Confused by Calvinists… Again!

kinnon —  March 14, 2011 — 55 Comments


I find this confusing.

And please don’t read this as a defence of Charlie Bell or Rob Sheen or whatever strategy of Winning of which one wants to write.


Isn’t it a little weird that TULIP-waving Calvinists get all bent out of shape about a book that denies the eternal flames of hell? (I should say "apparently denies" – haven’t read it and I doubt I ever will – I’m no fan of Charlie Bell or Rob Sheen or whatever his name is)?

One goes so far as to dramatically state,

…The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating.

If depravity is total.  If election is unconditional. If the atonement is limited (to whom it applies). If grace is irresistible. And the elect were predestined from the foundations of the earth.


How in hell can the impact of a book written by a “rock star” Christian minister 'devastate souls'?

Doesn’t a TULIP-loving Calvinist believe that those whom God forechose and foreknew will be saved regardless? Or am I missing something in their theology?

One would think Arminians like me would have more of problem with the impact of books by Charlie Rob Sheen Bell than those who believe God only Wins those he pre-chose to be his prizes.

If I were even more of cynic than I already am, I might think that certain folk are being paid by HarperOne to keep the CharlieRobSheenBell controversy as front and centre as possible. It will certainly help book sales, n'est-ce pas?

(Please note: I not only love all the Calvinists I know, I greatly like them and enjoy their company – whether virtual or in the flesh. Even if some of them might believe my Arminianism could confine me to the eternal fires of hell.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

55 responses to Confused by Calvinists… Again!

  1. you’re messing with their minds… beware the wrath of the TULIPites (or at least some of them) 🙂

  2. Is it enough to simply say, “I share your confusion?”

  3. I think you’ve uncovered the dirty truth here: Calvinists secretly wish they were Arminian… 😉

  4. Michael (as I write this across Simcoe from you – or directly south, as it were) one could easily argue my own logical inconsistencies, but if our TULIP'd brethren are as concerned about the book as they claim, why don't they just shut up about it. Rather than pushing more pixels about it – increasing the number of folk who hit the Amazon buy button. Note that I don't even name the book – nor accurately name the author. 'Tis intentional.

  5. Bill, on behalf of all thinking Calvinists everywhere, I humbly apologize for the knee-jerk, reactionary, silliness of my brethren. Occasionally these things called “emotions” bubble up in us and we don’t know what to do with them. Then we turn to our blogs and write without thinking and react without mercy.

    Ah well…

  6. Now that made me grin!

  7. (-:>

  8. Daniel,
    I think the thing that drives me the craziest about all this is that it is our Calvinist brethren who've pushed up the sales of a book that will probably be in the remainders bins within a few months. Had JT et al left well enough alone, then we might be dealing with a few brush fires about said book. Rather than those who profess to despise the book's theology, fanning the flames into a forest fire of pushed pixels. Sigh.

    (This response should come with a Mixed Metaphor alert.)

  9. *snicker*

  10. But knee-jerk defensive reactions pay the bills!

  11. I think there are a few reasons. Calvinists aren’t fatalists: human actions still matter. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and think that everything is part of God’s predetermined plan. That’s a caricature of Calvinism, which is really no better than the ways that Arminians are unfairly described sometimes.

    What’s more, I see what wonky teaching does. It destroys lives.

    There’s still an appropriate way to critique, but it’s entirely appropriate to speak up and warn against bad teaching. I do worry that some of us are helping book sales, but I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe we’ll find out at the Theology Pub next week. 🙂

  12. I always get confused when I apply logic to any of these discussions.

  13. Darryl,

    Wish I was going to be there. I'll be in the States in meetings, unfortunately.

    My response is sarcastic (and under the Sarcasm Category, no less). I think it would be safe to suggest that JT, KDY, AlMoh et al have made the book a bestseller – whether it ever should have been one or not. The Amazon stats bare this out. Had they kept their powder dry (as it were) and waited for the book to come out – then effectively dealt with the argument (or the lack thereof), I would never have posted this. But the Young, Restless and Reformed were the advance team for this book. And they were more than effective in that role.

  14. Methinks that KDY's review is simply the precursor to another book from him. I confess that my inner cynic says that it's all marketing.

  15. Nice :-> !

  16. Here’s my take on the marketing biz …

    Going to the show tonight in NYC – should be interesting. I covered Joel Osteen without losing my lunch so I have a strong stomach spiritually speaking.

  17. Don’t forget that AMoh, etc. need to generate an oppositional buzz similar to say Glenn Beck v Jim Wallis in order to prove that they still have skin in the game and hence, they need to be featured on cable network news shows, given book deals, etc. This will only stop when we all treat them like toddlers and refuse to play with them until they can stop throwing their faith food around as it were.

  18. Thanks for the link to your good post, Becky. 

  19. Noooo … that’s your outer cynic. We can’t hear your inner cynic 😉

  20. Maybe I let my inner cynic out for a brief walk – and the weeping and gnashing of teeth was simple too much. 🙂

  21. Bill,

    Classic. I thought of this myself. A friend of mine who has had books published to the chagrin of others once told me he did not care about negative publicity. It generally sold more books. While Darryl points to the real tension among Calvinists, you expose what I believe is at stake more than souls – The Empire. Andrew Jones recently set this in his own words. Me thinks him, and you, not far off.


  22. TSK is normally waaaay ahead of me. Good insight, Todd. Thanks.

  23. What Darryl said.
    It’s not as if Calvinists have never addressed the alleged discrepancy of biblical cautions against damnable sins and human responsibility.

    I love you, Bill, you know that (I hope), but I wonder if hammering supposed hammerers is the best way to argue against hammering. I notice that now that the book has been read and reviewed, the critics of the critics don’t want to talk about the book any more but just the critics. I don’t think it was ever about the book for the defenders: it was about saying Calvinists are mean (or something).

  24. …just the other day I was remembering Rich Mullins….

  25. Jared,
    I love you, too. I'm don't believe I'm "hammering the hammerers" and calling them mean. I'm "hammering the hammerers" and call them stupid. They've helped Bell sell more books than he ever would have sold before.

    A few nights ago I was having dinner with friends and the family. Most of the family is on a diet. One of them went off the wagon and ate everything they shouldn't. When I made a "Dad" call and suggested they might want to relax – the consumption increased.

    Telling people (effectively) that they shouldn't read the book, before it even came out, has elicited the same response. As I have already mentioned, check the Amazon ranking. It's ridiculous.

    And. When the Young, Restless & Reformed lead the charge, questions are generated. At least in my old brain. 🙂


  26. Ah Bill,
    Arminianism never sent anyone to hell. They’re just as elect as the rest of us!!
    Really sorry to hear you won’t be drinking with us next Monday.
    Now then, combining those two thoughts – my Arminian father knew what really sent people to hell – having a drink.

  27. I will miss seeing you, Ken. You ARE one of my heroes. Even if you are a very good Calvinist. 🙂

  28. I love your post ! made me laugh. Perfect, almost as perfect as a TULIP !

  29. off topic a bit perhaps, but just wond’rin’ Mr Bill … are we supposed to call a four point German Calvinist a “Calvinist Klein”?

    thanks for any help you or your readers can give on this.

  30. B-rad,
    Reminds me of a recent tweet of mine where I said Calvin Klein had seen the light and was now Arminius Klein. 🙂 Certain friends did not appreciate my sense of humour…or lack thereof.
    Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  31. brad/futuristguy March 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    oh. so that must be where i got it from in the first place.

    these are almost beginning to sound like Linnaeus’ classification of separate species:

    Genevaleeva Calvikleinneist

    Retortus Jacobominius

    may i just suggest this: when all our lines are drawn, all we’re left with is a caricature – a portrait that exaggerates all our unsightly blips and bulges. so why shouldn’t we expect the humorists to take over – that’s exactly what we’ve lined ’em up to do!

    and you can quote me on that!

  32. Calvinism. YUK.

    They are so influenced by reason.

    They don’t understand the Sacraments (“how could Christ actually be present in the bread and the wine when He is sitting at the right hand of God?)
    So what do they to for assurance that they are one of the elect? Their religious performance; their seriousness; their whatevers. Double YUK (is that a YUK YUK?)


    Don’t get me started! 😀

  33. What concerns me is that I get the sense that so many Calvinist bloggers really WANT there to be a hell for someone else to go to.

  34. Sometimes it really feels that way, doesn't it.

  35. Yeah, I have been saying this for a long time that this is more about creating an enemy to prove their need than it was about a mediocre book.

    Enemies create media opportunities, sell conferences, bring in donations, all to keep the faith secure.

  36. Here’s the challenge – HOW do we get folks to stop buying into this branded buzz? Yes, the Piper people are acting like reactionary jerks. But let us not forget that Bell started this by releasing a provocative video that he knew would tick off his “enemies” – with a move like that, is he a pastor or provocateur?

    Stop going to conferences that feature the latest religious rock stars – instead, seek out conferences where you might actually learn something (e.g., I’m going to Durham later this month to attend a conference on religious responses to torture). Support those things happening in your local community where God is already at work. Buy those works that feed your soul instead of buying the latest piece of bible bling so you can be part of the cool crowd.

  37. I abandoned this kind of discussions a long time ago. My conference list in 2011 included.
    – A Hidden Legacy: A conference put on by the Manitoba Chiefs about healing victims of Residential School abuses in Canada.
    – HIFIS: A conference on a Government of Canada database project to help shelters understand the homeless. Personally I wish they would just fix the database’s bugs rather than have a conference but it was good.
    – Social Services Conference in Toronto.

    I also plan to attend Soularize in Seattle but that is more about seeing friends than seeing speakers. I don’t know who is speaking yet.

    For me (and it’s my personal choice), I have decent theological instincts and am not bothered by Rob Bell or a Spencer Burke coloring outside the lines. The church has always had those that were right and wrong but I don’t need to get really upset over it in a public way. Good grief, as a Methodist, I question Piper’s theology than Rob Bell’s but I don’t feel the need to explode in ‘righteous anger’ over either’s lack of orthodoxy in some areas.

    I know people see themselves as “defenders of the faith” but rather I see myself as a seeker of the Truth which means that both Piper and Bell serve an important purpose in helping me understand what I do and don’t believe.

    I do believe that the church used to find the Rob Bell’s more useful in a time before television, blogs, and book deals. How Barth and the other neo-orthodox theologians dealt with their theological differences (and there were massive ones with Tillich and Bultmann in the conversation) was much different than the gong show that has spawned on Twitter and online.

    I thought Bill was being flippant when he said that HarperOne was baiting the Reformed bloggers in hopes of book sales but after reading some more. It was all intentional… from Bell’s video to their over the top reaction.

    What saddens me as I have moved outside of the church and more into policy and social problems is that I don’t see other people act like this. Taking a step back and I realized how unattractive church sub culture has become not only to me but so many other people — many of them are Christians and attend church and lead fantastic things outside the church but just take up a seat on Sundays because of stuff like this that don’t matter as much as HarperOne wants them to matter.

  38. Are you all blind? Clearly this was a calculated effort to draw attention away from the release of Brian McLaren’s new book. How coincidental that Bell’s NEW release date became the same as McLaren’s new book! Conspiracy! (wink)

  39. Insert simplistic response to inflammatory article here. Rinse and repeat.

  40. Ah the wisdom of a witless and anonymous drive-by comment. Blah, indeed.

  41. Now that’s funny!

  42. As an Anabaptist and therefore neither Arminian nor Calvinist (or am I?) I found this article….

    … HILARIOUS! In light of a theology that is more concerned with bringing people into the Kingdom or, at worse, applying Kingdom principles even to those situations OUTSIDE the Kingdom, these kinds of debates just make me shake my head…

  43. ‘Cause we Calvinists like to help God out a little bit…. total depravity happens to afflict us as well…lol. With God in control of all things, all we have left to do is blog….

  44. It’s tough being predestined to be a calvinist….

  45. Beautifully put, Sonja!

  46. Amen, my brother.

  47. So, Danny Mac, Darryl's your brother. Whadda 'bout da rest of us? 🙂

  48. Bill, some friends and I marvel as well at the Calvinists and wonder why their theology does not keep them very, very mellow. With a God such as theirs so meticulously in control of everything down to the activities of nano-particles, why do they fly off the handle, start ranting, and acting like the rest of us can make free choices? I would think persuasion would not be in their vocabulary.

  49. 'Twould seem to be the case, John. But. I think most of them are secretly Arminian. 🙂

  50. Sorry, Godfatha; I will kiss dat ring next time I see ya!

  51. No, No, No. We just have more time to blog, since we are so resting in God’s sovereignty that we don’t have to get out there and actually, you know, shepherd…. like good retired-er, reformed folks, we have lots of time to sit back and criticize the governm…er, I mean, the Arm…Uh, the Emerg….well, sigh, most everyone else.

    Cough. Sigh.

    It is tough believing God is sovereign when things don’t go your way, ain’t it? Bell is an influential man, and we wish he preached the real gospel. Frustration is the mother of many a blog post… ah well, it is a good thing we have a Real Saviour for real sinners. Even big sinners like Calvinists.

    That is it. That is IT!! We are always trying to convince you Arminians biblically about our doctrine of total depravity. And since you aren’t buying it, we thought we would DEMONSTRATE it to you!! I KNEW there was a reason we Calvinists were like that! To show you the depths of human depravity!!

    Whew; glad to have figured THAT one out…

  52. Hey, you’re as confused as I am!

  53. Great commentary. I tried to answer the question of the tension between free will and God’s sovereignty with the thought of strict Calvinism in the air at church services last Sunday. I told the congregation that free will and God’s sovereignty are not opposed to each other but they work together. Imagine the movie Ben Hur…God’s sovereign will was that he was chained to the galley deck to row….free will was whether he choose to row or not. Excellent post. I am so with you on this.

  54. In my position (firmly on the fence), I get rotten fruit from both sides. Sometimes I lean toward Calvinism, but there are Arminian doctrines that I favor as well. I won’t tell you what they are because I do not want to debate them. Most of the time, I try to avoid either position on my Weblogs, too.

    What puts me off the most is the attitudes on both sides. But especially from hard-core Calvinists. “I have trouble believing in the doctrine of Election”…”But that’s what the Bible teaches!”, they whine. OK… “For God so loved the elect that he gave his only begotten Son, that the elect shall believe on him and have everlasting life. The rest of you were made for Hell. See ya!”

    I’ll hear certain Calvinist apologists spend more time proclaiming the glories of Calvinism than preaching the Gospel. “We had a guest speaker and he preached Calvinism”…”Praise God!” HUH? Is Calvinism the One True Church? Also, when I hear that the elect will be saved one way or another in this lifetime, well, no need for me to obey the command of Christ to preach the Gospel, is there? God doesn’t need my help, election done it.

    Arminians are not off the hook with me, though. Especially after that guy on Facebook that started off-topic railing about how narcissistic and rotten Calvin was. Way out of line.

    But I’ll tell you, the way Calvinists act, even if they are correct after all, I don’t know if I want to be one of them.

  55. By the way, how’s this for misery? A Calvinist that is allergic to tulips.


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