Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Coping with Calvinism

Steven Nemes, Paul Manata, and I have pulled together some crisis counseling tips for grief-stricken Arminian parents who just discovered that their innocent kids succumbed to the perditious clutches of Calvinism:

When your family learns you’re Calvinist
June 8, 2010 by Steven

There is not a more uncomfortable few hours you can spend than those when your family (note: not immediate family, like your parents and brother, but your extended family, like aunts and cousins) learn that you are a Calvinist. If you were born in an “unbelieving” family, like me, it was a big enough deal when your parents learn you’re one of those wretches who believes you can do whatever you want after you’re saved, cuz you’re never going to lose it. But it’s twice as bad when family you don’t even see that often–like your parents’ siblings who live half way across the US (or across the world even) learn you’re a Calvinist. Then, it seems, you’re branded–”Oh, that’s my brother’s heretic of a kid–he’s one of them Calvinists, you know. They believe God chose them to be saved cuz they’re so special.” It’d be better to keep it secret, but then again, whoever is ashamed of me before men…

steve hays

That’s why we need to form support groups for Calvinists who come out of the closet. Paul Manata heads up a local chapter in Grand Rapids. It’s a safe place for Calvinists who’ve been shunned by family and friends to hold hands and have a good cry.


Here’s something I worked up for our local group, maybe this will help you, Steven:


Things You’ll Need:

* Confidence

Step 1

Seeking out the support of your friends and even your pastor if you already have one is important when you are preparing to tell your family you’re a Calvinist. Many families have a negative reaction when they hear this, thus they may disassociate with you for awhile or express disappointment. This can be extremely emotional and stressful for you, which is why it is important that you have supportive friends around to help boost your spirit and morale, as well as reassure you that you made the correct decision (especially when those who dislike your choice tell you that you did not make a decision).

Step 2

Preparing yourself for criticism or disassociation by your family is important. Most families need time to come to terms with the fact that someone is a Calvinist before they can fully accept them again. Before they can see them as human. You may find it beneficial to hear stories of others who have came out to their family and what they went through in order to prepare yourself.

Step 3

Understanding the cycle families, especially parents, go through when you tell them you’re a Calvinist can also help in managing the criticism and disassociation you receive. Generally most people experience anger, grief and disappointment before they fully accept you as someone who is a Calvinist. This is especially true for parents who often question what they did wrong that made you accept TULIP. Let them hang out with you and your Calvinist friends. They will begin to see you as human, and love you just as you are.

Step 4

Providing your family members, especially your parents, with books about being a Calvinist and having Calvinist children can really be an asset as they go through the above cycle. There are a number of excellent resources that you can purchase and give to them when you tell them you are a Calvinist (R.C. Sproul’s _Chosen By God_ is a classic). This helps them to learn more as well as understand they are not the only family with a Calvinist person in it.

Step 5

Seeking out the support of family friends that can be of assistance during this process is also beneficial (like the local PCA or OPC, or even a Reformed baptist church). Your parents may have friends that are more orthodox than your own, whom you feel comfortable telling you are a Calvinist. By coming out to them in advance and talking about how you will be telling your parents or family, these friends can act as a support system. They can help your family come to terms with the fact that you are a Calvinist.

Step 6

Consider who in your family you want to tell that you are a Calvinist to first. Some family members will react better than others, and you probably know which ones they are (family members that drink beer or wine in moderation or don’t let emotion determine truth are the most likely to accept your change). Often telling cousins or siblings is much easier than parents, grandparents or other adults since most cousins or siblings your age know of someone that is Calvinist or have friends that are. Telling someone in your family who will be accepting of the fact that you are a Calvinist can give you the boost of confidence you need to tell the rest of your family.

Step 7

Finally tell your family you’re a Calvinist. Although you may be dreading it, you will feel a sense of relief once you get it over. Instantly a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders (kind of like how accepting the doctrines of grace was a weight off your semi-Pelagian shoulders) as you now know you can be yourself and you no longer have to pretend to be someone else, like Joel Osteen.

Step 8

Repeat steps 1-7 as necessary.

steve hays

Parents who discover that their children have converted to Calvinism pass through the classic stages of grief. According to Kübler-Ross, it’s the same reaction patients have when diagnosed with a terminal disease:

Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the horrible news.
Denial stage: "How dare you say my child would do that!"
Anger stage: "How could my child do that to me!"
Bargaining stage: "If you recant, I’ll buy you a Mustang!"
Depression stage: Sense of hopelessness.
Acceptance stage: Stoic resignation.


  1. Bargaining stage: "If you recant, I’ll buy you a Mustang!"

    This one.

  2. "Coping with Calvinism"

    I think it's even more traumatic when the newly minted Calvinist comes out of a staunch Catholic family.

    They would be the bizarro world inverse of the "Called to Communion" bloggers.

  3. I'd also like to add something, if I may:

    If your parents or extended family are Christians, survey their library of Christian books and take notice of the authors of the books. There's a chance that they will have a book from someone who is a Calvinist, though it will undoubtedly not be on the subject of a Calvinistic doctrine. This will happen to you more often than you think with your believing family members. By bringing up that one or more of the authors of the books they own is a Calvinist, it makes the process of getting your family member(s) to recognize that Calvinists are not aliens from outer space easier – or at least increases the chances that it will be easier.

  4. 'Denial stage: "How dare you say my child would do that!"'

    Perhaps an ironic reword: "There's no way my kid could decide to become a Calvinist: I raised him better than that!"

    I've actually used that tactic to some success. I have a friend who has been an Arminian most of his life. He also loves Max Lucado and had no idea that Lucado was a Calvinist until I pointed it out to him. I think I've got my friend up to a classic "TU-IP" 4 points now after a few years of debate.

  5. Jim,
    Max Lucado is a Calvinist? Huh, never knew and wouldn't figure Oak Hills Church's beliefs page on their website. Is he more along the lines of a neo-Calvinist? I'm reading mixed things on his theology – some saying he has an Arminian perspective, some saying he has a Calvinist perspective, and some almost saying he's something of an inconsistent Calvinist with Church of Christ belief tendencies.