Over the next few weeks, I’ll be responding, directly and indirectly, to some questions and thoughts surrounding the book. In the next couple of posts, I’ll address the (insinuated criticism) that I rejected Calvinism because I didn’t really understand it. I think I rejected Calvinism because I did understand it and I think more young evangelicals would reject it if they did too. I’ll trace this out more in later posts, but here’s a good starting point.
Conversations with the Damned
“The decree is dreadful, I confess.” –Calvin, Institutes 3.3.7, 955
My journey out of Calvinism started when I heard whimpering in the basement.
I loved the theological home Calvinism had given me. Smooth, clean lines. Lots of history and detailed architecture. Everything has a place. It put me in my place and God in his place—at the center of the universe. I pictured myself at the great eschatological banquet, enjoying the party and gorging on the food!
But there it was again. A noise coming from the basement.
It was where we Calvinist kept the damned. Following many esteemed teachers, I had told myself they were there because they deserved it and God ordained it for his glory (more on this in later posts). Many people can leave it there, but I’ve always been curious, so even as a good Calvinist, I would peek inside and talk with them.
What I found down there was one hell of a problem, and while it didn’t instantly make me walk away from Calvinism (I’d say Calvinism was my home for around 5 years), it certainly made me lose my appetite for it. I went to Calvin for help and discovered I wasn’t crazy—he himself said God’s ordination of the reprobate to hell was “dreadful.”
To this day, I completely understand why people opt for Calvinism. I just don’t understand how it doesn’t make them a bit nauseous, at least from time to time.
So following Calvin and my own time as a Calvinist, I’d suggest this: if you nuance and euphemism-to-death the doctrine of reprobation to the point that you don’t stand back from it and with Calvin say, “It’s dreadful, it’s terrible”, then you don’t understand it, you don’t get it, you haven’t been honest about it.
In my opinion (and speaking from my own journey and feedback I’ve received on the book), many of the young evangelicals who have signed off on Calvinism have not read the fine print of the reprobate, they haven’t conversed with the damned—they’re too busy enjoying the glory party. They have not faced what awaits them in the basement of their Calvinist home. Their teachers have not been upfront with them. They have not reached the place where they step back and say, “It’s terrible.”
I don’t like telling people what they can and can’t believe, but I’d suggest that if you want to be a faithful, honest, consistent Calvinist, you need to have a thorough conversation with the damned. You need to reach the place where you look at reprobation and say, “It’s terrible.” Before you rejoice in God’s electing mercy towards you, stand before the damned and lose your appetite, if only for a second.
If you can’t do that, then I stand with Calvin:
You don’t understand Calvinism.