I want to preface all this by saying that some people who would call themselves Calvinists or Reformed Theologians are NOT what I would call practitioners of "Applied Calvinism". They are actually very loving and caring people who believe in the Great Commission and do something for it. At the same time, some Pentecostals and Arminians certainly seem to be "Applied Calvinists" in the sense that they show little or no concern for the state of humanity and the glory of God. What interests God is FAITH that results in OBEDIENCE to the revealed Will of God. If people are DOING the will of God, then they are ahead of people who merely THEORIZE about it. Having got that out of the way, let me continue. Please hear me out and feel free to comment below on what I am about to say. I do not claim infallibility for anything I write below. End of Disclaimer.
Calvinism as I see it is a kind of theological and philosophical framework through which the entire Bibilical narrative is interpreted. Although I have attempted to define it here, nevertheless it is sometimes it is hard to pin down what true Calvinism really is, because Calvinists also have their disagreements on various issues, and they are also rather adept at using such imposing words as "strawmen" in order to deflect criticism of their systems of thought. It is not my intention to misrepresent the teachings of Calvinism in order to shoot them down, but let me say that I AM interested in shooting down every system of thinking which tends to make the Word of God of no effect in the lives of people. So I am going to target a few ideas which I believe to be really false as they touch the character of God and the responsibility of mankind to obey God. It will be for my readers to judge whether what I am attacking is in fact "Calvinism" or not.
1. I am Against any Theological System which EFFECTIVELY Minimizes the Role of the Holy Spirit in Our Life and/or Ministry
By the grace of God, I am someone who believes in the present day operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe that to be IGNORANT of these things is no virtue with God.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant." (1 Corinthians 12:1)
Any preacher who wants us to be IGNORANT of spiritual gifts – especially the spiritual gifts mentioned in this passage, is therefore OUT OF TUNE with the heart of God.
My experience with people who claim to be Calvinists, or "Reformed", or believers in the so-called "Doctrines of Grace" is that they generally have almost no experience in the operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Some even DENY these gifts exist today. This is an unscriptural and extra-biblical position. It is something which MAKES THE WORD OF GOD OF NO EFFECT in people's lives. When you add this unscriptural idea to your core beliefs, it means you no longer need to "eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14:1). This kind of believing can make you SPIRITUALLY LAZY in many respects. You won't go seeking for things you believe are impossible to find.
God actually desires that we become experienced in hearing directly from Him, and if the Living God is speaking to us we should fully expect gifts of prophecy, words of knowledge and wisdom, tongues and interpretation to manifest from time to time. I base this thought on the WORD of GOD and not on my experience of church life to date.
Jesus operated in the gifts of the Holy Spirit very frequently, and we are called to follow Him. He said, "As He sent Me, even so I send you." (John 20:21). Jesus also declared "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27). But people who believe that they cannot go as Jesus went, or walk with God as Jesus did, or follow Jesus' example in doing things the way He did will always fall short of what God desires.
Sadly, many professed Calvinists are CRITICS of all things Pentecostal and Charismatic. While they may have some valid things to say concerning abuses and foolishness which have existed, it is my contention that they have thrown out the precious baby with the bathwater.
I contend that when people start GENUINELY letting the Holy Spirit speak to their hearts, and operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they start saying and thinking DIFFERENT things to what Calvinists normally say, or things that Calvinist teaching would distinctively emphasize. And this is one reason why many Calvinists cannot see God in the movement of the Holy Spirit today. I hope to get down to specifics in the future, and also defend my assertions from Scripture.
I call Cessationism in theory or practice a form of "Applied Calvinism". I never heard of anything in history which suggested that Jean Calvin actually moved in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so it is not surprising if the majority of his followers are similarly deficient. We should be following Jesus. He moved in the gifts of the Spirit all the time.
Many Calvinists Have No Heart for Evangelism
If anyone REALLY thinks that it won't make any difference to others if they preach the Good News of Jesus Christ or if they don't, because God is going to do it all, or God has already decided who should hear the gospel and be saved, and will do it with or without you – such people probably won't want to get out of their comfort zones and evangelize people. Its so much easier to please the devil and withdraw from this struggle. We see this kind of "Applied Calvinism" in "Calvinists" and "non-Calvinists" alike. I contend that it is our "fleshly nature" that doesn't want to face up to the idea that how we respond to the Great Commission actually makes a real difference for eternity.
Some Calvinists throughout history HAVE evangelized effectively – people like George Whitefield and Charles H. Spurgeon come to mind. God can and does use anybody who is willing. A good Calvinist in this respect will tell you that he evangelizes in obedience to the commandment of Jesus Christ, but the results are 100% God's doing. Well, God will honor it when people do things in obedience to His Word, and Jesus told us to preach the gospel. So when people do it, praise God for that.
But I contend that this activity is done by Calvinists 100% out of respect for clear things in God's Word, and not at all out of respect for the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism. By this I mean, I can't see anything in Calvinism which Arminians or other non-Calvinist believers don't also believe, which would motivate people to evangelize. On the contrary, I see plenty of thoughts which if followed through to their logical conclusion, would lead people to be LAZY and PASSIVE when it comes to evangelism.
The Nature of the Gospel Itself can be Distorted through Calvinistic Thinking
Evangelism, of course, is the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Now in Calvinism, God has already decided who is going to be saved. His decision apparently had NOTHING to do with foreknowledge of the kind of moral choices people would freely make. This is called UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. It is 100% based on God's favoritism. And if this is all true, it seems that God chose only a very few to actually be saved. If Calvinism is true and the history of the world is anything to go by, God Himself is the reason why so few were saved and so many damned since the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the earth. If God does everything from start to finish in everyone who is saved, then God certainly left a lot of people out of his plan of salvation – probably most of the people who ever heard or will hear the "gospel". Now if THAT is good news, then please spare me the bad news!
Calvinists believe in something called "Limited Atonement". Instead of believing what the Bible says in 1 John 2:2 "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world", Calvinists assert that Christ only died for the "elect", that is the people who God decided would be ultimately saved. In this way, they say, "Not a drop of Christ's blood was wasted".
If this is true, then no one can confidently preach to people "Christ died for you", because for most of the hearers, that statement would be a LIE. Apparently then, God loves "the world" in general enough to send His Son, but He may not love YOU enough to do that for YOU.
Calvinists also deny that sinful men are capable of responding to the gospel BEFORE God regenerates them. Thus the preacher may declare, "Whosoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 21:17) but the REALITY is that it is actually whoever GOD desires, and if history is anything to go by He probably doesn't desire for YOU to come – of course there are exceptions.
In Calvinism God calls whoever hears the gospel, but He only "effectually calls" relatively few with the so-called "irresistable grace". If this is true, God's call doesn't seem very sincere. He is calling people to do something which He has already made sure that they won't do. This "God" creates people sinful, won't provide a salvation for them, won't give them a real possibility of repentance … And then He condemns them for it. Wonderful.
Applied Calvinism can Damage Worship
It is hard to be ENTHUSIASTIC about such a God as Calvinism portrays. And this is perhaps one reason why you don't see people getting excited in Calvinistic worship services. So Dull and Unenthusiastic Worship is a form of "Applied Calvinism" also. And such worship doesn't please the real God who is scouring the earth for those who worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23,24). The real God is actually a good God who loves people and wants the best for them. The real God is not ONLY angry with sin, He is grieved about it and He sent His Son to destroy its power so that whoever is willing to believe and turn from sin can go free!
I contend that the alleged doctrines of Calvinism above can only be supported by twisting Scripture and by smuggling in certain ideas of Greek philosophy and Augustinian thinking in to the Bible text. If Scripture is to interpret Scripture, then the picture of God we SHOULD be seeing is one of a compasionate God who is firm in His principles but truly desirous that people would enter the Narrow Gate and walk on the Narrow Way that leads to life.
Intellectual Mind-Based Fellowship
Another form of "Applied Calvinism" is "intellectual" fellowship. Calvinistic theology and concerns that derive from it become the focus of Christian interaction. It can all become highly intellectual, and intellectual pride which blinds and deceives enters in. The clever theologian, the one who has read the most books, is "king" in this environment. I contend that this is a perversion of what real Christian fellowship actually should be. God wants us to be tenderhearted towards one another, considering one another's needs – spirit, soul and body, and considering how we may build others up according to the need of the moment and help one another to be effective in our mission. Its really not so important how "orthodox" we are according to the Calvinist way of thinking.
Applied Calvinism Opposes the Ministry of Divine Healing
The practical denial of divine healing is another form of "Applied Calvinism". In Calvinism, whatever actually happens is the "will of God", because God foreordains everything that happens according to this system of thinking. So in Calvinism it doesn't make sense to talk about the will of God NOT being done. For that reason, divine healing, which at times does NOT manifest is concluded to be NOT the will of God in most cases. But once you start thinking that the thing you want MAY NOT be the will of God, it is impossible to HAVE FAITH for it. And that can be a GREAT hindrance to receiving anything from God. Jesus taught in Mark 11:22-24:
"Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore, I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
God might SOVEREIGNLY heal a person in spite of their having no prior assurance that God intends to heal them, but it is NOT the way that Jesus modelled for us in the Gospels. Neither is it the way he encouraged us to think. For this reason I say that "Applied Calvinism" is an enemy of the ministry of divine healing. I have yet to hear of even ONE Calvinist who has an effective ministry of divine healing. Their ideas on "the will of God" almost certainly preclude the possibility.
Calvinism can Lead People to Backslide without Knowing It
Calvinism teaches something called "The Perseverance of the Saints". This doctrine asserts that those who are genuinely born again will always perservere in faith finally and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If you believe this doctrine, you might be tempted to be slack in your walk with God. I realise that not all Calvinists are so foolish but if a doctrine is taught that causes even one person to stumble, we are better off without it.
I see so many warnings in the Scriptures in the teaching of Jesus, Paul, John and in the Book of Hebrews especially about the possibility and danger of turning away from Jesus Christ, that I cannot take much comfort in this doctrine of "The Perseverance of the Saints". I see the Scripture telling us to "make our calling and election sure" (2 Peter 2:10) – implying that there is something for US to do in this whole thing.
If you know that God saved you at one point in your life, but then you have a doctrine which tells you that you CANNOT be lost, and you believe it, then it is possible (if that doctrine you believe is NOT in fact true) that you could be LOST while thinking you are SAVED.
If this doctrine of born again people never falling away (due to their own sinful initiative) is true and Scriptural, why didn't God just say it, instead of saying the following:
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned". John 15:6
"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace". Galatians 5:4
"For if we keep on sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment …" Hebrews 10:26
"Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off". Romans 11:20b-22
"… work out your salvation with fear and trembling …" Philippians 2:12
… and many other similar Scriptures from the New Testament which could be cited.
I conclude that "Applied Calvinism" then, is a very dangerous thing, because it may compromise our walk with God, our understanding of God's character, our desire and motivation to evangelise, the quality of our fellowship, the health of our physical bodies and possibly even the final destination of our eternal soul.