition than the unelect. So how can they be lumped in with everyone else?)
In fact, they use all of Romans 9 to say that God chooses whom He wants to, hardens whom He wants to, loves one but hates the other, etc. But they ignore the fact that this is not a chapter on eternal salvation of individuals. It's about two nations and the destiny of two nations: Israel (descended from Jacob) and the Edomites (descended from Esau). It's about God choosing one bloodline over the other to bring Jesus into the world. It's about God having the right to give great jobs/roles to whomever He chooses and to give common, menial jobs/roles to others.
And it's talking about the eternal destinies of two groups: Israel (representing those whom He foreknows will believe in Him, who are adopted as sons, and who will experience glory) and non-Israel (those who won't believe and who will experience wrath). It's saying that God has the right to adopt anyone He wants to be His sons, even those not from Israel, and that He has the right to condemn even Israelites if they do not come to faith in Him. Being a part of Israel does not guarantee salvation, nor does being a Gentile guarantee damnation. God has the right to have mercy on whomever He wants, even a Gentile.
It is not about God deciding who believes and who doesn't! But they always use this passage to say that God arbitrarily chooses some people to believe in Him and He hardens others (causing them to not believe). But that's not what this passage is about!
A lot of Calvinist theology is based on their own ideas of how they think things should work, instead of basing it on the Bible (even though they make it sound like they always go right back to the Word). So listen carefully for the assumptions, misconceptions, illogical human reasoning, and misunderstood words that they base their theology on.
[Honestly, if I didn't know any better, I would think that dogmatic Calvinist preachers, authors, and theologians all must be attending the same class and following the same textbook on how to bully your audience into submission. It's almost cult-like with its controlling techniques - the shaming, manipulating, Scripture-twisting, intimidation, and mocking and silencing of those who question it or oppose it.
They make you feel like if you vocally disagree with them, especially if you are telling other people about your views, then you are causing division and sowing discord. This keeps a lot of well-meaning, polite, caring Christians in line. Because what good Christian wants to hurt the church!
Some Calvinists, I've heard, even make you feel ashamed for seeking answers or researching the issue for yourself, as though you are looking to cause trouble. They make it seem as if being unified as a body of believers is the most important thing - more important apparently than what you are unifying around. (So if witchcraft seeps in, then no one should speak up because we wouldn't want to cause "division," right? What about if members want to support the right to marry animals? How about if they start denying that Jesus even lived or they say He never died and rose again? Is being unified really the most important thing, even more than upholding truth?)
But if Calvinist theology is so solid, they shouldn't be afraid of anything you bring up against Calvinism. Because if they are so right and you are so wrong, then any thing you say against their views will ultimately only affirm how right they are while making you look like a fool. (That's what I told my pastor when he - or at least someone in leadership at church - deleted a very biblically-based comment I left on the church blog, disagreeing with the pastor's view that predestination is clearly taught in the Bible and so we just have to accept it. I told him, by email, that he shouldn't be afraid of opposing views, because it would only make him look smarter and make me look like a fool. IF i am wrong and he is right!)
But what if…?
I don’t mind when we hold different views on controversial, debatable subjects or when we try to explain to others why we think our view is right.
But never let anyone make you feel like you are less of a Christian or less intelligent or more blinded because you disagree with Calvinism and predestination. Don’t let anyone convince you that the only possible responses to it are to “get angry about it, to avoid it, or to accept it.” (Another tactic, leaving no room for disagreement. A favorite of my pastor!)
But it is not the one pointing out heresy who is being divisive. It's the one who is spreading heresy that's being divisive, the one who is telling everyone that there is no other way to see it so everyone just has to agree because it's "what the Bible says." Sometimes, division becomes necessary, especially when lies are being spread as truth, when someone is altering Scripture, when they are doing great damage to God's character, when they are denying what Jesus's sacrificial death accomplished, when they are hurting people's trust and faith in God, when they are telling people the opposite of what the Bible says.
I don't care what else the Calvinist gets right; if they get these things wrong, then it's all wrong!
Don’t be bullied into silence or into "you're being divisive' or into “just accept it and don’t disagree,” setting aside reason and research. Dig deeper. Be discerning. Call out lies when you see them (or else you will be complicit in allowing lies to grow). Pray for insight. Be willing to see what the Bible really says instead of just holding to preconceived ideas or to what someone else tells you to believe. There is more than enough in Scripture to support the idea of free-will, to show that it is a reasonable, intelligent, godly view that fits with Scripture and with God’s character.