It finally ‘hit me’ during a discussion with a Calvinist regarding unconditional election. I sensed my Calvinist friend (CF) didn’t think I was one of God’s ‘elect’. So, I asked:
Me: Do you believe that it’s possible for someone rejecting the doctrines of grace, i.e. Calvinism, to be a Christian?
CF: Sure, it’s possible. God is using Calvinists to guide everyone else to the truth. In fact, it’s not even Calvinism. It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ! Twenty years ago I was an obstinate Arminian until I tasted the sweetness of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace! God lifted me from the error of my thinking that I can by my own free will choose Him when I realized just how impossible it is for a sinner to turn to God by his own will.
Me: What I so often see is that ardent Calvinists such as yourself appear to be more in love with their doctrines than with their Savior. The TULIP doctrines are preeminent. The relationship is secondary. Right or wrong, I’m sensing the same thing with you.
Interesting, too, that you and I have in essence journeyed in direct opposite directions with regards to matters of faith. I find it curious that God brought you into Calvinism while I believe, if anything, that God removed me from Calvinism. For years, I was clueless about Calvinism until a new pastor arrives at the church we were attending. He was a nice enough guy. But I sensed a significant difference in the overall emphasis of the service and sermons. Topics related to total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement were, well, uncomfortable. I soon found myself in significant disagreement with the new pastor – and many of the congregants, too. I left and started attending another church. So, I can’t help but wonder if God not only removed me from what I believe to be the error of Calvinism but he also gave me an abhorrence of Calvinistic doctrine? Or, maybe you think I’m a complete reprobate pretending to be a Christian and in abject ignorance running directly towards the gates of Hell?
CF: Calvinists are so in love with their savior. That’s why we always strive for his truth! We can’t separate truth and the savior. When one falls, the other falls too!
Me: Did you just make a distinction between the “truth” and the savior? The “truth” is Calvinism? So, you must therefore believe that Calvinism and faith in Christ are intrinsically intertwined?
CF: There’s no way around it. The Bible emphatically teaches this.
Me: So, by your understanding, if I hate the “truth” aka doctrines of grace, then by default, I also must hate the Savior?
CF: When the Bible says that salvation is a free gift, it means that it’s up to God to give it to whomever He wills. That’s unconditional election. We don’t deserve it. We can’t attain it.
Me: Really? Well, in no way, shape or form do I see the doctrines of Calvinism connected to Christian faith. So, in your estimation, I must therefore be a reprobate without any hope?
CF: It’s up to God who is elected. Man can’t choose. Man is spiritually dead. Man is a spiritual corpse. How, then, can salvation depend on man’s will?
At this point the conversation turned back to unconditional election and some discussion about Eph 1:4. Nothing was going to be resolved. We’d both “shot our wads”. There was, again, an impasse. In hindsight, however, I found it somewhat disappointing that my Calvinist friend didn’t ask me about a conversion experience or any aspect of my relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ. I should have drilled down on this, However, during “the heat of the discussion” that thought didn’t occur to me. If anything, however, this conversation confirms my general sense that Calvinists are more interested in their TULIP doctrines than they are with a faith-based relationship with Jesus.
To which, I can appreciate that it might be just a teeny little bit awkward for a Calvinist to tell someone, “Well, it’s too bad that God didn’t ‘elect’ you. You’re toast. And, come judgment day; well, sorry. What can I say other than God, in his infinite wisdom, decided before the foundation of the world not to include you. Well, good-bye and ‘God bless’!” That would at least be honest. But as is, Calvinists tend to dilly-dally and dance around the obvious implications of their doctrines when dealing face-to-face with someone.
So, how is the argument ever resolved other than for anyone to agree with a particular perspective – whether pro-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist? And, therein lies the problem; good-willed people in both camps having diametrically opposed perspectives are in essence deciding to agree with or disagree with doctrinal beliefs and matters of faith. Christian faith, then, subjectively distills down to a matter of one’s opinion.