Paul's Passing Thoughts

How to Debate A Calvinist: Part 1 – By John Immel

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 13, 2017

The following is part one of a five-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s first session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

“Have you read Calvin’s Institutes today?”

I must confess, I really struggled this year with what I wanted to talk about. My brain bounced off about a dozen things. I originally thought I was going to dig deeper into the impact of John Locke on American civil government, American religion, the American Revolution. But at the end of the day it didn’t really catch and sustain my attention too much.

Then I thought I might actually discuss death and life and exegete the first four chapters of the book of Genesis. And that didn’t really stick with me very long. And I toyed with a half a dozen other things that just don’t bear mentioning.

Then about two or three months ago I was reading an interaction on Paul’s Passing Thoughts between Paul Dohse and a guy by the name of “GraceWriterRandy”. Now, trust me, this conference is not about GraceWriterRandy, but he is a fantastic anecdote. And so I decided to go ahead and talk about what he did and how that applies generally.

So here is what I noticed. And what so caught my attention was that Randy presumed to set the tone for the entire conversation, and frankly it didn’t matter what part of the conversation. He decided that he was going to dictate the moral and intellectual terms across the board. He reserved the right to make the discussion as narrow or as broad as he wanted.

And then what really bothered me is that everybody accepted the premise. Everybody tended to follow along. So if Randy reframed the conversation, everybody accepted the shift. If Randy argued scripture, everybody started stacking up scriptures. If Randy shifted to moral criticism, everybody started lobbing moral accusations. If Randy challenged a definition, everybody started parsing meanings.

And this is when I realized that I actually had my topic of conversation: Arguments with Calvinists, and trying to unravel the roots of their arguments.

And this is why no one ever gets anywhere in a debate with a Calvinist, because they let the Calvinist shape the direction of the conversation. People rarely ever challenge the Calvinist root assumptions. They let the Calvinist decide that it is their sole right to define all things moral, spiritual, and intellectual. And the foundation of all their arguments is the myth of their [Calvinists’] own authority and their entitlement to dictated force.

So I came up with a brief algebra of historic “Christian” authority:

The Algebra of Authority

Catholic Algebra:
Absolute Truth = Apostolic Authority + Scripture = Error Free Doctrine + Apostolic Succession = Papal Authority = Orthodoxy = Government Force

I want you to notice that the fulcrum of Catholic doctrine is Apostolic Authority PLUS Scripture. Everything else, how they get their doctrinal interpretations, is a direct product of this. Catholics had decided long ago that the reason that “Scripture Alone” got so much traction is because the Catholic church, specifically Papal Authority, decided that it was their job to interpret what it said. But at the end of the day, Orthodoxy is what determines Government Force. In other words, the Pope has the right to compel you to what you think.

Here’s what happened when Protestantism showed up:

Protestant Algebra:
Absolute Truth = Scriptural Authority = Predestined Elders = Error Free Doctrine + Ecclesiastical Force = Orthodoxy

It is very important that you see the relationship here. Predestined Elder inherit the implications of their own Absolute Truth. The function of Predestined Elders in the Protestant world is to compel you to think whatever it is they think they have the right to compel you to think.

This is crucial for you to understand: Authority = Force

Any time somebody says, “I am an authority,” what they are really saying is, “I have the right to force you to do something.” There is nothing elegant about it.

So then how do you debate a Calvinist?

The answer is: You challenge the roots.

This is why I insist, particularly with regard to GraceWriterRandy, no one ever successfully challenges the roots of the assertion.

I have been talking about my web of tyranny now for the last six years. This is my contribution to the world of philosophy. I have identified what I believe are the five fundamental pillars of tyranny. It doesn’t matter what the ultimate end game is, all tyrannies have these five sub-categories or arguments: Dictated Good, Universal Guilt, Abolition of Ambition, Collective Conformity, and Incompetent Masses. The function of all these sub-categories is designed to create “Utopia,” or an alternate reality.

The reason I have rendered this as a web is because it is not specifically linear. In other words, there is not specifically a logical progression of one to the other. Instead there is a dynamic tension between all five, so all of the arguments act in harmony with all of the others to compel you down the path of this alternate reality; the right to determine some other realm of thinking.

What we have never really discussed is how the arguments fit into the web. On occasion over the last few years I have made reference to when an argument sits, but I want to have an overarching view. I want to start subdividing some of the arguments that you will hear. I’ve tried to pick archetypes of the arguments, and we will try to unravel them in later sessions.

If we are going to successfully debate Calvinist, we have to get good at identifying the foundational assumptions, because:

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

Frankly, I don’t think we can have any better object lesson of this truth played out in our civil discourse than the logical assumption of a group of people tearing down historic monuments over wars that were fought long ago over offenses that are entirely manufactured. They are in actuality fulfilling a body of logic that produces some action.

Ideas are what drive human action. There is body of ideas, and a fundamental integration of those ideas, that produces your actions in any given day. This integration is called Philosophy.

Disciplines of Philosophy

– Metaphysics

– Epistemology

– Ethics

– Politics

– Aesthetics (art)

The roots are your metaphysical assumptions; whatever you accept about the nature of existence. Once you actually establish your foundation of metaphysical assumptions, you move to epistemology. That is what you believe your mind can understand. Once you identify what your mind can and cannot know, you move on to ethics. These are the moral judgments that you have about your actions; what is good and what is evil. This is how we define how we interact with other people through politics. Once man is able to establish these first four disciplines, he is able to refresh his existence with artistic expression. His art is a reflection of his most deeply held values.

The Orthodoxy Happy Dance

You might begin to talk to a Calvinist by presenting to him what Luther or Calvin said regarding a certain doctrine, and all is well and good until the Calvinist encounters something he doesn’t like. At this point he might respond by saying, “Well, Calvin might have believed that, but it was really the Synod of Dort that came up with this thing called T.U.L.I.P.” At this point they have made the Synod of Dort their authority over Calvin and Luther.

So then you proceed to point out a fallacy in T.U.L.I.P or the Synod of Dort, and now they might cite the Westminster Confession as being the final authority on the matter, rejecting the Synod of Dort. Notice what they are able to do. At any point in the argument that they don’t happen to like an given intellectual conclusion, no matter where it starts, they get to dance around between any given authority that suits them at any particular moment.

Take a look at the video below. This is an excerpt from a breakout session at the 2016 Cross for the Nations Conference in Indianapolis, IN. In this clip, you will hear John Piper make a reference to being committed to “the whole Calvinistic scheme.” Watch then, as Paul Dohse challenges Piper on the matter of election, Piper proceeds to engage in this orthodoxy happy dance.

Did you catch it? What you just saw Piper do is exactly what Calvinist do with impunity. They want the right to pick any given authority as their intellectual forbearers and then disown those intellectual forbearers whenever it suits their purpose. And this is why I call it the Orthodoxy Happy Dance, because orthodoxy at the end is this amorphous concept to which they get to appeal. They make an appeal to something that has no functional definition. At the end of the day, the real root of what they are advocating is their right to their own authority.

Notice that when pressed on the Calvin Institutes, Piper immediately became a Biblicist. What you will eventually realize, if you care to pay attention, is that Calvinists don’t read the Calvin Institutes ever. They read a few select excerpt here and there and then pretend that it is their intellectual pedigree, which they then believe gives them the license to tell you what to think. You peg them down on what they think and then they just jump to some other source of intellectual pedigree.

This sort of intellectual two-step is a direct violation of Aristotle’s Law of Identity; that A is A. Something cannot be “A” and “not A” at the same time. But with Calvinists, orthodoxy can be anything they want it to be. They have no intellectual integrity. They are not committed to anything specific. This is why every time you start debating Calvinists your conversations go nowhere.

Any time you have such a conversation, what you must do is make them responsible for their intellectual pedigree. If at any point they want to reject any point of Calvinism, they are rejecting the roots of orthodoxy. You will see this comment consistently:

“Calvinists don’t believe everything that John Calvin said…The Bible says blah, blah, blah…”

This is a glittering gem of colossal ignorance. It kills me every time I see it. I guarantee if you read anybody’s blog and you take somebody to task you will get a similar response. Pay attention to this. This is the formulation. They will identify themselves as Calvinists, and then they will pretend that they don’t believe what Calvin said. Suddenly they are independent thinkers and Biblicists. This is a gambit to what they believe they control – Biblical interpretation.

The next time you hear this line of logic, what you must say is, “So, you reject John Calvin’s ideas? Excellent! We agree on something. In your copy of Calvin’s Institutes, show me specifically to what you object.” This must be the only answer you will accept, but here is the thing; they will never do it. They will want to play their gambit of Biblical interpretation because they believe they own it.

Your rebuttal when they go back to the Bible, you say, “So, you are really saying that Calvin’s ideas are not in the Bible, right?” If they have to constantly run back to the Bible, then that means they cannot find those ideas in the Calvin’s Institutes. The moment they concede that point, then the next question you ask is, “So that means that Calvin’s teachings are unbiblical, right? That would make him a heretic, right?”   Follow this progression of questioning, and don’t let them leave this point! They must commit to what they are advocating.

You want to make sure they can never escape either an acceptance of Calvin or a rejection of Calvin. They must either accept that there is a synonymous relationship between Calvin and the Bible or there is not one. The moment you drive that wedge they are stuck. They use Calvin to establish their historic pedigree – “I have authority because I believe what all these other historic thinkers think.” Yet at the same time they want to turn around and claim intellectual autonomy whenever they choose. So which is it; historical authority or your own intellectual authority? That is the fulcrum of the debate.

If the truth is defined as “authority,” then there is no such thing as “I think…” The assumption is Authority = No Doctrinal Error; that the only way you can hedge against doctrinal error is to have authority. So the reason they argue “authority” is because they insist that they are the ones who get it all right. But the moment you confront them with something that isn’t right, they want to renounce the very thing that gives them authority. This is what you can never let them get away with.

The real argument here is that they have abandoned the right to the Aristotelian Law of Identity. They are constantly trying to say that “A” can be “B” and “B” can be “A”. They want to have a “both/and” reality.

  • Both final authority and error-filled humans.
  • Both defender of orthodoxy and an individual thinker denouncing Calvin’s doctrine.
  • Both herald of God’s mystic revelation and defender of “objective” truth.
  • Both lowly unoriginal mind slave and epitome of rational judgment.
  • Both champion of God’s hard truth and pitiful victim of undeserved criticism.

The way to defeat Calvinists is to deny them their authority and hammer away at reality. Reality is their enemy. The reason they engage in the Orthodoxy Happy Dance is because the moment they are confronted with the specifics of history they are toast.

But be forewarned:

  • Try to rebuff a Calvinist’s right to define all things and they pretend that no is their equal.
  • Try to reject a Calvinist’s monopoly on moral virtue, and they snarl that no man is righteous.
  • Try to refuse to let a Calvinist define reality, and they resort to force.

…To be continued

Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

16 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. John said, on November 13, 2017 at 3:58 PM

    Love this article, John Immel. Regular readers here (if they actually waste their time reading my mostly inane and turkey-chasin’ comments) will know that I once had a close Calvinist friend. I think you know her, John Immel, because you’ve described her pretty darn accurately. She was like that. You put your finger on a point and then she would slip away to another subject or angle.

    So I would say: “So you’re following Calvin?” And she would say “no” and then write a 1000 word essay on why Calvin’s murderous spree was justified and a-okay and blog about it as though she has just saved the Western World from collapsing. But she would never present a gospel of any kind.

    So I would say:” So you believe in Calvinism?: And she would say, “No, I believe in the doctrines of grace.” (And everyone who has ever owned a pair of shoes should know those two terms are synonyms).

    So I would say: “You know those horrible things Luther said about women and Jews, right?” And she would say, “Oh, Luther is my ultimate Christian hero. You don’t get the context of what he said.” (What context is there in calling a woman a “prostitute”? Silence, let me count the ways.)

    I would say: “Calvinism is rather evil; you don’t see it?” She would answer, “Calvin did not invent Calvinism. It is just named after him.” And then I said “But it does not change the content and intention of Calvinism; didn’t you call it the “Doctrines of Grace” just a few minutes ago?”

    I would ask: “Are you a Christian?” and she would reply, “Is one saved through faith by Christ alone?” And I would ask, “Well, it depends on what YOU mean by “saved,” faith” and ‘Christ alone.”

    I would ask, “Okay, so when were you saved?” And then she would answer, “Oh, I have to go now; there’s something in the oven.”

    Okay, this is fluffy stuff, really, but it happened. She knew things about Calvinism and this confession and that catechism and worshiped the blasphemer RC Sproul and had read all his books and thought MacArthur was the Brad Spit of Calvinism, etc. but did not know basic biblical facts. She thought it was Abraham who was not allowed to enter the promised land, and I gently pointed out that if she actually read the Bible and stay away from Calvinist writers, she might just be exposed to the truth and stumble across the name “Moses.”

    A little secret that’s open, so it’s an open secret: These Calvinist “debaters” worship and learn the rude, arrogant “dr” James White’s debating skills verbatim, and they also get tips via ACBC courses. Listen, I would not leave my biggest enemy’s daughter in the same state that that creep White is in. Neva.

    Waiting for Part Two, John Immel. This is good stuff…like a donut with three holes.

    Let me add something: In my opinion, which is shaky most of the time and running backward the rest of the time, I really believe my former Calvinist friend (who is now so high up in that evil thing that she’s probably a high priestess of TULIP and other guano-related topics) was psychotic. I’ll bet my imaginary friend’s electric guitar on that.


    • John said, on November 13, 2017 at 4:01 PM

      Oh, and thank you very much, Andy, for transcribing John Immel’s work. His and your work are of the highest quality and truthful.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on November 14, 2017 at 8:00 AM

      “(if they actually waste their time reading my mostly inane and turkey-chasin’ comments)”


      Your commentary is such a welcome addition to the blog and a blessing and encouragement to all of us here at TANC Ministries. We love you, brother!!!


      • John said, on November 14, 2017 at 12:19 PM

        Thanks, Andy. I know you know my comments are frustration based.


    • johnimmel said, on November 15, 2017 at 10:50 PM

      Yes, i most certainly have met your Calvinist friend. they are frighteningly clone like.

      As for psychotic… well, psychosis, I’m pretty sure is related to being disconnected form reality. And reality is Calvinists Kryptonite.

      James white… do i know him?


      • John said, on November 16, 2017 at 4:00 PM

        Do you know James White? He is no one to know, although he is the rudest, most arrogant Calvinist clone out there (Paul Dohse can second that; in fact, many can confirm that). He is as creepy as Calvin himself. Naw, you don’t have to know him; they’re all the same, as you’ve indicated. White is just more creepy than the normal creepy clones of that evil bunch, and he thinks he can debate anyone under the table. You’ll have a field day in the park with that clown.

        For a change, I am serious about psychosis; yes, it has many causes, but my former Calvinist friend whom you’ve been describing so well is definitely psychotic. Yes, reality scares them witless. Once the man in this long black coat comes a knocking, it’s as though her entire life collapses as she has nothing to hold onto . . . except for lies and deception. Here’s the really scary bit: She thinks she’s “special” and “chosen” because she is having these psychotic/demonic (her way of explaining away psychosis) apparitions and attacks.Special=elected=episodes=a sign that she’s doing something right for the sovereign gawt ‘olmighty=more rewards=back to square one (if it hasn’t been moved by the latest poltergeist and plonked down in the kitchen somewhere.).

        Life is interesting if we care to look.


      • johnimmel said, on November 16, 2017 at 4:24 PM

        ” she’s doing something right for the sovereign gawt”

        Has she been hanging around CJ Mahanney? That is the way he used to say God. Maybe he still does.


  2. Ken B said, on November 14, 2017 at 3:45 AM

    I recently finally ditched Calvinism. I tried to embrace it as a reaction against seeker-sensitivity (Willow Creek) which puts man in control of the salvation process (the ‘process’ leading up to the new birth). I never managed to become ‘hardcore’ calvinist, as some of TULIP just didn’t gell, in particular with all the teaching I have read or heard in the past from those who were not dogmatic about reformed theology one way or the other, or only accepted it to the extent it reflected what the NT writers have to say.

    The tipping point for me was Rom 9 to 11. I couldn’t make that fit the Calvinist grid, espectially chap 11. It doesn’t make sense. I suppose this is an illustration of which authority comes first: reading the bible and thinking about it for yourself, or imposing a pre-existing theological framework upon it. If the latter is the case, then this is the authority rather than the bible itself. Hebrews 6 was another chapter that doesn’t fit – what is the point of warning against apostacy if Christians are guaranteed never to fall away?

    The other contradiction was reading Phil Johnson talking of ‘the sincere offer’ of the gospel to everyone, whilst simultaneously believing only those predestined to believe will do so.

    This is reflected in your Piper extract. Why fast and pray for your relatives to believe, if God has already not chosen them to be saved/not chosen them to be saved? (I know I commented on this before with MacArthur on an earlier thread – it’s the same thing again.) Piper’s confusion was very public, wasn’t it!

    I think Piper’s confusion can partly be explained in that he may well genuinely want the bible to be his final authority, but he has embraced Calvimism in order to be part of the Group. The Group, in this case, are all the other well-known celebrity luminaries whose names will readily come to mind to anyone reasonably familiar with the resurgence of Calvinism.

    I shall, needless to say, read the rest of this series with interest.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on November 14, 2017 at 7:53 AM

      “I recently finally ditched Calvinism.”


      Welcome to the family! Blessings to you!!!


    • johnimmel said, on November 15, 2017 at 11:01 PM

      Hey Ken…. what I’ve always been amazed by is that Calvinists never see the fundamental inconsistency in holding determinism that eschews all human agency and then pretending that there is human agency in God’s salvific plan. And this crops up in so many shapes and forms that I don’t understand how it can be accidental. Piper’s example in the video could not be a better example of the inconsistency. How can there be any emotional reaction? How can he suffer sleepless nights in service to wanting a different existential outcome? by definition he wants something DIFFERENT that what God has appointed. How is that possible if it is all determined? OF course the answer is Piper’s emotional turmoil shows the implicit error in the doctrine. It presupposes an autonomy the doctrine forbids.


  3. John said, on November 14, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    Welcome, Ken B. I am glad you ditched death aka Calvinism. We’re all cool here.



  4. johnimmel said, on November 16, 2017 at 4:27 PM

    And everything is a sign to a Calvinist. Everything. If things go bad, God is disciplining them so he’s on their side. If things go good, God is blessing them because he’s on their side. If things go left, God is on their side. If things go right, God is on their side. If you agree, it is because God is on their side. If you disagree, it is because God is on their side. And on and on and on.


    • John said, on November 18, 2017 at 4:50 PM

      Yes, everything is a sign to a Calvinist because God has planned everything in advance. In reality, it’s similar to the New Age concept of “synchronicity.” You see a cigarette butt and it means that the universe wants you to strip.You see, they even go so far as to interpret the sign (that does not exist) to mean what they want it to mean).

      To answer a previous question, John. Yes, I’m sure she has listened/attended stuff from CJ Let’s-Hide-Things Mahaney; she has a library the size of the big one in NYC . . . all Calvinist/Reformed nonsense. And she wants the world to know about her priceless Calvinist/Reformed library.

      Let me make it clear. She is a former friend; I could not stand her lies and defense of murderers such as Calvin and others any longer. A waste of time as she is completely indoctrinated to the point of madness. She has even believed that her physical illnesses were from God to display His greatness. Huh?


  5. Ken B said, on November 17, 2017 at 7:48 PM

    Thank you for you welcome, one and all !!


    • John said, on November 18, 2017 at 4:53 PM

      Our pleasure, Ken B. Stick around…things get pretty interesting and revealing around here. I suggest you read some back articles (if you’d like), and soon you’ll be in the swing of things, but always compare what is said here with what is written in a proper Bible as Bereans and people who are serious about the truth would do.


      • Ken B said, on November 20, 2017 at 2:33 AM

        I have commented here a few times under the name ‘Ken’. As there seems to be surfeit of people blessed with this name, I added the ‘B’ for what it’s worth.

        I found the site here from Alex Guggenheim’s Pedestrian Christian site, currently being tidied up. Alex has written some good stuff, especially helpful for me was his exposure of Team Pyro, and Wartburg Watch. I got quite bogged down in the latter for a while and didn’t realise the damage it was doing. I’d like to read Alex’s stuff on calvinism when he gets it back up, as he too has been into reformed theology and back out of it again.

        Pyro was more obvious a source of non-edification, especially the hardness (lack of grace – how ironic!) of the writers – started reasonably well, but degenerated into little more than snark, and dissenting opinions were suppressed in the comment section.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s