Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is Fred Phelps a Calvinist?

Scurrilous opponents of Calvinism sometimes try to tar Calvinism by associating Calvinism with the infamous Fred Phelps. But keep in mind that according to Calvinism, it's quite possible to profess the doctrines of grace without possessing the grace of the doctrines. So even if he were a professing Calvinist, that wouldn't mean his life is a reflection of his creed.

But according to his estranged son, Nate Phelps, this is what Fred Phelps believes:

This doctrine is very important to understanding the Westboro Baptist Church. My father, and those who follow him, are not preaching to try to convince people of their truth. Unlike street evangelists, who are trying to convert people, my father has no intention of converting anyone, since conversion is impossible. You’re either chosen, or you’re not. To illustrate, in the mid 90’s my father was a guest on a radio talk show hosted by a popular Christian apologist named Rich Buehler. Mr. Buehler suggested that my father’s failure at bearing any fruit from his evangelizing efforts might point to some error in his theology. With typical aggresion my father barked back at him: “That’s not the test!! The test is fidelity in preaching!”


Needless to say, that's not Calvinism–that's textbook Hyper-Calvinism.


  1. No offense, you do realize that Fred Phelps is a deeply mentally ill human being whom has viciously abused his children dont you? I could care less if he worshiped the man in the moon the damage he has done is terrible.

  2. I'm aware of all that. How does that conflict with my post?

  3. What happened to the article " Does Kierkegaard Save the Cogito? NO!"???

  4. I live in the same area as Phelps and his tribe and unfortunately not only have to hear about on the news frequently, but often witness them picketing in our capitol city.

    You're correct, this is whack-job hyper-calvinism at its nadir. That, and Phelps is just fruity as a nutcake.

  5. From his sermons on the "old school baptist hour" on his site, on 12/13/1987, he explicitly berates a woman celebrating Christmas by saying, "I have no expectation, or desire that you will heed my message and change your heathen practices. From 32 of experience in this evil place known as Topeka Kansas, I know better." He says similar things in several of his sermons.

    But Jonah was exactly the same way (desiring the damnation of those to whom he preaches). I'm not clear on why you'd condemn Phelps and not Jonah, especially as Phelps is aware that his message might be the means of regeneration, although he doesn't desire it. That would make him the more commendable of the two, I'd think, since he did not avoid what he felt was his duty.

  6. Thnuh,

    I can't think of a time any of us have said, "You know who makes a good model for evangelism? That Jonah guy, that's who!"

    In fact, God condemned Jonah's actions. He even whithered the man's vine he was using for shade (after, of course, providing the vine in the first place).

    But if you really want to know why we don't condemn Jonah while we condemn Phelps, well...Jonah caught a bad case of death (although on the plus side, I've heard his condition has been stable for several thousand years now). Phelps, on the other hand, is still around peddling his bunk. So as a matter of priority, I'll just stick with condemning the one who *could* potentially benefit from it.

  7. i) Jonah is not equivalent to a Hyper-Calvinist. He was evasive precisely because he feared that his message would be effective.

    ii) As Peter points out, the book of Jonah is critical of his attitude from start to finish.

    iii) In this post, I didn't condemn Phelps. I merely corrected a popular falsehood.

    There is no dearth of things to condemn him for. If I wanted to condemn him, which he richly deserves, I could do so on multiple grounds.

  8. I wouldn't say it's textbook hyper-Calvinism, because the more standard version historically doesn't allow for evangelism at all, whereas Phelps allows for doing things that most of us would call evangelism while denying that anyone gets saved because of it. So it's not the standard way of putting it. But you're right that it's clearly hyper-Calvinist. There are other things he says that are hyper-Calvinist as well, including denying common grace.