Disclaimer: this is a heated article. I’m truly sorry if I hurt your feelings, unless you’re a Calvinist.
The following passage about Jesus and His disciples teaches us about dealing with people who have ill-conceived notions about their faith.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:51–56, ESV)
Too often, pride enters the same doorway that good theology must go through. Our brains must be the thing to engage with theology and our brains have a knack for spinning the dross of theological superiority, much like the disciples.
Though I’m talking about theological differences within Christianity and the passage above is describing differences between Christianity and paganism, the point is the same and is actually made stronger. Here’s why: the disciples, in their foolishness, thought that they should implore God to completely destroy by fire those who were not receptive to the Good News. Calvinists (specifically “cage-stage” Calvinists, so named because they are so obnoxious they should be trapped in a cage) often take this very same approach.
I’ve never heard a Calvinist say God needs to bring fire down to consume Arminians (though I wouldn’t be surprised) but too often Calvinists are guilty of the sin of superiority when they surmise the views of their “opponents”. Instead of grievously summarizing the faults of faulty doctrine with one another, they gloat about the superiority of their view over and against the pitiful views of other lesser theologians. This is not only sinful, it is stupid.
Here’s why cage-stage Calvinists are idiots: they claim to hold to a high view of God’s Sovereignty – one in which nothing happens without God’s decree and every good work His children do is a result of His good graces – yet at the same time they take pride in the fact that they know something about God that others do not. This pride leads them to adopt an air of superiority because (though they may not say this out loud) they are smarter than their non-Calvinist antagonists. This is called cognitive dissonance – asserting two things to be true that are inherently contradictory. Or, in other words, stupidity.
Ironically, the hell-bent nature of Calvinist “evangelism” toward Arminians backfires because the condescending Calvinist approach often does nothing but solidify Arminianism amongst Arminians because they see Calvinists as prideful, non-spiritual jerks (doesn’t that sound like a Pharisee?). Further, Calvinist evangelism toward Arminians can tend to strain the gnat while swallowing the Camel because most Arminians are going to heaven while there is a world of non-Arminian unbelievers out there who need the Good News. Here’s how I put it, if you had one theological silver bullet, would you use it on an Arminian or an unbeliever? If you pick Arminian, it is because you care about theological debates more than the salvation of souls.
The disciples’ response to lack of faith was prideful indifference – “do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Note the pride in asserting that they had the power to “tell” heavenly fire what to do. Also notice the indifference in their hearts that makes them not only content with the destruction of those who are in need of saving but makes them even suggest their destruction. Surely, they were a far way off from the wise words that say, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” Indeed, they couldn’t have been further away from true Christian perspective.
Sure, God has wrath stored up for those who do not believe but here’s the kicker Calvinists – you’re not God. You don’t get to be angry with those who do not have right views because the only reason you have right views is that God gave them to you. If Paul, Peter, John, and Jesus Himself can speak of the sorrow they have for the lack of faith amongst non-believers, what gives you the right to look upon unbelief with laughter in your heart? How dare you scoff at erroneous views about God. Do you think God thinks it’s funny that people misunderstand Him and think Him to be lesser than He is? If you really believe that Arminians are missing out on the goodness of Reformed theology, theology that you say changed your life for the better, shouldn’t you earnestly plead with them by appealing to Scriptures? Why then do you boastfully condemn them with rhetoric and cutesy internet pictures?
Now, Calvinists are not contending with matters of salvation (though some would say they are) when they war against Arminians, but they still exhibit the tendency to “tell fire to come down from heaven”. Here is my suggestion, instead of allowing our deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9) hearts to respond to erroneous doctrine with smugness and laughter, let us ask the Father to reshape our hearts so that they respond with sadness and grief. Let us never laugh at false doctrine. Doctrine is serious. Doctrine is not a joke.
Instead of following the disciples’ response to the Samaritans, follow Jesus’: “’Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36–37) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was explaining that Samaritans (those without proper theology) are often better than religious leaders (those who write theological textbooks). Could it be that God is telling us that some Arminians are better Christians than some Calvinists because they have mercy in their hearts and we do not?
I’m pleading with you – plead with those who do not understand. Don’t laugh at them.