Are There Any Possible Psychological Factors That Contribute to Some People Embracing Calvinism?

I think so. I find this question especially interesting as Calvinists will often insist that most people who hold to Arminianism do so primarily for emotional or psychological reasons, rather than exegetical ones.  Perhaps some do, but I think the majority of Arminians would say they are Arminians primarily for exegetical reasons (at least this Arminian is).  Still, there may certainly be Arminians (or non-Calvinists) who reject Calvinism more on emotional or psycological grounds than on exegetical grounds.  We would be naive, however, to assume such could only be true of Arminians and non-Calvinists, as the post linked below well demonstrates.

Exploring the Psychology of Embracing Calvinism

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14 Responses

  1. Sadly I have had several friends who embraced Calvinism because of the issue of eternal security. All of them struggled with besetting sins (normally lust) and they found comfort in Calvinism whereas only fear in Arminianism since Arminians teach necessary perseverance in faith and holiness.

    I did have one friend who embraced Calvinism because he claimed that he simply saw it in evangelism (the drawing of the Spirit) to which I replied that we Arminians do not disagree but he insisted that Arminians deny the drawing of the Spirit in evangelism.

  2. Roy,

    John Wesley would agree with you, citing the allure of inevitable perseverance as a main reason why people adopt Calvinism,

    “[Calvinism] is highly pleasing to flesh and blood, final perseverance in particular.” (Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD by Ages Library. It is under “Works of John Wesley Vol. 08″ on the CD, pg. 373.)

    However, except for the “Once Saved Always Saved” view that states that even unbelief cannot keep a one time believer out of heaven, the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance, when taken to its logical conclusions, actually serves to undermine the Biblical doctrine of salvation assurance:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-13-salvation-assurance/

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Most of my Christian life, I was a synergist are vehemently argued as such. Yet, as a follower of the Arminian theology, I did not hold to the teaching that salvation must be maintained, at least in part, by my actions. That being said, it was merely a few years ago that I embraced the monergist (Calvin) theology. It was not out of fear of loss of my salvation, the doctrine of perseverance, etc. In a nutshell, (and you just gave me a blog topic :), one day reading the OT it hit me, God has been choosing since the beginning of time. He is still doing what He did in the OT times, choosing whom He will have mercy on.

  4. tishrei,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. To say that salvation must be maintained by faith (which is an action) is not to say that salvation is of works (since salvation is a free unearned and unmerited gift received by faith, cf. Rom. 4:4, 5). The Bible plainly states that we are saved by faith (trusting in Christ) from first to last (Rom. 1:17). Faith is, in fact, trusting in the merit and work of another (Christ), rather than in ourselves.

    God has been choosing from the beginning of time, but His choosing to salvation has always been based on faith, and in the NT it is specifically conditioned on being in Christ (Eph. 1:4) which is conditioned on faith (Eph. 1:13).

    God Bless,
    Ben

  5. It is sad that the first commenter here is encouraged in his allusion that many (if not most) “Calvinist converts” make the conversion because of “besetting sins (normally lust)”.

    Self-righteous, much? Good grief… As a “Young, Restless & Reformed” guy myself, I personally know dozens of Christians who have newly embraced a Reformed theology over the last decade. Being an avid blog reader, I have encountered hundreds more electronically. I have yet to encounter ONE who has given Perseverance as the driving force behind their embrace, let alone Perseverance as a means of conscience-soothing in the midst of a struggle with “besetting sin”.

    I can’t see how these kinds of comments align with Wesley’s admonition to answer your Calvinist brothers “with all possible sweetness both of look and of accent”. (Though, Wesley himself ends this comment by referring to Calvinism as a “plague” – hardly sweet…)

  6. Jim,

    Thanks for stopping by. Your comments reflect your personal experience, but surely you recognize that your experience is not exhaustive, nor does it necessarily expose you to people’s true motives. One might not ever mention that they embrace Calvinism based on some psychological factor dealing with the doctrine of inevitable perseverance while still being heavily influenced by such a factor. People do not always speak of such things, especially in public.

    Contrary to your experience, I have encountered people who have clung to this doctrine based on emotional or psychological factors that made the doctrine very appealing to them (in fact, I know someone who came to embrace Calvinism for this reason). I have even known some who used the doctrine to excuse sin, jus as the above commenter seems to suggest, especially among young people. I also know former Calvinists that have told me that the doctrine made it very hard for them to take their sins seriously and encouraged a tendency to compromise holiness in their lives, among other things. To point such things out is hardly out of line with Wesley’s comments (and again, please notice that the above commenter was simply sharing his experience based on his personal dealings with people who embraced inevitable perseverance; he was not saying this was the case with every Calvinist or adherent to inevitable perseverance).

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your personal experience, but please remember that others have different experiences and should have the freedom to express themselves based on those experiences as well, without them being discounted out right by others who do not necessarily share those same experiences.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Ben,

    So… instead of taking the higher ground when some Calvinists on the internet accuse some Arminians of embracing their theology because of psychological issues (there are plenty of jerks on our side of the theological fence online – I know from unfortunate first-hand experience), you basically play the exact same silly game from the other side. Why not just stick with the Bible and sound exegesis?

    And if you think accusing me of embracing Reformed theology because of a need or desire to avoid a genuine striving for holiness is sweet in either look or accent, you are sadly mistaken. (This is of course precisely what you and Seeking Disciple are doing when you pretend to have any insight on unspoken motives of other professing brothers and sisters in Christ.)

    God Bless

  8. Jim,

    No one is accussing you of anything, and no one said anything about unspoken motives from our side. I was not relating issues of unspoken motives, but of personal conversations. Did you read what I wrote?

    I don’t think your comment about “taking the high ground” is really appropriate. The post was for the purpose of addressing those who accuse Arminians of embracing or defending Arminianism for psychological reasons. I said that I did not believe this was usually the case, but aslo admitted that it could certainly happen. I then mentioned that the point could just as easily be pressed against Calvinists, and gave a link to back it up. That seems rather fair and balanced to me and I am not quite sure why you are having such a strong reaction to it.

    As far as Roy’s comment, see my response above. I don’t think anything further needs to be added on that. As far as the Bible and solid exegesis, this site has far more of that than anything else. Still, it seems foolish to me to not address arguments brought up by Calvinists that are not necessarily exegetically driven, especially since some might find them convincing.

    Wesley’s comments that you keep going back to have to do with the way that we disagree, not that we should not disagree or press counter arguments or make counter points. No one has been rude here in making their points so, again, I find your comments inappropriate and puzzeling.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  9. Ben,

    You wrote, “No one is accussing you of anything…” Yet you earlier wrote, “John Wesley would agree with you [Seeking Disciple], citing the allure of inevitable perseverance as a main reason why people adopt Calvinism…”

    But not for me, right? I just don’t understand the desire to pretend to know why someone believes something. I don’t know why you’re an Arminian, a Republican or a fan of Christian romance novels… and I’m not sure why I should care. I suspect Arminianism remains dominant in the American church for mainly historical and cultural reasons (I think it undeniable that a strong doctrine of libertarian free will fits rather nicely with the American ethos of individuality and self-determination – which, of course, doesn’t make Arminianism right or wrong.) But I’m not going to play shrink and climb in Believer A’s brain to figure out why he embraces Theology X. I think that’s pretty basic Christian charity.

    “I was not relating issues of unspoken motives, but of personal conversations.”

    Really?

    I did read what your wrote. The ridiculous post you linked to references third-hand conversations and admits “I have not seen such admissions [from Calvinists] but I have always suspected…” “Fair and balanced”? Methinks FOXNews may have corrupted your concept of both.

    And I don’t think you get to quote Wesley referring to Calvinism as a plague and then complain of others being rude.

    God Bless

  10. I suspect Arminianism remains dominant in the American church for mainly historical and cultural reasons (I think it undeniable that a strong doctrine of libertarian free will fits rather nicely with the American ethos of individuality and self-determination – which, of course, doesn’t make Arminianism right or wrong.) But I’m not going to play shrink and climb in Believer A’s brain to figure out why he embraces Theology X. I think that’s pretty basic Christian charity.

    What you write here is no different. You just expressed your opinion of why you think some people embrace Arminianism (and notice how you assume that my motive (“desire”) is to “pretend to know why someone believes something..”). That does not offend me in the least. It is just your opinion (and BTW, the whole “American ethos” argument is very weak when you consider that the Ante-nicene church fathers all embraced LFW while living in a culture steeped in determinism. Why? Because they found the concept all over the Scriptures, and even used many of the same Scriptures Arminians use to today to argue against the determinism of the heretical Gnostic sects). If you had some conversations with Arminians who actually said they held to Arminianism for those reasons, then you would surely be justified to go further and say that you even knew some people who embraced Arminianism for those reasons. The point of the post is that the sword cuts both ways. The Calvinist argument is rendered moot by counter examples. Notice what I wrote in the post:

    Still, there may certainly be Arminians (or non-Calvinists) who reject Calvinism more on emotional or psycological grounds than on exegetical grounds. We would be naive, however, to assume such could only be true of Arminians and non-Calvinists, as the post linked below well demonstrates.

    Do you see that?

    I do not doubt that psychological factors play into many decisions we make, including adopting theological frameworks. I agree with you that the best way to evaluate the opposing views is through exegesis. But as long as Calvinists insist on saying that Arminians just want to be in control, or worship free will, or just want to do that which pleases their sinful nature (as a published Calvinist once said concerning why people embrace Arminianism!!), then posts like this one seem necessary to me. You don’t have to like it, but your comments here seem to reinforce the need to make such points even if you do not usually voice your “thoughts”. The point is that you think them, and so do other Calvinists, and for that reason it needs to be addressed.

    “I was not relating issues of unspoken motives, but of personal conversations.”

    Really?

    Yes, really. Are you questioning my honesty, or just my motives? In my comments above I was speaking of literal conversations I have had with both Calvinists and ex-Calvinists. I think it would be an exercise in Christian charity to take me at my word. As for Wesley, he was also speaking from personal experience. He dealt with Calvinists daily who had embraced an antinomian lifestyle based on the logical implications of Calvinist doctrines. It was a huge problem in his day and it was primarily that problem that Wesley was addressing and it was because of such practical results that he witnessed that he saw Calvinism as a plague on the church. It was not an attack on any person, but on the destructive behavior that Wesley was witnessing these doctrines produce first hand. What should he have said; that Calvinism is a blessing to the church? Nothing at all?

    I did read what your wrote. The ridiculous post you linked to references third-hand conversations and admits “I have not seen such admissions [from Calvinists] but I have always suspected…” “Fair and balanced”? Methinks FOXNews may have corrupted your concept of both.

    And I don’t think you get to quote Wesley referring to Calvinism as a plague and then complain of others being rude.

    No one complained about others being “rude”. For someone who is so concerned about fair and balanced, you seem to be having trouble with it yourself.

    Many Calvinists have said much worse about Arminian theology. Do you get on their case as well? Here are a few examples from published Calvinists:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/enjoying-some-classic-calvinist-compliments-on-arminian-teaching/

    You are welcomed to share your opinion. I have also shared mine and we should probably just agree to disagree at this point since this discussion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. For a purely exegetical reason to reject inevitable perseverance (and Calvinism as a result), you might like to check out my 13 part series on perseverance:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/category/perseverance-series/

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. BTW, if you followed the link you surely noticed that the last quote was by a former Calvinist sharing his personal experience of the affect Calvinism had on his psyche.

  12. EVERY person I have known who has embraced calvinism (and I have known many) has been someone who was 1) generally judgmental to begin with 2) perfectionistic 3) overly logical 4) ill-tempered 4) given to argumentation 5) thought WAY too much of himself OR way too little 6) OCD or had tendencies toward 7) saw everything in black and white.

  13. @ David – Classy AND charitable!

  14. this article has helped me immensely to understand whats going on in my puritan/ covenanter/presbyterean/hyper-calvinists mind. yes he flips between being a worm to aggressive pride with haughty looks but i see that he might believe in this cuz he wants to be devoted to Christ.

    he does not have any assurance of heaven and and talks all about the law instead of Jesus and God’s love. i wonder if he is born again?

    its sad really to see someone who loves God’s word but does these very same accusations and manipulative behavior to me that is mentioned .in your article ”psychology of calvinism”

    thx so much i hope there is more articles like this and put these in papers, like ”christianity today” etc. there is a resurgence of calvinism now and young people coming supposedly into the kingdom by way of paul washer’s hell and brimstone preaching. i’ve met some of these young souls that seem abused and wanting to be confirmed in their belief. i feel very sorry they see God this way.

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