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Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998


Calvinism's View Of Man

One reason I have not joined the Calvinists is because they are not completely right about me. I don't say that with indignity, but simply as a fact. I have no grounds for any dignity of my own other than the fact that I was created in the image of God (Jas.3:9). When I was an unrepentant sinner the Calvinists had categorized me correctly as one who, in my pride and revolt, had refused to accept the fact that I could not in my fallen state choose God on my own initiative. But, those who know me as a Christian who has considered but not joined the Calvinists, categorize me as one they suspect of having a lingering pride that wants to take some meritorious credit for having had faith to believe.

"You did not choose Christ," they say, "He chose you.," My humanistic thinking, they say, is the reason that I have not joined their view.

I will confess that I am still a sinner who often overestimates my own importance and on occasion have been in prideful revolt against my Lord. But even in those times I have not really been disposed to reject Christ. The point I am making is this: It is not some lingering boastfulness that keeps me from crossing the Calvinist threshold. I am not convicted by the Spirit of doing such boasting and I am confident that a child of God would be convicted of such a thing at some point in his life if it were part of his stance.

My stance is that whoever has not heard the gospel is disposed to reject faith in God because of his sinful nature, but because of the image of God, that lingers in every man's make-up, he is also capable of believing it when he hears the gospel. He is capable of being enlightened as John 1:9 indicates: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." This act of belief, of course, is not a consequence of man's initiative, but is one possible response to the grace of the gospel proclamation which is God's initiative. I am dependent on God who gave me the grace (because I had no will to have his grace) to be able to respond to him (Romans 9:16). God's initiative in bringing the gospel shows ("enlightens") a man that he is deceiving himself, which allows him to rightly place his faith if he will (Jn. 7:17).

By the gospel, God's grace grants us freedom. Faith is the act of receiving that freedom. At times, when the Bible speaks of "the faith" as being a gift of God, I understand it as a figurative way (metonymy) of alluding to the "granting" being done. I understand it this way because of the numerous times that faith is referred to as a condition for salvation. Grace awakens us to the possibility of believing. But, believing is our responsibility; faith is our responsibility. Otherwise we could not be chided by the Lord; "O, ye of little faith!"

It is God, for example who says to sulking Cain, "Do thou rule over it; [sin]." Cain is made responsible. It is God who initiates things. What God speaks to Cain is the gospel. [1] Cain is informed by God about what is good for him and he then has the possibility of knowing that he can do the good because it is God Himself who would add the power for Cain. Will Cain have faith?

In this incident (Gen. 4:6,7), to "rule over it" is to stop being angry at God, to put an end to resulting despair and to master evil. Cain did not accept God's decision to recognize Abel's sacrifice and not his own. Cain did not accept the will of God so expressed. He does not believe that God loves him anyway. He thinks God is unjust. The good, then, is to accept the decision of God whatever it might be, including the will which gives preference to Able. if Cain will by faith be in agreement with that will he would find the strength from God to master anger, despair and evil.


Everything of which a man is capable of from birth is a gift of God. Paul says (1 Cor.4:7), "what have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" Even the capacity, when faced with God's word to have faith in God or to keep trying to put faith in some other object, is a gift from God in which I do not boast. There is in all men an essential part of their humanity that may be touched by the proclamation of the gospel. [2] In this sense all of us have within ourselves (by God's gifting) the capacity of responding to the gospel in true faith.

There is no "method" for obtaining grace. Grace cannot be grace and be subject to our control. But when the Spirit blows where it wills and God's good news comes to us, as it did to Cain, it is not an opportunity for "obtaining" grace; it IS grace!

I am sometimes accused of wanting to preserve an autonomy before God; that I am following the age old heresy of human pride which cannot tolerate everything being dependent upon the grace of God, including the predetermination of my response. It seems clear to me, however, that my response is dependent on the grace of God. There is nothing in me that has escaped the "fall" unharmed. God's grace is needed to restore me.


An unbeliever indeed thinks that on his own initiative he is able to choose to believe Christ. By scripture we know that is not the case. At one point even I, a believer, thought that on my own initiative I had chosen Christ, but as I reflected on scripture (John 15:16) I had to admit the true nature of the case. I am aware of the hideous thought that I might have resisted and rejected the gospel call but that does not become a boast for me. It is only the hollow boast of those on Satan's side who would resist the creator and celebrate instead that remaining withered and perverted aspect of the divine image that is left in them: that is, the self-caused choice in the face of God's initiative.

We know that what the unbeliever does is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). To suppress the truth, men must know it. But a man deceives himself into thinking that life is in himself. This is what Darwinists do. Not wishing to believe that life comes from God they have devised a theory that exchanges the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.

Even the unbeliever was created with knowledge of God as a natural function because it is natural to believe in God (Romans 1:19). But, because of the break with God in Adam, we all suppress the truth about God. As Solomon says, "Behold, this alone have I found, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices (Eccl. 7:29)."

When I became a believer I saw that this had been my nature; there came a renewing of my mind; I forsook the thinking that life was of my choosing; that my freedom included choosing life on my own. I didn't have to join the Calvinists to see this, but I did have to respond to God's initiative.


There remains an aspect of the wrong opinion about me that is acutely alarming to me and that has caused me to consider very carefully the Calvinist position. It is the charge that I don't join because I want to have a god in my image; a god who is limited and smaller. Calvinists claim that I am rejecting their glorious, unlimited God for a much less glorious, limited god. By not joining them they say I am insisting on reducing the kind of God that really exists.

It is true that men make idols so that they can limit God. God judges us. He speaks to us and challenges us about our sins and calls us to repentance whereas idols do no such speaking. Idols are dumb; silent! They are convenient and controllable and allow us to go on in our sins because they are made after our image.

Calvinists say that by rejecting their doctrine I am constructing in its place a god who is limited in power, limited in knowledge, and reduced to one who changes like a human who changes by maturing or by fickleness. They say it is my idolatrous tendency to make God more like me and less like the way they say He really is.

This is a very frightening charge because I know Man has this tendency and I'm not excluded. The sinful heart of an unbeliever tends to linger on in the believer. It is called the "flesh" in the Bible. It hates God and wants to serve a manmade god. So I know that in me is both a desire to have God be less than He is and under my control, and a desire to be surrendered to Him and under His unlimited control. I am thankful that the latter is the stronger in me.

Although my heart cannot be trusted or discerned by me directly, I can asses myself by certain outward signs: Am I persisting in sins or am I turning from them? Am I aloof or am I loving the brethren? Am I swallowed up in my own thoughts or am I listening to God and reading His word and conversing with Him? If I am doing the latter of these things it is not likely that I am making a false god of my own invention. I am grateful to the Calvinists for their charge because it has made me careful not to put manmade limits upon God. But, I have often wondered if this fear of idol making has wrongly been the motivating influence in some people's conversion to Calvinism.

Those who do convert to Calvinism usually don't have to abandon one Arminian concept that is not completely correct, and that is the concept of time. Both Augustine and much of today's Church have a different view of God and time than that had by people of Bible times. In the next chapter I will try to show how the earlier view of God and time is the correct view that should change the way both Calvinists and Arminians view time.


Although there are circumstances where God does mock and laugh at unrepentant sinners (Ps.2), He is not doing this with Cain. I owe the commentary on Cain to Jaques Ellul, _To Will & To Do_, Pilgrim Press.

In the parable of the sower and the seed, even those who are illustrated by hard ground might be touched by the gospel. These, however, have hardened themselves. They have rejected a response of faith and have let their hardness leave the seed for Satan to remove. Others who have initial faith do not continue in faith, but let the testings of life overcome their faith (Jas. 1:21).

* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.