For the past month or so I have studied Scripture, viewed YouTube debates, and read several books on the subject of Reformed Theology. (By the way, when I use the term "Reformed Theology," I mean Calvinism in spite of the fact there were other theologians who left their mark on the Reformation. None were so impacting as John Calvin...and none so wrong headed as he.)
The upshot has been largely frustration. Those who opt for Reformed Theology read the Bible differently using different definitions and proceed from a different worldview than the rest of us. In the weeks since I have involved myself in this I have become convinced no one can read the Bible as you would read any other book and come to the conclusions Reformed thinkers propose. To adopt Reformed thinking, the Bible student must first be introduced to at least some Calvinistic interpretive principles and definitions. Since nearly every writer of popular Christian books and every American denomination demonstrates the impact of Calvinism, it is not hard to understand how Christians get introduced to Reformed Theology. Evangelical Christianity is "shot through" with Calvinism and one gets it at every turn.
Read the Bible and take it for what is says. Leave the study Bible notes, the commentaries, the small group studies, and all the other "helps" alone and just read the text. Let God's word speak to you in plain language. God is intelligent enough to "say what he means" and to say it in terms the average--even the uneducated (not illiterate)--person can understand. You need a theological degree to understand Calvinistic double-speak. And...I might add, if you don't understand things the way a Reformed Christian does it is because "you are not regenerated" and are still so depraved you can't possibly understand.
Let me give you some concrete examples of how Reformed Theologians use words and terms.
For the average reader the term "regeneration" is what God does when you become a Christian. As Paul puts it, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). Regeneration is part of the process of becoming a Christian. Again Paul said, "He saved us (past tense), not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Calvinists propose that humanity is so thoroughly depraved that regeneration must come first so that God will give faith enabling understanding. Seen in a diagram, it looks like this:
The Reformed Theologian also redefines terms such as all, whosoever, whoever, world, and every man. The average person reading those words understands them as inclusive. For example, when the average person reads 2 Peter 3:9 it is understood God wishes all (persons) to come to repentance." Peter says God does not wish any to perish... Don't argue with me, I didn't write what Peter wrote but he was borne along by the Spirit when he wrote that! Calvinists, however, understand Peter to say, "[God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any [of the elect] should perish, but that all [of the elect/the chosen/the predestined] should perish, but that all [the elect] should reach repentance." (Now I'm confused! Why, if they are already among the elect, do the elect need to reach repentance?) Well, someone is confused!!! The Calvinist argues that terms like these must be understood in terms of exception or distinction. Did Peter (God) mean to convey the idea that he wanted all (without exception) to be saved or only all (as distinguished by the elect) to be saved? The average reader who does not possess a theological degree would ask, "What kind of question is that?"
Then there is the matter of the definition of freedom. When I read the Bible and come across the statement, "Choose you this day whom you will serve...," I understand it to mean those who heard it had a real choice between God or Baal (Joshua 24:15). The Hebrews could actually make a free will choice between A (God) or non-A (Baal). The Calvinist says, "Oh, no, you are only free to choose what you want to do...you must choose according to your nature." The Reformed view is called "compatible freedom." It means you are only free to choose what your nature requires you to choose. (There are so many holes in this, even in this Old Testament event, that it looks like Swiss Cheese.) Now here's the rub! According to the Calvinist, God so orders circumstances that you choose only what your fallen nature, which God has decreed for you. In all reality, the Calvinist believes God ordains that you choose to sin. In other words, unless you are among the elect God tells you not to sin, then creates circumstances where you can only sin, and then holds you responsible for sinning! Is that freedom? Hardly.
According to Reformed Theology, God is totally sovereign and predetermines everything--even your failure, your pain, your sin, your disease--that happens. To the Calvinist God does it all! Thomas H. McCall explains the Calvinist view of sovereignty thus:
1. God is sovereign over any event (E) if and only if God determines that E occurs.
2. God is sovereign over any agent (A) if and only if God determines all of A's actions.
Who is A? What is A? You are!
When I first started participating in The New Eclectic society and these discussions there was a young woman who was part of the discussion. Her posts revealed a young woman struggling with serious moral and spiritual problems. It soon became obvious she felt unloved and rejected by not only the page's participants, but by God himself. All my Calvinist friends could do was tell her they "loved her" and encourage her continued participation. They could not tell her "God loved her" because they believe God "hates" the natural man/woman. No, I mean it! Calvinism communicates the belief that God hates the non-elect. (Oh, Calvinists define "love" differently, too. I digress.) She soon dropped out of the discussion and any witness to her of God's love and care had no possibility to permeate her shell.
I understand her feeling! Reformed thinking portrays a god who is a petty tyrant concerned only with his glorification. Long before the universe began, Calvinism's god determined/ordained Adam's sin and condemned the entire universe. Calvin's god devised a plan to rescue a few to demonstrate his love while condemning billions to hell and eternal punishment. Those whom he chose to rescue were chosen arbitrarily and without condition. The Calvinist's god could have rescued every human being but he refused to do so in order to "enhance his own glory."
Praise God! The God of the Bible is a Holy God. God's love and God's justice both derive from his holy nature. He demonstrated his love toward us in his Son who died to pay the penalty for our/my sin and rose again to demonstrate his power. In Christ's one act he both demonstrated God's love and satisfied God's just nature. In so doing it is clear "he first loved us." He offers the benefits of Christ's sacrifice to all (really, all) humanity and Christ's atonement avails potentially for every person. The Calvinist wants to speculate about how much of Jesus' blood would be wasted if he did not die only for the predefined/predetermined/predestined elect. Such speculation is silly and is a grasping at straws because it is clear Christ's shed blood is effective only for those who believe.
If it were not so, I would almost be persuaded to cast Christianity aside and say with the atheists, "An all-powerful "God" who causes men to sin and then condemns them for doing so is a monster."