Several years ago, when I wrote The Great Rift, I argued that John Calvin was greatly impacted by the humanist lawyer Andreas Alciati. Calvin’s early introduction into humanism did much to color his theology. Indeed, many Presbyterian authors have argued that Calvin was enamored with humanism and humanist scholars. It is not surprising, therefore, that Calvinism is largely a man-made system that has been developed and hammered out by so-called classical theologians. The Bible is often studied through the lens of the classical religious authors rather than allowing the Bible to be its own interpreter. In turn, human pressure is exerted on fellow believers to embrace Calvinism in order to be accepted among the Scripturally educated. Calvinism, I believe, has been invented by humans, substantiated by humans, and enforced by humans – all with the pretext that it magnifies the sovereignty of God.
This supposition was further substantiated this week when I was sent a trailer for an upcoming documentary on Calvinism. Les Lanphere, the producer of this new film, begins by confidently stating his credentials. And indeed, his credentials are impressive. He has worked on films such as Transformers, The Smurfs, and Epic. There is no denying he is an accomplished motion graphics designer and editor. But what if a preacher from a non-Calvinistic segment of fundamentalism would have begun his appeal by stating, “I am so-and-so, and I have preached at this conference before these people”? The Calvinist would have certainly decried this, saying that man is nothing more than glorified dirt. Why, then, when the Calvinist does it is he given a pass?
As the trailer then begins to give various audio clips from various Calvinistic preachers, one clip states, “Give us men . . . who will stand with Athanasius, and Calvin, and Luther, and Whitfield, and Edwards.” What if I would have said, “Give us men who will hand with Rice, and Roberson, and Malone”? Would not the Calvinist have rolled his eyes? He would have argued that these are “just men” and we need to get back to sola scriptura. The only difference is that the men he references agree with his theological position and they lived hundreds of years previously. If we are upset with some stating “I am of Paul”, the answer is not to say, “I am of Cephas.” Personality cults are still personality cults, and changing the name of the personality does not alter the inherent danger of basing theological suppositions on the word of man rather than the Word of God.
Moreover, Lanphere is going to fly all over the country to interview a notable list of so-called Calvinist scholars to explain Calvinism better to us. And then the name-dropping list begins: Michael Horton, James White, R. Scott Clark, and Joe Thorn. The goal is to help us better explain Calvinism to our family and friends. And we need the help of these notables to do it. Apparently, the Bible and the Spirit were not adequate to lead us to this mountaintop. We need the help of God’s choice servants to help us. If we had used this method to defend any other doctrine, the Calvinist would have cried, “Foul!”
And then the goal is given. This trailer was nothing more than a financial appeal to kick start the project. Lanphere wants our money for equipment, plane tickets, rental cars, and food. This money is designed to produce a film “that we Calvinists can be proud of.” Lanphere went on to stay that you if you cannot give (and I was suspecting him to say you could pray), you could pass the trailer along to others so they could give. Indeed, from the very beginning of the trailer he said, “I need your help to make a movie.” I thought the Calvinist mantra was “vain is the help of man.” There is no appeal for us to appeal to God. There only is an appeal for us to give of our human resources to advance a documentary that emphasizes how God works independently of human resources.
How ironic then that Lanphere ends the kick start appeal by saying, “sola dei gloria.” Sorry, I didn’t see any glory to God in that appeal. I saw the glory of Lanphere’s abilities, the glory of selected theologians’ intellect, and the glory of my human resources. But no glory to God!
Several days ago, I was informed that a Calvinistic friend has a teen who is away from the Lord. The Calvinistic mother, however, is not overly concerned about this, for she does not know if her daughter is among the elect. There is nothing she can do to turn her daughter to Christ. So, she is doing nothing. Isn’t it ironic, however, that the same Calvinist would think nothing of making a sacrificial commitment to propagate the gospel of Calvinism through this documentary? Well, count me out. If I have money to give, it is going to urge the unbeliever to embrace Christ, not to urge the believer to embrace Calvinism.