Anatomy of a Calvinist Argument

Sometimes I like to think of myself as “mechanically inclined”.  I love to take things apart.  When I was a kid, if it had screws and I had a screwdriver, it had a good chance of being disassembled as far as I could make it go.  Sometimes if it didn’t have screws, but looked like it should come apart, I’d make a yeoman’s effort at it anyway.  I always wanted to get down to the nuts and bolts of things.  Knowing that something worked, what it was for, how to make it work, those things weren’t enough.  I wanted to know why it worked.

Of course, most of the time when I opened things up, the workings were more electronic than mechanical.  I’d get as far as “the buttons push this lever, which presses on a doohicky, and that awakens the magical microscopic leprechauns.” The same leprechauns that keep airplanes aloft [You may think that you know why airplanes can fly, but look it up… the truth is that the physics don’t actually add up.  Weird, eh?].  Unfortunately, I found that once it was apart, getting things back together in working condition proved much more challenging.  I called it “learning”.  Other people called it “breaking”.  Whatever.  In case you were wondering, that’s why I didn’t become a doctor.

AAAAnnnnyyyyway… let’s add that little tidbit in with the well established fact that I have a strong penchant for healthy debate [virulent rhetorical argument], and a basic theological education.  The end result is that I wind up having pleasant online chats with other armchair theologians who hold different points of view, that occasionally only stop short of blows because they can’t feel it when I hit my monitor.

A lot of you won’t care about most of this post.  It’s not an issue that a lot of people think or care about.  Some people will love it.  Some people will hate it.  Such is life.  Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a little Theology (study of God) 101: Outside of the Catholic/Protestant debates, the biggest split in Christian theology is between Calvinists and Arminians.  If you’re a Christian, and don’t know which you are, I’ll tell you how to figure it out at the end of this post.

I’m an Arminian.  My arguments with Calvinists often end with me repeatedly placing my head against my keyboard violently.  I’ve actually (for the most part) stopped engaging in them.  Why?  I took the argument apart.  From an Arminian point of view, an argument looks like a frank exchange of ideas; open and reasoned.  I love that.  From a Calvinist point of view, an argument looks like this:

And that’s stupid.

Some of you are laughing.  Some of you are confused.  This may help:  The Calvinist world-view revolves around God’s sovereignty (ruling authority) and active, wilful control of everything.  When I debate, after we burn through the stock arguments that each side comes equipped with, I try to sit back and process based on the premise their holding – give it a test drive, if you will.  This is what I got from putting myself in the place of a Calvinist arguing with me:

God, in his sovereignty, has decided that we will meet this day.  Leading up to this day, he has arranged our lives and controlled our beliefs that we might have a different view of him.  He has brought us together at this point, so that he might force you to speak words that are untrue about him, and have me speak words that are true about him.  He will make me very emphatic about this, and cause me to insinuate that he created you to be less than intelligent, although since the ability to process information is irrelevant when he decides everything we think or say, it has no bearing on the discussion.  He will have me point out to you how wrong you are to believe the untrue things that he caused you to believe.  Then he’s going to make you disbelieve the things that he’s made me say, and cause you to say things that might make me doubt my position, except that he ordained that I hold to these beliefs, and so I have no choice but to continue to do so.  He will keep us arguing for a while, dictating the debate, and compelling us to hold our original positions because it serves his greater glory to be seen making two people contend over the issue before other people that he has willed either to agree, disagree, or not care at all, and as a witness to the people he has caused not to believe in him.

And then my head exploded.

I honestly can’t wrap my head around holding this position.  It doesn’t make any sense to me [but that’s okay, because God willed it not to],  and seems internally inconsistent [but it’s not.  It only seems that way because God decided to make me not understand its consistency].  What gets me is how worked up Calvinists get about it.  They’re pulling out scripture, they’re trying to make logical arguments, they’re giving experiential anecdotes.  Some of them seem very proud of their ability to work through this all and present it to people.  It’s as if they think that their ability is their own, or their effort their own, or even their words their own.  Then they get angry if someone continues to disagree with them as if it’s not God causing the people they’re arguing with to say the things they’re saying and their emotions are controlled by something other than the direct will of God.  It’s like they believe that either party has a choice in the matter.  It’s like they’re Arminian.

So you can argue with me about this, but don’t get mad.  God wills everything, ipso facto, It’s God’s will that I post this.   In fact, he dictated it, so get mad at him – they’re his words.

I promised at the beginning of this post that I’d help the Christians reading this to figure out if they’re Calvinist Christians or Arminian Christians.  Here’s the test:  If God brought you to this page and caused you to get angry at the crap he just caused me to write, you’re a Calvinist.  If you came to this page and got mad because I wrote stuff that was clearly both wrong and offensive to God and right-thinking Christians, you’re an Arminian that thinks you’re a Calvinist.  If you either found this amusing and agreed with it, or thought it was boring and pointless, you’re an Arminian.  Hope that helps.

From now on, instead of getting into the debate, I’ll just link them here.


About Aaron Mark Reimer

Aaron Mark Reimer was born in 1980 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and his parents promptly moved him west to Ontario. He is a pastor, a writer, a speaker, a musician, and a bit of a geek. Published works include The Art of Being Broken, Worshipping Through John: A Devotional For Praise Teams, and a short story about going to Jupiter with his dad that he wrote when he was seven. He has one wife (Vanessa), two sons (Dúnadan and Taliesin), and many cats. Follow him on Twitter as @IAmAnErrorMaker

Posted on March 15, 2012, in Christianity, God, Theological Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Actually I am a calvinist and found your post amusing and incorrect

  2. Loved it, dude! You have such an excellent knack for writing and explaining things so that large concepts are easily accessible to almost everyone. You are gifted.

    Thank you for making yourself vulnerable in this post. While I laughed and have felt similar emotions as you described (e.g., wanting to punch the computer screen), there was a niggling point I was curious about: wouldn’t the AD 1054 split between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics be considered a larger split that the Calvinist/Arminian split, irrespective of the post-Reformation timeline you cited? I’m asking because I’m interested in your information and in apportioning what I think I might know with what your insights are.


    • Kane, I’d definitely call the great schism a far larger split, but I was referring to points of practical contention. To the best of my knowledge (and I may be wrong here, because my knowledge is minimal in this area), the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches pretty much leave each other alone, and most protestants know absolutely nothing about the Orthodox church (I feel safe in saying that experientially). I guess I’ve just never seen Roman and Orthodox believers go at it the way I see the others do it.

  3. Jonathan McElhinney

    Excellent! Well written and very amusing. “it’s like they’re Arminian”… made me laugh out loud! I have not dived head-first into the debate, content to wade in the shallows and find my Calvinist friends continually trying to drag me into the deep end. But I’m good. God is real and alive in my life and I think to much focus goes to debating than to living like Jesus. That is where I will end my position. In getting to know Jesus and becoming more like Him everyday.

  4. I’ll admit it, I laughed when my Calvinist uncle tried to convince me to return to the faith. As if I had a choice in the matter! Apparently irresistible grace needs a few theological debates to help it along. 😉

  5. Funnily enough, when I was growing up, the elders in the church I attended (there were no pastors because all men are equal and no one should set themselves up as superior or as more connected to God than others) spoke more about the End Times, and about how women should put doilies on their heads, stay silent, cook lots, and be grateful. The words Arminian and Calvinist never came up.

    But I always thought it would be sick and sadistic if God created a world, caused us to sin and then punished all of humanity in various ways, only then to save us…That would be very disturbing, indeed.

    Generally I try not to think about it too much, because the words that come out do not sound very nice either way…I just try to be grateful, and stay busy.

  6. It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.~Pierre Charles Baudelaire obtained from Agreement quotes

  7. Please God end this madness of creating people for eternal punishment.! I say this as a follower of Christ with no worries that someone is going to stop or not love the Jesus I know. I am Arminian by Aaron’s test, which great fun by the way, yet from the teaching I hear in an Arminian tradition, God is still responsible to help me transform. He better hurry up as I am far from perfection.

    • My understanding of the Arminian tradition is that God provides what we need for a transformed life, but it’s up to us to make use of it. At the same time (and this is where my agnostic and athiest friends start rolling their eyes REALLY HARD), there is an enemy trying to encourage us not to take advantage of the grace and gracefulness God offers. Because of that, and other things, sanctification is a struggle. I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

      • I hear things like; you can’t do it in your strength. So is my salvation dependent on my performance?

        • The way I see it it’s kind of like telling me that I can’t do complex math without a calculator. I can’t. I don’t have the ability. Really I can’t do basic math without a calculator, but whatever. The point is, if I try to do it on my own, I’m going to screw it up and get frustrated. If I use the provided calculator I have a much better chance of getting it right. Of course, that also depends on learning how to use the calculator properly.

          Best analogy I could come up with on short notice.

          Aside from that, since your salvation is entirely dependent on Christ’s performance, you could keep on screwing up wildly and it wouldn’t be in any sort of jeopardy. Sanctification and salvation may be intertwined, but not necessarily bound.

  8. Cool analogy.

    The math problem is sin.
    The calculator provided by God. Christ’s performance.
    The type of calculator will determine ease of solution ( I prefer RPN). I choose the type and learn how to use. Yet I am influenced by the community I choose. My performance, or perhaps our performance.
    So my salvation is not in jeopardy by my ability to use the calculator. Sweet. That is good news for a lot of Arminians.

    • I think that’s pretty accurate, although I’m still working it out. I know that as we pursue the “spiritual disciplines,” and are mentored by those who have figured things out through training, study, or natural ability, our ability to use the provided tools increases. I do believe that a test of salvation, though, is a desire to work through that problem of sin, and in the pursuit of holiness to draw closer to God. If we really have a grip on the love of God and what he did for us, how can we do anything else?

      But yeah, if the test of salvation is sinless perfection, or even entire sanctification, I’ve got no place in the pastorate.

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