Sunday, March 06, 2011

Is Calvinism elitist?

Is Calvinism elitist? That’s a common charge. A “select few.” A “spiritual elite.”

But, to the contrary, Calvinism is anti-elitist. The utter antithesis of elitism. In election, the power elite is underrepresented, while the lumpen is overrepresented. Few on the top, many on the bottom.

18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
    "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
 26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
 1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
 6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,
    "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
   nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him"—
 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 1:18-2:16). 


  1. Well, Steve, you know, putting it this way I am now convinced the Apostle Paul was a Calvinist!

  2. "But, to the contrary, Calvinism is anti-elitist. The utter antithesis of elitism. In election, the power elite is underrepresented, while the lumpen is overrepresented. Few on the top, many on the bottom."

    I never thought about that. But that's right!

  3. But doesn't this still make Calvinism elitist? It does not matter if Calvinists are humble anti-elitists. It does not matter if Calvinism itself encourages humility and grace. If Calvinism itself is true, then God Himself is elitist and has chosen the elite for Himself. There is no escaping it. I am not arguing against Calvinism specifically, by the way. As an ex-Calvinist, if I was still Christian, I would hold to it. But I think that the charge of elitism is inescapable. The only response I can think of for the Calvinist believer is to refer to the Sovereignty of God and ask who has the right to question God, but that does not solve anything as far as I am concerned, respectfully.

  4. You're arbitrarily redefining the connotations of "elite" or "elitism." As I've said before, words have connotations as well as denotations. It suggests the upper class, talented people, or people with achieved status.

  5. Byron,

    If I'm Tom Brady and I'm picking a touch football team on the school yard, and in so doing I pick the kids no one likes and who couldn't catch a ball if it was handed to them...would those kids be elitist? Would I?

    Not hardly.

    And if they decided to brag about it, could they? Realistically?

    Not hardly.

  6. Bryon:

    " It does not matter if Calvinism itself encourages humility and grace."

    That there seems to point out that you are an elitist.

    Why do you do that? Do what you might ask? Attribute to Calvin what is clearly God's Nature and quality and genre?

    For instance, couple these two verses together and ask if maybe you might be overly discriminating John Calvin, his teachings and his standing in God?

    Mat 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."


    1Pe 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
    1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
    1Pe 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

  7. If Calvinism itself is true, then God Himself is elitist and has chosen the elite for Himself

    Steve is correct. You're arbitrarily refining the meaning of the term "elite." Exactly how are the elect "elite" if the reason for their election is without respect to any merit in them?

  8. But Daryl, "the kids no one likes and who couldn't catch a ball if it was handed to them" doesn't describe the elect in Calvinism. In Calvinism, regardless of who likes the kids or not among their peers, they are specially loved by God and chosen for that love, and then gifted with something (salvation in the real world case) that they can never lose, which is not granted to the other kids. And it doesn't have to be, but there's a little bit of meritorious thinking creeping into your description, as if these poor kids deserve the salvation because they're not liked by anyone and cannot do anything right on the field. It's like God zaps them and turns them into all-star pro class athletes just because He can. But that ignores that some of these kids might actually have been liked by the kids and have some ability before hand (I guess you could argue that people like Martin Luther could fit this description).

  9. I don't understand how I'm redefining the concept of "elite". Merriam-Webster online gives the first two definitions as "individuals carefully selected as being the best of a class" and "the highest class in a society." This is exactly what you have here, isn't it? They are not elect by any merit in them, yes, and not in the eyes of their peers (i.e., world). But God chose them (for whatever reasons) to be the best members of the class called humanity (because of salvation) and of the "highest class" which consists of those God predestined to redeem. They're elect (elite) by virtue of God's election, from God's own point of view. If I'm mistaken, then I don't see how, sorry.

  10. Oops. I just now caught that, "refining" as opposed to "redefining". But that makes me even more confused on the issue, because from the divine perspective as best as I can understand this is not "refining" the meaning of the word "elite" away from its intended meaning. They're elite because they're chosen by God in predestination to form the only class of salvation, the elect, and enjoy the unmerited favor and superior love of God.

  11. Byron,

    Let me walk through the logic with you a bit. We'll start with a simpler example.

    Suppose there is a box full of Lotto balls. There is nothing special about any of the balls, other than that they have a unique number on them. But no number is superior to any of the others. All Lotto balls are esteemed identically.

    Now suppose you reach in and pull out five balls and declare that these balls are the numbers for the winning Lotto ticket. You did not select the balls because of anything inherit in the ball themselves; rather, you selected them for your own reasons.

    In what way can the balls you selected be said to be "elite" balls? There was nothing about those balls that suggested you pick them and not a different ball. There is nothing special about them.

    Would you seriously argue that only elite balls get selected?

  12. In that particular case, you've just made a temporary elite class, the "winning" (or best) balls, independent of any merits they may or may not possess. The status of elite is limited to the scope of the current context, and in this case, it would be a lottery and be temporary. Throw predestination in, and now you know that you will select only those "elite" balls for this particular lottery. They're elite because you chose them to be (fitting the current context and purpose, and determining their identity as elite, even if it's only temporary).

  13. Byron,

    But they are not elite, even under your rather peculiar meaning of the term, until after they are selected; and the selection process does not take into account any attribute of any of the individual balls themselves. So the balls are at no point chosen because they are elite.

    Even if you're to claim that having been selected elevates the balls to "elite" status, that is a post-selection "elite" status. Which, if we go back to the original problem--the charge that Calvinism is elitist--is equivalent to saying that anyone who is a Christian is in an elite state. If this is true, it's hardly limited to Calvinism.

    No, the charge against Calvinism only makes sense if the elite status is there before salvation; and thus, in the analogy, the balls must be elite before they are selected. But clearly, that is not the case in the example, and therefore one need not conclude it's the case in real life either.

  14. Well, predestination (or foreknowledge at the very least) would make those balls temporarily elite for that temporary context. They're the best and winning balls because of election but also were foreseen/foreknown to be such. Let's say 8, 5, and 3 are the winning numbers. The 8, 5, and 3 (for a three-number lottery) would be the elite, based on predestination/foreknowledge before the fact, and based on special chosen status after the fact.

    Calvinism still has God choosing the elect (either before or after choosing the Fall) before they are born. The elect don't exist until God creates them and starts their lives on earth, but they are "born elite" with a special status and future thanks to God's choosing. He purposefully chose to create them specifically as His elect, before even time began, and that makes them elite. Because God is omniscient and omnipotent, the future glorious state of His elect is absolutely predetermined and inevitable, no matter what their circumstances (however humble or unfortunate) are on Earth. And God has a right to do it that way according to Romans 9, so that's fine. But to me, that's elitism.

  15. I don't understand why my use of elitism is peculiar. I'm just trying to look at the larger, divine perspective rather than the simple, limited human one. I think this is justified because election is hidden from man's knowledge in the decretive counsel of God.

  16. Byron said:
    Well, predestination (or foreknowledge at the very least) would make those balls temporarily elite for that temporary context.

    Except that Arminians believe in foreknowledge too. So that would make Arminians just as elitist as Calvinists, under this charge...yet since it's usually Arminians leveling the charge against Calvinists, that doesn't logically follow.

    As to your definition of elite being odd, it's odd because you're essentially arguing that if we have two identical bowls of pudding in front of us, one of them becomes elite simply because you decided to eat that one. In other words, something becomes elite based solely on the action of something other than itself.

  17. Bryon:

    "Calvinism still has God choosing the elect (either before or after choosing the Fall) before they are born."


    "God still has God choosing the elect (either before or after choosing the fall) before they are born."

    Are you not mistaken here, Bryon?

    God was electing people long before John Calvin came on the scene and read the Scriptures and began writing about what he read and understood them to mean with the Spirit of God's assistance in giving him the understanding.

    God put His Spirit on John Calvin.

    This is not unique. God does this to all His Elect.

    It seems you have some beef or issue with Calvin's understanding of God and the Word of His Grace.

  18. Well, I'm not an Arminian, but a determinist. And I'm not considering this a charge (as if of error, or something negative like that). I just think of it as being a matter of fact. God had to purposefully create the people He either foreknew would choose Him, or He predestined to regenerate. That makes those who are saved (however the soteriology works out) part of an elite class that God created out of the larger class He created called humanity.

    As far as the pudding goes, that's not exactly what I meant. The pudding doesn't become elite if predestination/foreknowledge is involved. As soon as it entered into creation, it existed as part of an elite class (or wholly comprises that elite class). Pudding A and B are no different than each other except for being physically separate objects as far as we can tell. But Pudding A, let's say, is elite because it was specifically created to be so.

    Does elitism have to depend on the inherent properties of an object itself? Does best have to be qualified in such a way? The elect have all different physical characteristics, and might be superior in some ways to another elect person, inferior in another. But none of these even matter in terms of election. God chose them and not the non-elect, even created them specifically to be such. If they are not "elite" in the sense of being the best of a class in salvation, then how does the word "elite" retain any of its meaning? Because the elect cannot be separated from God's ultimate purpose in creating them and their very existence, identity, and destiny is wound up together in God's special election of them.

  19. natamllc:

    I was just trying to answer that in the system of Calvinism I understand there to be a special status (of being "elite" if you will) for the elect even before birth. Again, I'm not trying to cast "elitism" into a negative light necessarily. It either is or isn't so. I just feel that Calvinism is elitist in the sense that the elect are better than the non-elect (and eternally better off), due to being the "elite" chosen of God.

  20. Byron said:
    I just feel that Calvinism is elitist in the sense that the elect are better than the non-elect (and eternally better off), due to being the "elite" chosen of God.

    Again, in what way do they become better than anyone else? We've already established that there is no intrinsic difference between the Elect and non-elect--it's an unconditional election, after all. There is nothing about the Elect that makes them better than anyone else (not until after regeneration--but again, by that point, the charge of "elitism" against Calvinism has no teeth since all Christians would believe the those who have the Spirit are in a far better position than those who do not).

    I do not see how foreknowledge affects this either. This seems to introduce an unwarranted factor to the equation.

    For that matter, you've said you're a determinist. Now, I take it that you mean you're a naturalistic determinist, whereby everything is determined by physical laws and such that, in theory, where you to have the ability to calculate every single particle in the universe, you would be able to map out exactly what would happen. If so, then that would mean the results of a Lotto draw are determined beforehand by the way the balls are situated in their container and the physical laws that control the chemical reactions, etc., such that in reality only one specific ball is going to fall first--and it will always be the one that would fall, etc.

    Now, under that view, your argument seems to me to say that the "elite" status of the ball as being the one that falls first is established even if no one actually knows which one will fall first. That is, the universe is set up in such a way that that's the inevitable outcome. So, if your argument is sound, then foreknowledge is irrelevant. The ball is "elite" by virtue of its existence in the universe the way it is.

    But even if this is a fair understanding of your view and what you're arguing here, it does not seem at all to be anything remotely similar to the point that Steve was addressing originally, and it certainly isn't the argument that Arminians make against Calvinists when they level the charge of elitism.

  21. OK, I concede that. Thanks.

  22. I have been thinking about this most of today and I just wanted to finish with a few comments. I am not Arminian, so I cannot say what or how an Arminian would argue on this. I guess that some Arminians might agree with my argumentation perhaps.

    To me the elect are intrinsically elite because they are intrinsically elect. Even if there are no distinguishing factors between elect and non-elect before regeneration, regeneration still comes because of their elect status, and only because of that. So basically elite = elect. I do not know if anyone would agree with me, but I cannot escape thinking this way.

    OK, just wanted to get that off my mind.