Paul's Passing Thoughts

How To Debate A Calvinist: Part 2 – By John Immel

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 15, 2017

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

Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five


To have a rebuttal for the Calvinist juggernaut of destruction, you have to learn to argue the central roots of their claims. They want to argue for the right to an alternate reality, one that is not this reality as we know it and can observe for ourselves here on this earth at this time. They will use different argumentative techniques to accomplish this, top of the list being making a claim to “orthodoxy”, which is ultimately a claim to authority.

But as we saw in part one, their definition of orthodoxy has no identity, because at any given moment they can make whatever claim they want about the source of that orthodoxy.   You end up with endless “both/and” propositions, which is a violation of Aristotle’s Law of Identity.


The “Objective” Truth
When you call them on the fact that they are not appealing to an objective truth the conversation goes something like this – In my comments to Paul Dohse on Paul’s Passing Thoughts in regard to GraceWriterRandy I made the following observations:

“No matter how often you peg Randy into a Calvinist corner he will waive the magic wand of his whim and side step the issue because HE doesn’t believe that. He is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard. No matter how many scriptures you stack in service to illustrating progressive justification he will never concede. No matter how many times you quote Calvin, or Luther or any of the Neo Cal luminaries to illustrate the doctrinal error endemic to the protestant house of cards he will pretend they are some fringe inconsequential distributors of non essential doctrines.”

To suggest that one is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard are fighting words to Calvinists! When you begin challenging the Calvinist infrastructure of authority that’s when they start to get fussy. But it is very important you understand the intellectual “sleight-of-hand” they will use to attempt to fool you.

After making the above comment on the blog, this was Randy’s response:

A. I am intellectually accountable to one objective standard and one objective standard alone.
B. That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation.
C. It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

Let us dissect part A. My challenge is that Randy is not intellectually accountable to an objective standard. Randy’s rebuttal – he is accountable to the “objective” Word of God; specifically, a book. Here is the sleight-of-hand: Because there is a book that is metaphysically existent, the contents of the book qualifies as objective. Because the book exists, he is accountable to something that everyone can perceive, therefore he is accountable to the objective. Because the book contains God’s words, Randy’s mind is accountable to its content. So then it logically follows that Randy’s ideas are the product of an objective standard. The book exists, therefore the rational standard is objective.

But just because somebody thumps their modern-day ESV doesn’t make the ideas extracted from the words objective any more than touching a rock makes a sculptor understand how to create a statue. Randy is doing what Calvinist defenders do; they are mixing and matching metaphysical expectations with epistemological conclusions. This is fundamental error. He is casually overlooking the rational individual processes required to grasp the “objective” words written on the page.

Consider the number of cognitive conceptual integrations that you must perform in your mind to get to any doctrinal conclusions. How many conceptual integrations must one go through just to get to the point of literacy? How many things to children need to learn to do intellectually before they understand the concept of “See Spot run”? And we haven’t even gotten to the point of them understanding “For God so loved the world,” and the implications behind reading a Bible passage.

This is the sleight-of-hand that Calvinists do constantly. They want to pretend that there is no individual conceptual understanding, any individual cognitive process, therefore this “Word of God” leaps fully-formed into their mind, and then they are appealing to something that is “objective.” This is absurd.

Randy is conflating literacy with objectivity, and that is foolishness. How can something be “objective” that requires the ability to read – which is a highly subjective process – before the standard can even be realized? The fact is, literacy is just the beginning of the long epistemological and conceptual chain through which an individual must progress before they end up with a formal doctrinal declaration. There is an ocean of intellectual conclusions that you must get to before you arrive at any advanced doctrinal assertion.

Or said another way, hundreds of highly individual cognitive evolutions are integrated with incalculable subjective conclusions long before a person can declare intellectual solidarity with any writing. They have no awareness of the individual decisions they make to arrive at their conclusion. This is what this looks like:

At the end of the day, what they think is the definition of “Biblical,” which is why you never gain any traction in any conversation with a Calvinist, because what they think is the authority. Then to add insult to epistemological injury, they think that what they think is “objective.” This is the fraud underneath the entire body of logic. This is why they fight so hard over the right to interpret.

Let’s go on to part B of Randy’s response.

“That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation.”

The obvious question should be, widely accepted by whom? This betrays that Calvinists really think that objectivity equals consensus. Historical precedent. I believe what I think everybody else has always believed. Anybody who is anybody has always believed this, therefore this is accepted principle. So, truth is determined by democratic majority? Randy is actually saying that his so-called “objective standard” is determined subjectively. The moment he claimed “widely accepted principles”, he unwittingly inserted subjectivity into the equation.

This argument is not unique to GraceWriterRandy. He is useful as an anecdotal example, but you will see this same argument leveled over and over every time you attempt to engage a Calvinist in this type of discussion. But this is the central theme of Calvinism; the dirty little secret of their preconception of orthodoxy.

Reformation theology is a commitment to “what everyone has always believed.” This is the classic myth in historic Christian theology, that somehow everyone always believed all this stuff. This is simply not true. It is only true in the alternate realty to which they are constantly trying to compel you. But the reality is that there has never been a timeframe in human history where every Christian on the planet agreed with every single doctrine.

Let’s just take a cursory look at interpretive events in history:

  • From the 1st century to roughly the 3rd century there was no “Bible” to interpret.
  • From the 6th century to the 13th century, allegory was the primary interpretive method.
  • Systematic theology of the Wayne Grudem kind did not show up until roughly the 14th century.
  • Modern higher critical methodology (the endless parsing of Greek roots that so many Bible teachers are fond of) doesn’t show up until Friedrich Schleiermacher in the 18th century.

So the question then is, which one of these interpretive methods is the definitive interpretive standard? The reality is that no Calvinist can answer this, because at the end of the day this is an intellectual black hole; if you fall into this you don’t get out.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the long convoluted process of translating from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German to English and the dozens of English variants that we currently have in the modern age. We haven’t considered the part when a Protestant king decided to take a red pen to a whole collection of books and make the current 66-book canon the standard for current Christianity. (In reality, the books know as “The Apocrypha” were originally cut out because they would have made the Bible to expensive to publish.)

So how many leaps of infallible logic does a Calvinist have to make to arrive at the notion that they, sitting in the 21st century in America speaking English with a laptop-based Strong’s concordance, have to arrive at the final recitation of truth for all mankind? Frankly the arrogance here is stunning.

If we are really going to arrive at truth by democratic majority, then a billion Chinese can’t be wrong. Buddha and Confucius must have been right. The earth must still be flat because that truth was widely accepted.

Lastly let’s look at part C to GraceWriterRandy’s reply.

“It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

So Calvinists like to pretend they are intellectual giants and autonomous thinkers, but the central forum of theology and orthodoxy is intellectual subordination. Do you see the fundamental problem? Randy wants to pick what he decides is the authority.

Here’s the problem; if you are a Calvinist and you preach submission to authority, you have no right to the words “I think.” The moment those words come out of your mouth, you have betrayed your own body of doctrine. What you should say is, “I submit my mind to John Piper”, or C.J. Mahaney, or Al Mohler, or any one among the number of self-appointed authoritarian “scholars.” But that ultimately leads to the problem of, to whose mind am I submitting? This question they never want to answer.

In Western thought, the intellectual pedigree follows this progression: We begin with the Pythagoreans and the soul/body dichotomy. Next is Plato followed by Plotinus, the one who grafted in the whole Pythagoean idea of the soul/body dichotomy into mainstream Christian orthodoxy. It is the idea that flesh is so overwhelmingly evil and totally unredeemable. This is the origination of the concept of pervasive total depravity. This becomes Augustinian pervasive depravity, and from Augustine we go to Luther, and from Luther we go to Calvin.

So here is the dirty little secret – Calvinists are not independent thinkers!

All they have done is become masters of the logic of better minds. (As evil as Calvin was, he was not a stupid man. What he was able to formulate, and the systematic presentation of his ideas, is an unrivaled intellectual achievement.) All intellectual roads intersect at Luther and Calvin. Their root doctrines are the Heidelberg Disputation, which was the summary version of Reformed Theology, and Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, the formal presentation of Reformed Theology. This is the heart and soul of all modern-day Christianity.

Every argument – from Al Mohler or Ligon Duncan or C.J. Mahaney or Tulian Tchividjian, to your local pastor to your mini-tyrant overseeing your care group – is not an original thought. The origin of their thinking is found in Luther and Calvin. This is why they accept no proof but their own proof. They accept no definition other than their own because their mind is the doctrinal plumb line. They presume that they understand everything in the Bible correctly and you don’t. Their singular rational standard is their own doctrinal assumption. They reserve the sole right to determine what is “Biblical.”

Since there is no such thing as objective truth, how then do Calvinist persuade? They don’t persuade; they compel. How can you make a rational argument when your fundamental premise is that the mind of man is corrupt? So they must force people to agree, and they do this with “authority.” You are universally guilty – of what? Sin. And because everybody is guilty, they need someone to dictate what “good” is. Those who dictate do so over people who are incompetent – those who are intellectually incapable of understanding the truths that they understand. And the underlying argument that ties all of these assumptions together is an appeal to authority.

A few bold men will suggest that they have authority by virtue of their existence, but most people like to hedge. It goes like this – “I don’t have authority, but that book over there has the authority.” They borrow the authority from the Bible. Here is how you respond to this nonsense – books don’t have force; men use force. The Bible doesn’t have any authority. It cannot reach out and swat you on the head or lead you blindfolded to a mass grave and shoot you in the back.

Any appeal to authority is really an appeal to the moral right to use force. This is the key concept – moral authority. This is the pretense that Calvinists use with impunity; the expectation of their own moral virtue.

But if man is pervasively depraved, and all men commit sin, then how can pervasively depraved men make any claim to morality?

Here is how they get around this. Individual men will sin, but groups of men will sin less because they are in a group. All the men in the group will somehow keep each other accountable. Preachers are pretty good at packaging and marketing this. We kind of like the concept that this group of elders is somehow mutually responsible in keeping each other from sinning. They pretend that they are innocent bystanders in this cosmic predestination of truth. They didn’t want the responsibility, but lo and behold, the mere reality that they are where they are is evidence that God ordained them to this burden of leadership.

But here is the sleight-of-hand. The revelation is the authority, and they are mere servants of the authority.   These mere servants are claiming to have an exemption from the very moral corruption that obligates you to their control.

But the reality is if you believe in pervasive depravity, you still have to overcome depravity. So the intellectual hedge goes like this. Individuals are flawed. Therefore to prevent individual error, we will join a group for checks and balances. In essence, we in a group will borrow each other’s righteousness. Just a few paragraphs ago I told you they want to borrow the authority of the Bible and apply it to themselves. Now they are going to actually borrow the righteousness of other people.

But do you see the glaring problem with this assertion?

If, because of pervasive depravity, man doesn’t have any righteousness, how can you borrow what someone doesn’t have?

How did the group arrive at the substance of ethical action? If you start with the premise that no man can know what “good” is, how is that you get together and suddenly have an understanding of what “good” is? Someone had to identify it. Someone had to measure good action so there was a qualification to join the group. This is the bait-and-switch they constantly put on; the endless violation of the Law of Identity. One minute they are immoral, wretched beasts, and the next minute they have become part of the group, and they are now moral people borrowing each other’s righteousness.

Reformed theology says that man overtly rejects good, but somehow a group of preachers possess good. So riddle me this: if man is hostile to God, how can a group of men be benevolent towards God? If man cannot measure his own moral action, how can he measure a group’s moral consensus? If individual man is a moral and intellectual criminal, how does a group become rational giants and paragons of virtue?

The answer: It is insane to argue that a group of totally depraved men are qualified to define morality. The folks in the asylum are not less insane because they are in the same geographic location. Group morality means morality is proximity.

Here are the takeaways:

  • Calvinists evade reality because reality is their enemy.  If “A” is “A”, then their doctrine collapses.
  • Calvinists can make no claim to objective truth.
  • Calvinists must evade their own intellectual processes.
  • Calvinists are not independent thinkers. You should not fear their arguments.
  • Calvinists do not have morality, so you should never fear their moral condemnation.
  • Calvinists have no authority because they do not have the right to compel you to think anything.
  • Calvinists are morally bankrupt.

Here is a test: The next time you hear a Calvinist begin talking about how much of a wretched sinner he is, agree with him. Then watch how fast they argue their own moral virtue.

…To be continued

Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

4 Responses

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  1. John said, on November 15, 2017 at 4:12 PM

    Another great piece, and John Immel, you continue to describe my ex Calvinist friend. She believes that Calvinism has been there from the beginning; has been in the Bible and has been believed from the beginning of their version of Christianity, and, yes, that all “true” Christians have always followed that.

    The “beginning” of what? Creation? As you pointed out, there are time frames that need to be considered. Hers began at the beginning. What? So when I pushed that issue, suddenly I “did not understand the truth; the wonderful doctrines of grace” and that my heart was “hardened.” What a cheap, unoriginal getaway car…no engine and three flat tires. (So Jesus’ life and death and resurrection were just to amuse some…it is then blatantly pointless IF Calvinism has been the way to the sawrin gawt’s weird mancave from the beginning.)

    Their reasoning reminds me of someone who is caught with his hand inside the cookie jar. “What cookie car? What hand?” he would say while chomping away at a biscuit. “You don’t understand. It’s not what it looks like.” In other words: You are an idiot.

    Roll me up and put me away like a mountain. Their slight of hand and slippery, unethical ways irritate me endlessly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. johnimmel said, on November 15, 2017 at 10:46 PM

    the beginning of what? LOL. The dirty little secret . . . the answer is the beginning of their awareness of the doctrine they happen to think are right. It is a tautology.

    And it is hilarious for a Calvinist to threaten you with a hardened heart. As if you would know the difference or could make a “choice” to change what God had determined.

    And notice that their understanding is always perfect. Always.


    • John said, on November 16, 2017 at 9:25 AM

      One like to J Immel’s comment. Check.

      Yes, her accusations were contradictory and laughable (boy, and delivered in such an unloving tone). Calvinists and their logic remind me of a super dumb dog who chases his own tail, eventually catches it, bites it, and then blames everyone else when it hurts.

      Waiting for the next installment, kinda excitedly, to see what my former friend has done now!


  3. johnimmel said, on November 16, 2017 at 11:38 AM

    Actually the 2017 TANC Session inspired me to put this in book form with a deeper treatment. Working on that part now. We’ll see how long that takes me.


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