Calvinism and Fundamentalism: Why I’m Scared of Both

As I’m sure you picked up on, I’m not a fan of either Calvinism or Fundamentalism. I was thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion that I reject both theologies for the same reason: neither describes God accurately. By the term accurately I mean they do not describe God how the Bible does.

In Fundamentalism, their version of God is that of a controlling overlord who demands perfection. Though, they do not describe things this way, I personally believe this description is what logically follows from what I’ve been taught. Yes, they will make clear that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law for perfection and that we receive that perfection at salvation. But for sanctification, it’s as if all that goes away. And now you better keep all those rules for dress, music, translations, and friends. Why? Because God is sitting on his throne watching you and ready to pull out his bullwhip if you make the slightest mistake. This God is quick to jump to conclusions and punish. He ultimately doesn’t love me unless I’m perfect like the preacher. This description, again, is from my vantage point.

This unattainable view of God has seriously scarred me because it was lived out in the lives of my authorities. I could never measure up to what they wanted. I was in constant fear of being called out for failing or humiliated for my imperfection. While there was never one person who consistently treated me like this, I remember many people in specific events that deeply hurt me in these ways. Also, there was the constant preaching against worldliness which generally implied that I was definitely in gross sin all the time. It has so affected me that to this day, I struggle with older males. I nearly go into a panic every time I talk to them because of fear of making a mistake. I have gotten better at it. But I still feel it inside.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of people who truly loved me and cared. My parents really love me a lot. But between the constant pressure to conform and unjust rebukes, I was always scared that I would anger authorities.

Many ex-IFBers have noticed this issue and have swung to the apparent opposite end to reformed theology. But this description of God is equally as repulsive to me. Sure, works are completely out of the question. But in my understanding of Calvinism, so are choices, responsibilities, and love. God, it is said, loves the world. But yet he created most of humanity for the sole purpose of condemning the to eternal torture. And they have no choice in the matter. They exist to suffer forever. This isn’t love to any stretch of definitions.

Calvinists push back and say that God’s love is different than our love. This is true. The way God loves isn’t the same as the way we love. But there is only so much you can catch under the word love. And as far as I know, the concept of love never involves preplanned torture from someone who could do otherwise.

This, then, is why I reject and am in fear of the fundamentalists’ and calvinists’ version of God: he doesn’t love people. No matter how you slice it, God doesn’t love people at the end of the day in these systems.

The usual answer, I believe, from Calvinists would be that I simply want a man centered religion that doesn’t give glory to God. They then cite Isaiah 48:11,

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

Isaiah 48:11

My response? First, God does share his glory with humans. Jesus states,

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.

John 17:22

How is this rectified with Isaiah? Simply by looking to the antecedent to the pronoun another. In context, the others are other gods not other men. Thus, God withholds giving glory to false gods but gives glory to those who humbly trust him.

In addition to God clearly stating that he is not selfish for his own glory, there are manifest passages where God focuses his passion on humans.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

While the action is originated by God, the focus of the verb—the direct object—is humanity. God is passionate about people. He’s not the cold, arbitrary God of High Calvinism. Nor is he the merciless, exacting God of Fundamentalism. He cares for people and gives them grace.

So, I agree with Calvinists that I don’t want a man focused religion. I want the God of Scripture: the God who is focused on man.

Why? Do I believe that man is better than God? Do I believe that we should be worshiped? No. In fact, the opposite. Man is so utterly weak and helpless that he needs God’s focus otherwise he falls apart. Do I want to steal God’s glory? Again, no. But if he offers it to those who come by faith, then why should I refuse the gift of God?

In the end, I need a God who loves me. I am so powerless, broken, and sinful that I cannot survive this life without the assurance that God cares about me. And this is the God I find in the Scriptures.

As a post script, I want to add that not every Fundamentalist and Calvinist believes the description I have here. I don’t mean to personally attack anyone in either camp. But I do believe that the description I offered here is the necessary conclusion to their systems.

10 thoughts on “Calvinism and Fundamentalism: Why I’m Scared of Both

  1. This comment is more for my clarification than for anything else. I think what you are saying is that Fundamentalists tend to preach too much against worldliness. I think we both agree that worldliness is a large problem in the church, but the solution is more than just preaching standards. We must teach people who God is, understand what he has done for us, and encourage them to please him in their actions.
    I always love my children, even when they displease me. In our preaching, I think we need to emphasize that God always loves us, but that does not mean he approves of what we are doing. What are your thoughts on this?

    Secondly, either I misunderstood what you wrote, or you forgot a “not” in this sentence: “the concept of love never involves preplanned torture from someone who could [maybe insert a ‘not’ here??] do otherwise.”

    I am interested to see what your future posts will deal with. So far, I think you have been careful in pointing out that not all Fundamentalists act this way (I still consider myself a Fundamentalist), but if somebody did not read the whole post they will not see that qualification. I appreciate your thoughtful posts!

    On a side note, we should get together sometime. I miss talking to you in the seminary building. Classes end this year at Thanksgiving so maybe we could find a way to get together after they end.

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    1. Well, “too much” is a statement concerning balance. Is worldliness an issue that we need to talk about? Yes, because the Bible talks about it. But when I say “too much” I mean it was disproportionately preached. During my growing up years, I heard plenty about worldliness but less about, let’s say, unity. For example, I couldn’t count how many sermons I’ve heard on “do not be conformed to this world” (Rm 12:1-2). But how many sermons did I hear about the unity of the body (Rm 12:3-13)? Not near as many. I’ve heard plenty about separation from the world, but hardly anything about unity in Christ (in comparison, please, keep this in mind). So, I’m not saying preaching on worldliness is a bad thing, it was in my case disproportionately emphasized.
      The statement “the concept of love never involves preplanned torture from someone who could do otherwise” is how I meant to say it. However, I wasn’t very clear. Let me say it in another way. You cannot call someone loving who also preplans and carries out torture. You could say that someone was forced to torture another person. In that case, there may be some excuse for the torturer. But if that person is able to not torture but still tortures, we call him unloving.
      God has the ability and freedom to save people from Hell (torture). God could do otherwise. But in the Cavlinistic system, God determines before time to damn certain people to Hell (double predestination/reprobation). These people are given no choice nor are they given a chance repent. They are pawns in the hand of God doing exactly what he has determined for them to do. For example, Hitler had to kill millions of innocent lives because God forced him and did not allow him to do otherwise. So, according to Calvinism, even though Hitler had to do what God has planned for him, God still condemned him to Hell because he was not regenerated. But God did not have to plan for Hitler to kill anyone. For that matter, God did not have to plan for people to commit any sin. But in the Calvinistic system, he did. And he gave humanity no choice in the matter. God, then, cannot be loving because he has determined torture for people who were forced to sin when God could have planned for them not to sin.
      I’m not the best articulator of systematic theology. I’m a historical/Biblical theology guy. Look up the podcast “Soteriology 101.” Dr. Flowers, the host, does a much better job at explaining it.

      In the end, as I tried to make clear, not everyone believes to the extent that I articulate in this article. I see it often as a sign, especially in Calvinist circles, as people who haven’t thought through all the ramifications of their system. As for fundamentalism, I hope your experience is different than mine. I just remember being under so much stress and fear for what turned out to be man made rules.

      Yeah, let’s meet up. I’m working downtown greenville and we could meet for lunch. I’ll give you a call sometime.

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      1. Ok, so you were arguing against double predestination and not against the doctrine of hell (that is what I assumed you were doing, but I was not certain.) (Correct me if I am wrong).

        Secondly, I totally agree that unity is not preached on enough (that’s why my dissertation will focus on our need for associating with other believers). Separation is a biblical doctrine, but unity/association is also a biblical doctrine. I agree that fundamentalism tends to preach more on separation than on unity, and I think it is an area that the next generation needs to address.

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      2. Yes, double predestination is a horrible doctrine and it’s logical necessary in Calvinism. I know not every Calvinist believes it, but it is the necessary corollary to their definition of election. If God chooses before the foundation of the world those who should be saved then he also chooses those who will not be saved. Thus, when he creates man, he necessarily creates them for hell with no chance of their repentance. God then is unjust for punishing those who did not have a choice but to sin. This is a terrible and blasphemous description of God. I don’t think I’ve created a straw man on this point. From my reading, this is indeed what they believe.

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      3. One more point, I do believe in election, but not the way Calvinists usually define it. That is, that God arbitrarily picked people before they were created to be saved. I’m still working on my theology on this, but I believe election is for believes (those already saved) to service. So election is post-faith. That election is before the foundation of the world simply means that God chose for believers in general for service.

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      4. One more thing, I think and many Calvinistic leaning people recognize that attributing injustice to God is blasphemous. Most Calvinists appeal to mystery in order to evade the charge. Many Calvinistic leaning people don’t think through this to the end or they come up with some other reason. But I just don’t see anyway around this conclusion if God determines in minute detail the universe. I’m still willing to work with them and debate with them. And I still love them in Christ. But I still think it tarnishes the character of God. Which really bugs me. Also, I don’t think that most people necessarily are consistent with their systems. So they reject like I do the injustice applied to God but they still hold to election of believers before the foundation of the world to salvation

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      5. One more thought. I said that double predestination ultimately leads to blasphemy. But this is probably the wrong word to use. I intended it in the sense that it slanders the character of God because it attributes to God apparent injustice. The word blasphemy in modern terms usually carries with it several undertones that I don’t think I intended to say. Particularly, it includes the charge of heresy and therefore separation and ostracizing. As per me follow up post, I believe I can have debate with full-Calvinists because they are brothers in Christ even though I strongly object to their doctrine. Sorry, I come off too strong. Thanks for your understanding.

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  2. I must agree with Jonathan, that the greatest portion of the article tends to lump all Fundamentalist and all Calvinists in their respective camps: Last paragraph, disclaimer. Wow! What a relief. Maybe I’m not one of them.

    I have never conceived before Fundamentalists and Calvinists juxtapositioned as two theological positions. There is, I assume, at least one other position (non-Fundamental, non-Calvinist) that is the more Biblical. Can you clearly identify it/them?

    What I’m seeing here is not a discussion of historical Fundamentalism/Calvinism but its caricature, as one perceives the bulk of the actors in them. There seems to be a more legitimate means to critique a system.

    Regarding worldliness, I offer a brief statement that will be wholly insufficient. Based on 1 John 2:15, if we define worldliness as an inclination of love toward some object that supersedes the love for the Father, that propensity is illegitimate and worldly. At the heart of the Christian’s conflict is the tension between the flesh and the in-dwelling Spirit (Galatians 5:17). This flesh is inherently hostile to God and therefore cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8). The hard work of the Christian is to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13) by a confidant relationship with the Father and not out of fear of his disapproval which is the evident token of truly born again believers (Romans 8:15-17).

    Regarding Ephesians 2:4-7 quoted above, you might look a little closer as to the object of God’s action. The passage clearly indicates the object of the verb are those whom He “made alive together with Christ…, raised up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places with Christ.” Unless you are becoming a Universalist, this passage doesn’t support your position. Better would be John 3:16.

    This leads me to wish to know your understanding of Ephesians 1:4 (just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him). If this is the privilege and blessing of every believer, what about those who have not been chosen? Apart from the caricatures, what is your solution to this? This has been the honest challenge of theologians over time; and not an easy one.

    If I may interject, reflection on your past experiences, which reflect badly on those who had influence on your life, adds an emotional appeal to your discussion but makes argument useless. Arguing with ideas become arguing against your experiences. That makes me rather heartless, you think?

    I’m interested with your replies to these points.

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    1. Thanks, PL, for your excellent feedback. First, I’d like to address the concern you had toward universalism. I believe that you are correct in that I should have chosen verses like John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 instead of Ephesians 2 in order to avoid a universalist sound motif. With a little bit of inferred logic, I believe, however, my point still stands. God focuses on all of humanity in general (Jn 3:16; Rm 5:8) but he also focuses on a subset of humanity which believe in him (Eph 2). Either way, God still focuses on humans and his love to them. The picture that I believe Calvinism and Fundamentalism ultimately draw of God does not do justice to this truth.

      Second, you argue against my use of emotional and subjective language. Well, you may not that from the very title this article was intended to be both emotional and subjective. I said used the phrase Why I’m (subjective) Sacred (emotional) of Both. While I made some rational arguments in this article, it was not my intention to merely address this issue with the matter of pure logic. It was intended to convey both my emotion and viewpoint on the matter. The next question is, why did I intend to go this route? Here is the simple reason: I am not a proficient systematic theologian. So, instead of claiming an authoritative position on the subject, I was intending to express my non-expert opinion on it. Hence, why I included in the scope of the article to subjective and emotional appeals.

      Third, you noticed how I caricatured the two systems. To this, I appeal to the length of my article. In a 1034-word article, it is impossible to thoroughly nuance each position in a way that would satisfy every reader. The best I could do is 1) appeal to my subjectivity and 2) add a disclaimer at the end to say that these views don’t necessarily characterize everyone. I assumed that this would be sufficient to make my point without undo offense. I see I was wrong. For this I apologize.

      But as for my use of caricatures, I would point out that the reason caricatures exist is because they reflect some truth. Yes, not every person who claims to be Calvinist believes the same thing. But this does not mean that they have nothing in common either. The caricatures I presented I have drawn from the leaders of both camps. For Calvinism, I think of Piper and J. White who both hold to reprobation. For Fundamentalism, I think of Dr. Jones III and Herbster who really preached an controlling God. I’m not saying these men aren’t saved. I think that their views of God are ultimately wrong.

      You are absolutely correct, though, that I did not discuss historical fundamentalism. I didn’t intend to. I did not discuss these because I did not grow up in historical fundamentalism. I grew up in early 21st century fundamentalism.
      Fourth, as far as worldliness goes, I am not against preaching on worldliness. But there definitely was an over emphasis of it. Yes, preach on worldliness, but preach more on how to love people. Yes, preach on separation, but preach more on unity. I grew up in quite the opposite world.

      Concerning Ephesians 1:4, I take the Provisionist (traditional Southern Baptist) position. That is, the choosing of God isn’t a unilateral decision before the world began to chose some and not other. The choosing is in regard to the perfection and blamelessness as described in the purpose statement. In other words, those who are in Christ by faith (Eph 1:1-3) are chosen to be the blameless and perfect ones. It is not that people are chosen to be in Christ (the passage does not have an ειναι in it). Again, I am not the most proficient theologian on this matter. For a better explanation, listen to https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ephesians-1-de-calvinized/id933102822?i=1000485300413 and https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/chosen-in-him-or-chosen-to-be-in-him/id933102822?i=1000483062882.

      Thanks for your feedback! I enjoyed it!

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